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Vow of Volition Make the Final Round of the Battle for Warped Tour

The Vans Warped Tour was the first festival for many of us back in the day. As young'ns, it's likely we didn't necessarily think about all that went into figuring out the bands to book and play the whole shebang. Part of that process, at least locally, seems to be through a series "battle of the bands" style competitions specifically for landing a spot on the fest. Quite a few Portland bands have been furiously playing against one another for said spot, and djent/prog metal act Vow of Volition are one of the acts that made it to the finals.

Warped Tour was always the type of festival that included much in the realm of pop punk, punk punk, emo and metal, so Vow of Volition's advancement to the final round is no surprise. Their incredibly technical, at times jazzy metal stands out in Portland's pretty linear popular music scene, and is much worthy of the attention its getting.

Those that want to support Vow of Volition in driving home the permanent spot can go to the Battle for Warped Tour finals Saturday at the Hawthorne Theatre.





Air Devi writes songs about moving and mosquitos

Air Devi is both a band and a person which is like a PJ Harvey kind of deal. And also like PJ Harvey, she's got some serious musical and songwriting chops. Air Devi, the person, is alternatiely know as Devi Majeske and she's a violinist, sitarist, guitarist, bass guitarist, keyboardist, and a fairly recent U. Penn grad who writes cool songs that come across pretty laid back at first but then get under your skin and into your heart and head. Like on the recent single “Mosquitos in the Backyard,” a song that floats by like a big marshmallow cloud and with images of “wash lines swaying” and “lush perfume hanging” to match. Except when you dig a little deeper it's not all strawberries and cream because the song appears to either be about contracting malaria and/or it's a pretty brutal take down of a pest and narcissist with lines like “you’ll feed on anything that breathes / you never loved anything." Another clever touch is how the choruses sound a little bit like a buzzing mosquito with the chopped-up guitar chords and circling bass line on the high strings so there's much to comtemplate here.

Air Devi draws from diverse musical roots ranging from first-wave punk to Bollywood soundtracks to bedroom singer-songwriter pop to folkie psychedelia but there’s one recurring motif to my ears in how she/they often combine a blissed out vibe in the music and vocals with lyrics that are a series of sharply observed slices-of-life and streams-of-consciousness--pulling from disperate stands of thought and stands of identity and even from different languages with code-switching into French and Gujarati on a handful of songs. 

The latter Indo-language is heard on “Move Without Place," a song that rotates gracefully between styles—the Gujarati comes at the end of a sequence that moves first from ambient indie pop to a syncopated baggy beat with a Bollywood-like vocal melody and then Air Devi wondering aloud “Am I colonizable? Capitalizable?” when everything suddenly stops for a split-second and a bell chimes and then it goes into what sounds like traditional Hindustani music complete with dholak drumming, which is simlilar to a tabla but double-headed, and electric guitar and entrancing ornamented singing but then it all unwinds down to a single repeated guitar note and then back to the syncopated beat with the amibient indie pop backing and back around again. The restless musical arrangement perfectly captures the theme of the song to "move without place [and] make my own space" even if one's skin and the whole world itself is "splintered" and "sensitive."

It's all equally visceral and heady stuff--a dialectic that can be applied to much of Air Devi's music in my humble opinion. But you can make up your own mind by listening to the two aforementioned singles and then 2020’s Swanning About EP above ("No Clearances" is a particuarly lovely statement of purpose). And if you need more you can check out earlier singles like "Standoffish" and "Alchemist" and the stripped-down DIY of 2018's Chicken Nuggies & Rosé EP with some of its contents later rearranged in full-band form on Swanning such as "My Landlord Is An Asshole!" and who can really argue with a sentiment like that. And then, if that's not enough, you can dig into Air Devi's Soundcloud page and find even earlier works like the anti-Putin diss track "Kremlin Bop" that doubles as a Ramones-like sing-a-long with the title perhaps even being an homage to said band. 


But hey let’s not fixate on the past because cheap nostalgia is so 2020. And plus it'll be even more interesting to see and hear what Air Devi does next. (Jason Lee)

 





Queen Mob bring on the "Pop Sickle"

Queen Mob are a two-piece from Psychedelphia, who as individuals go by the names Beth and Colin, and if they placed a band personals ad it'd probably read something like “freak-folk-shoegaze-vaporwave band seeks absolutely no one because we don’t collaborate and we don’t cooperate.” 

Over the past year Queen Mob have released one album and one EP (Easy, Liger and Against A Pale Background) and three singles (“Comeback,” “Sidecar,” and “Pop Sickle”) the last of which I’m declaring to be the best runaway-carousel/broken-calliope music I’ve heard since MGMT’s “Lady Dada’s Nightmare”. 

In their recorded work to date the band have already demonstrated impressive range by alternately sounding like an inebriated Beck, an inebriated Swervedriver, and an inebriated Jandek (so, just, Jandek). Or maybe instead of inebriated they're just experimental. It's not really our business how they get to that place. 

Beth herself describes the single above as “haunted dystopian electronic music” and that strikes me as pretty accurate for their lastest music. So hop on to the merry-go-round and hold to your horse pole becuase Queen Mob will take you on a ride. (Jason Lee)





Ghost Funk Orchestra soundtracks the "Asphalt Homeland"

If the long awaited Cagney & Lacey movie ever comes to fruition (sorry, I don't consider the TV movies canon) I'm going to immediately start an online petition to make "Asphalt Homeland" the opening credit music--played as the camera slowly pans over the asphalt homeland of Lower Midtown Manhattan until landing on our two sometimes harried but always resolutely determined lady detectives. And sure, the new single by Ghost Funk Orchestra is a good deal less boob-tube bouncy and peppy than the original TV theme song, but that's good because it'll help Cagney & Lacey make the transition to the big screen with the help of some dramatic, cinematic music.

Of course this isn't to imply that bandleader/songwriter/arranger/producer Seth Applebaum only writes music appropriate for a Cagney & Lacey type show. To the contrary, Seth is a one-man "library music" machine whose music could just as easily be used to score urban dramas, medical dramas, gangster epics, or even wild comedies and super action films but with a distinct golden-era approach harkening back to a time when jazz and funk and rock and Latin music and psychedelic music (and many other genres besides) often shared equal space on a single soundtrack.

Take the song called "Fuzzy Logic" for example (see video above) which stays true to its title by rejecting Boolean either/or logic in favor of multiplicity and suggestive ambiguity. It starts off sounding like the dramatic opening moments to a classic spy soundtrack or a caper movie with its dissonant stabs of brass and syncopated hi-hat cymbal--not to mention how the music video's use of color gels and multiple exposure give it a strong Bond pre-credit sequence vibe--before sliding into a groove that's laid back enough to be Sade-approved but with some vaguely uneasy lyrics (and a brief Bill Withers "I know" interlude, may he rest in peace) sung to enchanting effect by regular vocal collaborator Romi Hanoch (PowerSnap). And then about one minute in the song takes another turn with a breakdown section featuring flamenco-style clapping and dub-like echo and surf guitar reverb before circling back to the second verse and then later ending with a concise but still pretty epic solo outro traded between baritone sax and flute.

Seriously, put this song on in the car next time you're cruising around and it's guaranteed to make you feel like a total badass even if you're just heading to 7-11. Or put on almost any GFO song because they rarely skimp on the funkiness, the ghostliness, or the intricate orchestrations. And did I say "one-man show"? In reality, Ghost Funk Orchestra is more like a ten-to-twelve-man-and-woman machine because you know it can't be easy making music this elaborate alone and especially not if you plan to play live. And by the way seeing GFO live is a wonderful thing that will presumably happen again someday soon. 


So, if you lack familiarity with the Ghost Funk prior to "Asphalt Homeland," their most recent full-length An Ode To Escapism (2020) is a good place. The album features a shift array of musical emotional hues that still manage to flow together as a continuous whole--more that fulfilling the promise of the album's title. And just case you happen to forget the stated purpose of the album while listening there's an intermittent GPS Lady voiceover reminding you that "as long as your headphones are on...you're safe, and hidden" and it never hurts to be reminded of that. (Jason Lee)





Mars Rodriguez: Up until "The End"

Mars Rodriguez is an independently-operating, Los-Angeles-based, Nicaraguan-American singer-songwriter-producer-multi-instrumentalist and so far her early releases are living up to that multi-hyphenate description. Mars released her first full-length last September, Don't Wait for Nothing, and over its 30 minutes you never have to wait too long for some new sonic wrinkle or other musical ingredient to be thrown into the mix which makes for a compelling and propulsive listening experience. And while I may be reading too much into things here, I could see how this restlessness could possibly derive in part from being part of a population displaced by political crisis and state violence.

If forced to come up with my own original hyphenate to describe Mars Rodriguez's music I think I'd go with "Café-Tacuba-meets-Shirley-Manson-meets-Massive Attack" because that at least hints at the stylistic eclecticism and the multilingualism and the mix of grungy guitar, power pop melodies, trip hop ambience, dub- and psych-inspired production, rock-en-espanol rhythms and drum machine rhythms. It's one of those albums meant to be taken in all at once in full, a continuous sonic journey.

Take the album-opening instrumental track "Tous Les Jours" for example, which starts off with almost a full minute of ambient planetarium-style celestial sounds before launching into a funky percussion loop that wouldn't sound out of place in a Chemical Brothers song and then a fuzzed-out zig-zagging melody that brings to mind Radiohead's "Myxomatosis" or it does to my mind at least. After a minute or two the fuzzone starts to disintegrate and get swallowed up by swirling echo effects. Then the whole thing topples and transforms into a slower, stripped down groove--but with vibrating tones and reverb-drenched voices still hovering overhead before fading out to sounds of distorted radio signals and sine waves.

From there each subsequent song on Don't Wait for Nothing explore a new direction or two. One of these directions is the "potential pop crossover hit" and there would seem to be at least a couple on the album--like "Now" with it's singalong refrain and motivational message and steady build to a big finish--but always with a quirky touch or two to keep it more on the alternative side of things. Mars's new single released on Friday ("The End") continues down this path of pop music with frayed edges--evoking Brian Eno one moment and Republica the next, with the listener exhorted to "exit your mind". And with all this talk of ends and exits, here's to new beginnings because I'll bet Mars Rodriguez has some more interesting ideas in store. (Jason Lee)

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