Leave it to Rabbits, Portland's most confounding and strangely innovative metal trio, to compose a fast song about a sloth and a slow song about bees. Just back from tour with Liars, and hot on the heels of their split 12" with Under Mountains, Rabbits unleash this handmade 7" labor of love. From silk-screened cover (a muted mural depicting the titular sloth staring down a swarm of solid bees), to quality home recording from their own basement, this is an artful local effort that exemplifies just how beautiful brutish sludge can be. NATHAN CARSON
MATT CURRERI AND THE EXFRIENDS
Exercise Music for the Lonely
(City Salvage Records)
There's innocence in Matt Curreri's music. There's a joy and purity from the love of writing songs—a love of melody and instruments and the sound of a well-written tune—that comes through on Exercise Music for the Lonely. Most of the songs are concise and tight, and it's that unpretentious quality of getting in there and not wasting the listener's time that gives this album its charm.
Exercise Music is simply a pop album. An album of sunny rock 'n' roll, blended vocal harmonies, and a tinge of what sounds like country but is really just added instrumentation, like violins.
If anything, I imagine Curreri has a short attention span. Even some of the two-minute songs change as much as any sporadic Mates of State hyperballad. Which makes this a great record for a house party—no one's getting bored here. Curreri and friends keep everything moving, changing, full of surprises, and that's a great thing in a record. BART SCHANEMAN
(Ba Da Bing!)
Gulag Orkestar starts off with a huge, boozy, Calcutta brass street march, unpolished, warbly, and syncopated. Tambourines, myriad horns, and devotional-sounding chants bring forth visions of a dusty Indian parade procession. Track two, "Prenzlauerberg," is a gypsy accordion ramble with indecipherable but heavenly vocals, all sounding like it's recorded in a bare-bulb kitchen somewhere. More of the same follows, but by track four, "Postcards from Italy," the ukulele-overlaid vocals snap into focus a bit more: They sound just like late-era solo David Byrne in their Central American phrasing and tenor. So what the hell is this band Beirut? A 12-piece Bengali orchestra? A Russian gypsy collective whose lo-fi exoticism sounds mind-blowingly perfect to my Western indie ears, the same way that Konono No. 1 stormed American record stores in 2005? Both of these speculations are more plausible than the truth I learned after spinning Gulag Orkestar for weeks without knowing a single thing about the record.
Beirut is a 19-year-old kid from Albuquerque named Zach Condon. Wait, say the fuck what? One guy, 19 years old, creating this densely layered Eastern Bloc stew? It's the truth, although Condon got a big boost on the album from ex-Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Jeremy Barnes. Part of my brain wants to jump into a debate about authenticity and cultural cannibalism—what does it mean that my favorite world music CD of 2006 comes from a teenager in New Mexico? It means a lot of things, I'm sure, including plenty of implications that could make me enjoy Gulag Orkestar a whole lot less. But another truth implicated in my original question is that Beirut, AKA a 19-year-old kid from Albuquerque, created one of the most compelling, polyrhythmic, uniquely arranged albums so far this year, and no amount of rhetoric can change that. CHAS BOWIE
House on the Hill
(Celestial Gang Records)
Silentist is local guy Mark Evan Burden (ex-Get Hustle) and this little EP of his is all slow building experimental rock jams that turn into brown-bile-splattered murder blasts, death metal growl/horror flick vibe explosions, and scream operas. It's unsettling, gorgeous music that showcases Burden's strangled, authentic-sounding voice over a bed of tinkling glass-thin music box noise, bassy drones, and limber, smart semi-jazz drums. ADAM GNADE
Through the Cardial Window
While his minimalist pieces bear the compositional rigor you'd expect from a Mills College grad (avant-garde guitar maestro Fred Frith was one of his professors), you don't need an advanced degree to appreciate Kowalsky's warm, enveloping tone waves. Using computer, electronics, field recordings, and melodica, Kowalsky conjures hypnotic whorls of astral dust that corkscrew into your brain with the gentle insistence of a softly uttered prayer. Aid from Ben Bracken's prepared guitar, Marielle Jakobsons's violin and bowed glass, and Joel Chapen's bowed acoustic guitar tastefully embroiders Cardial Window's sonic Persian rugs. Kowalsky has atomized his rich sound sources and made them radiate in a sacred light. DAVE SEGAL