WHILE AT THIS POINT in the winter, Oregonians are so ready for sun they throw beach-themed dance parties, the Mint Chicks have actually been living in the proverbial endless summer, splitting time between Portland and their homeland, New Zealand. Wrapping up their current southerly stint, the Chicks recently released a new four-song EP entitled Bad Buzz in a clever format that avoids the disposability of CDs and the unwieldy nostalgia of vinyl or cassettes. Bad Buzz, which sees the band exploring a relatively darker corner of their retro-futurist seaside soundscape, is available exclusively through musichype.com in the form of a 1GB USB stick designed by Ruban Nielson, the Chicks' frontman and graphic designer.
"The thing about the USB stick was it seemed like we could offer something that had some value outside of the music that was contained on it. Selling it like a commodity and having music be a bonus. It's weird because people are discovering that they like the EP a lot but it seems like these days people aren't interested in the actual art, they need a bunch of other stuff to make them interested... an object that is novel and somewhat immune to the devaluation of music because it's actually a flash drive we're selling."
If the Mint Chicks are playing with the tangible aspects of releasing music, fellow part-time PDXers in rock outfit Portugal. The Man are toying with its temporality. Scarcely six months after putting out breakthrough album The Satanic Satanist, the band announced in February that it would be releasing its follow-up, American Ghetto, on March 2 with zero publicity or promotional plans, relying only on word of mouth. Main man John Gourley reflects on the relationship between the new album and the manner of its release:
"We just started talking about doing this '90s hiphop album. It really isn't hiphop, but just doing this songwriting over the top of break-beats and bringing in friends like Rob Swift from the X-Ecutioners, who did some scratching over some of the beats that we did. Because The Satanic Satanist was so straightforward and such a push for us it kind of made sense that American Ghetto be that '90s hiphop vibe: the trunk of your car, out of a backpack on the street, just letting people take the record, let it happen and not shove it in people's faces."
For other bands, however, patience is a virtue. Such is the case with Blue Giant, the roots-rooted project formed by Kevin and Anita Robinson of Viva Voce, which has just inked a deal with Vanguard Records. "We met with Vanguard and we're completely on the same page as them. They span the spectrum of where we want to be and it was just a perfect fit. I mean, they've got the Watson Twins and Merle Haggard so it's this diverse label... they don't give a fuck what Pitchfork writes about, so that's the kind of shit that I want to be a part of," says Kevin.
There's been a spate of in-town band/label matches made recently as well, with boutique DIY emporium Tender Loving Empire slated to release long-awaited albums from two of Portland's most talked-about bands: Y La Bamba and Typhoon. Taste aside, and true to his expansionist title, for Tender Loving Emperor Jared Mees the decision as to which bands to add to the label's roster boils down to basics:
"We really are most excited about getting these bands out to people outside of Portland. The central theme of how we operate as a label is that we don't sign a band that can't tour at least 60 dates in the first six months after an album is released."