The following bands were chosen at random; but, as always, if you got a new band and you want us to check out your shit, email firstname.lastname@example.org is nice and likes people.
Unless your name is Sean Tillman, intentionally humorous music is VERY unfunny, usually due to the crappiness of irony and blatancy. Besides, it's hard to believe that a band cares about its music, when the music always comes off as a self-hating, nihilistic joke. So, when I say that Sour Grapes have the funniest lyrics in Portland, please know that it is ONLY because of the trio's sharp taste and savvy--NOT because they're trying to be frigging Margaret Cho. Featuring the scrappy harmonies of Nicole Georges, Dawn Riddle, and Steve Gevurtz--who alternate on acoustic guitar, drums, and Casio--Sour Grapes writes very Portland-centric, cool and tough elegies for retarded boys and jerky friends. In one song bemoaning the rising cost of the seven-inch record, Riddle sings, "Pretty Girls Make Graves are okay, but $4.99 is too much to pay." Other subjects include setting ex-boyfriends on fire ("My Valentine's in the Burn Ward"), confronting someone who called Nicole a "ho," and getting a second cup of coffee at Half & Half (which includes a sung lecture by Steve about how coffee sucks the marrow out of your bones). It's funny because Sour Grapes aren't trying, they're just being who they are--which, coincidentally, is very charming. JULIANNE SHEPHERD
The Forth's guitars have a stilted, stop-and-start quality that collapses into a bright release. It's as though their harsher instincts are reigned in, barely stifled, while benign, free-falling bewilderment flourishes. They're not holding back musically or falling below some potential. The effect is more like grinding teeth, the kind of anger that rules you, scares you and is dubiously justifiable. One part of the music mutters ghoulishly and roars like a 12-year-old girl who's about to burst into Elektra and strangle mom. Then the more ponderous voice snatches the progression into a manageable sparseness and cooing vocals. Mixing hard-soft-hard ain't exactly headline news in this neck of the woods, but the way they do it is tense. In a "I kinda wanna break cocktails on your face but I'm not sure I should," sort of way. And why not? I dunno, ask The Forth. MARJORIE SKINNER
Love The Joggers? Then love the less-caffeinated version, sans bass and rhythm guitar. Cajun Gems are the sparse duo of guitarist/twangy wailer Ben Whitesides, and the mellow drumming of Jogger bassist Darrell Bourque. With Ben's vocals being so prominent and distinct, it's hard not to think of this band as The Joggers, Part II--he sings lead in both bands, and doesn't vary his style enough to draw a distinct line between the two. However, the Cajun Gems is less of an over-the-top musical assault; instead, they border on folky, with fingerpicked guitar and a smooth Sunday style. On their self-released, 19-song CD (they already have a CD?!), it's especially folklicious, with the pleasantly filling addition of banjo. One might say that the Cajun Gems are Joggers for the days when you need one shot of espresso instead of two. KATIE SHIMER
For some people, being an instrumental band means doing some serious audio gymnastics to make up for vocals. Particularly, when it's loud and hard, it can too easily slip into glazed dunk-dunk-dunk hypnosis. The Booths manage to interface some very charming, pop-ish melodies into a barrage of alpha rock without pussing out. That means they know what they're doing, and they're precisely undone. Sometimes it seems they've surgically extracted the metal moments that make your stomach flip-flop, strung them together without the filler, and pirated the exhilarating sensation of a wimpy song's composure gone stupendously awry. The songs are mercurial and winding enough to assuage the desire for the direct communication transmitted through a vocal focus. But this music is built from the ground up, for the kind of people who feel rock and roll as a description of mental and personal state. Can sound be morally righteous? MS
*Apologies to Dr. Joan Hiller