Tues Aug 31
320 SE 2nd
Adrian Orange is a tall, lanky, handsome Portland native who is afraid of coming off as some silly rock star. He begins his emailed response to my dumb questions with classic self-deprecation: "I hope you don't think these answers are real pretentious, and I'm an asshole; I did my best, I am a fool." But, as is typically the case with folks who're afraid of pretension, he's the opposite. In fact, with his band Thanksgiving, Orange is capable of making mopey, indie folk-pop that's downright fucking transcendent.
Before I tell you how great he is, I have to tell you that he uses steel drums on the last song of his October 2004 release, Welcome/Nowhere. Of all the musical sins a folk-rocker can commit, the use of steel drums should carry one of the more severe penalties. Also, this music is not everyone's cup of tea: the songs are kind of long and not structured in verse-chorus-verse; it's folky, but often there're fucked up noises in the background. And he's got a deep yet mildly quavery voice that's reminiscent of Bill Callahan from Smog.
Those caveats aside, Thanksgiving is startlingly beautiful, sit-on-your-ass-and-listen music. It's vaguely electronic, visionary acoustic pop informed by the marching-band-from-slumberland sound of Neutral Milk Hotel; the laptop folk of Greg Davis; the jazzy, lush Brazilian folk of Antonio Carlos Jobim; the recombinant hillbilly-isms of Will Oldham and his cult; and the poetic and strange Pacific Northwest singer-songwriter Karl Blau. Welcome/Nowhere has the distinction of being the debut release on producer and Microphones maestro Phil Elverum's new label, P.W. Elverum & Sun. It is downright pretty even as an object, a limited edition with stark covers hand-screened on the backs of cast-off thrift store LP covers by Elverum himself. I bet it's worth a hundred bucks on eBay two years from now.
With stumbling waves of acoustic guitar and a sparse, subtle production (there is a lot of multi-tracked humming going on in the background) Welcome/Nowhere is one of those grow-on-you records that, as of this writing, is still growing on me. I know I like it a ton but am not sure I love it as much as Orange's first work with Elverum, The Ghost in the Eyes with Trees in the Ground Outside the Window (April 2004, States Rights/ Slender Means).
On the phone with Orange while he's touring the Midwest, I ask whether this record is a concept album or not, and he replies, "I don't really know what a concept record is! I wanted to make this one cohesive and I had these two kinds of songs that I was writing: 'Welcome' songs and 'Nowhere' songs. 'Welcome' songs are about home, ideas of home, and the idea of security and belonging somewhere. The 'Nowhere' idea is based on realizing how alone you are in the universe, yet feeling secure in that--just sort of acceptance or something. A lot of it relates to this bus tour I went on by myself last winter. I spent most of the time just sitting on the bus and looking out the window, and it was snowing a lot. It's really important to me, to just sit and not do stuff."
Orange got started with his guitar when he was 10 years old and loved Nirvana. For a guy who says that sitting and not doing stuff is really important he seems to have been pretty busy to me. Now that he's 18 years old, this dropout who left high school in his freshman year has a handful of releases under his belt. He tours the country regularly, lives with his musical collaborator Jona Bechtolt (of electronic pop project Y.A.C.H.T.) in an apartment above his mom's place, and is the co-owner of Marriage, which is a really rad local record label.
I am twice the guy's age and find myself feeling a twinge of jealousy. But then I hear him talk about how his parents are "very amazing people," and all of that goes right out the door. I can't tell you how nice it is to have lovely, mopey music made by a guy who isn't an asshole, who even seems downright well adjusted: "[My folks] are supportive. They love me very much. They have done more for me than I can say. Hi Mom! Hello, Dad!"