Rod w/Heavy Sunsets, Ladywolf, Studenets; SMART Collective, 6923 SE Foster
Profcal were one of the best and most beloved young bands to have emerged from Portland in the last five years. Their swan song—the Early Girlfriends EP, released in the summer of 2012—was a wholly memorable, if somewhat unseasoned, eulogy to indie rock's golden era, long before the so-called '90s revival had entered any sort of mainstream conversation. In pithy terms: These kids were ahead of their time.
Then lead singer and principal songwriter Tommy Celt broke up the band and spent his last two years of high school in Costa Rica, crying over girls and writing songs—sort of like an adolescent version of the Beatles' sojourn in India. That interlude disrupted what seemed like an impending ascension to a spot as Portland's top pop prince. But, as the first EP from his new band Rod indicates, it's never too late to claim the throne.
The EP, Where I Had Gone, is the first release on local music impresario/aficionado Arya Imig's new label, Sound Judgment Records. (Also, full disclosure: I included a Rod B-side on a new compilation album released by my label, Good Cheer Records.)
Stylistically, there's not a whole lot that distinguishes Rod from Profcal—but unlike Celt's earlier work, these songs don't merely rely on the strength of their hooks. There's a pretty staggering degree of perspective and introspection that makes Where I Had Gone a sort of slow burn, even if its essence is readily digestible. On standout track "Leash"—a song that's almost unfairly catchy—Celt bemoans his dog's rapidly deteriorating health. There's nothing like the death of a family pet to symbolize the end of innocence, and the method in which Celt articulates that symbolism is devastatingly poignant.
The influences here are easily identifiable, but that doesn't mean the album is derivative. On "Maritza," Celt tells his band to wait in the car, opting to use just an acoustic for what is arguably the EP's most vulnerable and chill-inducing moment. It's a deeply intimate ballad redolent of On the Beach-era Neil Young. "Say Hello" sounds a lot like Dinosaur Jr., and you could say that closer "Release the Hounds" sounds like that band from Idaho that has three guitarists.
But like the best songwriters, Celt has internalized these influences and effortlessly synthesized them into something fresh and original. And like the best rock 'n' roll, Where I Had Gone teeters on that line separating past and future, while inadvertently defining the present.