Local Tracks on the Web
By David Pence
Caleb Mulkerin and Colleen Kinsella have made a gorgeous, haunting recording that seems to hover between worlds, taking you from wherever you’re sitting to some faraway place (Appalachia? Yoknapatawpha? The Allagash?). The track’s cloudy atmosphere suggests not only physical distance, but also the distance created by passing time. Made from a few elements of analog Americana (folk guitar, voices and bells) married to simple electronic effects (reverb and echo), the song lingers like radioactive dust over some derelict mountain road. Mulkerin’s slightly unhinged falsetto is what keeps me coming back to “The Fall of Quinnisa Rose.” His out-on-the-limb performance combines equal parts wonder, yearning, dread, and waggery.
Just what the doctor ordered: frisky, angular, literate pop that does its thing in a minute and a half, a la Wire — can’t stay, no more to say… Jason Unterreiner puts his exaggeratedly enunciated vocals forward in the mix, and he keeps the arrangement pleasingly spare: a synthetic-sounding rhythm guitar, bass, drums (or their approximation), and a charmingly dinky organ for maximum smiles. The intro and first spin through the verse are good, but when that organ surfaces like a kooky, long-necked creature and the vocal gets doubled (“What kind of spin could you put on such a thing?”), things get really fun. Unterreiner’s smart aleck tone bobs and weaves with the kind of tight, jumpy rhythms and lo-fi sounds that once made kindred spirits like the dBs and Otis Ball infectious and amusing.
This track sounds like an urgent and passionate appeal to the heavens, fer sher. The Portland quartet plays and sings at maximum tilt. Barrows’ approach is not dissimilar to the basic attack of earnest, guitar-driven bands like U2 or Pearl Jam. That is to say, they’re inspired to address big questions head on, they’re intent on achieving and evoking catharsis, they’re unafraid of expression in extremis, and their singers choose tortured and epic over coy and self-referential. Except for the plaintive vocal melody, the hooks in this track are textural or structural. Example: the way the nice, fat rhythm guitars are finally allowed to ring out at the end of verse sections, only to be reined back in, recoiled, until later, when maybe they’ll be released again.
In this electronic track, Rob Hatherley blends basic and complicated elements to nifty effect. The chord progression is simple, but just rich enough, and the melody repeats over and over. These elements function like the control group in an experiment; the track’s progress through its six sections is driven by the beats. The beat begins jumpy and imperative, then slows and eases slightly, grows aggressive and nervous, breaks into the clear with a springier feel, collapses into frazzled exhaustion, then supports a declaimed vocal manifesto before finally switching off. I like how the track keeps returning to overload and the way it fights pretty. I wish Hatherley had scratched the vocal, trimmed a minute or more, and let the drama of the cave-in be the finish.
This is a sly song about memory and the unpredictable, intangible ways lovers disconnect. The track has a loose, hazy, psychedelic sound: strummed acoustic guitars in the verses, two voices languorously unfurling the narrative. Shakers fill spaces with texture and rhythm, and an electric guitar underscores a handful of nuanced emotional tones. On the early verses, the calliope guitar (sounding like an organ on a Faust album) adds a sense of dark whimsy to the drawn-out syllables of the vocal. Yet at the ends of verses, the guitar notes stretch out and bend with bluesy longing. The song’s lazy charm sneaks up on you. The lyrics’ Gothic overtones (heaven, a ghost, suicide, evil monks, a haunted room, a nervous cat) carry surprising power, steeped as they are in the recollection of another missed connection, another possible love unrealized.
David Pence is the host of Radio Junk Drawer, heard Wednesdays from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. on community radio station WMPG (90.9 and 104.1 FM; wmpg.org).