Phoenix Most Ballot-Stuffed Bands! Revealed!

When I sprang forth from my mother’s new york city vagina a quarter of a century ago, i wanted one thing: to be President of my High School class.  Well, that dream never came to fruition since I dropped out after 10th grade, living instead off my great trust fund wealth that affords me my lonely and dusty but grandious mansion atop Portland’s West End.

Veering from this opening digression brings us to the Portland Phoenix Best Music Poll Awards, otherwise known as Portland’s annual musical popularity contest.  And you know what, it’d be easy to dismiss the whole thing as nothing more, but that’s not worthwhile.  In fact, the event itself, held Wednesday night at the Asylum, was conceptually pretty cool.  The who’s who showed and were in merry spirits, drinking merry spirits. Schmoozing abounded, the nominees and the non-nominated mingled alike with the local Mp3-J’s (formerly known as radio DJ’s) and behind the scenes doers and booers.

Some particular highlights of the show: the much-appreciated strip tease that seemed to be, well, just a blatant strip tease.  We couldn’t figure out why or what place it had at an awards show like that, but if you think anyone in the house was complaining, you best get back to Amish Country and churn some butter.  Another was when Spencer (whose School Spirit Mafia was impressively packed with harmonies, eye candy, and even an umpire) accepted the award for Rustic Overtones, even though the founding member no longer keys for the band. Also highlighting was Hatchetface (hadn’t heard of them) winning Best New Act as a write-in even though they are no longer a band!  Only in a small town!

Let’s take a quick look at the winners/losers (oftentimes the same!)

Dark kinghts (Best Album). Indie rockers talk the talk, but Ocean walked the rock, grabbing the best album, but not bothering to show up for the acceptance.  We agree it’s pretty cool that an album as un-radio friendly as is Pantheon of the Lesser took top album honors.

Double trouble (Best category-defying/indie outsider act + best female vocalist).  When was the last time a write-in won 1, much less 2, categories.  It’s an impressive feat, but you have to wonder if ballot stuffing played a part.  One vote each from their fans?  Could that possibly have beat other more mainstream (or at least nominated) names like Confusatron, Anna Lombard, Dilly Dilly…? No knock on these guys, but certainly raised parity eyebrows.

Lord of the dance (Best DJ/dance act). Uh, no opinion?

Triple entente (Best Heavy Music/ Metal act). Love the forced scowl in the picture in the Phoenix. Don’t recognize the name Ogre, but they’ve apparently been around for 10 years.  Ocean, the runner up, won best album.  Doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.

A brilliant flame (Best folk act).  Doesn’t Jason Spooner just play covers?  This is precisely the kind of award winner that makes us say, oh, oh perhaps we were wrong, we should go to his website and listen.  So we will.  Later today.  Or tomorrow.

Wired for sounds (Best electronic act).  Admit again we didn’t know what Computer At Sea was/is/who? but we highly recommend reading Galen Richmond’s self-description of his set up in the Phoenix.  If that isn’t funny and awesome, then we’re friends with Honey Clouds’ fanbase.

Mixing it all up (best hip-hop act).  Ah, the White Heart guy!  We’re not a fan of the beard, but will check out the referenced “mix-tape.”

Stormy sailors (best indie act). If Fire on Fire is the band we saw a while ago then we are impressed and think they are a worthy best indie act, but we now are struggling to define “indie act”.  Though we haven’t seen their name around on the performance schedules, we’ll keep an eye out.  Honey Clouds finished 4th! And that’s fine, they’re a popular “indie rock” band for Christ sake, according to their fans, we just wish our indie bands in town upped their game.  What IS “indie” anyway? Doesn’t it just mean “independent?”

Near… and far (Best Jazz act).  Easily our favorite jazz act in town.  His smooth instrumentation and soulful bebopping is just unmatched.  Ok, we admit, we didn’t know there was a jazz scene in Portland.

By the horns (Best live act). Here we go! Rustic Overtones! Here’s one where we do not suspect ballot stuffing, just name familiarity.  This victory also screams: we need more new bands!  As Jeff Inglis writes in the intro, Rustic won awards in the very first Best Music Poll.  They are good, whether you like their type of music or not, but wouldn’t it be more exciting to crown a group or band that had fresh basil sprinkled in their dish? Let’s try not to embrace sterility, Portland!

Been + gone (best new act). Already mentioned them, but we adore that the best new act is a write-in.  Ouch, Spencer and School Spirit Mafia, who were asked to perform, finished a distant 4th.  We were impressed with their set, so maybe next time they’ll get some more ballot-stuffing friends.

Nearing liftoff (Best Local Act + Best Male Vocalist). Oh come on.  Come on.  Everybody scream it together: come on.  Really? The best? Still? With that saxomophone? Huh? What are we missing? Most uninspired. Blandest. Most familiar. Those, but not Best Local Act. Our favorite part though is the tag line: “With good reason, Pete Kilpatrick is going places.” When? He’s been “going places” for 8 years.  Going where? To JavaNet? Which places? SuperCuts down by the Mall?

Flower children (Best pop-rock act).  As cheesy as we find the band’s mantra to apparently be “to make peace, love, and harmony,” Dominic and the Lucid are a pretty good local band.  Whoever wrote the description of them in the Phoenix clearly doesn’t know them, as they just quoted Sam Pfeifle’s internal review and ends with a Portland Point favorite: meaningless cliched words (“sonic aesthetic that sounds perfect for these sunny summer days”).  We’ve happened upon them over the years and were never blown away but never offended.  That’s about highest level of praise we allow ourselves here…

Sweet nectar (best punk act). Covered in Bees is an awesome band name.  We love the 4th place finish of the RattleSnakes.

King of the hill (best R&B/soul/blues act). Cover bands rule!

Coming for you (Best Rock Act).  “Our readers are nothing if not loyal.” Say no more!

Honesty (best roots act). “Who is Travis Kline?” Actually, based on the review, we’ll go check ’em out after Jason Spooner.

A fitting tribute (Best World Music act). We’ve heard the Kino Proby hype and will be at the next show, which is…? Funny that the best band plays once a year and the runner up, and usual winner, plays at least once a month.  Just goes to show, “best” doesn’t mean “most often.” This was another over-looked point in the Honey Clouds review, that there’s something to be said for not playing a show every week.  Funny acceptable speech too, calling themselves the Best in the World and rambling until getting the hook.  We appreciated that.

Cry me a river (Biggest Babish Act). Mike C from the RattleSnakes gets the honors after his scowling comments to our last 3 posts, mostly spending a lot of time ranting about how this blog is a waste of time, and then justifying his band’s sloppiness by saying they were performing with a new member (not a good idea) but then also saying it was tight and then saying they used to not be tight and it was only sloppy because we’re not familiar with the songs.  Tightness is not about song structure, it’s about the musicians performing well together.  So, the take away is that negative feedback can either be shouted down and pouted about, or learned from.  Even if the negative feedback is written in an abusive, over-the-top manner, might as well learn from it, or cry about it and demand for vengence! Reveal yourself, Batman, so I can throw acid in your beautiful, beautiful face!  I shall not listen to your criticism unless i know who you are! And that benefits……… nobody!

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Published in: on June 4, 2009 at 2:20 pm  Comments (23)  
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Music Ob-seen: Honey Clouds and 2 other sloppy bands

We were among the 200 or so Portland denizens duped by the hype last night at SPACE Gallery for the Honey Clouds CD Release. We’ll do two versions of this review, the first is for you movers and shakers on the go, who want a little summary nugget; the second will be for those of you who like to read opinions, specifically our opinions.

Short and sweet: What the fuck?

Longer and sweatier: The Bollard called Fall on the Honey Clouds “the much-anticipated sophomore release” which is a pompous (though industry standard) way of saying “my friends are putting out another CD with a lot of the same songs as their first one, but this time they mastered it or something, I don’t really know why they didn’t just write new songs, am I the only one confused here?”

But the former is a way to make something of little significance feel bigger and more important to the public at large, and in this case it worked. SPACE was packed, even before Gully took to the stage. Who? Gully, of course, we’re talking one of Portland’s two favorite bands, according to SPACE’s promotion. The other local fave? The Rattlesnakes, conveniently also on the bill! What a deal! If these two aren’t two of your favorite bands, why don’t you just back up your fancy pants and move to New York “The City That Believes in Quality Control” City, mister! Side note: can major metropolises have sarcastic middle names?

We have to imagine we were not alone in wondering what the hell was up with Gully and the Rattlesnakes, each competing to see who could play more sloppily and sing more discordantly. Ignore the fact that the music was unarguably abrasive to the human ear. Try to ignore that. But do not ignore that these bands are lauded for precisely that which makes them unlistenable. Who are the ad wizards who came up with this one? Is Karl Rove a music reviewer now? The SPACE calendar called it “noisy pop festivities.” The thing is, noise-pop can be done. Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Yo La Tengo, Velvet Underground, millions of other successful bands use noise, i.e. feedback and screeching guitars, in a poppy manner. The critical distinction is that with the pros, you know they have the ability and talent to play cleanly, yet they are choosing to utilize the noise-techniques for a desired effect. With our local favorites, you get the idea that they have no choice. And proof is in the fact that the bands are SLOPPY. Seemingly unrehearsed. First time gathering in ma’s attic. Yet they’re on stage where mistakes are accentuated. Why are we made to feel like snobs if we think a band playing at one of our only local indie rock clubs should be held to a standard at least as high as “modest ability at instruments, have played these songs together before”?

And who won, you’re asking? After careful deliberation, we will crown Rattlesnakes with having played more discordantly and sloppily. If we found out they decided to pack it in and sell insurance, we’d be unsurprised and celebratory. Unfortunately, this is Portland, and of course not only are they playing again, but they’re playing again tomorrow. So much for spreading shows out (in other cities bands cannot play certain clubs if they have shows booked two weeks on either side of the gig).

But we didn’t come to see the opening bands, we came for the headliner, the Honey Clouds. The clouds hung on either side of the stage could have foreboded the sonic storm about to rain down. If this is pop, or noise pop, or whatever you want to call it, where are the pop hooks? Trey Hughes’s melodies are boring, like someone splattered paint on some sheet music and called it good. The songs all plod along in a mid-tempo 4/4 trot. The album may be the band’s sophomore release, but the only thing sophomoric was the musicianship (zing!).  If at a show you don’t enjoy the songs, at least a night can be redeemed by an impressive guitar solo, or some sort of musical eyebrow-raiser. Last night the only redeemer was the $2 PBR. Song to song, the set blended into a forgettable landscape of ear-crying and wondering where to go for late night munchies (nowhere, unfortunately).

This all speaks to a greater issue we cope with here in our fair Port City: a lack of unbiased opinion and a lack of standards. If bands like Gully, Rattlesnakes and Honey Clouds are heralded as Portland’s best, sure that makes those guys (and gals) feel good, but someone who isn’t friends with them will read that, hear them, snort, and write off the whole scene, and they’d be justified in doing so. If every review you read takes the collective cock’n’balls of the band and deep throats them, how are we to know when the music is actually good? Giving a favorable review to a piece of shit hurts everyone and helps no one. The band falsely thinks they’ve created a masterpiece when really they should be returning to square one, practicing, rehearsing, and striving for improvement. And the non-musician public quickly learns to disregard any words of praise, head to Bull Feeney’s for whatever cover band is playing, and scoff at the notion of paying $6 to see three local bands. [Cue reference to the boy who cried wolf.]

We have work to do, people. Call a terd a terd, call an awesome band awesome, but never cross those circuits. It takes everyone! We can do this, people, can’t we? If not, we’re moving to New York.

Published in: on May 24, 2009 at 10:30 am  Comments (50)  
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The Local Music section of the Portland Phoenix

One of the points of the Portland Point is to give a little kick in the buttocks of those responsible for giving our local musicians a kick in the buttocks.  The primary outlet for music reviews in this town is our fault-laden rag The Portland Phoenix.  Though there are others, notably the Bollard, which give the most candid (and therefore accurate) reviews we’ve seen in this Port City town.

The Local Music page always has four sections: album reviews, Music Seen, Sibilance, and of course the Bull Moose top 10.

The albums are all reviewed by Sam Pfeifle, and no matter how much you like his writing or don’t, it’s never a good idea for there to be just one staff reviewer.  It’d be like having one branch of government.  One mail man for the whole city.  One coffee shop in the center of the Old Port.  One bordering state.  So without delving into the reviews themselves, we’re off to a bad start.  We didn’t vote for Sam’s opinion (regardless of what it is) to be the one guiding voice.  But that’s the management of the Phoenix’s perogative.  So now let’s dig.  The biggest problem with Mr. Pfeifle’s reviews is there’s too much back story before you get to the actual album, and too much technical talk about mixes and effects, not enough about the music itself, like, is the music GOOD??  Look at this week’s Spark the Rescue review.  We start to hear about the album in Paragraph #6.  The first 5 discuss StR’s past, and even the fact that 9 of the 12 songs on the disc aren’t even new.  You can tell Sam is involved in Portland’s behind-the-scenes (he is Secretary of the Portland Music Foundation), because before we even hear about the music we hear about the businessy back end of the band, the stuff we the listener don’t want to know about, like the “cultivation of fans.”  Fans probably don’t like to be considered just a number to be prodded into the sty.  When do we get to read about the disc?  Ok, in Para6 we get some album creds (featuring Jon Wyman, who else?), some name dropping of who these guys have worked with in the past, oh there it is: “giant sound.”  Tucked neatly into the bottom left-hand corner of the page.  We get the bulk of the actual review in the two paragraphs that start with “If anything,…”  But Sam fails to delve into the feel, the mood, the backing emotions perhaps.  He gives a very general description of overall feel (“chock full of tunes about love”) and then delves into what we think is the most boring tool of reviewing: then the guitars come in, then the vocals, then there’s like lots of voices together, oh i can hear a keyboard!  He’s just describing the song like a sportscaster.  It’s too technical, mentioning “Auto-Tune” which we’d guess the bulk of StR’s fans – or Phoenix readers – may not even understand.  With all the references to “If you’ve grown up with the band” or “For those of you who’ve heard the first version” or “blast from the past,” we’re left wondering if the album, and its review, are meant to be for the general public, or just friends and family of those who grew up in Portland.

Then we have Music Seen (the pun is obvious but perfectly and appropriately so).  Hey, at least the Phoenix gives voice to an array of writers.  But more often than not, these articles feel like we’re witnessing the writer’s chance to brag about having seen some show, or knowing some band personally.  Usually the reviews start with lots of “I” statements, ex: “I went to the show expecting…” or “When I heard so and so was…”.  In the issue at hand, Chad Chamberlain breaks from the norm and actually paints a fairly vivid picture of what Seymour sounded and looked like.  Then shatters the dream by focusing on his own personal view for the 2nd paragraph.  Are reviews not supposed to be unbiased, we ask rhetorically?  If Chad had indeed listened to that song on MySpace 10 times (and how is that part of describing the Seymour show?), how can he be expected to give us, the non-attendee, a fair and balanced opinion? Obviously he’s a fan.  And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s misleading in the form of a review.  It’d be almost as bad as writing a review of your own band, which anyone would agree would be lacking the requisite detachment.  Chad ends the Seymour review with an awkward, rambling, cliche (“bittersweet wintertime solace”??)  Are we in high school creative writing class?  Please let that question remain rhetorical, we don’t want to know the answer.

In years of reading the Phoenix, we still can’t figure out what the point of the Sibilance section is.  It’s always a smattering of name dropping the same names that are always in that section in a transparent attempt to aggrandize said people.  That’s okay, no beef on that, it just screams: “hey!!! we live in a tiny town!!! don’t forget it!”

The Top 10 Local CDs is always fun, see if any new names are there and count the number of appearances by Dead Season and Bob Marley.  Mostly around the holidays, Marley has about half of them.  This week it’s a refreshing potpourri of a whole 8 distinct acts in the top 10.  Think about that for a second.

Published in: on May 1, 2009 at 10:32 am  Comments (1)  
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Props to the Port City Music Hall

As much as we dislike the boring genero-name of Portland’s newest music venue, the Port City Music Hall, we have to tip our hat and reveal our receding hairline and humbly acknowledge that they needn’t be dragged into the present, as they seem to already be there.  Unsolicited, the Portland Point received an email providing us with the upcoming concerts at the soon-to-open venue.  It was directly to us, with a kind “thx” to end the email!  Who knew venues in Maine even HAD email?

And imagine our glee when we clicked on their site and indeed the upcoming shows were listed right there, on their front page.  And then a link to their blog.  A blog?  Did we miss the train back from New York or something?  What if this really is the beginning of Portland’s entrance into the 2000’s?  The blog even provides some youtube links and info about the bands.  We’re awe struck.

Though there is much work to be done (like, PCMH, don’t use “a-yuh” – it screams your out of towner-ness, and us Mainers love locals and hate outsiders), we felt compelled to write a post praising PCMH.

Additional props to booking local openers for your out of town bands.  This could be a real cool venue.  We’re looking forward to seeing it from the inside.

Published in: on January 6, 2009 at 11:04 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Big Easy – How about hearing some songs someone else wrote

We only have a select few venues for live rock and roll in this town and we are lucky that they are run well for the most part. It’s distressing to see the direction taken by The Big Easy of late. Never mind the aesthetic disaster of a calendar that dittos itself for its Monday-Thursday columns, but please do mind the prevalence of cover bands. Sweet mother Mary. A Portland music scene virgin would question whether this town produces anything Made in Maine at all – or if we’re even capable. The Clash of the Titans (which purports to showcase the local talent but instead showcases a select A List of local talent) isn’t going anywhere as it packs the place every Tuesday. You know, that’s fine, I like the Clash, it’s fun and the energy is totally positive. Now imagine it in a context where every other night original music is supported and the Portland Public comes out to hear what its membership was creatively up to. Unfortunately, imagining is what we must do.

Ok, let’s have a gander at the Big Easy calendar coming up; let’s see if we’re getting original music or our local boys and girls performing music someone else wrote. Tuesday, the Clash of the Titans. Covers. Wednesday, Strange Pleasure. Cover Band for the most part, some original tunes that blend in with (and sort of sound like) the covers. Thursday, Band Beyond Description. A Grateful Dead Cover band. Friday, the Awesome. 80’s covers. These guys have been at it for a long long time – can they still enjoy it? If so, good for them, no disrespect, but this shtick has been played out. Maybe they still draw an audience, the Big Easy I’m sure hopes so. Saturday, Hutch Hats Release Party. I’ll give the Easy the benefit of the doubt and dub this one a night of original music. Hopefully it means hearing Hutch Heelan play. 1 to 4, a .200 batting average. Sunday, all ages show, bands TBA. This doesn’t even count. It’s a week before the show and the bands are TBA? That’s not fair, it takes way more than a week to properly promote a show. Nothing Monday. The next Tuesday, another Clash – cover music. Wednesday, Strange Pleasure. Again. Like last week. Like the last X weeks. Thursday, Band Beyond Description. Again. Like last week. Like the last XxX weeks. Friday, Tony McNaboe. Drummer from Rustic Overtones. I imagine this will be original music. The one-name, expect a full-night of music thing befuddles me – three sets? two? Why not put on an opener for exposure? Who knows anymore. So, then round out the month with … an actual… I can’t believe my eyes… a normal 3 band show, like we’re supposed to have. Spose, with Luch and Eliza. Alright Big Easy! Granted it’s Hip Hop, which is not good old fashioned rock and roll, but at this point, beggars of original music cannot be choosy.  These three acts are all from Maine.  At the midpoint of the month, we can look forward to One real show of original music, two shows that are probably original but tough to parse, and then a whole mess of other people’s songs.  For the record, no shows of original rock music.

What does this all mean?

This town has an insatiable appetite for Cover Music, and the Big Easy is cashing in like it’s going – and before it goes – out of style. We should be so lucky.

It’s a Catch-22 of course, why should the club deny shows that will be packed, and why should the bands refuse to play the cover tunes? They shouldn’t. But let’s have some moderation, people. Let’s go see the bands when they’re in their natural / actual environment, let’s have the Cover nights truly be a fun break from the norm, instead of the norm itself. We can do it, we owe it to ourselves to do it, but we probably won’t.

Speaking of the Big Easy – remember when a pint of beer was 16oz? Just saying – a “pint” isn’t an arbitrary thing, it is a unit of measure, with a specific definition.

For now at least.

Published in: on August 18, 2008 at 2:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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