Typhoon - A A New Kind of House (EP)

Tender Loving Empire

The past year has been a busy one for Kyle Morton and the ever-malleable Typhoon. Last May saw the release of their highly-praised first (real) full-length album, Hunger and Thirst which has been at the very top of innumerable Best of 2010 lists, both locally and nationally. And rightfully so.

Hailing from Salem, Typhoon was conceived about five years ago as a songwriting project between Morton and percussionist Devin Gallagher. An eponymous album was released within a year of the band’s inception. After a hiatus that began in 2008 and ended a year later, the band regrouped and have been hard at work ever since- Hunger and Thirst and this EP being the product of those efforts.

There appear to be somewhere in the neighborhood of eight or ten core members in the band including two ladies in the string section, three guys in the brass section and two in the drumming contingent with two more percussionists, with bassist Toby Tanabe and guitarist Dave Hall playing in support of Morton on guitar. Many are founding members- undaunted, apparently, by the unwieldy.

All, among the dozen or so people listed as contributors to this project, lend vocal support. A rock ensemble to execute a choral symphony, to be sure. Can Beethoven’s 9th be far behind?

A New Kind of House is not some compendium of rejected tracks from the album. Not in the least. The five songs presented here show a definite, fully-realized progression in terms of Typhoon‘s approach.

Perhaps the most obvious point in support of this assertion is the extenuation of the song “Claws Pt.2, from Hunger and Thirst. The sequel, “Claws Pt. 1” (don’t ask me), is performed far more powerfully here than its predecessor. One would hope the band decides to do an updated version of the song on everything they release.

However, the first song of this set, “The Honest Truth” is targeted as the single. It is not unlike “Starting Over,”  the first song on Hunger and Thirst, in that the new song similarly creeps in on little cat feet; before exploding into the full complement of instrumentation- which matches the drama of Morton’s woe-wrought tale of  thoughtful despair.

“The Honest Truth” lurches along on sputtering brass; sliding on the double-time quadruplets of Morton’s acoustic guitar flurries. The song itself sounds as if it could have fallen from Colin Meloy’s guitar case- though, lyrically they differ substantially: Morton being more direct and not so inclined to aspire to be the Edmund Spenser of the 21st century. Nor are their voices similar at all.

Kyle’s voice is worn and world-weary, finely encrusted with a coat of many sorrows; an impassioned vibrato fluttering lightly beneath: full, rich and evocative. Those familiar with Peter Gabriel’s work with Genesis in the 70s (especially the Foxtrot/Selling England By The Pound period) could probably find antecedents in Kyle’s vocals. A cool brass interlude ends the song.

The driving 6/4 time signature is impetus for “Summer Home,” another song that takes some time to coalesce. An exquisite rhythmic clatter builds to a peak before dissolving into a beautiful, windswept chorus; limbing sweetly great trees of sound. It’s a song of lost love, or lost family, or both. Evocative of antique sunlight through a spring sky window.

As mentioned, “Claws Pt. 1” is absolutely wrenching in its presentation. Like it’s predecessor, it seems to be almost a collection of several songs, neatly knitted together. If not, then the arrangement gives that impression, all the same. It is not a reconstruction of the former song, instead embroiders the cloth of that song with new emblemation. It’s a tributary of Pt. 2- but, perhaps, more to the point, more complete than the first version.

It also answers the age old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? According to Typhoon, the chicken came first.

The song begins building from where it left off on Hunger and Thirst– a toy piano, or glockenspiel, and what sounds like a banjo flit behind the scene, lapping waves on the glistening musical surface. An angular, guitar/bass (?) theme bounds across the verse, slowly adding depth and movement. Then they advance upon the dramatic turn in the middle of the song.

Through the course of the “Claws” suite, David Hall’s forlorn lead-guitar broods impatiently, a gather of dark clouds- before finally pouring forth, in a deluge, the signature riff. While in its former incarnation it was a twangy, passing riff, here it sounds as if all the sky is crying; soaring, a swooping swoon.

Hall is met by an impassioned vocal chorus and the entire delegation of brass and strings- which melt into a gorgeously evocative guitar solo that carries the song out to its extended fade. A masterpiece.

The short song, “Kitchen Tile,” maintains a householding theme that pervades the entire work. The Home: A Concept Album. The composition sounds as though the kitchen tile in question were actually used for acoustic reverb in places within the song.

On “Firewood,“ Kyle plunks out a familiar progression a homely upright piano, singing in his upper register- sounding a little like Neil Young on his song “Birds” from After the Goldrush. A somewhat somber procession dirges sweetly in 3/4 time, enembered of radiant hearth. Warm and familial. All gathered: funereal, a melancholy second line; dancing through the streets of the spirit.

We in Portland are very fortunate. “Portlandia” notwithstanding, there aren’t many places in the country, or in the world for that matter, that can claim to nurture such a fertile creative community. The music being generated in this city is second to none. There are ten or twenty really great, world-class bands from Portland floating around out there. It would be remiss not to place Typhoon near the top of that list.

© 2011 Buko Magazine

In Memory of Stephen Spyrit:

April 18, 1961 – November 11, 2010

Stephen Spyrit

Stephen Spyrit died in November. Most any lover of local alternative music, of a certain age- especially those connected to the original Satyricon scene, would know Steve from his high standing within that community. His position held many duties. He exceeded at all of them.

Stephen Spyrit was an activist, a pacifist, a knowledgeable advisor, a sage counselor, a shoulder to cry on. He was a good friend to anyone who happened to meet him. He was a talented poet, a unique musician (member of the original Hitting Birth when it was a true experimental rock band), beloved yoga instructor, gifted astrologer and an erudite scholar- noted in numerous fields of expertise. And he was the bearer of vital knowledge regarding the spiritual well-being of all humans. He was a very wise man. A disinclined guru. A source of strength.

From the mid-‘80s and his earliest days back at the Stadium Inn near the ballpark at NW 20th and Burnside, Steve was a lightning rod for positive human activity and stimulating intellectual discourse. He nurtured people. He looked after them. It was the Stadium Inn where he regularly held court from behind the bar. He knew everyone who came into that little neighborhood dive- or he did, soon enough. He greeted the eclectic collection of eccentric patrons with total non-judgmental respect.

Later in the ‘80s Steve and his sidekick at the Stadium Inn, Bruno, became fixtures at Satyricon. It was Stephen Spyrit who, in April of 1990, calmly de-fused the legendary “Satyricon riot,” with peaceful paternal concern and benign tranquility. Without that serene lucidity, in the midst of a confusingly volatile situation, the “riot” would have been a far more serious and destructive event than the minor disruption it turned out to be. Good night Irene.

He unceasingly explored deep subjects: with a keen understanding of all-things natural and holy; writing numerous articles for an array of publications; dispensing invaluable instruction about Life and Living.

It’s sad to think about, but comforting, that because of the sacred teachings to which he subscribed, Steve was totally prepared to meet death head-on. He had every intention of  making it to the other side of existence and there is no doubt that he did just that.

Steve loved and enjoyed life and other people; and they loved and enjoyed him. His great, beautiful soul, will be sorely missed by all of his friends and family; but also, and perhaps even more importantly, by a world that needs all the wise spirits it can muster in these troubled times. We can all rest assured that Stephen Spyrit is still sending a positive message of hope and faith, wherever, in all time and space, he now resides.

© 2011 Buko Magazine

Loch Lomond

Dan Reed - Coming Up for AirLittle Me Will Start a Storm
Loch Lomond
Tender Loving Empire

It was 2007 when we last had an album, “Paper the Walls In,” from Loch Lomond. In the interim, Bend native and refugee of the band The Standard, Ritchie Young and his troupe of versatile bandmates, have traveled all over the map: including on national tours opening for the Decemberists and Blitzen Trapper.

In addition, they put out a couple of EPs in 2009, to serve as a sort of bridge between full-length releases. Depending upon whether or not you include the first Loch Lomond album, which was more or less a Ritchie Young solo project, this is their second or third album. There are three officially released EPs in circulation as well, although, it is a good bet that there are other recordings floating around.

What has become a familiar cast supports him- including vocalist Jade Eckler, keyboardist Laurel Simmons (who also contributes mandolin and vocals), drummer Scott Magee (with vocals and clarinet) and Dave Depper and Jason Leonard. The two of them alternate between a cavalcade of instruments, way too numerous to mention. But. Besides the obvious bass, guitars and keys, the two of them toss in autoharp, banjo, harmonica, glass harp, kalimba, glockenspiel and all kinds of other crazy stuff.

Such a broad palette of musical colors affords Young the opportunity to experiment with mood and texture, style and form.-  something which he does continuously and, generally, quite well. Whether it is the songs that determine the instrumentation, or the instruments that influence the songs- at some point, it really doesn’t matter.

The result is a sort of avant organic folk orchestra. Too claustrophobic to be a concert orchestra. Too versatile to be a chamber orchestra. They are a new animal. Comparisons to the Decemberists are fair- as far as they go. Sufjan Stevens had a similar “melting-pot” aggregation in operation a few years ago, although he has lately seemed to move away from that.

This journey begins with “Blue Lead Fences,” which is driven by Young’s propulsive picking on violin, ala a mandolin. It’s possible there is a real mandolin in there too. There is a certain sort of Decembrists sensibility to the song. Vocally, here, Young sounds a tad like the Meloy boy- a craggy nasal whine- spinning a mystical tale too obscure to fully grasp. Dylan Thomas-like childhood recollections? Perhaps. “Throwing air and throwing rocks/sharpened boards and ponds/an eight-year old having fun/lets organize the weaker ones/with enough wind, I can fly/Call them up and say goodbye.” A sort of imagistic shorthand.

More on the chamber side is “Elephants & Little Girls.” Wispy strings dance haltingly in the dappled glockenspiel light. Beautiful, angelic vocal harmonies, reminiscent of those on Elton John’s “Love Song,” (from Tumbleweed Connection) augment Young’s Thom Yorke/Neil Young tenor falsetto anguished wail. A beautiful chorus propels the song into a lovely vocal chant. Delightful viola/ mellotron interplay at the end, sweep the song: a way a lone a last a loved a long the… A moving piece of work. A great song.

Not withstanding the title, it’s a good bet the moony ballad, “I Love Me” is autobiographical: “Ritchie’s body is swelling/oh it’s swelling like a can/and he thinks his body, oh his body, his body is a man/and his friends think it’s funny/to watch him worry worry about himself/and he thinks it’s funny, not to worry worry about your health.” OK. If you/he say so. But one needs always to have some concern for those who refer to themselves in the third person.

The waltz, “Blood Bank” gives every appearance of being a dreary little ditty, with a predilection for knives being brought to the lyrical fore. Delicate instrumentation, featuring croaking bass clarinet, ringing mandolin and moaning viola swaddle Young’s deep, resonant voice (here). As he relates the tale, a saintly female choir hovers near.

An odd, eventually sort of symphonic instrumental, “Water Bells” ensues, affording the bowed saw yet another opportunity for the musical spotlight in a local recording. Alan De Lay the father of the late blues harp giant, Paul De Lay, was a renowned photographer. What is not as well known is that Alan De Lay was also a virtuosic saw player- among many other things.

The recent resurgence of the saw as a musical instrument (instead of the implement it was originally designed to be) has hopefully just about run its course in the local music scene. For, much like the Theremin, whose eerie sound it somewhat resembles, it is extremely difficult to manifest accurate tonality on the damned thing. Thus far, I have yet to hear anyone near reach Clara Rockmore-like proficiency on a saw. Alan De Lay came closest. Perhaps it is time to retire this wavery-quavery novelty instrument back to the toolbox, where it belongs.

Still, once the musical saw finishes taking up sonic space, in the first part of “Water Bells,” Depper’s mellotron and Lawrence’s viola meld to form a thick, rich reverbance, augmented by guest John Whaley‘s clarion trumpet calls.

The lyric to the apocalyptic “Earth Has Moved Again” suggests, possibly Haiti or some similar scenario: “The earth has moved again/this time it has made art/where there were houses, we have water/where there were people we have none.” Musically, we have a troubadorian ballad in 3, bolstered by a throaty, guitar figure that harkens directly back to Jimmy Page’s 12-string intro to “Tangerine.” Solemn, liturgical chant becomes the motif in the vocals. Another good one.

Micah Rabwin’s saw is ostensibly put to better use on the circus-y middle section of “Water in Astoria.” Absolutely inpenetrable lyrics purport some idyll at the beach, possibly involving a piano, though that is not altogether clear. The instrumentation includes a reprise of Young’s mandolin approach to the violin, here more of a plucking pizzicato technique is employed.

A clanging banjo and choppy piano chords supplement the production. Young makes the odd musical decision to sing the main vocal line in his lower register, while simultaneously intoning a falsetto part an octave above. With so many female vocalists at his disposal, his choice to sing the part seems peculiar, in that he doesn’t sound very good here- a little out of tune.

Perhaps a key change down a 1/4th or 1/5th from D would have placed this one in a more vocally reachable range.  Pastoral strings and flute dance beneath the lurching march of the arrangement

“Egg Song” is precisely the other side of that coin, with just Young’s solitary acoustic guitar accompanying ornately gorgeous choral vocal harmonies, over an enthrallingly lovely melody. Eccentric, but pleasing lyrics, oblique and opaque. “Oh the monsters they ate all of my friends, so I can relate/And oh, I’ll find the time, the time to cry/when I remember their names.” So there. Fans of David Byrne or New Pornographers would find much to enjoy this one.

The mood is cast, so “Alice Left With Stockings and Earrings” does not stray far from what came before. Tasteful, eccentric instrumentation supporting inscrutable lyrics. Something might have happened and someone might be a little bitter about the outcome, with some frustrations to vent. Around that lyrical theme circulate ethereal sounds of a “glass harp,” which is numerous goblets tuned to various pitches and played with a moistened finger. Ephemeral steel guitar, dusky clarinet and sad viola. But there is something else going on.

As a vocalist, Ritchie Young seems to be at a crossroads. He wishes to use his very evocative falsetto to sing these sometimes exceedingly sensitive and fragile little songs. But he also seems to want to employ his more sonorous register, an octave below- sometimes alternating the two on the same song. Sometimes pairing them. It sounds as if he is struggling to find his true voice. It’s a little schizophrenic.

Ritchie Young is very talented, though perhaps a bit unconventional. Still, being unconventional never hurt any one in the music business. His musical team is supplely organic, able to provide him with a panoply of unique sounds from which to arrange his pieces.

However, the band- and Ritchie Young- are still works in progress. There is not yet a definitive “Loch Lomond Sound.” While all the variety here can be exhilarating, especially for musicians to perform: it is often difficult for the typical listener to home in on a specific musical location. One wanders, becoming lost upon the steep stylistic terrain.

Still, it would only seem a matter of time before Loch Lomond coalesce into something substantial and memorable; congealing into the group which their great promise ultimately portends.