Paper The Walls
There is an interesting trend afoot in our little corner of the weird world: “chamber folk.” There are several circles of bands, with somewhat interchangeable membership- typically focused on the songs of a particular writer. The hub of this particular wheel is Adam Selzer. Besides manning his own “chamber folk” outfit, Norfolk & Western, Adam also operates Type Foundry studios (where the likes of M. Ward and the Decemberists record. Ah, the Decemberists!).
Two primary spokes on this wheel are Chad Crouch, a multi-talented individual in his own right, who happens to operate one of our city’s most influential labels: Hush Records. Google the name Chad Crouch sometime and you will be invited into a whole separate world, altogether- certainly a context for an entire feature article all his own, Crouch is also a musician and, with Hush Records, a source for what might most certainly be termed, at long last: “the Portland Sound.” Artists such as Norfolk and Western, Kaitlyn Ni Donavan, Laura Gibson, Corinna Repp, Graves and Jeff London, among many others, have released albums on Hush Records.
The other intrinsic spoke in this wheel of sound and style are Peter and Heather Broderick. The ubiquitous Peter Broderick is a key member of Horse Feathers, backing singer/songwriter Justin Ringle on just about every instrument available, including theremin and musical saw, as well as banjo, mandolin, violin, keys and drums. He and Heather Broderick (also in Horse Feathers- primarily on cello) also play with Adam Selzer in Norfolk &Western. Here, the brother and sister are the component purveyors of the “chamber” aspect of the aforementioned coinage.
Circling around this wheel of sound and style are the Decemberists. Colin Meloy’s groundbreaking fusion of a pastoral vision with a folk rock format has spawned a plethora of like-minded bands in Portland. Loch Lomond are among the more recent additions to this circle. And they are among the most appealing.
Led by singer/songwriter Ritchie Young and accompanied, vocally, by Jade Eckler, Norfolk & Western cellist, Amanda Lawrence is on hand, on cello and viola, while also contributing background vocals. Laurel Simmons lends piano, celeste and vocal support. Finally the peripatetic Jonathan Drews (Canaries, Herman Jolly, Sunset Valley, Dolorean, Kaitlyn Ni Donovan, among many others) adds guitar and bass.
But this show belongs to Young. Following an initial album (When We Were Mountains) in 2003, the band began to coalesce, more or less, for the recording of the tracks for Lament For Children, which was released last Spring. Here, Young’s penchant for high, plaintive vocals cast against an array of string vibrations and vague sonic undertones is solidified into a congealed whole.
With the creative spirit (and inclination for memorializing historical figures in his songs) of Sufjan Stevens hovering over the production of “Carl Sagan,” Young wails his clarion call- “pay attention/pay attention,” as the instrumentation builds to a thundering crescendo. “And I’m riding backwards down our street.” A hint of Michael Stipe (“Calling on in transit, calling on in transit”) runs through the slippery lyric of the delicate ballad “A Field Report.” Young’s tremulously timorous voice huddles in a tent of piano, strings and a happy celeste to register his impressions. Lovely vocals attenuate the mood of languorous desperation.
“Northern, Knee, Trees and Lights,” mirrors early Decemberists recordings- a certain antique patina lacquered onto the proceedings. Celeste, bells and an accordion-like reed instrument (from Evan B. Harris) vie with cello and viola for mood space on “Witchy,” an enchanting piece with a hauntingly lovely chorus. Another Sufjan-like song, “Scabs On This Year,” is a riverboat of a waltz, vocals circling in eddying rounds, ripples of repetition dance upon the surface- an acoustic guitar, keening strings, vibe-like accents, piano freckles tinkling like silver rain; lilting a lazy, lulling sphere. Hypnotic. Splendid.
The lyrics to “Stripe II” are more straight-forwardly direct than most found here, though no less inventive. For that reason they resonate more immediately and more deeply than some of the others. “Well I had a thought/that I was a vein/running up your leg/infecting your heart.” Okay, so Merry Christmas. But a very good song, all the same. Another Decemberists-like piece of faux historica is “Song in ¾,” and would seem to be about Sarah Winchester and her “haunted” Winchester Mansion in San Jose, California. However, make of it what you will.
Evoking a sort of Erin-ized old South, that never existed (nor could have)- but, as with the “alternate history” novels of Orson Scott Card, exist somewhere in the universe, all the same, “All Your Friends Are Smiling” is a sweet, communal send-off (replete with musical saw and/or theremin) to a very interesting album.
Ritchie Young and Loch Lomond fit in nicely with this new Portland music paradigm. Their music is accessible, well-played and sincere, if a little obtuse, lyrically. There is much to like about this band and much to encourage them to continue mining this lucrative vein of musical fantasia.one of the few complaints would have of the band on this recording, in which case: Problem solved!!