Eugene Weekly : Music : 10.22.09

If Nostalgia Could Kill

On their new EP, If Looks Could Kill, Music for Animals blends some of the best parts of the 1980s dance pop craze with modern indie rock. The song “If Looks Could Kill” is reminiscent of Saturdays on the couch spent watching Duran Duran videos on VH1 Classic. Hints of INXS and The Cure peek out with jangly guitars and echoed vocals as popping hand claps crack out over clubbier bass lines.

It’s not that other modern indie pop musicians haven’t made their own forays into the 1980s for creativity. It’s just that previous efforts have either been obvious single song tributes to the bygone days when MTV actually played music videos or done in irony to poke fun at the excesses of the decade. Music for Animals really does seem to be from the ’80s, which is evident from their careful attention to rhythmic details and lyrics more intent on describing a singular (selfish?) perspective. In songs like “Nervous in NY” and “Change Yourself”, the incessant use of “I,” “me” and “my” seems to reflect the self-centered and sometimes shallow attitude of ’80s popular culture. In fact, these may be the most used words on the album. The EP’s title track seems to confirm this concept as it describes a woman’s appearance with all the swagger of a man wearing a Members Only jacket who just stepped out of an IROC-Z. Music for Animals plays with Blue Horns at 10 pm Wednesday, Oct. 28, at Luckey’s. 21+. $3.  — Shaun O’Dell


Don’t Wait to See

There are moments on The Stagger & Sway’s six-song debut, Time Changes, that achieve an almost narcoleptic lullaby of mellowness, like Seals & Crofts crashing on horse tranquilizers. Even on the EP’s more rocking, albeit gently rocking, numbers like “Rubber to the Road,” there’s something about songwriter Mike Last’s lulling vocals — a collision of James Taylor and Raffi — that gives everything that squishy, daydreamy feeling of writing on your Converse sidewalls with a ballpoint pen. Some people really like that feeling. What this Eugene outfit, which includes core member Jerry “Groove” Abelin on upright bass and guest guitarist Joe Knapp, creates is quintessential folk music for quintessentially and perhaps pharmaceutically relaxed folk. In other words, The Stagger & Sway will always have an audience in Eugene.

If none of the above observations strikes you as particularly staggering or swaying, be assured that Time Changes, despite its lack of surge or edge, isn’t just milquetoast music for Volvo hippies. The musicianship is excellent, and the band’s laid-back groove is no accident; they sound perfectly comfortable and in tune with each other. Last is a solid songwriter; if he occasionally falls prey to a ham-fisted verse or two — “playing in the key of wait-and-see” — he’s also capable of a bittersweet poetry that grounds his lighter-than-air singing in the grit of life’s daily losses. When Last sings, “Warm me up quick with a sloe gin” on the song “Long Island Railroad,” you can hear the miles flickering by in resignation.

The Stagger & Sway play with Low-Fi and Dan Jones at 9 pm Friday, Oct. 23, at the Wandering Goat. All ages. Free. — Rick Levin

Boys Gone Viral

Talk about your straight-up made-for-TV narrative: Ten guys form an a capella group in college, graduate, leave the group to new students, have lives, get invited back for a 10-year reunion, post videos from their original performances on YouTube, garner more than 7 million hits on one video by the end of the year, get a call from an Atlantic executive (who saw the video, of course), release another album, tour and then keep on touring and releasing albums. And being on TV. And coming to Eugene.

What more to add? Straight No Chaser apparently doesn’t need much introduction other than that — oh, and the fact that they sing an awful lot of Christmas music. No, it’s not the only thing they sing (lurking on YouTube is a mildly amusing video of the students in 2007’s SNC singing “Stand By Me” to bewildered fast food workers), but it’s their exceedingly famous thing. Obviously, their voices work well together, and there’s no denying that they’re a tightly disciplined vocal corps, or that they have fun doing what they’re doing — or that audiences (especially squealing young women, it appears) love their schtick. The songs seem calculated to play easily on any Christmas celebrator’s sound system, maybe mixed in with something a bit harder edged, a bit more ironic (no, the Bob Dylan Christmas album is not ironic). You could make cookies to the strains of the dudes, make gifts for other people, make out under the tree … wait a second, it’s not even Halloween yet! Oh well, Fred Meyer’s has its Christmas decorations out already, so you might as well give in, give your money to the Hult Center and pop down to see the guys at 7 pm Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Hult. $20-$32. — Suzi Steffen

Down and Dirty Departure

Auto-Tune? Really? “Baby,” the first single from Ghostface Killah’s Ghostdini the Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City, could be a great slow jam R&B single. Its beats are comfortably spaced to prevent neck injury from the inevitable head nodding that will occur, and Ghostface’s lyrics are warm and syrupy like pancakes on a winter morn.

But the Auto-Tune kind of kills it. It creates an icy texture that doesn’t seem to blend well at all with the rest of the flavors of a tune that seems more about making the uncomfortable comfortable in a relationship — namely pregnancy. Stark naked vocals would have more than sufficed. I have high hopes for a remix.

The newest album’s perspective is mostly from that of a sometimes less than successful cocksman. He’s a player who alternates between brash braggadocio and simpering sweet nothings, all in the name of the satin sheet samba. Sometimes the lines Ghostface Killah throws out to woo his lady are hilariously absurd. On the song “Forever” he says “You know for your daddy you never have to tuck in your gut / because I love it like that / your stretch marks and your fat.” Does Ghostdini really have stretch marks and a BBW fetish? Well, he’s cool with it and lets his listeners know they can be OK with it too.

Ghostdini really does make for a great R&B album, and listeners might suspect that if this were made by a traditional R&B artist, or an artist like Kanye West, it would be played nonstop on Top 40 radio. Although this work is an extreme departure from his Wu-Tang Clan days, it’s still fun to give a listen-through. Ghostface Killah, Fashawn, Animal Farm and Person People play at 9 pm Friday, Oct. 23, at the WOW Hall. $22 adv., $25 door. — Shaun O’Dell