Eugene Weekly : Music : 4.3.08

Last Stop

Minmae may be from Portland, but that doesn’t mean Eugene shouldn’t feel lucky to have a stop on their spring tour. The band is closing out a 30-show, 13 states-in-a-month rock ‘n’ roll mission, having brought their brand of moody, rhythm-guitar driven, lo-fi licks to the indie-hungry masses in places far less musically fortunate than the Willamette Valley. But touring is nothing new to veteran rocker Sean Brooks and his current band of roving collaborators, Ian Watts, Josh Heinze and Chris Brown. Brooks is known in music circles for his work ethic and massive creative output; merciless touring has been part of the picture since Minmae was first formed in 1998. For the last ten years they’ve consistently been labeled either a best kept secret or a relentless creative phenomenon, depending on who you talk to. In reality, of course, they’re both.

The band’s latest new offering is 2007’s 835, their ninth full-length release (a combination of a 2003 EP and 2004 album was also recently reissued). Dark and atmospheric (and sometimes downright creepy), 835 showcases the vulnerability of Brooks’ vocals on tracks like “He’s Not My Manjackle,” while “Recommend Me Someone” tells a complex story in a parallel, repetitive format, lulling the listener into a head-bobbing sense of same-ness … until the lyrics sink in. A Minmae/Yeltsin line-up should be a pleasing recipe for fans of minor chords coupled with percussive instrumentation, and tight performances paired with spontaneous stage presence. My Life in Black and White will provide an explosive side of rockabilly. Minmae plays with Yeltsin and My Life in Black and White at 10 pm Friday, April 11, at Luckey’s. 21+ show. $5. — Adrienne van der Valk


Seven’s Not a Crowd

Junior League began in late 2006 when seven musicians with rock, country and/or bluegrass roots stumbled upon each other in the country’s capital — Washington, D.C. You may think seven members is excessive, but with banjo, mandolin, fiddle, accordion and harmonica accompanying the standard guitar, bass, drums and vocals, it’s a little more understandable.

Although there is an apparent western influence in Junior League’s music, it’s by no means something you’d hear at a hoedown. The band’s debut LP, Oh Dear, is folk and country’s love child. Lissy Rosemont’s vocals are angelic, despite the fact that Eddie Vedder is one of her largest influences as a vocalist. Her lyrics tell stories, and the large array of instruments complements these stories well.

In the little over a year Junior League has been together, the septet has managed to produce an EP and an LP on their own (they have yet to sign to a label) and are currently on an extensive nationwide tour, playing more than 20 shows in under three months. Junior League plays in our neck of the woods at 8:30 pm Friday, April 11, at the Axe and Fiddle in Cottage Grove. $5. 21+ show — Katrina Nattress


Slight of Hand

While pondering the moniker of The Slight Return, I wondered if they were channeling Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” or that awesome Giant Sand song “Dusted” where Howe Gelb whispers, “Jesus might return / if only a slight return.” Without having any contact info for the band, I resorted to an Internet search and discovered another band by the name of Slight Return, a Detroit trio that definitely wasn’t playing Cozmic Pizza anytime soon.

I finally found the proper website and realized that the four guys in The Slight Return are from Eugene and surrounding towns, and they played Cozmic Pizza at least once before, in January of this year. Sorry, guys!

Turns out my musings were totally off track. The Slight Return dishes out a guitar-heavy, funky, classic rock vibe sung by a hunky guy with a deep, husky voice reminiscent of Big Head Todd that I might swoon over if I weren’t 10+ years beyond college age. I imagine in an alternate universe these guys are more popular than Better Than Ezra and have learned to play so that it doesn’t sound like they just changed their clothes from church.

The Slight Return celebrates the release of their new CD with The Thomas Kramer Band at 6 pm Sunday, April 13, at Cozmic Pizza. $3. — Vanessa Salvia


All Aboard

The last time I rode a train was about 10 years ago, a trip from Chicago to St. Louis. By car the distance is about six hours; by Amtrak it took twice as long. But I didn’t mind. I read, I slept and I mostly gazed out the window at the passing cornfields and cattle. The landscape washed over me in a calming, bucolic way that cars and planes don’t allow. Time slowed down, and I remember thinking, why don’t I take the train more often? I haven’t since, but listening to Norfolk & Western I’m reminded that I should.

Aside from its name, the Portland band really doesn’t reference trains all that much. Lyrics consider relationships and dabble in politics. Instruments fall into the acoustic indie-folk canon. But the sepia-toned mood that Norfolk & Western evokes transports you to simpler times when most everyone traveled by rail. The melodies are reflective, the rhythms unrushed and the sounds stretch out in front of you like the humble countryside. The main songwriter, Adam Selzer, who moonlights as the guitarist for M. Ward, conducts the 10-piece band across undulating soundscapes of symphonic, “Strawberry Fields” pop and dusty, high-plains folk. He hits perfect harmonies with drummer Rachel Blumberg, who used to drum for the Decemberists and currently keeps the beat for Bright Eyes and M. Ward. And when the whole harmonious, languid affair stops, you simply want to stay aboard and ride the Norfolk & Western until the next whistle stop. Norfolk & Western plays with Weinland at 9 pm Wednesday, April 16, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+ show. $5 door. — Jeremy Ohmes


Space Odyssey

In art critiques, a common complaint is that the piece feels too distanced, as if the critic couldn’t connect with it because some spatial force was prohibiting the connection. But space in music can work when it’s done right.

Take the Handsome Furs and Arthur & Yu (pictured), for instance. Both use space to create distance, but not in a way that creates a disconnect. The space they use makes their songs feel hollowed out, bare and ominous. Like being in a sensory deprivation tank, their songs feel lightless and colorless, allowing worldly distractions and interference to float away. But don’t assume that their music is bland or boring. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Arthur & Yu (Grant Olsen and Sonya Wescott), while only a two-person band, layer their songs with instrumental delicacy. Glockenspiel, wood block and synthesizers create an earthy sound that allows their songs to feel weightless. “Come to View” has a ’60s vibe and uses reverb on the vocals to accentuate the nostalgic feel of the song. The Seattle duo’s latest release, In Camera, reflects issues of growing up and letting go. Regardless of the chosen theme, the album is mature, solid and has a secure foothold in the world of indie music.

Handsome Furs, from Montreal, Quebec, set out to make their music as sparse as possible. Like Arthur & Yu, they layer songs with keyboards and echoed percussion. But unlike them, the Furs have a quiet sadness. Strummed in minor chords and sung with Robert Smith-like vocals, their songs are melancholic and mellow, slow and unhurried. While the band hasn’t officially released an album (Plague Park is due out in May), they’ve already toured Europe and opened for Modest Mouse and comedian David Cross since forming back in 2005. The Handsome Furs and Arthur & Yu play at 9 pm Thursday, April 17, at the WOW Hall. $10 adv., $12 dos. — Amanda Burhop