Portland’s own Hillstomp has found a way to blend Northwestern sense of place with the sludge and balm of a Louisiana swamp. The duo’s new album, titled Portland, Ore., out now on Fluff & Gravy Records, is a 10-track work that ebbs and flows, jives and stomps and howls, riots and then takes a nap. It begins with a rather heavy twosome — “Santa Fe Line” and “Life I Want” — that showcases the band’s ever-growing ability to find beauty in mosquito-bitten disarray. As headers, these two tracks work perfectly to situate the listener in Hillstomp’s world: a noisy, trance-y, punkabilly sludgefest.
Immediately afterwards we’re thrown into a surprisingly tender moment with “Undertow,” a saucy little banjo rag that departs from the dirt and grime of the album’s opening section. The song is a clean-cut optimist’s dream, but the upbeat calm that swells from beneath (almost channeling Sam Beam of Iron and Wine) is deceiving on first listen. The end leaves you wondering whether to be happy or sad. And this is where the first touch of Northwestern sentiment creeps in: It’s raining outside but I don’t care. It’s sunny outside but I’m too hot. It’s bittersweet, baby.
From there, Portland, Ore. flows like an odd summation of the first three songs. Tracks four through 10 take the raucous swamp rock found in tracks one and two and add it to the balladic feel of track three. The result is a damn fine album with some good heavy hitters. Nothing exemplifies the fusion of muddy and moody quite like “Henry O My Henry,” a percussive, de-tuned romp in some mythic, crust-punk-ridden forest. It’s a loose electric slide to the end with “Meet Me At The Bottom,” which sounds like Muddy Waters had a baby with The Builders And The Butchers. And hey, in the end you just can’t wait to hear these tracks live. The energy is far too strong for it not to be good. So congratulations, Hillstomp. You’ve done it again.
Hillstomp plays 9 pm Thursday, April 24, with Left Coast Country and 9:30 pm Friday, April 25, with Cambrian Explosion at Sam Bond’s; $8 Thurday, $10 Friday.