Seeing the world through the prism of your internet browser, you may find yourself pining for the analog. Maybe you miss not just physical people in your presence, but books and paintings and the way a person commands a stage.
And guitars. Drums. A great walking bass. Singers bellowing at the top of their lungs.
Not long ago, we told you the Repeating Cloud label was reembracing rock ‘n’ roll in Portland, but they’re not the only ones.
In a parallel universe, you’d be able to see that for yourself this coming weekend. May 30 was meant to be the glorious release show at Portland House of Music and Events for the new self-titled record from Forest City and Friends, a project full of people who’ve been making music here in our fair Forest City for a very long time.
Fronted by Twisted Roots’ Pete Giordano, with backing vocal turns from bassist Greg Goodwin (MeRCy, Black Apple), along with Endless Interstate/Liquid Daydream’s Chris Muccino on strings and keys, and Dominic and Lucid’s Mike Chasse on drums, the deep Portland heritage doesn’t stop there. The studio players include everyone from gadabout drummer Chris Dow playing flute to Lettuce’s Ryan Zoidis on sax and Heart-Shaped Rock’s Sheridan on backing vocals. It’s a crew.
Meanwhile, the American Classic never even got around to planning a release show for their brand-new “Forgive,” a full-length follow up to the 2018 EP “Blossom,” and what should have been a real coming-out party for a band that by all rights should be on the rise. They snuck in a gig under the coronavirus wire at Geno’s on Feb. 28, and then planted themselves at home like everyone else.
As you might expect, the Forest City record brings in more influences from classic rock and the ’90s alternative era. Giordano, especially, can call to mind the big singers of the first WCYY hey-day on a tune like “Companion,” where he evokes Chris Cornell (who left us a year ago last week) in showing off one of the smoothest vocal tones in town. And “Lawland Blue” is the kind of narrative construction that the Eagles trademarked with “Hotel California.”
The combo-package comes together best on a song like “All Roads,” where the classic acoustic strum gets quickly kicked aside by an electric guitar riff that pierces and prods and then moves aside for a dynamic chorus: “What opens your mind?/ What opens your eyes?” And that last word gets tugged out to a full five syllables.
There are any number of times on the record where it feels like the guy in the button-down shirt just rolled up his sleeves to show intricately woven koi-fish tats hidden underneath (usually it’s because of the great, great guitar solos).
That’s less the case with the American Classic, who still revel in the energy of youth and wear their emotions on both sleeves and written all over their chest to boot.
Rooted firmly in the emo tradition, with nods to hardcore and pop-punk, they’ve gotten somewhat more melodic by swapping out Joey Genovese (who had to move out of town) and pulling in new frontman Wyatt Smith, most recently of Hate the Thought, which was a bit more metal and heavy than this project.
The result is probably the best pop-flavored heavy music in town since the Bay State hung it up a decade ago. If you’re into Taking Back Sunday, Yellowcard, or Brand New, this is going to work for you in a big way. If anything, Classic are heavier than those bands thanks to Jake Wertman’s drum work – sometimes just so resoundingly heavy on the bass kick that the body responds as much as the ears. The Halo’s Kevin Billingslea really did impressive work to keep them featured in the mix without dominating the sound.
“Burden” has everything, toms and bass kicks that anchor the open and keep the melancholic lyrics from pulling the tune into melodrama: “I just want you to stand again, be the man/ You once were a father, now you’re good as dead.” There’s a ton of wash in the post chorus, almost industrial, before Kenney Li enters with a grinding guitar. And if you get distracted, the scritching record effect in the center is downright arresting.
Mostly, this record doesn’t have the playfulness to be considered pop-punk. It’s too dead serious for that. More Death Cab than Boys Like Girls.
“Guilt” features what might be the catchiest chorus on an album full of them, with great work to mute and obscure the sound before opening up into a clean burst, but the lyrics make you wonder what exactly they’ve been up to: “I can’t forget the past/ It haunts me every day/ The guilt won’t go away.” Li really does nice work again here with contrapuntal melody lines, even a country twang at times in the last instrumental chorus.
As summer opens up, and Bluetooth speakers sit on docks and windows get rolled down, these are the records that will make you pine for a big stage at the end of a field and a wall of speakers.
Let’s hope we see both bands on a stage again soon.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2 weeks 5 releases
While you’re staying at home, throw these new releases on the stereo or in the headphones:
• Sojourn Suspect, “Lockdown.” The first single off an upcoming album, this is a great piece of snarling punk: “Who do you think you are?”
• Married with Chitlins, “Start All Over.” Headed by the eponymous husband-and-wife team of Chris and Liz Lannon, this 10-song album is an acoustic thing to complement Liz’s more big-blues leanings when she goes solo.
• Micodin and Dynamo-P, “Extortion.” Newly out, these tight 12 tracks of hip-hop clock in under 34 minutes, with not a beat wasted. Look for guest turns from Shane Reis and Slawth.
• Kidhimself and Canova, “Freaks.” A head-nodder, this owes as much to Lorde as anything, with a languid swing and fondness for making long Os into multiple syllables.
• Joseph Gallant, “Break All the Rules.” Gallant’s a Mainer looking to take over Nashville – and not doing a bad job of it. On his new single, he collaborates with Clint Wells and has a backing band featuring people who’ve worked with the likes of Florida Georgia Line and Luke Combs.
— Sam Pfeifle