Labor Day Records: Beautiful Locals

Just Beautiful

For fans of the Locals, here’s a disc just for you

*This dates to 2005. I’m going to leave it mostly as-is.

Though its membership seems to be increasing, the group of people who really know local music — who have it in their regular rotation, in their car, and can talk knowledgeably about it — is fairly small. Perhaps regular readers of “The Beat Report” [my column in the Portland Phoenix at the time] make up a large portion of that group. So here’s a test (answers appear in “Sibilance,” linked off the music page [this refers to print – we didn’t bother to change it on the web page]) that might serve as an initiation requirement:

1. Name the original five members of Rustic Overtones.

2. What was Lincolnville’s name before it was Lincolnville?

3. Which former King Memphis member now plays in Harpswell Sound?

4. What text appeared on Twisted Roots T-shirts?

5. Name all the Spencer Albee-fronted bands.

6. What was Munjoy Hill Society’s original name?

7. What band contains members of former Portland bands Goud’s Thumb, Twitchboy, Tripe, and Ku-Da-Tah?

8. Which Horror member was once a member of the hip-hop group kNOw Complex?

9. Which former Silos frontman died in an accident in 1993?

10. Name three bands with whom Neil Collins has played.

Okay, how’d you do? Did you pass? Anything above 60 percent and I’d be pretty impressed, even if #4 is a gimme. If you even thought hard about the answers, though, you’re going to be thrilled with a project, to be released March 1, that’s been organized by Mark Curdo, honcho of the brand-new Labor Day Records and a guy who’s been involved in Portland music since he worked as a DJ at the St. Joseph’s radio station WSJB in the mid-1990s.

Beautiful LocalsRiffing off the Goud’s Thumb song title “Beautiful Local,” Curdo has createdBeautiful Locals, an album consisting exclusively of Portland bands covering songs by other Portland bands, both past and current. It’s inclusive, diverse, interesting, and, most importantly, makes for a great listen.

If you haven’t heard the back story yet, I’ll give you the capsule review. After some time in the music industry proper, and New Jersey (ick), Curdo returned to the Portland scene looking to do more than just manage bands, as he had done with bands like Rotors to Rust and Rocktopus. He wanted to work with lots of bands, so it made the most sense to start his own label.

But, he says, “I didn’t sit there and say, ‘I’m going to start blah, blah records.’ I was looking for a more honest way for me to start this venture.” Remember, he wanted to work with lots of bands.

“I’m a big fan of covers,” he says. “But I don’t like compilations. Most are crap. The ones that work are those with a very odd pairing of things. A soundtrack to a Wes Andersen movie or something. I thought that I could do something of a compilation of Portland bands, but I didn’t want them to just put out their songs. Anybody can do that.

“I just thought about these bands getting together and somehow bringing together what’s happened over the past 15 years specifically — which I think is where it’s been strongest — and really trying to tie it together, which I don’t think anybody’s really been able to do. So I thought, ‘How about Portland covering Portland?’ ”

Not surprisingly, “The ideas of who would do what started racing through my head and I thought this could be really cool.”

Curdo started out with a list of about 60 bands he saw as possibilities and then started narrowing the project down using the following criteria: “classic artists balanced with new stuff, bands that are just breaking through. To get young kids who are listening to ’CYY to find out about, say, Twisted Roots or Goud’s Thumb, and, vice versa, to get people who used to go to the State Theatre but don’t know about the Press or Eldemur Krimm. I like turning people on to music and this is a way to do that.”

Then it was just a matter of making tough decisions about whom he would approach and whom he wouldn’t. “That was the toughest part,” he says. “It wasn’t the biggest bands. Sometimes, it was just some bands I knew better. Some bands I felt had to be a part of it; it couldn’t be complete without them. And I wanted to take some chances with bands who’ve been working their asses off and deserved a shot with something cool.”

The end result is definitely weighted toward the musicians you might find hanging out at the Big Easy on a Saturday night, and it could be said that the hip-hop, punk, and roots scenes are under-represented, but it’s not like Curdo is working with public money here. It makes sense that the project is also a reflection of his own musical tastes and the bands that began his own love of local music in the first place.

Further, by taking such a tight-knit group of musicians and putting them on to a project like this, Locals winds up being Greetings From Area Code 207 to the next level, not only showing off the incredible talent we have residing here in Portland, but also allowing that talent to pay homage to the scene itself, reveling in the minutiae and details that only people who’ve been directly involved would appreciate.

That’s why, though it’s a collection of covers, the compilation contains very few instantly recognizable songs for the casual fan. Few of these songs have been on the radio, despite the fact that many local songs get play on our commercial stations. Few of these songs are “singles.” Instead, the bands on the album have chosen their favorite tunes, those songs that inspired them and got them amped up to play their own songs, deep cuts from albums that personally affected them.

This also leads to one of the album’s few problems, in that many of the bands seem to so respect the bands they’re covering that they don’t fully make the songs their own. Sometimes, the songs don’t sound that different from the original version.

“The toughest thing [for the bands] was who to do,” says Curdo. “I didn’t want to dictate any of that. The fun of it was them choosing the songs. I think I could have matched bands and songs really well, but I wanted the bands to do that.”

For instance, “Twisted Roots were really psyched to be involved. They were very pro Darien [Brahms]. That pushed me over the top to get hold of Darien. Turned out both of them wanted to cover Manny Verzosa, so the two of them had it out and talked it over.” In the end, the Roots took Verzosa’s “Tuesday,” and Brahms had the band back her up for Mark Farrington’s Cattle Call tune “Take Control.” That’s what’s so right about this project.

Verzosa’s incredibly respected by the local community (note his two songs on the GFAC discs), but little known by the general public. Brahms told me a story once about being on tour with Verzosa for her 21st birthday, where he pumped her full of booze like any good older brother would, so she wound up playing hungover as hell for the little geniuses of Simon’s Rock College. That’s the way I’ve come to see Verzosa in total, as a kind of older brother to the Portland music scene. And Twisted Roots strike me as his metaphorical high-school buddies, those kids who came over all the time to eat out of the fridge and who you wanted to impress.

Their “Tuesday,” which they only ever had a bathroom demo of, comes with a spare opening that gets to Verzosa’s roots with just a backing rhythm guitar and faraway drums, but then launches in to the full Twisted Roots, anthem-rock treatment, full of Giordano’s soaring vocals and blasting guitars.

And they get Brahms a bit out of her shell, too (not that she’s really in one). Her opening to “Take Control” wouldn’t sound out of place on her last album, but once the coda takes over, with Brahms and Giordano trading off with plaintive “take me home”s, she really seems like she’s ready to kick some ass.

Then there’s Pigboat doing a crunching “Epiphany,” a Rotors to Rust song that was never even released on record; Tony McNaboe doing the Troubles’ “Heartfull of Heartache,” a deep cut off the classic-rock band’s Here We Go Again, with full R&B arrangement; and Adam Flaherty taking his ultra-indie voice to Lincolnville’s “Kill the Show,” which always played second fiddle to their smash “Heavenly Calm.” Even hardcore fans are unlikely to recognize the Horror stretching out Eggbot’s concise pop gem “Heaven Needs Babies, Too” past eight minutes with psychotic abandon. Eggbot has yet to release it himself.

Not that everything’s obscure here. It’s thrilling to hear the album open with Dave Gutter, Portland’s signature frontman, taking on 6gig’s “Hit the Ground,” possibly the biggest rock radio single to ever come out of Maine. Paranoid Social Club amp up the rhythm and throw in some explosive samples. Tony McNaboe’s WCLZ smash “Destination” is here, too, recorded live by the Pete Kilpatrick Supergroup, a direct opposite to the studio construction of McNaboe’s solo project, where he played all the instruments.

It’s fitting, too, that the now-defunct Even All Out’s take on the album’s namesake is the best track. It’s central to the disc, coming in at track #10, and is pure radio rock. Billy Libby demonstrates the pipes that thrust Even All Out into the public consciousness in the first place throughout the opening verse before opening up into an expansive chorus, “and it seems like you forgot, and I knew you would.” Yes, most us have pretty much forgotten about Goud’s Thumb, haven’t we? Here’s a great reason to remember them.

King Memphis, however, seem to be having the most fun of the lot. Normally confined to the genre-specific and exacting world of rockabilly, the Memphis boys really play with Eldemur Krimm’s rocking “Chopper.” They pick out the opening “Now this here’s a story . . .,” guitar, bass, and drums locked into a little walk, then blow your doors off with some serious surf and Robbins vamping it up all over the place, especially on the chorus burlesque. Then follows a ripping guitar break (what would a King Memphis song be without one?) nearly a full minute in length, a final verse, and then a finishing voiceover, as though the band were wishing a crowd good night.

“We hope you had a good time,” says Robbins. Then he asks drummer Gary Burton, “Gary, did you enjoy yourself?” He screams. Then, “How bout you Chris, did you have a good time yourself?” Chris Day screams, “Woooo.”

Yeah, the musicians on Beautiful Locals are pretty clearly having a good time. How else can you explain 16 bands getting together to record 16 tracks in about three months’ time (mostly with Jim Begley over at the Studio) for a project they really have no vested interest in? That pure love of the project tangibly carries through to the music, and that’s something you just have to hear.

6gig: Mind Over Mind

Over and above

Never mind the bollocks, here’s 6gig

Start with the band’s name: it should say something about the group, define them without putting them in an unfortunately small box. The Beatles had a great name when they were four mop-topped lads from Liverpool, but was The White Album really recorded by “The Beatles”? Rage Against the Machine? I’ve always thought that name put them in a very tight space, indeed. Could that band ever write a decent ballad and not have it sound silly?

With 6gig, we have a moniker that says precision, calculation, speed, and intelligence and rings with frontman Walt Craven’s self-depreciating story about how he’s a computer geek and just sort of came up with it. (It also gave us an idea in the office: What if you named a band 6gig, then played only six gigs and quit?)

But 6gig’s meaning provides a more-than-apt description for their music: tight, written out to the smallest beep and whir, with quick riffs and rhythms put together in ways that you haven’t heard before, but reserved and humble enough to keep them from sounding like Dream Theater or math rock. Plus, they’re a band whose professionalism in the studio is the stuff of local legend, a band whose first take is often their last.

But what about Craven’s impassioned vocals, alternately sung and screamed? Okay, so computers and melody may not make for a ready free association, but there is a lyrical quality to 6gig’s two syllables, sibilant and guttural, the “x” and “g” working together like light and heavy elements to form a willing compound.

6gig are what a fully realized band looks like. That sounds a bit like a hypothesis, and it fits them — a scientific method for their scientific musical creation. And, finally, the proof is readily available now that you can say the same about their sophomore full-length release, Mind over Mind (how’s that for emphasizing the cerebral?). There’s heart there, too, of course — beating through the layers of steel and cable that have been erected to protect it.

And this aesthetic pervades everything the band does. The packaging for the new album is brilliant, reds and blues mirroring grays and metallics, meshing Craven’s technical (CAD training?) designs with Bob Smyth’s organic forms, the schematics just abstract enough to suggest living organisms. Every lyric is there, and there are notations above and beyond the standard to let the reader (cover band?) know just which verse repeats when, and which codas are extended or reprised. Plus, look at the thank yous: They’re all-encompassing, equally full of family, friends, and industry types who have helped them along the way — but they’re in alphabetical order!

All of this is to say that they couldn’t have done better than Matt Wallace (Faith No More, most famously) as producer, the last cog in any band’s musical machine. He has taken this grand vision of a technical musical masterpiece and crafted it expertly. The opening track, “Space Suit,” more prelude than introduction, is a whir of pneumatic pumps and gadgets, Craven’s voice a distant jumble of barely comprehensible phrases. This is an album, one where nothing is tossed off, and everything is wedded to the purpose. Again, this “Space Suit” theme surprisingly reappears for 14 seconds between tracks six and seven, the CD player counting solemnly down in the negative like a rocket bracing for liftoff.

But what is all this technical wizardry masking? Real passion — as evidenced on the band’s first single and the first song here, “Whose Side Are You On?” Wallace here, as on much of the album, gives Craven personality by keeping his vocals high in the mix, immediate and captivating. The bass line from Weave is dark and methodical. Climbing guitar lines go up and down stairs while multi-tracked background vocals arc in and out of the mix. The anger is palpable: “I heard what you did, it crept under my skin/ The things that you do disgust me.”

It’s a recurring theme, this anger.

Rock and roll (and its increasingly heavier musical children) has always been the uplifter/reflection of disaffected youth, of course, and those that eschew pop eventually come back around to it by embracing that inner societal revulsion that most intelligent music fans can’t help but harbor toward a world where the Backstreet Boys are rich and famous and classical musicians are forced to pay orchestras to perform their compositions.

Want to rebel against your folks/school/government by finding an empathetic voice? Well, why don’t you take Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols, Iron Maiden, Green Day, or Marilyn Manson for a spin? That usually works pretty good. It’s so loud! So shocking! And just look at them!

Lately, however, bands like Korn and Slipknot have turned this back upon itself, and made the condition of today’s youth their rallying cry and pennant, taking experiences of broken homes and battered mothers and turning them into platinum records. This isn’t just teen angst, this is a reflection of the truly tattered edges of a society that often seems to treat its most valuable resource as disposable income.

Truth be told, however, I’ve never bought the sentiment of these bands for a second. Maybe these emotions were heartfelt once, but the labels so marketed and embraced the ethic that it soon became nothing more than a way to sell records. How many videos do I have to watch where a kid in a soiled T-shirt and a bad haircut watches as his drunken father knocks around his poor, wailing mother? Isn’t that video’s appearance on MTV the height of cynicism?

6gig, however, show here that teen angst can still be done well, while embracing the contemporary tragedies that no other era of rock and roll has ever really imagined. The grunge kids were troubled, sure, and Nevermind and Ten contained brutal images, but it all felt so suburban and narrative, the overall question being asked something along the lines of “Why me?”

With Mind over Mind, however, the question is more like, “What the fuck is wrong with you people?”

“Proud,” for example, asks the question through irony. Both the rocking, singalong cadence and the content of the chorus are jarring.

Thank you/ For lying to my face/ For wasting all my time/ For being drunk again.

Thank you/ For making my mom cry/ For screaming in my face/ For everything you did to us.

I’m so proud of you.

There is a seriousness here borne out by the irony, a resiliency born of distress and adversity overcome. The bridge is a quiet rehearsal of prose poetry over background drums (superb throughout from the late Dave Rankin, though Jason Stewart is now wholly ensconced with the band) and a strummed guitar. The bass entry is cool and melodic, up, up, down, like hopes and dreams.

“Deadbeat” is another ode to “ocean-size letdown,” but personal enough to avoid the cliché. Is it clear that a generation of fathers have abandoned their duty like never before? Yes, by now, quite. But what makes this ring true are the “after-shave smells,” “a telephone call,” “no more baked-bean fat,” “laying out on the grass.”

“Can you bear the thought of losing the love of your family?” 6gig are clearly incredulous that some people all too easily can.

But there’s that resiliency again, undeniable. “Start Again” makes it clear that “I thought about giving in,” but “you cannot make my mind up . . . I’ll start again.” Ending with a blinding guitar solo from Steve Marquis (a rare spot of individual-instrument emphasis), the departure from 6gig’s signature guitar sound of a low chunk tied with a screaming, high punctuation is a notice that the band isn’t afraid to surprise you.

They are, in the end, “Free,” and “I’ll never go back again/ And it’s the only way that I wanna be.” Along with the chorus to “Words,” which might be the best Craven has ever sounded on record, this is a statement that should not be regarded lightly. 6gig know exactly what they want to do, how to do it, and their vision has been realized.

Hook up, plug in, and take notice.