Lost on Liftoff: Lost on Liftoff

Mapping the stars

Lost on Liftoff’s debut launch is on course

Lost on Liftoff’s self-titled debut EP had no business being released in the dead of winter, early 2006. The bright heat it radiates only mad us pine for the warmth of summer rays all the more. Oh, the sentiments are dark, sure, wonderful retrospective melancholy mixed with plenty of jilted bitterness, but they’re delivered with such pop intensity you can veritably warm your hands by them.

I don’t care if the first song does bid a “Goodbye Summertime.”

It’s no surprise that former Goud’s Thumb and 6gig frontman Walt Craven professes a simple focus for his third foray into the Portland music scene and beyond. “The song is king,” he says. “The songs are the spotlight and not any one particular person or instrument.”

That’s a lot easier to say when you surrounded by the talent Craven is in Lost on Liftoff. He counts himself lucky Nick Lambert (Chaos Twin, guitars and vocals), drummer Shane Kinney (Broken Clown, and whose column I edited for about a year as part of the once and future FACE Magazine), and bassist Dan Walsh (known as Shifty, also from Chaos Twin) called him up and asked him to join a project they’d been playing around with for a year or so.

“I’ve known Nick for a long time and I knew that Nick was a great songwriter, so I was pretty excited,” says Craven. “I was floored by the songs that they were working on and I called Nick back immediately and said, ‘I’m in.’ ”

Good thing for us he did. The four-song tease they released January 31, 2006, is loaded with huge singalongs and compelling rock and roll. That’s right, rock and roll. Can we be excused if we like risk hearing damage in the car on the way to work? No, you can’t have a conversation over this. Shut up and nod your head.

How about a chorus like this: “We’re naked and wasted, and we’re waiting / Waiting for the moment to take us, from frustration into patience / Forward till the end of the line.” Coming at the end of “Naked and Wasted,” which finishes the disc, this echoes a frenzied 16 minutes of music that strips you down and shoots you up.

These are progressive songs that love every bit of the verse-chorus-verse construction, but don’t think just one type of verse, or one type of chorus, is quite enough for one song.

So, in the four-minute “Goodbye Summertime,” we’ve got a standard opening verse — containing the lovely sentiment, “Take me apart by bolt and screw / Keep on poking holes in my spacesuit” — that leads into a melodic pre-chorus. Then we get chorus part one: “Goodbye summertime, another year to wonder why / I feel left behind, another way to say goodbye.” This is your traditional yelled chorus, the everyone-stands-up singalong. Oh, wait, but then we get chorus, part two: “I’m doing fine without you,” delivered in traditional ballad chorus fashion four times all melancholy and subdued, emoted with increasing force.

Great juxtaposition. There isn’t a throwaway transition or verse on this entire EP.

Yet “40 Miles” is still the obvious single. It separates itself immediately with the two guitars repeating a quick 16-note, measure-long lick that carves out a back-ended high hook. Walt enters over the still-spare background: “Forty miles to go, and there is no summer / Could you take me home? Could you be yourself?” Kinney’s drums punctuate the end of each line, while the guitars support in a kind of holding pattern, like restless caged animals. “I can feel the sway beneath my feet as we go…”

An entreaty serves as transition to the chorus before, whammo, here comes the big singalong. You’ll have it down by the time the first listen ends, so I won’t bother typing it out, but don’t forget to listen for Kinney’s snare. It has some interesting deviations, sometimes solidly on the one, other times throwing in little hiccoughs on the 2 and 4. Don’s miss his fills, either, coming into the chorus. Not that you could.

The song is just as just-plain-catchy as anything Blink 182 ever wrote, but with more depth of feeling. It doesn’t feel that disposable, nor does it feel written for a 14-year-old girl. Though the 14-year-old girls ought to like it just fine (those who forget that 14-year-old girls drive the record market are destined to become “underground”). The jokes are simply too obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: There ought to be a little bit more 14-year-old girl in all of us.

There’s some in Lost on Liftoff, that’s for sure: “There’s just a cool, ego-less atmosphere and there’s an open mindedness involved that makes it very easy to try new and different things,” says Craven. “Plus, the music is just fun to play.”

Fun to listen to, too.

Photo Credit: Robyn Kanner

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper: Ripely Pine

A lioness of a Laby Lamb

The powerful debut: Ripely Pine

The delivery is primal, shouted: “I’m as blue as blood before the blood goes red.” It is just one more reminder late in Lady Lamb the Beekeeper’s debut proper album, Ripely Pine, that she is no meek Lamb to be led around, but rather Queen Bee, very much a force of nature. If you’ve even glanced at Aly Spaltro’s photo (she’s the band, all by herself or otherwise), or seen her five-foot-nothing figure out in public, you know as soon as you hear the opening “Hair to the Ferris Wheel” that she summons her arresting voice from someplace seemingly outside herself, like her spirit is wearing a body three sizes too small.

The first bars simmer, moody with a spare electric guitar that will come to seem like Lady Lamb’s fifth limb, and her voice has no huskiness that might indicate even an extra effort to get so low. “Love is selfish,” she leers, “love goes tick tock tick / And love knows Jesus / Apples and oranges.” What the fuck that means I don’t really care because the care with which she lets each word drop is exacting, like she’s mulling them over, unsure about them, wanting to view them from every angle, inside and out.

Spaltrow does this throughout album, sometimes seeming to actually move in with certain phrases, living with them for months before setting them free.

But then, after just a hint of clicking static, late enough in a long song that you’ve forgotten it might happen, there is a full rock entrance: “It’s a zoo in your room … and you long to kiss like you won’t exist come the morningtime.” The drums come in rapid-fire bursts and then there is a muscular and grungey distorted guitar solo before we’re alternately caressed and slapped by a cappella vocals and staccato bursts of guitar.

From that point forward, you’re on notice to be on your toes. In songs that sprawl more than half the time out past five minutes, sometimes building in chambers of backing strings and horns, Lady Lamb will take you wherever her muse leads and it’s nigh impossible not to follow.

“Rooftop” is the “single,” released first to the public as though for a radio station that doesn’t exist, a compact three minutes. It’s probably the catchiest out of the gate, with a quick snare keeping things lively and an indie-rock plinking of notes moving up and down the fretboard as a central message. But so too are there trombones that bleed in, just a scratch of high-up fiddle, then a full on string section laying a backing bed, even clanking pots and pans for God’s sake, so much going on that it’s nearly overwhelming.

Overwhelming is Spaltro’s stock and trade. Hearing her live, even if only on the Live at Brighton Music Hall album that was just kind of given life and let wander on the Internet last year, you’ll find she may be even more strident and invested than she is here in the studio, taking a song like “Aubergine” and burying her face in it, sinking her teeth to the gums.

Somehow, there’s a bass like a dance track, an old-school soul delivery with energy like Spaltro’s unhinged. Seriously. Listen to the mocking “ha, ha, ha, ha” that helps close the truly rocking “Bird Balloons,” which is otherwise like 6gig with rounded edges, plus a hip-hop bravado: “I’m a ghost and you all know it / I’m singing songs and I ain’t slowin’.” And is that Dr. Dre programming the strings after the tempo change into a strut?

But we’re talking unhinged. How about “I still need your teeth in my organs” as a repeated lament? It’s what drives “You Are the Apple,” a jazz-punk tune that features a sneaky three-note guitar riff and stalker vamp. She’s magnesium on fire, but you never want to look away.

After years of living only with her first demos done in a home set-up, the amount of volume and body Brooklyn-based producer Nadim Issa delivers from such sparse arrangements (all done by Spaltro) is just so satisfying. It’s every bit an artist coming into her own. To see this executed with a full band – to reportedly include bass, drums, trumpets, trombone, violins, viola, cello, tuba, clarinet, keyboards, autoharp, and a choir (maybe not all at once) – would be pretty special, indeed.

Often enough, though, Spaltro proves she doesn’t need much accompaniment at all. “Regarding the Ascending Stairs” is a banjo tune like Abigail Washburn’s sorta-goth sister, where you can hear her walk in, sit down, and begin to play, and the sentiment is like this: “You handle me like an infant skull / And I cradle you like a newborn nightmare.”

After a whole song’s worth of patience, a playful electric bass line pops in, along with a tambourine. It fades and comes back even better, integrated with the banjo plucking so that they bounce off each other like helium atoms in a balloon.

How was this woman only 23 when she made this? Her feel for dynamics, depth of feeling, and general grace are pretty special. To think that this is just the beginning? That’s fairly exciting.

Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez