Eggbot: Father’s Day

Who’s your daddy?

Eggbot gets paternal, grows up a bit

Eggbot has always delighted in irony. No surprise, then, that one of Portland’s most puerile musicians has now released a disc called Father’s Day [this was Feb. 2007 – nowhere near Father’s Day].

From his stature (his “Eggbot Has a Posse” sticker lists him at 5’ 6”) to his mode of transportation (bike, all the time) to his love of crude humor (his web site features a photo of Eggbot fencing with a dildo), the Farfisa-playing madman is predictable in his unpredictability, like the oldest ever and most grizzled teenager (Danny Partridge, maybe, definitely not Keith).

He is also a treasure of the local scene and entertaining as hell. Luckily, he’s put out albums at a steady enough clip we never forget that.

His latest delivers everything his cult fans love him for: the rolling and vamped out left hand bassline and a hammering right hand busting pop chords on the Farfisa organ, paired with explosions of rock-solid backbeat from Tristan Gallagher on the drums. When Eggbot’s chorus-pedaled and distorted vocals enter, singing absurdities and lilting choruses, it’s like finding a long-lost stuffed animal in the closet. I think of him as a Beatles-loving pink bunny, really.

He’s willing to play it up, too. His opening track, “I’m Dead,” reliably repeats the title roughly 10 times and even features this pair of lines: “I’m the baby in the city … I’m the son you’ll never miss.”

Of course, he’s also “Queen of Nefertiti” and “the son of Alger Hiss,” an old soul that appreciates history. Who else would have dedicated an album to Maynard Ferguson, Arthur Lee, Syd Barrett, and Joseph Hill, four underappreciated musical luminaries who all died in the summer of 2006 and can easily be heard as influences on Eggbot’s style. Ferguson was a jazz trumpet player, and it’s always a little thrill when Eggbot busts out “Hobo Death Camp,” which features a trumpet so distorted it sounds like the tortured screams of some alien life form, and comes to Father’s Day after appearing as “Old Hobo Death Camp” and “New Hobo Death Camp” on 2002’s There’s No Denying the Existence of Eggbot. Here, I love how Jim Begley’s recording has the trumpet shooting between the left and right channels like a rocket through the sky.

Arthur Lee was the frontman of seminal ’60s pop group Love, one of the prime purveyors of the pop that has always been Eggbot’s raison d’etre. He takes the foundation Love and others poured and tweaks it, not to mock it, but rather to show that it is so strong it can withstand any number of deviations outside of mainstream taste. On “Belly Button Window,” we get a wonderfully simple “nah-nah-nah” lead in to the final choruses, but we also get lyrics like, “The mountains tremble/ Black clouds pass/ Jungle parts/ A monkey ass.”

Syd Barrett is Lee’s natural extension, and in many ways the link between Lee’s past and Eggbot’s presence. As a founder of Pink Floyd, he laid the groundwork for the psychedelic 20 seconds of Super Mario Brothers backing music that finishes “Aswaldo” (pronounced very much “ass waldo”). And then there is Joseph Hill, founder of Culture and advocate of the “International Herb.” Eggbot may not worship Haile Selassie, but his albums sure do sound better one spliff later.

You don’t have to be stoned, though, to notice that Eggbot has obtrusively added the electric guitar to his repertoire, and uses it to pay tribute to another hero, Jim Hendrix, with a stirring instrumental, “Hendrix Jazz Jam,” that features a ripping solo right off the bat. Just the fact that there are two instrumentals on the disc shows an appreciation for the likes of Edgar Winters and Gary Glitter.

More importantly, Eggbot is moving his sound forward by looking backward, and that’s a welcome development. Part of Eggbot’s appeal is schtick, and any schtick can get old if you hear it enough times and it doesn’t get any better. Eggbot gets better by showing a little self-awareness and offering up new sophistication — dare I say maturity? — that culminates in the majestic “Heaven and Earth,” what might actually show a sentimental side to our resident court jester. He details a suicide with some note of compassion: “I hear the lights go out/ The angels start to sing/ One shot, there’s no doubt/ It’s the end of everything.”

The song finishes with a big guitar solo accompanied by crashing drums and then the familiar ba ba ba ba-da-da-dahh chorus of “Hey Jude,” maybe the world’s most bittersweet coda. But don’t get used to it. After a minute of silence, Eggbot finishes the album with a toy-sounding organ rip and Gallagher’s circus drumming.

Maybe he’s not quite ready for fatherhood.

Emilia Dahlin: God Machine

All that jazz

Emilia Dahlin delivers on her potential with God Machine

With natural charisma that fills up any room she’s in, Emilia Dahlin hardly has to take chances. She could stand up on stage, her five-foot frame half hidden by a big acoustic guitar, and sing just about anything, daring the audience not to fall in love with her. Instead, she’s assembled a crack band, delved into creative jazz phrasings, and nearly completely thrown off an early reputation as your standard girl-power singer/songwriter.

It’s taken a fair bit of work, of course. Dahlin has never shied from gathering a fanbase, promoting herself and using the folk infrastructure to get her music in front of people whose opinions other people take note of. From showcasing for college booking agents to making the finals of the NEMO and Telluride Music Festival songwriting competitions, winning the Best Music Poll in surprise fashion in 2005 or as the favorite this year, Dahlin has used what’s out there to build the impressive resume of a professional musician [this review originally ran in June 2006].

In 2004, she released Emilia, a reintroduction of sorts to the Portland scene, building on songs first worked out on her Stealing Glimpses EP. There was some plus songwriting, and touches of the aggression and self-confidence she exuded in person, but now, with her sophomore full-length, it appears Dahlin is ready to fulfill her ample potential. In these days of independent releases, we often hear what would have been demos as debuts and have the opportunity to watch artists evolve on successive albums. When a performer works as hard is Dahlin, and is willing to let other musicians contribute, it’s worth watching.

On her new album, God Machine, Dahlin has fully embraced the jazzy sound she introduced with “No End” last album. Right out of the gate, with the infectious and tantalizing “Candy,” Dahlin meshes her capable band, which seems to want to push her into interesting arrangements and upbeat flourishes. “Candy” opens with Dahlin on a freakin’ accordion, for cripe’s sake. But she’s still a songwriter at heart, and “Candy” also has her talent for turning a phrase on display. How’s this for an opening couplet? “Candy was the sweetest girl, as sweet as sweet could be/ And all the boys with sweet tooths wound up with cavities.” It’s delivered, too, with a burlesque affect, dripping with sass. It threatens to get a little too cute, but Dahlin senses that and cuts it off at 2:12.

That leaves Adam Frederick to open the next tune, “Home to Grey,” with an urgent break on his standup bass, which you’ll have a hard time ignoring throughout the disc. Here Dahlin puts on her best charm, using her true voice, which doesn’t have a hint of husk or breathiness, and delivering a fisherman’s song, of leaving home on the ocean to make a fortune and missing home. Later, in “Sad Affair,” we get a tale of an illegal immigrant, which is certainly politically poignant, and Dahlin does her best Nelly Furtado in trying to sell it and mostly succeeding. Drummer Seth Kearns trades in his kit here for the sabar and kashini (think congas), and Dahlin’s flamenco turn on her acoustic guitar completes the effect.

This song particularly, but the album as a whole, is mic’ed exceedingly well by recording engineer Jim Begley, whose work at the Studio and on the Big Easy soundboard is always above average. There’s virtually no feeling of a room, but neither does the disc sound manufactured. Every sound is crisp and well placed.

The album’s title track starts with a nice Begley touch, a hollowed out guitar and vocals, like listening to a transistor radio, lending the creepy, historic vibe the song requires. Dahlin leads with the old children’s rhyme, “Trot, Trot to Boston,” then segues into a Cab Calloway tale of a religious nut who thought he’d found God in industry. But Dahlin wags her finger at him, “oh no, no, no, no, no, no, no,” super sexy, with multiplied vocals tracks going higher and higher in the register. Here, too, newly found guitarist Maxwell Cantlin is excellent with his work on the electric guitar, doing a nice Pat Metheny impersonation at times.

The resulting album as a whole establishes Dahlin as a genuine chanteuse, less annoying than Diana Krall and not nearly as coy as Nora Jones. She’s got the female empowerment thing going on, clearly, but she doesn’t try to cram it down your throat and you get the impression she’s having a great deal of fun. Like her live shows, you’ll be won over right out of the box.

In the second half of the disc, she actually scats her way through “Loneliness Is …” Seriously. When was the last time you heard scat on a local album? It’s been years for me. It’s a ballsy choice, but it’s a chance that Dahlin likely took without a second thought, and I dare you not to love it.

Photo credit: Featured imaged by Sam Cousins.