ART-ROCK The Milkman's Union.
• We were charmed to learn that THE KENYA HALL BAND, one of the finest and few of our local R&B groups, played a show at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village last weekend. Today's soul bands can be afflicted by three major spoils; they're usually either: 1) too hook-obsessed (see hundreds of Destiny's Child knock-offs), 2) too inoffensively soft (see everything that grew out of '80s contemporary R&B), or 3) too vapidly jammy (see Soulive). In our opinion, the KHB dodge these pitfalls gracefully, and without compromising the complexity of their horn/keys/guitar arrangements (check out "Still Dreamin'" on their website, for example). An 11:30 pm time slot on a Friday night at one of the nation's oldest rock clubs is well deserved. We're not proffering that gigging in New York is a litmus test of success (and let's face it: in 2011, there's no such thing), but it's a warm feeling to see a band play the Big Easy one week and a club that helped break Nina Simone and Bob Dylan the next.
• If you haven't caught wind of this new FOOD FIGHT thing, here's the gist: each of Portland's restaurants (or food establishments) assembles a makeshift band from its staff; they'll write songs and "compete" against each other in concert at the Port City Music Hall (or perhaps elsewhere?) the night of August 28. Sure to be a real blitzer of a night, and while we'll probably be there, we still find it a little polarizing. On the one hand, games, weird rules, and chance operations are a ton of fun, and since 98 percent of the service industry is some sort of artist anyway, this is a genuinely creative idea. On the other, anyone else getting a headache from the major whiffs of American Idol worship going around lately? Of course, it's not just a Portland thing, but it might be worth considering why everyone's more entertained by amateur competitions than the work of actual bands. Thoughts? Anyway, at least this is original music, and regardless, it'll be huge. Think your favorite bartender can pump out blast beats as fast as margaritas?
• A two song 7" by THE MILKMAN'S UNION has us rethinking their place in the taxonomy of Portland rock bands. Last we checked these guys played a controlled and amorphous art-rock, with toes dipped in a lot of styles. This new wax, however, is a definite genre comment. "Texas Hold Me"/"Little Bird" plays out the fantasy of heartbreak through an alt-country template, playing out some lovelorn and haunting themes with only sparse twang. Misery content is high. "Texas Hold Me" employs the voice of Aly Spaltro (Lady Lamb) to amp up the longing, and with a lot of musical layers stripped away, we realize we're into frontman Henri Jamison's vocals, too. We imagine being a modern country singer is tough business: you gotta constantly swing back and forth between self-conscious reserve, experiential metaphor, and emotional vulnerability. Sam Amidon, for example, does this sort of thing well, and though he keeps it in a deeper register, Jamison's stories hit some similar peaks here. "Texas Hold Me" is written to be a hit, but "Little Bird" is at least as satisfying. Available on the group's Bandcamp page to listen now before it's officially released in October.
• We're now one month into this new column, and it's still taking shape. Music musings keep us plenty busy, but let us know at email@example.com if there's something you want us to hone in on.