To Will Ethridge, who runs the small Portland-based label Eternal Otter Records, any song or album is just one crucial piece of a larger puzzle. That puzzle is as likely to be the evolution of a genre as it is a musician's internal strife, or the interpersonal relationships between band members.
"It's really important to me that each release really tells a compelling story," he says. "I want people to realize I'm not just burning CDs or posting mp3s online, I'm also trying to preserve music — in a tangible format — that otherwise might have been lost."
Ethridge has a fondness for music that comes from unexpected places. His curatorial skills first gained notice late in 2008, when he started the "Tower of Song" concert series, which takes place almost every First Friday. Each month, a trio of artists play in a room high above the intersection of Congress and High streets, and their echoes reverberate throughout the Arts District.
The series began unannounced, but even as it has become a common fixture of a bustling evening in Portland, it continues to be a minor revelation for those that stumble upon it for the first time. It's "an event that encourages people to dig deeper into a mystery," Ethridge says. "Many people enjoy the music from the street, but the truly adventurous follow it to its source to find something for more intimate than you'll ever find in a bar or club."
The Tower of Song is, in part, responsible for the prowess of one of Portland's most outstanding recent breakthrough artists, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. Shortly after the event began, Ethridge birthed Eternal Otter Records by releasing Samples for Handsome Animals, a collection of alternately ramshackle and wrenching songs by Aly Spaltro and TJ Metcalfe. The pair have since parted ways (Spaltro retains the moniker while flying solo), but Ethridge's latest project, the seven-inch vinyl series "Death, Rebirth, Transformation," reunites them. In a fashion.
Their split (Spaltro has Side A, Metcalfe Side B) memorializing a split, of Spaltro's live staple "Sunday Shoes" and Metcalfe's "Metal Mouth," is one of three records that will be released at SPACE Gallery on January 29, when "Death, Rebirth, Transformation" presents unearthed or otherwise unheard material by "bands that have broken, fractured, disintegrated, or transformed, and in some cases resurrected."
The other releases are a must-have pair of unreleased songs by Cerberus Shoal (many members of which have gone on to form Fire on Fire), and two fascinating tracks from the little-known Portsmouth collective Blaque Boose (which can be spelled any way you'd like, apparently), who have undergone major lineup changes in their short history. (This split is their first release.) You can stop into SPACE beginning January 27 to sample the Cerberus Shoal and Blaque Boose albums at special listening stations (the Lady Lamb split has encountered some production delays, and will be out shortly after the concert). Each vinyl features cover art by band members or local artists, and the $10 concert ticket entitles you to a free release of your choice.