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Vow of Volition Make the Final Round of the Battle for Warped Tour

The Vans Warped Tour was the first festival for many of us back in the day. As young'ns, it's likely we didn't necessarily think about all that went into figuring out the bands to book and play the whole shebang. Part of that process, at least locally, seems to be through a series "battle of the bands" style competitions specifically for landing a spot on the fest. Quite a few Portland bands have been furiously playing against one another for said spot, and djent/prog metal act Vow of Volition are one of the acts that made it to the finals.

Warped Tour was always the type of festival that included much in the realm of pop punk, punk punk, emo and metal, so Vow of Volition's advancement to the final round is no surprise. Their incredibly technical, at times jazzy metal stands out in Portland's pretty linear popular music scene, and is much worthy of the attention its getting.

Those that want to support Vow of Volition in driving home the permanent spot can go to the Battle for Warped Tour finals Saturday at the Hawthorne Theatre.





Kate Davis pays tribute to Daniel Johnston

The Deli isn’t sure how many résumés include qualifications like “adolescent jazz prodigy who shreds on double bass and who holds a degree from the Manhattan School of Music”, “live gig played with Jeff Goldblum", “appearance on a U. of Miami musicology panel alongside Ben Folds”, “taking a left turn into indie rockdom with a widely-praised debut LP in the format”, and finally, “co-writing a hit song with Ms. Sharon Van Etten”. Based on these credentials, if you're ever competing with Kate Davis for a job whatever it may be, we'll just go ahead and wish you better luck elsewhere. 

In case you’ve not seen nor heard the music video for the Von Etten/Kate Davis collab the song is a lovely aching ode to adolescence (Rachel Trachtenburg plays Sharon’s younger doppelganger in the video) and on the visual side it's a lovely aching ode to NYC independent music venues--past and present, living and deceased--with full knowledge that the city plows on as always steamrolling its past and building who knows what in its place.

Back to Kate Davis. Her latest release dropped yesterday--a sneak preview single from her upcoming full-album tribute to Daniel Johnston (1961-2019) who was an OG of what some people call “outsider music." Johnston launched his music career by handing out cassettes of his homemade music at the McDonald's where he worked in Austin, Texas ("would you like some fries with your free copy of Songs of Pain?") and then crashing the stage when MTV was in the city filming a special on "The New Sincerity" which hardly anyone remembers anymore. Now that’s DIY. Also those photos you've seen of Kurt Cobain wearing a t-shirt that says “Hi, How Are You” that’s Daniel Johnston

Back to Kate Davis, really this time. Kate says "when I first heard Daniel Johnston I was struck by the directness and clarity in his writing. I wanted to gain perspective into that directness." See below for her stirring rendition of “Oh No” and see below that for Ms. Davis discussing the bond she feels with Daniel Johnston--his unique gift for songwriting and his lifelong struggle with mental health issues.

Strange Boy: Daniel Johnston 'Retired Boxer' Cover Album is being released in conjunction with the Hi, How Are You Project, an NPO formed by Daniel Johnston’s family to raise awareness around and remove stigma from mental illness. You can pre-order it on blue vinyl whoooooa like how much more blue, none more blue! But before the album drops in early 2021 you'd be advised to check out her already-existing one called Trophy. Kate's music casts an intimate glow but it can be muscular too case in point being the title track. This song has what we in the industry refer to as an arc. At first it sounds like it just needs a hug but by the middle it’s trying to seduce you and then by the end it’s ready to throttle you but consensually of course. (Jason Lee)

photo up top by Erica Synder





Pretty Sick explore the "Deep Divine"

Deep Divine is the “coming out” LP or EP or whatever you want to call it (seriously these terms mean next to nothing today) from the rock combo Pretty Sick. Regardless, both the band name and the record name are spot on. Deep Divine is the sound of teenage kicks colliding with the imperative to “just grow up, be adults and die” in the words of one Veronica Sawyer--a deep dive into the muck and the majesty of teenhood and early adulthood. 

Lead singer, songwriter, and bassist Sabrina Fuentes self-reportedly wrote the songs heard here between ages 12 and 20 and the intensity of these transitional years bleeds into every note. Pretty Sick are indeed pretty sick (double-entendre no doubt intended) and appear to be influenced by early, ground-breaking releases on labels such as Sub Pop, Matador, and Kill Rock Stars--a sound that even a generation later is effective sonic shorthand for surviving adulthood with some degree of mental functioning, passion, and sick humor intact. 

Deep Divine not only captures but updates these sounds and sentiments from the past--for one thing the gender fluidity at play in Fuentes’ lyrics is a clear marker of the contemporary moment (he’s and she’s are pretty much interchangeable). The cover image of the record too is a clear riff-on-cum-update-of a certain iconic album cover for this one old record you may have heard of by some band or other, but minus the dollar bill on a hook seeing as record labels aren’t handing out too many million-dollar contracts these days.

Finally this is also a New York City record to the core. The grungetastic 54-second-long instrumental intro called “Comedown” (perfect place to start!) merges straight into “Allen Street” with its subject staring “out on Allen Street at 7:00 in the morning” the song turns into a mini-travelogue taking the listener from the titular LES location to the “Bowery at midnight in the summer” finally ending up “back in Harlem now you won’t even call me / cut myself up now it makes me feel more holy.” Punny-ness aside this last line captures the tightrope act that Pretty Sick has already mastered: balancing hookiness and grittiness and lower bodily stratum and spiritual elevation. (Jason Lee)

 





Sun Kin debuts refreshing house single "Blue Light (Keeps Me Up at Night)"

Los Angeles-based artist Sun Kin keeps his brand of house music refreshingly alternative: with his new single “Blue Light (Keeps Me Up at Night)” featuring syrupy electric guitar leads, Caribbean rhythms, and a sugary pop aesthetic, he is very much in vogue. In the breaks in rhythm, Sun Kin uses his sharp vocals to keep the dreamy, watery texture of the music going, rippling as the beat returns. “Blue Light (Keeps Me Up at Night)” is the lead single from Sun Kin’s upcoming record After the House, out on February 12th. For the type of house music that chills the mind while firing up the body’s movement, stream “Blue Light (Keeps Me Up at Night)” below. - René Cobar





A Very Special Episode go for a "Night Drive"

The “very special episode” is a venerable tradition of the televisual arts wherein our society faces down its most vexing problems with the help of inane plot contrivances, buffoonish acting, and howling laugh tracks. All often oddly endearing nonetheless. The ‘80s and ‘90s were perhaps the golden age of this particular art form with VSE’s used to warn the wider populace against such menaces as marauding punk rockers, pedophile bicycle shop owners, and drunken suicidal birthday clowns. Aficionados today savor the delectable discomfort produced by the best of/worst of (same difference) these “episodes” with their bizarre tonal mashups akin to a saccharin diet soda garnished with a dash of strychnine.

The Queens-based band A Very Special Episode likewise merge the sweet and the serrated and in the process make you a more upstanding and aware citizen. Take their latest single--a bedroom production by obvious circumstance--which is a lo-fi, high-sheen number called “Night Drive.” It starts innocently enough with some rollicking drums, four-on-the-floor bass and sing-songy keyboard over which bassist and lead singer Kasey Heisler lays out the scene: “You see it all stretched before you / purple sky painted over blue.” Sounds lovely! But any hopes for a laid-back evening excursion are soon dashed when suddenly “the night is speeding faster / fade to black” and on cue we change channels to a shimmering-distorted blur of guitar and keyboard with Heisler dropping all social niceties: “Hey, you know what / you got it all but I can’t get you off.” From there we circle back to the opening disco-punk groove now overlaid with a layer of buzzsaw guitar (or maybe a neighbor was testing out their new power-sander next door?) that weaves in and out of the song until its crashing climax.

This all can’t help but remind one of the very special episode of Saved By The Bell where Zach gets Jessie addicted to caffeine pills because I'm thinking those guitars must be the sound she heard in her head by the end of the episode. I mean sure it all starts off innocently enough at the ‘50s diner with our girl Jess sharing her dreams of applying to Stanford and debuting her neat little pop-singing combo with Lisa and Kelly. But by the final act Zach is pumping our future Showgirl full of uppers to help her study for midterms and going all Lou Pearlman on her ass with his girl-group svengali schemes. It’s no wonder Jessie aka “Nomi” would soon find herself working the pole and all thanks to that jerkface Zach! (please rest assured, dear reader, The Deli is sex-worker positive!)

OK so I got a little distracted there. Whatever its lo-fi origins, “Night Drive” is the best encapsulation I’ve heard so far of AVSE’s live sound with its mixture of melodic hooks and knuckle-dragging noise. To end things here with the requisite musical-calculus equation I’m gonna go with equal parts Garbage, The Walkmen, and My Bloody Valentine. Or if you prefer metaphors of the TV/movie variety I’ll give you “Saved By The Bell meets David Lynch” (especially Lost Highway on this particular song, not to mention the band’s logo is a VHS videocassette hmmmmm). If it all sounds up your alley check out “Gravity” below for a slightly more polished version of the AVSE sound. (Jason Lee)

 

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