One of the big topics of social conversation in Portland last week was the anonymous Portland Point blog's ruthless, somewhat self-negating takedown of the Honey Clouds' May 23 CD-release show (portlandpoint.wordpress.com). The most provocative element of the post (which, in general, most agree made some respectable observations in a hostile, unthoughtful tone) was the discussion that followed and the questions it raised. Are local music critics too soft on local bands? What makes a band "sloppy," and is that a bad thing? And, most prominently (and futilely): Who are you, Portland Point, and why won't you reveal yourself?
The post was, perhaps inevitably, tempered by a more reasoned response later (along with an explanation of why the author wishes to remain anonymous — a fellow critic can't help but sympathize a little bit with wanting to be sheltered from the backlash of a negative review), but its implications got me thinking about how both critics and the community treat our bands. Concerts at SPACE Gallery and Geno's Saturday amplified my internal debate.
At SPACE, the newish five-piece isobell marked the release of their first album, Maproom, and raised this question: Just what is the right way to write a negative review? The group are formed of two commendable elements — dynamic, free-associative vocalist Hannah Tarkinson; and a slick and talented backup band — that are almost completely at odds with one another. As Tarkinson's yelps and coos defy and perhaps seek to antagonize traditional song structures, her band are enslaved by those same structures. The tension in that dichotomy is initially and intermittently interesting, but ultimately, it's theoretical: isobell seem oblivious to the fact that their two parts don't make much sense together.
Moneycastasia's exhilarating final gig (an amicable split: members are focusing on other projects and/or higher education) at Geno's raised a follow-up question: How much value is there in using column space to (almost always inadequately) critique a band you don't like when there are others that haven't received enough attention?
Like isobell, Moneycastasia are comprised of excellent musicians (guitarist Leif Sherman Curtis, drummer Brendan Pajak, bassist Shannon Allen, and Jacob Cooley on keys), but the band perpetually test the boundaries of their post-rock foundation. Their (mostly) instrumentals were peppered with jazz progressions, heavy riffs, proggy keyboard, roadhouse stomp, and rapid handclaps, practically upending their genre by throwing the kitchen sink at it. The healthy, attentive crowd — a number of whom, like me, had never seen the band before — remained rapt until the set ended well after 1 am.
The shows suggested a possible compromise in the Portland Point debate. Yes, all of us fans and reviewers ought to be more constructive and straightforward about what we perceive as a band's flaws, but we should be just as rigorous in encouraging people (including ourselves) to support bands they may not be familiar with, so that a band as thoroughly impressive as Moneycastasia might be memorialized by more than a small — if hearty and ardent — cult. Let's ensure that the band's two upcoming, posthumous releases receive the attention they deserve.