Enter the (Little) Dragon

December 5, 2009

A chilly, wet evening at Holocene seemed fitting for Little Dragon. “Long endless winters” in Gothenburg, Sweden fostered the electronic dance music culture that permeates their sound. “We really felt the love,” drummer Erik Bodin said in reference to the energetic Portland audience that kept step with the group from start to finish. Finding a balance between laid-back soul and the energetic momentum of dance music, Little Dragon draws upon tight synth grooves and spacious soundscapes, while retaining a patient, human presence.

After touring internationally with various groups as session musicians, the high school friends were drawn back together by a desire to create their own music, rather than someone else’s. Bookended by lyricist and lead vocalist Yukimi Nagano’s ethereal lyrics and a groove locked down by Bodin and bassist Fredrik Källgren Wallin, Håkan Wirenstrand fills the space between on keyboards and synthesizer. They initially tried to imitate what the soul and R&B music they liked, but Nagano recalls that the band soon opted to “let go of that and experiment more with what we’re good at.” The result was a deluge of material that eventually became their 2007 self-titled release Little Dragon.

Their August 2009 release Machine Dreams often finds neutral ground between soul and electronica, but more often than not strays toward the latter. A moving concert opener and lead-off track for the album, the gentle “A New” lets Wirenstrand’s soundscapes and Nagano’s lyrics drive the momentum. Little Dragon is at their best on “Blinking Pigs” and “Feather” where they retains the dance momentum while settling into a relaxed pocket groove. Though most effective when the soul and pop elements are in balance, straight-forward retro dance numbers such as “Looking Glass” and “Swimming” stay fresh as their sonic variety holds the reins of a pop aesthetic that could otherwise easily fall into monotony.

Looking ahead, Little Dragon has begun work on their third album, which they expect will follow the vein of Machine Dreams. They are always open to influences, and everyone contributes equally. “I write the lyrics and melodies,” Nagano says, “but then Erik will put drums on Håkan’s track, and Håkan will put keys on [Erik’s] track…everyone plays synthesizers and stuff, so it’s very democratic that way.” Consistently creating and constantly listening, the members of Little Dragon have confidence. “I think we’re all for making mistakes,” Nagano says, with Bodin coyly adding, “failure is good.”

Pyschadelic Lounge. Future folk. ElectroSoul. Call it what you want, but most importantly—and most effectively—it is their own.

This review was written for a Guerrilla Media feature piece on Little Dragon. You can check out the full text of my interview with the band for Guerrilla Media here.


Life’s been pretty hectic, so no new material sadly. An associate (actually two) of mine, however, recently reported purchasing a Nintendo Wii and having wicked fun with it. Regardless of whether or not I believe the Wii is wicked fun or not, this prompted me to revisit one of my favorite posts from the old Extroverted Introversion site, which I’ll likely be putting a wrecking ball sometime soon. Anyways, without further ado, I present:

Top 10 Wii-related accidents (as reported by wiihaveaproblem.com).

1. Crack in television

2. Hole in window

3. Wiimote-shaped dent in wall

4. Shattered 4-inch PDA screen

5. Severed blade from ceiling fan

6. Broken chair from Zelda fishing

7. Hole in mother-in-law’s china cabinet

8. Four stitches in index finger

9. Black eye on girlfriend

10. Bruise on infant son’s head

Impressive, but not nearly as impressive as the Playstation3-related incidents (as reported by juliosus.com):

1. Impregnation of virgin girlfriend.

2. Sold nuclear weapons to North Korea.

3. Psychological trauma suffered by PS3 deconstructing the nature of your reality and existence during a par-4 in Tiger Woods 2009.

4. Near-appointment to highest position in the Holy Catholic Church.

5. Created, destroyed matter.

6. Impregnation of virgin boyfriend.

7. Following a power outage, powered self using electronic energy of inhabitants of household while simulating an imperceptibly similar virtual reality to keep them oblivious to their enslavement.

8. Defeated Chuck Norris in unarmed, hand-to-hand combat. Ate him to absorb his power.

9. Demanded animal sacrifice before loading game data.

10. Deletion of Turbografx 64 from past or future existence.

“…a bold effort perhaps to do away with the grind of random button mashing, but in practice its really only replacing it with random stick waggling.”
“Yahtzee” Croshaw

While there’s all kinds of reasons not to love franchising, it does allow you to get on a plane in New Jersey, land in Singapore, and still be able to satisfy your Double Whopper with cheese craving. Sure, I’ve never had that craving myself, but there’s something to be said for dependability. With so many franchises, regions must establish their individuality by filling in those spaces between with local flavor. The danger, however, of too strong a sense of identity, is that the local flavor falls into monotony that could make even Starbucks feel fresh (and by the way, this new Via tastes better than their normal brew…).

Masks. How expectedly random.

Masks. How expectedly random. The conveniently located power strip, however, is quite original.

Tiny's Coffee on Urbanspoon
The Portland condition seems to be defined by a push toward the kooky side of liberal. In fact, some locals run the risk of throwing their back out trying so hard to be individuals. Unfortunately, when everyone is weird, the dude on the corner decked out in LL Bean stands out. In the effort to become hip and 3dgy (because “edgy” just doesn’t cut it anymore), many Portland…ok, ok, Northwest coffee hotspots have begun to feel blandly predictable. The bouquets of event flyers, local artwork, eclectic color schemes, veggie vegan food selection, Voodoo doughnuts, chalkboard menus, and yard sale tables and chairs have all become…routine. What else can you offer me?

Have I been here before?

Have I been here before?

The clever places manage to follow the PDX template, but find unique ways to fill it in that aren’t always as obvious as “weird.” Tiny’s Coffee on MLK wins by being serving up a helping of accommodating eclectic with a side dish of eclectic accommodating. While my first impression of Tiny’s was all that I would expect, upon closer inspection, they found unique ways to color within the lines.  I had more electrical outlets than I could ever need (Seriously. Over a dozen), a menu more than happy to serve carnivore needs, lots of floor space with plenty of tables, arcade pinball,  and an ATM in the corner which was also a nice touch. The layout also does some fascinating work with levels that I don’t quite understand (“Is that a window? Is that a window? Is someone watching me from up there?”).  Tiny’s certainly has the Portland look and feel, but has an identity all their own…well, except for the other Tiny’s on Hawthorne.

That coffee table looks suspiciously like a baby grand piano.

That coffee table looks suspiciously like a baby grand piano.

Elevated Coffee on Urbanspoon
Elevated Coffee on way north MLK took a whole new route altogether. Like Tiny’s, they serve Stumptown Coffee (*yawn*), offer free WiFi (no-brainer), and adorn their walls with art (actually, you can’t really go wrong with that). The main difference is the decor, and I’ll be honest here: It’s been some time since I’ve seen such a well-decorated café. The black and white scheme and new(!) furniture stopped just short of swank, and settles nicely into sleek. The internet terminals , bookshelves, and local art provide a personable balance to the white baby-grand piano in the corner that provides a dollop of chic. Arts-wise, Elevated Coffee reaches out to the jazz-ish crowd, with shows on Saturday and Sunday, and I may just break my futon again just to have an excuse to stop by and stare at their decor. Seriously, this place is gorgeous.

…if only they could do something about that Twitter foolishness.

"The best Italian cheeses money can buy."

"The best Italian cheeses money can buy."

I’ve been living in Vancouver for four months, and any day now Comcast is going to hike my introductory cable internet rate up and I’ll respond by heaving a cinder block through the window of their business. Also in that time, I’ve discovered a few primo dining establishments. Now, I’m not a food reviewer nor do I aspire to be one, but I am a huge fan of Pizza Paradise on the corner of Evergreen and Main Street. Sure, their pizza is fantastic and I love that they go to the effort to use green leaf lettuce instead of iceberg for their salads. The free wireless makes them the perfect spot for a lunch break as well. What I truly love about Pizza Paradise is that they prepare their pizza with Grande Cheese. Not just the cheese, mind you, but the slogan:

Grande cheese: The finest Italian cheeses money can buy!

I’m not going to deny it, that cheese is damned good, and with good reason. That’s not my issue though. My question is, if you’ve truly got your hands on “the best Italian cheeses money can buy,” what’s to stop you from having the best Italian cheeses money can’t buy? I mean, if I knew that there was cheese so good that standard currency is insufficient, who knows what lengths I’d go to get my hands on it? Just picture it:

Grande Cheese: Too good for your money. You want our cheese? Give us your kidney.

Now that’s marketing.

Getting up at a reasonable hour this morning started a causal chain which directly led to my needing to take an emergency trip to Pete’s Bass Shop to repair a gruesome split at the bottom of my beloved upright doghouse. For the record: Pete of Pete’s Bass Shop is a god among men. I’d make a sacrifice to him, but technically I already did and he’s repairing my sacrifice right now. It’s funny, because I was supposed to be exchanging a broken piece of my futon today, but the bass kind of takes precedence.  Man, I don’t think I’m safe to be around.

As I drove my injured friend to the repair shop, I resisted the urge to blame certain choices I had made this morning for my predicament (getting up early due to the extra sleep I had gotten, thoroughly cleaning my apartment with the extra time I had, practicing bass in the extra space I had cleared up, etc.). As Janet Drummond, matriarch of the disastrous Drummond family, says: “blame is a lazy person’s way to make sense of chaos.” How fitting then that I would pass the Chaos Café on Powell not once, not twice, but three times as I dropped off the bass, searched for an ATM to pay the repairman, and refueled the car. While I don’t believe in “signs,” the repeated reinforcement did make me hungry.
Chaos Cafe & Parlor on Urbanspoon
True to their name, Chaos Café served me a generous helping of chaos, even though I only ordered coffee and a bagel with hummus. Firstly, the place is absolutely gorgeous, displaying original artwork and an all-encompassing color scheme (I would have loved to snap a few pictures, but I forgot my phone. Chaos!). The food menu, offers vegan and carnivore options for nearly everything, as well as a strong selection of gluten free options as well. Coffee mugs came in all shapes, sizes, and colors (one was dropped and broken as I asked for a refill. cHaOs!!!), and each table has salt, pepper, and a bottle of All Natural Bragg Liquid Aminos. Curiosity made me want to put it on my bagel, while a much more random urge made me want to put it in my coffee.  They’ve also got wireless, but it happened to be down (c4a()5!!!!!).

Oh, and the not-foreign people a few booths in front of me are chanting in a foreign tongue. That’s not chaotic though. That’s just weird.

Anyways, if you’re a vegan looking for good food or you’re suffering from a debilitating chaos deficiency (or both), I recommend Chaos Café. Really, who can say no to all the bottles of Liquid Amino you could ask for?

Well, I guess it could be worse.

Elephant Revival

Elephant Revival

In our crazy world where consumer product diversity outnumbers biodiversity (probably), people search for meaning in strange places. This would explain why we have chocolate products named after elegant white birds, dish soap named after the expression of unbridled mirth, and a media & entertainment conglomerate named after the measurement system of duration and sequence of events. This search for meaning extends into the entertainment industry, since the connections artists build with audiences sells CDs and pays the cover at plenty of shows. This meaning doesn’t necessarily have to be definite, but it repels superficiality that can sprout like mold on so many successful touring bands when monotony sets in. I bring this up because I attended two performances of the touring band Elephant Revival, and the group gave me a sincerely meaningful musical experience.

The label “Trascendental Folk,” while accurate, seems to contradict the sense of focus and unity I get from their show. “Eclectic,” like my favorite buzzword “edgy,” gets tossed around too often today when you’re actually hard-pressed to find any modern group that isn’t, in some way, eclectic. Eclecticism and transcendentalism are natural outgrowths of the sheer abundance of popular culture, and aren’t necessarily “selling points” anymore. What makes Elephant Revival unique is that they are effortlessly and humbly transcendental, incorporating a cornucopia of influences in a way that seemed honest and natural. While all of their members were excellent, I was particularly impressed by the multi-instrumental talents of guitar/banjo/mandolinist Sage Cook who seemed at home with every instrument he touched, and vocalist Bonnie Paine whose captivating, lilting vocals were matched by her throwing down some serious washboard and djembe percussion.

Where the Axe & Fiddle show presented them at their most eclectic electric, the group gathered around an omni microphone at the Alberta St. Pub for a show which took advantage of the acoustically intimate setting. With nothing but church pews and wooden stools, the group treated a small gathering of family and friends (old and new) which grew steadily into a respectable crowd. In the Axe & Fiddle they were on stage, but in the Alberta St.Pub, they were at home, and that made the difference between a good show and a meaningful one. Myself and a cohort from The Student Loan even jammed with them on a few tunes, and that invitation alone added to the feeling that the group was offering more than simply a performance. They were willing to connect with new friends on tour and explore a little, and that means something.

“I love gluten.”
Sage Cook

Morning in Paradise.

July 12, 2009

A familiar part of the morning routine.

A familiar part of the morning routine.

Despite the complete lack of behavioral evidence to support this claim, I am a morning person. Early mornings have a way of making the world seem simpler and so much less crowded. The root of this simplicity is routine, and nothing simplifies life more than a routine. Years ago I worked nights at a grocery store, and ever since then I have longed for that sense of routine that had me driving home before most people had left the house and leaving the house after most business had closed for the day. It sounds harsh, but I was pleased to review an old blog post—one of my first—and read the following:

“…its just the same as any full timer only I sleep when they work and vice versa. I love my job though, and not everyone can say that.”

These days, I don’t have a routine and my life is hardly simple, but I am thrilled to say that I have come full circle and I still love my job(s). I do miss really enjoying mornings though, and since I woke up before 11:00 AM on a Sunday, I felt I needed to be rewarded for that.

It appears someone else did too.

I took the opportunity to check out Paradise Café for the first time, and walked away with a cup of coffee that may as well have been my gold star for getting my lazy self out of bed. As a first impression, Paradise Café respects a desire for good coffee experience, serving locally roasted Nor’west Coffee. Tucked into

Paradise Cafe endorses the $2 bill and the $1 coin.

Paradise Cafe endorses the $2 bill and the $1 coin.

a corner on Main St. at the edge of downtown, they’re easy to overlook but hard to forget once you’ve been there. If you’re a coffee novice, they’ll give you a solid cup o’ joe. For the connoisseur, they’ve got an assortment of loose leaf teas and press pours brewed to order. As an additional treat, I received a $1 coin and a $2 bill in change. Don’t take my word for it. Take a look at their menu and drop in sometime.

At the moment, the owners are considering extending Paradise Café hours to 7:00 or 8:00 PM and seeking feedback on the idea. If there’s anything driving me nuts about Vancouver Cafés, it’s that I’m hard-pressed to find one open past 5:00. If they extend their hours, they’ll certainly have my patronage. I mean, heck, they’ve even got free WiFi…

If the whole world moved to their favorite vacation spots, then the whole world would live in Hawaii and Italy and Cleveland.