A Journal Of The Dark Arts
America’s Pacific Northwest is a golden paradise during the summer months – green as far as the eye can perceive, primordial ferns in Old Growth forests, rife with sunbathers and wildlife. For much of the year, however, it is misty, overcast and damp. You have to take it while you get it, and there’s always a sense of appreciation, a sense of place, during the summer in Oregon, Washington and Northern California. We don’t want to stray too far, and miss the couple months of nice weather we have, so we will be spotlighting some Northwestern music, before tripping to more exotic climes.
Motorbikes was the solo venture of Paul Adam Benson, a resident of Anacortes, Wa. He’s affiliated with the Mount Eerie, Karl Blau/Lovers Without Borders contingent, as well as playing drums on Lake‘s, from Olympia, most recent tour.
You can definitely hear the influence of all these inspirations and collaborators on How To Execute?, but Motorbikes reflect the wider state of the musical globetrotter.
In short, you can detect the specter of Phil Elverum in Benson’s ethereal falsetto croon and natural mystic slice-of-life depictions. You also pick up on the Northwester’s tendency towards spectral, stylized Pop, as perfected by Lovers Without Borders, and refined by Portland’s Typhoon. You can also hear the presence of 2000’s indie rock, Yeasayer‘s celtic electronica and Grizzly Bear‘s colorful appropriation of bouncing African rhythms.
All of this is merely cryptic shorthand, hitting at a wider and deeper question, that is being explored by a lot of Washingtonians and Oregonians, but not restricted to the region: What to do with folk music? How to expand and explode the prison of limitations inflicted by genre and trends. Its a question that every creative type must ask themselves, probably before they even begin. Start with a melody, a lyric or riff. How to package? What to present? The angels are in the arrangements, and there’s a special type of person who rejects the known and acceptable and pushes form into new elastic dimensions.
I think what Motorbike’s music has in common with a lot of these underground currents i’ve mentioned is the presence of electronic loops, which creates a lulling hypnotic air that was present in a lot of underground music in the late 2000’s. This could be an example of people’s increasing isolation and anti-social nature, or reflective of economic constraints and the restrictions on practice space. Whatever the cause, loopr pedals are here to stay, they’ve become part of the musical lexicon, and create a unique sensation that is quite interesting when combined with rudimentary rock ‘n roll and folk forms.
The main thing that Paul Adam Benson’s music has going for it is an incredible focus and control. His arrangements are tight and precise, this is what it might sound like if Wire or Gang Of Four were currently playing house shows and got interested in acoustic instruments. This precision stops the songs from degenerating into muddy drone waters, every layer and aspect is clear. How To Execute? is a clockwork jigsaw puzzle of clean guitars, dry drums and subtle vocal harmonies.
Another trademark of the Northwestern experimental underground is ambiance, the sense of space that breathes around the guitars and vocals. It makes it seem as if you are in the room with the music as it is being made, one of the greatest strengths and charms of non-commercial music. It makes for some real cognitive dissonance, when layered with electronic elements, as the brain tries to make sense of being in two spaces at the same time.
As the summer revs down, i’m finding a renewed appreciation for the music being made in my immediate vicinity, and of the land and people itself. I call it psychogeography; focusing on a particular place, its history and its people, trying to find something universal, a common ground where we all meet. I am looking for reference points, wading through the simulacrum, the digital fog. Looking for something real, as a way to counteract the cultural ADD that comes from living in continual sensory overload. As a prolonged meditation, i’ve been unearthing all sorts of new manner of organizing information, and getting ever clearer on what this blog is all about.
Take a moment to appreciate where you are. If you are from the Pacific Northwest, here’s a tasty slab that is worthy of yr time and attention, underknown and deserving of an a audience. If yr not from around here, here’s a broadcast from our forests to yr front door. A slice of northwestern life, a sliver of time.
I’m not sure if Paul Adam Benson is currently still in Lake, but he now makes music under the name Ever Ending Kicks. Expect to hear more about that.
favorite tracks: Late Bloomers, Capallero, How To Execute?, Feeling Good
How To Execute? is available for streaming, and as a pay-what-you-like download, via bandcamp.