Freeform Portland presents: 5 Questions!

In this installment, Swintronix interviews fellow Freeform Portland DJ Lucifer Rosa of the weekly show Tchotchkes.

How did you hear about Freeform Portland?

A good friend of mine introduced me to Jane Beerkin and DJ Ed shortly after I moved to Portland. He knew that I had been doing radio for years and that I would be looking for something here in town, so he introduced me to the station knowing that it would be love at first sight!

How did you come up with your show name and DJ name?

The DJ name has evolved over the course time…. When I first started doing radio I hosted a surf show on KZSC in Santa Cruz, under a different moniker (it was really silly and I am too embarrassed to share it). A year later I joined KFJC, where I volunteered for many years, and I chose the air-name Surfer Rosa (yes, like The Pixies album)- that name was a hats-off to both my earliest radio days hosting a surf show, as well as my musical roots since I grew up on bands like The Pixies. A friend of mine jokingly suggested the name Lusurfer Rosa one day, which I liked- but I dropped the pun and went with Lucifer Rosa for simplicity’s sake. For a while I would switch back and forth between Surfer Rosa and Lucifer Rosa, Lucifer Rosa was like Surfer Rosa’s evil alto ego- she would come out at night and play a bunch of grating noisy music. Eventually Lucifer Rosa stuck and cannibalized Surfer Rosa altogether. Tchotchkes (the name of the show) is a Yiddish word that refers to a random assortment of decorative, not necessarily functional or useful objects. I chose it because I do not like to be genre specific in my programming, I prefer to play a random assortment of music from across the board. Basically, I was looking for a word that means random junk, so Tchotchkes was perfect.

How do you put together a set for your show? Is there a theme, process or goal?

My sets are always improvised. I utilize an assortment of mediums- vinyl, tape, cd, and a little bit of mp3. I bring a bunch of stuff from my own collection, and I also pull records and CDs form Freeform’s wonderful library. So, I start the show with about twice as much music as I could play in two hours, and just chose from that pile as I go along. The programming is pretty heavily subject to whatever mood I am in that day-  but I do play a lot of international, experimental, jazz, and rock on the noisier side. I also really like soundtracks and blues. My goal is to mix all these genres together and deliver some nonconventional segues (like a transition from harsh noise to 70s Thai pop). As a listener and lover of radio, weird segues have always been something I enjoyed hearing, so I try to deliver the same when doing my show.

All Djs at Freeform Portland also volunteer at the station – what are some of the ways you’ve contributed to the station besides hosting a show?

I get a lot of volunteer hours working for the Music Department and working with the physical media library: adding/processing/labeling new incoming music, alphabetizing the library and making sure it is orderly and well kept, taking inventory. We are working on building some new shelving since the library is growing rapidly and we will need more space (particularly for the CDs). I also get some hours helping with events, and substituting for other people’s shows.

What are some shows you like on Freeform Portland?

This is a hard one! There are so many great shows! Sounds Obscure w/ RK Heist is great- she plays a lot of old favorites. Chaos Warp and Spider in the Ear are great for weird experimental stuff (which is always a pleasure to hear on the radio). Amos Ananda plays loads of great jazz. Ghostpunkwasteland is always buckets of fun. Uva Ursula does a killer show.  And so many others….

Freeform Portland presents: 5 Questions with Swintronix & DJ Adam

In this installment, Swintronix interviews fellow Freeform Portland DJ Adam of the weekly show Instead Of White Men.

How did you hear about Freeform Portland?

I remember I was walking around town somewhere, and there was a poster advertising the station and calling for DJs. I had no radio experience before–but it was always one of those things that I wanted to do. I have a deep love for music, culture, and community, so I thought: “this might be for me.” This was before Freeform was liberating the airwaves. I visited the site, I think it was a Google Doc and it seemed chill enough and DIY enough for me to give it a try. I applied for a show and was offered a slot, but due to time conflicts I had to hold off. I started out heavily volunteering for the station, and it was a good move. It was a great way to get connected to the community aspect of things.

How is the music on your show different from other electronic music shows on Freeform Portland or elsewhere?

There are a lot of great dance and electronic shows on Freeform Portland. Even though Portland is a small city–our scene is pretty solid and our community is very engaged and innovative. I think my show is different because it has a racial and gendered lens to it. As a queer person of color in this city it’s a struggle to be in this scene and negotiate the white heteronormativity and dude-ness of it all; that’s electronic music in general I suppose. Portland is a lot better than other cities i’ve been to though. I feel that generally, over the last few years there has been a big push to elevate and create spaces that include women artists and artists of color and it’s been fun to be a part of that celebration. Since those are the artists I try to play on Instead of White Men, it has been a gift to explore underrepresented artists and I don’t think other radio shows are approaching dance and electronic music with that same lens.

How do you discover new music and artists to play on your show?

It’s a lot of work to be honest. When you’re seeking out anything alternative and then also an alternative to that alternative it takes some time. It’s been an interesting and demanding project. Overall, I’d say I am pretty connected to our local scene and we have great artists and DJs that visit town. I also travel a fair amount, and that typically involves music somehow. In the way some people watch sitcoms or read novels, I listen to music. All the time. I listen to a ton of DJ sets and radio shows–from local to global, and keep tabs on tracks that I like. I find artists and labels that I love and see what else they’re connected to. I read a lot of online commentary–and really, Instead of White Men couldn’t happen without the internet and social media. The connectedness that the web provides allows me to find artists that would otherwise be impossible. Overall, I just want to share diverse artists–but the music has to be dope.

All DJs at Freeform Portland also volunteer at the station – what are some of the ways you’ve contributed to the station besides hosting a show?

For my first year with the station I was a Volunteer Committee chair–mainly connecting with volunteers, facilitating station meetings, trainings, and doing a lot of the behind the scenes communication to our DJs and community. A lot of project management. I also contribute to the Freeform Portland Zine from time to time, and a piece I collaborated on (see below) with DJ Freakbook from Radio 859 was on the Fall 2016 cover. I took on some diversity and outreach work as well–which is something I would like to see grow at the station. Though I’ve had to scale back, I still have my hands in a few things and want to continue to be a committed member of the station.

What are some shows you like on Freeform Portland?

I have a lot of shows I really like, all our programming is fantastic. I really love everyone, but to give some dance and electronic shout-outs I would say: Interspecies Smalltalk with DJ Grain Elevator, Terminal Beach with DJenks and Teen,  Bonus Beats with DJ LaRose, Travel Agency with DJ Image Research and DJ Life Couch, Alleys of Your Mind with Nightchilde and Ian Hicks, Horoscope Club with J. Truant, Beats Don’t Break with DJ Le’Mix. Other stuff I love: Comma Summer with Adrian Business, Make Out Sesh with DJ Pow Pow, The Upstairs Room with The Queen of Siam, Weekend Family Music Hour with Kawaii, Devil Child, and Karen, Bachelard’s Panty Drawer with Mammal in Crime, Deep Lez Power Hour with DJ Pizza Delivery.

Come back to Freeform Portland’s Blog soon for more installments of 5 Questions!

The Sounds of Bartholomäus Traubeck

Some hypnotic aural landscapes by Bartholomäus Traubeck:

Years – ‘scratching’

A record player that plays slices of wood.

Two Axes in A Forest (Resonanz 1)

Two Guitars play each other by inducing the sound signal of one guitar into the other via transducers, and vice versa. By looping both guitars through each other a state of perfect resonance is almost achieved. But since these two industrially manufactured objects are not completely alike, the frequencies never match perfectly and subtle shifts happen in the texture of the sound.

A Long Echo to Noise

a vinyl record consisting of a locked groove being played over and over until it completely wears out. The sound-sample is taken from the Beach Boys’ hit-single ‘Good Vibrations’, a song notoriously famous for being sampled excessively throughout music culture since its release.

For aural tree baths, you can download Yearshere

Freeform Portland presents: 5 Questions!

In this installment, Swintronix interviews fellow Freeform Portland DJ zen_hound of the weekly show Whoa This Is Heavy.

How did you hear about Freeform Portland?

I first heard about Freeform through Jeff Simmons, a founder of XRAY FM, on twitter. XRAY was new but going strong, and I was doing some volunteering and digging the community nature of it. Then I hear Jeff’s working with people on ANOTHER community station, this one all music all day, and it only increased my excitement for how things were going musically in Portland. Listening to my friend Ben do his show Cities in Dust made me finally get off my butt and apply for a show.

How’d you come up with your DJ name?

My DJ name actually came from when I was trying to think of a twitter handle. I was reading about Irish mythology at the time, and there’s the story of how the hero Cúchulainn got his name: he killed the guard dog of Culann the smith in self-defense, then offered to take the dog’s place until a new one could be reared. So a druid who just happened to be nearby named him Cúchulainn, “the Hound of Culann”.

I’m also pretty into zen.

Since my show can veer between doom and grindcore without much notice, I think the name is fairly appropriate.

The underscore is because @zenhound is already owned by someone on twitter who really seems to like greyhounds but hasn’t posted anything since 2014… not that I’m feeling petty or anything.

You have a Friday afternoon show, but you fill-in on a lot of late-night timeslots.  How are your fill-in shows different from your regular shows?

My regular show follows a pretty straightforward formula, where I look at the shows happening in Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, etc through the week, and I construct a playlist based on those bills, as well as newly released records from northwest bands and labels. I treat it as an aural event calendar.

But while that gives me a lot to work with, it’s very based on what’s happening right now – current regional bands and brand new releases – putting a good deal of my record collection at a disadvantage, with all the defunct or non-local bands I’d love to be able to play on a more regular basis. So when it comes to filling in for another DJ (usually at 2am), everything’s on the table. The noisiest and weirdest stuff, as well as the most explicit material endemic to the genres I tend to feature, only possible during Safe Harbor hours. It makes for a show that’s less methodical and intentional, more brutal and stream-of-consciousness. Powerviolence meditation.

Also, I’m usually pretty tired at 2 in the morning, so it’s less stressful to grab a bunch of records I haven’t listened to in a while and just let the fates decide. Freeform indeed!

What band(s) did you think you would play the most on your show and what band(s) do you actually play the most?

I went in thinking I’d mostly be playing YOB, Thou, Great Falls, Old Man Gloom and Cloud Rat.

 Looking over my playlists since I started broadcasting last October, that turned out to be absolutely correct.

 In addition to YOB and Great Falls, other northwest favorites that get lots of play from me are Drunk Dad, Rabbits, Serial Hawk and He Whose Ox Is Gored. This region is just so rich in talent it makes me crazy.

What are some shows you like on Freeform Portland?

I’d have to say my Friday neighbors The Softer Side of Doom and ghostpunkwasteland, 12pm on alternating weeks, are my favorite programs to listen to on Freeform. Their shows complement the stuff I play and listen to so well, and it’s great to be able to gush over YOB and Crowhurst with Uva Ursula and dj catlord. That sort of thing really makes it a community radio station.

 Other favorites are Jam the Controls and Static Atomizer. Kindred spirits all around.

 Stay tuned for more “5 Questions” interviews coming soon!

Songs For Trains

Trains are spiritual places for me. A sense of time slowing down while you move through the world at a standstill. I spend a good deal of my train rides listening to music whether I’m doing so while reading a book, gazing out the window, napping or writing a Freeform Portland blog post. So, I did some thinking on songs I strongly associate with trains. Many are literal “train songs,” but there are a number that use trains as a means of speaking to something less tangible.

Vashti Bunyan – “Train Song”

“Traveling north, traveling north to find you…”

Haunting. Best for routes that firstly, move northward, and secondly, are winding, remote and ideally immersed in fog. Don’t spend too much time getting attached to anyone you meet on these sorts of train rides.

Henry Thomas – “Bull Doze Blues”

“Just as sure as that train leaves out that Mobile yard…”
In this one, the train is a means of escape for the narrator. The phrase bull dozer can be traced back to 1876 when it was used to refer to racists terrorists in the South who would assault, harass and murder African Americans. The song suggests the reason for leaving their home by train is intimidation and harassment in their hometown in Alabama.

Allen Toussaint – “Last Train”

“The world is getting so much faster…”
This song is best heard on a train that’s recklessly fast, ramshackle and ideally ready to jump the rails. No ticket needed to ride this one.

The Magnetic Fields – “Fear of Trains”

“It was the wagon train that took away her country / it was the oil train that took away her past…”
This song sways my opinion on trains somewhat. Tracing a micro-history of the railroad’s impact on the main character as it forever alters the course of her and her family’s lives. Trains are painted as cruel harbingers of destruction. It’s important not to forget the things we lose in the name of “progress.”

Curtis Mayfield – “People Get Ready” (Live @ the Bitter End, NYC, 1971)

“I believe we’re gonna make it one day…”
Another instance of the “train as an escape” motif. This time, used as a metaphor for spiritual release. Curtis invites us to shed our biases, our hangups and our less pure selves.Sure, there’s heavy Christian overtones, but I choose to listen to it as a nondenominational invitation to a brighter, more peaceful future.

múm – “Asleep on a Train” / “Awake on a Train”

“crackle, doot doot, whirl, twinkle…”
Deceptively, most of “Asleep” is fairly lively and not quite a good fit for dozing off. Still, placed back to back, these songs make for an excellent window car soundtrack.

Lucinda Williams – “Ramblin’ on My Mind”

“I’m gonna pack up my bags / gonna leave on the mornin’ train…”
Originally by Robert Johnson, Lucinda does the song more than justice with her rendition here. This is a song fit for catching a ride out of a dirty own town.

A Spotify playlist for sinking into headphones as train tracks rumble beneath:

Led Zeppelin Ears

When it comes to listening to music, the general populace has a serious case of Led Zeppelin ears.

This is condition brought about by an overexposure to or an overt affection for the band Led Zeppelin, specifically and classic rock radio in general.It is a condition that manifests itself with great ease, and is years in the making. Sometimes a lifetime happens before it reaches maturity. A lifetime not spent on capitulation or apathy, no. A lifetime in which at some point you slip into acceptance.

How Led Zeppelin Ears Are Contracted

It all started with album sales by the band, Led Zeppelin. Their catalog, especially the first 5 albums, are among the highest selling records of all time. Zep’s music was nearly inescapable, no matter where you grew up or with whom you made friends. The band’s popularity ensured an early pre-teen exposure to their music was all but guaranteed at any social gathering, birthday party, invitation to hang out and go swimming in a pool or make out session.

As if album sales were not enough, radio in the seventies began to subtly change. Freeform-formatted radio stations became more stagnant and more like each other in that decade. Their playlists gave rise to album oriented rock. AOR. a format filled with rock blocks, two for thursdays, 4 in a row afternoons…the result of which meant they played not only singles, but album tracks by bands.Sounds like a good thing, right?

But no.

The problem was these stations playing led Zeppelin ad nauseum. Filling the mass eardrums with rock histrionics, with guitar hero/god flourishes. And then there’s “Stairway To Heaven,” – an anthem that will never ever go away, but yet no one needs to hear again to remember.Sure, I will admit with AOR, Led Zeppelin was not the only problem…there was plenty of airtime given to Pink FloydAerosmithBostonJourney, etc. Etc.

But something about led Zeppelin dulled mass senses and made it impossible to judge music with an impartial ear.I noticed this when I would sometimes get a new record by a band I had at that time just discovered, for instance in 1984, the Chameleons UK. When I played the album among friends, no matter how distinctly unique this band would sound, a friend would find someway somehow to draw comparisons to the string-bending or sustaining guitar sound to Jimmy Page’s style on one or several led Zeppelin tracks.

This due to the fact that overexposure to that music meant there was no other past influence from which to draw experience.

Once you have led Zeppelin ears, all bands will by judged by their music, their style.

Every arpeggiated flourish on the guitar strings becomes a 12-bar blues refrain to the ears of those tainted with only Led Zeppelin’s musical history.

And on the occasion the listener is truly presented with a new music far outside of blues guitar experience…such as “Moody” by ESG…you can tell by the blank look on their faces, there is a white empty space in their eardrums. They have not the tools to understand what they hear.

The cure, of course, is simple to conceive, but hard to execute. One must merely expose themselves to a variety of music. Jazz, African, punk, garage, psych, funk, soul, gospel, soundtracks. There is a world of music out there, a different type or selection for every person round the whole wide world. A world of music for anyone willing to listen. A world of music which can readily accessed via the medium of Radio.  Radio provides the joy of music for anyone willing to let down their Led Zeppelin ears and listen, truly listen.

Freak Folk Faves! (Part 2)

Sibylle Baier never really made an album. The German model and occasional actress was more interested in raising her children than self promotion. And to any fan of underground music, talent over hype is a welcome breath of fresh air.

Baier can be seen in Wim Wenders’ 1973 “Alice In The Cities” and her music can be heard in several other Wender’s productions. But the handful of songs she recorded by herself were all but unheard and forgotten until her son had them published some thirty years later. We can thank Orange Twin Records for the reissue (or in this case, first pressing).

Even today Sibylle shuns the spotlight and thinks it silly that people would pay any attention to her quaint home recordings. Perhaps her aversion to fame has kept the magic quality of these recordings intact.

Her voice somber and soothing, her nylon stringed guitar warm and cozy- if you listen to this record alone and in a quiet place, you can have your own singular hidden treasure experience:

I’ve been unable to find much info on Karen Dalton. She remains an enigma even in the all seeing eye of the internet. I can tell you, however, that she was once Bob Dylan’s favorite singer (if that means anything to you). She was one of the post-beat generation Greenwich Village folksters, before moving to Colorado.

I can tell you Karen was a heroin addict, and that she died (possibly from aids) in 1993. However none of these factoids can do anything to illuminate the beauty of her few recordings she left behind.

Her post-Billie Holiday voice quivers over tenor banjos to strange and hypnotic affects. Her twelve string sets a velvety base for her bluesy and tortured vocals.

One thing I can tell you unequivocally about Karen Dalton is that her music has changed my life for the better.

Harry Taussig played at the prestigious Texas music festival South By Southwest in 2013, despite not having recorded anything in 45 years. It’s ironic that the 1960s era of digging up lost blues legends and underground folk heroes now has some forgotten refugees of their own.

Here’s two cuts from Harry’s aptly titled 1965 album “Fate Is Only Once’’:

A Band Never Found – The Disfigurines

Relying on the internet as often as we do, it is sometimes disconcerting when we come upon a subject for which there is little or no information.

Such is the band, The Disfigurines.

It is a band name I have encountered every now and again, spoken softly by some members of bands I’ve met. The first time was when I was walking on NW Couch street one morning. I met Mick Collins of The Gories and The Dirtbombs. He had just purchased a juice and was kind enough to chat with me for a few minutes. I had seen the Dirtbombs perform a year or so prior to this chance encounter, at The Satyricon, and complimented him on the show and his band in general. The conversation drifted towards record collecting and he asked me if I had any recordings by the band, The Disfigurines. I could tell from the look on his face he really was hopeful I would reply in the affirmative, but I had never heard of the band. I shook my head, no. Sorry, never heard of them, I replied. Who are they? Just a band I might have heard of he replied, his head sinking a bit as he turned to walk away.

At the time, I was employed by a local Portland record store, and the next time I was at work, I flipped through the “D” section in the Rock records, with no luck. Nothing by The Disfigurines, not even a section card. I asked my manager as he had been working at the store for a number of years, but he also had never heard of this band.

The name really struck me. It was a bit funny. A play on the words, disfigured and figurine. Self deprecating. A bit of black humor. Easy to remember. I assumed the band was punk or new wave, a band that had been around a while, then faded away.

At that time, I was not exactly a computer whiz, but did what I could to search the internet. I found a few message boards on the subjects of either Punk, Post-Punk or New Wave, but in scrolling the seemingly endless threads I never did find a reference to the The Disfigurines.

The next time I was in San Francisco, I headed over to Haight Street and visited a few record stores. In general I was looking to fill some gaps in my collection, but first made a beeline to the “D” section. No luck though. No records, no section card.

In places such as Amoeba Records, due to its size, I felt intimidated or silly asking questions, so I never did approach any of the employees about my search.

Down the street at the much smaller store, Recycled Records, I spoke with my friend, Mike Boul, about the band, The Disfigurines.

Prior to working in this record store, Mike Boul had been the lead singer of the band, Indian Bingo, who had released two LPs, an EP, and a couple of singles, all of which I had and enjoyed quite a bit. He had lived in both Los Angeles and San Francisco and I thought he might be a good resource.

He looked at me across the counter when I mentioned the band’s name, paused in thought for a moment and then went into the store’s basement. He returned a few minutes later and handed me a handful of memeographed fanzines from New York City in the early 80s.

I do not remember where, but somewhere in at least of one of these, I think there is a reference to that band he said.

He invited me to go into the small office in the back part of the store to read through the zines.

I flipped through them, some with handwritten text almost illegible, some with various fonts designed with block printing, a couple with lettering that appeared to have been cut out of magazines and pasted on, in the style of a ransom note. Most of them seemed generically punk, and reminded me of 45’s you find abandoned in used record stores with hand-scrawled black and white sleeves.

About three-fourths of way through the pile I turned a page, and there was the subject line, “Art Gallery Disfigured.” It was a review of a live performance. Not at a club, but at an unnamed art gallery. According to the article, a band set up in the back part of the gallery just as the sun was setting, with no warning or announcement when launching into their set. From what I could gather, the band had four members, guitar, bass, drummer and a singer.

The only song title referenced was “It’s been a pleasure (to forget you).” Seemed like from the article, the band had played for about twenty minutes, and had worn out their welcome after the first five. A sculpture had been knocked over, a few pictures removed from the walls and tossed out into the meager crowd. The band hustled out of the gallery they had just managed to empty, the singer paused at the doorway, reached into his pocket, and tossed a couple of cassette tapes onto the gallery floor.

I tried to talk Mike Boul into allowing me to purchase this zine, but he refused as it belonged to the owner and was not for sale and certainly would be missed. The store did not have a copy machine…so memory is all that remains of the page.

I left the store a little bit elated though. The title suggested that the band had actually played a gig, such as it was, and somewhere out there…there might be a cassette, likely in New York City somewhere, on a shelf or in a drawer, covered in dust, forgotten, or more likely than not, swept up long ago and sent to the trash.

Suffice to say, I never found this cassette.

These days, the reissue mindset of the record industry would seem to be always in pursuit of of some previously unreleased gem. Label owners have turned their attention to tapes from small recording studios, acetates made from recordings by bands hoping to release a single. Also it is no longer odd to see a reissue of a private press record. Even reissues of previously released reissues now happen, as contract time limits expire and albums go out of print.

But nowhere in this vast mass of culture clutch have I seen The Disfigurines. Never to the best of my knowledge, has there been a single pressed, an LP released or a reissue released.

The band name burrows into my memory like a magic mushroom dream. One wonders if I heard it at all.

Watch Opal & Ayler from Freeform Portland’s Weekend Family Music Hour

Weekend Family Music Hour (Alternating Saturdays from 8am to 10am) is co-hosted by DJs Opal and Ayler who are 10 & 8 yrs old. They are supervised by Mom (Karen) & play eclectic music which ranges from ethnic, Miami bass, soul, funk, rock, psych, hip hop, reggae, jazz & folk. In addition to tunes and birthday shout-outs, Opal and Ayler lead discussions on politics, magic and childhood subjects.

Zhalih’s “Secret” Reviewed by Dessicant

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” ― Roald Dahl

In a world where we seemingly see everything, know everything about each other’s lives – where the slightest minutiae are ceaselessly simulcast, when we peer into each other’s living rooms, bedrooms, often on the daily – we might ask ourselves, at this point, what exactly is secret, in the Panopticon? In a ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ reality, we share slivers and cross-sections of our existences, share our quirks and interests and relate, through pictures and text, sometimes, fleetingly, in person. It’s tempting to think we know everything, that we understand one another because we see so much, seemingly know so much – we share so much of ourselves, willfully, regularly. But, somehow, the divide seems unbreachable, we are walled in our own ceramic temple, perhaps sometimes coming close to the orbit of other pearls. We’re never really getting in – at the end of the day, we must take others at their word, what they choose to show to us. They remain a mystery, a microcosm unto themselves, each dizzying in their infinite complexity.

So perhaps we will never jump that v o i d – perhaps we are trapped in solipsism, doomed to filtering everything through our individual experiences, history, background, imprinting – still, we live here, together, on this blue marble, in this snowglobe. Each to their own and all, we constantly strive to understand, to comprehend each infinite mystery encountered. We encounter the mystery and we listen.

So, again, at this point, what constitutes a secret, and what purpose do they serve, in a world of over-sharing? For one, there’s the type of secret referenced in that Roald Dahl quote, an unseen, subtle, scintillating world surrounding us, little did we realize, just waiting to be appreciated. Take, in tandem, Rainer Marie Rilke’s “I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone.” Let us talk of hidden, subtle things, or things that matter, or not at all. Secrets, when everyone tells so much, seem like a choice, and they seem cherished somehow because of it. Or perhaps they even more power, possess more dark gravity than before the Book Of Life started mimeographing our daily existences? Secrets can also bring us together, in a rare, raw moment of understanding. Secrets seem real, in the simulacrum, the temple of artifice. They offer an opportunity for a messy, chaotic encounter, a chance meeting with the sublime, or perhaps the ridiculous, the embarrassing, the dangerous.  Anything could happen and that’s how life is and if we listen perhaps we might learn, to slightly better understand one another, inside our own swirling infrastructure.

Secret, from Portland singer/songwriter Zhalih, seems like a haven inside this hectic datasphere, a hidden place, where we may have real encounters, where we may talk of real things, or not at all. A spare skeleton of barely plucked acoustic guitar and airy, layered vocals are the lattice around which most of these eight tracks weave and pulse – each short, at around a bare 2:00, coming and going like a passing comment, or the fleeting memory of a dream. “Da Da” summons the swoon, with a minimalist pulsing guitar line, and Zhalih singing a near-lullaby, in her own wordless croon.  It’s the sound of someone singing to themselves, walking from to to fro – staring out the window. There is a mournful lilt to the melody, but also content. Like a harpist by a lake, mourning her drowned lost love.

Words form on “Insane”, again – a pulsing guitar line, this time with a bluesy engine overtop. “I’m not giving up/no/no/I’m gonna stay insane.” There is a rough, soulful quality to Zhalih’s music, like wood that’s been sitting in the sun, like walking next to a warm asphalt where there is sage and sunflowers and maybe snakes. Here, she begins to seemingly harmonize with herself, layering vocals upon vocals, although they’re barely there, a grace note, on “Insane”. The vocal harmonies increase, as the album rolls, teeming and coalescing into opalescent nebulae of golden soprano, as tuned as a church bell, and always on-point. Zhalih never misses a beat or hits an off-note, her intonation is beyond impeccable, and the first reason you need to hear this short album, and everything this talented young musician produces. The fact that she harmonizes with herself makes for an interesting, confessional, and also uniquely resonant experience. Zhalih focuses a lot on the vocals and harmonies, and she’s very good at it, both harmonizing with herself and others. It brings to mind recent avant composers like Panda Bear, with his elegiac Young Prayer. We wonder what someone like Brian Wilson would have made, with an ear and obsession for glorious, glowing vocal ensembles, had they access to bedroom recording equipment? Music made in the bedroom, by one’s self, has a particularly hushed, honest feeling to it – you can be more yourself when you’re by yourself, and the art that comes from that crucible is unique. The ability to make delicious sounding recordings for either cheap, or for free by ourselves, with our own gear, is yielding a new and particular strain of gilded lilies and emerald tapestries, gorgeous art that is honest and not meant to be commercial. This would have been hard to come by, 60 or 70 years ago.

Encountering Zhalih in this intimate space, she reveals more of herself, shows a bit more. Somewhat reclusive of a personality, she can be slightly withdrawn and atmospheric in person, it can be difficult to make out the lyrics, which become more of a shoegaze-y, Rothko-like lightshow. On Secret, however, the words are clear and up-front, and we are offered a glimpse into her secret world, or what she chooses to share of it with us, at any cost. There is no over-arching theme, no concept or revelation – love seems to be an ingredient, a shadow lingering around the edges. “You can’t have me anymore/I’ve danced away/I’ve danced away,” she sings on “I’ve danced myself out of the pain/I’ve danced before to another plane (?)” she continues, in a hypnotic sing-song, before breaking into a fluent French. It’s unclear who the second-person You is, it’s like an overheard conversation, yet the emotion is unmistakable when she breaks into a keening, soaring, wordless chorus. It stands the hair on end, like a breeze over a gray lake, slightly ruffling the surface. And then, finally, there’s the album closer, “You Love Them”, with its epithet “When you love someone/you love them,” closing the ceremony with a note of finality and seeming resignation. Zhalih is letting us in on her secret, her world, showing us things. It’s vague and indistinct and that’s okay because a secret’s weight is really in the keeping, in what we make of them. For one moment, we stop, and pause, and come together, over something real. We drop the masks and our mother-of-pearl facade fissures a little bit, for a moment. One final quote, from James Joyce, “Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants willing to be dethroned.”