Noise Pollution: Hotels on Mars Builds a Museum for Grief and Barra Brown Leads Portland’s Jazz Scene

Also on the newest edition of Will Schube's column: Sal Dulu and a collaboration between Ethan Braun and Sam Gendel.
By    March 4, 2021
Hotel on Mars photo by Celeste Sloman

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Will Schube has just announced he will be the first music journalist to publish reviews as an NFT.

Hotels on Mars ― Grief Museum

There’s some music I can only listen to if I’m paying complete attention. It’s generally lyric-heavy rock music, or rap, or just anything that’s actively engaging. I guess I’m trying to say that I listen to a lot of ambient music when I work. Minimalism too. It’s nice. But for some reason, I’ve been listening to Hotels on Mars’ debut LP, Grief Museum, while working for the past month or so and I’ve been able to simultaneously do my various tasks while staying fairly engaged with the album.

I think it’s because the man behind the project, Mat Weitman, makes songs that exist on two levels: there’s the guttural, emotional pull of his voice and the chords he plays, and there’s a more nuanced, lyrical side that rewards deep listening. I like to engage both of these things at once, like on album opener and one of my favorite songs from this year “The Worst Year on Record.” I generally fade in and out while listening, but about two minutes and 15 seconds into the track, there’s a line that grabs my attention and pulls me out of whatever I’m doing. Weitman sings, “If I could become a rat/Well there’s something appealing in that/’Cause then I could chew through the walls/And not only that/But I could also chew on the President’s fat neck while he laid awake in bed.” I don’t really know what it means but it’s something I unequivocally love because it appeals to some literary side while simultaneously punching me in the stomach as hard as possible.

Sal Dulu ― Xompulse

It’s hard to pin down precisely what kind of electronic music Sal Dulu makes, which is precisely why I love it. His debut LP, Xompulse, is out on his own label, Duluoz Records. The Irish producer mostly plays with chopped vocal samples and nostalgia-twinged synths, but there’s enough downtempo movement and jazz swells to keep the record unendingly interesting.

Dulu’s use of rappers also works to his advantage. On “Zumo,” Fly Anakin absolutely steals the show, unleashing a barrage of bars over a drum pattern loosely inspired by the New jack swing era. Koncept Jack$on does good work on “B,” too, but the album truly shines when Dulu is all up in his experimental bag. “She Belongs to Roth” is the emotional center of the record, buzzing with trip-hop energy and a looped piano line that sounds like the basis for a Thom Yorke song. The track eventually loops around itself into a calming repetition, with the occasional saxophone flourish recalling the work of Sam Gendel or Anenon. Dulu’s debut is rarely flashy, but it’s deeply intricate and carefully constructed. It’s the rare electronic record varied enough to suggest stylistic diversity instead of a lack of identity.

Barra Brown ― LFT:RT

Barra Brown has been bringing the jazz revolution to Portland. Alongside contemporaries like Makaya McCraven and the International Anthem crew out of Chicago, Brown assembles his compositions from the perspective of a percussionist. Like those similar artists, though, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Brown’s work is percussion heavy; the purview just filters through his work on the kit. “SAM” is a perfect example. The track is led by a loping synth line and a circular, somber interaction between guitar and bass, but the propulsive skittering of Brown’s drumbeat gives the song its energy and momentum. Brown invited ePP from the wonderful EYRST out of Portland, the rap label responsible for introducing Portland MCs like Neill Von Tally and The Last Artful, Dodgr. ePP turns in a brilliant verse on opener “RIDE,” and Brown’s greatest strength with his featured guest is in his ability to craft a precise and descriptive world without swallowing the space that ePP inhales. Throughout LFT:RT, Barra Brown toes the line between chaos and control. The parts are varied and constantly moving, but Brown is a master of this space, teasing the most out of his work without ever losing his direction.

Ethan Braun & Sam Gendel ― Rio Nilo 66

Sam Gendel is one of those artists that warrants a listen whenever he drops something. His discography has been daringly eclectic without ever going off the rails, and between his solo work and contributions as a collaborator to literally every musician popping off right now, I am very thankful I bought my Gendel stock early on. I could write about his new 52-song album, Fresh Bread, which features Carlos Niño, Jamire Williams, and Gabe Noel (among others), but the audacity and subsequent execution of that brilliant project exists in a post-word universe I am not yet willing to reckon with. This album, recorded with Ethan Braun, was originally released in 2019 on a super limited run of vinyl, and is finally available digitally. The two conceived of the project in Mexico City but recorded it in a coffee roasting facility in LA, which doesn’t add much to the context of the music outside of the fact that everything Gendel does is interesting. He’s just one of those dudes that doesn’t miss. He’s effortlessly cool, but in the way few people are anymore…it’s an elusive confidence, a supreme belief in a singular vision. Rio Nilo 66 is more contemplative and quiet than some of Gendel’s other albums, but it’s a perfect setting for his airy, hazy saxophone loops. Also, the record features a speech on mindfulness from Bill Murray so you know it’s extremely legit.

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