Our Town Could be Your Life: The Double U BY CARY CLARKE (Portland Mercury, From Oct 4 - Oct 10, 2007) Portland musicians tend to learn very quickly when out-of-state musicians with any kind of notoriety or reputation are planning to move to our city. The news is usually met, as in the case of, say, Chris Walla or Britt Daniel, with a mixture of excitement and canine territorial defensiveness. Whether this phenomenon is a vestige of the proudly provincial, quietly xenophobic, Tom McCall-era 'Visit but don't stay' Oregonian mindset, or the product of the lingering insecurity we all feel about actually being Californians ourselves, word travels at the speed of gossip. But occasionally our early warning systems and border-patrolling Minutemen let us down when it really counts, because while we never fail to work ourselves into an elitist tizzy when we get wind that someone like Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance might be moving here, we somehow let a gem of a band like the Double U move to Portland to live and create in our midst for five years without really taking notice. The Double U play a clean-toned, jazzy, roller-rink-redolent, highly unpredictable brand of restrained indierock full of the muted menace found in David Lynch films and Ren and Stimpy cartoons. The fact that they play music this unusual makes their relative local obscurity unfortunate. But the fact that they do so with an impeccable independent music pedigree makes it surprising. The Double U were pioneering comrades-in-arms in San Francisco's mid- to late-'90s weird rock renaissance with better-known bands like Deerhoof, the Melvins and, especially, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, with whom they sometimes lived and collaborated. Over the course of a decade in the Bay, the band's lineup changed several times, but husband-and-wife duo Matt Hall and Alex Behr remained constant, forming the core of the band with the former's technically rigorous guitar playing and unintelligible whisper-soft vocal growl, and the latter's punchy bass work and languid keyboards. The twosome moved to Portland from San Francisco in 2003 because, according to Behr, 'It was getting too expensive down there, and Matt liked rain.' Once here, they teamed up with a fellow transplant, drummer Geoff Soule-a card-carrying member of the Cool Club himself, as a member of San Franciscan indie outfit F***-played some shows, and booked a few sessions at Jackpot! Recording Studio with Larry Crane and Kendra Wright. The resultant album, entitled Hibou Mécanique (French for 'Mechanical Owl'), is the band's fifth release, and first with Soule, whose tasteful, intricate drumming complements Behr and Hall's styles well. The Double U?? (partlyporpoise-blogspot) I'm (again) surprised at how many bands there are calling themselves the Double U - at least three at first glance. What's going on? Are all the good names taken? Portland's the Double U, however, are unlikely to be confused with many other bands. A quick listen to the mp3s will be all it takes ...??Led by husband and wife team Matt Hall and Alex Behr, and backed by drummer Geoff Soule, they play a quirky mix of show tunes and dreamy pop, all mixed up with some sort of Eastern European influence, Klezmer, I think. The web site talks about guitars, keyboards and bass, but I can hear far more exotic instrumentation in there - strings and tubas and the like. It's all rather arcane and beautiful.??The most striking thing about the Double U sound has to be Matt Hall's vocals though. "Gruff" would be an understatement, more like a kind of soft howl, if you can imagine that. The obvious comparison is Tom Waits, but much more interesting (and not at all irritating). On top of this, as well as the extreme... er... throatiness of the singing, it's also almost completely impossible to pick many of the words. The band's website refers to them as some sort of Vikings (I don't think we're talking death metal, or burning down churches), which made me think that they're actually singing in Icelandic or something, but there are snatches of English. Who knows? Actually this doesn't bother me. If I'm listening to something as weird as this, it's OK, all bets are off; you might as well go the whole hog... ??The Double U are another Emperor Jones band, and released their fifth album, Hibou Mechanique, last October, although by then had moved onto Geoff Soule's own label, the superbly named Supermegacorporation. ... Get a slice of something endearingly out of the ordinary, this week...
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