By Arya Imig
Turtlenecked is the latest, but perhaps greatest, find by Good Cheer Records, who have dedicated themselves to chronicling the emergence of the best potential Portland has to offer. They succeed. Turtlenecked mastermind Harrison Smith exemplifies the aesthetic the label best strives for with his debut album, Pure Plush Bone Cage. Songwriting comes first for Smith and you can tell by the myriad of sound that are taken into account into developing his sound.
Good Cheer themselves took many factors of the industry into account when label heads Blake Hickman (ex-KPSU, Music Millennium) and Mo Troper (Your Rival) joined forces. Troper has studied the masters of every generation, recognizing the greatness in Lennon/McCartney, Elvis Costello, Rivers Cuomo, and Saves The Day’s Chris Chris Conley while also developing an incredibly potent critical ear through his work as a Portland Mercury contributor. Troper is now able to use the education he’s received through that process to position himself as one of the town’s most respected and powerful tastemakers for his generation.
Hickman meanwhile kept the potential of KPSU’s flame as a supporter for Portland’s music scene lit during his tenure there, understanding that particular college radio station’s history in this city and its best future by being as prolific and creative as possible in the assurance of the success of the events he built while there.
Hickman and Troper have always thrown everything at the wall in everything they’ve done. They’ve committed their all to growing Good Cheer. They succeed but the motivation of having something to prove still drives them. Their relationship with Smith makes sense.
It’s irresponsible to assume that an artist has listened to any one particular artist and then stole from them wholesale. Smith was born the year Odelay came out. Beck’s masterpiece just marked 20 years but its restless creator is driven by the same wanderlust and organic mystery that drives the plots of The Long Goodbye and Inherent Vice. Beck is still thriving to explore every sound he ever loved on the records in every collection he’s ever rifled through.. It’s what’s made him the of artist that you will take your children to see at the zoo, one with a strong legacy. Beck throws everything at the wall.
The Pollock style way in which Smith too has thrown everything at the wall has resulted in Pure Plush Bone Cage being one of the strongest debut Portland albums in the last decade. There’s faux British vocals that delight in their gasping and grasping expression of all the thoughts that drive us to experience all that will shape our future as we grow. The coda of the the final track on Pure Plush Bone Cage, “The Elysian Fields Border Patrol,” echoes the ambitious slow burn of the first track, “Intro”. The obvious visual art appreciator in Smith understands the value of circles; “Cigarettes and sycophants,” observes Smith on the same track, perhaps an acute observation of the peacock march of circles attempting to one up each other with their coolness when it isn’t necessary. We’re all cool. It’s all good.
All these sounds of survival are most potent when Smith’s educated language is combined with the crunching driving guitars that could end up being the best legacy of the influence of Strokes guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi. Smith, currently enjoying what Lewis and Clark college has to offer, is the product of a generation which has grown up with easier and quicker access to every lineage in every media that will ever inform their own legacies. He’s a wise student. He’s flown quickly past the dial up era evoked at the beginning of “Weakling”.
As the soundtrack to the chase for a party that might not exist, Turtlenecked’s future lays in blaring from the stereos of every frustrated post adolescent’s stereo and anyone else who recognizes in the sound here what they remember from their development. “Paranoia In Context” has the mysterious swagger and tension that Britt Daniel built on Spoon’s Girls Can Tell but borrowed from Costello’s Watching The Detectives. Lead single “Mondrian” has the layered squealing guitars that made Weezer’s first two albums the classics that they’ve never been able to repeat the sound of. Bassist Matt Sharp left after their second album. What would have happened if he’d stayed?
It’s easy enough to release an artist’s first record. Most artists accept opportunities that have never been given them for the sheer thrill of having been asked. After all, to be recognized for what they’ve struggled for is incredibly validating. What’s perhaps more important is the creation of an environment that can result in an artist being able to release their 2nd or 3rd or even 4th record.
It’s a challenge for all parties involved.
Smith performs at the back of the stage live for now but like Starfucker’s Josh Hodges before him, his talent will push him to the front of the class. Quantifying quality chafes at the soul of the real music fan but Harrison Smith has assured his place on the dean’s list at the end of this year.