Portland State University Vanguard (3/1/11)
Almost more Radiohead than Radiohead
Leaves Russell releases debut album, raises local bar
Like black metal, grind and pretty much all electronic music, Portland has this unspoken ratio in play: For every good band, there are approximately 300 bad ones. Everyone in Portland thinks they’re in a good band. That said, for some strange reason, our town’s venues are clogged with bands that are just plain no good. With Portland’s nepotistic nature, spots in our now waning venue population are hotly contested. More often than not, smaller venues are packed to the gills with bands nobody really wants to see. But quietly, in the shadows, relative unknowns are doing some amazing things. Enter: Leaves Russell.
On Feb. 4, Leaves Russell released its first piece of music, “Tale of Two Basements.” A very promising release, ToTB may have performed the impossible: raising the bar of Portland’s stalwart music scene—and nobody out there knows it yet. On the flipside; at five tracks, does ToTB have the mass necessary to make a real impact on Portland’s sonic landscape?
In the shortest terms possible: it should. More honesty drips from this record than most albums released by Portlanders in the last few years. Listeners will call it like it is on this record. Leaves Russell are, in no uncertain terms, a more pop-oriented Radiohead with some R&B hooks scattered throughout.
And really, that’s fine. Songs like “Paperthin” really exemplify this comparison. Frontman Matthew Russell sounds like Thom Yorke might, if Yorke weren’t howling into a microphone drenched with compression, reverb and echo. It is this sense of stripped-down honesty that characterizes ToTB. Sparse but lush instrumentals cover the terrain of the record, which are only augmented by Russell’s crooning.
When the instruments drop out, Russell’s voice is naked and wavering, which only reinforces the idea that this record seems to conjure up again and again: Four guys got together and recorded a very real album, more out of passion than menial chore. Lots of records released in this city traverse every path BUT honesty, and sad to say, the façade quickly wears thin.
Every member contributes something to the band, which is more than can be said for quite a few bands these days. The lovely piano work is added by Russell himself, and its interplay with strings player Thacher Schmid’s violin on songs like “La Zona Rosa” is pared down and devoid of any pompous frills—quite the welcome change from early 2011’s (and late 2010’s) glut of dense tedium.
The rhythm section, comprised of bassist Isaac Medina and percussionist Jackson Conrad, is about as tight as any band could hope for. The closing minute or so of the album’s opening track, “Heart of Things,” is a perfect example. In what appears to be a short interlude at the end, the band interplays brilliantly with one another with gorgeous tones all around, especially those from Medina.
Of course, no album is without its flaws, and thankfully, this record keeps them to a minimum. Some of the songs could stand to be tightened up a bit. Some songs, such as “Paperthin” have a couple sparse transitions that drag down the mood of the song a bit. The transitions between tracks aren’t as smooth as they could be, but I think this hints at the album’s chief problem: the track order.
The record as a whole is exceptional. The order in which they choose to present it, however, is a little slipshod. The album’s pathway is a rocky one mood-wise, when a record of this caliber and emotive content could benefit from a much smoother ride. Personally, I’d order the tracks two, four, one, three and five for maximum enjoyment. But when your record’s biggest problem is the track order, I’d say you’re doing just fine. ■
Portland Mercury (3/16/11)
LEAVES RUSSELL, NICOLE BERKE, DKOTA
(Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi) Available tonight, Tale of Two Basements is the new five-song offering from local quartet Leaves Russell. The Russell boys are technically gifted nearly to a fault, creating songs loaded down with grandiose instrumentation (so much violin!) and a slightly disjointed structure. While opener “Heart of Things” doesn’t skimp on the melodrama, the band sounds more comfortable on precise rock numbers like “Paperthin.” And the less said about weepy ballad “La Zona Rosa” the better. While it’s clear that Leaves Russell’s intentions are in the right place, Basements struggles mightily to progress through its overly ambitious song structure, proof that sometimes the simplest of ideas work the best. EAC
Oregon Music News (2/13/11)
“Leaves Russell releases new EP”
Leaves Russell, the melodramatic, Portland, rock four-piece, has a new, five-track EP, Tale of Two Basements, now available for stream and purchase on Bandcamp–pssst, it was engineered at New North Sound, the same downtown space where The Kingsmen put “Louie, Louie” to tape. The cooing, EP-opener “Heart of Things” starts with an off-kilter 31Knots-esque beginning and ends with a stark duel between piano and strings–their recordings feature viola, violin and electric mandolin.
These additions add something more morosely Brit-rock than poppy, Portland indie rock to Leaves Russell’s sound, as vividly heard on track two, “Paperthin,” with the not-quite-soul-wrenching yet emotively anthemic chant of “Turn yourself in” alongside the bona fide power of balladeering that comes with building a six-and-half-minute song:
The fourth cut, “NaNaNa,” begs for a loose sing-along while the guitar sings its own solo. The band says, “We don’t want anyone to die because they don’t have great music, so we’re offering the songs for free or barter to anyone that emails firstname.lastname@example.org.” Leaves Russell’s next live shows in Portland are scheduled for March.
Sellwood Bee (3/2/11)
Inner Southeast band releases locally-recorded EP
The band “Leaves Russell”, whose violin/viola/mandocaster player lives in Westmoreland, has recorded a five-track EP in two basements, one of which is in Brooklyn. Naturally, the name of the CD is “Tale of Two Basements”. The band last performed at the White Eagle Saloon in Portland on February 11, and there will be a CD release event at Mississippi Studios in Portland on March 20, with “more shows planned”.