by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Portland Cello Project ft. Thao - "Beat (Health, Life and Fire)".
Portland Cello Project ft. Justin Power - "Hungry Liars".

What I did was I put five new CD submissions in my five-CD changer and I hit "shuffle". And about ten minutes later I was grinning ear to ear. There were at least two albums in there that sounded great! This is a much higher proportion than average. Then I checked the artists - one of the great bands is... CD 4. The other great band is... also CD 4. And CD 4 is... the Portland Cello Project's Thao and Justin Power Sessions. The two great bands are the same band, and they are not even a band. They are Thao (from the Get Down) and Justin, hanging out with a batch of Oregon cellists (including at least one from Horse Feathers).

Now - I understand why the Portland Cello Project is a good idea. After all, if you are a cellist and an indie rocker it must be fun to hang out with other cellist/indie-rockers and play goose-stepping chamber music. But as one of the few (?) people who heard the first Portland Cello Project album, and also this album, more than half of which includes vocals from Thao or Justin, I have to say: please make a band that is not called the Portland Cello Project and which is not the Portland Cello Project but that is you guys playing cello while Justin and Thao sing. In fact, please make a band that is like most of this album - because whereas the instrumentals are nice enough, the songs with vocals are wonderful, wildflower pop and cockleshell folk, like Nina Nastasia with a twist of the Shins, but not snoozy.

Take a listen! Do. Do not be put off by the name "Portland Cello Project", or by the name "Beat (Health, Life and Fire)" either. As soon as Thao Nguyen begins to sing, I promise you will go: "Hey!" You will do as I did and sit up where you are sitting, and put down your book, and wonder who is this who is singing so limber and loose, but also constrained, like a girl wrapped in tangle and extruding herself, knot by knot, singing "oooh". (It is Thao.)

"Hungry Liars" is different (it is a ballad), yet it is also great. The timbre of Justin's voice recalls Sufjan Stevens but this is not homage; these are two men with similar gentle voices. Justin is much more single-minded in his melodicism; he sings the pretty song like a man walking along train-tracks, undistracted by passing clouds, undeterred by nettles. He will walk until he has arrived where he is going and he is not afraid to walk all night.

[in June, buy The Thao and Justin Power Sessions, which includes three more songs with Thao and three more songs with Justin / Portland Cello Project myspac / Thao myspace / Justin Power myspace]


This week sees the beta launch of The Mark - a tenacious, illuminating and essential (Canadian) news website. One of its editors is Jordan Himelfarb (of this blog), and another is Claire (who makes a terrific cranberry loaf), and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Posted by Sean at May 7, 2009 2:48 PM

Yes! Portland Cello Project on StG! They're pretty damn awesome live too (12 cellos playing indie rock…!!), though I can see how the name might not carry much weight outside of PDX. Here though, that name "Portland Cello Project" carries some solid credibility accompanied with a variety of vocal flavors. Looking forward to hearing this album album, thanks Sean!

Posted by Luke at May 7, 2009 3:32 PM

perfect music for a day like today.

Posted by rob at May 7, 2009 4:41 PM

the title of this post threw me off a little, but the music is fantastic. thanks for introducing to me to something awesome.

Posted by Priya at May 7, 2009 9:56 PM

goose-stepping chamber music? sometimes the word choice on this blog veers from recklessly creative into willfully ignorant.

Posted by will Lulofs at May 8, 2009 1:05 PM

regardless, though. these are nice songs--thank you. for some great multiple-cello-music of a different sort, check out the late julius eastman's "the holy presence of joan d'arc," for ten cellos.

Posted by will at May 8, 2009 1:09 PM

Hmmm. The group's name was actually what interested me in the first place...a new group for me to follow!

Posted by Renee at May 17, 2009 9:26 PM

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This is a daily sampler of really good songs. All tracks are posted out of love. Please go out and buy the records.

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about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

Emma Healey writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This is her website and email her here.

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