When the excellent Seattle duo Are you a cat? make a musical suggestion, it's usually best to heed it. Such is the case with Portable Morla, a 27-year-old local producer whom I saw play a house party with Are you a cat? this summer. While the sound system did her music no favors, it was clear that potential lurked in her odd, peculiarly charming ditties. After her set, Portable Morla handed me her Portable Morla and Mash It! CD-Rs, which do her creations more justice.
Playing keyboards, synths, percussion, bass, melodica, accordion, and various toys, Portable Morla creates tunes that sensually slither into earshot. She composes low-lit torch songs that slyly seduce rather than slap you upside the ass. Dub influences her production style, lending her songs a lo-fi, intimate spaciousness not unlike the Kranky Records artist Nudge and Welsh post-punk band Young Marble Giants; similarly, Portable Morla's dulcet voice bears a slight resemblance to Nudge's Honey Owens's, albeit with more vibrato and theatricality. Morla's beats are relatively gentle, which allows more room for her lush, sparkling electronic embellishments to blossom. Overall, Portable Morla's introverted brand of electronic-oriented songcraft bears a distinctive sound palette and vocal tenor that will linger long after the last song dissipates into the ether.
By contrast, Eric Copeland—a member of psychedelic saboteurs Black Dice and Terrestrial Tones—is a maximalist sporting a surrealistic arsenal of mutational tones and rhythms. His second solo album, Alien in a Garbage Dump (out August 18 on Animal Collective's Paw Tracks imprint, www.paw-tracks.com), unsurprisingly barges into territory explored on Black Dice's latest full-length, Repo. Copeland mangles conventional notes, chords, and beats into phantasms made out of the scorned, scrofulous scraps of the sonic spectrum. Then, with demonic whimsy, he applies a glazed crispiness to the works, making for disturbing yet riveting listening.
Categorizing Alien in a Garbage Dump is hard. It's one of the few contemporary releases that blatantly flout typical musical decorum, even within the experimental/electronic undergrounds. That being said, "King Tits Womb" (I know, right?) contains the vestiges of a funk bass line, but it's surrounded by a fun-house-mirrored array of guitar, keyboards, and warped voices that dredge up memories of Butthole Surfers' PCP-laced creations. Nevertheless, the bulk of the disc consists of obsessive-compulsive, sampledelic collages that somehow induce madness and diabolical fun. On Alien in a Garbage Dump, Copeland makes Lee "Scratch" Perry seem well-adjusted. It's plunderphonics taken to its hallucinogenic, illogical extreme.
Portable Morla performs Fri Aug 21, Josephine, 9 pm, www.myspace.com/portablemorla (with Flexions, Piles, Work, Are you a cat?); and Sun Aug 23, Nectar, 8 pm, $6, 21+ (with the Deepsleep Narcotics Co., the Three Fates).