PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Ethan Rose: Oaks

The sounds of days past, with all the haze and glaze of a memory.


Ethan Rose

Oaks

Label: Holocene
UK Release Date: 2009-01-27
US Release Date: 2009-01-27
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Does anyone else remember the video for “Lunchbox” by Marilyn Manson? The scenes with the band take place in a roller rink, which, I’ve come to realize, is a hallmark of '90s alternative rock videos (along with theme parks and carnivals). When I recently asked a friend why he thought this was, he responded, “kids had to hang out somewhere before the Internet.” Having come of age as the Internet was transitioning from novelty network to vital lifeline, this metamorphosis of youth social capital resonates with me in a way that veers dangerously close to the ignorant nostalgia embraced by those who are stuck in the past. As with all art that contemplates days past, there’s a conundrum: how do you honor the warm, intangible feelings of days past without retreading and retreating?

Ethan Rose’s Oaks is as good an answer as I’ve heard. The compositional process speaks for itself. Rose sampled a vintage Wurlitzer organ, housed in the Oaks Park roller rink in Portland, OR, for every source sample on the record. The sounds are electronically processed and sequenced, for a dreamy glaze that varies from chirps to chimes to icy drones. As could be expected, there’s plenty of reverb to go around. Further expanding on the historical significance of his sample matter, the liner notes feature a black and white photograph of an old sign over the rink, advertising “healthful exercise” and “delightful pleasure.”

I grew up not far from Oaks Park, and, as an amusement park, its continued existence is a testament to the value of technologically outmoded means of human interaction. Much as we might have space-age methods of entertaining ourselves, there’s still something to be said for a trip down the fairway, or getting stuck at the top of the Ferris Wheel. Growing up, my encounters with the Oaks Park roller rink were often exercises in futility that resulted in butt bruises aplenty, but I still get fuzzy just listening to Oaks and remembering birthday parties in the days before Evites. Oaks elicits some degree of nostalgia, but, perhaps in anticipation to that, Rose’s compositions are cloudy and decaying, slow dripping notes that serve as lovely vacations, but never cease to remind the listener that this is the past we’re thinking of.

Oaks’s cover features a watercolor painting from Boyd Richard. It’s a fitting medium in contrast with the music: eerily anti-realistic renderings of blemish-free people enjoying their skating, with background blacks and blues that bleed into one another much like the sustained tones on the album. Contrary to the expectations of its title, a track like “Grad Marcher” is relatively unobtrusive, a bleached memory of an important event, overlaid by the whitewash of aging grey matter. The tonal structures on Oaks are generally free. When patterns do emerge, it sounds like coincidence rather than a premeditated, computer-composed loop. The repeating swells on “Fortunate” provide the closest thing to traditional structure, progressively layering with modulated icy trills to nowhere in particular. I’m not convinced, however, that Oaks is intended to be a fully ambient work. The pieces don’t often have the most defined beginnings and ends, but it’s hard to appreciate Oaks subconsciously, or give it less than full listening attention.

It’s quite possible that my opinion of Oaks is irreparably biased by my own relationship with Oaks Amusement Park. Having played the album for friends with no connection, I’ll conclude that Oaks accomplishes the interesting feat of sounding like memory. In a hard-to-define way, the tracks here feature just the right levels of detuning and timbral similarity. (While the liner notes include a list of different organ presets used, I’d be hard-pressed to pick out any instances of “saxophone” or “crash cymbal” or “snare drum”.) Other listeners are bound to process this differently, but it’s hard to deny the melancholy emotion and sustained beauty pouring out of Oaks.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Is Carl Nevill's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.