It was an interesting start to the night, walking into Fine Line Music Café. Shedding my winter gear and checking out opening act Flamingosis‘ Pepto-bysmal-pink merch table, I was immediately and very warmly greeted by a girl who appeared to be hopped up on something. I wouldn’t say I was flattered by the not-so-subtle affections of this chick, but it was my token bizarre story of the night.
Now, picture a typical EDM show (this drugged-out chick included)–a baby-faced frat boy in kaleidoscope glasses offering you some Vick’s vapo-rub, brightly-colored-glittered tutu chicks mesmerized by finger glovers, oh and the “Kandi Kid” covered head to toe in rainbow-colored plastic beads.
This show was nothing like that.
Portland’s Emancipator (a.k.a. Doug Appling) has opened for all kinds of crowds–your aforementioned typical festival goers included–but, compared to any electronic music I have heard in the past, he is quite the anomaly. Listeners are sucked into his mesmerizing psyche, a transient hybrid of jazz, electronica, hip-hop, symphonic classical melodies, and downtempo beats.
He exudes a kind of ethereal elegance that translates to a continuous torrent of full-bodied sways and head bobs. His instrumentals, especially those featuring the electronic violin, are bewitching and shape-shifting–the longevity of one song flowing into the next.
“Baralku,” his fifth full-length album, is named after an astral spirit island in the Milky Way. The impassioned single “Baralku,” off the album, holds up to its namesake. A meticulous melody that emerges into a violin ballad, his signature sound. Appling is know for his nature-inspired soundscapes and mystical approach to music.
“Music takes me to places, and each song is a spirit island on which its soul lives infinitely. To release a song is both a death and a birth at the same time.”
I think my favorite piece from the new album is “Goodness,” a groovy, downtempo track spiked with jazz and folk.
Another standout is “Ghost Pong,” a montage of mournful violins and haunting, muted vocals. Like a lot of his tracks, it has an other-worldly, calming sound.
Honestly, it’s kind of hard to differentiate one from the other when you play the album straight through. Some singles, such as “Rappahannock” feature a distinct organ and banjo, then there are others that are heavier on violin… but, all-in-all there is an uncompromising flow, an overarching story.
But, I have to say, the inclusion of a live drummer in the ensemble definitely breathed more life into Emancipator’s music. Drum loops are just fine, but drummer Colby Buckler tore shit up on the drums Saturday night– snare hits, cymbal smashes, a sick piccolo drum solo and even a cowbell (just for kicks)–all while crushing cans of PBR between songs.
Buckler was also joined by four others to make up the five-piece ensemble–bass, synth, guitars, drums and violin. I would definitely say that drums and bass were the driving, consistent elements throughout the show. The dirty, barefooted hippie on five-string bass, afoot what appeared to be a Persian area rug rolled out just for him and his amp, seemed like a perfect addition to the live ensemble given the spiritual, “astral afterlife” theme of the album.
Soon after the crew wrapped up their nearly two-hour set, they were met with dumbstruck, slackened faces, then a delayed swell of applause. My friends and I turned and looked at each other. I took a moment to scan the crowd huddled up in the balcony, and found that they were just as mesmerized as I was.