Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Oregon Donor challenges listeners artistically with A Pageant's End

February 7, 2010

I’m a really emotional person. As a result, I connect best with really emotional people, art and situations. I get really into music when I can tell an artist put full emotional weight into the work. But there are more types of music than just emotional purges (thank goodness), and I like a lot of those too. But it’s always the emotional ones that I come back to.

My bias toward emotional music (there, I admitted it) is why I’ve listened to the Oregon Donor‘s A Pageant’s End on and off for six months without ever reviewing it. While there is emotion in A Pageant’s End, there’s a strong rhythmic and technical aspect to the songs that puts me off. I recognize it as talented and enjoyed it aesthetically, but it doesn’t stick. Even now, I can remember a specific riff that was solid, but I have no idea which track it’s in.

But Oregon Donor is in good company in this problem. I prefer Muse to Radiohead, because once Kid A happened, Radiohead just seemed emotionally sterile to me (I still love The Bends and OK Computer). I prefer Rage Against the Machine to Primus, even though Primus is way more talented. This is not a problem with Oregon Donor. This is a personal issue.

I stated those previous bands to give you somewhat of a framework to contextualize Oregon Donor. A Pageant’s End isn’t post-hardcore, post-rock, emo, punk, or rock. It’s an album of music that pulls from all of those genres. It’s very technical music, as the bass and drums have incredibly complex parts, and the guitar lines occasionally exist more for their rhythmic power than their melodic power. If someone put a gun to my head and told me to categorize Oregon Donor, I’d gladly say “serious rock’n’roll.” They don’t write music to make people dance; if anything, they write music to make people think.

“What Good Hate Did” sticks out to me because it has the strongest melodies of the bunch and the most emotional content (“had you any pity, dear, you could have put a bullet in my head/you could have spared me this grief”). It’s also over seven minutes long, which always gets my attention. It’s an excellent tune, and one worthy of much praise. “Older” takes songwriting conventions and turns them on their head, pairing odd rhythms and moods with peculiar guitar riffs and ideas. “Morse Code” is nigh on a math-rock song (does anyone still play math-rock?), with its complicated, interlocking riffs and rhythms.

I should clarify that this isn’t a cold-hearted slab of notes and rhythms. There’s plenty of heart that comes through in the tunes. It’s just that Oregon Donor isn’t primarily looking to pull heartstrings or incite fury in traditional, simple ways. All of the emotions of a regular human being are channeled through A Pageant’s End; it just takes more thought, focus and concentrated listening than usual to discern and understand them. There’s no huge major chord crashing in, nor very many telegraphed emotive parts. Oregon Donor’s complex music makes for rewarding listening if one really pays attention and digs in. I haven’t been able to do that on a large scale, but I have become acquainted with “What Good Hate Did.”

So, there you have it. Should you pick up A Pageant’s End by Oregon Donor? If you like thoughtful, artistic rock, most definitely. But be warned. It’s not easy listening, and Oregon Donor didn’t intend it to be that way. Those who expend the effort will be rewarded, though. I can guarantee you that.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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