Oregon’s rock-scattered Pacific coast is a grand, wordless expanse of aching beauty, which happens to be a good way to describe Eyes at Half Mast, the latest from Portland duo Talkdemonic. Lisa Molinaro and Kevin O’Connor craft a sort of instrumental pop from the unlikely pairing of viola and drums, making music that fits easily into the cinematic Northwest landscape but eludes comparison and classification.
Molinaro came of age in Gainesville, Florida, a tight-knit northern city that was home to a thriving hardcore scene in the late ’90s. “I was totally immersed in punk rock music, anything that was loud and sweaty and made you laugh and cry. But how do you fit playing a viola into that?” she asks rhetorically. “I was still drumming up strength to be a woman who wanted to play just about anything in a male-dominated scene.” After “a period of intense growth” in Gainesville, Molinaro moved to Portland to pursue music full time.
O’Connor, on the other hand, grew up in the conservative political shadow of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington. The reservation was the main source of nuclear warheads during the Cold War and is currently the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States. “We would periodically find out about explosions and accidents on the reservation that weren’t reported in our local paper,” he recalls.
Since being introduced about six years ago, the two have rightfully earned local-favorite status in Portland. The follow-up to their 2006 album, Beat Romantic, was delayed, though, because Molinaro was offered a touring gig with fellow Portlanders The Decemberists.
While Molinaro was moonlighting with Colin Meloy and company, O’Connor laid the groundwork for Eyes. “There was quite a long period where I wasn’t working very much,” says O’Connor. “My day-to-day was getting up, drinking coffee, and going into the basement to work on music. [When Lisa returned], we hunkered down and moved my basement studio out to this really big house in Oswego. We had five or six different large rooms with natural reverb, so we were able to try a lot of things out with Lisa’s strings.” The result is an album of lush arrangements, captivating percussion, and an uncommonly unique sound that, at least in Portland, feels right at home.
Favorite Portland artist:
Lisa Molinaro: Horse Feathers. Justin Ringle is a very good friend of ours and I admit that helps, but his incredibly gifted talents as a vocalist and heartbreaking songwriter alone are what make him deserve my highest praise.