Two things stand out about Elly Swope's music, under the name Focus! Focus! The first is that Swope recently relocated to Portland, OR after two years of living in and playing out around Los Angeles. It's normally the other way around, where people woodshed and get started in Portland's funky logger town gloom, and eventually picking up stakes for the "big city" where people go to "make it."
Not only does this speak to Portland's shifting culture demanding to be taken seriously on its own merits, rather than as some slacker '90s hippie caricature. It also speaks to real music being made by real musicians, and what we actually need and want (the really real music, and not the airbrushed Hollywood version). Because most of the places with a reputation as cultural movers and shakers - L.A., New York and to some extent Chicago, in the States - all of which are prohibitively expensive, is bad for art.
Portland has more of a sleepy, small town vibe, where it is still possible to work a part time job and make it as a creative type (although that will stop being the case if I write too many more of these articles). It has the magic golden ratio formula of a reasonable cost of living, a proliferation of creative individuals and plenty of places to play and practice. Hopefully it works out to Swope's advantage.
The other standout detail about Wester Episode.1 is that it's the first volume of a triptych, which will make for one sprawling 14-track opus. Now, I know marketing and PR shouldn't influence the way we think about and hear music, but when I hear "3-part album." I think "ambitious" and my ears are perked. When being constantly bombarded by music every second of the day, these are the little signs and signifiers to let us know to pay attention. Let's call it intuition.
So Swope got my attention, right off the bat, with Wester Episode. 1, making me lean into the music and really listen. There is no one set style to Wester Episode. 1, which ranges from piano-driven alt-pop, a la Lady Gaga or Fiona Apple, on the title track opener, to a fast folk fingerpicked guitar on "Water Won't Stop Part 1" to the lush, strobing, hypnotic "Desert Hearts" that builds and builds, cranking up the tension to an almost unbearable degree, gloriously cresting into an artpop backbeat like the best moments of Death Cab For Cutie - the sound of a band locking in, honing in on the rhythm, eyes closed, building the beat, lost in the sway...Music for the faithful, for those that really, truly love rock and roll (and all of its tributaries and offshoots). It's not flashy - it won't win the loudness wars. That's why you have to listen and pay attention. And when you find that tiny, unnameable spark cracking through a song like a rosy sunrise through slatted blinds - well, you sings its praises from the rooftops. You carve it into trees.
Everything about Elly Swope's music screams passion and dedication - from travelling back and forth to Santa Monica to track drums at the Art Institute, to every volume of Wester's triptych being bound in re-purposed hardcover books. Even the name itself is a reminder for Swope to remain focused, to believe in her dreams, work hard and never stop trying. This is the music that deserves to be on the radio, so if you're a DJ, spin it! If you're a fan, tell your friends! It is up to us, to stem the tide of glossy, bloated, insincere and manipulative corporate pop.
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