Jason Simms, Williamette Weekly’s LOCAL CUT:
[DESERT ROCK] I’ve seen Dakota Slim play ‘Damsel’ a few times now, and it’s always a disaster. Travis Keats Ross (no, Dakota Slim’s not his real name) inevitably drowns his vocals in the sound of his laptop, or the pickup on his acoustic guitar falls into the sound hole, or something.
But when I finally got a good listen to the song on The Hymns of Dakota Slim, it gave me chills. Ross patiently strums a defeated country ballad while beeps and static interject at moments that are in-time but erratic. The guitar remains indifferent amid these chaotic and nearly senseless interruptions, like a cowboy with an utterly stoic face slowly riding through a Southwestern thunderstorm.
Ross chooses this spasmodic ground as a place to plant a love song, and what grows is similarly semi-sweet: ‘I have said some things I do not mean/ Because the way I look at you should say everything,’ he sings. The song continues in an anxious, self-loathing mode, but those first two lines say a lot about how to listen to Hymns. Ross first came to Portland in 2004, and, at age 19, released a very impressive self-titled collection of songs recorded with a four-piece band called Anonym—and written while Ross was hospitalized for mental-health issues (see WW, Jan. 25, 2006). Ross told me last week, however, that the Anonym album was recorded with the aim of gaining acceptance in Portland. Hymns, he says, ‘may not be as bombastic or risky, but it’s way more honest.’
But it actually seems more aloof. Ross proved himself a lyricist on Anonym, but his words are often obscured on the analog-taped, guitar-led Hymns. I kept asking myself, Who is Dakota Slim? But then, taking a tip from ‘Damsel,’ I stopped trying to hear what Slim was saying and started paying attention to how he looks at his subjects. On the eerie, reverb-laden ‘The Houndz,’ Ross’ muffled voice simply adds to the overall hot-desert-moonlight texture of the song, a common motif on an album partially inspired, Ross says, by a recent trip to his birthplace of Albuquerque. Though I still wish I knew what Ross was saying, he does a hell of a job of creating a desolate, sandy mood and depicting a landscape.
And that knack for composition is why, despite technical tribulations, Ross refuses to play as a simple singer-songwriter and let his ‘fascination with sound…just go dry.’ Tonight’s rare performance at a proper venue with a veritable sound system may go more smoothly (Slim usually plays at smaller venues and houses), and it could be one of your last chances to see him for a while: Something of a cowboy himself, Slim’s relocating to San Fran next month…
…I just listened to “Damsel” for probably the first time in six months and I stand by it as one of the best songs written in Portland that I’ve ever heard. It’s also one of the saddest-sounding songs about being happy that I know of.
Travis Keats Ross split for San Francisco last week, where he will apparently release another album within the month, so this may not be the last you hear from him. I woke up with this song in my head, today so I figured I’d write about a couple of the things that make me like it so much that I didn’t get include in this review of the album. Notice the how the strumming on the guitar shifts slightly right at the beginning of the first verse so that it’s slightly higher in pitch and a little more anxious. After the breakdown with the cool hollow sounding clicks (like dripping water in a room with an echo), a peppy little bass line sets in as Ross sings “You surely make up the good half of me,” resolving the tension musically and lyrically. Those shifts are so simple but so effective, showcasing Ross’ knack for composition.
JAKE ROSE, PERFORMER MAGAZINE
Dakota Slim — Hitherto the Aminals
Recorded by MRL Dennis at The Record Ranch
Dakota Slim’s third full-length, Hitherto the Aminals, is a sympathetic commentary about ignorance and neglect towards our woodland friends. A young San Francisco-based songwriter, Dakota Slim, a.k.a. Travis Keats Ross, uses animals as a starting point for his meditation on human morality. It’s a fascinating listen, as his music releases a stream of guilt, childhood memories, nostalgia, shame and hope, all at once.
A looped wolf howl begins “The Autumn Court,” which layers spooky guitar lines and violent percussion with Ross repeating, “Killing me in open air / Killing me is no fair.” Most of these fifteen songs clock in at under three minutes, showing Ross’ restraint and respect for the sometimes rambling art of folk songwriting.
The album’s soundscapes meld the organic and the electronic, utilizing technologies and musical ideas ranging from musique concrete to current hip-hop. It’s the clear goal of Ross, as well as his excellent producer, MRL Dennis, that lyrics and melodies stand out over the impressive cornucopia of sounds. The result is that the human quality of the music, especially Ross’ voice, is more apparent here than on any of his previous releases.
Ross focuses on his ambivalent stance towards “Man” on the album’s concise closing song. “Man is the worst creature in the world / Goddamn this man can never get filled,” is his lament, which is both easy and uncomfortable to relate to. Though his statement may seem arrogant at first, Ross stays vulnerable by concluding, “I say I hate them but I love them anyway / It’s no definite / Good is a choice that you make.” This moral ends the dark fables, and Dakota Slim proves that beautiful art is in fact mankind’s most endearing quality. (Self-released)
NAIL DISTRIBUTION CATALOGUE
Twenty-one-year old Travis Keats Ross delivers another
Beck-inspired collection of bedroom-recorded masterpieces.
Dakota Slim’s third full-length, Hitherto the Aminals, is
a sympathetic commentary about ignorance and neglect
towards our woodland friends. A young San Francisco-based
songwriter, Ross uses animals as a starting point for his
meditation on human morality.
THE AWFUL LOT
Glen Jackson, THE SF DELI
The Stork Club: July 22nd
The Stork Club, on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, was home to a good ole fashion rock show Wednesday night. Locals Awful Lot, Grand Lake, and Big, Round played along with LA’s Dirt Dress. The Awful Lot started night playing their driving, bluesy form of rock. The four-piece, comprised of electric guitar, bass, drums, and amplified dobro began the night with their unique style of blues influenced indie rock. The rhythm section was constantly pounding, accompanied by some tasty licks on guitar (sometimes even played with a slide) and vocals, making their music some kind of wonderful Bay Area indie take on Chicago blues.
Anonym Self-Titled (Self-Released)
Anonym’s split personality both rocky and harmonious.
[PSYCH-WARD ROCK] Halfway through “Mercitron,” a song off Anonym’s self-titled debut, singer Keats Ross intones, “To be unsure of the cure and assimilate/ What makes wait for oxygen and fate,” his vocals treading near the trembling style of Conor Oberst. Then the chorus comes in, and that fragile vocal is trampled by a sassy, monotone half-rap reminiscent of Beck on Odelay. This tension between stoicism and expression is the core on Anonym’s appeal, and it isn’t by chance.
Almost all of the lyrics on Anonym’s self-titled debut were written by Ross during a two-week stint in the psychiatric ward of St. Vincent Hospital. The music, though, was composed over the following months as Ross’ four-piece came together. This creative gap manifests itself in dark and melancholy lyrics offset by blues-driven guitar, electronic percussion and noise that is artfully distanced from the music’s emotional core. Overall, Anonym creates a subtle and layered sound with a fascinating and mature group dynamic, which is all the more impressive considering that the young band formed only months ago.
Back on “Mercitron,” James Tygret’s intricate drum-machine programming allows the minor-key guitar progression to be heavy without dragging, exhibiting his uncommon prowess and virtuosity as a programmer. Korg noise-maker Lauren LePlant produces a similar effect on “Lucero.” The track opens with an acoustic guitar line that sounds like a dream of mid-20th-century Mississippi but awakens with a high-pitched squeak accompanying the line “Pinch me,” in a rare moment of cohesion, turning what was a blues lament into a dance-friendly track. JASON SIMMS.
Anonym plays with We’re from Japan! and Enchanted 4ST 10 pm Thursday, Jan. 26, at Dunes, and with the Decliners and Graxxus 9:30 pm Tuesday, Jan. 31, at Ash Street. Both shows free, 21+.