Review by Rich Messmer
If you talk to people in the know around the PDX music scene these days, there is a lot of buzz surrounding a quintet of local musicians who have come together and formed the not-so-bashfully named,World’s Finest . Blending some of the “world’s finest” musical styles and sounds, these guys bring a unique and undeniably fun-loving sound to stages right in your backyard and all over the Northwest on a very regular basis.
What World’s Finest, brings to the table is a truly North West experience. Like many things cultural up here in this strange little corner of the universe, there isn’t a singular niche that dominates the local musical landscape. Whether it be food, art, or music — Portland is truly a cornucopia of tweaked traditions, a mish-mash of old ideas re-tooled for a new frontier. World’s Finest, as well loved and supported as any new act around town, seems to truly grasp this Northwest musical paradigm, making it sound easy all the while; whether it be on stage or in the studio.
Their newest project, an ambitious 15 track album, titled 33, is a groovy testament to the broad absorption of styles and motifs that this group loves to boast. Whether it be laid back dub beats, skank- dance inducing ska, folksy rhythms or funky sax solos that pickles your cucumber, this band, and this album, has got it all.
The album opens with a spacey, smile-inducing head bopper titled “1814.” It’s a beautiful little tune with delicate, but infectious layers of banjo, guitar, and sax, riding blissfully over top of the rhythm section. Its a great way to kick off the album — a mood-lifter that lets you know the type of good vibes that this band intends to shower you with. Its the type of tune I would like to lose myself in while I drive into a beautiful Oregon sunset, windows down, left hand keeping the rhythm atop the tin roof of my car. This track segues nicely into a stripped down dubbish reggae tune, “Feelin’ Good”, that would leave any old-school reggae fans feeling great. The third track “Cincy” is an in-your-face heavy hitter, speeding up and slowing down with the vocals throwing down an angst-ridden tale of hard times growing up in the Cincinnati area. It has a fist pumping quality reminiscent of the Sublime classic “April 1992.” The fourth track “Sure as the Wind Blows” picks up where the first song left off, bringing up the beat just a little bit, and with an even more contagious melody and chorus. Another early highlight of the album comes on track 6, titled “Smile,” featuring members from local folk-rock favorites Fruition. Its a sort of psychedelic island groove, complete with swooning harmonies rising and fading in the background like waves beneath a Caribbean sunset, conjuring images of a real life corona commercial (*smile*).
In the second half of the album, the band showcases a little more of its versatility. The light-hearted, melodious, ska-driven tunes that fill a large part of the first half of the album are a tasty treat— sweet , soft and delicious, like a freshly plucked papaya. But don’t let the island breeze created by the strumming of these guitars lull you to sleep. In the seventh track,they get right down to some funky business with “Dip,” a reworking of a 90’s party classic. This low-down, thick as cream cheese, rhythm driven tune keeps the knees bouncing, even as it extends out into a heady, eastern influenced jam. Track 9, “Mill Bonroe” is an impressive little instrumental jam, highlighting the prowess of the stringed instrumentalists of the group. Tracks 12, and 13, titled “Gettin’ Drunk” and “Stomper”, respectively, are perhaps the most fun songs on the album. These are quirky little folk-rock ditties that you just know will be a hoot to dance along to at a live performance. “Gettin drunk” is an ode to the rock and roll lifestyle, complete with beer-hall yodeling and a chorus that begs to “pass that bottle of jame-o over here”. I say, “cheers to that”. You don’t need to be in a rock band to relate to this tune. Band or no band, most of us didn’t end up in Portland to get to sleep early on the weekends. “Gettin’ drunk” is a welcome reminder. The tune “Stomper” is a whirlwind folk-rock barn burner. Its a foot-stomping “grab your girl and dosey-do” sweat factory. It almost makes you dizzy just to listen to it; not that it’s a bad thing at all— in fact, the lyrics seem to suggest its the point. “Oh baby can’t you see, see what you done to me, movin’ fast like a 103”.
33,rounds out very nicely with two tunes that celebrate the primary calling cards of World’s Finest. “Oughtmn” is a starkly simple, authentically crafted dose of dub. An opening riff from an acoustic guitar pastes the beat to the floor like space boots made of chewed bubble gum. The bass and drums inevitably follow to hold it down, while a delirious, swampy universe is built behind rotating echo’s of reverberating guitar and bass.
The final tune on 33,titled “Whatever the Weather (feat. Mimi Naja)”, is not only another catchy song crafted by these talented local musicians, but it also serves aptly as an ideological statement about the very essence of the band, the band’s sound, and the band’s purpose — a sort of sonic manifesto for World’s Finest. It’s a campfire song, another melodious folk-ska ditty with heart-warming lyrics that everyone, especially Portlanders, should be able relate to.“Whatever the weather, you always make my day”.
Speaking of the weather, as I finish up this review, I look out my window to the familiar contrast of grey on grey that typically plasters the canvas of our Northwest skies. But as I sit here listening to 33, my smile couldn’t be sunnier, and my recliner couldn’t feel anymore like a hammock. Give this album a listen folks, they even offer it for free (there’s a link on their Facebook page). And trust me, whatever the weather, these tunes will surely make your day.