November 06, 2001

Portastatic/Ken Vandermark/Tim Mulvina "The Perfect Little Door"

In the past two years, Portastatic, Mac McCaughan's Superchunk after-school lo-fi experimental/acoustic side project, has recently taken a turn for much more interesting waters; recent releases have been an EP of covers of Tropicalia songs, to an all-instrumental score for a film entitled Looking for Leonard. The Perfect Little Door EP is a continuation of McCaughan's experimental side.

This record is a "live" recording, and is a document of Portastatic's appearance at Noise Pop Chicago earlier this year. For this show, McCaughan enlisted the help of Chicago modern jazz god Ken Vandermark and percussionist Tim Mulvenna to accompany him. Might I suggest that this lineup was particularly inspired? Apparently, McCaughan has been an admirer of Vandermark's for many years, and thus, the collaboration, though causing McCaughan to feel a bit nervous, worked quite well. Vandermark never overshadows McCaughan's simple pop songs, while McCaughan never causes Vandermark to simplify his natural approach to music. McCaughan, impressed with that night's performance, went into Steve Albini's studio the next morning, to capture the magic on tape. Albini's ideas of recording really work with this session. The applause at the end of "When You Crashed" didn't seem out of place; I thought this was a live recording, even though it was a studio session.

Personally, I'm glad they did. The older Portastatic songs take on a new dimension with the jazz backing, and I'd really love to hear more. The Perfect Little Door is a small record made by musical giants, and is well worth seeking out. In a way, The Perfect Little Door reminds me of those jazz records of the 1950s, where musicians would get together for a jam session, and then a month later, a record would come out. I guess, in a roundabout way, this is the exact same thing. Here's hoping that this wasn't simply a one-off, but, unfortunatly, I'm sure it was.

--Joseph Kyle

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