Following an EP in 2017, and a single in 2018, Portland-based musician Olivia Awbrey finally graduates to full album status with Dishonorable Harvest. The 10-track album showcases Awbrey’s lyrical dexterity amidst a engaging mix of musical styles.
The opening track, “Geolocation at PAM,” for example, starts out with a deceptively simple guitar strum that ends up exploding into something louder and rawer in the choruses, making a simple stroll through the Portland Art Museum (the PAM of the title) decidedly more fraught. Straight after that comes “Pick the Locks,” all loud and gnarly guitars, that wonderfully dissonant, minor key, Northwest alt-rock sound, matched with Awbrey singing about the joys of unplugging yourself from our various electronic devices. I can imagine a video, with Awbrey breezing through the air, tapping people’s cell phones with her magic wand to make them disappear, and everyone then running off to dance together in the fields.
Relationships are dissected with cool dispatch. Awbrey’s described the mid-tempo romp “Advanced State of Decay” as being about “giving up on people who’ve given up on you (such as toxic men or toxic institutions),” and she sure sounds done with things as she sings, “I can’t save you, and I sure as hell can’t save myself,” the cymbals crashing behind her (there’s a nice bit of acapella singing at the end as well). “Changing Planes” is a quieter, more contemplative number, drawing a comparison between the disorientation of travel (“the world is my hotel”) and the dissolution of relationships. She also touches on our destruction of the environment (“What will we become my friends/Pigs at the trough of gasoline”), a theme that crops up again.
The title track proves to be an instrumental that bisects the album, a sad and somber piece of piano, violin, and cello. The song’s title suggests a further desecration of the environment, but Mother Nature gets her own back in the next song, “Is Anyone Left.” It’s another quiet piece, and one that conjures up a strong mental picture as Awbrey describes the aftermath of an earthquake, watching Portland disintegrate before her eyes, and possibly leaving her stranded with no means of escape.
There’s a fair amount of moodiness on the album, like the mournful “I Thought It Was You,” it’s droning music creating a languid feeling until the marching beat of drums comes in and snaps you to attention. “Pangaea Was a Supercontinent,” is in a similar vein, a seemingly random litany of observational statements. That’s what makes the bright, sparkly “Woman in Jeans” sound so shocking when it comes on; it’s not like anything else on the album. It’s an engaging portrait of a rabble rouser, and of a new day dawning “when the motherfuckers are gone” that offers this sage advice: “If you want to start a revolution/get yourself a pickup truck/grow flowers in the streets/and never give up.”
The closing track, “Don’t Be Alarmed,” is also musically upbeat (it even has la-la-la backing vocals), though the lyrics are a bit caustic; I’m especially fond of “The human race was made to burn like bacon/and fizzle out.” Olivia Awbrey has a lot to say. And she has a lot of fun saying it.
(Check out Dishonorable Harvest below and purchase at Bandcamp)