Despite a substantial history in the Portland music scene, Gordon Keepers hasn't quite become a household name around here. Prior to his forthcoming release, Keepers was a part of the folk and bluegrass ensemble Water Tower, and then in the pop-punk band Levon's Helmet (alongside Mo Troper). His latest effort, a solo album titled Pretty Little City, is due out Friday, February 15, and it's proof that his punk ideology is still alive and well, albeit with a more varied sound, poised to push him onto the radar.
On the track "Welcome To Portland," Keepers addresses the shuttering of The Know's Alberta location, reminding his fellow (predominantly white) mourners that "we don't own these spaces," perhaps a nod to Portland's less-than-savory history of gentrification, particularly in the north and northeast portions of the city. On "Shattered," Keepers shouts, "I think we've done this all before, civil rights and culture wars!" with incredible clarity over a driving drumline. The song ends with a call for solidarity, with Keepers saying, "We can stay safe if we stay together" against a mutual threat.
Keepers is no stranger to speaking up for the marginalized and underserved—he's also a social worker—so it's no wonder that the songs on Pretty Little City ring anthemic, imploring listeners to support each other. And the first track on the album, "Romeo," sets the tone perfectly, both thematically and sonically.
"I wrote this song for the 49 people killed and 53 people wounded in the Pulse nightclub shooting," Keepers says. "May we be free to love who we love without fear of retribution, hatred or violence." The song follows multiple Romeos and Juliets as they confront outside antagonists. Together, the couples assert, they're stronger, even if their unity doesn't yield conventionally happy endings. And just as timeless as the subject of "Romeo" is its sonic backdrop, which features some early ’80s Bruce Springsteen vibes, with a slight echo on the vocals suggesting an expansive setting, and surging instrumentation punctuating bold yet simple proclamations.
At its core, "Romeo" is reflective, informed punk rock, drawing from history to advocate for those facing a timeless struggle, and it's the perfect opening to a solid debut solo effort.