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We got everything

Frank Hopkins discovers the American Dream
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  November 19, 2008

SECOND FROM LEFT Frank Hopkins and Line of Force.

When David Foster Wallace killed himself in September, there were many mentions of Infinite Jest, his brilliant second novel, but his nonfiction was truly spectacular. Do yourself a favor and google his 2005 address to the graduates of Kenyon College. In it, he tried to define thought and intelligence and education and freedom and many of the abstract concepts that we come to define in different ways as we age.

His definition of freedom rang in my ears as I listened to Frank Hopkins’s new American Dream, his third full-length album (this time the credit on the cover goes to Hopkins and his band, Line of Force) and a continuation of his building legacy as Portland’s conscience. Wallace told those wide-eyed college grads to gird themselves against the drudgery of everyday existence, the days squandered in grocery-store lines and nights spent cleaning up their children’s puke. While there might be the inclination to try to rise above this drudgery and rebel against it, Wallace counsels: “The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”

Well, the Us-era Peter Gabriel spark Hopkins delivers on “American Dream” is pretty damn sexy, but his sentiment is equally selfless and open-minded. “We all forget sometimes,” he sings, “All that’s in our pockets/Yeah we got everything.” Not only does he echo Modest Mouse’s “We’ve Got Everything” in more than lyrics, but he builds from an initial funky foundation into a Widespread Panic jam that crescendos into an organ solo and then moves into a finishing suite that features Kenya Hall on backing vocals and a cultivation of those most precious of resources: “love and truth.”

While 2007’s Make Love ’Til Doomsday was truly an angry and bitter album, this new work (actually a collection of older material) is more philosophical and is equal to Wallace’s counsel. Hopkins might be the best we’ve got in Portland for “attention and awareness and discipline.” Yes, the jazzy dub of “Erasure” references the war in Iraq, and you can feel Hopkins’s anger as a slow burn, but when the fat-bottomed horns arrive (John Maclain, Eric Ambrose, Lucas Desmond, Joe Parra), you might be willing to heed Hopkins’s advice: “Don’t Erase/Keep on feeling your love.” Keep on sacrificing.

Seriously, though, it’s not that touchy-feely. Though Adam Waxman is on this album providing backing vocals, and Hopkins plays in Waxman’s band, this writing isn’t as revivalist as what we heard on Waxman’s Just Play. Nor is the music as sunshiney or R&B. Hopkins likes to distort his voice and his guitar. “Hammer” is downright crunchy, the Black Keys style of blues, a repeating riff over Chuck Gagne’s closely mic’d drums. And “Forgiveness,” following a digital wash of introduction, is aggressive, nearly industrial. “What is the price of our sanity in life?” Hopkins asks. “Maybe deep down/I don’t want to know.”

Then there is the gritty and spite-filled “Fuck the Man,” a Paul Brown cover. “Civilization is just a big waste,” Hopkins croaks, “of the beautiful spaces that nature has made.” He may not have written that, but it’s clear Hopkins sometimes believes it.

He’s not quite so dark or pessimistic, though, right? “Fiddle While Rome Burns” features pretty electric guitar work in the open, playful with the harmonics. It’s a happy song that Hopkins maybe considers a guilty pleasure. Soon we’re introduced to sinister segues and Hopkins finishes by admitting, “I never felt so alone.” Anna Maria Amoroso’s fiddle playing is a nice surprise near the finish. That’s Hopkins’s producer instincts at work: He often introduces new flourishes late in a song to keep it lively and interesting.

And “Skydiver Song,” too, is upbeat and wicka-wicka. It’s a little aimless and forgettable, but it’s nice to get a glimpse that Hopkins is a romantic at heart: “We all want to breathe clean air/We all want to get home safe/We don’t need no religion mama/Just got to have a little faith.”

Faith can be the hardest part, sometimes. It’s so easy to be bitter and cynical and above it all. Hopkins vented with Doomsday. Here he as produced something more measured, and, in the end, more long-lasting.

Sam Pfeifle can be reached at

AMERICAN DREAM | Released by Frank Hopkins and Line of Force | with Anna’s Ghost + Dominic Lavoie + Adam Waxman | at Bubba’s Sulky Lounge, in Portland | November 22 |

  Topics: Music Features , Frank Hopkins , Frank Hopkins , David Foster Wallace ,  More more >
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