cars & trains
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cars & trains

Portland, Oregon, United States | INDIE

Portland, Oregon, United States | INDIE
Band Folk EDM


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"giving thought to things"

"...every tune is a keeper." - FMLY

"Rusty String review"

If a fighter jet crashed in the desert, this would be the soundtrack to the debris. Rusty String, the first full-length release from Oregon-based multi-instrumentalist Tom Filepp under the moniker of cars & trains, is simultaneously political and personal, introspective and expansive, and above all, a clashing experimental amalgam of organic and electronic sounds. The self-explanatory “Some Sort of Overture” might open the record with a recorded female diatribe against war to the soundtrack of a peculiarly effective combination of woodwind and thumping beats, but it is immediately followed by “The Wires from My Broken Record Player”, a banjo-led piece addressing matters far less universal.

These contrasts, both aural and thematic, are typical of Rusty String. Indeed, the very nature of the electro-folk Filepp trades in is a contradictory mesh of the traditional and the contemporary. cars & trains’ music is an array of smaller, individual sonic spheres: Filepp’s undemonstrative vocals, the twang of an acoustic guitar, drum machines, glockenspiels, horns, recorded interviews, electronic bleeps. Each could stand on their own, or be removed and implanted in much more familiar surroundings. But then why should they be when this, this vast landscape of sounds, works so well, and is pulled off with the sort of aplomb that suggests Filepp neither knows nor cares that, say, banjos and drum machines are uncomfortable bedfellows?

Unsurprisingly, it takes a few listens to get your head around the sheer scale of Rusty String, for everything to truly click into place. Initially, Filepp’s ever-so-uncomfortable vocal styling gets pushed to the fore, and “The Sky Is Clear”, the album’s most accessible moment—an unexpected but successful foray into hip-hop fronted by Anticon’s Sole—sticks in the mind most prominently. A few listens later, and everything comes into focus. “The Sky Is Clear” is still a lyrical and melodic coup, but then so too are the vocal harmonies of “Oh, Sweet Consequence”, while “Further from Home“‘s ingenious sampling of found sounds are a triumph.

It is herein that lays the real joy of cars & trains. Felipp’s ability to interpret melody, be it from such sampled recordings or from his own box of tricks, is genuinely impressive. In “Fake Plastic Guns”, he takes a simple acoustic guitar line, repeats, expands, and morphs it until it is new. “Beatitudes” sees him cut-and-pasting a female vocal into brief, incoherent snippets to create something different entirely, while “The Singing Will Never Cease” begins life as a film noir soundtrack before it is stamped all over by a punishingly thunderous beat.

Still, there is something more to cars & trains, something redolent that cannot be explained simply by crunching beats and piecemeal melodies. Perhaps what makes cars & trains so alluring is that it is always a little rough-around-the-edges. With the likes of Four Tet and Boards of Canada, everything is layered and programmed to perfection. Here, things are no different, when it comes to the latter barrel of the folk-electronic Rusty String trades in, at least. But what prevents distance forming between Filepp and the listener is the human aspect of the album. Filepp is no music-making robot, he’s a young man with an acoustic guitar and a head full of memories, as the childhood retrospection of “Fake Plastic Guns” ("Daydreams consumed me / Like a fever continuously / While running through the neighbor’s yards / To the ends of the world") reminds us. At times the guitar work on Rusty String can be slipshod, and Filepp’s vocals, too, a little sloppy, but significantly this doesn’t detract from the record. Instead, its tightness is found in its electronic surroundings and these irregularities merely bring personality and intimacy, like the bedroom sessions of a fledgling musician.

Apparently, Filepp’s father was computer programmer-cum-rock bassist, and the influence that seems to have had on his son is glaringly apparent here. If it is indeed such parental authority that started cars & trains’ musical journey, then we might well owe Filepp Sr. a thank-you, for Rusty String is a triumphant experiment into what can be done when art and technology intertwine, and there is an undeniable joy in seeing the album veer from thumping beats and breakdowns to acoustic plucking and glockenspiels. Regardless of its foundation, it is a delightfully inventive album of fantastic melody and ingenuity that should be commended as much for its songwriting as it should its experimentation. -


"...Cars & Trains creates a lush and textured environment full of idiosyncratic lyrics and a sense of melancholia that charms its way into your life." -

"Up & Coming"

"Cars & Trains, the stage alias of Portland musician Tom Filepp, is a pretty textbook example of what some folks (regrettably) refer to as "indietronica": indie-rock songs dressed up with dainty electronic touches, or laptop jams fleshed out with acoustic instrumentation—too often this stuff is an excuse for beautiful but boring texturalism (hey, Album Leaf) or inane elfin tinkering (looking at you, Múm). Cars & Trains strikes a good balance, though—his arrangements (plucked strings, wheezing melodica, tinkling glockenspiel, stuttering little beats and scrapes and shudders) are pretty without being too precious, and his songwriting, which has something of Why?'s glum mumble to it, is strong enough to stand on its own, no matter how it's dressed up." - The Strangler


"... the melancholyelectronica of Tom Filepp has more than its share of merit. His catalog of albums and EPs, reaching back to 2006, comfortably straddles the gap between folk and dance, at points resembling Castanets or the slower leanings of Broken Social Scene." - Willamette Week

"CARS AND TRAINS: The Roots, The Leaves"

"...a beautifully convoluted sound forged from the combination of the natural and the unnatural. It's an investigation into the fabricated and the brutally honest...The Roots, The Leaves gives listeners melancholy without creating its music around it. It doesn't feel like the lyrics were written for the melodies or vice versa, but that they, instead, always arrive together, fully formed." - CMJ

"Boy in the Bedroom"

"Part of the initial appeal of Filepp's music is how the mangled framework of hiphop is incorporated into the hushed tones of his voice and restrained instrumental backing." - Portland Mercury

"Rusty String review"

"...Rusty String drifts from atonal to downright pretty, with nimble alacrity. Filepp’s vocals brood over brilliantly broken orchestral movements and righteous downtempo breaks." -

"Rusty String review"

CARS AND TRAINS is exactly the type of music I like.

I'm a big fan of the undefined genre of semi-experimental folksy electronic indie stuff. This is the type of music I listen to while making art. There's a sort of peacefulness to it, paired with a chaotic element that mirrors my mind's unruly creative process.

What makes cars and trains even more appealing to me is that I can see a bit of myself in Tom Filepp, the man behind the many instruments or sound-making devices that create this music. Filepp spent high school screaming in hardcore/metal bands. He later broadened his musical interests to include hip-hop, many types of electronic music, and folk, such as Guthrie, Seeger, Dylan, etc. I like to think of my pre-teen self who refused to listen to anything but hip-hop until 10th grade when a friend of mine paved the way for my obsession with angsty emo music. And then...well, I just listened to a lot of different stuff. I guess it's considered common for teenagers to delve into subcultures based on a certain genre of music they listen to, only to realize when they're a bit older that they were stupid to limit themselves. But for some reason, this common ground makes me like this guy more.

Filepp will be releasing his new album Rusty String in the near future. You can listen to two tracks from the album below. "Fake Plastic Guns" has been said to have "a bunch of kind of crazy childhood sort of stuff in it." As someone who is slowly becoming an actual adult, I love kind of crazy childhood sort of stuff. Happy 22nd birthday to me. - It's the Money Shot Blog


2 AM (2006, Circle Into Square)
Consumer Confidence Vol. 1 (2006, Circle Into Square)
Consumer Confidence Vol. 2 (2007, Circle Into Square)
Rusty String (2007, Circle Into Square)
Little Song (2008, Circle Into Square)
Rusty String Deluxe (2008, Circle Into Square)
The Roots, The Leaves (2010, Fake Four Inc)
The Roots, The Remix (2010, Fake Four Inc)
Live on KBOO Radio (2010, Self-released)



The albums of Portland, Oregon based multi-instrumentalist cars & trains (Tom Filepp) consist of handfuls of microscopic crafted worlds, shaped with tiny precision. Layers of decaying feedback, sparse glockenspiel and tape samples weave a dark and dense tapestry of sound while deep brooding vocals sit atop songs with deceptive timing, subtle electronic stutters, and thunderous and organic drumming. Banjo driven four to the floor stompers yield to velvety acoustic guitar and spacious instrumentals laden with sampled americana.

Tom's work as cars & trains evokes early Morr Music releases by bands like Tarwater, intersecting with folk-oriented electronic groups like Tunng. Found sound and distorted tape samples create urban lullaby landscapes. Undaunted, meloncholic drums and timid textures are reminicent of cloudDEAD or Tujiko Noriko, sitting atop an eclectic songwriting sensibility that brings The Microphones to mind.

Tom translates his recordings to the stage with a unique solo set, energetically looping found-sounds and live electronic drumming with layers of vocal harmonies, viola, glockenspiel, trumpet, synthesizer, and melodica. All the while keeping an intense and engaging dynamic going, he weaves his songs into a captivating near-non-stop medley that is ever-changing and unique, no two shows being quite the same.

He also runs Circle Into Square, an artist run label and magazine, the entire site and label created from scratch as a means for artists to directly release their music and artwork with cutting edge resources, and to help adapt to the constantly changing music industry. Circle Into Square’s roster includes artists like Boy In Static, ID & Sleeper, Skating Club, BRE’R, The Harvey Girls, Helios, Big Spider's Back, and cars & trains.