Rants + Raves

So much music, so little time!

All in all, 2018 was a pretty decent year for music, both on record and on stage. As always, when I look at other year-end lists I discover things I missed, or never even heard before. There are no big surprises on this list – these are the albums that stuck with me the most over the year, so they lean more towards “favorites” that what I think of as “best.” Without further ado, here’s my list of 25 albums of the year in purposely random order. Check ’em out and let me know if you agree, disagree or something in-between.

  • Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt
  • Iceage – Beyondless
  • Fucked Up – Dose
  • Shannon and the Clams – Onion
  • Shame – Songs of Praise
  • Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
  • Beach House – 7
  • Low – Double Negative
  • Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino
  • Blood Orange – Negro Swan
  • Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Sparkle Hard
  • Ty Segall, White Fence – Joy
  • Gruff Rhys – Babelsberg
  • Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
  • Lucy Dacus – Historian
  • Decemberists – I’ll Be Your Girl
  • MGMT – Little Dark Age
  • Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How
  • Dirty Projectors – Lamp Lit Prose
  • Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Sex & Food
  • Field Music – Open Here
  • Interpol – Marauder
  • Julia Holter – Aviary
  • Typhoon – Offerings
  • The Limiñanas – Shadow People

Honorable Mentions:

Richard Swift – The Hex (I only got to listen once as it just came out, sadly posthumously) // The Innocence Mission – Sun on the Square // Goat Girl – Goat Girl, Ought – Room Inside the World // Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears // La Luz – Floating Features // Black Moth Super Rainbow – Panic Blooms // Wooden Shjips – V

 

For the most part, we get a pretty good range of bands that stop in lil’ old Portland on the way to-and-from Seattle and San Francisco. Heck, sometimes more esoteric bands make this their only West Coast stop. “Why?” you ask. Probably because we have a large and supportive community of open-minded rabid music lovers here. Heck, once it starts raining all we have left to do is sit inside and listen to music and make things! Here’s my list of favorite shows I saw in Portland in 2018 in date order:

  • Built to Spill at Mississippi Studios (above)
  • Destroyer at Wonder Ballroom (featured image)
  • Luna at Wonder Ballroom
  • Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at Mississippi Studios

 

  • Shame at Doug Fir (above)
  • Hypersloth at Mission Theater

 

  • Iceage at Mississippi Studios (above)
  • Belle & Sebastian at the Oregon Zoo
  • Blood Orange at Roseland
  • Parquet Courts at Wonder Ballroom
  • Shannon and the Clams at Wonder Ballroom

 

  • My Bloody Valentine at Roseland (above)
  • Black Moth Super Rainbow at Wonder Ballroom
  • Gruff Rhys at Doug Fir
  • Fucked Up at Mississippi Studios (fingers crossed as it’s next week)

 
All photos ©2018 Smells Like Pop/David Bailey

We’ve seen !!! quite a few times now and are always blown-away how great they sound live. Capturing that energy on their albums has been somewhat elusive, barring a few especially slamming songs (Steady as the Sidewalk Cracks for one). Since their label gave them some money for a video, they went like Bill O’Reilly and decided to “Do it live!” with very nice results. Play loudly.

Just stumbled across this video of Thee Oh Sees playing live on KEXP. We saw them on this tour at the Doug Fir and it was amazing. I had a perma-grin plastered to my face watching drummers, Dan Rincon and Ryan Moutinho play in almost perfect synchronicity. The sound was like a water canon pummeling you non-stop in the chest. Apparently, Moutinho left the band, so this video has only Rincon on the skins though he plays so fast he might as well be two people.

As usual, my list of “favorite” albums of the year is just that – a list of what stuck with me most throughout the year, and not necessarily what my brain thinks should be the best albums. Hopefully, these 10 recordings will stand the test of time.

Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Most-hyped record of the year finally worms its way into my brain and reveals itself to be “all that”

Typhoon – Whitelighter
Most underrated album of the year from Stumptown big band – almost every song a classic that begs you to sing along

Savages – Silence Yourself
Ferocious songs and serious attitude come together for an album that’s almost as a great as their live show

Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin
Sounding like the Fall’s bratty grandchild playing catchy pop songs wrapped in sloppy hooks, and all no longer than they need to be

Cate LeBon – Mug Museum
Icy and hot, restrained and heartfelt, retro and modern … an album of contradictions from my favorite Welsh singer-songwriter

Radiation City – Animals in the Meridian
Hey! You got 70s AM rock in my vintage stereophonic lounge music. Hey, you got vintage stereophonic – well, you get the idea. These great PDX tastemakers all taste great together.

The Knife – Shaking the Habitual
Percolating, ping-pong splatter-beats and over-processed synths anchoring songs of gender dysphoria – what’s not to like?

ARP – More
Brian Eno and Kraftwerk walk into a bar. Musicality ensues … minimal, edgy, pretty and discrete

Yo La Tengo – Fade
Meditative and sincere with songs pared to their essence and then set on a hypnotic “repeat” for a tranquil, yet uplifting album

Deerhunter – Monomania
If I could magically join any band, this might be the one. Not an immediate “winner”, but the distorted mind-bending songs slowly create a solid whole that will eat your brain!

The Honorable Mentions: Robyn Hitchcock – Love From London, Wire – Change Becomes Us, Yuck – Glow and Behold, These New Puritans – Field of Reeds, Neko Case – The Worse Things Get blah, blah, blah, My Bloody Valentine – MBV, David Bowie – The Next Day, Washed Out – Paracosm, The Blow – The Blow, STRFKR – Miracle Mile, Jacco Gardner – Cabinet of Curiosities, Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II, Superchunk – I Hate Music, Courtney Barnett – The Double EP, James Blake – Overgrown, Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

It was a Thursday night at Mississippi Studios, a small venue in Portland, and on display was the kind of support for each other’s bands that you always hear about. Point Juncture, WA, was the first up, and they played a solid if short set, with Amanda Spring demonstrating her amazing breath control, pounding the drums energetically for most of the set while managing to sing coherently. Smiling broadly all the while. They played some lively stuff from their most recent work, Handsome Orders, whose song “Violin Case” holds up to anything raved about on Wild Flag. But rather than plug their own work, Point Juncture, WA returned to the theme–talking up the headliner’s new album. When Deer or the Doe eventually took the stage, Spring was up front near the stage, dancing with enthusiasm. Deer or the Doe rose to the occasion, earning the accolades of their peers with their driving guitar-heavy but melodic post-Minutemen punk. The star of the night was their album on release, Tonight We Love You, a wide-ranging work that on the first few listens seems their strongest yet. It rises from pensive to flat-out slamming in a few short moments, with apparent influences from Husker Du and perhaps The Sea and Cake. In their live show as well as on the album, the band’s vocals are almost secondary, just one of the fine instruments on display. Even a more vocally-focused song like the excellent “Longest Arms” ends in shouts above the well-controlled fray. The band seemed to be having a great time, feted by their peers. The members of the second band in the line-up before Deer or the Doe were especially gracious, selling Tonight We Love You not only from the stage but cheerfully to me at the merch table. Yet their own performance that night demanded attention in its own right.

To say that Radiation City has a retro feel is not quite right. It’s a distorted retro, as if the band came from a place where the only music was from an oldies AM station playing The Shirelles and Pink Floyd, where 50s-era housewives took their first hit of 60s psychedelia. The instrumentation was tight, with organ and drum providing just the right texture for the eerily beautiful vocal harmonies to step out from and seep straight into your soul. And with their recent designation as Willamette Week’s Best New(ish) Band, Radiation City is getting even more of the attention they deserve. Just don’t tell them that–I overheard the bassist scoff at the idea that they would be at Sasquatch. I can imagine the sentiment of wanting to avoid that kind of Cluster, but not because they wouldn’t deserve to be there. With its genre-defying David Lynch soundscapes, even if 2011’s The Hands That Take You wasn’t enough to knock down the doors of virtual gate-keepers like Pitchfork, the live version would convince any doubters. The band played a number of songs from their more recent EP, which includes the moody epic “Find it of Use.”  The audience was captivated–a Very Tall Man next to me exclaimed quite earnestly that the performance brought him to tears. Like the experience of fellow Tender Loving Empire projects Typhoon and Y La Bamba, the band is in the middle of a quick upward trajectory which I imagine would be jarring for any band. Perhaps it’s modesty, but one of the most striking and refreshing things about the nice people in Radiation City is that they still don’t seem to believe how crazy good they really are.

P.S. For free downloads of earlier work by Deer or the Doe, Port Juncture, WA, and other interesting bands (like Ioa), visit www.wantstogiveyou.com.

The editors at Smells Like Pop recently experienced the rare opportunity where we were all together at the same show. In this case, it was for Brian Jonestown Massacre at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland. And, instead of relying on one of us to do a write-up, we thought we’d all add a short review. Including our friend, Pete Champ!

Cory X’s Review

The BJM show got almost no local press, which was surprising because of a) the band’s famed and filmed love-hate relationship with locals The Dandy Warhols, and b) they put on a kick-ass show. Anton Newcombe orchestrated from the side of the stage, his distinct vocals and guitar standing out somehow over the wall of sound emanating from four to five other guitars on stage at any one time. The result was loud, of course, but almost restrained, counter to the band’s reputation for chaos. Newcombe even thanked audience members individually (rather than kicking them in the head, for instance). The night was given to dispelling all such demons, graciously inviting Zia McCabe herself onto the stage, for a distinctly Dandy-ish song. BJM put on a remarkable show, the guitar-work layered and even disciplined, avoiding the pitfall of the many-guitared jam band. Indeed, they didn’t let loose until the final song, a Beatles cover that seemed to have no end. Afterward, I wished it hadn’t.

Gene Brunak’s Review

It’s beyond cliché to reference the documented struggles of Anton Newcombe and his band, The Brian Jonestown Massacre. But it does seem to be fair to acknowledge when he – and they – get it right. Highlighting tracks from the band’s latest, Aufheben – which is arguably their most solid album from beginning to end, the BJM transcended that album’s strengths with an even stronger live performance.

BJM ranged through its material, playing some old favorites, as well as showcasing the strength of newer tunes like the catchy “I want to hold your other hand”, and the warm-fuzzy inspiring homage, “Blue Order/New Monday”. Zia McCabe (of Portland’s Dandy Warhols) even hopped on stage to contribute some booty shaking and tambourine support – a nod to the past, while perhaps sensing the forward momentum created by the strength of BJM’s new material and focused performance.

Peter Champ’s Review

Anton Newcombe is still chief engineer on the BJM express and everyone else is along for the ride. With each song, you can pick a small piece from many bands. Now that the drama seems to be over you can focus on the music and relax. Being so prolific with their songs they almost blend together until they unleash a manic tambourine tune that reminds people why they like them.

David Bailey’s Review

The audience waiting for the show to start at the Wonder Ballroom skewed older and artier. The seen-it-all-before crowd was cautiously waiting for something new to happen – again. When the Brian Jonestown Massacre took to the stage with little fanfare, I was secretly glad to see lead tambourine player, Joel Gion at the center of a stage that also included five guitar players (including bass), a drummer and keyboardist – all looking like they were about to play a show at the ’60s-era Factory as opposed to Portland in 2012. The band sounded great – even better than on record. Songs that have seemed shambling and misshapen in the past, became beautifully orchestrated walls of blissful-noise pop. Songwriter/founder/cult leader Anton Newcombe has found a nice collaborator in Spacemen 3 bassist, Will Carruthers who seems to be keeping the band more centered – there were no interpersonal flare-ups this night. The band played many songs from their great new album, Aufheben as well as a cross-country tour of their previous twenty-plus back catalog of psychedelic inspired pop. If you have a chance to see BJM live, do it. Dig?

Mercer reclaims pop’s throne with Port of Morrow

It’s been a long time coming, but with the latest album from The Shins, Port of Morrow the “band’s” fourth long player, it becomes abundantly clear that James Mercer is a master songwriter – and the one in charge.

Who knows why it’s been five years since Wincing the Night Away – a solid, if not underappreciated album – after which Sir Elton John dubbed Mercer the most talented songwriter.

The fact is that, for true pop music lovers, it was worth the wait.

Mercer has currently created a musical kingdom (a part of Portlandia?) from which to explore his sonic adventures; Port of Morrow (an actual location in Portland) allowed him to bring in members of the original band (court jester Marty Crandall guests on keyboards, Dave Hernandez provides bass and guitar work) along with Pacific Northwest icons (Janet Weiss provides some solid drumming on the standout single, “Simple Song”, and a handful of other tunes).

Perhaps it is because of this mix of the old and the new that the record occasionally pays homage to some of the great sounds to be found on the band’s debut (Oh, Inverted World) on tracks like “September”…while still exploring Mercer’s fascination with country-bar balladry (“40 Mark Strasse”) and his continued inspiration via 60’s pop (“Bait and Switch”).

Even with the different players, and the sonic shifts, the album is one of the band’s most cohesive. Mercer’s combination of hooks you think you’ve heard before, along with lyrics that run the gamut from clever playfulness to melancholy memory, remind the informed listener that it is possible to have solid songcraft for an entire album.

Perhaps Mercer knows that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that in The Shin’s five-year hiatus, there really haven’t been any serious challengers to his throne.

Smells Like:

Sleigh Bells first crashed onto the scene a couple of years ago.

With a distinctive mix of blazing guitars, bass turned to 11, screams and high-pitch vocals, they sounded like Katy Perry hijacked by the guitarists from Slayer. Their first album, Treats, grabbed attention for its blend of sonic turbulence and pop swayings. Visually, the band played on the disjunction of crashing beats over syrupy lyrics with videos featuring cheerleaders and leather jackets. Gimmicky, yes, but it seemed to work. My (inner- as well as real-life) twelve-year-old loved it.

I can imagine that the prospect of a second album was daunting for Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss, with their carefully managed image in play. In this vein, the album cover for Reign of Terror, featuring a pair of worn cheer shoes spattered with blood, serves as a clever meme for the brand–I mean, band. If there was any worry that they would sell out to their potential for wider pop distribution, their opening salvo “True Shred Guitar” aims to dispel such doubts. The song was recorded live, with pounding drums, teeth-grinding guitar, and Krauss shouting fuck-bombs–you know, just to make it totally legit. From there, the album oscillates between her familiar screams-and-melody vocals, as in “Born to Lose,” and a more breathy straightforward delivery (as in “End of The Line”). At its best, the latter effect is a kind of eerie, Julee Cruise spaciness (“DOA”). At its not best, it’s more like cotton-candy (“End of the Line”). Even the album’s single, “Comeback Kid,” has a fierce guitar line, but the vocals leave a saccharine aftertaste. Fuel to the suspicion that the odd bubble-gum and cheerleader fetishism may not be a put-on after all.

Sleigh Bells have been described as a noise pop band, putting them in comparison with such heavies as Sonic Youth and Jesus and Mary Chain. However, with Reign of Terror, Sleigh Bells suggest a more apt description such as pop noise, placing themselves much closer to the top 40 end of the spectrum. As such, the album may bring a challenge, being too bitter for the pure pop crowd but cloying for those with indie tastebuds.

Smells Like 

Van Etten wows, War on Drugs channel Springsteen live in Portland

It doesn’t hurt when Bon Iver covers you, The National produce you, SXSW adores you, and hip websites anoint you the latest musical “it” girl.

That being said, Sharon Van Etten – touring on the strength of her latest, Tramp, didn’t disappoint a packed house at The Aladdin. After a solid set from Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs (channeling early Springsteen, and a self-professed love of The Waterboys – who they covered in their encore), Van Etten and her talented supporting cast seemed right at home in the intimate confines of The Aladdin.

Though Van Etten was the clear attraction, a reasonable contingent of folks were also on hand to support the (arguably) equally talented Heather Woods Broderick, who provided flawless harmony vocals, keyboards, and guitar. Broderick (affectionately nicknamed “Bro-Derek” by Van Etten during their tour) is a Portlander, and Smells Like Pop has witnessed her talent first hand as a member of Horse Feathers (along with her brother, Peter Broderick).

The band fleshed out the subtle and nuanced dynamics of Tramp – taking an already solid record and bringing it lovingly to life. Guitarist Doug Keith captured the gothic-twang necessary to make “Give Out” shine, while drummer Zeke Hutchins allowed the power and menace of “Serpents” to be showcased.

With her talent on an upward trajectory, hopefully the young Van Etten won’t get pitchforked over for the next inevitable find.

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