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....

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

Field Music’s latest unearths more pop gems Brothers David and Peter Brewis (the core of Sunderland England’s Field Music) have channeled numerous disparate elements in concocting their brilliant 4th long-player, Plumb. Hints of Yes and Steely Dan (chief songwriter/vocalist David even sounds like a young Donald Fagen at times) appear, along with their continued channeling of XTC. However, this is made all the more listenable by amazing hooks that rival Guided by Voices in frequency and abrupt change. Plumb builds on a legacy of songcraft that the unrivaled (well, maybe James Mercer of The Shins would be a contemporary) Field Music have been developing for over a decade (2010’s Measure – a double album – was arguably that year’s best pop record). Plumb clocks in at about 35 minutes – frustrating for those of us who want more of them, but perfect for our hurried times – indeed, the underlying theme of the...

The documentary on the short, but prolific life and musical career of Jay Reatard is playing now at little movie theaters across the country. We got to see Jay Reatard and his band at an in-store show at Jackpot Records in Portland shortly before his untimely death (murder). I'm glad we did, but it makes this footage all too sad. Reatard's last record was a sign of greatness to come--fast and messy pop songs that had so much power and energy bundled-up in 2-3 minute little nuggets. Alas, what we have is what we get and Jay Reatard is no more. Except on the big screen....

Luz Elena Mendoza's band, on Court the Storm, bring latin radiance to Portland pop If you've already heard Y La Bamba (there's a reasonable chance, what with all the positive - and well deserved - press they're getting, including multiple plugs on NPR, where the album is currently streaming in its entirety), then this is old news. Their new record, Court the Spark (released by Portland's Tender Loving Empire), is everything that is good about cultures clashing...

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