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Everything's A Song

Music and Culture in PDX

2016 has been a tough year. I haven’t blogged much as most of my energy has been directed towards politics. So many great ones were lost!

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

This catchy record got an extraordinary amount of play this year. Not sure if it’s the 90’s vibe, the brilliant riffs, or what. I just love it.

David Bowie – Black Star

I bought this two days before the Starman fell to earth. What a stunner of a record. It would have made my list, regardless of Bowie’s passing. My heart is still heavy in a world without him.

Radiohead – Moon Shaped Pool

I am a huge fan, often referring to them as the best band in the world. That said, I didn’t love their last two releases. This record really shifted me back into loving their ethereal grooves.

Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service

I’m a big fan of 90’s hip hop bands like TCQ, The Roots, De La Soul, etc. When I heard this record was coming out, I was stoked. This record could not have better timing, this has been a crazy year in politics. Dig this track.

Frank Ocean – Blonde

Such beauty, such tender heart. Love this gem of a record.

Angel Olsen – My Woman

Angel Olsen’s previous record was sparse and beautiful. Here she maintains her divine energy while having much more layered and complex tracks. Just gorgeous.

Kyle Craft  – Dolls of Highland

I caught Kyle Craft at an in-store here in Portland. I really love his voice, and his songwriting is outstanding. What a great first record!

Hayes Carll – Lovers and Leavers

A friend in Colorado turned me onto Hayes. His alt-country vibe may not be for those of you that are die hard indie fans, but I love it.

Michael Kiwanuka- Love & Hate

Thanks to the Netflix show, “The Get Down” I discovered this artist. Kick ass record and very important for our troubling times.

Weyes Blood – Front Row Seat to Earth

What a dreamy, gorgeous record.

Black Mountain – IV

I don’t usually put a record up that I don’t love all the way through. This one has a few songs that are so tremendous, it had to be on the list. Like this one.

Heron Oblivion – Self Titled

Huge fan of this band and their first record. It’s heavy, thoughtful and worth your time. Seeing them live was a  thrill.

Jeff Buckley – You and I

A long posthumous record, but a great one. I often wonder what he’d be like, had he made it to 50. This cover just slays me.

Anderson .Paak – Malibu

Get your GROOVE ON people – Anderson.Paak will help! Such a bad ass record.

Kevin Morby – Singing Saw

I thank KEXP for turning me onto Kevin Morby. Sweet and catchy record.

Russian Circles – Guidance **

This record gets a spot here, though I only heard it recently. The person who shared it with me swore up and it down it would make my list. Well, look at that….

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Weirdly, I started this post on Friday, his birthday. And today I finish it, in the early hours of Monday, after hearing of his death. I’m just heartbroken.

I’m not exactly sure when I discovered David Bowie. I believe I was about 13, gawky, just entering the world of teenagers, middle school and self discovery.

Before I began my lifelong love for his music, I was absolutely fascinated by the way he looked. Elegant energy seemed to pour off of him, shiny glam waves filling every photograph I could find. During my early teen years, his androgynous nature was a serious eye opener for me. A man could have that kind of energy? Wear eyeliner, feather boas and glitter? It prodded me into thinking about gender roles differently, giving me a much richer view of what and who men could be (only a few years later, Patti Smith would fill this role for women).

The first Bowie record that I fell in love with was Diamond Dogs. It’s dreary future landscape lyrics mingled with stunning vocals put me into a teen dream state every time I put it on. Then came Hunky Dory and Ziggy. When I attended boarding school – his music helped me to find connection with those who also adored him. One of my closest friends, Amy, and I would play Hunky Dory over and over again. She’d sing, I’d drum on the bed, and we’d stay up late into the night, swooning over his music. When Amy died in her early 20’s, I played that record many times “the girl with the mousy hair…” in her honor. I still think of her when I hear it, many moons later.

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And now, David Bowie is gone. I could fill a book with how much I love his music. How hugely impactful he’s been to me and countless of other humans. He will be greatly missed by the whole world. We love you, Starman.

 

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1. Ought – Sun Coming Down

I’ve realized, decades into being a music junkie that I have a “thing” for a really catchy bass line. A song that might otherwise pass me by will keep me riveted if I can connect to the bass. After one listen of the Montreal quartet Ought, I was in. The vocals in this band are heavily reminiscent of The Fall’s Mark E. Smith – terse, direct and deep. Do check out their first record – More Than Any Other Day, too.

 

2. Saun + Starr – Look Closer

I wrote about this Brooklyn duo back in the spring. My attention and adoration to them has not waned. This record is a little gem that deserves a lot of love. It’s a beautiful, catchy record. Saun & Starr (Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan Lowe ) were backup singers for Sharon Jones for years. How fortunate we are that Daptone Records released something with just the two of them.

 

3. Fuzz – II

No list of mine would be complete without something in it by my favorite musician of the last five years, Ty Segall. With band mates Charlie Moothart, and Chad Ubovich, Fuzz has yet again made a bad ass record. It’s heavy, mind-bending and needs to be played REALLY LOUD. Anyone that’s fan of Sabbath will love the superb homage to the fathers of garage metal in the track, Pipe. Turn it up!

 

4. New Order – Music Complete

This band will always be the 80’s to me. Their album,  Power, Corruption & Lies, is one of the best records of that decade. Yet their new album, Music Complete, surprised me. It’s not trite, nor cloying as many “comeback” records can be.  It’s super catchy and won’t get out of your head anytime soon.

 

5. Dungen – Allas Sak

Greatest show regret of 2015? Not scoring tickets to see them at Bunk Bar. Heard they were stellar. This record from Swedish psych rockers is a groovy dream. One you want to keep having over and over again.

 

6. Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect

Straight up. This is a rock and roll record of the best kind. Deep riffs combined with stuff that stays in your head. I really dig this Protomartyr and I am very happy to see them getting a lot of attention across the music sphere.

 

7. Ryan Adams – 1989

I don’t listen to Taylor Swift. She’s a pop darling, but not my cup of tea. When I heard Ryan Adams was covering her, I wasn’t sure what to think. Until I heard it.

 

8. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love

I love this record! It was a major change up for UMO. Far more upbeat, filled with catchy dance beats reminiscent of Michael Jackson. My favorite track, Can’t Keep Checking My Phone was on serious repeat this spring. If there is a better anthem for our digital age, I’d like to hear it. This says a LOT about our world.

 

9. Sick Sad World – Fear and Lies

Not sure if this entire record is amazing, but a few tracks are so good it made the list. I just adore Sick, Sad World. Who doesn’t want to be chasing down the skateboarding girl of their dreams?

 

10. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down

Kurt’s music always makes me feel happy. Like I should be kicking back under a tree, and loving the beautiful world around me.

 

11. Wilco – Star Wars

Truth? I’d given up on this band. I actively disliked the last record, The Whole Love, and the one prior to it was dad rock with a heavy dose of cheese. This album feels as though Jeff Tweedy tossed the music industry off his back and came back to his roots.

 

12. Sharon Van Etten – I Don’t Want to Let You Down

An EP. With stellar, not to be missed tracks, by the woman who has my musical heart.

 

13. Two Gallants – We Are Undone

One that will likely get missed by many other top record list, but not mine. This is an excellent album, with superb lyric writing and great energy. Two Gallants earlier albums were far more mellow, I really enjoyed their shift.

 

14. Ultimate Painting – Green Lanes

What a fun record from this Brit post punk duo. I just want to hop in my car and go for a long uninterrupted ride. I appreciate their politics, too. Not seen too often these days in music.

15. Rhett Miller – The Traveler

Last, but not least, long time favorite! Rhett is best known for his work with the band, The Old 97’s. However, he has put out plenty of solo albums. This one was made with members of the Portland band, Black Prairie.

 

***All Them Witches – Dying Surfer Meets His Maker

If I had heard this earlier, it would be up at the top of the list!! It’s dreamy, groovy, heady, and made to be put into heavy rotation. It has some beautifully reminiscent vibes from the 70’s heyday of prog rock and yet remains fully planted in the present. I am really digging All Them Witches.

 

**I know, this is number 16!

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It’s a HUGELY historic day in America. The Supreme Court has ruled that it is legal for gay folks to get married. I am beyond happy and have been dancing all morning. In honor of love, freedom and “family,“ here’s a playlist. This is not just about romantic love, but about how universal love matters to us all. Here’s to you, America.

The Origin of Love – Rufus Wainwright


Heroes – David Bowie


We are Family – Sister Sledge


La La Love You – The Pixies


Skateboarding Girl – Sick Sad World

Maps – Yeah Yeah, Yeahs


I’m the Man Who Loves You – Wilco


The Book of Love – Magnetic Fields


Say a Little Prayer – Aretha Franklin


Dog Days Are Over – Florence & The Machine

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It’s been a stellar summer for music so far. First, I saw Delta Spirit, a band I’d only vaguely heard of. A few of my fellow music junkie pals encouraged me to come, It was a really fun show, with a super enthusiastic crowd. They sang some very sad songs, one of which got me to thinking about my dad. Powerful stuff. However, I really loved their cover of Femme Fatale by the Velvet Underground.

Rhett Miller Mississippi Studios

Rhett Miller and Jon Neufeld Mississippi Studios

Last week I saw Rhett Miller (front man of the Old 97’s) perform a tremendous solo set. Back in 2003, I was given a copy of “Satellite Rides” by a friend. “This record will change your life” he told me, rather emphatically. Smart guy that one, because it did. I’ve been a fan ever since and still go back to it on a regular basis. He had a really great conversation with Marc Maron on WTF, if you’ve not heard it. The most recent record, “The Traveler” is a treat for me. Miller has the members of one of my favorite Portland band, Black Prairie, playing with him on it. Peter Buck also makes an appearance. It’s an upbeat, sweet album. I’m calling this track THE song of the summer!

After the show, Miller came down to the merch table and talked to the lot of us that had hung around. He signed the vinyl I picked up at the show and I even got a hug from him. NOT something I’d experienced at a show before, and I see A LOT of live music. He seems like a genuinely kind man. I walked up Mississippi Ave. that night arm in arm with my best friend, grinning like a 15 year old girl. What a night!

Going further back in my music catalog, is the band, X. An early discovery of mine, I began listening to them in the 80’s. Their clever lyrics and edginess have made me a long time fan. The frontman, John Doe, was in town on a solo tour last week. It was a fantastic show – he played a few X tunes, but mostly it was his equally stellar solo stuff. Like Miller, he hung out after the show to meet fans. He kindly signed my ticket and I got yet another hug! This man’s music has been filling my ears nearly my entire life, I was just thrilled to meet him. I thanked him for making my life a lot better with his music.

I know I sound like a gushing fan girl, but that’s because I am! A lot of people swoon over actresses and actors, not me. It’s musicians and writers that leave me in a state of giddy elation. Their work adds depth, emotion and pure joy to my life. I am grateful to have so much music to come to again and again.

*Blog title courtesy of Rhett Miller’s song, “Most in the summertime”

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It’s summer. Time for travel. Time to climb into the car and hit the open road. Before I start the list, I’d like mention my qualifiers for it.

The Ability to Sing Along To it – Whether or not I am alone, I love singing in the car. It’s probably one of the few places I do loudly and freely. A record needs solid vocal tracks to make the cut.

A Familiar Feeling – It’s not likely I will want to listen to brand new music on a road trip. When I get behind the wheel for a few hours, I want the comfort of a favorite album.

Not Too Distracting – Driving takes focus, especially if it’s on a crowded highway. I want the music to be part of the scenery, not to take over what I’m doing. Music that is too aggressive won’t make the cut!

A Smattering of Road Trip Records

Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

Prince – Purple Rain or Sign of the Times

The Thermals – The Body, the Blood, the Machine

Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane over the Sea

Old 97’s – Satellite Rides

The B52’s – Self Titled

David Bowie – Hunky Dory or Diamond Dogs

Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville

The Replacements – Let it Be

Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

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I was pleased to see that Sharon Van Etten has a new EP out. She’s definitely one of my favorite singer songwriters at the moment. Her voice has this haunted quality that I cannot resist. It’s earthy, rich and I get lost in it. Her honest, evocative lyrics call out to most of us. We’ve all been there, no matter what she’s singing about….

These new tracks feel a lot like her last record, Are We There, and that’s grand. It made many top 10 record lists of 2014 for a reason!

Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten at the Doug Fir, Portland, OR
(photo by me)

The EP, I Don’t Want To Let You Down, is due out on June 9.