Daniel Bromfield
Arts & Entertainment Journalist
oeuvre

oeuvre

This is a more-or-less complete collection of my past work. Much of my early Emerald work was lost during a major website update this year, but the Emerald staff is currently working on recovering these articles.

My work can be found on the following sites:

Article count (727)

Date: Feb 05, 2020

Publication: Portland Monthly

The Disney+ original, based on books by cartoonist Stephen Pastis, premieres Friday.

The Disney+ original film Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, which debuts Friday, is set in Portland. It’s not shy about showing it.

Portlanders will recognize many if not most of the locales in the two-and-a-half-minute trailer: the St. John’s Bridge, Alberta Street’s Thicket nursery, and the towering Alma Tank on North Willamette, in whose shadow Timmy lives.

Though there’s no shortage of indie films by auteurs like Kelly Reichardt and Gus Van Sant that show off the city so lovingly, it’s safe to say a lot more people are going to be tuning into this one, which goes live to an audience of nearly 29 million subscribers. Early reviews are good, too. (It currently holds a solid 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.)

The film, based on a book series by Pearls Before Swine cartoonist Stephan Pastis, concerns a young boy who decides to start his own detective agency with a 1,500-pound polar bear named Total. (Total and Failure, get it?) The subtitle comes from Timmy’s catchphrase, which he utters whenever he’s in trouble; judging from the escapades in the trailer and the fact that he’s the hero of a kids’ movie, he’s probably in trouble a lot.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Feb 04, 2020

Publication: Portland Monthly

This is the first time since 1991 that flat-track racing has been held in the arena.

When local biker shop and café See See Motorcycles first launched the One Motorcycle Show in 2009, it was held in a warehouse. 11 years in, it’s taking place in a space once graced by the Beatles and the Blazers.

The Veterans Memorial Coliseum has enough space to host not only the 200 custom bikes that form the centerpiece of the show but a full-on flat-track motorcycle race.

This is a first for the One Motorcycle Show, which previously held its races separately from the main event at a speedway in Salem, and the first time flat-track racing has been held in the arena since 1991.

“It’s something that’s going to be new and exciting and accessible to a lot of people in Portland,” says Emily George, who, with her sister Tori George-Drake, is part of the event production team at See See Motor Coffee Co. that organizes the One Show. “[We’re] kind of bringing it back, because flat-tracking was pretty big back in the ’70s.”

The show will also feature five bands, including local metal heroes Red Fang and punk supergroup Hot Snakes; a “manual bull,” similar to a mechanical bull but operated by hand; and even a pinewood derby for kids.

Though George-Drake jokes that “Portland loves lines,” she hopes the increased space will make the congestion that’s plagued past events less of a problem.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Feb 04, 2020

Publication: POPMATTERS

Dan Bejar seems omnipresent on Destroyer’s first album of the 2020s, moving through the arrangements at his own whim.

The actual music on Have We Met isn’t particularly remarkable. What holds it all together is Dan Bejar, slowly drifting above the songs as if over a sea of fog, carrying on what we can only call an interior monologue lest we accuse him of a lack of social decorum. He seems omnipresent. A filter that occasionally shrouds his voice is a new and wonderful trick; he seems to move through the mix at his whim, sometimes coming from over here, sometimes from over there. It also imparts a wonderful sense of authority. Such vocal distortion is usually associated with microphones and megaphones—instruments used by people in charge. And for the record’s 40 minutes and change, we can’t take our ears off him. While describing a planned album he was working on with the late singer-songwriter David Berman, Bejar imagined casting him as a “Serge Gainsbourg-style voice of God”. One imagines he saved some of the ideas from those sessions for himself.

This is Bejar’s best album since his best album, 2011’s KaputtThough they don’t sound much alike, Have We Met immediately scans as a spiritual successor. It’s no coincidence that Kaputt producer and Bejar’s fellow New Pornographer John Collins returns after a two-album absence. While 2015’s misanthropic Poison Season framed Bejar more as a singer-songwriter and 2017’s short, undercooked Ken stripped down his lyrics to terse phrases, both Kaputt and Have We Met give Bejar free rein to drool all over the music with his torrent of verbiage. It helps that on both albums, the tempos are faster and the rhythms are more repetitive than usual. He seems to move at a different pace from the music, perhaps uncaring, perhaps just existing in a universe where things flow a little differently. On “Crimson Tide” and “It Just Doesn’t Happen”, the beat races along at the relentless pace of the world itself as Bejar gets his mind hooked on patterns: “This doesn’t just happen to anyone… this just doesn’t happen to anyone…”  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Feb 02, 2020

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Agustin Mena has spent the latter half of this decade making some of the most physically pleasurable ambient music ever made.

Agustin Mena has spent the latter half of this decade making some of the most physically pleasurable ambient music ever made. The Spanish producer debuted as Warmth in 2015 with a straight-ahead dub techno album, Ash. On his ensuing releases—2016’s Essay, 2017’s Home, 2018’s Parallel and last year’s Wildlife, not to mention an album and an EP as SVLBRD—he’s stripped away all aspects of the dub techno sound except those distant, mile-wide chords that sound like you’re sinking your head into a nebula. According to Spotify, Parallel is the album I’ve listened to the most this last decade. Would I call it the best ambient album of the 2010s? No. But it might be the one that, on a purely animal level akin to a lizard sinking its belly into a rock, I enjoy the most.

Even considering all this, “The Creek,” the second track from his newest album Wildlife Addendum, might be one of the most purely pleasurable ambient compositions ever recorded. There’s something about wah, filters, flangers and phasers that gets to something primal in the brain, and the treated electric piano that flickers out of the distance on “The Creek” is the kind of thing you want to melt into for the rest of your life—especially when it emerges from a field of static as thick and all-encompassing as the one Mena employs on almost all his tracks to give them extra plush. Some ambient tracks want to be sad, happy, scared, mysterious. This one feels like submerging into a pool of warm water for five and a half minutes.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jan 30, 2020

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Lonely Generation is usually more solid than surprising. But one moment comes out of nowhere.

When we say pop artists “mature” or “grow up,” what we’re usually saying is that they’re embracing subjects that are more serious, more sexual, more complicated than puppy love. What’s less common is for an artist to mature by learning from their mistakes, by taking out what didn’t work from their earlier music and replacing it with stronger material, by embracing excellence rather than just chasing what’s trendy. That’s what Echosmith’s done on their second album, Lonely Generation.

The growth this band of Chino, CA siblings has shown over the last decade is staggering. Their 2013 debut Talking Dreams felt like a series of attempts at finding a commercially viable sound. They eventually hit paydirt with the urbane, vaguely disco indie-pop of “Cool Kids,” which was—to put it lightly—not a great song. But the siblings have honed the specific sound of that single down to a T while writing increasingly strong lyrics and assembling increasingly consistent albums. 2017’s Inside a Dream EP, named for an album presumably swallowed up by label woes, was about a hundred times better than Talking Dreams. The self-released Lonely Generation is about a hundred times better than that one was.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jan 29, 2020

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Though Ripatti may forever be best-known for Vocalcity, his ambient career as Vladislav Delay has produced some of the strongest ambient albums of the last couple decades,

The chords. That’s the first thing you notice on Vocalcity, stretching and contracting as the kick crawls towards oblivion, serving as our guide through Sasu Ripatti’s debut as Luomo. A voice rises out of the distance, its whispered consonants slipping through our fingers as it dives in and out of the murk. This is the famous vocal tease, and when the singer finally enters after nearly five minutes—“there’s nothing in the world that you can do”—it’s as satisfying as anything that’s ever happened in a pop song. Less remarked is a few minutes later, when the chords drop out without warning. You’re on your own, the door behind you is closed, and there’s no way to go but forward, into the bowels of one of the deepest of all house albums.

Vocalcity spans six songs in 76 minutes; only “She-Center” fails to reach the 10-minute mark. This is one reason Vocalcity feels so encompassing. Another is its linearity. The divisions between songs here are arbitrary. They bleed into each other, and the ambient stretch that divides “The Right Wing” and “Tessio” is as memorable as either track on its own. The experience of listening to Vocalcity is marked less by songs than moments, like snatches of laughter at the ends of “Class” and “The Right Wing,” or an electric piano that flares up at the perfect moment in “She-Center,” never to be heard again.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

 

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Date: Jan 28, 2020

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Hides bits and pieces of a great ambient pop album amid the greebled sci-fi bulk of a GOOD Music blockbuster.

You’re in a restaurant, and the classic rock station on the speakers is vaguely bubbling beneath your consciousness. All of a sudden, you hear the most incredible wash of ambient synths. You wonder what long-lost pop hit you’re hearing. Then the beat drops, and it’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

This sensation is too common on 070 Shake’s Modus Vivendi, which hides bits and pieces of a great ambient pop album amid the greebled sci-fi bulk of a GOOD Music blockbuster. The best moments among the 14 tracks here usually come at the beginning or end of the song, when she lets her voice flicker over a solemn pad or a far-off clamor of gears and pistons, than when she’s actually riding the beat like a rapper or a pop singer. Usually, albums like this would benefit from more songs than miasmas; this one would benefit from more miasmas than songs.

Modus Vivendi sustains an atmosphere more vividly than most pop albums. Like fellow Kanye protégés Kid Cudi and Travis Scott, she’s obsessed with space, the moon, stars, and some of the substances you can take to get closer to them. What makes Modus stand out is how much it actually feels like space. Lasers zip up and down the side of the stereo field as distant machines rattle like the walls of a rocket in liftoff. Square-wave pads impart a welcome whiff of New Age futurism, the same vibe Oneohtrix Point Never and Emeralds cultivated a decade ago.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view  to continue reading.)

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Date: Jan 26, 2020

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Halsey’s intentions are always loud and clear, but too often the music doesn’t live up to them.

If we’re to take Halsey on her word, Manic is the first album by Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, not the anagrammatic character her stage name implies. That’s bollocks—if this was the first album by Frangipane, it’d be credited as such—but the songs on the New Jersey singer’s third album add up to a portrait of an individual more vivid than on most albums climbing the charts. Though it doesn’t take nearly the same risks or climb to nearly the same heights, there’s some of the same energy here as on Beyoncé’s self-titled, an album whose songs added up to as close to a complete portrait of an individual at a specific moment in time as you’re ever likely to see on a pop album.

The focus on Manic is almost single-mindedly on herself and her desire for commitment rather than to be used. She has a lot of sex—her frankness about this is as refreshing as it was on 2017’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom—but just wants someone to not lie to her. Because she’s personable and often funny, because she broadcasts those emotions into anthems anyone who’s ever experienced what she’s going through can shout along with, we don’t get bored or feel like we’re needlessly sitting through solipsism. This is the rare pop album that genuinely feels like someone sitting across the table from us and pouring out their soul. In the past, she often hid her concerns behind arty concepts. She doesn’t mince words here, and the best moments are blunt exclamations of truth: screaming “I don’t need anyone!” deep in the mix of “Clementine,” or deadpanning “someone, please come flirt with me” on “3AM.”  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jan 23, 2020

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Ricch’s music feels like a corrective to so many problems with both the pop and rap mainstreams.

Roddy Ricch is starting to look like a pop star. He’s becoming one of those artists you just hear about; it’s not a question of if you check him out but when you check him out. His success is no wonder. He’s an excellent songwriter who’s mastered the form of the contemporary rap banger but also gives himself permission to fuck with it. He’s melodic but technically skilled enough to potentially appeal to fans of acts like Eminem who’d normally stay away from stuff like this. He has the same command of imagery as his friend and fellow Comptonite Kendrick Lamar, though his music’s much more frivolous and less dense.

But what makes him such a formidable presence is how confident he is. There’s not a single moment on his debut album Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial where we’re wondering who he is or if he knows who he is. There are no 2D dembow beats or Maluma features. There are no concessions to emo-rap aside from the title. When he sings of seeing UFOs in the sky on “Roll Dice,” we wonder at first if he hasn’t veered into Kid Cudi’s third-eye mysticism, but he quickly course-corrects with a winking aside: “I was high… I was high.” Ricch is self-aware in a way that can only come from total comfort in his own skin.

Please Excuse Me feels shorter than its 43 minutes. There’s only one interlude, the obligatory voicemail from a family member, and it’s actually pretty funny. The guests are purposefully chosen and have a lot of chemistry with Ricch, in part because he’s enough of a vocal chameleon that he can sound like any of them if he wanted to but mostly because a lot of them rip from Young Thug as generously as he does. There’s a nice arc from bangers like “The Box” to guitar jams like “Bacc Seat” to serious material like “War Baby,” where he describes the residual trauma of the poverty and violence he escaped.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jan 22, 2020

Publication: Portland Monthly

PETE closes its Beckett mosaic and Michael Kiwanuka comes to town.

Music

Michael Kiwanuka

8 p.m. Sun, Roseland, SOLD OUT
You might know Michael Kiwanuka’s titanic, string-drenched epic “Cold Little Heart” as the theme from Big Little Lies. The British singer’s new album Kiwanuka never rises to that level of bombast, but it’s no less memorable, its deceptively smooth arrangements permeated with a melancholy that leaves it sounding a little pricklier than your typical ’70s soul-revival fare. He’ll hit the Roseland on Sunday with Utah folk act Sammy Brue.

Special Events

DREAMs Deferred

10 a.m.–5 p.m. Thurs–Sat, 12–5 p.m. Sun, Oregon Historical Society, FREE–$10
The folks at The Immigrant Story (Portland Monthly’s 2019 Best New Nonprofit) present a new exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society. Part of their Things We Carried series, DREAMs Deferred marries personal narratives, portraits, and object photography to tell the stories of immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.   (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jan 21, 2020

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Dozzy is one of those artists who was unfortunate enough to make an opus against which all their later work is measured.

One Instrument is a label, run by a Dutch-Italian musician named Aimée Portioli, that puts out recordings made on only one instrument. Most of its efforts are by little-known avant-gardists, are named after the instruments, and seem to have been made more for the love of the instrument and its sound than for the love of music. That’s not a bad thing: the recordings have a desirable purity. But leave it to Donato Dozzy to run wild with these restraints.

Dozzy, the Italian producer born Donato Scaramuzzi, is comfortable in a single-instrument setting. Most of his albums this decade could’ve come out on Portioli’s label, be it a record made entirely from an obscure Italian mouth harp or the vocals of Anna Caragnano. Here he picks up the EMS Synthi AKS, a weird old synth most widely heard as the source of Pink Floyd’s paranoid tunnel-vision instrumental “On the Run.”

One Instrument Sessions 05 sounds less like “On the Run” than Suzanne Ciani’s Buchla concerts, or any other recording that exploits the synth’s ability to make a lot of weird noises at once. This is not music about melody and harmony but squiggles, squishes, chirps, squeaks, buzzes, hums, clangs and bangs. It’s a guy fucking around for the better part of 40 minutes.

There’s a distinct arc to the improvisation that makes it easy to listen to. It starts out with tasteful white noise before Dozzy gives himself permission to get crazy with the knobs, finally cooling down with minutes of ambient drone. It’s a common structure for ambient pieces of this length – the experience of listening to this album is not unlike that of Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Glass – but one that gives it more rhyme and reason than if he were twiddling knobs at random.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jan 17, 2020

Publication: Portland Monthly

Sen. Wyden has drawn the ire of Oregon creators by stalling a bill that could make it easier for artists to make copyright claims.

“Why are you holding Oregon creators hostage?”

These screaming letters, plus a graphic of two shackled hands, appear on a billboard erected this week by the Oregon Professional Photographers Association (OPPA) at the intersection of N Broadway St. and Benton Ave. in Portland.

The target: Sen. Ron Wyden, who’s the one thing standing between the CASE Act—which would establish a small-claims system for creators seeking compensation for unauthorized use of copyrighted material—and a Senate vote.

According to proponents like OPPA, the CASE Act would make it easier for artists to receive compensation when their work is used publicly without permission. This would benefit photographers, whose work can be easily replicated and reposted online, and musicians whose songs might be used in videos or at events such as political rallies (as famously happened to John Mellencamp in 2008).

This is not the first time Sen. Wyden has drawn the ire of Oregon creators by putting a hold on a bill benefitting artists. In 2018, he put a hold on the CLASSICS Act of the Music Modernization Act, which would federally protect digital audio transmissions of recordings made prior to 1972. An informal group called the “Music Army,” including members of Songwriters of North America (SONA), protested this move with a billboard  reading: “Why do you hate music?”

“There’s a pattern with this particular politician,” says SONA executive director Michelle Lewis.

Michael Shay, owner of local photography studio Polara Studio, says he’s attended Wyden’s town hall meetings to no avail.

“We’ve gone to three of his town halls, and Sen. Wyden has said he was going to work with us to make some minor changes and move forward,” says Shay. “And in fact, his Washington staff has done the exact opposite.”

In a statement sent through press representative Keith Chu, Wyden says: “I support what the CASE Act is trying to do, but I have concerns about the way the bill is currently written […] I’m concerned that the CASE Act makes it too easy for shady lawyers who are already trolling the courts to go after internet users who are engaging in fair use, but don’t have the knowledge or tools to defend themselves.  We should not be creating a system where teenagers and their parents are getting hit with thousands of dollars in default judgments for some memes the kids posted.”  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jan 17, 2020

Publication: Portland Monthly

Owner David Abel is still looking for the stolen books, including rare works by Andy Warhol and Samuel Beckett.

After a smash-and-grab on New Year’s Day left it glass-strewn and bereft, Passages Bookshop is back in business.

Owner David Abel spent the time since the break-in repairing and “enhancing” the front door and display cases at his Lloyd District storefront, though he says he’s in the process of bringing in additional security.

“I’m still finding glass, even though I’ve vacuumed a dozen times,” he says.

Abel wasn’t even out of bed when the police notified him of the break-in early in the morning of January 1. In addition to taking the cash box, the thieves had targeted five locked glass display cases containing many rare, first-edition, and signed volumes. Three of the cases were smashed.

Among the valuable losses: an original edition of the 1960s poetry journal Some/thing featuring a cover by Andy Warhol, several signed books by artist Ed Ruscha, a signed collection of lyrics by singer-songwriter Patti Smith, and a first-edition volume of poems by Irish writer Samuel Beckett.  (Click “web”or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jan 16, 2020

Publication:

Oregon State researchers are digging into the long-term effects of legalization, with some surprising results.

College kids smoke more cannabis in states where it’s legal, a new study from Oregon State University shows—pretty intuitive, right?

More interesting is that they binge-drink less.

According to the study, in states where pot is legal, including Oregon, Washington and California, students were 18 percent more likely to have inhaled than those in states where pot is still classified as an illegal substance (looking at you, Idaho).

Using data from the National College Health Assessment Survey, OSU researchers found that after legalization, students ages 21 and older showed a greater drop in binge drinking than their peers in states where marijuana was not legal. (Binge drinking=five or more drinks in one sitting.)

Note that binge drinking is on the decline on the whole in US colleges, though more sharply in states that legalized cannabis. There is, however, evidence that legal pot use may reduce drinking rates. Forty-five percent of Canadians interviewed in a 2018 Ipsos poll said they would drink less post-legalization. Beer sales in Canada also dipped 3 percent in the first year of legalization.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jan 15, 2020

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Eden’s Island is one of exotica’s more interesting relics.

or a brief time in the late 1940s, a man named eden ahbez was a media phenomenon: a 40-year-old man who lived under the Hollywood sign, ate raw fruits and vegetables and funded an itinerant lifestyle by supplying massive hits like “Nature Boy” to Nat King Cole. Had he been born a few decades later into the hippie movement he anticipated, he might’ve made folk music or psychedelic rock. But in his time, the escapist music du jour was exotica, and his lone album Eden’s Island is one of that dubious genre’s more interesting relics.

Eden’s Island plays like an advertisement for ahbez’s lifestyle. It imagines a paradise called “Eden’s Island,” far from the constraints of Western living, where “boys and girls fall in love” on palm trees and sandy beaches. You’d think unmooring his conception of paradise from the South Pacific or Southeast Asia or Japan would lead to an exotica album free from exoticism. Not so: the fake Caribbean accents we hear in so much pop of the era make their way to “Mongoose” and “Banana Boy,” the latter of whom seems so desperate to sell his bananas we wonder how much of a paradise Eden’s island really is.

Certainly it’s a conception of paradise that would’ve been more appealing 60 years ago. In 2020, we look at the gaunt, ragged man on the cover and wonder how much we’d really want to live on an island run by that guy. ahbez’s philosophy of self-sustainment and self-improvement hadn’t been commodified in those days like it would be in the hippie era, and an entreaty to live on an island off the grid would’ve been seen a lot less cultish; audiences would’ve been as likely to take ahbez on his word as Willy Wonka.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jan 14, 2020

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Liam Payne is a blank canvas in need of a painter.

One Direction’s Liam Payne is basically a nothingburger, bringing little more than his voice and his name brand to his debut album LP1. That turns out to be one of the best things about it. Unlike Zayn’s third-eye R&B epics or Harry Styles’ soft-rock simulacra, LP1 doesn’t try to transcend pop. It’s a star-showcase rather than an artist-showcase, an attempt to land a few songs on the charts more than anything else. His former One Direction compadres’ solo outings have been risky but not always rewarding. LP1 clears the low bar it sets for itself with ease.

If we’re going to hang a persona on Payne, he’s the hip-hop one, the one who sounds good over the digitized snap of a phony DJ Mustard beat. The best songs here understand rap in a way a lot of pop songs don’t, like how flow alone can generate momentum (“Say It All”), and he has good chemistry with the youthful NYC star A Boogie wit da Hoodie on opener “Stack It Up.” He also gives us plenty of the usual screaming-chipmunks post-Diplo fare (“Live Forever,” “Weekend”), a Christmas song (“All I Want [For Christmas]”), and a reggaeton track with J Balvin (“Familiar”)—all while remaining resolutely anonymous.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jan 13, 2020

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Wanda Jackson is one of the great rock ’n’ roll badasses.

Wanda Jackson is one of the great rock ’n’ roll badasses. Even those who’ve only heard “Let’s Have a Party” or “Hard Headed Woman”—both made famous by Elvis, who romanced her briefly in the mid-‘50s—know her as a snarling presence who was flipping off the patriarchy before most punks and riot grrrls were even born. A video of Jackson singing Elvis’s “Hard Headed Woman,” celebrating historic hellcats like Delilah and Jezebel with a cry of “you betcha,” still makes the rounds on the Internet every now and then. She seems perpetually in the process of being discovered, and her 1960 compilation Rockin’ with Wanda has been frequently reissued, this Wax Love edition coming less than three years after one from Cornbread Records.

Rockin’ with Wanda was released to capitalize on the success of her single “Let’s Have a Party,” which became a hit three years after it was recorded once a DJ in Des Moines took a shine to it. Not many of the songs here were successful on release. Jackson had more luck as a country artist in her time than as a rock ’n’ roll artist. But she was so good at rock ’n’ roll it’s hard to remember her singing anything else. Rock ’n’ roll allowed her to cultivate a cartoonishly hard-headed persona, a woman who goes out with her man’s best friend just to put him in his place, one who will “Drink a quart of sake, smoke dynamite/ Chase it with tobacky and then shoot out the lights.” Her snarl still sounds almost uncomfortably rugged today, like she’s destroying her own throat with each take.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jan 09, 2020

Publication: Portland Monthly

The local rapper shot the video for her summery new single in 30-degree weather.

Can reggaeton take root in the Rose City? Karma Rivera thinks so.

The local rapper, who identifies as Afro-Latina of Puerto Rican descent, sees Portland as an untapped market for the genre. “We have a huge Latin community,” she says. “A lot of people don’t know that.”

Rivera’s single “Down 2 Ride,” a collaboration with guitarist Fabi Reyna of local band Reyna Tropical, represents her fullest immersion yet into the reggaeton genre. Originally released in August, it now sports a brand-new music video courtesy of local director PHVZES.

Portland in winter doesn’t exactly radiate the “Caribbean party vibes” she associates with reggaeton, so shooting a tonally appropriate video for the track was a challenge. They ended up filming in a hot tub. “It was like 30 degrees out,” says the rapper.   (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jan 08, 2020

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Reflections is an odd thing: a conservative, meat-and-potatoes example of a genre that looks to the future.

PC Music came back with a vengeance. When it first emerged in 2014 it was an intriguing wrinkle in the discussion about poptimism, at least as discussed as listened to, dismissed as a fad and criticized for “feminine appropriation” by critics who assumed Hannah Diamond was a studio creation and Sophie wasn’t actually a woman. Then came Charli XCX’s work with A.G. Cook, Sophie’s landmark Oil of Every Pearl’s Insides, and a whole host of imitators, some of whom (100 gecs, Slayyyter, Dorian Electra) are alarmingly popular. Hyper-real pop is the sound of now, and what should’ve been a passing microgenre still feels like a new thing.

Hannah Diamond, whose “Every Night” and “Pink & Blue” are among the best original PC Music cuts, reemerges into this conversation as a relative bastion of orthodoxy. Her approach sounds less like the newer iterations of the sound, which can be overwhelming, than how it sounded in its earliest days. The songs on her debut album Reflections aren’t rendered in speaker-rattling hi-def but in slightly chintzy mid-fi. There’s less of a kinship with EDM than ‘90s European artists like Aqua and Ace of Base.

Some pop in this vein is so trebly it’s hard to listen to, but Reflections focuses more on midrange, and even the dance tracks sound like ballads. “Shy” could’ve built up to massive EDM catharsis, but it’s weirdly calm in spite of all the snare and synth action going on. Rather than raising her voice when her songs need a shot of emotion, she lets producer A.G. Cook tweak her vocals with Auto-Tune. This isn’t the smooth pitch correction we find in most pop but a squealing effect that sounds like the air being let out of a balloon.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jan 07, 2020

Publication: Spectrum Culture

A pop album with rock-flavored production.

What is it with male pop stars? Why are they like this? Why are so many pop songs by men about doing something shitty and feeling bad about it, or about not being able to change and feeling bad about it, or expecting women to forgive everything they do because they feel bad about it? Why do these men think being a jerk is an incurable disease that makes them the victims instead of the women they wrong? Are we supposed to find this sexy? Are we supposed to feel for them? Songs like the ones on Harry Styles’ second album Fine Line just make us feel contempt when we’re supposed to feel empathy.

“Falling” might be an apology for groping a girl. “I’m in my bed and you’re not here/ And there’s no one to blame but the drink and my wandering hands,” he complains. When he pitches his voice up an octave and bellows about how he’s “falling” on the chorus, we’re supposed to feel bad because he knows he fucked up. But does he really? “Don’t blame me for falling,” he says on the first line of the next song, “To Be So Lonely.” “I’m just an arrogant son of a bitch who can’t admit that he’s sorry.” To someone like Styles, an admission of wrongdoing is as good as an apology, never mind if he’ll do wrong again – which he will.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jan 06, 2020

Publication: Spectrum Culture

It’s easy to see why Lustwerk is a phenomenon in dance-music circles.

Information is Galcher Lustwerk’s upgrade to Ghostly International, home of big-font festival-slayers like Tycho and Com Truise, and it has all the hallmarks of an album by an indie phenom nudged up a tier: a bigger budget, live drums, tighter structures, crisper sounds. But these improvements benefit the Brooklyn-based producer on a record that springs as naturally out of his personality as it does the trajectory of his career.

The artist’s name and age are unknown, but it’s easy to see why he’s a phenomenon in dance-music circles. He raps, projecting the suavity and confidence of a suited-up professional, and his deep-house beats draw us in with their endless pads. Knowing who he is isn’t a prerequisite for getting to know him. He’s a nameless modern cowboy, cruising the streets of a city where it’s always night, and his dialogue suggests a man with a job to do. Maybe he’s a hitman, maybe a secret agent, maybe just a musician. “I don’t got a lot of time,” he murmurs on “I See a Dime.” “I gotta grind, I gotta shine.

Information gives his suit a new shine and his Lamborghini a new paint job; it’s an upgrade that doesn’t sacrifice anything essential about his sound. The lush, leering chords are thicker and denser than ever, and when they writhe out of the filtered murk on “Overpay, Overstay” we’re lifted out of his world of cool and into one of real emotion. The hi-hats are so crisp on “Fathomless Irie” they become honorary snares, and a thick burble of bass on “Bit” makes it sound a little bit like Luomo’s “Synkro.” We remember individual sounds rather than letting everything melt into a miasma.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jan 05, 2020

Publication: Spectrum Culture

While the lack of West’s voice on Jesus is Born is refreshing, the lack of his fingerprints is disappointing.

For all its foibles, Kanye West’s Jesus is King was a fascinating album—as much a Christian rap album as a meeting of deference and auteurism in the vein of Mary Lou Williams’ masses or Duke Ellington’s sacred concerts, which likewise abstracted church music into bold new shapes. It worked best when it sounded like a gospel choir warped and twisted in the editing room into something slightly inhuman. It worked worst when Kanye was rapping. His devotion to God seemed dogmatic, more about setting rules for himself than throwing himself at the mercy of a higher power. The clash of sacred and profane that animated his best verses was gone.

When a full-length album from Sunday Service Choir, the white-robed group of singers that backed him on Jesus Is King and most of his live appearances last year, was announced, it sounded promising—the same sound minus the blowhard at the bullhorn. But while the lack of West’s voice on Jesus Is Born is refreshing, the lack of his fingerprints is disappointing. He hasn’t written any new songs here, and what we’re left with is slim pickings: a competent band bashing out a thin backing, a lot of anonymous voices bleeding together into a 2D din, lyrics unyielding in massed devotion to God.

There are a few interesting moments, stemming mostly from its mischievous choice of covers. Sunday Service reaches back into the ‘90s R&B many of its members may well have grown up on, acts like Ginuwine and Soul II Soul. “Rain” and “Weak” come from the New York vocal trio SWV, and though they’re gorgeous, they’re worth it more to remind us how good the originals are. “Follow Me” turns an old Strictly Rhythm track into something alive with convivial chatter, more like a Moodymann cut than anything else. Best of all is “Lift Up Your Voices,” which starts off as a riff on Sia’s “Elastic Heart” before yielding to nearly eight minutes of variations on two chords; it’s a hint of the more avant possibilities the “produced by Kanye” tag implies.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Dec 11, 2019

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Brandão has gone out of his way to make it weird while still delivering the goods as dance music.

Rogerio Brandão cuts the center out of his sound on his debut album Cartas Na Manga, leaving in its place a throbbing force field that holds together the constituent parts of its nine tracks. What’s going on between the drums is as interesting as the drums themselves, and if you stick your fingers into the empty spaces you might get zapped. Given the level of intensity sustained across the four EPs he released earlier this decade, it was probably inevitable the Portuguese producer would tone his sound down when it was time for his full-length debut. What’s less expected is that he does it with such a vengeance.

Cartas Na Manga is always surprising. Whenever you think Brandão might be getting a little too sentimental—like when he brings in a kiddie xylophone on “Namha,” or summons lonesome chords on “Faz A Minha” that suggest The Other People Place’s “You Said You Want Me”—he flips a switch and reconfigures the track as a banger. There’s usually a lot going on in Brandão’s productions, but Cartas Na Manga is uncluttered and streamlined, perfect for big speakers and bigger crowds. That these tracks err towards the tempo of house and techno further suggests he’s trying to broaden his reach.

But his idiosyncrasies remain intact. Listen to the unholy, screaming wind that fills the space through which the drums tumble and flip on “Sub Zero,” which after a truly terrifying DJ tag is replaced with little buzzing synths that seem to grapple and bite. Cartas Na Manga has a suavity, a grace, a sense of knowing exactly what it’s doing; Jlin’s computer-samurai shtick comes to mind. Brandão presents himself here as a professional, someone who knows what the crowd wants and has the skill and vision to deliver it in a way that’s interesting rather than one that feels like a concession.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Dec 09, 2019

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Singers is one of the best early Mount Eerie albums.

Released in 2005, Singers is one of the best early Mount Eerie albums, recorded shortly after that project assembled itself from the ashes of the Microphones. But it’s hard to imagine Phil Elverum looking back at it with much enthusiasm. In fact, it’s an example of the kind of writing about “conceptual emptiness” Elverum angrily rebuked in his recent records, made in the wake of his wife Geneviève’s death from cancer in 2016. It’s both poignant and perverse to hear her sing lines like “dying’s just a loop-dee-loo,” along with the dozens of other singers Elverum massed in his studio for the project.

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Date: Dec 09, 2019

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Pop feels alive.

Just three years after the massive Box set, here’s Pop, Wolfgang Voigt’s fourth album as Gas, originally released in 2000 and now available on vinyl on its own. Vinyl seems like an odd way to enjoy this greatest of ambient albums, especially in the 3-LP edition we find here. Wouldn’t it be more of a treat to sink into this stuff and have to snap out of your reverie to flip the side? Pop is a headphones album, best enjoyed while sedentary rather than on the long walks the darker, scarier Gas albums like Zauberberg reward. The best way to enjoy it is to find 64 minutes in your day where you don’t have to move, then free-fall into it.

Pop blossoms to life in one of the great openings in ambient music. It’s almost disorientingly psychedelic as it begins, and your first listen to Pop will probably be spent wowed by its environment before its physical pleasures start to register. Pop corrals sounds that’d never previously appeared anywhere else in the history of ambient, not least a hissing, pneumatic bubbling sound that seethes in the stereo field surrounding the first two tracks. There’s something distinctly humid, spongy, wet, and organic about this record. Listen to how it seems to insinuate itself into the very environment it’s heard in, how dendrites and tendrils and floral blooms seem to unfurl before our eyes. Listen to how it breathes, like some giant, gelatinous being. It practically has its own set of lungs. Pop feels alive.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Dec 04, 2019

Publication: Willamette Week

The successor to the recently-shuttered CD Game Exchange hopes to double as an all-ages venue in the future.

We learned last month that local musician Mo Troper bought the original Southeast Hawthorne location of Portland music and video game retail chain CD Game Exchange and re-branded it as Hawthorne Game Exchange.

The new business now has an official opening date: Monday, December 9. And to celebrate, it’s throwing a show with several local artists.

DJ Yousef Hatlani will open the show at 5 p.m., followed by rock bands Growing Pains and Phone Voice at 7 p.m. Both bands’ sets will be acoustic, as the store has not yet installed the soundproofing required to host louder shows in accord with Portland’s noise ordinance laws.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Dec 02, 2019

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Slowly Dismantling is an enjoyable album. Is it supposed to be?

The tracks on Yann Novak’s Slowly Dismantling begin with a far-off mechanical thrum that slowly grows louder, like the din of some dread siren on the horizon, before revealing their colors. They bleed into the red or crescendo into noise, as if Novak’s flayed them bare. There are no discernable instruments, no pianos or guitars, no stereo depth, just an obstinate and flat wall of sound. This isn’t music meant to evoke a sense of place; in fact, it feels oddly placeless.

Maybe that’s on purpose. Slowly Dismantling is in part a tribute to the Washington Hotel, long the epicenter of the queer community in Novak’s hometown of Madison, WI until it burned down in 1996. Its ruin is shown on the cover. “I was 17 when the hotel burned down,” Novak explains in a letter accompanying the album’s release. “What I expected to be the formative site for exploring my newfound queer identity was suddenly lost to the past, and I was left wondering how such a space would have influenced me.” This is an album, then, not about a place but about the absence of one. No wonder it feels like the inverse of so much ambient music—as flat as most ambient is deep, as relentlessly forward-moving as most ambient drifts.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Dec 02, 2019

Publication: 48 Hills

The former Audrye Sessions singer discusses new record ‘ross.’ and composing music for the hottest video game.

“Home’s so far away,” goes the first line of Low Roar’s new record ross. Right now, that would mean Warsaw, where Low Roar mastermind Ryan Karazija resides as a home base for his regular tours around Europe. But before the long journey that took him to Poland through Iceland—with stops along the way for four full-length albums and several memorable musical appearances in the hit video game Death Stranding—Karazija was frontman of Audrye Sessions, the Oakland band that was a fixture of the Bay Area indie rock scene in the 2000s.

“It’s where I grew up, it’s where I spent a huge part of my life,” says the 37-year-old of the Bay Area. “But I don’t miss the cost of living, and I don’t think I would’ve ever ended up doing the project the way I’m doing it if I’d stuck around.”

Karazija was born in Santa Clara and raised in San Jose. He started playing guitar around age 15 or 16 and “somehow got into the singing part,” which seems like an awfully modest statement if you’ve heard his vocals. Audrye Sessions formed in 2002 and lasted until 2010, releasing an EP and an album and playing with fellow local indie rockers like Please Do Not Fight and Finish Ticket.

Low Roar released its first, self-titled record in 2011 after Karazija moved to Reykjavík to live with his now-ex-wife and her son. He recorded it at his kitchen table on his laptop with only minimal equipment, but Karazija was satisfied with the result, and it garnered strong reviews upon release.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 27, 2019

Publication: Willamette Week

“So many people live with a heavy spiritual longing, and it’s something nobody has an answer for. And the answers we make up for ourselves are always entertaining.”

It might seem counter intuitive to get into comedy to get away from drunken people. But that’s exactly what Ben Harkins did.

“I lived in a place with a lot of other people,” he says. “It was noisy there, and everyone was drunk all the time and ripping each other off, so to stay out of the house, I would go to open mics.”

The self-preservation instinct that led Harkins to get serious about stand-up is central to his comedy. A man with a self-described “mystic streak,” the 32-year-old uses the medium to explore universal anxieties and the things we do to better ourselves.

He’ll use the reluctance of pandas to mate in captivity as a metaphor for a world going to shit, or the familiar struggle of trying to have fun and save money—he suggests drinking water in your dark apartment or crying in a library—to probe our unwillingness to clean up our lives. It’s the kind of humor and pathos that animates the best and truest comedy.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 26, 2019

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Madeon pairs hooky vocals with beats that could bulldoze buildings.

The French producer Madeon pairs hooky vocals with beats that could bulldoze buildings and might appeal to those who find the Max Martin school of pop too lightweight, not rock ’n’ roll enough. It’s not hard to connect him to Zedd, his contemporary around the time he put out his 2015 debut Adventure, or latter-day pop start-ups like Marshmello or the Chainsmokers. But to listen to Madeon is to marvel at how he’s essentially rebuilt this whole genre from scratch. His music feels big not in the metal-derived way of so much EDM this decade but in a way that appeals to the part of the brain that craves grandeur. You put him on for the same reason you put on “River Deep Mountain High,” and while so many pop acts today use the same variations of the I-vi-IV-V progression as Phil Spector’s girl groups, Madeon craves weird, unpredictable chords. He sounds like, and is, an EDM-pop DJ while providing a rebuke to the genre’s clichés.

He’s also a 25-year-old from Nantes who looks like he might weigh 120 pounds. He never lets us forget that fact. Look at the cover of his second album Good Faith: he looks like the kind of hoodlum you’d see smoking a blunt on the local park bench. And his voice, which appears here more often than on his guest-heavy debut. Like so many of his countrymen, he cites Daft Punk as one of his major influences, and he must’ve learned from “The Game of Love” that there’s something endearing about a robot with a French accent. He’s capable of surprising vocal acrobatics, but mostly he just dulls his voice with vocoders as if to shy away from the spotlight.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 25, 2019

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Clams’ sound is still the bees’ knees.

Clams Casino’s 32 Levels was a hell of an album. No one could ever forget Samuel T. Herring drooling all over “Ghost in a Kiss” or Lil B ludicrously claiming his “money up to NASA.” Not all of it was so memorable, and not all that was memorable worked, but it deserves comparison with Charli XCX’s Pop 2 in terms of how fiercely it defines its alternate vision of the charts, where any weirdo could be the apple of the world’s eye. It was flawed but striking, hard not to root for, and one of the most interesting pop experiments of the decade.

The New Jersey producer’s second album Moon Trip Radio features no guests and is not about pop in the least. It closely resembles the untitled instrumental tapes he’s released throughout this decade. In fact, it’s less substantial than a lot of his tapes, clocking in at 30 minutes, and a few of the tracks start out as ambient interstitials like what techno producers put on their albums in between the dancefloor cuts. Was he cowed by 32 Levels’ lack of success? It’s possible, but good taste doesn’t always trump risk.

Clams’ sound is still the bees’ knees. His snare sound is one of the most distinctive since Prince’s, more closely resembling a blacksmith hammering a red-hot anvil than the crisp 808s of today’s trap. He likes hi-hats, bells, and gongs to give his tracks a sense of metallic weight; particularly impressive is opener “Rune,” with its contrast between a huge, dragging cymbal and crisp little trap triplets. And he loves low, moaning, unidentifiable samples that seem dredged from a swamp and barely cleaned. It’s hard to imagine Pi’erre Bourne’s sun-warmed dreams or Metro Boomin’s gothic castles without the template set by Clams Casino.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 24, 2019

Publication: Spectrum Culture

It’s always impressive when music this simple spins a universe this vast.

Malibu’s One Life EP is one of the most alluring fantasies ambient music has given us in a long time, planting pictures in our heads so vivid it’s uncanny to receive them from music and not from a film by Jeunet or Fellini. The anonymous French producer claims to have begun “Lost at Sea” with the image of someone floating on a grand piano in the middle of the ocean, and only an image that sad, sentimental and fantastic seems apt to describe these five tracks.

That’s especially remarkable given how simple these tracks all are. Malibu starts out with one of those unplaceable synth sounds that’s halfway between a choir and a string section; Iasos, the Greek new-age legend whose music is allegedly closest to what people hear after they die, uses a similar palette. Then she’ll add flickers of voice that sound like the imprint of some vanished pop star, finishing it all off with the powerfully organic sound of a real string section, guitar or piano.

Then there’s the sampled roar of the sea, which laps against several tracks here. The ocean shows up often in ambient music and is most often desired for its briny mystery, brutal elemental power or to conjure scenes of fish gamboling among the corals. Here we end up with a picture closer to the plastic waves of Fellini’s And the Ship Sails On or the endless mirror of Life of Pi: the ocean as a place where dreams come true and man is no longer the master of its environment.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 21, 2019

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Listen to A I A from the safety of your home and you can embark on a terrific journey without moving your feet.

A I A sits at the dark heart of the Grouper discography. Do not expect an easy, comfortable experience; this is a place to get lost. Though 2008’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill and its immortal “Heavy Water (I’d Rather Be Sleeping)” are the easy ways into Liz Harris’s enviable catalog, those wanting to dive off the deep end should come here. To call it her best album undervalues both the depth and richness of her work and the devotion of her fans, five of whom might have five favorites. But it conjures an older, weirder, darker magic than anything else she’s ever made, and even those who love it might admit to feeling a bit uneasy about it. Beneath its rainy beauty thrums something fearful.

A double album-but-not-really, A I A comprises two 40-minute records released on the same day in 2011. Dream Loss is smudged and dense, while Alien Observer is airy and melodic. As befits the nature of vinyl, the albums have been reissued separately, but the best way to enjoy them is together, and Dream Loss should always come first. As soon as the guitars of “Dragging the Streets” enter, smearing reverb like black paint, we’re in her world. Few ambient albums so completely swallow us from their opening note; it’s as if the path behind us has suddenly become overgrown and there’s no way to go but forward. It might make more conventional sense to have Alien Observer’s “Moon is Sharp,” maybe the ultimate Grouper track, open the album and segue into the comparatively pop “Alien Observer.” But it’s a welcome reprieve from the density of Dream Loss, as if we’ve suddenly stepped into a starlit clearing after stumbling through the woods without a flashlight.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 18, 2019

Publication: Spectrum Culture

It’s a pleasure to accompany No Other on its long, slow crawl towards the canon.

No Other is stupidly good. It’s the kind of album that’d be considered classic rock had the market been more in its favor. Think David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name or Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean BlueNo Other surpasses those records in its sweep and ambition. It is trying to be a masterpiece, and it succeeds. Its vision didn’t translate to sales, and Gene Clark, the strongest writer of the Byrds’ early years, was shaken by its failure. By his death in 1991 it was still little-known, but with each subsequent reissue its reputation as one of the great rock albums of the ‘70s has only grown.

No Other has the feel of a perversely opulent classic from old Hollywood, something like The Earrings of Madam De… or The Scarlet Empress, draped in jewels and curtains and silk. It is heavy and all-encompassing, bearing down on us like a thick fur coat, and its lyrics seem designed to hit with maximum gravitas. Clark’s lyrical approach resembles that of fellow ex-Byrd Gram Parsons in its imagery made of biblical fire and rare minerals. The word “silver” is spoken in half the tracks and graces the title of two, and the vast “Some Misunderstanding” sings of rubies falling from the sky. When he spins a tale of a girl obsessed by magic on “From a Silver Phial,” he swipes aside clichés about hat tricks and cards to immerse us in the visual language of wizards’ lairs and arcane alchemy; it’s called “From a Silver Phial,” for fuck’s sake.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 13, 2019

Publication: Willamette Week

“I loved the plow,” he says. “I loved the views at night. I loved the whole deal.”

Ted Harvey knows operating a snow plow in Portland seems a little absurd.

“People think we’re crazy because we’re out with snow plows in sunny, dry weather,” he says. “They say, ‘What are you guys doing? How are you spending our money?'”

But on those rare occasions when the snow does come down here, there might not be a more important job. Harvey would know: He spent 13 years behind the wheel of a plow, retiring from active duty in 2017 to serve as a mentor to younger drivers that come through the Portland Bureau of Transportation each hiring season. And as Harvey will tell you, operating a plow is no casual roll through winter wonderland.

“You can’t relax in our seat when you’re in downtown areas or in a real high-end or busy residential area,” says Harvey, 60, a stocky man with calloused hands and a goatee. “You’re on heightened alert because you are constantly splitting your peripheral, what people are doing, what’s going on.”  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 13, 2019

Publication: Willamette Week

The MusicPortland Policy Council, a group composed of seven local musicians and music industry figures, will advocate for “policies to save, support, and strengthen Portland’s music scene.”

A new community group has been established to advise the Portland City Council on policy decisions related to live music.

Local music-industry trade association MusicPortland yesterday announced the formation of the MusicPortland Policy Council, a group composed of seven local musicians and music industry figures, who will advocate for “policies to save, support, and strengthen Portland’s music scene,” according to a press release.

“There’s nothing inevitable about Portland’s success as a great music destination,” said City Commissioner Nick Fish in a statement. “We are losing too many music venues and affordable rehearsal spaces. We must act intentionally to stop that, or we risk losing the soul of our city.”  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 13, 2019

Publication: Willamette Week

The 23-year-old business closed its last remaining location suddenly this week. But a new store, run by a former employee, is opening in its place.

After 23 years, CD Game Exchange is no more.

The Portland-based music and video game retailer shut down its last remaining location—the flagship store on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard—with little warning this week.

“We just had too much payroll, too much debt, costs constantly going up, constantly going down,” says Dave Goshien, who co-founded the business with Joe Ring. “Times change, things change—practically everything is streaming.”  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 13, 2019

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Walker’s sole album of the ‘80s is like a crystal, cut and polished into the purest jewel.

Scott Walker’s sole album of the ‘80s is like a crystal, cut and polished into the purest jewel. It has a serenity, a shimmering sense of peace, that might reflect its creator’s relief at having a label take faith in him. After setting the stage for the long, brilliant final act of his career on 1978’s Walker Brothers swansong Nite Flights, he spent some time without a label, living in poverty. Virgin gave him an advance, a foolish or brave choice depending on how you see it; the record bombed and got mixed reviews, but Walker couldn’t have spent that label money any better. Climate of Hunter is an avant record with the suavity we associate with the era’s pop, and Walker waltzes through it with confidence, as much a frontman as an omnipotent figure pulling strings.

As on Nite Flights, Walker fills the frame with great sweeping gusts of organ and synth and the incongruous moan of a fretless bass. These are sounds that could be found on a Blue Nile record, but this is a Walker album, and everything is in flux. The singer himself is like a center of gravity, and when coiling serpents of free-jazz saxophone well up on “Track Six,” they seem to be traveling towards Walker, as if he’s summoned them with a wave of his hand. Ditto a dubby two-note horn figure on “Dealer,” which could be an echo or could be someone playing two notes ad nauseam. It seems suspended in air, as if trapped in Walker’s gravitational field.

This is how you disappear,” goes the album’s opening line—and its most famous, given that it’s the only one we can hang a narrative on. The rest of Climate is more abstract, and images of “Cro-Magnon farmers” and “peeling tongues from the ice” swim through our heads. In calling so many of these tracks “Track Three” or “Track Six” he’s rendered them all but inseparable from the album (“Track Three” was the single, perhaps because it features both Billy Ocean and Mark Knopfler close to their respective commercial peaks). There’s the sense we’re not listening to individual songs so much as scenes in some fantastic painting by Brueghel or Bosch, and indeed Walker’s songs owes something to those masters in their droll grotesquerie.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 13, 2019

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Sweatshirt’s humility starts to look more like egoism.

While his former Odd Future cohorts Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean have made the best albums of their career by evoking the sprawling, sunny and faintly apocalyptic expanses of Los Angeles, Earl Sweatshirt went east. He works closely with rappers like Medhane, MIKE, Mach-Hommy, and Navy Blue, who seem descended from wizened vets like Ka and Roc Marciano, guys who use words and willpower to make an impression. It’s rap that begs comparisons to things like chess, poetry, and the art of the samurai: subdued, serene, and precise. Earl talks often in interviews and on Twitter about growing his own food, eating healthy and forgoing orgasms. He delineates between Thebe Kgositsile, guy, and Earl Sweatshirt, project. This is common in music, but on his new EP Feet of Clay his humility starts to look more like egoism.

On last year’s Some Rap Songs, he lowered his voice as if to undercut his own personality, and it was hard from a blind test to recognize him as Earl Sweatshirt. It worked because he allowed himself to slip in and out of his own music, treating the beats behind him as a thick, murky soup from which he occasionally surfaced. Here, the backing tracks are mostly stagnant and obstinate, and we’re left with this monotonous drawl kind of taunting us. All we hear here are beats and verses. Sometimes that combination sparks magic. Sometimes, that’s all we get.

Feet of Clay hits the ground running. Words tumble out of Earl’s mouth on “74,” and the beat lopes along at a slightly different pace, a low bassline occasionally bubbling up into a leering melody. It’s clear here that Earl is totally confident in the music he wants to make: his lyrics are clever (“your shit’s not knocking like the feds”) and cryptic (“the veil lifts, the pain salient”). It ends with a short tail of creepy sharpening-knife sound-effects that seems borrowed from one of the best Madlib beats, and we feel at home among music from a man at the top of his game.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 12, 2019

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Love isn’t all you need, but it’s what Elverum needs right now, and it seems to be helping a lot.

The last time Phil Elverum produced an album called Lost Wisdom, he was in a state of transition. He’d concluded his old band the Microphones with a rock opera called Mount Eerie, where he died gloriously on a mountaintop and found himself staring into the face of the Universe itself. The projects that came after—No Flashlight, the unadorned Dawn, and the lovely Julie Doiron collaboration Lost Wisdom—felt like Elverum picking up the pieces after an explosion. It would be a while before he’d find the confidence to make epics like Clear Moon, which rivals the best work of his lo-fi adolescence.

Since the death of Elverum’s wife Geneviève in 2016, the singer has struggled with the purpose of the Mount Eerie project while, paradoxically, making some of its most striking music. Rather than asking awed questions about the vastness of the universe, he chronicled his pain in blunt language. The hoo-hah quandaries about death in his older work seemed feeble next to the emptiness of the actual thing. “Nothing is real except this one thing,” Elverum sighs on “Widows,” from Lost Wisdom, Pt. 2. If you’ve kept up with Elverum, you already know what that one thing is.

So Lost Wisdom Pt. 2 finds Elverum once again reunited with Doiron, singer of the Canadian band Eric’s Trip, and once again picking up the pieces of his life. He pursues purpose and clarity, finding it in art, walking through museums, listening to music, reading Joanne Kyger and studying Buddhism (“Belief Pt. 1” was inspired by Zen philosopher Takuan Sōhō). Along the road he settles on a commitment to “love,” which for Elverum means not just giving his heart to someone else but to everyone, to the whole world, rejecting emptiness and embracing good.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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