Sufjan Stevens is Coming to Portland!

By Hollister Dixon

One of the most wonderful things about Sufjan Stevens is that you never quite know what to expect from him, both on record and live. He’s someone who has swung wildly from intimate and banjo-intensive, to heavily-orchestrated or even downright epic, all with the same level of passion and dedication. His live shows aren’t any different; I personally have seen him on two occasions: the first of which being a neon-lit blowout at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on the Age of Adz tour, and again at the Aladdin Theater, where he brought the house down with a show almost entirely populated with Christmas songs, with a stage that looked like a thrift store had exploded all over it and the massive Song Wheel he’d brought with him. The latter ended with him climbing a stack of speakers while inflatable unicorns bounced around the crowd.

Stevens’ career has been littered with gigantic gaps in activity, occasionally peppered with odd projects he’s worked on, but the release of an actual, full-on album feels like an event now, considering his forthcoming record, Carrie & Lowell, is only his second studio album in the decade (!) since Illinois came out. And, of course, a new album means that you’ve got a fantastic chance to catch him in a live setting.

This April, Stevens will embark on a lengthy tour of North America in support of Carrie & Lowell, which will include a stop here in Portland, right back at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, on June 8th. Tickets for the show go onsale this Friday, January 30th, and you can read more about the show right over here.

After the jump, you can check out Asthmatic Kitty’s trailer for Carrie & Lowell – which will be out March 31st on Asthmatic Kitty Records, and check out the rest of his tour dates.

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Episode 117: American Beauty

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Thank you to Jacob Heiteen, Todd Gleason, and Eric Robison for joining us this week! You can give this episode a listen above, or download it right here!

Topic:

  • 50 years of The Grateful Dead!
  • Where did our guests start with the band? How many times have they seen them?
  • What appeal does the band have for them, and their musical style?
  • What were some of the staples of the Grateful Dead’s live shows?
  • Where should the uninitiated start with the Dead?

Songs:

  • Marilyn Manson – “Devil Underneath my Feet”
  • Grateful Dead – “Scarlet Begonias”
  • Grateful Dead – “Alligator”
  • Animal Collective – “What Would I Want? Sky”

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LIVE: Patti Smith, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

Patti Smith: Outside of Society
By Jacob Heiteen

In the immortal words of Kim Gordon’s t-shirt, “Girls Invented Punk Rock Not England.” If you need proof, look no further than the great Patti Smith. She is a punk original, and Rotten and Strummer got nothing on her. While Smith’s music may not scream “PUNK” the way some might know it, her style and attitude couldn’t be anything else but punk. It should also be noted that of all the members of the CBGB scene (which is basically the birthplace of punk), she was the first to put out a record. her first single was released in 1974 and her debut LP came a year later, predating the Ramones, Television, and Richard Hell. She was, in a sense, the first voice of the scene and forever shaped the way American punk would sound for the decades to come.

On January 20th, Patti Smith took the stage of a sold out show at the Crystal Ballroom, showing everyone that despite being 68 she has not lost any of her raw power. Honestly, I’m sure that if you were to compare last night show to one of her 70s show, the only difference would be the gray hair, because she hasn’t lost anything. She sung as fiercely as she did 40 years ago, was a sharp witted as ever, and had moments where she full on rocked the fuck out.

While unfortunately there was no “Gloria,” we did get “Dancing Barefoot,” “People Have The Power,” and “Redondo Beach.” Hearing all those songs played together made me realize that Smith and her band could sound like literally anything they wanted to. They could do a strange slowed-down version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (complete with a banjo!), the reggae tinted “Redondo Beach” and loud rockers like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger,” all while having made total sense. There were even a few song with the lead being taken by her longtime bandmate and garage rock aficionado, Lenny Kaye, who may have coined the phrase “punk rock” in the liner notes to his influential Nuggets compilation. The highlight was undoubtedly “Because The Night,” which she dedicated to her late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith. That song could pump up any room and when the first chorus hit it seemed like everyone in the audience was singing along.

It was also nice to see a show by such an established artist have such a lack of separation between star and audience. Smith seemed completely open and accessible, telling us in great detail about her day, her beloved old TV, and strangely, a seemingly very intense episode of Little House on The Prairie, saying that she’d rather hear talk about a TV show than some “bullshit political rhetoric”. The stage banter was not at all boring, in fact people encroached on it by shouting out questions about her Vatican performance and reaction to Kim Fowley’s death. Smith even went so far as to invite a random audience member take over for her on guitar while she rocked the mic.

The whole show felt like we were hanging out with her, talking with her, jamming with her. There was no ego with Patti. It felt honest, like we were getting the real woman.

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REVIEW: Björk – Vulnicura

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By Hollister Dixon

It should really come as no surprise to anybody who has ever listened to me talk about my favorite subcategory of music, otherwise known as “sad bastard music”, that I’ve long been a collector of miserabilia. Since I was very young, I gravitated towards music made by sad people about sad things, in a way that felt less like emotional schadenfreude, and more like commiseration. It’s hard to really explain why I am the way I am, but the subtle art of heartwrenching songwriting is something I treasure and hold dear whenever I find it.

It’s weird to hold the concept of “breakup music” in my mind while thinking about Björk. She’s always been an incredibly personal songwriter, to the degree that her most tender, or beautiful, or pained music feels as though she made the songs as a way of trying to simply feel just a little less than she does after she’s done. Bitterness, however, is an emotion I’m not used to. Searching through her catalog, it’s hard to find a song that I would call “bitter”, much less a full album of those songs. And yet, here on Vulnicura, Björk’s 9th album, we find the artist singing about abandonment and betrayal and loss in ways that feel almost alien.

Vulnicura‘s structure is meant to emulate the steady and painful decline of the artist’s relationship with her longtime partner/collaborator/father-of-her-child Matthew Barney, a progression which is annotated in the album’s liner notes. The album’s opener, “Stonemilker”, is labelled as “9 months before” (most likely in the final strains of that relationship, where it was obvious that the end was near but was far enough out that it could still be saved), and goes up to “11 months after” with “Notget”, with intimate moments in between – some broad, and some incredibly precise (“History of Touches” documents, in painful detail, the exact moment the relationship died). Like any great breakup record (I’m looking right at you, Blood on the Tracks), Vulnicura is one that will never be separated from the reason it exists, which is a shame, considering how emotionally resonant the album’s material is even without the backstory.

With that in mind, for just a moment, let’s talk about the album itself: after repeated listens, this album holds up as some of Björk’s strongest material to date in both songwriting and arranging, on par with the superhuman craftsmanship of Homogenic and Vespertine. Her style is 100% unmistakable, and even though she worked with two brilliant producers (Venezuela’s Arca and Yorkshire’s Haxan Cloak), their styles merge perfectly with her’s to the point where it’s very easy to forget that she didn’t do everything herself. The music swings wildly from discordant beats (“Notget”) to perfect string arrangements (“Stonemilker”), and despite the sometimes disparate styles, nothing ever feels out of place. The sequencing is close to perfect, and even though Antony & the Johnsons’ frontperson Antony Hegarty feels incredibly out of place in “Atom Dance”, I couldn’t imagine the song without her voice on it.

There’s a lot of familiar touches on opener “Stonemilker”, right down to the way she sings certain words. Here, she the ascension of her voice on the phrase “Show me” echoes that of Medulla‘s “Show Me Forgiveness”, which is followed by a variation of the word “Emotional” (notice the way she enunciates that “oh” sound) all the way back on “Joga”, and there’s even a subtle nod to Biophilia‘s “Mutual Core” in the phrase “mutual coordinate”. It’s not clear if these choices are intentional or not – it may just be the nature of Björk fandom that leads me to notice the unintended – but these small touches feel as though they subtly tie the world of Vulnicura – a world concerned with attempting to move forward and heal – with the world behind her, with everything painful and wonderful that that entails. Even the song’s sweeping strings and beats feel like a definite throwback to the classical-tinged arrangements of Homogenic. That this song is the only song on the record produced solely by Björk herself is no accident: despite the fact that she’s still clinging onto hope in some ways, it’s really just her out there on the ice.

As the album progresses, Björk’s words go through every possible stage of grief, though in an often mixed (and repeated) order. She goes from Acceptance (“Maybe he will come out of this loving me / Maybe he won’t / Somehow I’m not bothered either way”) to potent Anger (“You have nothing to give / Your heart is hollow”) to pained Acceptance (“Is there a place where I can pay respects for the death of my family?”) everywhere in between. Inexplicably, the anger is where she really shines; the album’s blistering 10-minute centerpiece, “Black Lake”, is an acid-tongued anthem for a scorned lover (“You fear my limitless emotions / I am bored of your apocalyptic obsessions / Did I love you too much?”) that takes aim not just at the idea of being left personally, but at the idea of her family being torn apart by that event (“Family was always our sacred mission / which you abandoned”). Here, the daughter of Björk and Matthew Barney plays an unspoken role as the collateral damage of the relationship’s dissolution. This is somehow a unique perspective in the pantheon of breakup albums: those that are affected by the fallout. Throughout Vulnicura, Björk sings about “we” almost as frequently as she does about “me”, and each of those moments comes from a place of pain and fear, but never defeat.

It’s hard not to want to quote a lot of this record when talking about all of the emotions on it. For every lyric you read in the last paragraph, there’s maybe five more that would have worked just as well. Though Björk has always been an incredibly talented songwriter, on Vulnicura that talent is brought straight to the very front in a way that it never quite has been. There’s never really a moment where her words aren’t clear or precise, and if ever they are, the album’s immaculate production and programming help guide the listener. On that front, it’s hard to understate how much of a masterstroke it was for her to team up with Arca and Haxan Cloak. Both are forward-thinking to the point of feeling almost aggressive (this is more true of Arca than of Haxan Cloak, however), and though their touches are easy to catch if you’re really paying attention, their work seamlessly blends into hers without ever losing who they are as producers. From the lurching mass of strings and beats that propels “History of Touches” to the sparse throb of “Black Lake”, every touch feels absolutely crucial to the structure of the album. There’s even a few incredible headphones moments, like the subtle vocal panning in “Quicksand” when it sounds like her voice is actually splitting apart and coming back together when she sings “When I’m broken, I am whole And when I’m whole, I’m broken.” It’s a touch very few people will ever notice, but for those that do, it makes all the difference.

On “Notget” (the last song labelled with a timestamp in the liner notes, here being “11 months later”), there’s a line that feels more brave than almost anything else on the record: “Don’t remove my pain / It is my chance to heal”. With Vulnicura, Björk has created a perfectly-crafted time capsule of that pain, and as a result, she’s given the world not just a piece of her suffering, but a glimpse into her own journey to find peace in the aftermath of emotional loss. It’s easy to want to dissect every single moment moment like this one on a record like this, or compare it to those before it. Despite all the heartbreak and pain and suffering, and the fact that it will never be separated from that part of the album’s existence, Vulnicura is an album that stands tall as one of the most solid and cohesive works in her already stunning catalog, and is an almost perfect example of how to grieve and, after everything, begin to feel human again.

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Episode 116: Going All The Way

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Thanks to Mo Troper and Mayhaw Hoons for joining us this week! You can listen above, or download the episode right here.

AND, as an added bonus, you can watch Mo and Mayhaw’s Apartment Story right here:

Topic:

  • Power Pop and Bubblegum Pop
  • Where do these genres start? How do they relate to each other?
  • How did our guests get into these genres?
  • Are there any bands today making this kind of music?

Songs:

  • Father John Misty – “Chateau Lobby 4 (in C for Two Virgins)”
  • The Shivvers – “Teen Line”
  • Big Star – “September Gurls”
  • Bjork – “Quicksand”

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Episode 115: Raising the Bar

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Thanks to Shelley Bowers (of Sizzle Pie) and Emily Overstreet and Seymour (of the Aladdin Theater) for stopping by this week! You can listen to the episode above, or download it right here.

Topic:

  • Bartending in music venues
  • How has working the bar at venues changed how they view live music, and their profession?
  • What should bar patrons know about proper etiquette?

Songs:

  • Silver Jews – “Punks in the Beerlight”
  • AC/DC – “Have a Drink on Me”
  • Swervedriver – “Setting Sun”
  • UB40 – “Red Red Wine”
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Episode 114: 2015!

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Happy 2015! Thanks to Jacob Gellman and Michael Mannheimer for joining us this week! You can listen to this week’s episode above, or download the episode right here.

Topic:

  • 2015: A new year! We chat about our most anticipated releases and shows of the new year, as well as a few things we aren’t into.

Songs:

  • The Breeders – “The New Year”
  • Jens Lekman – “Postcard #1″
  • Run the Jewels – “All Due Respect”
  • Kanye West – “Only One (Ft. Paul McCartney)”

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Episode 113: The End of 2014!

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Thanks to Bob Ham and Colin McLaughlin for joining us this week! You can listen to our special end-of-the-year episode above, or download it right here.

Topic:

  • 2014: The best-of!
  • We talk about our favorite albums and shows of 2014, the things we loved and hated, and touch briefly on what we’re looking forward to in 2015.

Songs:

  • Joe Cocker – “With a Little Help From My Friends”
  • Aphex Twin – “180db”
  • Guided by Voices – “Echos Myron”
  • Thug Entrancer – “Death After Life 1″
  • Total Control – “Glass”

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The Year in Photos, 2014.

It’s been a long year! However, it’s also been an amazing year for live music; everyone from Nine Inch Nails to Nils Frahm to Guided By Voices to the Portland Cello Project made memorable visits to our city’s stages, not to mention the final Laughing Horse Books show and Project Pabst & Musicfest NW filling out Portland’s festival season this year. Luckily, we were there to document them all – and you can find our very own Yousef Hatlani’s photo feature over on our Facebook, or by clicking the photo below.

Love and Caring at Laughing Horse Books, 09.26.14 // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Love and Caring at Laughing Horse Books, 09.26.14 // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Episode 112: Festivus 3D: The Festivus Awakens

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Happy Festivus, everybody! Thanks to David Abravanel and Jacob Heiteen for celebrating with us! You can listen to the episode above, or download it right here!

Topic:

  • Festivus: the airing of grievance! This year, we discuss everything we hated about 2014, from terrible bands to horrible concertgoers to our least favorite trends in popular music.

Songs:

  • Whodini – “Friends”
  • Taylor Swift – “Welcome to New York”
  • Sicko Mobb – “Fiesta”
  • Michael W. Smith (ft. Bono) – “The Darkest Midnight”
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