Episode 91: Cowboy Blues

Thanks to Jacob Heiteen for joining us this week on the show! You can listen above, or download the episode here.

Topic:

  • Country music: why is it so misaligned?
  • What makes music “country music”?
  • Who are the most important names in the genre?
  • Why does modern country sound so different?

Songs:

Bands:

  • Weird Al Yankovic
  • Robin Thicke
  • Pixies
  • A Sunny Day in Glasgow
  • Tori Amos
  • Kate Bush
  • Joanna Newsom
  • Wolves in the Throne Room
  • Mastodon
  • White Stripes
  • Black Keys
  • Our First Brains
  • Hemingway
  • La Dispute
  • Pianos Become the Teeth
  • Melville
  • Damn Librarians
  • Johnny Winter
  • Edgar Winter
  • Ringo Starr
  • Billy Squire
  • Gary Wright
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • J Dilla
  • Run DMC
  • Wu-Tang Clan
  • MF Doom
  • Craig Finn / The Hold Steady
  • Drake
  • Sky Above and Earth Below
  • Carrion Spring
  • Merle Haggard
  • Willie Nelson
  • Townes Van Zandt
  • Hank Williams
  • Johnny Cash
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Neko Case
  • Uncle Tupelo
  • The Jayhawks
  • Wilco
  • Son Volt
  • Lucinda Williams
  • Carter Family
  • Toby Keith
  • Elvis Costello
  • Nick Lowe
  • Ray Charles
  • Ween
  • Garth Brooks
  • Trisha Yearwood
  • Chris Gaines
  • Shania Twain
  • Woody Guthrie
  • T-Bone Burnett
  • Patsy Cline
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Dolly Parton
  • Emmylou Harris
  • Tammy Wynette
  • George Jones
  • Billie Holiday
  • Wanda Jackson
  • Taylor Swift
  • Here’s Your Rodeo
  • Tears For Steers
  • Cole Porter
  • Buck Owens
  • Bob Dylan
  • Amos Lee
  • Depeche Mode
  • Nick Cave
  • John Darnielle / The Mountain Goats
  • Conway Twitty
  • Kanye West
  • Flying Burrito Brothers
  • Graham Parsons
  • The Eagles
  • The Rolling Stones
  • Allman Brothers Band
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • Doobie Brothers
  • Drive-By Truckers
  • Old 97′s
  • The Smiths
  • Wings
  • Your Rival
  • The Sidekicks
  • Echo & the Bunnymen
  • U2
  • Tim Hecker
  • Oneohtrix Point Never
  • Grouper
  • Chris Brown
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LIVE: Sharon Van Etten, The Neptune, Seattle, WA

By Gabriel Mathews

Walking into The Neptune, I decided it was Seattle’s answer to LA’s Fonda. Bizarre murals and really good sound, and expensive beer. Between sets, the entire place was bathed in green light.

I’ve been really into Jana Hunter’s band, Lower Dens, for a while now. For this tour, she was billed as “Jana Hunter (of Lower Dens),” implying that she wouldn’t be doing a the standard solo set one might expect from someone who once was a solo artist. And she didn’t, instead playing a bunch of new tracks from Lower Dens’ forthcoming third records. I can’t say I was thrilled by the material—it’s going in a significantly synthier direction than even 2012’s Nootropics, and many of the songs were reverbed to hell so I couldn’t even make out the notes. What’s more, she performed these tracks sitting down, with the backing tracks pumping out of a computer, making quite the testament to the power of a live band. Hunter closed her set with a cover of Hall & Oates’ “She’s A Maneater,” which was creepily groovy, but overall this set was pretty dull.

Not as dull, however, as Courtney Barnett’s set. I don’t know, maybe I’m just really not Barnett’s intended audience, but I could not for the life of me get into this music. I’ve only ever heard her excellent hit single “Avant Gardener,” which was the only song of the set I actually enjoyed. Other than that, Barnett and her band ran through about forty minutes of songs that all sounded exactly the same with their garagey shuffle. At least the girl three rows in front of me dancing like she was on acid seemed to be enjoying herself.

Sharon Van Etten and her five-piece band took the stage clad all in black, and I was super excited. Van Etten’s Tramp is by now a certifiable broken-hearted classic, and her preceding record, Epic, is also mind-blowing. Her brand new record, Are We There, is also good, but just doesn’t have the songs— you know, the “Love Mores” and “Give Outs” and “Asks” and “One Days” and “I’m Wrongs.” It’s a perfectly good record, but nothing on it sticks for me the way most of Tramp does.

In recent interviews, Van Etten has expressed an interest in distancing herself from that record, which she feels was a team effort that got attention for its many collaborators (Aaron Dessner, Matt Barrick, Julianna Barwick, Jenn Wasner) more than for her songs. I think she’s dead wrong, but apparently the self-produced Are We There is something of an attempt to reclaim her own music. So the night’s big question was really about the ratio of new songs to old ones. Sadly for me (and I think a lot of people) the scales were tipped severely in the “new” direction.

While Are We There highlights like “Break Me,” “Every Time The Sun Comes Up,” and “You Know Me Well” were all really quite good, the only Tramp cut we got was a rushed “Serpents,” and the only Epic cut was “Don’t Do It.” (This was actually, I think, the highlight of the set for me; I’d never paid a lot of attention to this song on record, but the live rendition was easily the most rocking and interestingly arranged track of the bunch, with post-rock guitars layered over a looped vocal from the keyboardist.) I was severely disappointed. Tramp put Van Etten on the map, it’s filled with incredible songs, and we really wanted to hear them.

That said, I can understand not wanting to play those songs. Artists get asked all the time what it’s like to play songs about their personal tragedies night after night, and the question applies better to Sharon Van Etten than to most, as she bleeds herself dry in every song. Maybe she just can’t bring herself to play “Give Out” anymore. Maybe “Love More” hurts too much. I wouldn’t be surprised. This set really raised the question, though, of the degree to which musicians are beholden to their audiences. Is there an obligation to play your hits? How do you balance that with the desire to stick to your artistic guns, or just to move on?

Also, I have to acknowledge Van Etten’s fantastic stage presence. Like her buddies in The National, she balances the sadness of her music with a wacky, dry sense of humor that you really wouldn’t expect. She spent the entire night joking with the audience, calling out her band mates, and using the breaks between songs to excellent effect. When one guy called out “You’re weird!” Van Etten responded, “I am weird,” then proceeded to pantomime picking her nose and wiping it on her butt. During the utterly heartrending “Your Love Is Killing Me,” she pantomimed the chorus—“Break my legs so I can’t run to you / Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you / Burn my skin so I can’t feel you / Stab my eyes so I can’t see.” It didn’t undercut the song nearly as much as it enhanced it.

On top of being a real funny lady, Van Etten has incredible pipes. Even though I don’t love the songs she played as much as the ones she didn’t, I found myself getting the shivers several times just due to the sheer beauty of her voice. And for that I’m grateful.

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Episode 90: PDX Pop Again!

Thanks to Annie Ostrowski and Meagan Ruyle of PDX Pop Now! for joining us this week! You can listen up top, and download the episode here.

Topic:

Songs:

  • The Ramones – “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend (Demo)”
  • Land Lines – “Dead Eyes”
  • The Estranged – “Another Stab”
  • Ornette Coleman – “Lonely Woman”

Bands:

  • Johnny Ramone / Tommy Ramone / The Ramones
  • Mitch Mitchell / Jimi Hendrix Experience
  • U2
  • Cher
  • Cyndi Lauper
  • Kraftwerk
  • Coldplay
  • Death Cab for Cutie
  • Bright Eyes
  • Jonas Brothers
  • METZ
  • Cloud Nothings
  • The Notwist
  • Gel
  • Sloths
  • Moan
  • Mark Lanegan
  • Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
  • Peter Hook / Bernard Sumner / New Order
  • Ian Curtis / Joy Division
  • Portland Cello Project
  • WEINLAND
  • Blur
  • Spice Girls
  • Rihanna
  • R. Kelly
  • Robyn
  • Typhoon
  • Sonic Youth
  • The Beatles
  • Your Friend
  • Wild & Scenic
  • The Holler Bodies
  • Charlie Haden
  • The Decemberists
  • Landlines
  • Typhoon
  • Starfucker
  • Menomena
  • The Resistance
  • Usnea
  • Zirakzigil
  • Ural Thomas & the Pain
  • The Estranged
  • The Bugs
  • Stewart Villain
  • Myke Bogan
  • Castaway Kids
  • Dad Rock
  • Purse Candy
  • Soup Purse
  • Why I Must Be Careful
  • Alameda
  • M83
  • Barrow Brown Quintet
  • Adam Brock
  • Cambrian Explosion
  • Eyelids
  • Grandparents
  • Philip Grass
  • Sama Dams
  • Summer Cannibals
  • Karl Blau
  • Black Belt Eagle Scout
  • Ringo Starr
  • Roman Tick
  • Drake
  • Tori Amos
  • The Doors
  • Craig Finn / The Hold Steady
  • Weird Al Yankovic
  • Prince
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Episode 89: The Year So Far

Thanks to Bob Ham for joining us this week! You can listen above, or download the episode here.

Topic:

  • 2014: The year so far!
  • Favorite albums of the year?
  • Favorite shows of the year?
  • Things we’re looking forward to in the second half of the year?

Song:

Continue reading

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Episode 88: The Blues Goes On

Big thanks to Rob Massey for joining us this week! You can listen to the episode above, or download it here.

Topic:

  • We talk to Rob Massey about his personal history with the blues, and his life growing up and playing the music in the south.

Songs:

  • Bobby Womack – “Natural Man”
  • RL Burnside – “Snake Drive”
  • Kraftwerk – “Pocket Calculator”
  • Sonny & Cher – “The Beat Goes On”

Continue reading

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Fighting For Hip-Hop In The Whitest City In America – Buzzfeed.com

Our very own Yousef Hatlani contributed his photos of the fateful March 1st show at Portland’s Blue Monk to Arianna Rebolini‘s in-depth article on the Portland Hip Hop scene for Buzzfeed. It is a thorough look at the state of the genre in our city and includes input from several notable figures from our scene, including friend of the show, former guest and Party Damage Records co-founder Casey Jarman. This is required reading for those concerned about where Hip Hop stands in Portland as we speak. Check it out via the link above or the photo below!

Luck-One at the Blue Monk on March 1st, 2014. Photo by Yousef Hatlani.

Luck-One at the Blue Monk on March 1st, 2014. Photo by Yousef Hatlani.

 

LIVE: Chad VanGaalen, Tractor Tavern, Seattle, WA

By Gabriel Mathews

For my first ever show in Seattle, I could have done a lot worse than the Tractor Tavern. Located in the heart of Ballard, the Tractor is a nicely countrified space with good sound and a solid beer selection. I wouldn’t be surprised if that last bit ends up being true about most venues in Seattle, but I’m glad it was true of the Tractor. If only I’d had the money to get on Chad VanGaalen’s level… But more on that later.

Seattle natives Hibou were up first, and there’s really not much I can say about them, aside from this humble request (read: desperate plea): Can we all just please be done with chiming, reverb­-drenched guitars? It is very possible to be too damn chill. Also, Hibou guy, are you consciously trying to sound like the dude from Tokyo Police Club? Because you really, really do.

Cousins, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, fared significantly better. Their incredibly straight- forward garage­folk was altogether lovely. Set opener “Thunder” is maybe the best song with only three lines I’ve ever heard, and the duo (augmented by a saxophonist for this set) didn’t stop there. Bowl-­cutted frontman Aaron Mangle has a serious knack for simple, melancholy tunes, and Cousins’ bare­bones setup accentuated his husky wail really nicely. Cousins’ songs reminded me of a number of simple, direct bands making simple, direct songs these days, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they join the ranks of widely adored acts like Waxahatchee and Swearin’. Though I have yet to actually hear it, I highly recommend their new album, The Halls of Wickwire.

After putting down his saxophone, Chad VanGaalen picked up his zany head­less guitar. (Oh, yeah, that was him up there with Cousins, exhibiting yet another of his seemingly endless talents.) Mangle grabbed a bass, and the two were joined by a drummer for a surprisingly rocking power­trio setup. I suppose surprise isn’t really the appropriate reaction, as VanGaalen has been toning down his folkiness a bit on his last two albums, 2011’s winding Diaper Island and this year’s excellent Shrink Dust. That said, his albums have always had rock moments, folk moments, electro moments, and mostly indescribable moments, so I wouldn’t necessarily have put it past him to get on stage with nothing but an 808 and a trombone.

After tearing through Shrink Dust openers “Cut Off My Hands” and the strangely groovy “Where Are You?”, VanGaalen took a break to tell us that this was the last date of the tour, and that he was very excited to be seeing his family in Calgary the next day. He told us a lot of other things over the course of the night: How he’d clogged the venue’s toilet with “poopoo­caca” while draping his fingers over the edge of the saloon­-style door to make sure people knew he was in there; how he’d left a Batman piñata, which he slurred into “piñassa” multiple times, on the side of the road between Berkeley and Eugene; how sitting in a van for so long had caused his balls and his anus to fuse together. Chad VanGaalen is one weird dude, especially when quite drunk.

But that weird dude makes some incredible, haunting, enthralling music. Highlights for me were a ripping, electrified rendition of his 2008 Polaris-­Prize­-nominated masterpiece Soft Airplane’s “Rabid Bits Of Time,” as well as “Willow Tree” and “Poisonous Heads,” both off the same album. During an acoustic patch, a few of Shrink Dust’s prettiest songs shone through, most notably “Weighted Sin,” which is tragically excellent. Also done acoustically, and much to the excitement of the female fan behind me was “Shave My Pussy,” which is a really fascinating song about female body insecurity that just happens to be written by a 6’4” man.

A few bars into Diaper Island’s “Sara,” VanGaalen told us it was about his wife, and that every time he plays it he fucks it up and feels really bad. At the end of a gorgeously heartfelt rendition, he said that it had been maybe the worst version he’d ever done, which was very hard to believe. His excuse: “I was just undressing her in my mind the whole time. I have a very hot wife.” He then went on to tell us about what an amazing mother she is to his kids, and how she’d told him, “If you want to stay with me, you have to put babies inside me.” Then, with about the same amount of heart, he played “Lila,” named for his recently deceased dog.

All drunken jesting aside, VanGaalen’s set reminded me frequently of the most exciting creative impulses involved in making music. Many of the set’s most thrilling moments felt improvised, and, upon returning to the stage for his encore (zipping his fly as he rejoined us from a quick “pee pee”), he even offered to improvise a new song for us on the spot. Which he then did, wonderfully, as his bandmates joined him, swapped instruments, and jammed the shit out of it. VanGaalen’s work has always seemed the product of a possibly disturbed mind, and I can’t say that this show made me any less worried about him, or his kids for that matter. That said, his set was gloriously fucked up, and I can’t wait to see what he gets up to the next time I catch him.

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Episode 87: Men in the Mirror

Thanks to Gina Altamura for joining us this week! You can listen to the episode above, and give it a download here.

Topic:

Songs:

  • Joyce Manor – “Schley”
  • Michael Jackson – “Loving You”
  • Michael Jackson – “Stranger in Moscow”
  • Joan Baez – “Diamonds & Rust”

Bands:

  • Joyce Manor
  • Brand New
  • Michael Jackson
  • Shy Girls
  • Maxwell
  • Theesatisfaction
  • Jamie Cullum
  • Rihanna
  • Drake
  • Radiohead
  • Tom Brosseau
  • Your Rival
  • Jesus Miranda
  • King Mountain Petrol
  • Drive-By Truckers
  • Cement Season
  • Sabonis
  • Bad Hex
  • Idaho Green
  • Robert Pollard / Guided By Voices
  • Joan Baez
  • Stuart Murdoch / Belle & Sebastian
  • Modest Mouse
  • Isobel Campbell
  • The Flaming Lips
  • Led Zeppelin
  • Paul McCartney / The Beatles
  • Grizzly Bear
  • Slint
  • Drake
  • Lil’ Wayne
  • Future
  • Sharon Van Etten
  • Fuck Buttons
  • Indigo Girls
  • Cold Gold Chain
  • Levon’s Helm
  • Helms Alee
  • Dean Wareham / Dean & Britta
  • Galaxie 500

 

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Episode 86: The Scene

Thanks to Gabriel Mathews for joining us! You can listen to the episode above, and download it right here.

Topic:

  • What does a music “scene” look like?
  • How does Portland’s scene compared to that of LA?
  • How do scenes get started?
  • Can one be started, or does it have to grow organically?
  • What makes Portland’s scene different from those elsewhere in the country?
  • What about scenes throughout history? Or based around a specific venue, or a record label?

Songs:

  • ibid. – “Hum”
  • Les Savy Fav – “Sleepless in Silverlake”
  • Death From Above 1979 – “Turn It Out”
  • Death Grips – “Up My Sleeves”

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LIVE: Mount Eerie, Mississippi Studios, Portland, OR

By Gabriel Mathews

Phil Elverum spent the back end of the 90’s making hushed, secretive records as The Microphones, a project defined more by it’s sonic particulars than anything else. The act’s name was as much a clue as the actual music that Elverum valued the process of producing music in a studio almost more than that of, say, writing the songs themselves. Or, more relevantly, of playing live. Microphones shows were legendarily unpredictable— would Elverum be alone, or have some of his K Records compatriots in tow? Would anything be amplified? Would he be playing in costume, or underneath a blanket? Elverum’s live act was always even less stable than his spritely recorded one, where close-­mic’d finger­picking would give way to drum blasts and organ drones with no warning.

In 2003, The Microphones put out its last record, Mount Eerie, a five-­part saga in which Elverum’s character essentially leaves the his body and the universe by climbing the titular mountain. What this means about his continuation in music under the moniker Mount Eerie is unclear, but aside from a new interest in black metal, it seems Elverum is just continuing on the same path of impeccable sonics he started down as The Microphones.

Poet Tom Blood opened the show at Mississippi Studios, and while I was largely unimpressed at first with his florid poetry and accompanying hand gestures, a mid-­set recorder interlude promised exciting new things. After the recorders, Blood whipped out a projector to show us some of his “Extremely Experimental Poetry,” which included cloud- lists such as “Things Birds Should Have Figured Out By Now” (“window vs. sky”) and “What Jesus Did” (“walked,” “ate,” “prayed,” “carpentry”) and a list of all the haircuts he’s even had. These had the entire crowd laughing, including Elverum himself. Blood should really consider a career in comedy—even his weird interjections in the middle of the emotional poems were significantly better than the poems themselves.

Mount Eerie’s setup consisted of a nylon-­string guitar, a synth with some pedals, a mixer on a mail-­crate, and two huge gongs. Elverum played all of these himself, in an earth-toned t-­shirt and flip flops. The acoustic songs were generally pretty and reminiscent of the Zen koans he mentioned reading in the one called “Youth.” Elverum seems out of step with the rest of the world, and if I had to pick out a distinction between Mount Eerie and The Microphones based on this set, it would be that his lyrical concerns have shifted from the interpersonal relations detailed in Microphones classics like “I Felt Your Shape” to the more metaphysical concerns about existence and emptiness on display here.

The most interesting thing Elverum did that evening was to play the gongs in a way I’d never imagined gongs being played. He would trigger a note on his synthesizer, which got pumped out through a speaker sitting directly behind the gongs. They’d start vibrating, and the contact mikes he’d placed on them would turn these low vibrations into drones Elverum manipulated and played over. The drones were powerfully physical, in complete contrast with his airy, almost childlike vocal delivery. It was beautiful.

In the end, though, I have to say I was disappointed with the show. I knew I couldn’t expect any of my favorite Microphones songs, but it still would have been really nice. What’s more, I think that Elverum’s studio expertise is completely impossible to replicate in a live setting—his awesome faux-­strumming trick created by quickly panning from ear to ear, his massively distorted percussion, his use of field recordings—none of these are really possible live, and so a solo set of straight­forward songs that often felt like they were being played for the first time just couldn’t live up to, say, The Glow Pt. 2. Which obviously isn’t a fair metric, but… At least the girl orgasmically saying “Yes!” after every song was happy.

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