Episode 92: When In Portland

Big thanks to Sam Murray for joining us on the show! You can listen to this episode above, or download it right here.

Topic:

  • The Portland music scene: an outsider’s perspective
  • Sam Murray’s PhD thesis centering on Portland’s culture through its music scene
  • What got him interested in this undertaking?
  • What are some of the great things about our scene? What are some of the not-so-great things about it?
  • What can other places learn from Portland, and what can Portland learn from other places?

Songs:

  • Spoon – “Inside Out”
  • Ural Thomas – “Pain is the Name of Your Game”
  • Nickel Creek – “When In Rome”
  • Destroyer – “Chinatown”

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LIVE: Wye Oak, Neumos, Seattle, WA

By Gabriel Mathews

In the smallish, dimly lit Neumos, even bigger bands can feel intimate, low key. I say this having never seen a “big band” here, this being my first time ever at Neumos. But compared to the last time I saw Wye Oak, opening for Dirty Projectors at LA’s Wiltern, this was the definition of an intimate gig. Especially if intimacy is directly correlated to sweat: Seattle’s been experiencing a heat wave that will apparently go down in history, and Neumos was a boilerroom.

Pattern Is Movement were certainly covered in sweat. The hirsute Philadelphia duo, comprised of Andrew Thiboldeaux on vocals and keys and Chris Ward on drums, defied everything I’d expected of them and then some. All I’ve ever read about Pattern Is Movement, which is admittedly not much, has described them as an elaborate, polyrhythmic math rock act, equally influenced by Don Caballero and Stereolab. While they definitely retain the Stereolab thing, the music these guys made at Neumos couldn’t really be called “math rock” by any rubric. Rather, they offered their own weird take on neo-soul, with vocal modulation sometimes reminiscent of James Blake, weird twisting string loops, and powerful drumming. As if to cement their new aspirations as baby-making music-makers, their set climaxed (no pun intended) with a cover of D’Angelo’s “How Does It Feel?” These guys are doing interesting things, it’s worth checking out. Plus, they sell pillow cases with their faces stitched into them.

After the minor tragedy that was the Sharon Van Etten show I saw last week, I was a little worried that Wye Oak would also suffer from SVE effect (i.e. an extreme bias towards lesser new material over back catalogue material). This would actually have been much worse for me as Wye Oak’s Civilian was my favorite album of 2011 and one of my favorites ever, and this year’s hard-left-turn Shriek just really doesn’t hold a candle to it in my book. Frontwoman Jenn Wasner is an amazing vocalist, but an even better guitarist. On Shriek, she plays not a lick of guitar, finding it no longer inspired her as an instrument. Instead, she went for the bass, and Wye Oak’s music went from incredible, melancholy guitar rock to woozy, groovin’ dream pop more suited to Wasner’s side project with producer John Ehrens, Dungeonesse. I’m all for artistic exploration, and I fully appreciate Wasner’s need to get out of her comfort zone, but the entire musical tone of this band shifted with Shriek, and I felt I’d lost a dear friend.

Thank god, then, that the heavily sweating Wasner (“This is the farthest north we’ve been on this tour, and also the hottest I’ve ever been in my life.”) and her partner-in-crime Andy Stack did an excellent job of not only balancing new and old material, but of making the new material rock significantly harder than it does on record. It was not until this show that I’d even really registered the magnificence of the towering (pun intended) bass riff that dominates Shriek highlight “The Tower,” and the synthy bridges of “Glory,” “Schools Of Eyes,” and “I Know The Law” got cranked so hard volume-wise that these poppy little tracks actually began to feel like rock songs. Additionally, it should not go unmentioned that Wasner’s voice is still unparalleled, perhaps even better on the newer material, where she reaches into the high end of her gorgeous alto more frequently than before, and with even better results.

But it was, of course, the older tracks that thrilled me the most. After a string of Shriek songs, Wasner picked up her guitar, and the excitement was palpable. When they busted into “Holy Holy,” off of Civilian, the crowd lost it. The squalls of noise that rule over this song even got carried over into the somber “Plains”. Later in the set, we got the perfect trifecta of “For Prayer,” “Dog Eyes,” and “That I Do,” all of which rocked unbelievably hard. Stack’s skills need mentioning, too—he famously plays the kit with only his right hand most of the time, while the left hand plays keys and samples to fill out this duo’s sound. It’s truly impressive to watch from up close. (Stack and Wasner were an item for most of the band’s tenure, but his recent move to Portland from their hometown of Baltimore suggests that this is no longer the case. Let’s just be glad they managed to keep working together as a band in spite of this, unlike, say, Handsome Furs.)

After closing their set with Shriek’s one perfect pop gem, “The Logic Of Color,” the band left the stage for a comically short pre-encore break (“I don’t know why we engage in this silly ritual,” said Wasner. “But we do, so, thanks for indulging us.”) Then they did their recent A.V. Undercover version of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” followed by the absolutely necessary night ender “Civilian,” which nearly brought me to tears.

One final note about Shriek: This is the first album on which Wasner sounds genuinely happy. And that’s great. But sometimes, and this is also true of Van Etten, I’m sort of disappointed when artists who do sad so well (Civilian and The Knot being masterpieces of depression and loneliness) get happy. I realize this is selfish, but I’m still glad Wasner had it in her to pull out the old melancholia for an altogether excellent set.

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“I Don’t Like Country”: In Defense of the Genre

By Jacob Heiteen

[Editor's Note: This article should be read in conjunction with our episode on country music with Heiteen, entitled "Cowboy Blues".]

It was senior year of high school and I was in the drama room eating lunch. As usual, it was filled with people, since it was one of the only rooms with couches and a microwave. I was on my computer doing some school work and figured I’d put some music on. I loved playing music out loud to my friends. I was known to be big music aficionado amongst my friend group. I wrote music reviews in my school’s newspaper and people would regularly ask me to make them mixtapes. I’ve must have made close to a hundred throughout my time in high school. People trusted me enough that they allowed me to play DJ during lunch from time to time.

That day I selected the song that had been stuck in my head for weeks, “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” by Hank Williams. A ridiculously catchy tune, with some of the best word play I’ve ever heard. It’s kind of an anomaly amongst the Hank Williams discography, with its strong Cajun roots and phrases like “filé gumbo” and “ma chaz ami-o” (Cajun French for “my good girlfriend”). Then, I get a dirty look from this kid. I’ve never seen him before, he must have been there just for the microwave, but he gave me this look like I was offending him. “Are you playing country music?” he asked, with a tone that sounding like he caught me eating garbage of a dumpster. “Yeah, I am,” I answered, genuinely shocked that someone could have a problem with such an awesome song. “God how can you listen to that shit? Country music sucks,” he said. I immediately became very embarrassed and didn’t know what to say. I just retreated to the other end of the room and resumed what I was doing, this time with my headphones on.

This was the first time that I realized that my newfound obsession would be looked down on by some of my friends. I knew that if I where to go listening to country I’d have to be on the defensive.

A few months prior I started to notice that the music I usually listened to was starting to burn me out. I still liked it, but I had gotten the feeling that it was time for me to take a brake from my usual diet of indie and punk rock. This will happen to me every so often and I usually like it take this as an opportunity to delve into a genre I’ve either neglected or didn’t know much about. The first time I did this, I dedicated almost three whole months solely listening to rap music and modern R&B, two genres that I used to not listen to as much, but know love. I did the same with jazz, world, heavy metal, old folk music, bluegrass, African music, salsa, and electronic music. I loved doing this since it allowed me to broaden my musical horizons.

I would look up whatever the genre’s highly regarded artists and albums where and I’d listened to them over and over until I either loved or gave up on it. I also read books and articles on the genre, to further enhance my knowledge. I didn’t just want to know the best stuff from a particular genre; I wanted to know the whole history. By this time the only major genre that I haven’t delved into was country. The reason was that I like most people I knew, thought country music sucked. I had those same preconceived notions that everyone has. That country was filled with dumb songs, by dumb rednecks, about dumb subjects like tractors and such. Eventually though, I started to question if those where valid criticisms and whether or not I was just been stereotyping the genre. I was familiar and like some country at the time. I thought Johnny Cash was great, but he was the kind of artist that everyone loves despite their musical preferences. He’s like The Beatles of country, everyone likes him and anyone who says otherwise is just trying to be cool and should probably try harder.

I also loved Gram Parsons, who basically created country rock through his time with The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers, and his solo albums GP and Grievous Angel. He would also pal around with members of The Rolling Stones, reintroducing them to country music, and prompting them to make the country tinted Exile on Main St. Other than Cash and Parsons, however, I was rather clueless about country music. I had no idea where to start. So I started to browse the web looking for articles on country music. I stabled upon a series of articles on AV Club (a wonderful pop culture site) called “Nashville or Bust”. The idea was that the site’s resident hip-hop head, Nathan Rabin, would go though a “super-intense year-long crash course in country”. This was perfect for me, especially since Rabin and I had a lot in common: we were both Jewish music nerds with depression problems, who had no idea what country music was about.

I went through his articles in a flash, downloading all the songs and albums that spiked my interest. Soon I discovered other sites and blogs that where just as good. I started to read No Depression and Saving Country Music, two blogs that focused on country though an alt-rock lens and down the rabbit hole I went. I’ve been listening country music constantly for two years now, and even though I haven’t given up my beloved rock music, I can probably say country music has become at least my second favorite genre.

My preferred eras of country tend to be the 30s through the 70s. Each decade had seen country go through very distinct changes.The 30s was basically the birth of country with artist like The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. The 40s was when country started to become really popular and you had people like Bob Wills creating country swing and people like Ernest Tubb creating honky tonk. The 50s is kind of the golden age for country music and also saw the advent rockabilly thanks to people like Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. The 60s was when people like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard started to challenge the establishment of Nashville starting what is known as the Bakersfield sound. It also saw the rise of popular female country stars like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. The 70s is when outlaw country and the seeds of alt-country get planted thanks to people like Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings. This era also happens to be my favorite.

I still have never gotten into much country music post the 70s, since was in the 80s and 90s that the genre started to become more formulaic and the current stereotypes cam about. There is still good stuff form past 30 years (i.e. Kacey Musgraves, Uncle Tupelo, Hank III and The Dixie Chicks) but the amount of quality stuff is certainly less when compared to later years. At the time though, I pretty much stopped listening to anything that wasn’t country music. I was, for lack of a better word, hopelessly obsessed. Every other type of music just didn’t interest me anymore. I’d spend every day listening to country. I’d walk down the halls with my headphones on not talking to anyone, I’d much rather listen to something that Lucinda Williams had to say then some regular person. But when I started sharing my passion with other the response was more along the lines of “why are you listening to that crap?” Soon, I started to keep my country music to myself. When people asked what I’ve been listening to I’d always leave out the country music. I sort of became ashamed of it for a while. It was my dirty little secret.

Of course, the idea of having this genre that I liked and no one else did made it seem cooler. It was my thing; I didn’t have to share this love with anyone. I then started to be secretly proud of my love for country. And I started to understand it, and why I like it so much.

The music appealed to me from a lyrical standpoint. Perhaps my favorite aspect of music is lyrics. I tend to be more into bands and artist who are known for there lyrics. Bands like Pavement, OutKast, Vampire Weekend, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Mountain Goats, and Guided By Voices are my favorites because they are great wordsmiths. Country music has no shortage of these. Probably my go-to argument when defending country is telling people that some of the best songwriters in the world are from country music. A case in point would be someone like Townes Van Zandt, a country cult figure, who is often regarded as the best 5 American songwriter next to Dylan. His songs are filled with dry-humor, dark subject matters, and a deep sense of beautiful melancholy. He is also a master storyteller. I consider “Pancho & Lefty”, a song about two desperado’s rise and fall, to be one of the best songs ever written. The popular country music of the 50’s and 60’s was also hosted some of the greatest songwriters of all time. Country is one of those genres where the stars are just as good as the cult figures. Nashville was home to most of these stars. Nashville was kind of like Motown, in the sense that it was this place full of talented writers and musicians who could turn out classic songs in their sleep. These songs would be part of what is called the “Nashville sound”, and to this day Nashville is considered the Mecca of country music.

The staggering amount of depressing music country offers also appealed to me. For some reason I tend to love music that is considered to be very depressing, which is probably attributed to my own struggles with depression. I don’t really like listening to music that is overly happy because I’m usually not in that kind of mood. I would much rather wallow in my own sorrow while listening to an equally depressing artist who “gets Country music is great for this. I’ve often said that if you take the lyrics to some country songs and added some electric guitars you’d have a great emo song. The motif of heartbreak is a country music staple and the genre produced some of the best heartbreak songs ever made. While there are plenty of cheerful country songs, my favorites tend to be the depressing ones. Every major country figure has at least one great sad song, usually dozens. George Jones has “She Thinks I Still Care”, Willie Nelson has “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”, John Prine has “Sam Stone”, Dolly Parton has “I Will Always Love You”, and The Louvin Brothers have a whole album of these songs album called The Tragic Songs of Life. The list goes on and on. Soon, I started listening to country music when I was depressed in the same way that I used to listen to The Smiths or emo music. It probably only made me more depressed, but I didn’t care.

My love for country music also probably came out as a reaction against my surroundings at the time. My drama friends where mostly into really generic alt-rock and country seemed like the polar opposite to that, which was what I wanted. Growing up in Portland, which is such a hipster city, can sometimes drive me crazy with the pretentiousness I encounter. There was something about country that seemed very unpretentious to me, which I also found very appealing.

The mythologies behind the country stars themselves are also reason enough to get into country music. Pretty much all of them are tragic and/or tortured figures in some why. Hank Williams ended up succumbing to his drug and alcohol problem, dying on New Years Eve at the age of 29. Pasty Cline died in a plane crash at the height of her career. Merle Haggard was in and out of juvenile detention centers throughout his childhood, before finally ending up in San Quentin Prison where he saw Johnny Cash perform and decide join the prison’s country music band. Cash himself had a long running problem with drugs, as did Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings, Tammy Wynette, and her one-time husband George Jones. Jones was probably the worst of them all, doing so much cocaine and drinking so much that he developed for a time, short-term memory loss. I’m well aware that these are behaviors that are not to be glamorized, but for some reason I find them so fascinating. It dispels the notion that country music full of straight lased boring people. In fact they lived lives that could out rock star most rock stars. Finding that these giants of the genre were all so flawed made them more relatable than some seemingly perfect pop star. Knowing about these crazy country stars’ crazy lives is part of the fun of being a country fan.

These days I’m tired of hiding that I’m a country fan. I’m tired of having to cringe anytime I hear someone say “I love all kinds of music, except for county”. I’m tired of meeting people who say they are country fans but know nothing about Hank Williams or Waylon Jennings but rather the pop country that is manufactured for the radio. I’ve become a country music defender and I’m proud of it. I no longer retreat when people tell me country sucks. I fight back to defend the music I love.

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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:

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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”

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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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