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“Men in Portland Rock”

See, I stand in the minority here, raising my face to the windy, great unknown. I’m a strong proponent of men in Portland rock, men in rock.

And it’s really not that I’m angry at the egregiously uninhibited tactics and vacuous social climbing of the “women in rock” out there, it’s more like Beach House’s song “Better Times” (see how sexist I am): “You come and go / Go up in smoke / I don’t wanna know,” or like Pete Doherty of the fantastic Libertines singing: “And it tries my heart to always hear you calling / Calling for the good old days / For there were no good old days.”
Oh, but wait, there were. They were called Patti Smith. Doing her own thing, in New York in the late ’70’s, getting down to Jesus (and tearing him up), but most of all not yelling brattily, but weaving good, circumspect songs and luminous vocal timbres.
So clearly, you see why I have a gripe when imprints like Sleater-Kinney and Kill Rock Stars claim to have galvanized “women in rock.” They may have galvanized women in Northwestern rock, but there’s a strong chance that the only reason we know this in the first place is that the grunge movement happened, sending everything from Rolling Stone to Vanity Fair up to Seattle, shining its spotlight everywhere.
What’s the STORY of the Dandy Warhols, what’s the ANGLE on Everclear, what’s the JUICE on Blitzen Trapper?
First of all, you’ve got a staggering array of influences at work here, it’s somewhat like the rock scene that Chicago would LIKE to be (oh well). Blitzen Trapper are rockabilly, Dandy Warhols are too, a little bit, but just listen to them… Everclear, lead singer Art Alexakis hailing originally from LA, having the balls to rock out in lockstep with Bad Religion or NOFX, but having gotten on MTV (the great late-’90’s MTV) for a reason, lassoing up the discourse-spurring pop structures so indigenous to the Northwest.
Oh yeah, The Decemberists are from Portland too, aren’t they? Eh, you’ve read enough about them already.
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Real Quick Roundup:
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Blitzen Trapper/ Favorite Album: Furr/ Second Favorite Album: Wild Mountain Nation/Favorite track: “Echo/Alwayz On/Easy Con”… this is a great example of an extremely talented, niche rockabilly band, actually being in love with the concept of the album, while making an album (appropriately enough)… as this penultimate track deviates sharply in stylistics from its predecessors, into a cavernous amalgamation of folk, western and maybe old R&B, with not the lounginess of Seattle, but more like the weird, occult homicidal draping of “Black River Killer.”
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Dandy Warhols/ Favorite Album: Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia/ Second Favorite Album: This Machine/ Favorite Track: “Country Leaver”… there are several issues at work here with the Dandy Warhols, one, they might be the best band ever, two, they made a lot of money on the misleading single “Bohemian Like You,” what with its placement in Igby Goes Down (whatever, movies are made to be stupid), three, they went on to make some extremely mediocre albums in the wake of this success (as did Everclear, for that matter) only to emerge in 2012 with a rejuvenated muse (as did Everclear, for that matter)… but the most important thing about the album Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia is that it TYPIFIES the ideal of an album featuring all songs that are extremely different from the one preceding and following them. And this probably isn’t what the listener would glean, either from say hearing that song in the movie, or just looking at the album title… but this is an album about bohemia like Sgt. Pepper’s is an album about sergeants, or peppers. The first four songs deal strictly either with mourning or vacation, physical or mental, loss of God, loss of self, and they’re a little weird, and a little coherent, but most of all very hypnotizing… “Country Leaver” rounds out the segment of the first four songs with an overtly homoerotic (which to be sure plays more like Franz Ferdinand’s “Michael” than like Ani Difranco or something, that is to say, it’s cool), it’s a folk song with overproduced hand claps. Yes, the Dandies always had a way of spitting in the face of DIY hipsters by making their own overproduced aspects something celebratory, exploratory and rip-roaringly unique, though the highlight of 13 Tales I must say is the blistering apathy with which Courtney Taylor-Taylor emotes the words “I’m just not makin’ the scene.” Slacking is a state of mind, folks.
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Everclear/Favorite Album: So Much for the Afterglow/ Second Favorite Album: Sparkle and Fade/ Favorite track: “Amphetamine”… not that the name doesn’t say it all, in and of itself, but I’ll proceed anyway, this one does a great job of, while shredding, dousing melancholy imagery of idyllic window bedroom vistas with risk, chance, romance and danger. It takes one hell of a sound-volcano so subsume all this, but they come through nonetheless.

 

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