Yes, another best of list — and I am, of course, cheating by including plenty of sublists…
1. Mdou Moctar takes Portland.
Mdou Moctar spent a lot of time in Portland this year, having been claimed as an honorary PDXer via his connection with local label Sahel Sounds. I had the good fortune to see Mdou Moctar at the Hollywood Theatre, Mississippi Records, 2 house shows, Mother Foucault’s bookstore and the Know. These shows were wonderfully varied — from acoustic fireside living room jams to fuzzed-out boogie jams amidst the bookshelves to a tightly packed Know show — all with that palpable feeling when a crowd share a sense of a rare experience together.
2). Great shows (mostly in PDX):
- Yo La Tengo (Town Hall, NYC) — “And Then Yo La Tengo Turned Itself Inside Out”— featuring 2 drummers and a horn section!
- Tinariwen (Revolution Hall) — another transcendent set by one of my favorite bands
- Califone with Rachel Blumberg and Tara Jane O’Neil (Mississippi Studios) — I’m never sure what genre Califone moves in — this show exemplified the constant morphing of Tim Rutili’s music as he collaborated with Blumberg and the singular O’Neil
- Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 — back at Star Theater for 2+ hours of Afrobeat — tough morning at work the next day
- Rebirth Brass Band (Mississippi Studios) — a great venue for a taste of NOLA
- Pickathon had many highlights: Charles Bradley held the crowd in his hands in what unbelievably were a pair of his final shows; Xenia Rubinos; The Last Artful, Dodgr; Huun Hur Tu with an amazing late night show; Kaia Kater; Black Milk and Nat Turner; Tim Darcy; Jonathan Richman; and Dinosaur Jr in the Woods!
3. Portland widens its scope
There were several points in the year, when I felt Portland stretching beyond its stereotype as the home of millenial white hipsters. There were standout releases and live shows by:
- Edna Vasquez
- The Last Artful, Dodgr
- Again, Pickathon managed to demonstrate their prescient ability to stay ahead of the curve with more R&B and hip hop acts. The Soul’d out Festival also has been improving their lineup year after year.
4. Record store living in Portland keeps getting better
Whenever I travel, I always seek out the record store as a view into the local culture. Our own choices are making it harder to justify the need to do so. In almost any neighborhood in town, you can now find a quality record store, as PDX reportedly has the highest number of record stores per capita in the country. My personal faves: Little Axe, Beacon Sound, Green Noise, and the wonderfully curated Mississippi Records.
5. Favorite new releases
Leaving aside all the great reissues and the serendipitous used vinyl finds, here’s an entirely subjective list of some of the good stuff from this year:
-Les Filles De Illighadad, Eghass Malan (Sahel Sounds)— second record from this group from Niger. A luminous, contemplative sound, in which you’ll entirely lose yourself with each listen
-Wooden Wand, Clipper Ship (Three Lobed) — mesmerizing yet varied folkish record. (Also, the series of Toth’s Law releases on Bandcamp were fantastic — James Jackson Toth (AKA Wooden Wand) seems to have a bottomless source of songs, full of humor and dark cynicism)
-The Last Artful, Dodgr and Neil Von Tally, Bone Music (Eyrst)—Innovative record highlighting Von Tally’s production and The LA, Dodgr’s deceptively langorous blend of hip hop and R&B
-Eyelids, Or (Jealous Butcher)— a slow-burner of a pop record, reveals itself best through repeated listens, when you’ll suddenly realize you’re humming the songs as you wash the dishes
-Tinariwen, Elvan (Anti) — The grandfathers of Tuareg guitar bands release one of their best yet, continuing to cement their reputation as a global voice for independence. Masterfully weaving sounds both familiar and exotic to the Western ear, including collaborations from Mark Lanegan and other West Coast musicians.
-Seamus Fogarty, The Curious Hand (Domino) — another great release from the Irish singer-songwriter, who mixes folk, electronics and found sound in a shambolic but cohesive record.
-Gunn-Truscinski Duo, Bay Head (Three Lobed) — an unassuming record of instrumental psychedelic jams that keeps finding its way back to the turntable.
And a bonus thing:
DJ’ing at Freeform Portland. It’s been a pleasure having the chance to channel my music-thinking into a biweekly show on 90.3 FM. I’ve had the opportunity to rub shoulders with all manner of folks, all of whom seem to be deeply involved in different genres and scenes, helping me to travel down different musical pathways. One of these days, I’ll put together the venn diagram of Freeform — it’d be a fascinating look into the world of contemporary music.