Why We Listen

This summer, our Freeform Portland DJs took time to reflect on what the radio station has meant to them. Here’s what they said (and drew)…

Sweet Jane
Every day we find ourselves just inundated with noise, and FreeForm Portland has become my haven from the static. The DJs here put so much time and thought into the music they bring to our community, and their love for the station can be felt on every show. We are so lucky to have this station to tune into rather than yet another thing to tune out.

Random Citizen (she/her)
This image was created not long after putting together songs I wanted to play on a future show. It also shows the accessibility of hearing Freeform Portland from your laptop. While technology changes, there’s still something awesome about coming across a song you didn’t know you needed to hear. It’s one of the reasons I love being part of the Freeform Portland fam. There’s no must-play list from a corporate headquarters — the songs you hear on different shows are selected by that DJ. Every time you tune in to Freeform Portland, you increase the chance of hearing your new favorite song.

Dj Aquatina  
I love listening to Freeform because there is always something on that’s new and funky! Discovering new music and not the same old 50 songs from 2007. Thanks for helping me discover and grow my love of music! Keep bringing the jams!

Some music inspires active listening. It may make you want to burst grin giggle bliss skip jump and sing and shout. It could be provocative, unsettling, unnerving, or challenging. It might make you think and feel. It isn’t always easy. Other music is more passive. You’ll put it on in the background as a pleasant hum during your busy day. It doesn’t distract. It lets you focus. Comforting. Present. Some music is immersive. You want to sink into it like a warm bath, a cozy bed, a luxurious rug. Freeform surprises with the unexpected. You’ll hear things you didn’t know you wanted to hear, that you didn’t know existed. You’ll discover new songs, new artists, new genres. You’ll hear strange and familiar voices, like your own, a new friend, or a long-lost love. Freeform isn’t formulaic. We’re for you. We’re here for your many moods, interests, passions, and curiosities. Kick off your shoes. Stretch out on the rug. Put on those headphones and tune in. We got you.

Dr. Axolotl
Freeform is a warm, welcoming brain-bath I always turn to when I want to swim in ideas. In my car or the hammock, when the mix gets especially good, the air thickens, the light turns to wine, and my secret gills unfurl to breathe in the weird, wondrous sounds. Since I found Freeform Portland, I can’t imagine going back to water… 

Noah Fence
When I was very young, Radio was music. Completely. All music came from the radio. To my post-infant brain, the radio was magic. All the sounds and the noises and the voices combined to create this incredible feeling of joy and happiness. Without knowing why I would crack a smile and involuntarily tap my foot. I made no distinctions between what I heard, all the songs just came from the radio and I absorbed them all. But growing older, we develop opinions, likes and dislikes, we learn to separate one thing from other things, we put things into genres, types, label things as “happy”, “sad”, “good’’, “Bad”, etc onto a near-endless number of possible of categories and boxes into which we can organize our overtaxed little brains. We lose some of our best infantile qualities, and we lie to ourselves calling it “growing up”, pretending it is okay. I listen to Freeform Portland because it has returned to me the magic of radio. Switching it on at any time of day or night, you can never know exactly what sort of music you are going to hear, and what exactly the DJ might play next. But it seems to always be good, well-selected and driven by a human element, the DJ. Even though there are a limited number of notes and chords, music seems to offer up an infinite number of possible combinations of sounds, and Freeform Portland seems to make a concerted effort to play as many of them as possible. When I listen to Freeform Portland I can let my guard down, and listen with a child’s mind frame. I can envelop myself in the security blanket of sound that is the magic of radio.

Odd Monster
Music is an escape for when we are trapped in our houses, our cars, our jobs, our bodies.  Music is an energy, passed between us in song and dance, and fuels our lives. Music was one of the earliest things invented by humans, and it is the most fluid form of communication there is.  When music is shared with honesty it can change and save lives.  Help support the love of music by supporting Freeform Portland.  We have no advertisements, no talk radio, just blissful music, 24/7/365. Enrich your life and maybe help share the love with others.

dj lonelygirl15
for me, listening to music is a combination of escaping reality and a re-imagining of my lived experience. freeform is a place where i can sonically express all of the things i’ve always wanted to be without fear. this little ipod is a remembered past – the things that i loved to blast into my ears, the intimacy between my heart and a bumping track, and the beginning of a freeform dj’s story.

Matt Mount 
Each and every show on Freeform Portland has at least one new discovery. There are mysterious seashells to find in the endless span of sand, there are new birds that no ornithologist has ever seen, there are moments and memories that come rushing back like a brand new past. The sounds seem familiar, but what is happening is that we’re discovering it together for the 1st time. Freeform Portland invites vulnerable egoless ears to really listen, to be curious, to fall in love, and to be heartbroken in the healthiest way.

DJ Alice Wonder 
Music can come into your life from unlikely places. I’ve found my favorite bands from my older sister, best friends, total enemies, math teachers, convenience store cashiers and of course community radio! Freeform has great tracks day and night, things I’ve never heard anywhere else, even after my many years of obsessively searching out the most obscure music. You never know where you’re going to find the next song you’ll fall in love with- sometimes squirrels have the best tunes!!

Station Top 30 – Week of 9/7

1. Marisa Anderson & William Tyler – Lost Futures (Thrill Jockey)

2. Brian Rahija – Timber (Ramseur/Thirty Tigers)

3. ToiToiToi – Vaganten (Ghost Box)

4. Cameron Knowler – Places Of Consequence (American Dreams)

5. Various Artists – Amethyst (Moon Glyph)

6. Joy Orbison – Still Slipping Vol. 1 (XL)

7. KUNZITE – Visuals (Lowly/Wilder)

8. Various Artists – Source: The Independent Project Records Collection (Independent Project)

9. Guy Buttery – One Morning In Gurgaon (Riverboat)

10. John Glacier – SHILOH: Lost for Words (PLZ Make It Ruins)

11. Liars – The Apple Drop (Mute)

12. Lingua Ignota – SINNER GET READY (Sargent House)

13. quickly, quickly – The Long and Short of It (Ghostly International)

14. Hiatus Kaiyote – Mood Valiant (Brainfeeder/Ninja)

15. Arushi Jain – Under The Lilac Sky (Leaving)

16. Piroshka – Love Drips And Gathers (Bella Union)

17. Colin Linden – bLOW (Highway 20)

18. Wolves In the Throne Room – Primordial Arcana (Relapse)

19. Mega Bog – Life, And Another (Paradise of Bachelors)

20. Noveller – Aphantasia (s/r)

21. Warp Trio – Warp Trio’s Pandemic Disco Fantasy (People Places Records)

22. The Poets of Rhythm – Discern / Define (Daptone)

23. Gaspard Augé – Escapades (Genesis / Ed Banger / Because)

24. Sonny and the Sunsets – New Day With New Possibilities (Rocks In Your Head Records)

25. Brian Jackson, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge – Brian Jackson JID008 (Jazz Is Dead)

26. The Catenary Wires – Birling Gap (Shelflife)

27. Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime (Matador)

28. Death Valley Girls – Street Venom (Suicide Squeeze)

29. Dolphin Midwives – Body of Water (Beacon Sound)

30. Blod – Missväxt (Grapefruit)

Des Demonas “Cure For Love” E.P. – Review by Noah Fence

With a surprising lack of hoopla or fanfare, the new E.P. “Cure for Love” by Des Demonas was put up for presale on the In The Red Records website, followed by a few discreet mentions on social media sites. 

This is a record for which I have been long waiting, not just because their debut album is an instant classic, its urgent performance demands repeated listening, but because the release of this new E.P. has been delayed by the global pandemic.

With seven songs the new E.P. might be mistaken for being a full length LP, but the songs all clock in at less than 3 minutes each, making the total running time squarely & accurately designated as an E.P.

The sound of the band might by some be described as “Garage Punk”. Instrumentally the band consists of Guitar, Organ, bass, drums, with vocals sloganistically shouted or spoken. One might cite influences such as Question mark & The Mysterions, The Monks, Lyres, The Stooges, The Fall, The Scientists and Jonathan Fire eater. And while that might work as a casual referral from one person to another, to peak the other person’s interest, I think it falls short of what makes the band unique.

To my ears what separates Des Demonas from other garage rock or garage punk bands is their rhythmic approach to their music. All the instruments feel lockstepped to the rhythm of each song. The band feels like five drummers who happen to be playing organ, guitar, bass and singing. 

There is a scene in the James Brown biopic starring Chadwick Boseman, when his character halts a practice session when one of the musicians does not understand the rhythm that James Brown is attempting to achieve, and he goes around the room, pointing to each instrument, asking the name of the instrument, and every time, James Brown corrects the musician and states that the instrument to which he is pointing is a drum, no matter what the instrument might in fact be. 

I think that same mentality might be at work in the band, Des Demonas. They charge through their songs on this E.P. with names like “Immigaration Song”, “Control”, “Forest Fire” “Black Orpheus Blues” & “Ballad Of Ike & Tina” with a pounding fury and extremely pleasing punctuated vocals. 

I’m not a musician myself, and I can not emphatically state that the band hits on the “one”, but they do seem to hit that pocket that makes you want to listen to this E.P. “Cure For Love” over and over, and seek out other music by Des Demonas. They are that good. Rock n’ roll, noise with a beat. 

Noah Fence is the host of “It’s a nice world to visit” which broadcasts every Friday from noon to 2 PM on Freeform Portland.

Station Top 30 – Week of 8/31

From the Music Library at Freeform Portland.

As a part of a new blog series, we’re letting the public in on our Weekly Top 30 charts.

These are the Top 30 from the week of 8/31.

1. Liars – The Apple Drop (Mute)

2. Shannon & The Clams – Year of the Spider (Easy Eye Sound / Concord)

3. quickly, quickly – The Long and Short of It (Ghostly International)

4. Bobby Gillespie & Jehnny Beth – Utopian Ashes (Third Man)

5. Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime (Matador)

6. Hiatus Kaiyote – Mood Valiant (Brainfeeder/Ninja)

7. Lingua Ignota – SINNER GET READY (Sargent House)

8. Mega Bog – Life, And Another (Paradise of Bachelors)

9. Tropical Fuck Storm – Deep States (Joyful Noise)

10. Piroshka – Love Drips And Gathers (Bella Union)

11. Arushi Jain – Under The Lilac Sky (Leaving)

12. Warp Trio – Warp Trio’s Pandemic Disco Fantasy (People Places Records)

13. Cameron Knowler – Places of Consequence (American Dreams)

14. ToiToiToi – Vaganten (Ghost Box)

15. Wolves In the Throne Room – Primordial Arcana (Relapse)

16. A Place To Bury Strangers – Hologram (Dedstrange)

17. K.D.A.P. – Influences (Arts & Crafts)

18. Gang Of Youths – Total Serene (Warner)

19. The Catenary Wires – Birling Gap (Shelflife)

20. Noveller – Aphantasia (s/r)

21. LoneLady – Former Things (Warp)

22. The Poets of Rhythm – Discern / Define (Daptone)

23. Gaspard Augé – Escapades (Genesis / Ed Banger / Because)

24. Sonny and the Sunsets – New Day With New Possibilities (Rocks In Your Head Records)

25. Brian Jackson, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge – Brian Jackson JID008 (Jazz Is Dead)

26. Blod – Missväxt (Grapefruit)

27. Death Valley Girls – Street Venom (Suicide Squeeze)

28. Little Dragon – New Me, Same Us Remix EP (Ninja Tune)

29. Dolphin Midwives – Body of Water (Beacon Sound)

30. Fogbow – Roam (Gezellig Records)

Chickfactor 25 – An Interview with Gail O’Hara

Founded in 1992 by Gail O’Hara and Pam Berry, Chickfactor is a stalwart of the indie pop scene, publishing one of the longest running and consistently readable zines, put on numerous awesome shows and events, and inspired a Belle & Sebastian song. Currently based in Portland, but with a past that takes in Washington DC, New York, and London, we sat down with Gail to talk about Chickfactor’s history, the upcoming 25th anniversary celebrations, and her Magnetic Fields documentary.

So how did Chickfactor get started?

Pam and I were already very good friends. We were living in DC and both working for The Washington City Paper. We were both kind of playing around with Quark Xpress on the Macintosh. Mostly I was just learning by making things. I moved to NY in February 1992 and I was working for Spin Magazine and I had an opportunity to interview the Wedding Present. It ended up being like a half page story with a few quotes, but I had interviewed him so thoroughly that I had this really long interview. Pam had written a lot of the questions. I think that was the catalyst for us deciding to start a zine.  It was like “we’ve got this interview!”  With these bands we liked on the east coast, like Small Factory and Honeybunch, it was a really vibrant time in indie pop. Slumberland Records were our friends as were Velocity Girl, and we knew Unrest, so it was a cool time.

From Fanboy Memoirs, an illustrated zine from Kevin Alvir of The Hairs

We ended up having friends write things and we just threw the first issue together. Then we handed it out at a show at Maxwells in September 1992 and it was free. We gave it to everyone at the show. We had written over them in silver and gold and magic markers. It was juvenile, no it was fun. It was really good.

When I was in college I was learning how to be a zine editor, and the Washington City Paper job helped move it along. But it wasn’t until we started working with a friend who was a graphic designer around issue 12, that the photos started looking a lot better. Because I didn’t really know how to use photoshop that well.

So Pam and I were just good friends and Chickfactor was a way for us to hang out. When I went home we would work on it, but a lot of time was just spent goofing around. I had to get her to focus to write her reviews. We would just sit around in the production room and eat ice cream.

To clarify, Pam is Pam Berry from Black Tambourine.

She’s been in a million bands. But Black Tambourine, Gloworm, Sea Shell Sea, Cast Away Stones, The Pines. These days she plays with Withered Hand in their live shows, and also with Pete Astor sometimes. She’s a very talented singer, and she was part of the crew who started Slumberland Records. They were a big influence on me.

Pam quit Chickfactor in 1995. When you look back, we did a lot of issues between 1992 and 1995. Then I got a job as music editor of Time Out New York so I just didn’t have as much time to devote to a zine. I probably did one a year after that until I moved to London and I kind of stopped for a while. I did one issue online and that was a mistake.

In terms of who you cover, is gender important?

No. The first issue was a lot of guys really. I don’t think it was ever that female centric, but we were focused on interviewing that one girl in the band, because you know, in the 90s every band had the one girl. We always wanted to talk to her because she never got to speak. So it would be like Laura from Superchunk. We just sort of did what comes naturally.

When did you move to London?

2003. So Chickfactor was really active for the first ten years and especially with the shows. We did a lot of shows in New York when I was living there.

How did you get into putting on shows?

It was really just that we wanted a chance to give out the issues to our friends. You could just set up a show at Under Acme in the East Village. You could rent it out like a party room for $150 and then keep the door money. It was so laid back then, nobody got carded, it was just really chill, before Giuliani ruined everything. So it was really fun. The first time we had a show was 1993 and I think there were like 11 or 13 bands. In some cases people just jumped up and did a song, like they weren’t even on the bill. It was just really fun. So that really spawned just a style of show where we would have a lot of bands play really short sets, share a backline and have tons of fun. Nobody would do it for the money because there were so many bands, but people would drive from DC and play, they didn’t care about the money.

Our second show was at the same place during a blizzard, and six bands showed up to play out of nine, including people from DC.

You made a documentary about The Magnetic Fields (Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields, 2010).

Oh yes, that was a long time later. So the second Chickfactor show at Under Acme, The Magnetic Fields played, and they played a lot of our shows before they became more popular. So my relationship with Stephin … I worked at Spin Magazine and I hired him as a copy editor when I was there, so we became friends in 94/95. Spin is a monthly magazine, but they would do everything really last minute so three weeks of the month there would be nothing to do. We had a lot of time to faff around or go eat junk food and walk around Chelsea and take photos. So he was kind of hilarious as a copy editor. He actually quit working there when they did this thing called the Spin Alternative Record Guide and they described him in some capacity as being like Warren Zevon. He fought it and they wouldn’t change it, so he quit.

That friendship and my access to him as a friend more than just a photographer or zine person… I did interview him and everyone involved in the band a lot and would go on the road and take pictures and in 1999 I got a little video camera and started shooting footage. That went on about 10 years and then I got other people involved who were better at shooting footage than me and so we shot around 300 hours of footage. That’s how the film came about.

How does your photography come in to Chickfactor?

CF has always tried to photograph its subjects. When there’s an interview we try to take photos. I have a pretty ridiculous archive of stuff and I would like to do more with it, show it more. I made a small book five years ago and had a show then.  I’ve had exhibitions at Reading FrenzyOther Music and Ladyfest 2000. I’m most proud of a lot of the Stephin Merritt ones because he was so fun to photograph in those days and he’s really changed. I think every artist becomes more guarded, and they get sick of being photographed all the time or interviewed or whatever.  I feel really lucky that I was there a lot of times for people when they were new and not sick of it yet.

Chickfactor is having anniversary celebrations in New York, London, and Portland. How are you feeling about it all?

I mean, it’s kind of shocking that it’s been that long, but to me I make these trips every so often to see my friends in those cities and it’s just an excuse to make everyone play and people are always really happy about being there. I do feel a bit like it’s a service we are performing, especially in a year as hideous as this one, to have a sort of “friend” reunion where we can block out the bad stuff for a couple of days and bask in the good stuff. It’s tricky, like right now I’m going through all the pre-show flurries of emails about drums and backlines and guest lists, and it’s awful, but it’ll all be fine. I do feel like this is the last anniversary I’ll do. I don’t want to do any more. Like I said, I’d probably be going there anyway, and its just like “take the party out of someones living room and put it in a venue”. It is annoying if you are a Pastels fan in London and you never heard about the show and now it’s sold out. But that’s the way life is. Sometimes you have to pay close attention.

Chickfactor 25 Poster

Who is playing Chickfactor 25 in Portland (Dec 9/10)?

Rocketship is playing. They are an indie band from 1990s Sacramento. Dustin Reske has lived here for a long time. Most of the current band members are new, it’s all his thing. It should be fun. They haven’t played a full band show since 1996 so that’s a big deal. Kites at Night is Rose Melberg and her husband Jon Manning. Their band used to be called Imaginary Pants. Jen from the Softies is playing with them on bass I think. Lida Husik is an old friend from DC. She used to be on Astral Werks, in the old days. Calvin Johnson is dj-ing.


I’m also doing an indie pop brunch the next morning at The Toffee Club. It’s going to be me, Jen from the Softies and Janice Headley from KEXP who is Chickfactor’s webmaster so we’re all going to DJ for an hour. Janice ran a zine called Copacetic back in the day. She is an enthusiastic supporter of people like me, she also runs Yo La Tengo’s website and a lot of other people’s websites.

Belle & Sebastian wrote a song called Chickfactor (on The Boy With The Arab Strap LP). How did you feel when you heard about that?

We were in Glasgow in October or November of 97 and that’s when I interviewed Sarah and Isabel from the band. They told me about the Chickfactor song and it was very exciting. Pam was over in London in December of 1997 and she heard the song live for the first time. I think I heard it for the first time at the Supper Club in New York. We were blown away, it was so cool.

Are there any new bands or any things that you are excited about now?

I am excited about a lot of things. I really like Sacred Paws a lot, they are a girl duo. I love Girl Ray but I’m finding it really hard to put my hands on a vinyl LP of theirs. They’re from London. I’ve been listening to this band Lake Ruth, they have a Broadcast vibe, really good. One good thing about doing Chickfactor is that I can be like, “hey everyone send me records”. I get a lot of records sent my way, and I do a lot of research on Bandcamp to see what’s coming out. There is so much good music happening, it’s an exciting time. I love Alvvays and I love the new signing to their label, Anna Burch. She’s from Detroit. There’s a million things I love.

Has there been a time when you’ve been doing the zine and just thought, there’s nobody, this is a terrible time for music?

No. Then again I’ve definitely had periods where music hasn’t been as big of a deal in my life for whatever reason. I feel like there’s always something out there that maybe isn’t the cutting edge but it still sounds really nice. It is strange to have bands that are keeping the flame of 1991 era Creation Records alive. But maybe that’s ok, if they’re really into it. I also really love Brazilian music – it’s like an antidepressant – for me that’s what I want right now. I want a soothing balm of music. Like The Clientele. Their new album, it’s like thank god, something beautiful to wash away the nasty stuff. Without going into politics, it’s an important time to delve into creative projects and lose yourself in karaoke or soccer, or whatever your thing is. Just get out and don’t dwell on all the bad stuff. The Chickfactor parties and the zine will provide a tiny bit of escapism for someone. That’s all I hope for for myself – to not think about all the stuff that is going on.

The Portland Chickfactor anniversary celebrations are as follows:

Saturday, December 9 – Bunk Bar

Rocketship (first full band show in Portland since 1996)

Kites at Night (featuring Rose Melberg)

Lida Husik

+ DJ Calvin Johnson

Get tickets

Sunday, December 10 – The Toffee Club. Free, daytime 11am–2pm

Indiepop Brunch chickfactor special featuring DJs Gail Chickfactor, Jen “Softies” Sbragia, and Chickfactor webmaster Janice Headley at the Toffee Club (no tickets required).

Issue 18 of Chickfactor zine will be available in early 2018. For more information click here.

Music of Anthology: Harry Smith and American Folk Music

Among many other things, Harry Everett Smith made seminal surrealist films, overstayed his welcome at countless cheap hotels, produced the first Fugs album, attempted to synchronize painting with jazz notes and archived every paper airplane he found. Born in Portland, Oregon in 1923 his family later moved to Washington growing up in Anacortes, Bellingham and parts in between, where he documented Native American rituals on 78 rpm recording equipment transported by bicycle and delved deep into the mysticism that his eccentric mother introduced him to. After leaving the Northwest for the Bay Area and later New York, Smith was a full fledged beat and a major influence on the hippies. Charting Smith’s poly-artist life is dizzying as it is filled with epic obsessions, volatile behavior and incredible creativity; however, he is most known today for editing the groundbreaking Anthology of American Folk Music, which he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy for in 1991 before his death the same year.

A prodigious record collector, Smith amassed upwards of ten thousand 78’s of pre-Great Depression Appalachian folk, blues, country, and Cajun when most Americans had forgotten about the music. In 1952, Smith moved to New York and tried to sell some of his collection to Moses Asch of Folkways records, but was instead encouraged to put together an anthology for the label. The result was the three volume, six LP, Anthology of American Folk Music. Highly knowledgeable in the occult, Smith assigned an element to the cover of each volume by color: water for Ballads in green, fire for Social Music in red, and air for Songs in blue. Also included on each cover was a Johann Theodor de Bry engraving of the celestial monochord, which Smith found in a 17th century book by alchemist Robert Fludd. The liner notes were also singular, with news clippings acting as social commentary, stark images of the artists and cryptic passages about the songs. Smith summarizes The Carter Family’s “Engine-One-Forty-Three” as, “Georgie runs into rock after mother’s warning. Dies with the engine he loves.”

Celestial Monochord

Beyond the seriously thought out visual presentation of the album, Smith had a mission when selecting songs. Departing from the standard practice of segregating artists by race, the Anthology had black and white musicians mixed together, identified by recording location and year, in an order based on style, theme and perhaps alchemical properties. Although Smith was never an overt political artist, he intended for the Anthology to foment some kind of revolution, telling musicologist and member of the New Lost City Ramblers, John Cohen, in 1969:

“I felt social changes would result from it. I’d been reading Plato’s Republic. He’s jabbering on about music, how you have to be careful about changing the music because it might upset or destroy the government. Everybody gets out of step. . .

The Anthology was not an attempt to get all the best records . . ., but a lot of these were selected because they were odd – an important version of the song, or one which came from some particular place . . . Instead, they were selected to be ones that would be popular among musicologists, or possibly with people who would want to sing them and maybe would improve the version . . .

I was looking for exotic records . . .

Exotic in relation to what was considered to be the world culture of high-class music.”

The seed Smith planted was sown by young musicians such as Joan Baez, Dave Von Ronk and Bob Dylan who embraced the album as a trove of secret knowledge and would go on to change the direction of folk music in the sixties and eventually rock. Dylan said of of the Anthology, “That’s where the wealth of folk music was, on that particular record. It’s all poetry, every single one of those songs.” Even if Smith’s statements about the intention of the Anthology was during the social and cultural upheaval of that decade, it’s clear that he believed the selection and presentation of old music could create powerful change by influencing future generations.

Listening to the Anthology sixty-five years later, I can recognize the styles fairly easily on the songs. After decades of artists plumbing the past, revival bands and films like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, one doesn’t need to be a musicologist or from a particular region to be familiar with the sound of Bluegrass or Zydeco. When Nick Cave or Neko Case sing murder ballads it isn’t as exotic anymore because for better or worse they they are high-class musicians. When weighing the Anthology by the individual songs, I sometimes find them quaintly tucked into a history when a folkster could bust out “Stackalee” in a Greenwich Village club and genuinely wow a crowd with something new.

Uncle Dave Macon

But didn’t he say the songs weren’t the best? After all these years the constant on the Anthology is that Harry Smith is the DJ and maybe that was the point the entire time. Record side 3 on Social Music is two tracks of Rev. J.M. Gates hauntingly sermonizing through song followed by two from the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers that flows with atmospheric energy. I feel like I’ve got religion in my mind and that our country has spoken beautifully in hundreds of dialects. Record side 4 of Songs starts with old time country star Uncle Dave Macon happily rollicking through themes of sex, death and money in mere minutes and then transitions to Mississippi John Hurt lending an improbably serene air over the plight of John Henry in “Spike Driver Blues.”  When listening to a Smith selected side in full, I’m transported to a world with different sins and virtues, forgetting what artist I’m listening to and instead thinking about what it looks, feels and smells like. The alchemy aspect of what Smith employed on the Anthology will always be there making the volumes American spellbooks that never fail to beguile. As it is thoroughly freeform, I will be playing sides from the Anthology on my show Music of Folk this Saturday from noon to 2pm, along with music Smith recorded and artists influenced by him. Hope you can listen in!

Here’s a link to Harry Smith’s masterpiece Film #12 (Heaven and Earth Magic). It is quite simply one of the most amazing examples of surrealism ever and well worth spending an hour of your life viewing.

Sources used:

Harry Smith: The Avant-Garde in the American Vernacular. Edited by Andrew Perchuk and Rani Simon. Getty Research Center: Issues & Debates

The Harry Smith Archives http://harrysmitharchives.com

Show Review: Isaac Rother & the Phantoms – White Owl/Blackwater

Isaac Rother & the Phantoms are one of the best and most entertaining bands you’re missing out on. Luckily for you they tour frequently. I became a fan about a year ago and I’ve seen them play four times, perhaps most notably opening for Guitar Wolf at the Hawthorne Theater during the summer. I think Isaac Rother & the Phantoms can best be described as an early 60s rock/campy horror band. Their Facebook page describes their influences as Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Bo Diddley, and Scooby Doo, but if you want to know what they sound like just find a picture of Isaac Rother. He is always dressed in a black suit and cape, a necklace of bones around his neck, and a large afro. He plays lead guitar and lead vocals, which he sings with a curled-lip snarl.

And the Phantoms? Well, their bass player looks like Eddie Munster, their drummer is referred to as the Yeti and on backup vocals is the always lovely Tatianna. Tatianna adds some killer vocals and a throwback shimmy that will knock you back a few decades, and she knows how to rock a cape to boot.

Isaac Rother & the Phantoms play some terrific covers. Their most recent tour comes on the heels of their most recent release, a reinvention of “… One More Time,” by Britney Spears which tells you that behind the black capes the band approaches its craft with a sense of humor. Their cover of Little Richard’s “Heeby Jeebies” is not to be missed. The song “Dark Eyes” is definitely a surfer rock throwback. Other tracks that stand out are “The Phantom,” “Hocus Pocus,” “Somebody Put a Hex on Me,” “My Cryin’ Eyes,” and “Possession” all of which showcase the spooky rock n’ roll sound of the band.

All of that aside, the reason you should go see Isaac Rother & the Phantoms is because they’re incredible entertainers. Listen to them onlinebuy their merch and support the band because we need more fun rock n’ rollers like this making the rounds. But most of all, go see them next time they’re in town. I love me some doom metal, punk rock, new wave, prog, shoegazer, etc. but sometimes you just want to rock n’ roll and cut a rug. Let Isaac Rother & the Phantoms work their voodoo on you.

Studio Convo #4 DJ Abi Interviews Darin from Wave Action

Abi: tell me about your new album. What are the juicy details?

Darin: Well there’s a lot going on with it, we have all kinds of different players. We have a bunch of new songs we are excited about. It’s really going to be our “debut LP” so we are pretty stoked. It’s gonna be rad I think.

A: I can’t wait! I have really enjoyed your live sets lately. How does your song writing process work? Does it differ from your recording process?

​D: Well, for me it’s very hard to examine and explain but I’ll try. Haha. I feel my music is maybe some sort of expression where I am trying to make sense of myself, or make sense of this world, this existence, this consciousness, this ecology, this “human-ness” these emotions. A reflection of myself defined by the unknown. I like to leave the process open, happening differently, constantly changing, something new. I purposefully don’t listen to music when I’m trying to write songs. I want to be authentic and original as possible. Recording is a lot different, as the band comes together to play the song and have “the recording”. I am very neurotic and obsessive in the studio, trying get every little detail to reflect my “vision”, my vision of the song, the moment, that other world in which it exists. I’m probably pretty annoying to other musicians and recording artists, but hey, whatever. They seem to deal with me ok haha.

Abi: I think it makes sense that recording is a place where your inner control freak would come out. I’m not a musician, but I feel like I would get overwhelmed with all of the various production choices.  What kind of a recorded ‘sound’ are you going for?

D: I am going for a sound that we can call our own. I know I don’t want it to sound Lo-fi. I also want it to sound better than we sound live, because to me a recording is a chance to express yourself and your music in ways that you cannot live. Some of the songs are about sorrows and heartache (in various forms), some songs are about our world, how I perceive it, certain circumstances and situations. I feel like sometimes I may be too metaphoric or……..”round about” for my true intentions and meanings to be perceived, which is of course my fault.

Abi: Ok, how about you lay some crazy tour stories on me.


D: Haha, well I suppose, I mean touring on the level we are on is always rough, no money, sleeping on floors etc., but I do love it. It’s Rock and roll. Probably shouldn’t tell the really crazy stories haha. What happens in the van stays in the van  I have also done some tours with another band I play bass In called Jackson Boone, and out of all the touring, I have spent a fair amount of time in auto part store parking lots fixing broken down tour vans haha. Slept on the beach one time. I kind of feel like tour is just one big crazy experience, traveling and playing music being in a van all day with your fellow musicians. Drama happens, fun happens, and lame shit happens haha.

Abi: What do you think of the PDX music scene?

D: The Portland music scene is exciting to me right now because of it’s diversity. There are so many great bands that all have their own unique thing going on, it feels like a true art culture, and everybody always looks cool, haha. We have style here (except for me probably haha). I just want peace and togetherness and equality here. I want us all to freely express ourselves through our art. My absolute favorite thing about our scene are the people. Not the bands, but the individuals in the bands, all the people that come to shows and support. We would have nothing without them, and they are all usually pretty nice too 🙂

Abi: Your father was a musician, right? What was that like back when you were a kiddo?

D: Growing up with musicians was an inspiration. My dad has always been a musician and he passed that on to Clint and I. My parents were always supportive. If we wanted to learn a certain instrument, they would always find a way to get one. We were very lucky to be supported this way. It was OK to want to grow up to be a broke ass musician haha.

Abi: When I’ve seen your live sets, there is always an old television set on stage with you guys, turned onto some static. What is that about?

D: As far as the TV, it’s always on the Wave Action channel, and it’s only on when we are playing. It represents our fleeting moments as Wave Action, as one organism working together. Then when that last note is played it’s all over, we leave our dreams and come back to reality. I would like to conclude this interview with a short poem if I may 🙂

In rumination, I am seeking the spirit.

My eyes open wide, the abstraction is anonymous

Primordial surrenders

A new rise to nothingness

Wave Action goodies on BandcampFacebook, and Mixcloud.

I Listened So You Don’t Have To: Odd Monster Reviews the Billboard Top Ten

There is nothing inherently wrong with pop music, even modern pop.  So why are the Top Ten songs so consistently terrible?  I occasionally make the heroic gesture of listening to the Billboard Top Ten to report back to you, faithful reader, as to prevent your delicate ears from being sullied by the likes of the Bieb.  I typically haven’t ever heard these songs, and just as often have never heard of the artists, so it’s a learning experience for us both.

Let’s get to it.

Many of these songs have NSFW lyrics, just so you’re aware.

(This is the Billboard Top Ten for the week of November 18, 2017 if you’re keeping score)

10. “Too Good at Goodbyes” by Sam Smith

  • Thoughts before listening: Who is Sam Smith?  Why is his name so anonymous?  If I was going to be a pop star, I’d make sure to have a cool name like Johnny Powers or Mr. Cool Guy or something catchy and memorable.  I’ve already forgotten this guy’s name.
  • Bluesy guitar.  Someone muttering in the background.
  • Oh no, a falsetto.  A creaking chair?  What is this, a first year film student audio montage?
  • “You must think that I’m stupid” is the opening line.  No comment.
  • Gotta admit, this guy has an incredible range in his voice, going from low to a falsetto almost in the same breath.  That’s really impressive.
  • Oh no, a gospel chorus. I believe I can fly.  I want to know what love is. Just like a prayer you know I’ll take you there.

Grade: C (this song is almost instantly forgettable, boring but well executed.  It’s right in the middle of the curve, almost exactly what a C was invented for.)

9. “Mi Gente” J Balvin & Willy William Featuring Beyonce

  • Sam Smith.  Willy William.  What’s with the names?  Beyonce.  Now there’s a name.  If she had a male counterpart could we call him Boyance?  Should I call Jay-Z that?  No?  Okay, moving on.
  • Sounds like hip hop Muppets at first.  Like “Mahna Mahna” played through a keyboard.  Kinda cool. A reggaeton beat.  A decent one, if I’m to be honest.
  • It’s in Spanish, so I don’t understand anything he’s saying besides Mi Gusta.  Mi gusta the bassline, which is thumpin.
  • “Uno, dos, tres, [something else]!”
  • Where’s Bey? Damnit, I listened to the wrong version, the one without her.  Listening again.  At least it’s not a bad song.  Is she rapping in Spanish?  Is there anything she can’t do?  She’s probably also a trained surgeon and pilot too, like a real life Buckaroo Bonzai.
  • Adding a female voice to the mix actually makes the song better, more layered and rich.  It’s one of the few times adding someone else who wasn’t originally in the song actually works.
  • I like this song!  It’s so rare to find a Top Ten song I actually like, let alone don’t mind listening twice in a row.

Grade: A (Uno, dos, tres, [something else]!)

8. “Sorry Not Sorry” by Demi Lovato

  • I’ve heard of Demi Lovato.  That’s like a demi-glace, right?  Right?  No one?  Okay.
  • I think I might have seen her on tv or something, but don’t think I’ve ever heard her sing, and I’m not looking forward to it, as I know she’s ex-Disney channel, which means this is going to be a crappy ballad or a generic overproduced dance song.  Let’s find out, shall we?
  • So far it’s sounding like the latter.  She can sing well, I guess.
  • The song moves like a sine wave, LOOOOOW to HIIIIGH to LOOOOOW to HIIIIIGH.  Wait, is she dropping f-bombs?  That’s not very Disney of her.
  • Meh.  Sounds like something you’d hear blaring out of the speakers at a clothing store at the mall.  Come to think of it, that’s probably exactly what it is.

Grade C+ (not great, but at least sonically a little interesting.)

7. “Gucci Gang” by Lil Pump

  • Lil Pump?  LIL PUMP? What kind of name is that?  Is he insinuating that he has a lil’ pump? Were all of the better names taken?
  • I hate his name.  Let’s see what he feels about designer fashion, shall we?
  • Mumble mumble bitch.  Mumble mumble cocaine.  Mumble mumble bitch.  Gucci Gang.  Gucci Gang.
  • The production sounds like it was done on Garage Band, completely generic and repetitive.  When I can understand the lyrics, they are…um…less than inspiring.
  • Mumble mumble bitch.  Mumble mumble cocaine.  Mumble mumble bitch.  Gucci Gang.  Gucci Gang.

Grade: D (Mumble mumble this song sucks)

6. “Feel It Still” by Portugal. The Man

  • I think I might have heard this band at some point or another, but I have no recollection of how they sound.  Are they a band that was once cool but is now famous and boring, or are they a good band that got famous and is still good?  I have no idea.
  • Why is their name spelled that way?  It makes the editor in me have a little aneurism.  Just a little one.
  • Good bassline to start it out. Like surf rock.
  • Oh no, a falsetto.  Oh no, a dance beat.  Oh no, synth horns.
  • It sounds like a knockoff Danger Mouse produced song.  Like it’s produced by Caution Rat.
  • I’m very disappointed.  Obviously I was thrown off by their errant use of punctuation, this is definitely not what I was expecting.  The vocalist just doesn’t have any there there.  Like, if Justin Timberlake sung this song, he would infuse the vocals with a sense of personality.  This guy just sounds like Random Falsetto Guy.

Grade: C (Instantly. The Forgettable)

5. “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons

  • Imagine Dragons sounds like a prog rock band for kids.  That would be awesome.  Thunder.  Dragons.  Okay, I’m in.  I put on my robe and wizard hat.  Let’s roll that d20!
  • Uh, what?  Bad rapping?  This isn’t what I was looking for.  Where are the elves?  Magic Missile?  WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?
  • Instead, this sounds like a sound generated by an algorithm.  Competently produced, super repetitive and generic.
  • Doesn’t anyone play guitars anymore?  The video should have a guitarist on a cliff playing a solo in the wind with lightning bolts flashing all about.  Instead (I looked) it’s a bunch of skinny white fashion models dancing in a CGI city.

Grade: D (Critical fail!)

4. “1-800-273-8255” by Logic featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid

  • If this song isn’t as good as “876-5309 (Jenny)” I’m going to hate it.
  • I’m going to hate this.  I can just feel it in my bones.
  • Synths.  So many synths in these songs.
  • “I just want to die today.  I just to diiiiiiiiiiiieeee.” I was wrong, the lyricist knows exactly how I feel listening to this song.  It’s not like I’m in hell, it’s like I’m in limbo, just sitting in the nothingness with something really boring going on.
  • Synthy syruppy strings.  Oh great, another anonymous singer.
  • Oh shit, is this song about suicide? I just googled the title, it’s the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
  • Great, now I feel like an asshole.
  • The song is still boring and generic and lame, but at least it’s about SOMETHING.  I’ll give it credit for that.

Grade: C (yes, I’m giving it a slightly higher score because a) it’s actually about something rather than nothing and b) I feel guilty)

3.“Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” by Cardi B

  • That title may as well be in Hungarian, as it is incomprehensible to me (no offense due to any Hungarians out there. Sajnálom, magyarok!).  Is Bodak yellow like a paint color?  What does it have to do with money? I guess I’d better listen to the song, so Cardi B can tell me all about it.
  • “Bitch, you can’t fuck with me.” That’s the opening line.  No comment.
  • It sounds like I’m hearing this song underwater, and not in a good way.  It’s muffled and slow like molasses.
  • I typically like very simple repeated riffs, but this one sounds like it was the very first attempt to make a riff and they were like, good enough, time for more cocaine!
  • OMG I hate this song.  It’s aggressively bad.  I actually want to stop this song so I don’t have to hear it anymore, but I’m soldiering through.  For YOU.  You’re welcome.
  • This song should have been prevented by the Geneva Convention.
  • I still have no idea what the title means.

Grade: F (This song literally gave me a headache.  And I mean literally as in “taking words in their usual or most basic sense without metaphor or allegory”)

2. “Havana” by Camila Cabello featuring Young Thug

  • Please don’t suck.  Please don’t suck.  I don’t think I can take another terrible song after “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves).” I need some ibuprofen.  The name Young Thug doesn’t inspire confidence in me.  It’s almost 7 minutes long.  Uh oh.
  • Okay, I’m watching the video, which is a send up of a telenovela, and is pretty amusing.  Two and half minutes in and the song finally starts.  At least I’m smiling going in.
  • It’s basically the same generic synthy ballad that’s always on the Top Ten, but benefits from being set to a Cuban rhythm, which keeps it from complete anonymity.
  • I’m surprised that Young Thug isn’t terrible.  Huh.
  • It might be the video setup, it might be because it is coming after an atrocity of a song but I don’t hate this.  It’s okay!

Grade: C+ (Thank you for being slightly better than adequate, Camila Cabello)

1. “Rockstar” Post Malone featuring 21 Savage

  • We’ve made it to number one, and there hasn’t been a single song by Justin Bieber on this list, which is the very first time this has happened.  Post Malone…sounds like…post-punk Pogues?  Probably not.  Also, have you noticed how 4 out of 10 songs on this list are “featuring” a guest?  Just an observation.
  • Number One.  Drumroll please.
  • More synthy strings.  Another generic beat.
  • “I’m a fucking hoser man mumble mumble rockstar!”  At least that’s what I think he’s saying.
  • More cocaine.  Oh no, he’s totally singing like that dude with one eye…lemme google him, whatshisname.  No, not Slick Rick.  Fetty Wap!  That’s who.  That guy sucks too (not Slick Rick, he’s great).  Like a whiny weeping Jamaican lilt.  It’s so weird.  I can’t believe anybody would try and copy that, it’s such a weird vocal tic.
  • Aaaaand it’s over.  At least it’s short.  And I think he called himself a hoser. *googles the lyrics* Nope.  Oh well, that’s what I heard and I’m sticking with it.

Grade: D- (Take off, hoser)

The Story of Instrumental Rock, pt. II

In Part One, I briefly touched on the fact that for a time, Instrumental Rock was the pop music of the era. That era was a few brief years in the early 1960’s, before the British invasion reminded American teenagers about the rock n’ roll music they had basically invented, but for whatever reason had forgotten or abandoned.

For many people, instrumental rock is synonymous with Surf Rock, which is understandable. This same time period of the early 1960’s teenagers were bombarded with a seemingly endless stream of “Beach Blanket Bingo” type movies for drive-in theaters, with moving pictures to show that it was always sunny on the beach, and with your best girl at your side dressed in a scantily clad bikini, you could dance to the twang of the guitar and bongo beat all day and all night. Surf music carried with it the promise of some out of reach teenage heaven.

The band that carried the promise of surf music better that all others was the Ventures. They had an extremely long career, well beyond the top ten popularity of Surf music (I am happy to say that I saw the band perform live in the late 80’s at a county fair). The band managed to survive so long by releasing albums that felt reasonably current. They hit upon that idea of having themes for each release, the theme being based on a popular song or trend at the time of the recording of the record. The band would record a few cover tunes, a few original songs based on the covers, and voila, they would have an album. This process lead to such albums as Play the Country Classics, Twist with the Ventures, The Ventures in Space and my favorite from 1966, the Ventures, on which they perform versions of the Batman theme, the theme to Green Hornet, a few TV secret agent themes and a handful of delightful instrumentals.

Being a form of instrumental music, surf music was easily translated to and embraced by other cultures, chief among them Japan. Surf music and the Ventures were especially popular on this island country. This musical form gave inspiration to not only the best surf guitarist in Japan but one of the best guitarists to strap on a guitar, Takeshi Terauchi.

Using the name Takeshi Terauchi & Blue Jeans, he released a self-titled album in 1966 which was reissued in 1971 titled Let’s Go Eleki-Bushi.

Featuring the lead track “Tsugaru Jongara Bushi” this album is an amazing musical example of an American idiom being adopted by another culture. Somehow despite the fact that there are only so many notes on a guitar, this album manages to have them played in such a way that there is a distinct Japanese feel. Music is magic in this way, like a translation of history or culture through sound.

With the Mid-60’s, teensploitation movies moved away from innocent teenagers grooving in the sand to a more rebellious example of archetype angst, motorcycle gangs. One of my favorites of this genre of film, is The Wild Angels, with soundtrack music by Davie Allen & The Arrows.  He embraces surf music, but with his heavy distortion to the guitar tone gives the music an urban, often dangerous feel.

The 1967 album Blues Theme is one of his best.

Despite the fact that instrumental rock waned in popularity in the late 60’s, the music continued to be popular with record collectors over the years, which gave rise to a late 80’s early 90’s revival or re-discovery of instrumental or Surf Rock. One of the best of the Surf revival bands is from right here in Portland, called Satan’s Pilgrims.

Their 1994 debut album At Home With was a breath of fresh air in a post-grunge, overly angsty rock era. Their three guitar, all instrumental set up, quickly became my soundtrack for that year.

Lastly for this piece, an album from 1982 that reminded me that instrumental music was more than simply surf music, and you could dance to it.

The debut album by the Athens, Georgia band, Love Tractor.

For me, this album is subtle, a grower, one that I have returned over the years and well embraced. With songs such as “Seventeen Days” and “Fun to be Happy” (often covered by The Feelies) this is a lovely record with an interesting mix that perhaps plays down the guitar interplay at first. It is worth repeated listens to unlock its treasures.