After a brutal 2003, it looks like local music supporters are determined to make 2004 one to remember. An innocent enough email with the subject line "portland's best year in music ever?" appeared on the PDX POP listserv Jan. 15. The email, from





Magic Marker Records

, listed notable locals who've released records this year and ended the email asking, "how come people don't talk about the portland music scene?" Members of the music-community listserv, operating out of the skeletal remains of now-defunct webzine indiepop.com, bombarded their fellow PDX Poppers' inboxes with almost 100 posts of thoughts, criticisms and suggestions.

Kell Dockham

of the

Green Circles

wrote, "Because there's no true unity, so it's not really a 'scene.' There are small pockets of unity; but no large-scale cohesion, no sense of occasion or movement, no zeitgeist." Now there appears to be a bit of a zeitgeist, as members of the list are rallying to create an all-local music festival. Whether it's much talk and little walk remains to be seen. (Mark Baumgarten)

BSI RIP Sadly, the folks behind Portland's own BSI Records and One Drop Recordings announced last week that they will be shutting down. After five years of releasing albums by artists such as Systemwide and Onry Ozzborn, the label was forced to fold after its European distributor went under, taking with it a large debt owed to BSI. Rest assured, the BSI crew will still be involved in the Portland scene. (MB)

BRITNEY SPEARS The problem with Spears, as shown in this month's Blender, isn't that her image is too risqué. The problem is that her personality is so vacuous and unexciting that all the ass shots, coital poses and evil-looking eyeliner feel like so much artificial trickery. Is anybody buying this? When describing her masturbation song, "Touch of My Hand" she says, "It's a clever idea, because there hasn't been a song about masturbation." Uh, yeah. It wasn't even a clever (or new) idea when the Divinyls did it a dozen years ago--although it was much hotter. Asked if she represented the "immorality and hegemony of American culture" that some people believe led to 9/11, she answers simply, stupidly, "This interview is way too deep." If we're really going to be paying attention to this woman for even a minute longer, Britney needs to find herself a personality coach. Or maybe she should just read a book--a short one. (MB)

CAT CLUBBIN' The Meow Meow Club moved into its new, larger digs at 320 SE 2nd Ave. at the beginning of the month. More importantly, the all-ages club began its membership experiment, selling monthly memberships for 25 bucks a pop. Members will have full access to the facilities that owner Todd Fadel says will soon include a cafe, a local-music jukebox, games and a computer lab. Oh, and they also get to attend almost all of the club's shows. Sounds to us like a perfect place for the teenagers to plot their world domination...with those evil blogs! (MB)

HUGHLEY'S GROBANITIS Two critics. Two very different reactions. As Josh Groban's pop-opera showcase played to a sold-out Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Jan. 25, I sat writhing in ecstasy, as Oregonian music critic Marty Hughley sat next to me, writhing in pain--complete with heavy sighs, catty asides and physical disgust. These are the opposite reactions this 22-year-old singing sensation elicits. You're either swept up into the melodramatic sea of schmaltz found on Groban's No. 1 album, Closer, or you capsize from the endless waves of classical music paired with pop hits from the likes of Don McLean and Richard Marx. I choose the former. As did the critic-proof audience called "Grobanites"--some 150 fans who have been following Josh's every move since the Jan. 22 tour opener in Boise, Idaho. The concert was low on special effects, yet it was hard to dismiss the most powerful instrument on stage, which was Groban's own voice. Though the young singer lacked stage presence, his larynx lifted up an entire audience on a single note. (Byron Beck)

THE MONTH IN CDS Last month, The New York Times announced the era of the personal soundtrack, ushered in by download-'n'-go gadgets that take any music anywhere. Here are a couple of suggestions for your iPod from this month's releases. Air's Talkie Walkie finds the French duo apparently accepting the fact that their music is better when it's more ethereal than invasive, best when underplayed. Here, Air has created a number of hypnotically metranomic tunes that have few highlights but serve as a fantastic anesthetic. Perfect for family gatherings and enemas. Telefon Tel Aviv, on the other hand, gets more dramatic with Map of What Is Effortless, swinging between warm analog tones, soaring synths and electric blips and cracks. Telefon Tel Aviv soundtracks the life of the pomo international spy with music that captures glory, romance and glitchy paranoia all at once. Ani DiFranco's latest, Educated Guess, unfortunately finds the singer soundtracking the alterna-feminism of the early '90s. On the spoken-word piece "Platforms" she recites, "Life knocked me off my platforms/ So I pulled out my first pair of boots," likely leading a number of listeners to stare at the Doc Martens clunkers in their closets and sigh collectively, "Oh yeah. I remember when feminists had to wear boots."