By the time you read this, I will be in Los Angeles. I think I’m going to stay there a while. So this marks the end of my 13-month attempt to keep tabs on Portland punk rock. My first impulse was to write a long essay about how fucking punk my navel is, but I’ve done a lot of that since last August, and rest assured my self-involvement comes into play plenty in the appreciations that follow.
Instead of an interminable personal history, I decided to write about nine recent (2011-2012) Portland-made punk (or close enough) songs (plus one sentimental favorite) that got me through one really rad and difficult and beautiful year. While I could have made a list five times as long, I stuck with the first 10 perfect songs that came to mind.
I’ve listened to the following tunes dozens, hundreds, maybe (in the case of the final song on the list) thousands of times. They represent everything I want music to be and everything I wanted my column to be: pretty and sad and fucked up and invigorating and shot through with undeniably real feeling. I don’t know if I succeeded at any of that, but the bands here most certainly did.
I’m sad to be leaving Portland, but I’m so incredibly happy that I get to take these songs with me.
Thanks for reading my column. Now listen.
Divers: “Glass Chimes”
With the exception of Mean Jeans, to whom I am basically legally married at this point, I probably wrote about Divers more than any other band in Portland over the last year. Which is a bit strange, considering ex-Drunken Boat dude Harrison Rapp’s newish concern has only a single two-song 7” to its name. But the thing is a fucking miracle, and wringing hundreds of words out of its beauty has not been difficult. A-side “Glass Chimes”, which features guest vocals from RVIVR’s Erica Freas, bobs and weaves like peak Ted Leo and builds to a cathartic final minute that would make Springsteen proud. It’s reminiscent of RVIVR’s soulful sincerity, although Divers takes the bike-proud punk spirit into classic rock ‘n’ roll realms. It’s simply stunning. I try to avoid saying shit like this, but I must: this band is gonna be huge.
Your Rival: “My Canary (Was Sure to Run)”
It might be the titular reference to our feathered friends clouding my hearing here, but this shot of sunshine by Your Rival puts me in mind of my favorite Beatles song, “And Your Bird Can Sing”. I listened to Lennon’s Revolver contribution about a million times in the year leading up to college, and something about Your Rival’s similarly bittersweet pop tugs me back to that time when my brain was happily splitting the difference between premature nostalgia and utterly fucking unwarranted hope and promise. I still have the nostalgia. That other stuff? I don’t know. But Your Rival has me believing in the possibilities.
Anne: “Lower Faiths”
This is the song I turn to when the Cure’s heartstruck wallowing just doesn’t quite cut the melancholic mustard. Every shoegazing thing Anne’s ever done makes me want to die in tasteful, tubercular fashion under whatever Portland bridge is most popular at the moment, but “Lower Faiths” takes the sadness cake. I have yet to determine what the song is actually about. And I don’t care. I hear it and I see ghosts. And I feel electric blankets buzzing into my skin. And I sense a dark winter of the most depressing make-out sessions ever. And I love it.
Batmen: “Doje Don’t Surf”
Mega sad news: Batmen broke up a couple months ago. A total shame. I was counting on this band to release an LP that would blow my mind into other minds that then got blown into other minds and so on and so forth until the world was one huge Batmen-blown brain of punk bliss. Alas, this Portland quartet’s four-song demo is all this dumb world will ever know. But shit, have you heard it? It’s all this fucked universe needs, really, and lead-off track “Doje Don’t Surf” represents the apotheosis of that Wipers-style malevolence/melody balance that so many bands aim for these days. I have smoked so many cigarettes while listening to this song and pretending I had some super tough career or hobby to pursue. Like fixing motorcycles or killing evil people or surfing oceans of blood. Or being in Batmen. Dudes: let’s get your band back together!
Freedom Club: “Gimme A Taste”
Not quite sure how it happened, but somehow Freedom Club ended up becoming my official soundtrack during my last few months in Portland. I saw this quartet more than any other band this year, and they got better with every show. Freedom Club’s tight, lean mix of classic punk, coiled rock ‘n’ roll and Denton-style speed is so far up my alley it’s not even funny, but that sweet invasion of my deepest desires comes with a risk: any band trafficking in such a style has to be really, really good to get me off. And “Gimme a Taste”, the standout track from Freedom Club’s demo, does it for me every time. It is straightforward, unadorned loudness of the highest order.
Company: “Rising Up”
Company is one of Portland’s most underappreciated punk bands, and last year’s Die on This Island
one of 2011’s overlooked gems. “Rising Up,” the first track on that EP, has found its way into every mix I’ve made since getting hipped to the band. It’s in my sadsack mixes, my “workout” (stare at my body in the mirror) mixes, my driving mixes, my “fuck the world, I’m gonna be a teenager forever” (stare at my body in the mirror some more) mixes—you name the mood, the shade of self-loathing, and “Rising Up” can soundtrack it. It slants into gruff rock ‘n’ roll territory a la Divers (the bands share a member), tilts into No Idea’s glory days as pusher of beard-friendly anthems and swings into classic East Bay punk melodicism without ever caving to any particular influence. It is a shining example of fist-pumping, sing-along punk rock.
Arctic Flowers: “Fall To Pieces”
One of my first
Upper Extremities columns was devoted to slobbering all over Arctic Flowers’ Reveries
. Since then I have frequently massaged my ego with the probably false (but still nice and warm and soft) suspicion that I was the first person in the world to review it. That matters not a whit, and I know it, but it feels good. Anyway, I’ve also listened to “Fall to Pieces” on a regular basis since writing that review over one year ago, as it still embodies everything I am looking to get out of punk rock at this point. Over two short minutes, Arctic Flowers gives a master class in meshing anarchopunk, post-punk, pop-punk, crust punk and just straight up fucking punk-punk, and if I were making a mix for kids who want to know what’s been going on in this ever-expanding genre for the last thirty-five years, I would most definitely include “Fall to Pieces”.
Youthbitch: “Heart Attack”
There are at least three other songs on Youthbitch’s latest LP, Don’t Fuck This Up
, that could have made this list. The album is really that good, and I implore you to buy it. For a couple weeks there I was listening to the record on repeat for hours a day, with loops within the loop—the one-two punch of “The Kids Don’t Dance” and “Heart Attack” would often halt my progress, their perfect pop charms forcing three or four go-rounds with each before I could proceed with the remainder of the album. But I’m forcing myself to choose, and I’m gonna go with “Heart Attack”. It is as good as poppy garage-punk gets. Not only in Portland, but anywhere. And not only now, but any time.
Mean Jeans: “Anybody Out There?”
Jesus Christ. I’ve written so many words about Mean Jeans. I’m not sick of them by any means, but I’m definitely tired of my own seemingly bottomless need to make sure the world knows how good this band is. I won’t go into detail about the weird shape of my life, but Mean Jeans got me through an especially rough few months this year. I saw them live as often as I could. I listened to On Mars constantly. I forged a whole new depth of appreciation for my brother via long conversations about Mean Jeans’ cracked mythology. It was and is ridiculous. But just listen to “Anybody Out There?”. Can you blame me?
The Thermals: “St. Rosa and the Swallows”
I have few regrets related to my Upper Extremities tenure (I guess I wish Mean Jeans had asked me to join the band), but I’m incredibly bummed that I never got to write about the Thermals. So I’m going to write about them now, even though the Thermals song I’ve chosen is six years old. The Thermals have been my favorite band in Portland since 2006, when they played Tiga’s grand opening party and blew away almost every live band I’d seen before and have seen since. Their albums have gotten slower and more introspective since then, but I saw them at Holocene a couple months ago, and they were just as raw, beautifully simple and perfectly punk as they were on the hot summer day I fell in love with them. “St. Rosa and the Swallows” is the song I will turn to when I miss Portland. When I miss everyone here. When I miss what I had. I know this is so because when I lived in Seattle last year, I had this immaculate song blasting at every bittersweet, homesick turn. The nostalgic bent of “St. Rosa and the Swallows” is built for such melanhcolic longing, but it is full of hope and love, too, and that is what I want my remembering to sound like, look like, feel like.