My Best Writing of 2017
A funny thing happened on the way to me getting out of the dying business of music journalism: I got laid off, just like everybody else I know. I spent the second half of 2017 working on a book proposal, learning everything from Sass to Nginx configuration for my new career as a giant web nerd, and writing the occasional freelance piece. But before that I continued living my personal dream of the ’00s: being a full-time newspaper music critic who got paid to write stories about Radiohead and hip-hop newcomers and a woman who buys unpublished Stevie Nicks photos on eBay.
I worked super-hard on all of this and I’m proud to share it here. Thanks for reading. More to come from me soon, including an albums of the year list and 2018 plans.
Ryan Adams in Portland: A music critic’s last word
My final piece as the Oregonian music critic, a love letter to my (former?!) profession and my favorite musician.
More than anything, I’ve wanted my work to capture the transcendence great music–at the Moda Center, at Edgefield, at Bunk Bar–can bring, the unmistakable lift of a chorus and 100-plus decibels. The way the lights go down and phones and lighters go up, the world for a few minutes the size of the room and the shape of a perfect song. In those moments, there is no president, no division, no fear or money or pain. There’s only music, and I believe in music.
Oregon Stevie Nicks super-fan shows off her Fleetwood Mac museum
“I don’t want to say I’m in debt,” Anita Kayed said, laughing in her King City living room and surrounded by a lifetime of Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac memorabilia: signed posters, decades of scrapbooks, unpublished photos, buttons, mugs, flowers from Nicks’ mic stand and hundreds of records, CDs and eight-track tapes from China to the former nation of Czechoslovakia.
When Stevie Nicks comes to the Moda Center on Feb. 28, Kayed is planning on being in her usual spot: the front row, looking up at her icon.
Did this man make your favorite Portland album?
I sat down with Larry Crane, Elliott Smith’s archivist, Tape Op editor, Portland music producer and sweetheart guy, to talk about 20 years of his Jackpot Studio.
The Last Artful, Dodgr and her Eyrst squad want Portland on the hip-hop map
If Dodgr’s ever nervous, she doesn’t show it. Not on “Sway in the Morning,” where over 40 minutes, she told her life story as a Los Angeles kid who witnessed the L.A. riots; explained the levels of her stage name (a nod to L.A., childhood nickname La Di Da Di, and her luck with persuasion); delivered a soulful a cappella freestyle in that singular, Auto-Tune-free voice; and parried questions about her sexuality.
“There’s no reason to hide away from who I am,” she told the “Sway” crew. “That’s like saying, I’m not black. That’s like saying, I’m not a woman. I am America, right here. I’m a black queer woman and I’m killing it. There’s no way I wouldn’t just put myself out there, just 100 percent.”
Review: The radical self-love of Lorde’s Melodrama
But if Lorde admits to her wild personality, she also claims it, revels in it, laughs at it, grapples with the power and burden of being herself. “Melodrama” is about owning your emotions all the way through, in love or out: it is vulnerable and real and paints in every color, green lights and dark Picasso blue. To paraphrase another drama queen, if you can’t handle Lorde at her worst, you don’t deserve her at her best.
Radiohead: Finding humanity in rock’s most paranoid androids
My Oregonian cover story about the best rock band of our time.
On a night that made Los Angeles remember what rain feels like, I buckled into the back seat of my parents’ car and scratched apart a plastic wrapper, opened a jewel case, and snapped a CD into my Sony Discman. Distorted wind blew across my headphones. Chords shimmered and echoed and burst suddenly into guitar flames.
“Oh wow,” I thought in the back seat, the 101 freeway a blur of raindrops and headlights. “Oh wow.”
The CD played all the way through, and I stared out the window, the music centers of my brain changing color and shape like a butterfly tearing out of a cocoon.
That was the first night I listened to Radiohead.
The xx in Portland: Indie’s minimalist masters in full color
And so the xx have done that rarely successful thing: evolved. At the Coliseum on Sunday, they opened with “Say Something Loving,” a standout from this year’s I See You: it kicked off with a ’70s psych-pop sample and expanded from there, Croft and Sim as urgent and confident as they’ve ever sounded. It would be easy to mistake their old material’s simplicity as a kind of slacker shrug: in retrospect, it was probably just shyness. There was a little of that on Sunday, as Croft admitted to nerves before a solo performance of the wounded ballad “Performance,” but more often, they were masterful in delivering a new sound.
David Crosby interview: ‘You hope to wake people up’
Got to spend 8 minutes talking to a rock icon before our connection cut out.
DG: You’ve seen a lot of protests and protest songs come and go. What you think now about the power of a protest song, and if you write a political song, what do you hope to accomplish with it?
DC: Well, you hope to wake people up, to make ’em take notice. It’s part of our job. Most of our job is to make you boogie, or make you happy, take you on little emotional voyages, but part of our job comes clear back to the Middle Ages, when we were the troubadours, the town criers. People who brought the news. So it is part of our gig to say “Hey, it’s 12 o’clock and all’s well,” or, “It’s 12 o’clock and you just elected a maniac to run the country and it’s really screwing things up.” It’s not all of our job but it is part of our job and I like to do it when it’s appropriate.
What It’s Like To Watch Netflix’s ‘Mitt’ Romney Documentary In The Age of Trump
Most of my politics writing this year was me screaming about the president on Twitter but I did go deeper on this one, about the surreal intimacy of a documentary whose moment has already passed into distant history.
Even if you didn’t know he was mere months removed from a principled, pre-election speech calling Trump “a phony, a fraud,” who was “playing the members of the American public for suckers,” the humiliation is thicker than the butter on his sautéed frog legs. You can almost hear the record scratching, the frame freezing, the narrator’s voice: Yup, that’s me, Mitt Romney. You’re probably wondering how I got into this mess.
Election Day and what came after
A meditation on grief I wrote for Ryan Sartor’s reading series.
Hours passed, votes came in, and the needle kept pushing. By the time the Democrats got good news—Governor Kate Brown was elected—the needle was all the way into the red section. The color of hearty American blood.
Live review: U2 takes on The Joshua Tree and Trump in Seattle
The Joshua Tree is 30 now, and after the iTunes-spamming controversy of the band’s last album release, cynics might call an anniversary tour a retreat. But how could it be? Its questions still float in the air. Its conflicts—like the working-class plight of “Red Hill Mining Town”—still rage. And its music still seeks grace with fury and beauty, force and vulnerability.
Upstream 2017 review: Beta-testing the Northwest’s next new music festival
Recapping marathon new music festivals across the country (and one time in Manchester) is probably my favorite thing I got to do as a critic over the last 7 or 8 years.
Most festivals cover “new music,” but Upstream, which ran Thursday through Saturday on the dime of Microsoft billionaire/arts patron Paul Allen and his company Vulcan, is not Coachella or Bonnaroo, outdoor fests that draw tens of thousands for big names, fashion looks and Snapchat storytelling, and campsite partying. Instead, it mirrored the mission of Austin’s SXSW: a city takeover to showcase emerging artists for curious fans and industry notables alike, with a daytime conference to share wisdom and networking opportunities.