Here at Portland Radio Project, we love to highlight the Pacific Northwest music scene. And we’re proud to say we play a local artist or band every fifteen minutes – that’s exciting!

Nonetheless, there’s plenty going on beyond our bubble…a whole world of national and international musicians we also play.

This year, an impressive mix of diverse music genres competed for the attention of music fans. Best new artist nominee Billie Eilish soared to the top of the charts with four hit singles from “Where Do We Go When We All Fall Asleep.” Up-and-coming indie rocker Barns Courtney gave us ten smashing tracks via his “404” release.

Post Malone emphasized quality pop via “Hollywood’s Bleeding.” Taylor Swift re-energized fans with “Lover,” and rising star Hamish Anderson’s blues-rock “Out of My Head” was one not to miss.

Freewheeling Jakob Dylan’s “Echo of the Canyon” soundtrack – a tribute to the ’60s music of Laurel Canyon – was exemplary. Coldplay dropped intriguing double-album “Everyday Life.“

Singer-songwriter Ayla Nereo’s “By the Light of the Dark Moon” was fresh and timeless. Prolific Rhiannon Giddens dropped her folk-gospel-blues “There is No Other” to rave reviews.

And talented Alex Firethunder earned Debut Artist of the Year at this year’s annual Native American Music awards.

From these and so many many more, which artists and bands earned the highest praise?

Here’s my personal take on the cream of the crop!

Bastille – “Doom Days”

Talented British synth pop band Bastille returned with “Doom Days” and a slew of upbeat, imaginative indie rock tracks. Especially noteworthy? Lead singer Dan Smith’s appealing vocals on confessional “4 AM,” and the pop escapism of “The Waves.”  Contemplative “Divide” is another standout.

Great party songs to help you ring in the New Year.

Vampire Weekend – “Father of the Bride”

That it’s up for a Best Album Grammy should be a surprise to no one. Vampire Weekend’s “Father of the Bride” bestowed fans with 18 songs chock-full of musical creativity. “Bride” was written over a five-year period, and it shows. Clever lyrics, a variety of musical textures, excellent musicianship and consistent attention to detail created an album both rich and rewarding. It also boasts ace duets by guitarist and vocalist Izra Koenig and Danielle Haim (of L.A. band HAIM fame).

Don’t miss this one.

Lizzo – “Cuz I Love You”

What a fun gift Lizzo gave the world via “Cuz I Love You.” This – her third studio album – packs a captivating punch. Just one example? The charismatic rapper, singer and flautist delivers Etta James-like vocals on the album’s title track (which she wrote in under ten minutes). Don’t miss “Better in Color,” “Exactly How I feel,” “Like a Girl” plus hit singles “Juice” and “Truth Hurts.” An empowering clarion call to anyone who has ever felt sidelined or in need of encouragement, Lizzo’s twerk / hip-hop / pop mix also boasts high-end production from contributors Ricky Reed, Nate Mercereau and others.

“Be eternal” was advice given Lizzo by one of her earliest fans, Prince. Looks like she’s doing just that.

Hozier – “Wasteland, Baby!”

This year, one of Ireland’s most famous singer-songwriters showed fans he still has what it takes. “Wasteland, Baby!” – Hozier’s first release since his 2014 debut – delivered the same style, depth and excitement that made him so popular the first time ‘round. Listen for hit single “Nina Cried Power” featuring Mavis Staples, celebratory “To Noise Making” and heart-wrenching “Shrike.”

This musically meaty masterpiece deservedly debuted on Billboard at No.1.

Of Monsters and Men – “Fever Dream”

Powerhouse indie rockers Of Monsters and Men gifted fans with an exciting cache of new music to love via “Fever Dream.” Both cohesive and original, “Fever Dream” offers up a cool mix of electronic beats with organic, imaginative themes. Don’t miss Nanna Hilmarsdóttir’s vocals on hit single “Alligator,” reflective “Waiting for the Snow” or “Wars,” an irresistible pop triumph.

“Fever Dream” was solid confirmation that the rockers from Iceland are still on an upward trajectory.


Gary Clark Jr. – “This Land”

Texas blues-rocker Gary Clark Jr. blessed up the music world with “This Land” – his third studio album. Here, Clark displayed his unique ability to draw from numerous music genres including R&B, rock, funk, reggae and hip-hop. “This Land” showcases his very exceptional vocals…and it’s all wrapped up into a cohesive, memorable album.

Above all, the album imparts a commanding blues-rock vibe via Clark’s signature sizzling guitar solos. A Grammy contender and a must-have!

The Lumineers – “III”

The Lumineers returned with an avalanche of impressive tracks this year via epic “III.” Built around themes of addiction, the album follows the mishaps of a fictitious family.  The album’s catchy, compelling and original compositions are easy to embrace.

Is Americana-rock music a genre? The Lumineers make it so via great harmonies, spot-on cinematic arrangements, tender piano solos and spot-on musicianship. Bravo.

Bruce Springsteen – “Western Stars”

One of Springsteen’s greatest strengths has always been his ability to ponder life’s twists and turns through the eyes of the characters he sings about, which pretty much sums up the impressive success of his “Western Stars” release this year.

Perfectly placed orchestral touches create an expansive, majestic cinematic atmosphere on this, his twentieth studio album. From the colorful storytelling of “Drive Fast (The Stuntman)” to the joy of “Sleepy Joe’s Cafe” and the pensive title track, “Western Stars” is a masterwork.

Solange – “When I Get Home”

Solange bequeathed music lovers with her ambient, musically original “When I Get Home.” A tribute to her hometown of Houston, Texas, “Home” exquisitely embraced pop, jazz-funk and hip-hop into Knowles’ unique brand of psychedelic soul. In part inspired by Stevie Wonder’s atmospheric 1979 “Secret Life of Plants” – you can hear it in songs like “Beltway” – “Home” might even be described as impressionistic (Knowles also paints).

A reflective respite from life’s sometimes frantic pushes and pulls, this sonically poetic alum is one we’ll still be playing years from today.

Sheryl Crow – “Threads”

American singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow released “Threads” this fall. A tribute to the inspirations behind her career, Crow worked with a bevy of the talented musicians she idolizes. Most exceptional were “Live Wire” featuring Bonnie Raitt’s distinctive slide guitar, slow-burner “Tell Me When It’s Over”  with Chris Stapleton, and Crow’s scorching social commentary, “Story Of Everything.”

Don’t miss a touching cover of George Harrison’s “Beware of Darkness” where Brandi Carlile’s perfect vocals and Eric Clapton’s masterful guitar work loom large. Her country-western “Lonely Alone” – featuring Crow singing a duet with Willie Nelson – is an instant classic.

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All of these albums – and many fine local bands and artists – are on PRP’s playlist.

Tune in…and Happy Holidays!

Cynthia Orlando
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