It was a busy, bright and promising year for good music – both from perennial favorites and new and emerging artists. Whether you’re curious to see if your favorite act is on our list or in the market for some gift ideas, here’s hoping you find something you really love.
Highest recommendations for Tame Impala’s “Currents” released in July; its 13 tracks satisfy from start-to-finish. Frontman Kevin Parker’s skills as a producer, mixer, songwriter and vocalist are deftly showcased here. From Australia, their 2012 “Lonerism” netted a Grammy Award nomination for Best Alternative Music album – the new release may take them further. The psychedelic synth-pop band has been on tour in England, Berlin, the U.S. and Australia promoting this imaginative release. Check out “Yes I’m Changing” or hit single “Let It Happen,” currently on rotation at PRP.
“Let it Happen”
Kurt Vile “B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down”
In his sixth studio release, rock singer-songwriter Kurt Vile gave fans more of what’s made him successful: subdued, mesmerizing tracks exploring his entertaining, candid tongue-in-cheek observations. Making music since he was a teenager, Vile and musician Adam Granduciel formed the band War on Drugs in 2005 with Vile soon departing to focus on his own career. Consequence of Sound and The Guardian gave the album warm write-ups, as did PRP.
“All I want is to just have fun / live my life like a son-of-a-gun” Vile charmingly sings on “Pretty Pimpin.'” A talented, prolific musician, Vile’s superb guitar playing skills and highly engaging songwriting make him an artist to watch.
“Pretty Pimpin’ “
Great lyrics, catchy rhythms, unique musical textures and staccato-style vocals are the hallmarks of these thought-provoking young musicians. From the U.K., Little Comets might be described as a cerebral sort of band, but their music is also often charming, sometimes anthemic, always original. “Hope is Just a State of Mind,” their third album, was released in March. An original, exceptional band certainly deserving of wider exposure.
Lord Huron “Strange Trails”
American Indie band Lord Huron satisfied music lovers this year with “Strange Trails,” a smooth, vibrant release with tender, poetic touches including stellar hit single “Fool for Love.” Based in Los Angeles, this was their second full release.The kinds of tracks you’ll want to hang on to while navigating life’s byways, it’s an album you’ll want to return to again and again.
Elle King “Love Stuff”
The debut album from singer-songwriter Elle King crosses over a bevy of genres: pop, country-rock, blues. Whether singing “Under the Influence” or “Where the Devil Don’t Go,” her spunk and attitude are engaging and fun; Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney joins her on one track. Her hit single “Ex’s and Oh’s” made King just the second woman in two decades – after Lorde – to top Billboard’s Alternative Songs list. A track we’ll be hearing over radio airwaves 20 years from now, “Ex’s and Oh’s” is classic pop. PRP is currently spinning “Song of Sorrow” on our turntable; lovely and poignant, it shows another side to a promising young artist.
Josh Ritter “Sermon on the Rocks”
Josh Ritter’s 8th studio release – all recorded in New Orleans – was a fun exploration of the bible, Ritter, and relationships. Listen for his lighthearted “Getting Ready to Get Down,” the playful “Young Moses” or his clever, catchy “Henrietta, Indiana.” The energizing “A Big Enough Sky” is on PRP’s Playlist, but have a listen to “Homecoming,” which is also exceptional.
Blur “The Magic Whip”
A noteworthy release that might have flown beneath your radar this year is Blur’s “The Magic Whip.” It spans several genres but holds together well, and was inspired over a five-day period in Hong Kong.The sixth consecutive studio album for the acclaimed English Britpop rock band, “Whip” is notable for great rock n’ roll with fun pop overtones and extra-catchy tracks like “I Broadcast,” “Lonesome Street” and “My Terracotta Heart,” currently heard over PRP’s airwaves.
Half Moon Run “Sun Leads Me On”
In October, Montreal-based Half Moon Run released a wonderful, confident second album boasting exciting guitar riffs and superlative chord progressions – particularly on songs like “Consider Yourself” and “I Can’t Figure Out What’s Going On.” Soft-folk, west coast vibes, compelling rock and tight delivery of some well-placed instrumental flourishes gives this album an edge. Other highlights: their fiery “Turn Your Love,” the lovely “Hands in The Garden” and, “It Works Itself Out,” accentuated by striking harmonies and the most stellar of drums and percussion. Bravo.
“Turn Your Love”
Little May “For the Company”
From Sydney Australia, musicians Liz Drummond, Hannah Field and Annie Hamilton know how to craft standout arrangements, build on choruses and themes and draw in listeners with great storytelling. Their recently-released “For the Company” burns brightly on the driving, beautifully somber “Home,” and tracks such as their ghostlike, piano-driven “Oh My My.” The individual talents of these ace musicians interplay seamlessly.
Their outlook for the New Year looks bright: on an upward trend, their music has been picked up by ads for department store chain T.J. Maxx while the band gains popularity for their haunting, layered vocals and arresting harmonies.
Coldplay “Head Full of Dreams”
What’s with the gorillas, guys? Hard to know, but Coldplay’s latest, and possibly final, release consists of 11 appealing pop-rock tracks that don’t break much new ground yet are precisely what’s made the band – and its brand – successful. We love the golden tones of “Everglow,” the infectious hook of hit single “Adventure of a Lifetime” and the wall-of-sound effect on standout track “Hymn for the Weekend,” featuring Beyonce. “Up & Up” is a great closer.
Live music highlights
This year, Oregon’s live music scene was a vibrant one with no shortage of talented bands performing in some very excellent venues.
Among the many highlights:
Imagine Dragons at the Moda Center
Currently one of America’s most popular rock bands, Imagine Dragons’ mammoth Moda Center performance in June won’t be soon forgotten. On the second U.S. date of their “Smoke & Mirrors” tour, lead singer Dan Reynolds was certainly a big part of the night’s captivating energy, performing crowd-pleasing hits “Smoke and Mirrors,” “Demons,” “Polaroid,” “I Bet My Life” and “Amsterdam.” Accolades for the band’s “Smoke and Mirrors” release this year as well.
A mammoth light show and audience participation during “Radioactive” added to the night’s fun. Thanks to Portland’s MusicNutontheLoose for the invite.
Ty Curtis blasts at Waterfront
Fans turned out in droves to hear the music of blues-rock phenomenon Ty Curtis in July at Portland’s Waterfront Blues Fest. From the outset, the talented, affable blues guitarist blasted off into a high octane show, moving the mercury on a hot summer’s day even higher before a sea of happy faces; highlights from his newest “Water Under the Bridge” release included “Key to My Heart” and “Bad Break.”
George Ezra wows at the Crystal
On a hot summer’s night at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom, English singer-songwriter George Ezra captivated the sold-out venue with tracks from his debut “Wanted on Voyage” release and humorous friendly banter between tracks. A diverse musician, Ezra is also an exceptional vocalist; inspired by Leadbelly, Ezra says “I liked the idea of singing with a big voice, so I tried it, and I could.” Despite the heat, fans sang along with gusto to every song in Ezra’s setlist, which naturally included “Barcelona,” a foot-stomping rendition of “Cassy-O,” and “Budapest.”
Neil Young holds court at Matthew Knight Arena
With more than 30 albums to his credit, Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young had no trouble wowing a packed Matthew Knight Arena with nearly three hours of showmanship and music in October. Part of his “Rebel Content” tour, the Eugene show was memorable for songs that included “After the Gold Rush” “Out on the Weekend,” “Walk On,” “Everybody Knows this is Nowhere” and some exceptional tracks from his latest “Monsanto Years” album, including “People Want to Hear About Love.”
Sugar Beets delight Eugene
Also in October The Sugar Beets celebrated their 25th Anniversary in high style. Playing for more than 3 hours, this hard-to-categorize 8-member band – a Eugene institution – gave fans their due in a show that swaggered with homemade movies of the band’s touring days, a bevy of belly dancers and a conclusion highlighting keyboardist Marty Chilla’s jaw-dropping rendition of Mick Jagger singing “Emotional Rescue.” Here’s wishing you had been there.
Doug Fir Lounge delivers
In March Portland’s Doug Fir Lounge hosted several exceptional artists at their “Passport Approved” evening of music. Among them: Forest Blakk gave a rousing performance spanning the gamut from Sublime’s “What I Got” to his own touching “Heaven’s Telephone,” plus, a pitch-perfect delivery of his 5-star hit single “Love Me.” From Dublin Ireland, six-piece band Buffalo Sunn stole the night with lead singer Daniel Paxton’s vocals and their splendid, sun-drenched sound.
War on Drugs mesmerizes Crystal Ballroom
In May alternative rockers War on Drugs delighted and mesmerized fans at their sold-out Crystal Ballroom show. Noted for their unique hypno-roots-rock music, their generous setlist included fast driving “Red Eyes” and “An Ocean Between the Waves,” both from cinematic “Lost in the Dream,” and “Baby Missiles,” where frontman Adam Granduciel packed a wallop on harmonica. A breathtaking performance, indeed.
For a taste of their show at the Crystal, here’s War on Drugs performing “Eyes to the Wind” recently at Austin City Limits:
Happy Holidays from Portland Radio Project; if you’re looking for holiday gifts that inspire, remember the gift of music.