Timeless Melodies


When we last caught up with Portland, Oregon’s Mo Troper it was 2017 and his very good album Exposure and Response. He’s still writing top quality pop songs on album number three which is called Natural Beauty. Where Exposure employed the services of Richard Manning of Jellyfish fame for the horn and string arrangements, this album sees Troper handling most of them himself with now obvious quality degradation.

Natural Beauty is a solid batch of songs (Almost Full Control, Come and Get Me, and Jaz from Australia are all standouts). The obvious standout song here (and one of his best songs yet) is Your Boy. It’s two minutes of sheer pop brilliance in the vein of the La’s There She Goes. Maybe it’s the similarity the two songs share in their choruses (“There she goes” vs “There goes your boy”), or it could be the jangly guitar intro, or perhaps it’s the fleeting brevity of the song. Whatever the case, it was the reason the repeat button was created. I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t start hearing it used in many upcoming romantic comedy movies. Get it below before it’s discovered and killed by corporate America.

No Hand Sanitizer Required In This Honey Bucket


If you don’t live on the West Coast a band named Honey Bucket probably won’t have any bad connotations for you. For those of us not so fortunate, well let’s just say that we will just have to try not to touch anything and hold our noses as we listen. Port-a-potty influenced name aside, Portland trio Honey Bucket have just released an excellent debut record that has elements of their pals Woolen Men, the Clean and some Elephant 6 collective in its pop innards.

Recorded to a Tascam, the aesthetic of the album reminds me of the early Elephant 6 records by Beulah, The Apples In Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel. It’s sort of geeky pop fun at its core with cheap sounding keyboards and some free jazz horns interspersed into its pure pop.

The vinyl version of Honey Bucket’s Magical World is out on See My Friends Records. Downloads are at Bandcamp.

P R O – L I T H I C S


Portland, Oregon post punkers Lithics have just released a scorcher of a debut album. Fans of Pylon, Gang of Four and the Au Pairs should take note of this record. Borrowed Floors is chock full of rolling bass, jagged guitars and androgynous vocals. The songs sound like they’ve pulled in from the wild hinterlands of the Rose city. It appears as though someone tried to domesticate them, but failed. Careful entering the cage, this one will pin you down and make you buy a copy.

Downloads available from bandcamp and vinyl at Water Wing Records.

Tender Age Get High

The first Tender Age single reminded me of Felt’s Ignite the Seven Cannons. it was methodically austere and moody. The Portland band are back with their second single that shows them tweaking things just a little to deliver a warmer and more ethereal sounding record. In other words they’ve turned up the shoegaze dials on the guitars. It’s still good, but different from their first single and veers into the same sonic territory as the Wildhoney album from earlier this year. It also begs the question, how many more records do I need to buy that sound like My Bloody Valentine, Chapterhouse and Slowdive? I guess one more wouldn’t hurt.

You get the vinyl or download from SINIS Recordings bandcamp page.

If You Build It They Will Come

Woolen Men

You might remember San Francisco band Pow!‘s album Hi-Tech Boom from two years ago. It was a punk filled diatribe against zombie tech workers taking over their city.  In the two years since, the zombie tech worker cancer has moved up the coast to Portland (and Seattle). The nouveau riche are clogging up the city’s’ arteries, causing the cost of everything to go up, encouraging developers to come into neighborhoods and level older cheaper housing to build shiny new, and more expensive housing. Neighborhoods that once were quirky, weird and cool become bland and boring. Where once there was a record store now stands a bank. where there was a fun dive bar or DIY space now stand condominiums and high end furniture stores with on the ground floor.

Like their bay area brethern Portland’s Woolen Men aren’t going take it sitting down. Their new album Temporary Monument is about the experience of their city changing into something that they no longer recognize and don’t much like. On the album’s opening song Clean Dreams they’re choked by the dust of high-rise pits being dug, crowded out and feeling alienated in a city they see changing for the bad before their eyes. The feeling of alienation in their hometown continues on songs Alien City, Life in Hell, Hard Revision and the title track.

Musically, Woolen Men continue on the same trajectory of jangly and jagged guitar riffs inspired by the Clean, the Minutemen, dB’s and Wire. All three members write, sing and play guitar which lends a diversity to the album. Mostly the songs veer toward high energy rage, but they can dial it back and sound pretty like on Walking Out and After the Flood which is so introspective and sad it sounds like it could have been REM‘s Automatic for the People.

If this were just a record railing against the mallification of urban cores it might grate at your nerves over a full album, but Woolen Men take you through the full seven step grieving process with a deftness and ingenuity that could if directed in the right way could create an insulated pocket of creative utopia.

Woolen Men’s Temporary Monument is out now on Woodsist.

Giving Your Dusty Shelves Some Life

Shelflife Records down in Portland has been quietly and consistently releasing quality records for the past 15 years. There’s no let up in sight,  and the recent handful of releases sees them continuing to do it.  Here’s a rundown of those recent releases, all of them worth checking out.

White Wishes are from St. Petersburg, Russia and have an obvious thing for records that came out on 53rd & 3rd. They write slightly noisy yet tuneful pop songs. Come Say Hello is their first physical release. It has a noisy jangle and the singer sounds like a more tuneful Stephen Pastel or Steve Kilby on those early (and great) Church albums. I don’t know what the scene is like in St. Petersburgh. Are White Wishes part of a scene tucked away in the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic or an anomaly? They sing in English, cover Orange Juice songs and don’t sound remotely Russian so I’m assuming anomaly. The iron curtain came down years ago, but it still seems to exist in the indiepop world since you don’t hear of too many bands from Russia. Shelflife and White Wishes are bringing down the indiepop iron curtain one 7 inch at a time.

mp3: White Wishes – Come Say Hello (found on LIFE077)

Balloon Magic are from Denmark. Between Balloon Magic and Northern Portrait one might assume that Denmark has a thing for the 80’s UK indie charts. The Queen is not dead and this case it is the queen of Denmark, Margrethe II. I wonder if she’s a fan of Balloon Magic? Seems like a pretty safe bet given their wispy and fully formed pop songs. Put away your sponges and your rusty spanners and head down to the record store for this CD EP.

mp3: Balloon Magic – I’d Like to Build a House (found on LIFE076)

For a while Pains of Being Pure at Heart drummer Kurt Feldman had a thing for shoegaze with his other band the Depreciation Guild. I assume he still has a thing for shoegaze, but his new band Ice Choir has nothing to do with that genre. He’s gone back a little further in time, to the 80’s to be precise and Scritti Politti (anyone remember Perfect Way?). If you lived it, you most certainly remember it (and may not want to relive it). Not to fear, Feldman does it with style and doesn’t go over the top. Two Rings even has a little bit of a Prefab Sprout feel to it. I wonder if Thomas Dolby has signed on to produce the album?

mp3: Ice Choir – Two Rings (found on LIFE079)

Magic Marker Records Interview

Happy Birthday Magic Marker

Headquartered down the I-5 in Portland, Oregon, Magic Marker is getting ready to turn ten years old.  Ten years may not seem like much, but for a record label it is no small feat.  Magic Marker is run by Curt and  Mark, two music obsessed gentlemen who have over the last  ten years built quite a fine little record label, consistently putting great record after great record.  I think they may have been a bit bewildered when I asked them what it takes to run a  successful label, but in the world of indiepop Magic Marker is one of the best.  Yeah, they’re not raking in the bucks and taking over the world, but  like their inspirations (Merge and K) they have developed a name you can trust by putting out stuff they truly like.  You know when you buy something from Magic Marker that it’s going to be quality pop.   Their longevity, consistency, quality packaging and general enthusiasm for music is something to truly celebrate.  They started out by putting out records from Portland bands like Galactic Heroes, All Girl Summer Fun Band, Dear Nora, Kissing Book,  and Boy Crazy and a few from other corners of the United States like Vehicle Flips from Pittsburgh, Walker Kong from Minneapolis.  In recent years they’ve gone international with excellent records from the Manahattan Love Suicides (UK), Faintest Ideas (Sweden), Bats (NZ), Minisnap (NZ) and newest signings Hello Seahorse (Mexico).  With all of the uncertainty surrounding the record labels these days, one thing is for sure Magic Marker aren’t throwing up their hands calling it a day. Last year saw records from Minisnap, Tullycraft and the Manhattan Love Suicides to name a few and this year I’m looking forward to a new record from Boat.

So in honor of the past ten years as the flagship indiepop label of the Pacific Northwest, Magic Marker is throwing  a party down in Portland next Saturday at the Someday Lounge.  It promises to be a hell of a lot of fun with an all-star line-up that includes Tullycraft and Boat,a reunited Dear Nora, and the Galatic Heroes.   Curt and Mark have also promised a few DJ sets for this all ages show as well as a very limited edition (200 copies) set of 7 inch records of Magic Marker bands covering each other’s songs that will be for sale.  I recently sat down with Curt and Mark over a keyboard and fiber optic wires for an interview about how they got started, how things have changed in Portland and what they’ve been up to.  Happy Birthday guys!

What the impetus for starting Magic Marker?

Curt: For me it was just finding another reason to get to know bands that I liked. I wanted to have something to talk about after a show.
Mark: I remember always being interested in what running a record label entailed.  I had a few friends at WIUS (Indiana University) who released some tapes and compilation cds. I went to a few Secretly Canadian meetings when they were first starting out, and thought, I can do this myself.  Of course mm never came to until Curt came on board.

What other record labels have inspired or influenced Magic Marker?
Curt:  I was very inspired by K records and Merge records. These two labels release music locally and globally and without a specific sound yet you knew you could trust their taste.
Mark:  At the time, Simple Machines was my favorite label.  They were the best DIY inspiration I could think of.  I am  currently still inspired by what Merge is doing.

It seems like a lot of independent record labels are started up by one person, Magic Marker is two people, how does that work?
Curt: Two seems the way to go. K Records: Calvin & Candace, Merge: Laura & Mac . I think you really need that other person to bounce ideas off of. I also think  you need the other person to help out on a lot of the work that needs to be done or help pick up the slack.
Mark: I think it’s important to do something like this with a partner. It’s easier to get excited about releases, showcases, etc. when you can share it with somebody who is equally involved.

What would you say that are the top one or two essential things you need to run a successful label?
Curt: Well that all depends on what you mean by “Successful” . I would say a huge fan of music and a discerning ear is essential. A large trust fund would be helpful as well (anyone have one they don’t need?)
Mark: Keep releasing music you love, and I think that is a success. The longer you can do that, the more successful you become I guess.

You guys put on a lot of house shows and documented them with A House Full of Friends double CD.  Are house shows in Portland a thing of the past or are you still doing them?
Curt: When we initially started putting on house shows it was to fill a need in Portland. There wasn’t an all ages club at the time and most bars either didn’t want our type of music or didn’t want to pay the bands. Portland has come a long way since then and not only supports many all age venues but most over 21 places are hosting bills of pop and wildly experimental music. I moved out the house awhile ago and we have only had one show at the new house since then which didn’t go so well with the neighbors so thats probably it for putting on house shows. I still attend them though.

How has the Portland music scene changed last 10 years with regards to indie pop?
Curt: When we started our label in Portland there seemed like a lot of like minded indie pop bands. Boy Crazy, The Crabs, Dear Nora, Kissing Book, All Girl Summer Fun Band, The Lookers, The Minders and New Bad Things to name a few. Most of these bands knew each other and would play shows together pretty regularly. Since then I don’t think we have been able to repeat that as a community.
Mark:  I was in California for a few years in between and I agree, the community of what we had here in the late 90’s is now different.  I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing, but the close knit pop community we had here was pretty special.  There just seems to be so much music here in Portland that in a way it has lost some identity. I am not saying more music is bad by any means mind you, it has just been hard to get used to.

With bands from the US, Sweden, UK, New Zealand and Mexico, Magic Marker has a diverse roster, without giving away any secrets how do decide what you want to put out?
Curt: Its not a secret. I devour music. I listen to music all the time. I scour blogs and myspace pages to hear new music. A big help is bands we work with recommending us bands they have played with or are fans of. There is so much music out there that if something sticks with me it must stick out in some way as different or interesting. If we get a demo I listen to it once or twice and if I find myself going back to it I think it might be a potential Magic Marker release.
Mark:  The Internet has definitely helped with the ease of finding new music.  It’s funny to think about not too long ago all of the packages we used to get of demos.  Now it is just an email with a myspace link.  Makes sense though.

I’m so glad you guys put out the last Bats album and the Minisnap record, how did you connect with those two bands?
Curt: Sadly when The Bats decided to put out their comeback record ten years later the world had kind of passed them by. I think they were having a hard time finding traditional methods of finding a label.  Mark claims to have made contact with Robert via a Go-Betweens message board. I have to say working with The Bats was really a dream come true as they are one of my favorite bands even before we released that record.
Mark:  Well, that is true Curt.  It was very indirect though.  A fellow Bats/Go-Betweens fan mentioned something about the Bats finishing a record and was looking for US distribution and a label.  Through him, he gave Robert Scott our email and that was that. For me, releasing the Bats was one of those moments where I thought, “wow, this is a real record label.”  Haha.

How do you view the rise of the internet?  There is the prevalence of file sharing  vs. making it easier and cheaper to promote your label?  Has it made it easier or harder to sell records?
Curt: I like the internet. I hear a lot more music than I did before the MP3. Our band’s music is being distributed in the largest music stores in the world. While I still love a physical product and the craftsmanship that goes into it, I am happy that more people are able to find and hear music.
Mark:  I think for me it is all about adjusting to the times.  I know of other labels that are soon going to the all digital sales format, and it does make sense.  I have been stubborn about this in the past, but I am in full acceptance now.  Kids don’t really have record collections like we did when we were younger. Instead of walls of records and cds it’s how many gigs are in your lacie drive.  And from all of the times I have moved, I am so jealous.

Thanks Curt and Mark, and here’s to the next 10 years.  There are show details and some mp3’s after the click…

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