2020: Silver Linings to a Tragic Year

It’s safe to say 2020 was the worst year on record for many in the United States. With hundreds of thousands dead from COVID-19, it’s hard to think of much else sometimes. While I’m not confident that the pandemic will be resolved quickly, efficiently, or without significantly more loss of life, there have been some silver linings to 2020. Quarantine has taken me out of the usual routine and given me some fresh perspectives. In addition to enabling me to get outside backpacking A LOT more than usual, I have also picked up practicing the guitar, learning half a dozen songs, and writing a few of my own. Operations at Soundscape City have been limited to a handful of socially distanced recording sessions and mixing due to the coronavirus.

Below is a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite releases this year. Thank you very much to all those musicians who released albums in 2020 despite losing income on touring and gigging. I hope you find some new gems on this list!

Pacific Northwest Releases


Greet the Sea – Whatever Intended

Indie-rock.

It’s been 5 years since Greet the Sea’s last release, and it was well worth the wait for Whatever Intended. Focusing more on catchy songwriting, the band still remains true to their roots utilizing atmospheric post-rock textures and math-rock inspired guitar work. They even venture into some heavier moments like on the track Heavy Breathing. This band is so Seattle it makes me smile.


Coastlands – Death

Metalgaze.

Coastlands continues to darken their sound trudging deeper and deeper into the realm of metal. Death sees the band fully embracing the genre. They even add screaming vocals with a guest appearance by Dustin Coffman to one of my favorite tracks on the album, Dead Friends.


Eastern Sunz – Fuel for a Fool’s Errand

Hip hop.

I might be a bit late to the Eastern Sunz party. They seem to have been around for a while and I just started listening to them. Regardless, Fuel for a Fool’s Errand was one of my favorite hip hop albums of the year, and their scathing political commentary is backlit by some stellar production.


Ghost Frog – Astral Arcade

Psychedelic/grunge.

I first met Ghost Frog assisting Eric Broestl at Big Red Studio when they were working on their last album Cosmic Bowling. The new Astral Arcade was years in the making, and Ghost Frog’s finest release to date. I love the combination of psychedelic rock with pacific northwest grunge, and Eric’s phenomenal mixing job really puts the finishing touches on these sludgy earworms.


Korgy & Bass – Agrocrag

Drum & bass.

Korgy & Bass keep distilling their sound into groovier and harder hitting productions while maintaining their focus on spontaneity, creativity, and improvisation. Agrocrag is my favorite K&B album so far, and it combines a gritty 90s hip hop aesthetic with more modern EDM tricks and even some references to dubstep. I guarantee you haven’t heard this music before. If only I could’ve seen Barra and Alex perform Agrocrag live this year…


Soft Kill – Dead Kids R.I.P. City

Darkwave.

I’ve been venturing into more 80s territory in my listening tastes lately, and it’s not a secret that many bands have been mimicking that 80s sound as well. Soft Kill’s Dead Kids R.I.P. City combines 80s synths and drums with a good dose of shoegaze guitars. It’s certainly not a new sound, but to be able to pull this sound off so well is impressive (and the songs are catchy to boot).


Laura Viers – My Echo

Indie folk.

The duo of Laura Viers and Tucker Martine felt like the famous power couple of Portland if there ever was one. Well, turns out they’re humans, too, and they are getting (got?) a divorce. My Echo is Viers’ coming to terms with her divorce from Martine, and if anything it’s a testament that personal pain is a great motivator for amazing art.


Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately

Chamber pop.

While more straightforward and less experimental than the breakout album No Shape, Mike Hadreas has put a premium on catchy songwriting for his latest release. Set My Heart On Fire Immediately takes what made No Shape popular and doubles-down on that sound. If you liked his last album, you’ll probably like this one. If you didn’t, you probably won’t.


Floating Room – Tired and True

Art rock.

One of the shining examples of the weird and quirky art rock that Portland is known for, Floating Room has been steadily pivoting away from the shoegaze that characterized Maya Stoner’s early releases and moving toward a more poppy sound with less reverb and punchier production.


Sunbathe – Somewhere in Between

Garage pop.

After the Portland staple of indie-rock, Genders, broke up, Maggie Morris started her new project, Sunbathe. Her first album as Sunbathe felt like a clear departure from Genders. Maybe it was an attempt to demarcate what was Genders and what is Sunbathe. On her latest album, Somewhere in Between, I hear more of the textures and melodies that made Genders so great, and it’s a welcome return to form for Morris’ fantastic songwriting with a strong dose of garage pop, psychedelic rock, and shoegaze.


Non-local Releases


Hailaker – Holding (UK)

Indie.


IDLES – Ultramono (Bristol, UK)

Post punk.


Soccer Mommy – color theory (Nashville, TN)

Bedroom pop.


Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud (Philadelphia, PA)

Alternative.


Tricot – 10 (Japan)

Mathrock.


Nation of Language – Introduction, Presence (New York, NY)

New wave.


Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher (Los Angeles, CA)

Indie folk.


Gleemer – Down Through (Fort Collins, CO)

Shoegaze.


The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers (Auckland, NZ)

Pop punk.


Son Lux – Tomorrows Vol. I (New York, NY)

Experimental indie.


2018: Finally, women all over year-end lists

This year I was glad to see female artists well-represented across many year end lists. It’s stating the obvious (at least for those who view female musicians as equals), but female talent has always been present in the music industry. The only difference with 2018 is that females are getting more of the respect and recognition they deserve, and I would argue this is primarily because a large number of amazing women have stood up against a music industry that has historically been anti-female, sexist, and full of toxic masculinity.

Take a listen to some of the fantastic releases I came to love throughout this year, many of which feature female artists. It has been a busy year at Soundscape City with releases from Luna Vista and Cloud Six, and a laundry list of projects that are soon to be released in 2019 (but I’ll keep them secret for now).

Enjoy! Below is a Spotify playlist and links to each release.

Pacific Northwest Releases


No Kind of Rider – Savage Coast

Indie-rock.

It took 12 years as a band for No Kind of Rider to release their first full-length album, and Savage Coast was actually worth the wait. It’s dark, moody, and has just the right balance of catchy grooves mixed with intricate melodies and technical rhythms. I just hope their next release doesn’t take 12 years to make…


Jenn Champion – Single Rider

80s pop.

It’s easy to overdo 80s style productions. Jenn finds a place where her throwback production only adds power to her emotional content and musical aesthetic rather than detract.


Sloucher – Be True

90s alt-rock.

Further embracing their 90s sound, Sloucher’s first full length, Be True, is strong all the way through. The occasional twang adds to the nostalgia of this release, but it’s also clear that Sloucher has their eyes set on the future as their popularity grows.


Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Sex & Food

Lo-fi psych and soul.

This is my favorite Unknown Mortal Orchestra release to date. Their blend of lo-fi and danceable soul pairs perfectly with Nielson’s lofty lyrics about the complicated state of our modern society. UMO have refined their songwriting while managing to retain the raw aesthetic of earlier releases.


Black Belt Eagle Scout – Mother of My Children

Indie psych-rock.

Rooted in Paul’s indigenous, queer, and feminist identity, this heartfelt release is at times shockingly simple and gorgeous, as well as abrasively gritty. Black Belt Eagle Scout is Portland indie rock at it’s finest. Not bad for a first release.


Sama Dams – Say It

Experimental rock.

While Sama Dams lean more toward catchy vocals and brighter synths on this release, they still retain the dark and dreary quality achieved on earlier albums. The combination of creative and skittering drum parts with tightly executed vocals, emotive synths, and brutally honest lyrics gives Say It a depth not commonly found in music today.


Laura Viers – The Lookout

Indie folk.

Waiting five years since her last release, Viers keeps pushing her quirky brand of folk into the future. Her songs feel fresh, nostalgic and comforting all at the same time. Recent collaborations with Neko Case and k.d. lang also bring new perspective to Viers’ songwriting and production.


Coastlands – The Further Still

Post-rock.

Coastlands have been hard at work touring all over the US, and you can hear it in how well-executed The Further Still sounds. Taking cues from bands like Russian Circles and Pelican, Coastlands displays more raw energy on this release, balanced by melodic flourishes and intricate rhythms. Sissoyev continues to record and produce the band, refining Coastlands’ atmospheric and epic tones (dare I say) further still.


Moorea Masa and the Mood – Shine A Light

R&B.

It’s hard to listen to Shine A Light and not smile. Masa’s voice is the standout feature of this release, but the production has just the right amount of Motown funk and modern polish. Give it a spin, and try not to smile. I dare you.


Typhoon – Offerings

Indie.

Kyle Morton and Typhoon have taken their charming brand of orchestral pop and infused a more straight-ahead indie rock sound into the mix. More strings, more distortion, and less horns give Offerings a darker mood, matching more closely to Morton’s downtrodden lyrics.


Non-local Releases


Rhye – Blood (Toronto, CA)

R&B/electronic.


Boygenius – S/T (Los Angeles, CA)

Indie.


Bad Bad Hats – Lightning Round (Minneapolis, MN)

Indie pop.


Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Philadelphia, PA)

Rock.


Lucy Dacus – Historian (Philadelphia, PA)

Indie.


St. Vincent – Masseduction (New York City, NY)

Art pop.


Foxing – Nearer My God (St. Louis, MO)

Indie/emo.


Lo Moon – S/T (Los Angeles, CA)

Indie/electro/80’s.


Covet – effloresce (San Jose, CA)

Math rock.


Petal – Magic Gone (Scranton, PA)

Indie punk.


In Memory of Simon Katz

Places Pictures

I never actually met Simon. The only connection I had to Simon was listening to Simon’s bass parts in my studio and mixing them in Boats Without Oars’ album Places, Pictures. Simon tragically passed away in 2015. The album stands in Simon’s memory, and I was honored to be a part of it.

The goal for the album was simple yet challenging: take 7 home recordings by some talented high schoolers from Denver and turn them into a record. Yes, the recordings were a bit rough around the edges, and I’m sure the band would’ve done things differently had they had the chance to go back and clean everything up. With Simon’s sudden death, there was no such luxury. In hindsight, I think the imperfections only highlight the power of the songs and reinforce the aesthetic of Boats Without Oars…one of those recording “happy accidents.”

After hours of mixing, back and forth notes between the band and me, and revisions, I believed I had succeeded in doing Simon’s memory justice. The album was off to the masterer. It certainly increased the pressure of the project knowing that my mixes were a very concrete representation of Simon’s final musical stamp on the world.

Doing music for so many years, it would be a lie to say I haven’t questioned why the hell I’m still working in this profession. It’s certainly not the glamour (that was only tempting as a teenager). On the surface, my work in general doesn’t create a huge impact on the world. It doesn’t save lives. It doesn’t heal wounds. It doesn’t solve injustice…at least, on the surface it doesn’t. Music has the power to do all of these things in small (and sometimes big) ways. Working on Places, Pictures reminded me that at it’s core recording is just that: a record, a document. Recordings can help us document a certain time in a musician’s life, reflect on that time, and enjoy their art from that period. The album serves as a document of the music of Simon Katz and the band, and I hope it serves as a record of Simon’s creativity, genius, and the other qualities I was unfortunately never able to experience first hand. I hope it helps those close to Simon through their grieving and provides catharsis. Mixing this album gave me a strong reminder that music does impact the world in strong and positive ways.

If you’re a fan of emo, math rock, post rock, or punk, give the album a listen. You’ll hear the thoughts of a great musician that was taken from this world too soon.

A Good Year for Pacific Northwest Music

This year has seen a boom of solid releases in the local Northwest music community. I was blown away to have engineered and mixed a release by The Sextet that was chosen by KMHD as one of the top ten jazz albums of 2016. While the goal of producing music isn’t necessarily getting on a radio station’s top ten list, it does feel good to get some recognition.

After getting a little love from KMHD, I thought it might be nice to spread that love around. Below, I highlight my ten favorite Pacific Northwest releases of the year, as well as my favorite releases across the globe. Compiling this list was a great excuse for me to catch up on some releases I missed out on this year. Of course, there are many more artists I could’ve highlighted, but (in my mind) music shouldn’t be a competition. At its best, music should bring people together, not push them away. If a particular release didn’t make the cut, that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. These releases spoke to my personal tastes, and I kept coming back to them throughout the year for repeat listens. Hopefully, you’ll find something on this list that speaks to you, too.

Everything is in alphabetical order. I find it hard to rate these albums in any fair sort of way, especially when they span genres from hip-hop to post-rock.

Pacific Northwest Releases


Amos Val – Yūgen

Post-shoegaze.

I’m sad that these guys won’t be playing these songs live anymore, but they left a great record of all their hard work with this awesome release.


Blowout – No Beer, No Dad

Pop punk.

One of the best live punk bands in Portland. Go see them.


Coastlands – To be found

Post-rock.

This album makes whatever you’re doing more epic and moody in the best possible way…adding in the fact that these guys are really nice people doesn’t hurt, either.


David Bazan – Blanco

Indie rock.

David Bazan made a synth album, and goddammit he hooked me again.


DETLEF – S/T

Instrumental math rock.

Ex-members of Rooftops. The album is definitely more restrained than Rooftops’ releases, but that only helps Detlef bloom in a lyrical fashion uncommon to instrumental bands.


Dust Moth – Scale

Rock.

Such a bad-ass band. Before I knew who they were, I walked into their set just in time to catch their last song, and I’ve been sad I missed the beginning of that set ever since.


Ellis Pink – Fist Day Around The Globe

Indie pop.

Stellar pop songwriting shines throughout this release. Connor’s intricate yet danceable beats provide a springboard for Simon’s catchy melodies.


Holy Tentacles – Won’t Be Saved

Math rock.

Tapping? Mathy rhythms? Intricate guitar interplay? I’m sold. It’s hard to pull off music this technical while keeping the songwriting catchy, but that’s exactly what Holy Tentacles does on Won’t Be Saved.


Sloucher – Certainty

Indie rock.

I was blown away by the production, writing, and simplicity of this release. I haven’t heard straight-ahead rock music recorded this well in a long time.


Two Planets – Procession

Jazz-Hop.

Dusty Fox and crew transcend hip-hop and jazz norms in a combination that elevates mind, body, and soul.


Non-local Releases


Blood Orange – Freetown Sound (New York, NY)

R&B.


Camp Cope – S/T (Melbourne, Australia)

Emo.


Enemies – Valuables (Kilcoole, Ireland)

Tropical post/math-rock.


Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math (New York, NY)

Indie.


Pingrove – Cardinal (Montclair, NJ)

Alt rock.

About a year after making this post the lead singer of Pinegrove was accused of sexual coercion. I do not believe in supporting art made by sexual predators, and have removed their album from my 2016 favorites and all of my other collections.


Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (Oxfordshire, England)

Art rock.


Russian Circles – Guidance (Chicago, IL)

Post-rock.


Still Parade – Concrete Vision (Berlin, Germany)

Psychedelic indie.


Totorro – Come to Mexico (Rennes, France)

Math rock.


TTNG – Disappointment Island (Oxford, England)

Math rock.


I lied, and I liked it.

in-a-natural-state

Remember that one time I said there’s no such thing as a short production cycle? Maybe you don’t, but humor me anyways. Well, that was a lie. Last summer I took a break from mixing the sophomore WBPT album to work on The Sextet’s debut album, In a Natural State. The whole project–clocking in at 57 minutes of groove jazz–was tracked and mixed in a grand total of 6 days, two for tracking and four for mixing.

The affair was utterly refreshing despite the 90+ degree weather outside. We recorded everything live with all six musicians in the same room (drums, bass, piano/keys, alto sax, trumpet, and trombone). It was an experiment. I had never worked out of The Map Room before, but everything ran smoothly with the band finishing up three more tunes than expected. Josh and Kris run a well-thought out studio.

Paul Paresa (piano), Robert Castillo (bass), and Dave Kelsay (drums) lay down some nasty grooves on the album. I definitely had to take a shower after that session (nah, but really, it was like super hot out). The last track, Moving On, got in rotation on local jazz radio station KMHD, and they had the following to say: “The song brings an outstanding debut to a memorable conclusion.” I wish Robert the best in Kansas City where he’s recently relocated. Keep those catchy bass lines coming.

Relive our two days in the studio on bandcamp here, or hell, just play it on Spotify.

thesextet-7

photo cred: Daiva Trudeau (truphotos)

Singles goin’ steady.

That’s it. I confess. I’ve been dating sound engineering for the past 8 years now.

I’m celebrating my wonderful single life with the release of two new singles this fall by Almost Rock and White Bear Polar Tundra. They are both very different in style, but both end products turned out great in terms of sound production.

The Almost Rock single Cavity is a three-minute straight ahead indie-pop song. I engineered everything at my home studio, and we headed up to Seattle to have Matt Bayles mix the single at Red Room Recording (in addition to the rest of the forthcoming five-song EP Barley Love).

Listen to the single on bandcamp here.

Cavity

White Bear Polar Tundra’s reggae chill-rock single Waves was recorded at Big Red Studio in Corbett, Oregon by Eric Broestl. We recorded all the basics (drums, bass, guitar) to an analog 24-track Studer tape deck. The final take is a straight through pass. It’s hard to replicate that energy working in the digital realm.

I recorded overdubs at my home studio, including the very delicate backing vocal tracks by the lovely Carmelle Christine. Again, Matt Bayles mixed everything in Seattle at Red Room. He is great to work with, and an open-book when it comes to talking about recording techniques and strategies.

Listen to the single and download it for free here.

Waves

Happy Holidays!

City Where You Live

Love Songs - DWS

I’m slowly finding that there’s no such thing as a short production cycle. No matter how hard you try. This particular project was an all-together pleasant affair with the multi-talented Devan Wardrop-Saxton (director, playwright, and songwriter). We recorded this indie-folkpop cuteness over a few months in little morning sessions with plenty of tea and chit-chat. No, it doesn’t sound British. Give Devan’s EP, City Where You Live, some love over on bandcamp.

The Devil’s Dime

It’s been a long production cycle, but The Devil’s Dime by alt-country band The Golden Country is finally out on My Darling Records. Tim and Rose of The Golden Country are amazing songwriters, and truly a blast to work with in the studio. I engineered and mixed the whole thing. Oh, and I play drums on the album, too! From tracking until mastering, the project took about a year to complete. There are some truly inspiring guest musicians on the album including Dan Pantenburg and Vaughn Leikam of The Autonomics, Sam Wenc of Post Moves, and many others. Hit me up and I might just tell you the story behind the album’s title (it’s a good one). Give it a listen on Spotify!The Devils Dime

The Wishermen and Old Wave

Take a listen to the latest sounds coming out of Soundscape City!

The Wishermen recently released their EP called, “EPoch” on Cavity Search Records. We recorded the EP at Soundscape City last winter, and it’s been in post ever since. It’s got a great avant-garde mathy vibe to it. Dare I say you shouldn’t even call it, “Jazz?” Barra and The Wishermen killed it at their release show at Alberta Street Pub recently.

Adam Brock and Old Wave also just released their debut self-titled album. I did some extra drum tracking for the album with Barra and Adam last spring, and the album is a shining example of quirky Portland-Pop.

I’m so stoked that these projects came out so well! Really, I just press buttons while the musicians do all the real work…

EPochOld Wave

White Bear Polar Tundra – Strikes Back!

WBPT released our debut album, Strikes Back, a week ago! The production process took over a year, and the final product was well worth the wait. So many amazing people went into making the album from Ed Brooks, Karim Hassanein, to all our Kickstarter backers. Thank you all. Take a listen and tell me what you think. We’ll have physical copies out sometime this summer, and a CD release party to follow.