Since it's one of the Tablet's duties to explore the margins of Portland music culture, we thought we'd forego an official top 10 in favor of some hidden favorites that won't often chart. We second Sam's nod to A Severe Joy's debut, expound upon a couple others, and add our own to SPLENDORA COLT's Hoods on the Water Tower, BUTCHER BOY's Get Butchered (recorded live at the Oak and the Ax), and AOK SUICIDE FOREST's self-titled offering. Don't head into 2012 without hearing the below:
PLANETS AROUND THE SUN | Tower CS/mp3 (L'Animaux Tryst) | Released back while these cats were still officially Portlanders (now they're roaming nomads occupying no-space), Tower offered the first gleaming glimpse of the musical union of Ian Paige and CK, and it was a mighty one indeed. Launched on limited-edition cassette way back in the January dread, Tower collects jams that Portlanders recognized from the band's numerous spatial inhabitations, including Sacred and Profane, the Southworth Planetarium, and SPACE Gallery Solstice parties. In an era where "psych" is a descriptive term as overused as a fourth-run teabag, these weirdos reworked the meaning, soundtracking some of the most out-there and innovative events Portland could think up. Four tracks and 32 minutes of resinous dirge and peninsular wails. Just as soon as the Tower was erected, they tore it down and left town, resetting the process in communities across America. Psych can often be a prodding, self-absorbed genre, but no record of its kind carried as much intention to it as Tower. Sold out of its 45 edition cassette run, Tower is forever available for download at planetsaroundthesun.bandcamp.com.
ICHABOD HATE | Rat Park CD/mp3 | For a city only 65,000 strong, Portland supports a lot of diverse acts. Scores of punk bands, entrepreneurs-y singer-songwriter types, transcendent rock bands that flame and burn out within a couple of years, even a ballsy new crop of bluegrass groups. The dictates of our radical climates give us both sides of the coin: summers offer limitless iterations of party funk and island-ready reggae; the winter's chill strengthens our rappers and metal groups. You could say that all these genres seem to arise organically, as if in response to the many cultural whims of port city life. Not sure from whence, then, did this gnarled, majestic beast arise. Rat Park, the (mostly) singular effort of Douglas W. Milliken, is probably the best urban paranoia record to come out of Portland since last century. Milliken reimagines the sweaty, cloistered noise-rock of Unsane and the primal, industrial collage of Foetus — both products of metropolitan underbellies — for a pretty stunningly original response to life in contemporary Portland. 16 tracks of layered guitars, dark synth lines, unattributed sound clips — and most distinctly — programmed drums. Sans vocals, it doesn't pass for a metal record, so its pervading sense of dread aren't trapped in the eccentricities of some unseen singer. Instead, it becomes the listener's task to imagine, which makes for much more disarming stuff. "Let's Set Fire to the Ocean" pits a duel between a persistent siren-like synth and a tortuous guitar riff, wrestled into reluctant chorus by the thunderous — and unrelentingly busy — drum track. "Rat Park," a tortured, desolate ballad, concludes rather impossibly with 90 seconds of multi-tonal drone. "Ain't We So In Love?" marries freefloating squawky riffs to a domineering bassline, and the filthily melodic "Let's Poison Their Well" swells into a surprisingly beautiful finish. Rat Park is a monstrous union of inorganic sounds and very bold human choices. Sure, there's something to be said about music that happens organically, but in 2011, Ichabod Hate turned ideas and artifice into something great, and Portland had no choice but to make room. Available on Father Time/Baby New Years Records (fathertimerecords.com).