Portland Recap, Pt. 1

If any of my recent tweets have traversed your phone's screen over the course of this week, you'll know that I've spent the past few days steeped in the damp fog of the Pacific Northwest, attending the Conference on College Composition and Communication as an undergraduate representative of Northern Kentucky University. Held in Portland this year, the CCCC is an annual gathering of writing instructors from across the country: a forum to talk shop and present fresh ideas. Alongside a panel of faculty members and a high school teacher in NKU's Master's degree program, I participated in a discussion of digital writing's impact on the English classroom, suggesting that an extracurricular outlet for creativity (like this blog) can be as integral to building writing skills as sitting in on a lecture. There's a symbiotic relationship between writing on and off campus.

Between sessions at the Convention Center, I hopped on Portland's light rail system, threading lanes of traffic as the trolley cut through a soggy cityscape - navy blues and forest greens splattered ubiquitously across the urban canvas. This earthy aura seemed to bleed into the muted windbreakers and flannels of my fellow passengers. Bathing in the comfy gloom, I felt as if I were inhabiting an Alex G record as I paid quick visits to bookstores and record shops around the city. I knew I couldn't return home without unearthing a few subcultural gems to post about later, and so to better include you in my experience, I've brought back a few finds from each store I've visited. Here's a sampler of my most clutch purchases:


The Mountain Goats - Ghana
(1999 Three Beads of Sweat)

I spent the better part of my flight from LAX to PDX flipping my way through John Darnielle's sophomore novel, Universal Harvester. On the trip back home, I scanned the liner notes of his 1999 compilation of rarities, Ghana.

Bringing this disc to the register at Everyday's prompted a brief exchange of identical opinions on Darnielle's bibliography. The cashier - who wore a Bloom County t-shirt - and I had each completed Wolf in White Van, but had yet to make it far enough into his latest release to make a concrete judgement.

Squeezing 31 tracks into just over an hour, Ghana's cluttered tracklist and varying degrees of tape-degradation make each listen feel like stumbling into the sort of used bookstore that haphazardly jams its collection of yellowed paperbacks onto homemade shelves, forcing the customer to browse without a specific goal in mind.

Even on its own, opening cut "Golden Boy" is worth the price of admission. Written for a sampler EP curated by Paul Lukas, (former editor of food-packaging design zine Beer Frame and current editor of sports uniform blog Uni Watch), the tune strings a clumsy chord progression through a boombox-recorded call to follow in Christ's footsteps while buying tins of boiled peanuts along the way.

"If thine enemy oppresseth you
You must let him oppress you some more
So that when you go shopping in paradise
You'll find those magnificent peanuts from Singapore"

Ducktails - Ducktails
(2009 Not Not Fun)

As suited for the planetarium as it is the overcast shores of the Northeastern United States, Matt Mondanile's self-titled debut album as Ducktails bottles the sea-salted air of his native New Jersey and launches this atmospheric canister into the cosmos via space-rock riffage. Phase-shifted guitars lap at drum machine loops, leaving the impression of their ebb in the sand. It trickles through the gaps between your fingers: Ducktails pushes the meditative capacity of the early Chillwave scene to Zen-like levels. Ripples of washed-out synthesizer bob on a crest of reverb at mantric intervals as suited to their surroundings as the occasional rumble of a freezer's ice machine in the kitchen or a washer/dryer's distant tremor. When a CD's artwork boasts the allure of Jan Anderzen's post-NAFTA tapestry, it's hard to leave it on the display rack.

2nd Avenue Records

Hugh - Crush
(1994 Mafia Money)

Dollar bins have yet to steer me wrong.

Having a limited time to browse their selection of vinyl, I focused solely on 2nd Street Records' crates of long-forgotten singles, shuffling through columns of square artwork until a certain image would pique my curiosity. I'm not ashamed to say that I do judge albums by their cover art.

Few records have looked as promising at first glance as Hugh's Crush. It's so non-descript that it, oddly enough, begs to be noticed. Something about the way its royal blue title, (printed in the same font I use on the front page of my zines), sits uncomfortably atop its murky backdrop is intensified by the vague creepiness of a Felix the Cat doll. The graphic feels like a spiritual successor to @cursedimages on Twitter: it is unnerving in its lack of clarity and context.

Crush is one of the most immediately gripping noise-pop releases I've listened to in quite a while, imbuing Neil Young's penchant for blown-out Maj7 chords with the endearing whine of Sunny Day Real Estate. Dropped squarely in the heat of emo's heyday, Hugh's first 7" release is my closest link to the genre's source.

Gerty Farish - Deadly Attackers
(1999 Menlo Park)

A cute record with even cuter album artwork, Deadly Attackers is an exercise in twee-simplicity. Playskool keyboard blips, squawks of rhythm guitar, and drum machine blast beats race at sprinters' paces towards an imagined finish line that promises apple pies and ice-cream sundaes served in plastic baseball helmets at the other end of the triathlon tape. According to the single's back cover, Gerty Farish are a duo that hailed from Brooklyn in the late-90s, but a quick Google search turns up next to nothing related to this particular 7". Despite the lack of info I've found concerning Deadly Attackers, I've uncovered some Youtube footage of the band playing a DIY show in Massachussets a couple of years before this record dropped. As rad as the music pressed onto this release is, I'm even more excited by the peek into the DIY culture of 1997 that it has led me to.