Last night, rapper Aminé brought Portland hip-hop to The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon—and, subsequently, to the rest of the country.
Performing his viral hit “Caroline”—62.5 million Spotify plays and counting—backed by a string section and vocal support from rising Stumptown artists Blossom and the Last Artful, Dodgr, the 22-year-old transformed the bubbly summer jam into something slightly more regal but no less infectious. And in its final moments, Aminé—the son of immigrants from Ethiopia—took advantage of the rare opportunity to speak to a broad swath of the country, tacking on a verse addressing the new president-elect: “You can never make America great again/All you ever did was make this country hate again.”
Check it out below. Aminé plays a homecoming show at Hawthorne Theater on December 27.
It’s morning in America, and like the rest of us, Maze Koroma is shell-shocked.
A day after the election, the soft-spoken 24-year-old rapper is nursing a latte at Papaccino’s coffee shop in Woodstock. He’s got a video dropping tomorrow, and a new EP later in the month. But after the events of the night before, he admits that normal artistic self-promotion suddenly seems a bit frivolous.
“It feels weird to put out stuff right now,” he says, “with everything else going on.”
It’s not the conversation either of us expected to be having. As a member of both the psychedelic rap crew Renaissance Coalition and the ascendant EYRST label, Koroma is perched at the vanguard of a hip-hop scene producing some of the most exciting music in Portland, his trippy-yet-personal style being a major contributor. As the year closes out, it would not be an exaggeration to say he and his peers could possibly blow up on a national level sooner than later. But it’s hard to look toward the future when doing so means staring into the tangerine-colored mushroom cloud looming on the horizon.
So maybe it’s best to start in the past. A son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, Koroma grew up in what he calls “a traditional African home,” one that was not particularly inclined toward the arts. He got introduced to hip-hop through his older brother’s Outkast and Wu-Tang Clan albums, but his initial creative outlet was poetry. “Whenever we had something in class, I would make a poem, using the NBA or something, talking about the players,” he says.
In high school, Koroma shifted toward rap, freestyling with friends and recording mixtapes. His junior year, he met future Renaissance Coalition partner Zoo, who had already established relationships with Portland hip-hop vets like Vursatyl and Libretto. “I felt this is the thing I could lock in and use,” he says. “When I found out I was good at it, and I liked it, I just went full force into it.”
But there was a learning curve, particularly when it came to live performance.
“I didn’t even know what I was doing,” he says. “I had no DJ, I was rapping over my own beats. I didn’t know that at live shows, you’re not supposed to do it over the lyrics.”
He eventually figured it out, as anyone who’s caught one of his unpredictably quirky shows lately can attest. At PDX Pop Now, he tossed Ring Pops into the crowd. Recently, he’s taken to incorporating one of his favorite hobbies, karaoke, into his sets, delivering full-length covers of drunken-sing-along classics like “Careless Whisper” and “Time After Time.”
As off-kilter as he can be onstage, Koroma’s studio projects are conceptually disciplined. On Osiris, his first EP of 2016, he pondered life in the digital age over synth-fueled production matching the 8-bit cover art. “We used to go on the internet,” he declares on “Electronic,” “now we’re literally in the internet.” For the upcoming It’s Complicated, It’s All Happening so Fast, Even Though I Can’t Keep up With You, You’ll Always Be My Sunshine, Koroma got together with EYRST producer Neill von Tally for a jam session that was then cut up and pieced together into songs. Like its predecessor, the new project is at once honest and deeply hallucinogenic. On “Complicated,” Koroma describes the frustrations of the local rap grind in blunt detail against a disorienting whir of keyboards and static: “They see the moves, now they want to get involved/ Why you need a horoscope just to tell you who you are.”
It’s a project imbued with a sense of tension that, consciously or not, comes off as prescient of the current moment. But while Koroma admits that pushing a record feels weird right now, he has hope the future—for himself, the country and the world—is brighter than it seems.
“As far as hip-hop culture, that’s the most powerful culture right now,” he says. “People are definitely worried, but as long as we know that, there’s definitely power that we have, and a lot we can do.”
HEARIT: Maze Koroma’s It’s Complicated, It’s All Happening so Fast, Even Though I Can’t Keep up With You, You’ll Always Be My Sunshine is out Nov. 18.
WHO: Jack Wells (vocals, guitar), Mel Tarter (vocals), Matt Grippi (bass), Josh Hertel (drums).
SOUNDS LIKE: When young love works out, or the color lilac, or two velvet ribbons tying themselves into a bow.
FOR FANS OF: Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Rilo Kiley, Grizzly Bear, St. Vincent.
“I guess we’ve known each other for a very, very long time,” says Jack Wells of Portland indie-pop band Those Willows. He and the band’s other primary writer, Mel Tarter, first crossed paths during ninth-grade theater productions in their native suburb of Detroit. Wells, who was singing in a pop-punk band, picked up an acoustic guitar for the first time when he and Tarter sat down to write some songs.
After discovering Tarter’s classical theater-style vocals and Wells’ pop-punk roots made for “a gross combination,” they experimented with “Regina Spektor kind of stuff.” But as they kept playing together throughout high school and college, their influences grew in number and scope. Wells cites Fleet Foxes and St. Vincent as informing their current amalgamation of folk and art rock. He adds that “Grizzly Bear has been this thing I tell our producers: ‘Please, try to get some Grizzly Bear vibes in the drumming.’”
Occupying a space where melodious acoustic pop lives happily alongside synth and reverb, the band’s new self-titled album is the sound of a folk band that’s grown roots in the same town as Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Its opening track, “Know More,” contains a sax line that Wells says “was directly inspired by St. Vincent. She uses a lot of interesting tones, and that’s something we always try to explore.”
Opting for the term “indie pop” mostly out of a struggle to pin down something more exact, Wells says the band’s sound is “no longer folk music,” especially on this album. Tarter chimes in with the clunky but helpful descriptor “dreamy folk jazz pop.” But through its stylistic twists and turns, the bright thread running through Those Willows’ sound is the magical blend of Wells’ and Tarter’s voices. It’s next to impossible to tell which one is singing.
Thankfully, the addition of a full band for this new album doesn’t drown out this focus, but actually highlights it. “The bass player and the drummer both joined about a year and a half ago,” says Wells, “and they helped us form these songs. We came to them with the ideas, but they brought a unique groove to them, which is something we’ve longed for.”
The added volume range of the full-band sound creates more space to marvel at Wells’ and Tarter’s harmonies as they crescendo and break off. Each found much more than a musical half in the other, and as if their music could be any sweeter, the two are now engaged to be married.
“Doing this with someone I love makes all the difference,” Tarter says.
SEEIT: Those Willows plays Alberta Street Pub, 1036 NE Alberta St., with Lenore, on Thursday, Nov. 17. 9 pm. $7 advance, $10 day of show. 21+.
[UNCHAINED INDIE] It’s safe to say Aan set the bar pretty high for itself with long-awaited 2014 release Amor Ad Nauseum. The record proved well worth the wait, an indie-rock model citizen flexing all the great tenets of the genre produced with such painstaking craft that it felt like a single, amorphous musical saga. With Dada Distractions, we see a more urgent and textured Aan, perhaps the result of frontman Bud Wilson’s new bandmates or the personal losses suffered during a rough 2015. Most likely, it’s the mark of a confident act unwilling to wallow in its own sonic pasture, great as it may be.
The new record was produced by former Unknown Mortal Orchestra drummer Riley Geare, and expectedly, there is an unchained quality about it. With the percussive strut of opener “Lookout!,” Aan presents its new self right away. When the band goes hard, as on the “Hollywood Buyout,” it’s arguably Wilson’s most aggressive work to date. When it’s time to cool off, per the guitar-driven dream sequence of “Forever Underfoot,” it’s among the group’s coolest, freest-flowing material yet. Such volatility persists throughout the record. It’s an explosive nine-song collection brought up organic, courtesy of a decidedly analog studio approach.
Even the relatively contemplative “Into the Fire,” with its mountainous hard-rock riffs and reflective valley-floor breakdowns, hits a little harder. Influences such as Jeff Beck’s cerebral 1970s guitar phrasing and alt-rock contemporaries Alberta Cross can be heard, but Wilson and his band continue to lead more than follow. To dethrone its outstanding debut is a colossal and potentially impossible task, but Aan’s latest LP is a triumph in terms of intensity, looseness and the underlying objective of continuous musical evolution.
SEEIT: Aan plays Rontoms, 600 E Burnside St., with Minden and Kelli Schaefer, on Sunday, Nov. 20. 8 pm. Free. 21+.
Years DJing: I’ve been DJing on radio for about 10 years, DJing live maybe another five years prior to that.
Genre: I primarily spin old-school and local hip-hop with a little funk and soul, gospel and a bit of mainstream—not much really.
Where you can catch me regularly: Every Saturday night at 8 pm, I spin for two hours on XRAY FM Portland.
Craziest gig: No crazy stories, really, unless you count crazy freestyle sessions on the radio. Welcome to the Neighborhood has featured live verses from some of Portland’s best MCs, including HANiF, Vursatyl of the Lifesavas, OnlyOne and Illmaculate of Sandpeople, Serge Severe, Matty and Jon Belz and DaiN.
Tonight, Amine, the young singer-rapper behind the viral hit “Caroline,” performs on The TonightShow. And he’s decided to make it into a family affair, inviting two of the city’s other brightest emerging talents, R&B diva Blossom and WW Best New Band finalist the Last Artful, Dodgr, to share the spotlight with him.
It’s not an exaggeration to say this is the biggest moment yet for Portland’s ascendant rap scene. Local musicians have appeared on late-night television before—Typhoon and Sallie Ford played Letterman in the same week back in 2011—but you have to dig pretty deep to find the last time a Portland hip-hop act was showcased on a national stage. New jack swingers the U-Krew rocked Soul Trainback in the ’80s, and Yung Mil was on BET a few years ago, but this is obviously on a whole other level.
The Tonight Show airs on NBC at 11:35 pm. For those lacking a TV—or who simply want to celebrate this collective achievement—there’s going to be a viewing party at Century Bar:
2016 gives another sucker punch to the gut with the death of Leonard Cohen. The troubadour of existential crisis, the dark romantic died at age 82 in his home in Los Angeles this week.
Born into a prominent Jewish family, he abandoned the Montreal literary scene and settled on the tiny Greek island of Hydra in the early 60’s. There he wrote a collection of poems, two novels and met his muse, the striking Norwegian beauty Marianne. He wrote to his publisher that he wanted to reach out to “inner-directed adolescents, lovers in all degrees of anguish, disappointed Platonists, pornography-peepers, hair-handed monks and Popists.”
Cohen’s relationship fell apart and at age 32 he moved to New York where he turned to songwriting, because he wasn’t making a living as a writer. He quickly fell in with the bohemian crowds in the Village and Andy Warhol’s factory scene. The Velvet Underground’s accented chanteuse Nico, the heroin anthems of Lou Reed and the biting libertine verses of poet Allen Ginsberg played well with Cohen’s folk rock storytelling.
Cohen’s comparisons to Bob Dylan, both carrying literary torches and Jewish are real, but Cohen’s music rejoiced in the mysteries of the sacred and profane. Dylan defended Cohen against his critics who claimed he wrote music to slit writs by. He became an ordained Zen Buddhist monk to curb his episodes with depression, often living for years in secluded monasteries. He once said of his spiritual quest: “Anything, Roman Catholicism, Buddhism, LSD, I’m for anything that works.”
In the 80’s he replaced his Flamenco inspired guitar playing for the razor like grit of synthesizers. Cohen’s intimate baritone voice aged well into a passionate growl with countless cigarettes and $300 bottles of Château Latour wine. Like Dylan, he never embraced his celebrity and while his records sold well, they never hit megastar bank. When he discovered in 2004 that his manager had embezzled millions from his retirement fund, he put on his well tailored suit and went on a celebrated world tour.
In these dark times, Cohen’s music will be a light which slips through the cracks.
For the second time in two years, the Crystal Ballroom was forced to cancel a show as it was happening due to structural concerns.
Last night’s sold-out Rae Sremmurd concert got called off not long after the opening DJ took the stage after staff noticed a crack in a column in Lola’s Room, the bar underneath the main concert hall.
“We decided it’d be best to be safe instead of sorry,” says Jimmy Biron, director of music programming for McMenamins.
Rae Sremmurd later Tweeted a photo of the damaged column:
At the Crystal in 2014, a show by rapper Schoolboy Q got shut down early for similar reasons. In that case, damage to a structural beam caused the concert to get shut down 20 minutes into the headline set. Last night, the show had just started and Biron says the venue was nowhere near capacity.
Biron says engineers visited the theater this morning to assess the extent of the damage. He says he does not anticipate having to postpone any upcoming shows.
“It’s one of the old wood columns, and over the years we’ve had to strengthen or replace them,” he says. “It’s not a difficult process.”
Biron says they’re already working to reschedule the performance, and that anyone who wants a refund can contact the venue.
Chaz Bundick is keenly aware that Portland doesn’t always take kindly to transplants.
“Yeah, sure, there’s a rivalry,” says the Toro y Moi frontman, who moved to Oregon from California last year. “But it seems kind of ridiculous.” He’s been angrily yelled at more than once because of his former state of residence, but he’s managed to laugh it off. “You know, that’s just how societies grow,” he says.
People like Bundick—ones with arty bands, a functional friendship with Tyler the Creator and a wife who, based on Google’s autofill results, gets searched for almost as much as he does—could get by just fine acting like defensive assholes. But that’s not Bundick’s style. Since moving to Portland and single-handedly infecting us with the clear-plastic-glasses-frames virus, he says he’s mostly “been laying low-key.” Oh yeah, and making a live album. And a mixtape. And another album, too.
Bundick has a chameleonic personality. He dresses playfully, in colors and patterns and jewelry, but he maintains a mellow enough disposition to blend into his surroundings. Also, his music changes hue effortlessly. Toro y Moi rode the inaugural chillwave over to indie pop, through hip-hop beats and now a bit of jazz, but there’s always been something intangibly “Toro y Moi” about it all. I underestimated the scope of Bundick’s musical influences, until I asked if he’s caught any Portland acts he liked and he immediately brought up local twangy country band Denver. “Seeing them live was something pretty impressive,” he says. “I love country music.”
Bundick doesn’t veer into self-congratulation, despite his remarkable genre versatility and play-by-ear fluency in about five instruments. Instead, he’s quick to compliment those he works with—most notably jazz duo the Mattson 2, which plays on Toro y Moi’s new concert album, Live From Trona, and is collaborating with Bundick on an upcoming studio release called Star Stuff. “I don’t even know where to start with them,” Bundick says. “First of all, they’re twins, so they have crazy powers. On top of that, they’re virtuoso prodigy jazz kids.”
He says the Mattson 2 was an obvious fit for Live From Trona because the project is hardwired to emphasize musicianship above everything. The album and accompanying concert video deliver. Hours of recording under the Mojave Desert’s stunning Trona Pinnacles at sunset—with no audience—revealed a Toro y Moi with new priorities. The band may have gained traction mostly because of Bundick’s crazy electronic production chops, but “I don’t think people really understand that I like to go all the way to the other side of the spectrum, too,” he says. Live From Trona presents spacious ’70s rock versions of familiar songs, with Bundick giving them a whole second life.
He says the filming took place on “a very cosmic day, almost a dream—we were the only ones out there. I knew I wanted it to be in the desert because it’s the setting that really isolates you. Every time I’m in the desert, I realize a lot of things about who I am.” The strangest part, he says, was that “if you had to go to the bathroom, it was a 15-minute trek, or you had to wait for the bathroom car.”
This is at the heart of Bundick’s artistic gift, as well as what makes him feel like a real person. All that cosmic talk is never divorced from lighthearted takes on good old reality. With two feet firmly on the ground, Bundick is a master juggler, in life as in music.
“My music is just this bouncing spectrum,” he says. “I just haven’t made any country music. One day, that would be nice.”
SEEIT: Toro y Moi and the Mattson 2 play Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., on Wednesday, Nov. 9. 8:30 pm. $20 advance, $22 day of show. All ages.
Pop punk’s original angsty nerd bros are coming through town this week, grayer and assuredly wiser than when they wrote this 90-second rant against the rich pricks at their high school that swerves, out of nowhere, into virulent gay-bashing. It’s been stricken from their set list, but don’t worry—their many songs about being nice guys who never get the sex they think they deserve remain.
2. Minor Threat, “Guilty of Being White” (1981)
White privilege is a difficult concept for many Americans to grasp, so perhaps we shouldn’t drag teenage Ian MacKaye too hard for not understanding why he must shoulder the weight of atrocities committed “a hundred years before I was born.” But a white kid with a shaved head shouting, “You blame me for slavery!” still doesn’t scan well three decades later.
3. Sex Pistols, “Bodies” (1977)
In which John Lydon punksplains the horrors of abortion via the gruesome story of a mental patient named Pauline. It’s not explicitly pro-life—the guy who declared “I am an Antichrist” couldn’t possibly believe life begins at conception, right?—but it’s not terribly empathetic, either.
4. The Misfits, “Last Caress” (1980)
Granted, the Misfits’ depictions of violence were always too cartoonish to truly scandalize anyone other than Midwestern church ladies, but such a gleeful celebration of rape and baby-killing would certainly get them banned from college campuses were it released today.
5. Patti Smith, “Rock N Roll Nigger” (1978)
To be fair, Smith was trying to reclaim the epithet for all nonconformists living outside society’s bounds. But nah, Patti. Nah.
SEE IT: Descendents play Roseland Theater, 8 NW 6th Ave., with Bully and Broadway Calls, on Saturday, Nov. 12. 8 pm. Sold out. All ages.