Every year the popular Pickathon festival outside Portland garners attention for one main aspect of its evolution: its growing attention to sustainability, with organizers eliminating single-use cups as well as disposable food containers, replacing them with souvenir metal tumblers and reusable bamboo plates. Along with solar electricity, commute options and a team of people charged with a composting and recycling initiative, Pickathon is truly one of the cleanest music festivals in the world.
But perhaps the change overshadows that Pickathon, in its 15th year, is more eclectic than ever. Traditionally Americana and folk music (string instruments) dominated the scene. But in the last couple of years, Pickathon has branched out with groups like punk rockers Thee Oh Sees and soul legend Mavis Staples. This year, not only are headliners like Feist and Andrew Bird a major shift to more mainstream acts, but groups like Parquet Courts and Ty Segall enter the fray, increasing punk's representation. On top of that, the festival-in-the-trees is bringing rap and indie pop into play this year—a sign Pickathon is just as dedicated to giving all great music a platform as it is to putting on an event that cares about the environment.
Being glued to MTV in 1993 likely meant falling in love with the jazz rap of New York's Digable Planets. Their cool like dat debut album Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space) was steeped in the melodic hip-hop echoed by jazz fusion. These crossover albums were the place where '90s inner-city slam poetry collided with '60s Greenwich Village beatnik prose and lent seriousness to hip-hop. Sadly, though, the genre didn't last long as Dr. Dre's overpowering gangsta rap was just around the corner.
Jump ahead to 2009 and Digable Planets creative lead Ishmael Butler once again emerged on the fringe of hip-hop with his new group Shabazz Palaces, releasing the acclaimed album Black Up in 2011. The music on Black Up is cosmic—a kind of esoteric mash of artistic dementia and academic hip-hop. Rhymes are quick, dancing on top of deep vibrating bass. Elusive yet easy listening just the same, the whole thing is shrouded in a sluggish darkness which might just be the result of Butler's rainy Seattle background— also the place he currently calls home.
Lo-fi pop bands are a dime a dozen these days, but that doesn't keep music from groups like Portland's Pure Bathing Culture from being intensely enjoyable. The duo has mostly failed to parse its sound into genre compartments like "new age" or "slow dance" do strike at least one note of truth when they describe their music as "adult contemporary." In fact, it may be this slight distinction that allows their music to stand a bit apart in a saturated genre.
With only an EP under their belt so far, Sarah Versprille and Daniel Hindman—also of the San Francisco band Vetiver—have a unique ability to frost their lo-fi sound with early '90s pop. The first 20 seconds of their song "Silver Shore's Lake" are nearly a dead ringer for something off of Richard Marx's debut album. But when mixed with their indie-forward sound the tune becomes sweet and crafty; far from cheesy.
Vermont garage rocker Kyle Thomas—aka King Tuff—was a perfectionist obsessively writing songs in a local coffee shop and then recording them with an urgent fever toward artistic detail. That effort culminated in Was Dead, CD that was passed around essentially hand-to-hand through New England. The album is so powerful and fun that it caught the attention of SPIN magazine and Pitchfork, which called it "masterful." The album eventually—due to its extreme scarcity—became garage rock lore, with original vinyl copies fetching a pretty penny online. Too good to keep hidden, Was Dead was rereleased earlier this year on Burger Records. So now everyone can bask in the glow of its gritty guitar solos and poppy summertime vibe. Was Dead is youthful exuberance at its best.
Breathe Owl Breathe
Like a Wes Anderson film translated to languidly crafted music, Breathe Owl Breathe are adorable tributes to endless adolescence. Sturdy and wholesome in sensibility but emotionally fragile, the songs are instantly likeable. The Michigan duo are peas in a pod; Andréa Moreno-Beals' slightly sharp folk voice is rounded out by Micah Middaugh's deep, murky, serious baritone. PB
Just like shiny shoes, slicked back hair and dapper leather jackets, JD McPherson's tried-and-true swagger and musical style are time machine worthy tributes to '50s rockabilly (think Little Richard and Fats Domino). Rather than feeling dated, the tinkling keys, upbeat four-four arrangements, slap echo guitar and howling vocals take on a modern sex appeal and make for a panty-dropping vintage cocktail. BB