Heavy Rotation // Portlandia on Cassette

by: Blaine Skrainka

February 10, 2012

On Monday, the online music hub Stereogum was kind enough to share a list of Fred Armisen’s top Portland bands. Armisen is of course the co-star of the awesomely weird sketch comedy show Portlandia that takes endearing jabs at progressive and alternative subcultures. For this edition of Heavy Rotation, we are going to dive into Fred’s favorites.

Rebecca Gates
This Portland native began her career as a member of the 90s alt-rock band The Spinanes, and has gone on to release solo work as well as curate art and music exhibitions along with putting together a couple of sound-only periodicals. Check out her the track Lure and Cast.

The Shins
My personal favorites on Mr. Armisen’s list, The Shins are one of the most complete and influential indie bands in America. You gotta hear this one song – it’ll change your life. Okay, not that song, but Gone For Good never gets old. For something new, check out the single Simple Song from their upcoming fourth LP, Port of Marrow.

Fred Armisen is only half of the Porlandia equation. Carrie Brownstein is Armisen’s wig-dawning satirical partner-in-crime. Her former band Sleater-Kinney served as the original common ground in which the pair hit it off. Speaking to the New Yorker, Brownstein nails it, “You can never underestimate that moment of somebody explaining your life to you, something you thought was inexplicable, through music. That was the way out of loneliness.” Case in point: Modern Girl. I also dig the track Oh!, which serves to give a better sample of the band’s sound.

The Decemberists
Giving folk rock a bigger-than-life sound, indie rockers and craft beer connoisseurs, The Decemberists are next on the list. Their sixth album, The King is Dead, was one of the best albums of 2011. During some of their live shows, “the band stages whimsical reenactments of sea battles and other centuries-old events, typically of regional interest, or acts out songs with members of the crowd.” Sounds like a Portlandia sketch to me. From the 2011 LP, January Hymn and Calamity Song.

The Helio Sequence
This was a band that I was unfamiliar with and by far my favorite discovery. The Helio Sequence’s light use of electronic sounds gives a very dreamy feel. After early battles with vocal chord issues, it was uncertain if Brandon Summer could make this project work, but after some serious self-determination, the band has gone on to record four albums. The song Hallelujah is most definitely on heavy rotation along with Let It Fall Apart.

YACHT are from Portland? I always assumed Brooklyn with their DFA soundstyle (it’s more than a label, people). And according to YACHT, they are more than a band, “YACHT is a Band, Belief System, and Business … All people are welcome to become members of YACHT. Accordingly, YACHT is and always will be what YACHT is when YACHT is standing before you.” Right. Maybe they are from Portland after all. Check out The Afterlife and Psychic City (which I refuse to believe is about anywhere other than New York City).

Modest Mouse
It’s been a few years since the last Modest Mouse album, who take their name from a Virginia Woolf story, but with some recent live appearances, it seems that we have not heard the last of the iconic rock band. Let’s stick with a couple classics, The World At Large and The Ocean Breathes Salty.

Elliott Smith
Elliot Smith was a textured singer-songwriter whose departure remains a mystery. He left behind mourning fans who appreciated his sentiment that perfection is not very artful. His 1998 contribution to the Good Will Hunting Soundtrack, Miss Misery, was nominated for an Oscar. Next, give a listen to St. Ides Heaven.

Touring with Elliot Smith in the late 90s, the duo, sometimes trio Quasi, is another Portland underground staple. Two of the members were formerly married, so let’s hope the song I Never Want to See You Again wasn’t about each other. Janet Weiss was also the drummer in Sleater-Kinney. Short and sweet – The Happy Prole.

Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks
Aside from his work with Pavement and solo endevours, Stephen Malkmus has five albums with The Jicks. It just so happens that Janet Weiss, associated with Qausi and Sleater-Kinney, was also a former drummer for this group. I guess Portland is a small town. Check out No One Is (As I Are Be) and Jo Jo’s Jacket.

Moral of the story? Fred Armisen rocks.


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