Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top 10 of 2011

I, like most critics, have a top 10 list for the end of the year. See my choices below or take a look at my ballot on the Village Voice's poll.

1. Bright Eyes - The People's Key. For the first time ever, a fairly mainstream band tops my list. This was definitely my most-listened-to album of the year and I had the pleasure of reviewing it and a live performance of it.

2. Workout - Workout. I went to college with this Brooklyn glam outfit, but they have really blossomed this year with this fun music video. I recently listened to this album while having teeth pulled.

3. Radiation City - The Hands That Take You. This arty and vintage-fuzzy local indie band is blowing up. You heard it here first.

4. Mr. Gnome - Madness in Miniature. One of the most creative bands playing today reinvented themselves this year with a stripped-down rock 'n' roll sound.

5. YOB - Atma. The band that is putting Oregon metal on the map has done it again with an album you probably shouldn't listen to at night by yourself.

6. The Tomorrow People - Rose City Rose. I'm honored to be the first to review this extremely well-crafted album that emerged from a closet-sized studio in St. Johns.

7. Dirty Mittens - Heart of Town. I'm glad this class act finished their much-anticipated first full length before breaking up. Their shows were legendary, and it would have been tragic for their music not to be captured in an album that, when I reviewed it, made their future look so bright.

8. Witch Mountain - South of Salem. Portland's oldest and best doom metal outfit was way overdue for a second album. The cover alone makes it a classic, which is why I actually recommended it as a Christmas gift.

9. Cool Nutz - The Cook Up. The best known rapper in Portland made a foray into hipster crossover last year. Like many critics, I really enjoyed it. But in 2011, he quietly released a fully bad-ass return to basics. Versatility is the name of the game for this experienced MC.

10. Wizard Rifle - Speak Loud Say Nothing. The young duo that keeps Portland metal fresh gave the underground metal community a shot of irreverence this year with their debut album. Hard to believe I was their first interview ever. This is definitely a band to watch in 2012.

Image: Workout by Sunny Shokrae.

Best of:

Friday, January 6, 2012

Keeper of the High Rocks

Last summer, I spent a lot of time at a place called High Rocks. It's a park just outside of Portland, about 15 minutes from my house, where you can jump off a cliff into a river.

It didn't take long before I got to know Tiger. He's sort of a volunteer caretaker of the park, cleaning up trash and making small changes to the landscape to make the diving safer. I wrote a story about him for The Oregonian, and produced a radio story about him for Destination DIY, an independent program that airs on OPB.

Here's some video I shot while reporting the radio story. It's pretty ad-hoc, shot on my handheld digital camera. I wasn't planning on doing video, but when Tiger took me to his camp, I knew I had to capture it. He said I'm only the third person he's brought out there, but that he didn't mind if I filmed.

The camp is actually built into the side of a hill. Note all the lines holding it up.

And finally, here is Tiger's mode of transportation. He has a really fancy electric bike he built with his brother, but he keeps it at his brother's place. This is more incognito. Before Tiger filled in the landscape with sand, he wouldn't have been able to bring his bike to High Rocks like this.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Bladesmith of Hillsboro

Last month I took the hour drive to the beautiful small town of Vernonia, Oregon, to interview one of America's best bladesmiths, Murray Carter, for a profile in The Oregonian.

Murray is moving his Carter Cutlery operation to Hillsboro, just outside of Portland, and he's one of those treasures that when you learn about him, you just can't believe you didn't know he was in your community. Murray is bursting with energy and has had a very unique life as the first (and possibly only) Westerner to become an official member of a traditional bladesmithing family of Japan.

Murray's story is definitely too big for one mid-length article, so I hope do something more with him down the line for another mainstream outlet (he's been covered extensively by the knife press). Plus, every time I do a story about him, I'll get to quote the original Conan The Barbarian, which thrills me to no end. In the mean time, here's an outtake from our interview which covers what it was like for him to spend about half his life up to this point in another country and why he decided to come the US.
I was in Japan for 18 years, and I see a lot of guys who couldn't leave after they've been there for so long. They're in a cultural limbo. They're not Japanese, so they're not in their own country, and they're away from their own country, and it's like they belong to neither. It's a dangerous place to be because the longer you're stuck in that situation, the more difficult it is to remove yourself from it. Life just becomes too easy, too simple. There are no great consequences for anything you do short of getting in trouble with the law. I didn't want to get stuck in that rut. So I thought, now's the time move or get off the pot. Plus, they were never going to give me any kind of cultural recognition because I wasn't Japanese, and yet i was getting great recognition over here in North America.

I first learned about Murray because a friend of mine became a fan of his YouTube channel, where he offers sharpening tips and does zany stuff like chop down trees with machetes. It all came full circle when my friend pointed out that Murray gave me a shout out in his video blog (at about 10:30). How nice!