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Best of the West / The Portland sound gets its day

We've all been waiting a long time, and even if it feels like it may never come, some day it probably will.

Yes, Buffalo will eventually become a wellspring of underground rock and pop music, one that will at least briefly evolve from a trickle into a sturdy river leading out into the broader world. Every other oft-overlooked city in the country will have likely had its day in the media-generated sun by then, but our time will come.

Not right now, of course.

Ever since grimey post-punk with heavy metal leanings emerged from Seattle and was christened "grunge," the tastemakers have been keeping an eye out for the next regional bandwagon to hop on. Today, Portland, Ore., is enjoying its regal tenure as the "new Seattle."

Portland has been on the radar for a good while, of course. Regional press in the area and in ever-widening circles away from the epicenter has been noting the bounty of inspired music emerging from the city for a few years now. By the time the glacier makes its way to the extreme continental east, it will have become fully assimilated into the mainstream. In the meantime, as Portland's current favored son M. Ward arrives for a gig in Buffalo on Monday evening, that city's music still feels fresh and new.

Here are my personal favorite albums that might at least loosely be accepted as indicative of the "Portland sound." All of them are worth investigating.

Elliott Smith, "XO"

The late Smith is the Godfather of all things Portland indie-rock. His music -- tragically beautiful Beatle-esque indie-pop -- seems to hang over the work of all the Portland artists who came in his wake. I could be imagining this, of course. But "XO" is positively transcendent stuff.


Modest Mouse, "We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank"

The knotty, caffeinated avant-pop of Isaak Brock and company seems to stand on its own, apart from the Portland crowd. Brock, however, lives, works and writes in the city, and is a local hero to Portland musicians. More importantly, "Ship" is a smart, edgy album.


The Decemberists, "The Crane Wife"

Colin Meloy and company married sea shantys to the thinking-man's folk that is part of the protean Portland pool of influences. Weird stuff, but pretty compelling.


Portugal the Man, "Censored Colors"

This album was one of the most intriguing rock records to be released last year. Vaguely recognizable as alternative rock, the Portugal sound is dense and eclectic, but somehow very accessible.


The Shins, "Wincing the Night Away"

Aspiring indie-pop songwriters and record-makers should study this album, which takes the sort of cut-and-paste, hip-hop rhythmic tendencies of Beck and marries them to the grandisoe pop of a less-mainstream Coldplay.


Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, "Real Emotional Trash"

Malkmus, the former Pavement frontman, is a deity in Portland. Fortunately, as his recent work with the Jicks makes clear, he's an indie-rock god with a sense of humor.


Blitzen Trapper, "Furr"

The pure modern folk side of the Portland scene. Trace elements of Woody Guthrie and early Dylan are evident.


The Dandy Warhols, "Come on Feel the Dandy Warhols"

Portland's own Velvet Underground. Make of that whatever you like.


Sleater Kinney, "The Woods"

If you threw Sonic Youth and the Bangles in a blender, you'd come close, but you still wouldn't quite replicate the delicious milkshake that was the recently disbanded Sleater Kinney. Is it worth noting that this was an all-girl band? In this instance, yes.

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