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Mo Troper's Top 5 Favorite Portland Albums

20 January 2022

Playing Favorites is an interview series where creative people pick a topic and tell us their five favorite things about it. Opinions expressed in this series are those of the interviewees and do not reflect the opinions of S.W. Lauden or The Big Takeover.

Mo Troper is a singer/songwriter and writer from Portland, Oregon. His latest album, Dilettante (aka “Mo Troper IV”), is a stunning 28-song collection full of biting lyrics and sweet power pop hooks on tracks like “Perfect Song,” “Better Than That” and “X-Ray Vision.” Pitchfork described the album as a “creative explosion” filled with “…the type of referential, attention-grabbing songwriting from somebody with a lot of thoughts on music.” His previous releases include an ambitious full-album cover of The Beatles’ Revolver. His writing has been published by Vice, The Believer, Paste, Willamette Week, and more. I asked Troper to share a few of his favorite Portland albums of all time.


5. Don’t Take Our Filth Away by Duck. Little Brother, Duck!
Duck. Little Brother, Duck! (or Duck, or DLBD!) was Portland’s contribution to the “emo revival” that took indie by storm at the start of the ‘10s. They were staples of the punk scene here around that time—for a while it seemed like they played a show every weekend at Laughing Horse Books, which was an obnoxious, anarchist, collectively-run bookstore/venue bands from that era orbited. It’s accurate to call them a “math rock” band, some people call them an emo band, but when I listen to them all I hear is a terrific rock band—just an amazingly tight unit.

Their second and final LP, Don’t Take Our Filth Away (released in 2012 on Topshelf Records), is still one of my favorite hi-fi, headphone records (listen to that panning!). Duck are among a handful of math rock bands that could mix real emotion with twinkly, athletic guitar-playing. I always expected them to blow up but I think the Portland music scene was still preoccupied with steampunk and synth-pop shit, so they didn’t have any influential, local advocates that could have helped them get to that next level. Still, DLBD! have a huge cult following—I know because I just recently joined a DLBD! cult.

4. Mr. Bones by Mr. Bones
I still listen to this record all the time. This band put out a couple, but their self-titled tape from 2015 is my favorite. It kind of sounds like some martians tried to recreate Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque with martian guitars and recording equipment, but that only sort of captures it. There’s a big Magnetic Fields and K Records influence on the vocals and lyrical content. The melodies are catchy as hell but it’s sort of a half-finished idea dump and there’s just something so otherworldly and “off” about it to me. And that’s why it’s so charming!

When it came out in 2015, some people described it as pop-punk—or God forbid “garage rock”—but it’s totally power pop. The two best songs off this record are “You Don’t Have a Skull of Your Own” and “Roma #2,” which are each three minutes exactly. Some of the best music to ever come out of this city, will be disinterred and held up as this massive lost artifact in 15 years.

3. Sabonis by Sabonis
This one’s technically only an EP, but kind of like the Home Is Where record that came out last year it feels like such a complete statement that I never really considered its runtime. Sort of a “supergroup” formed around the songwriting of Maya Stoner and Edward Beaudin, already scene vets at that point despite being in their early ‘20s, this band also seemed like they were poised to break out in a big way, but never did. I think there was a pretty toxic internal dynamic, which you’d never guess from listening to this record or watching them play—they were the coolest motherfuckers ever, every show they played in Portland was packed. You don’t need any of that context to appreciate this record—it’s cocky and sort of sloppy indie rock made by kids who were cocky and sort of sloppy. There’s a clear emo and slowcore influence, but it’s entirely its own thing and I can’t imagine a band like this existing anywhere other than Portland.

2. Guitar Romantic by The Exploding Hearts
This pick is obvious and uncontroversial—The Exploding Hearts were the greatest power pop band to come out of Portland and Guitar Romantic is one of the greatest power pop albums, period. It’s snot-nosed in all the right ways and places, it sounds like it could have been made in the late ‘70s without ever coming off like some revivalist fashion punk thing. The songs are impeccable, the pacing is perfect, and to my ears the electric guitar tones are unbeatable. It doesn’t matter what style of music is currently in vogue—this will always be one of the coolest guitar albums ever and it will make you feel like the coolest person alive just by listening to it.

1. Either/Or by Elliott Smith
I’ve watched the Elliott Smith documentary and read at least one of the major published biographies, but I still feel like I know nothing about the guy. I get the feeling that Elliott Smith, despite the confessional aspect of his songwriting, was a fiercely guarded person. There’s still so much mystery surrounding him and his records.

I think every artist secretly—or not so secretly—dreams of being immortalized, but one shitty thing nobody talks about is how it’s usually the posers and hangers-on who are most eager to tell your story when you’re gone. I feel that way about Elliott Smith to a certain extent—when I hear some people talk about him now I feel like we’re thinking of different musicians. Maybe New Moon is to blame, but there’s this idea of Elliott Smith out there that I don’t think is fully accurate—as this depressive, sad bastard, acoustic guitar-slinging neo folkie, like someone who busked for a living or something. But as he matured as an artist he got further and further away from the solitary singer-songwriter idiom, and if you don’t count the mixed bag posthumous releases his career crescendoed with the lushest “lost” Beatles album ever, Figure 8 —recorded partially at Abbey Road, performed partially on Beatles gear.

But Figure 8 is not a Portland album— Either/Or definitely is. I think people are so drawn to Either/Or because it connects the hyper-narrativized idea of Elliott Smith some people have in their heads with the person he actually was—as a pop genius up there with the best of them, making masterpieces on a miniature scale. This was sort of his “Dylan goes electric moment”—a number of songs on Either/Or feature full band arrangements, and songs like “Cupid’s Trick” and “Pictures of Me” really foreshadow his big budget, bucket hat era. The ballad-to-rocker ratio is pretty much perfect and none of the arrangements feel forced. This is also easily his funniest record—from the too-self-deprecating-to-be-completely-earnest kiss offs in “Say Yes” to that classic line in “Rose Parade” about the trumpet player who has “obviously been drinking,” because he’s “fucking up even the simplest lines.” It sounds so cliched, but something magical happens when you’re walking or driving around Portland late at night listening to this album. It actually feels like you’re on drugs—the good kind.

Previously on Playing Favorites:
Peter Gill’s Top 5 Favorite Power Pop Albums
Melanie Makaiwi’s Top 5 Favorite Black Sabbath Songs
Alison Braun’s Top 5 Favorite Punk Bands To Photograph