Portland Monthly’s Essential Spring Playlist

Breezy pop, lush R&B, and Dolly Parton's ode to Oregon: these are your Portland-centric best bets for spring listening.

By Conner Reed


pring has sprung, and while the world may still be on uneasy footing, we'll take this spring over the last one any day, thanks. After a long, hard, (let's go ahead and say it) bad winter, the sun is back, vaccines are widely available, and HBO is currently airing two Jean Smart shows at the same time. Nature? You could say it is healing!

To that end, we tried to compile a spring 2021 playlist that represents the tentative optimism of the moment: sunny, breezy songs from Portlanders old and new about closeness, or a fear of closeness, or Mt Hood, or feeling hot. We also included Dolly Parton's 1972 ode to Eugene, both for vaccine reasons and because we frankly cannot believe it failed to rank on any previous mixes. Check out a track-by-track breakdown of our picks below, and be sure to follow us on Spotify for more.

"Little Engine Freestyle," Daniyel

The rising young rapper put out this airy one-off to bide time until his new full-length, 82nd, drops in mid-May. Check out the joyous, mom-heavy music video as well.

"To Sleep," Night Heron

Former Radiation City frontman Cameron Spies pulled some of his favorite local musicians together—including members of acts like Y La Bamba and Aan—to form Night Heron, a "Daft Punk-meets-Sade" pop group. This track, off the group's upcoming debut LP Instructions for the Night, makes good on the tagline, with a smooth-as-hell bass line and smatterings of sax.

"Portland," The Replacements

In 1987, the Minnesota rockers—beloved on wax, inconsistent in the flesh—played a legendarily bad show at the now-defunct Pine Street Theater. The original vinyl pressing of the band's 1989 album Don't Tell a Soul had the words "Portland, we're sorry" etched into its runouts, and this contrite, upbeat B-side ends with the same line.

"Your Perfect Day," Nu Shooz

Husband-and-wife duo Nu Shooz ruled local (and national) airwaves in the ’80s. This number from their 2016 reunion LP Bagtown (which they've confirmed will be their last) features an expanded lineup, toe-tapping harmonies, and a crispness that reminds us why they first captured our imagination five decades ago.

"Stuck," Alien Boy

The über-talented locals return with a gauzy, tuneful single that welds their emo influences to 4AD-style dream pop. We'll be spinning this on sunset bike rides all season, and can't wait to see what's next.

"2 Optimistic," Parisalexa

One of Portland's most exciting new R&B talents put out her second project 2 Real last May, and this cut feels perfect for 2021's tentatively hopeful spring. "Don't wanna be too optimistic / Don't wanna get my hopes ups / And then I'm shit out of luck," she sings, presumably addressing a relationship, but it's hard not to extrapolate for post-pandemic anxiety.

"Fuck and Run," Logan Lynn 

The prolific musician-slash-advocate released this cover of Liz Phair's classic as a B-side to his single "Rich and Beautiful" last fall. In Lynn's hands, it gets a striking, synth-heavy treatment, not dissimilar to something you might hear from John Grant. 

"Lyla's Cafe," Myke Bogan ft. CRSN and Summer Breeze

The smooth closer to Portland emcee Bogan's April EP Call Me a Cab—all saxophones, drippy electric piano, and smiles.

"California," Quasi

A fuzzy 1998 cut from the indie rock duo, comprised of Sleater-Kinney's Janet Weiss and her onetime husband Sam Coomes. A little morbid for spring, maybe, but for anyone flirting with the renewal of interstate travel, that first "I find myself back in California" really hits.

"City of the Rose," TYuS

A sweet, sunny R&B jam from the Portland native, who showed signs of life back in March when he dropped a new single called "Anything's Possible."

"All I Have to Do Is Dream," Plastic Cactus

Ever heard of reverb, freaks? Clearly beamed in from whatever dimension Mazzy Star occupies, this new(ish) single from the Portland desert rockers glows and sways like the most dynamic sunset of the season.

"Waterfalls," Tyrone Hendrix ft. Ian Michael Lindsay, Kyle Molitor, and Farnell Newton

The decorated Portland drummer lays down a steady, urgent rhythm on this otherwise laidback slice of jazz, bolstered by Newton's trumpet, Molitor's trombone, and Lindsay's smooth bass line.

"City of Roses," Esperanza Spalding

Ignore the fact that this song has a near-identical title to TYuS's track three entries up and choose to bask in its uncomplicated celebration of Portland. Lots of talk these days from certain relatives and certain news outlets about how Portland has become Gomorrah 2.0; maybe send this love letter from the four-time Grammy winner their way to help them cool their jets.

"See You Later," Heatmiser

The penultimate track on Heatmiser’s 1996 swan song Mic City Sons—the group gave Elliott Smith his start, and you can hear his poppier, post-Either/Or instincts on full display in this big emo rocker.

"We Are Between," Modest Mouse

In early May, Modest Mouse emerged from a long silence with a bombastic new single and an announcement that they'll release their first album in six years this summer. It will be called The Golden Casket, it will drop June 25, and the opening track is called "Fuck Your Acid Trip." We are waiting patiently.

"Eugene Oregon," Dolly Parton

"Eugene, Oregon, I'll remember you for the rest of my life," Dolly croons at the top of this 1972 deep cut, which went unreleased until it appeared in 2019’s four-disc box set Dolly. It tells of a battering tour with her onetime partner Porter Waggoner that took her all the way to Track Town, where she received multiple standing ovations despite a killer case of the sniffles. If I were Eugene, Oregon, "flattered" would not cover it.

"Hot," The Last Artful, Dodgr

An extra dose of molten confidence for anyone whose post-pandemic flirt game feels a little rusty. Dodgr released this track in January 2020, and followed it up three months later with the social distancing anthem "Better Safe Than Social." Feels good that we're inching back to "Hot" territory.

"No Distance (Between You and Me)," Ural Thomas & The Pain

OK yeah we're laying it on a little thick with the "vaccinated Portland spring" stuff, but this song does bang. 

"Feel," Quickly, Quickly

A brisk, airy pop song from the young Portland producer that hinges on the simple, perfect refrain, "I just wanna feel." The ideal soundtrack for a sunny strut through Mt Tabor.

"Slow Down," Gabriel Kahane ft. Sufjan Stevens

The onetime Oregon Symphony Creative Chair sings the story of a woman moved to smell the proverbial roses on this track from his self-titled 2010 LP; noted Oregon sadboi Sufjan Stevens joins on background vocals.

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