Throwaway Style is a weekly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, every Thursday on the KEXP site.
It's not like Katy Davidson's pen has gathered rust since the Dear Nora name was retired in 2008; there has been Lloyd and Michael, Key Losers, studio guitarist work for the Gossip and YACHT, commercial music production work for Marmoset. What's in a name, right? Is there the sentimental attachment to the period of time where Dear Nora's cultishly adoring fan base would follow them to the ends of the earth with just a slyly resonant lyric and a cleverly fingerpicked guitar line? Are we just suckers for a good brand?
In a great (and highly recommended) interview with Stereogum, Davidson said about reviving the project: "I think the main thing for me was that I was getting ready to start sharing music again and wanting to perform and wanting to record and release things, and I think ultimately what it came down to was that enough time had passed and I had separated from all my other judgements about using that band name from before. Now, I was thinking about how I could reach the most people, and I think that the most people know this name. Even if my new music doesn’t sound exactly like that old stuff, who cares? If we’re gonna do this, let’s just reach the most people."
Skulls Example is a collection of material written between 2009 and 2017 — an expressive document about being caught between the world both far away and up close, sometimes with both pressed against each other — Mexico, churches built on top of ruins, attempting to make conversation with baristas at a strip mall Starbucks, Friends reruns, the thinning line between art and commerce.
Much like the utterly immersive Mountain Rock — whose reissue last year was the catalyst-in-part for this, the first new Dear Nora record in almost a dozen years — Skulls Example is so bustling with detail, it would take a book club rather than this column to parse the album's lyrics out substantially. Even in its rendering of the juxtaposed beauty and anxiety of modern life, there is a humor that exists. On the album's title track, they sing, "I took a photo of a photo and I got in trouble," and the bleakness of the line, "Sunset on Humanity / Sponsored by PT Cruiser and I'm driving to who-knows-where" made me chortle a little.
Davidson's lyrics hold the thematic richness of the album together while their music denotes an omnivorous variety, making it feel like a multitextured journey through the morning sun and glowing embers. Skulls Example shifts nimbly between swaying indie-rock (opener "White Fur"), contemplative folk ("Walking in the Hills," "Morning Glories"), Magnetic Fields-esque ballads ("Skulls Example"), and at least one tune sure to make the Go-Go's smile with pride ("Worship the Cactus"). Davidson's voice has always sounded tinged with regret and melancholy, even when their songs are unencumbered or outright joyful, the latter being a somewhat rare but entirely welcome occasion.
On "Sunset on Humanity," not only does Davidson offer the line where the aimless drive in the comped and most depressing of all Chrysler vehicles merges with the near-twilight of late capitalism, but also an irresistible descending melody and pillowy harmonies listing the pixellated colors of a video game sunset, wearing a helmet with their pajamas and "organized cybernetics." It's a song which brilliantly encompasses the themes of Skulls Example and the merits of Dear Nora as a whole — critical but warm, poetically observant, simultaneously hilarious, discouraging, and hopeful in a long shot sort of way.
DoNormaal Releases Video for "Buckle"
What exactly can I say about the uber-talented DoNormaal's extraordinary album Third Daughter that hasn't already been said under the proprietorship of Throwaway Style by my friend and esteemed predecessor Dusty Henry? Not incredibly much. The moody bounce of "Buckle," one of the full-length's standout tracks (produced by the equally gifted Brakebill), has a recently released video, rich in its sparseness and brimming with talent; not just from DoNormaal skipping over the vibrating bass while seated in a chair and adorned by a purple bow, but the fluid dance moves of Rukiya McCormack. I don't think Third Daughter could be recommended strongly enough, so listen to it and buy it from Bandcamp. Immediately.
On her tenth full-length album, the Portland singer/songwriter explores issues of safety and security through the imagery and beauty of her songwriting.
On her stunning debut album, the Portland singer/songwriter approaches her craft with the dedication and attention many people reserve for their gardens.