Written by Emily Strong
If Austin is my wife, whom I know better than anyone and love for all her flaws and virtues and will always love for the rest of my life, Portland is my ideal woman, the one who is perfect for me in every way, and way out of my league—my fantasy woman. As beautiful as anywhere on earth, as progressive as any other major city, as laid back and friendly and supportive of the arts as my own beloved Austin, Portland has become a breeding ground for some of the best indie acts around. Once again, it was difficult to narrow down the field, but the artists who ended up in this issue are each incredible in their own right and definitely deserving of your attention. Check them out, and then go find out more about what Portland has to offer.
Setting the Scene: Bands You've Probably Already Heard
The Dandy Warhols
Gang of Four
The Helio Sequence
31 Knots –
Listing their influences on their MySpace page as “all inclusive,” this trio's jet-fueled insanity makes for alarmingly addictive music that sears through your brain at mach speeds and with combustible intensity. Their fierce and bizarre live performances only heighten the experience, and their use of props and costumes (and sometimes nudity!) is not so much a crutch as it is a channel for their feral sense of urgency. An absolute must-see.
BlackHeart WhiteNoise –
I honestly can't think of a better way to describe them than how they describe themselves: “Iggy Pop and Nick Cave shooting beer cans while David Bowie prepares crepe souzette at My Bloody Valentine's farewell performance with Sonic Youth.” It might seem a bit ballsy to compare yourself to some of rock's greatest legends, but to their credit the comparison actually stands.
Boy Eats Drum Machine –
Eating a drum machine might not seem like the most palatable dietary decision, but it certainly has served frontman Jon Ragel and his bandmates Ben Rickard and Peter Swenson well. They serve up a savory auditory entree, with a combination of flavors as surprising as they are mouthwatering. Ragel's salty vocals contrast against and enhance the sweet pop melodies, while the sharp, Menomena-influenced drums add just the right amount of zest. Add in the occasional electronic garnish for that little extra something and what you have is a meal that no one can resist.
Perhaps it was irony that inspired Marius Libman to choose “Copy” as his moniker, but it certainly isn't a description of his music by any means. Signed to hometown electronic label Audio Dregs, what he produces isn't your standard DJ fare, but something that falls somewhere in between about a dozen subgenres in the vague neighborhood of electronica, synth-rock, hip-hop, and new wave. His location on the genre map might be as confusing as a “Where's Waldo?” picture, but the resulting sound is a crystal clear, razor sharp vision of the future of pop music.
The godfather of Portland's electronic scene, E*Rock owns and runs the Audio Dregs label, and is infinitely more shy about promoting himself and his music than he is about promoting the artists on his label. It might take some digging to find his work, but the search is well worth it. Also a visual artist and illustrator, his work is always interesting and never quite what you'd expect.
Eskimo & Sons –
At first listen, singer Danielle Sullivan's delicate, warbling vocals might trick you into thinking that Eskimo & Sons' music is nothing more than sleepy, overly sweet pop confection. But there is a secret strength in Sullivan's fragility, and upon further listening it unlocks a whole world of dazzling imagery, both beautiful and horrific, in their emotionally honest subject matter and precisely executed instrumentation. They might be barely out of high school, but E&S have a firm grasp of that hazy area where art and real life collide.
The High Violets –
Picking up where the Dandy Warhols left off before they got tired of being American and, you know, productive, but with the added opulence of Kaitlyn ni Donovan's silky vocals to kick that classic Dandy cool up a notch.
Man of the Year –
A Portland mainstay for almost ten years, Man of the Year has a knack for writing smart hooks that bridge the gap between mainstream and independent music.
Look! It's Jona Bechtolt's darker and funkier brother from another mother! What they have in common is their one-man electronic-dance-art-performance tendencies, their spunky and spontaneous albeit esoteric sense of humor, their DIY work ethic, and their ability to win audiences over heart and soul. What sets Panther, whose real name is Charlie Salas-Humara, apart from YACHT is his slightly edgier subject matter and his slightly more organic musical influences. Whereas Bechtolt has his head in the magical clouds of electro-pop, Panther is sweatily Floor Dancing on the streets of synth-funk.
The Shaky Hands –
Between vocals that are reminiscent of Daniel Johnston at his most in-tune and the gently shambling acoustic melodies recalling Cat Stevens and his ilk, it's difficult not to imagine the Shaky Hands as transplants from the late 1960s/early ’70s. Still, there's something to be said for a band who can so blatantly emulate a period of musical history without coming off as trite or unoriginal. Who knew nostalgia could be this uplifting?
Beautifully lush and layered arrangements turn what could otherwise be fairly unremarkable pop into a truly breathtaking listening experience. A perfect example of this is “Visage Sans Expression”, the opening track on Southerly's latest album, Storyteller and the Gossip Columnist. What begins as a simple acoustic guitar melody expands into a melancholy duet between violin and cello, before bursting into a full-on polyphonic orchestra. Nothing says “keep listening” like a triumphant entrance.
When Josh Hodges got tired of the music he was making, he decided to strike out in a new direction—a direction he calls Starfucker. Aside from his apparent obsession with Art Garfunkel and astronauts, other hints that he might just be the awesomest person you'll ever meet include his infectious, rhythm-centric tunes – which, by the way, he writes and records by himself – and his decision to rock it behind the drums in his live performances instead of taking a more obvious frontman role.
Swan Island –
They claim on their MySpace page to be making the soundtrack to the end of the world, but if the apocalypse is going to sound this awesome, I'm afraid we as a species might become unmotivated to prevent its imminent arrival.
Wet Confetti –
What's so fun about Wet Confetti? Where do I begin? At their hilarious videos? Their even funnier MySpace site? Or the most important thing of all: their high-energy, highly infectious brand of post-punk chaos? Answer: all of the above. These three fast friends ensure that everything they do is injected with wit, fervor, and flair, bringing a party atmosphere with them wherever they go. Wet or not, this confetti sparkles.
White Rainbow –
Adam Forkner, a.k.a. White Rainbow, is a multi-instrumental minimalist composer who unironically makes music for “healing and easy listening.” But don't mistake minimalism for oversimplicity; Forkner's compositions are rich in both texture and substance, as he layers loops in luminescent waves until his listeners are swimming in pure energy. Its purpose is simple and highly specific: rejuvenation. Whether that be right before bed or upon waking, while warming up with a yoga routine or relaxing after a long day, while laying out under the stars or soaking in a hot bath, White Rainbow is for those precious few moments in life when we can escape quotidian drudgery and re-center ourselves.
There are so many venues, labels, festivals and other music-related entities in Portland that there is an entire website devoted specifically to covering all of it. So, I figured it would be easiest for everyone involved if I just provide the link to that website and send you along your merry way:
From there, you can continue to explore the depth and breadth of Portland's awesomeness. Bon voyage!