WHO: Cristina Cano (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Erik Clampitt (baritone guitar, pedal steel), Ethan Fox Tucker (bass), Ayal Alves (synths), Judd Kennedy Harris (drums).
SOUNDS LIKE: Metallic tropical fish, happily drowning in deep water.
FOR FANS OF: Bomba Estéreo, Sylvan Esso.
On the cover of her debut album as Siren and the Sea, Cristina Cano wears a gold jumpsuit, all of her shimmering. “I held the angels, dripping with diamonds,” she sings at one point, her voice equally shimmery with reverb, as droning synths build behind her like clouds accumulating rain. “My gold is worth more than you bargained.”
"I've always been a little dramatic," she says, laughing.
Cano, with long dark curls and an acute soprano tone, in some ways instantly recalls the temptress her band's name evokes. In everyday conversation, though, her brooding stage persona feels remote. She talks about her music in a seasoned, grounded way, tracing her progress from solo acoustic singer-songwriter upon her arrival in Portland nine years ago to her current guise as a cosmic electro-pop bandleader.
This Time With Feeling, Siren and the Sea's first full-length album, was released this past February. Thematically, it's a deep-sea dive into nonhuman realms, at times literally evoking a sense of disembodiment, as on indie-rock earworm "Limbs," which opens with the command, "Off with the left/Off with the right."
And the music itself takes its loose categorization as "swimwave" literally. It is awash with Moogs, Nords, Korgs and all manner of phosphorescent synth sounds, some manifesting as coats of sheen atop melody, others as blinking percussion in the style of Karl Blau-esque bedroom pop.
"There's the fluidity of the water," says Cano, whose birthplace of Hawaii and upbringing in Miami attached her to aqueous themes from an early age, "and the idea that it's a very dark place—but then you have something calling you into it, making you deal with it."
There's still a thread, too, of the first iteration of the band as it existed eight years ago, in a very different, folk-obsessed Portland. Cano played with a violinist and an accordion player, making dark gypsy folk that occasionally peeks through in her current project, mostly in the finger-picked guitar and pedal steel that adorn story-songs like "Pocketwatch." On an album full of layered electronic sounds, it glistens with clarity. "I need a door with a lock and key/So I can stay away from me," Cano sings, in a compact distillation of the album's themes.
Cano's new work will be in much the same vein. It's a hurricane-themed concept EP, made, as This Time, alongside EYRST engineer Justin Longerbeam. Expect it to sound expansive, unpredictable and fully enveloping—and maybe just a bit sad.
"Even when you're not feeling super overloaded with melancholy, it's always there," says Cano. "I've always tried to tap into that."
SEE IT: Siren and the Sea play Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., with PWRHAUS and All Night, on Wednesday, Aug. 2. 8:30 pm. $8. 21+.