ILLUSTRATIONS BY KIM SCAFURO
Most popular: Menomena (pictured: Danny seim)
It's easy to see why so many people—both locally and nationally—adore the experimental rock of Menomena. Its songs are both catchy and sonically ambitious, packing tons of distorted drum breaks and skronky sax lines into four-minute pop songs. Still, boiled down, the band's music doesn't scream accessibility, so the fact Menomena is PPN's most celebrated act this year attests to Portland's uniqueness. Sunday (er, technically Monday), 12:25 am, outdoor stage.
Most likely to succeed: Luck-One
PDX Pop Now! is full of left-field surprises. Then there are the sets you expect to live up to the hype. Twenty-four-year-old Portland MC Hanif Collins—who goes by the handle Luck-One—has "breakout act" written all over him: His latest EP, Beautiful Music, is filled equally with jazzy, vintage rhymes reminiscent of New York's Native Tongues and gauzy, futuristic synths seemingly lifted from Kanye's Graduation. Between his desirable late-afternoon time slot and a super-engaging, buttery voice that's always one step ahead of the beat, Luck-One simply can't fail. Saturday, 6:15 pm, outdoor stage.
Valedictorian: White Hinterland's Casey Dienel
The signs are everywhere: She sings songs in French, despite taking just a few classes in the language; cooks like a chef, though she's never had any formal training; and croons like a cross between Joanna Newsom and Édith Piaf while still maintaining that she's uncomfortable in her own voice. Though Casey Dienel's music as White Hinterland isn't the easiest thing to digest, with some time it proves that she's studied in all the right places, taking bits of folk and piano pop and experimental noise to craft whirring, studious music for people willing to learn right along with her. Saturday, 12:40 pm, inside stage.
Biggest flirts: Nice Nice
You know that really cute girl you met at homecoming sophomore year who disappeared for a while, only to come back looking hotter than ever? OK, maybe I'm getting carried away just a bit, but electro-rock duo Nice Nice has been playing games with local fans' hearts for two years—time spent slaving away on a full-length without a single live show. Expect a triumphant return from one of the best live bands on the planet. Saturday, 11:05 pm, outside stage.
Cutest couple: Inside Voices' John Gnorski and Lee Slack
There's this unmistakable chemistry exhibited onstage between Inside Voices guitarist John Gnorski and bassist Lee Slack. You can hear it in the band's music, from the gradual tension that builds and dissipates in the harrowing "Living on the Range" to the way the duo changes key without so much as a quick glance. Yeah, they're dating. Inside Voices' debut record, The Fortunes, is a subtle masterpiece, filled with odd time signatures, unobtrusive guitar solos and a few certified jams. Saturday, 6:55 pm, outdoor stage.
Class clowns: The Mint Chicks
The Mint Chicks, more than any other band playing the festival, are totally unpredictable. Though they've only been living in Portland for just over a year, the zany New Zealanders love to fuck with people's expectations. A huge hit back in their home country, the electro-punk Chicks moved to the States to dodge the claustrophobia of success, and it's brought them a creative freedom they couldn't reach in a country with lofty expectations and huge crowds. The Chicks could hang from the rafters or stand completely still at PPN, but the joke'll be on us, naturally. Friday, 10:10 pm, inside stage.
PDX Pop Now! runs 6 pm-1 am Friday, noon-1 am Saturday and Sunday, July 24-26, at Rotture, 315 SE 3rd Ave. Free. All ages. See pdxpopnow.com for full schedule.