[SALEM ROCK CITY] When people speak about Portland's vibrant music scene, they talk about community and friendship, house shows and DIY record labels, James Mercer and No. 1 records (congrats, Colin Meloy!). And for good reason: The amount of quality music coming out of this city is staggering. But inside every scene is a subculture that really deserves more ink and attention, and the past few years have also been particularly kind to all sorts of weird and wonderful sounds originating in our state capital.
Knock Salem all you want, but it's where chamber-folk outfit Typhoon got its start, and it's the former home of experimental electropop duo Sustentacula. The band—singer David Rafn and drummer Ryan Stuewe—creates a sort of skewed, horizontal take of the bouncy electronic rock created by so many local acts. Its second record, Salem: City of Peace, is one of the more interesting things I've heard in 2011, combining synthesizers and dancey beats with tribal percussion and a strong set of songs.
Sustentacula has a deft understanding of rhythm and melody, and Salem: City of Peace never pushes too far in the realm of pop, grounding itself in odd lyrical left turns and looped acoustic instruments that are more Xiu Xiu than Junior Boys. Its songs like "It Is Our Wish"—which features Rafn singing "It is our wish to run wild like mascara"—beat with a real human pulse. The whole record is rewarding, and despite a few questionable song titles (I could do without a track called "Totalitarian Love," thanks), it proves we really should make sure the conversation about Portland music gets extended by an extra 50 miles or so. When is Salem going to get its own Best New Band issue?
SEE IT: Sustenacula plays at Doug Fir Lounge on Friday, Feb. 4, with Soft Tags, Massive Moth, Monoplane, and Julian Snow & Murmuring Pines. 9 pm. $5. 21+.