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April 25th, 2007 Michael Byrne, Casey Jarman, Amy Mccullough, Anika Sabin & Jason Simms | News Stories
 

Best New Band 2007

Portland's music insiders choose this year's Top 10.

     
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In the world of music, fans are the most important critics, and there are no greater fans than those who devote their professional lives to the craft. That's why WW's Best New Band poll is such an important thing: Rather than tell you who we, the alleged "pros," think are the new cream of Portland's music crop, WW polled local music insiders—from club bookers and radio DJs to label heads and show promoters—in search of Portland's "Best New Band." In our fourth Best New Band poll (Portland at large will be queried on its fave Portland band in our annual Best of Portland Readers Poll later this summer), WW canvassed more voters than ever (117) and ended up with 277 artists, 10 of whom you're about to get to know a whole lot better. These are the artists who've won the hearts and ears of the people who make Portland's music scene tick—in short, the real critics.

Amy McCullough

See the Shaky Hands, Horse Feathers and Laura Gibson live at WW's Best New Band showcase Friday, April 27, at Berbati's Pan. 9:30 pm. FREE. 21+.

Special thanks to Anika Sabin for compiling the votes and working spreadsheet wonders. To see the ballot that was mailed to Best New Band Voters (which includes a breakdown of the point system, eligibility, etc.) and a list of voters' choices, click here.

1. The Shaky Hands: 99 points

Who: Nick and Nathan Delffs, Mayhaw Hoons, Colin Anderson and Jeff Lehman

What: Folk-tinged indie rock

Sounds like: A beach volleyball game between the Byrds and Led Zeppelin.

Year formed: 2003

Most likely to be found: Maxin' and relaxin' on a big, Southeast Portland front porch, or playing house shows and Holocene.

Favorite Portland bands: Adrian Orange, Science of Yabra, LKN, Lifesavas

Who they would have voted for: Evolutionary Jass Band

Voter quote: "Nick's voice is so compelling. I actually saw him play a solo show at Valentine's before I'd really heard the Shaky Hands, and my first thought was, 'Lose the band and just do this.' I heard the band a few weeks later and instantly changed my mind. The first Portland 'indie' band in a long time that's caught my attention, and the only one that matters." —Joe Dixon, freelance music writer and Shake Appeal Records owner

It's a Friday afternoon—one of 2007's first perfect days. I find Jeff Lehman, one of the Shaky Hands' two guitarists, sitting alone on the slightly dilapidated porch of the band's Northeast Portland practice space, smoking and staring at the sky. "Is it 4 o'clock already?" he asks after a brief introduction. "Just about," I reply and seat myself on a creaky bench. "We're still waiting for Nick," Lehman adds. "Mayhaw and Colin are skateboarding and taking pictures down the street." Naturally, I think: This is the Shaky Hands, a band that's chronically described as "feel-good." Frontman Nick Delffs then approaches the house with a lazy wave, stuffing a Saran-Wrapped, half-eaten orange into his backpack. He flashes a goofy, crooked-toothed smile as he introduces himself and takes his place, cross-legged, on the porch.

The following day, the Hands will sell out Holocene at the release party for its self-titled debut. Among the crowd will be bigwigs like Spoon frontman Britt Daniel and the Dandy Warhols' Courtney Taylor-Taylor. And when I mention WW's annual Best New Band poll to basically anyone, their initial response is, almost invariably, "Did the Shaky Hands win?" Apparently, this is a no-brainer: The Shaky Hands are blowing up. But why?

Compared with past winners of WW's Best New Band poll—laptop dance project Copy and folk-tronic duo Talkdemonic, for instance—the Shaky Hands are relatively straightforward: They're a rock-and-roll band. A jangly, acoustic guitar-loving, summertime soundtrack of a rock band, but a rock band nonetheless. So I put it to the band (sans guitarist Nathan Delffs, who was in Europe with his girlfriend at the time of our meeting; that's his lap steel on the cover) simply during our casual, front-porch interview: "What do people like about the Shaky Hands?"

"I think it's mainly the looks that we have," the sandals-and-tank-top-clad Nick Delffs replies. "We're kind of the Duran Duran of the aughties," adds bassist Mayhaw Hoons (who has forgone shoes altogether and let his red hair grow well past his shoulders). "Just our lifestyles are pretty amazing."

But Delffs and Hoons' teasing, sarcastic responses obscure the truth in their answers. The Shaky Hands' look and lifestyle are an integral part of the band's success: They are the laid-back, Pabst-drinking dudes next door, and they just happen to play in the best band in Portland. Perhaps most notably, they're not the least bit big-headed about it.

The Shaky Hands' popularity has snowballed since the 2006 PDX Pop Now! festival (pinpointed by band members as an early "oh shit" moment in regard to the turnout and high-energy crowd reaction), but the band started paying its basement-show dues significantly earlier. In fact, the Shakies credit Portland's basements for the evolution of their live show, which—considering the band just released its debut LP—is largely responsible for the band's success. "You really have to prove something" at a basement show, Hoons says. "Or else," Delffs adds, "people are going to be like, 'I'm gonna go smoke cigarettes on the porch.' You have to be in the [same] frame of mind as everyone else. If you're in a basement show and you're very conscious of the audience and very tight, that doesn't translate." Hoons agrees, "You have to be, like, 'I am partying, too.'"

Over time, the Shaky Hands have had to translate those energetic, sweaty basement performances into larger venues and onto raised stages. The key to that transition, drummer Colin Anderson says, is to treat your bandmates as you would treat the audience at a shoulder-to-shoulder house party: "You're actually feeding off each other," he says.

To that end, the Hands spend much of their onstage time with backs at least partially turned to the crowd—sweaty and/or shirtless by the end of many performances. None of this seems particularly purposeful or forced, and none of it seems awkward. Therein lies the magic of the Shaky Hands: You won't see these guys pulling synchronized air-kicks or clapping in unison, but being energetic and passionate comes naturally to them. "To me, it's just like—if you're really in it, you're gonna be involved and do things that people think are engaging," says Anderson. "But if it's not a planned thing and it's in the moment, it's better."

Which is exactly why so many Portland music fans aren't surprised to find the Shaky Hands stealing this year's Best New Band spotlight. But, that Friday afternoon on the porch, no one seemed the least bit stressed: "All the press and stuff is really exciting, and the crowds getting bigger [is exciting]," Hoons says of the band's popularity. "But it's not something to dwell on, really. I just want to put out a really good [next] album." Naturally. CASEY JARMAN.

The Shaky Hands play WW's Best New Band Showcase with Horse Feathers and Laura Gibson Friday, April 27, at Berbati's. 9:30 pm. Free. 21+.

MP3: "Summer's Life," from The Shaky Hands (Holocene Music, 2007)

[audio:2007/04/24/theshakyhands-summerslife.mp3]

Extra Content: LocalCut's extended Q&A with the Shaky Hands.

Visit: myspace.com/shakyhands

Watch: The Shaky Hands' "Why & How Come" video

2. Horse Feathers: 90 points

Who: Justin Ringle and Peter Broderick (pictured above with sometime member Heather Broderick)

What: Chamber folk

Sounds like: A male Tracy Chapman playing Springsteen's Nebraska with a full orchestra.

Year formed: 2004

Most likely to be found: Entrancing sappy, possibly seated indie folkies at Doug Fir and Holocene.

Favorite Portland bands: Talkdemonic and Dolorean (Ringle: "Please print both or none at all.")

Who they would have voted for: Whip, Dragging an Ox through Water, Laura Gibson, Loch Lomond, Musee Mecanique

Voter quote: "Justin had just survived a brutal breakup, and...he started writing these incredibly personal and emotionally overpowering songs. I became his biggest fan, convincing him that he needed to record. He soon met Peter through our friends at Berbati's, and their chemistry was apparent. I knew the profound effect their music carried by watching people react to them, stopping dead in their tracks, bringing a silence to the room wherever they played, the audience impacted by the sincerity and grace of the music." —Kevin O'Connor, member of Talkdemonic, Lucky Madison label manager

Though Horse Feathers' singer-songwriter-guitarist Justin Ringle is a man of few words, he makes 'em count. Describing his and multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick's experiences touring, for instance, Ringle chooses "nightmarish." His friend and past tourmate Adam Shearer—who fronts local folk-rock outfit John Weinland—elaborates: "Day four into the Horse Feathers/John Weinland/Justin Power Inland Empire tour," Shearer jokes, "Ringle [got] his drink on. Day five, we had to ditch [him] because he's too hungover to get dressed. That night, in Coeur D'Alene, he kills his set. That guy's a pro."

Sharing several hours on the road with Ringle, Shearer has been through hell and high water with the onetime solo act, from ego-bruising arm-wrestling matches to rejecting hookers outside an Idaho motel-liquor store at 3 am. Ringle and Broderick—who mans violin, banjo, mandolin, cello, piano, saw, etc. and joined Horse Feathers in '05—have had similarly rough experiences touring with folk-tronic duo Talkdemonic (2005's Best New Band) and Norfolk & Western, respectively. Yet, from house-party gigs to open mics, the chamber-folk duo looks back fondly on its mishaps. Ringle recalls anxiously playing a house party in '06 after a set by the more upbeat Shaky Hands. But Horse Feathers' arresting folk songs—to his surprise—also won partyers over: "Every few songs they'd yell to the drinkers in the next room to shut up," recalls Broderick with excited amusement.

"We can't just roll into a barbecue and start playing," Ringle adds, and you get the sense he likes it that way. Quite understandably: Horse Feathers is deeply woven with jangling momentum, but it's also thoroughly somber and quietly heartbreaking. Ringle writes vague but visceral portraits that swell with intangibility. On "Blood on the Snow," for example, he murmurs: "Their bones they bleed they rot/ Their tones they're forged, they're wrought." And it's not the only moment on the band's 2006 debut, Words Are Dead, when pronouns go undefined. Words are dead. But, however cryptic, the stories cradled in Horse Feathers' sorrowful arrangements are undeniably affecting. It's in Horse Feathers' haunting ambiguity that it finds its voice—no explanations needed. ANIKA SABIN.

Horse Feathers play WW's Best New Band Showcase with the Shaky Hands and Laura Gibson on Friday, April 27, at Berbati's. 9:30 pm. Free. 21+.

MP3: "Finch on Saturday," from Words Are Dead (Lucky Madison, 2006)

[audio:2007/04/24/horsefeathers-finch.mp3]

Visit: myspace.com/horsefeathersmusic

3. Alela Diane: 62.5 points

What: Mild freak folk

Sounds like: A wide-eyed, nomadic (and occasionally yodeling) Jolie Holland.

Year formed: 2003

Most likely to be found: Everywhere but Portland.

Favorite Portland band: "Sorry, I just have no idea."

Who she would have voted for: Laura Gibson

Voter quote: "Full of gently plucked guitar and images of buttons and lace, babies and brambles, twigs and string, Diane's music could—in theory—slide into preciousness, but this young folk classicist has a bead on the natural order of things and the gift to portray it." —Brent Bell, PDX Pop Now! board member

The album that shoved a stunned Alela Diane into the national spotlight early last year, The Pirate's Gospel, was already over two years old when it was snagged by an upstart local label, Holocene Music, and re-released to a mass audience. The original—11 lovely songs of wide-eyed, sparse forest folk—was an intensely personal affair: Every copy came in hand-stitched, doily-and-brown-paper packaging. Given the swell of praise since­ then—from such sources as The New York Times, Spin and Willamette Week­—and a recently inked Euro-deal with England's Names Records (a contract that, unfortunately, means Diane will be playing London during our Best New Band showcase), those hand-stitched copies will be hot items on eBay in a short time—as if anyone with even a momentary understanding of Diane's primitive, sweetly innocent folk songs could ever bear to resell them.

Though all this attention may sound overwhelming, Diane says she's mainly just thrilled to be able to quit her day job serving at Castagna. And the 24-year-old Nevada City, Calif., native—who, impressively, spends about the same amount of time on the road as she does in town—says she's finally come to think of Portland as home after living here for a year and a half (though she cops to knowing little of the local music scene).

If the sudden fame of the past year bounces off Diane, it isn't lost on the family that fostered her still relatively nascent development as a folk musician. Of her father—frontman of a long-standing Grateful Dead cover band—she says, "He calls and says things like, 'Look what I found about you on the Internet!'" Not surprisingly, Diane's father recorded the initial pressing of The Pirate's Gospel with a younger Diane at their woodland Northern California home. She's finishing that disc's follow-up now, recording the as-yet-unnamed record all on her own this time. And, like The Pirate's Gospel, it will certainly remain her own personal work. Diane says she feels no pressure of expectation—despite the shelf-ready packaging (it's also slated to come out on Holocene Music) and the near-certain promise of a new wave of accolades delivered, at the very least, in regular doses by a very proud father. MICHAEL BYRNE.

MP3:"The Rifle," from The Pirate's Gospel (Holocene Music, 2006)

[audio:2007/04/24/aleladiane-therifle.mp3]

Visit: myspace.com/alelamusic or alelamusic.com

4. Laura Gibson: 50 points

What: Jazz-influenced folk

Sounds like: Billie Holiday and Gillian Welch dueting by a crackling fire while it snows outside.

Year formed: 2004

Most likely to be found: Drinking chamomile tea at the Doug Fir, playing with her band at Holocene, visiting with her mother or contributing guest vocals to all sorts of folky recordings.

Favorite Portland band: "I don't know if I can answer that."

Who she would have voted for: Horse Feathers

Voter quote: "The first time I saw Laura Gibson perform, at Pix Pâtisserie last year, I was surprised that she was ever able to work up the nerve to get on stage, strum a guitar and sing. Strangely, though, her modesty and shyness (which is pretty damn endearing) seems to close her off from the room, leaving her free to express her innermost thoughts, dreams, inspirations, unawares of the eyes around her. When she picks at that guitar and opens her mouth, what comes out is purely Laura, and it is incredibly beautiful. If she has taught me anything, it is to listen to the quiet ones. They've got something to say." —Mark Baumgarten, WW music editor, 2003-2006

As a kid, singer-songwriter Laura Gibson name-dropped Smokey the Bear on the playground. Her dad was a forest ranger, which made Smokey a virtual god. And not a bit of that small-town charm is lost on her Hush Records debut, If You Come to Greet Me. Full of gentle folk arrangements and vocals that laze about with all the patience of a fluttering leaf, Gibson's crackling lullabies wear her coastal roots proudly. In fact, it was a visit home to Coquille, Ore.—and discovering a box of love letters sent between her grandparents during World Wars I and II—that inspired many of the album's tracks: "I realized where I'm from in terms of physical place and family lineage," says the freckled blonde.

A math major and science whiz, Gibson—who endearingly reminisces about her "Math = FUN" T-shirts of yore—had planned to go into medicine until she picked up the guitar in college. "It didn't occur to me that music was a possibility," she explains. But after moving to Portland and playing to her first audiences at Our House of Portland—a health and housing service for people with HIV-AIDS—Gibson found her voice. It wasn't until she sent a timid email to Norfolk & Western frontman (and Type Foundry Studio founder) Adam Selzer, however, that Gibson seriously entertained recording her music.

Initially intimidated by Portland's "hip" music scene, Gibson now thinks of her musical contemporaries as family. During recording sessions, the 27-year-old says her mom (one of her biggest fans) would even stop by Type Foundry with giant meals for her, Selzer and the contributing musicians—much like an NFL mother. "I've invited her into my world," says Gibson, who wanted her family to see that her choice to pursue music doesn't mean she's "being lazy." Over coffee and homemade scones at her Southeast Portland apartment, Gibson plainly states, "I care very deeply about what I'm doing." And nothing communicates that better than the beautiful ache of her voice. AMY MCCULLOUGH.

Laura Gibson plays WW's Best New Band Showcase with the Shaky Hands and Horse Feathers Friday, April 27, at Berbati's. 9:30 pm. Free. 21+.

MP3: "Hands in Pockets," from If You Come to Greet Me (Hush Records, 2006)

[audio:2007/04/24/lauragibson-handsinpockets.mp3]

Visit: myspace.com/lauragibson or lauragibson.net

5. New Bloods: 29.5 points

Who: Osa Atoe, Cassia Gammill and Adee Roberson

What: Fiddle-infused grrrl rock

Sounds like: Bikini Kill and the Clash kickin' up dust at a voodoo hoedown.

Year formed: 2006

Most likely to be found: At a house show that's heavy on the androgynous fashion.

Favorite Portland band: Jungle Nausea

Who they would have voted for: Here Comes a Big Black Cloud, The Dispossessed, The Gay Deceivers, Red Herring

Voter quote: "I get the same feeling listening to them that I did when I first heard Sleater-Kinney's Call the Doctor. They're spine-tingling good. They were also the soundtrack to the night I made out with two different people and kind of got into some trouble. Not that that's their fault." —Beren Ekine-Huett, Failing Records, member of the Shotgun

New Bloods' music simultaneously recalls the 1970s and the 1870s, and the three ladies that make up the band agree—about the first part, anyway. How could they not? Cassia Gammill's round, driving bass lines put the trio's Clash-style, slightly syncopated punk right at the forefront of its sound. And the Bloods' three-pronged female hollers and shouts have all the wildness and mystique of the Slits' vocal arrangements.

The 1870s part, on the other hand, is accidental. Yet Adee Roberson's thump-and-click drumming style (she plays toms and rim shots almost exclusively) and Osa Atoe's mournful fiddle combine for a sound that could have made boots raise dust around a fire any time since Lewis and Clark.

It's the lyrics, though, that drive home the timelessness of New Bloods. "Danger!," from the band's self-titled debut 7-inch (released just last month on New Orleans' Raw Sugar Records), tells the story of an execution by horse-dragging with the repetition and doom of a Jean Toomer story and an instrumental section that sounds both familiar and anxious.

It seems unbelievable upon listening, but New Bloods essentially stumbled into its very recognizable sound and lyrical style. All three members of the band are recent Portland transplants in their mid-20s—Gammill and Roberson came independently of one another from New Orleans, and Atoe from Oakland. The trio began playing together last spring with no intention of forming a long-term band. Each member writes lyrics separately, yet somehow they forged a charismatic group identity extremely quickly, taking two mini tours down the West Coast in the past year. As you read this, the band is making its East Coast debut.

New Bloods, it would seem, is the newest band on this year's Top 10 list, but it's rapidly gaining a following. Opening for the Gossip at the Wonder Ballroom a couple of weeks ago, Gammill called for a cheer for the headliner, as is the custom. In response to the less than overwhelming applause, she said, "Is that all?" "We came to see you!" someone hollered, and a greater cheer responded. The ladies even signed some of their first autographs after the show, an awkward experience for a band more accustomed to house shows. "I don't like all the space on a stage like that," says Gammill.

Those who arrived early for the trio were not disappointed: Osa's bow sprouted a ponytail of broken hairs from her furious playing, Adee's thick sticks and mallets filled the room with thunder, and—as usual—all three sang straight from their bowels with a fervor that could've awakened the dead. JASON SIMMS.

See also music feature.

MP3: "A Ritual," from the band's self-titled 7-inch (Raw Sugar Records, 2007)

[audio:2007/04/24/newbloods-aritual.mp3]

Extra Content: LocalCut's extended Q&A with New Bloods.

Visit: myspace.com/thenewbloods

6./7. (tie) Dat'r: 26 points

Who: Matt Dabrowiak and Paul Alcott

What: Pop-fueled electronic funk

Sounds like: !!! for the coffeeshop—or, in the band's own words, "a high-kick contest on Sparks."

Year formed: 2003-ish

Most likely to be found: Inspiring somber indie kids to dance at Holocene and house parties.

Favorite Portland band: Parenthetical Girls

Who they would have voted for: Parenthetical Girls

Voter quote: "I remember leaning against a wall, listening to Dat'r play to a sweaty, sweaty dancing crowd and thinking, 'When the hell did these guys get so good?' They had seemed to jump from some raw basement party electro band to this refined, internationally viable techno band overnight. Or maybe I just don't go out enough." —Scott McLean, Holocene Music

In a year of hyperactive evolution for electronic music—from the Blow exploding with '06's Paper Television to the rare reunion of Project Perfect and Valet's stellar debut—Dat'r is the only techno-based project that made WW's Best New Band Top 10 this year. Surprising, considering that Copy, a solo laptop dance project, took last year's top honors. But it still makes sense: This year's is a pop-friendly list, and Dat'r is a pop-friendly band. The electro-funk duo of Matt Dabrowiak and Paul Alcott lies just at the fringe of the indie-techno crossover scene, teetering between the more song-based dance pop of its weeks-old Hush Records debut, Turn Up the Ghosts, and the frenetic, drumsticks-bouncing-off-the-walls energy of a Dat'r live show.

But Dat'r's intense attention to songwriting detail and reliance on live, irregular percussion is exactly what sets it apart. It's also what keeps the crossover outfit from falling under the strict dance-techno label (read: There's more than long mixes and consistently heavy, machine-produced beats here). Keep in mind, Dat'r is made of up of two-thirds of much-beloved math-rock project Binary Dolls (now on indefinite hiatus). Songwriter, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Dabrowiak credits Dolls frontman (and solo artist) Nick Jaina as a direct influence: "Nick is just a fantastic songwriter, so we build around that [with Dat'r]."

Playing with Binary Dolls is also where Alcott honed his drumming skills, though the elaborate mania of his Dat'r work has been a grow-as-he-goes affair. Perhaps Portland, historically a rock town, still isn't quite ready—in the mainstream sense—for the usually performance-lacking straight techno scene. But if Dat'r is enough to bring a sweaty throng onto the dance floor for 40 minutes, it might be the next ideal step. MICHAEL BYRNE.

Dat'r plays with Moan on Friday, April 27, at Towne Lounge. 9:30 pm. Cover. 21+.

MP3: "The Bloody Lump" from Turn Up the Ghosts (Hush Records, 2007)

[audio:2007/04/24/datr-thebloodylump.mp3]

Extra Content: LocalCut's extended Q&A with Dat'r.

Visit: myspace.com/datr

6./7. (tie) LKN: 26 points

Who: Lauren K. Newman

What: Experimental noise rock

Sounds like: A banshee-led combo of Hella and the Melvins erupting from a 5-foot-2-inch volcano.

Year formed: 1999 in Pensacola, Fla., relocated to PDX in 2001

Most likely to be found: Tracking at her home studio where she records daily (yes, daily).

Favorite Portland band: The Builders and the Butchers

Who she would have voted for: The Builders and the Butchers

Voter quote: "LKN is a golden god. I've seen her outshred killer opening acts [while] missing a G string. I've seen her barechested and unabashedly fucking her guitar in the middle of a solo. She's magnificent as a horse—powerful, beautiful and as wild as she is in control. She's a fucking jungle cat—graceful as she is killer deadly. If rock and roll is to be saved from the banks of the next generation of loop stations, it will be LKN who we will rally behind. She's brutal, honest, unflinchingly passionate and unflappably dedicated. I've never wanted to have kids, but I once asked her in all honesty if she'd rear my child. It's that Sandy Thompson notion: I think the world could use more Hunters." —Randy Bemrose, member of Junkface, Green House booker

Lauren Kathryn Newman is, physically, the smallest person to make this year's Best New Band Top 10 list, but she could kick the ass of any whole band on it. On "Exit Mistakes," a track from Postulate II (to be released this summer by Greyday Productions), she sings, "You cannot break a heart like mine," in a voice that goes from paved to gravel as quickly as Kurt Cobain's. And she does it over finger-tapping prog guitar as bizarre as a lead by the Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez-Lopez—but executed with all the fluidity of Hendrix. Still, what is essentially an extended, driving drum solo propels the track. Oh, and the 28-year-old Newman plays everything on LKN recordings (wait for it) without rehearsing. "My nature as a musician is, I'm spontaneous," she says. "Everything I do, it's like, here's a moment in time."

Such whims often possess Newman to throw off her clothing and guitar at shows, earning her a maniacal reputation. But she claims that on her upcoming national tour (her first since 2004) she'll settle down and play mellower, more piano-driven songs of the sort she records daily at home. Bassist Bobby Dezfulli and drummer Terrica Kleinknecht (also Newman's partner) will help fill out her live sets (and contribute some singing), but Newman will play drums on a few numbers, as well. Newman was featured in Modern Drummer last summer, after all, though she can play—and it seems do—damn near anything. JASON SIMMS.

See also music feature.

MP3:"Exit Mistakes," from Postulate II (Greyday Productions, 2007)

[audio:2007/04/24/lkn-exitwounds.mp3]

Extra Content: LocalCut's extended Q&A with LKN.

Visit: myspace.com/lkn or greydayproductions.com/bands/lkn

8. Dragging An Ox Through Water: 24 points

Who: Brian Mumford

What: Experimental noise folk

Sounds like: A dislocated Appalachian family busking in the city.

Year formed: 2002

Most likely to be found: Peddling coffee at the Half & Half cafe or playing his ramshackle guitar (or doodling) at Valentine's.

Favorite Portland band: Smegma

Who he would have voted for: Xh, Bird Costumes, Argumentix, J. Dorothy Jones

Voter quote: "Steeped with heart-on-sleeve singer-songwriter folk, belching and sputtering synth-drone, cut-up field recordings and even pop, Brian takes the best ideas across the entire underground and creates something unique, textured and at times darn catchy. His music weaves a complex tapestry of contrasting experimental approaches matted with moist clumps of risky sincerity. Undoubtedly, he is surfing the next wave—many contemporaries will be attempting to catch up soon." —James Squeaky, freelance music writer, performs as Argumentix, member of Alarmist, Below PDX Records founder

Dragging an Ox through Water songs don't sound like they were written. They sound like they were planted—and then grown, against all odds—in a nuclear fallout zone. Layers of seemingly randomized clicks, whirs and squeals attack virtually every moment of Brian Mumford's comparably gentle, country-tinged folk pop.

I should note that Mumford and I go way back. The first time I saw him perform, he was playing angular, time-signature-crazy math rock in a band called Collectivo (which would later change its name to Chevron). Then, in the early days of Dragging an Ox, I watched Mumford take stages with his then-girlfriend, Martha Mosqueda (now frontwoman for Portland's Kiki). The two would sit uncomfortably close to one another while singing jaw-dropping harmonies on Mumford's "Bowl of Salt" and Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart." Both songs also featured whistling solos.

But that stripped-down and inescapably cute incarnation of Dragging an Ox through Water wasn't really representative of Mumford's preferred aesthetic. In recorded form, the pop aspects of the now-27-year-old's music have always been inextricable from its more dangerous-sounding, noise-rattled experimentalism. Sometimes the two elements even duel to the death, as on "Horror Toads," a song that places Mumford in the consecutive roles of a wobbly-turntable beat controller and wide-eyed neo-folk singer. But he emotes lines like "Drink some cough syrup and go out dancing" in an equally affecting manner under both guises.

Such lines—and Mumford's unusual tendency toward addressing evolutionary science and emotional hardship in close proximity to one another (on "Wind Was Corner," he sings, "We are our bodies/ We are in love with one another")—can occasionally come across as attempts at humor. "It's not," he says thoughtfully, "but I think that it's OK that people interpret it that way."

"Dragging an Ox is really private," adds the quick-witted songwriter. Most lyrics, he explains, are rough transcriptions from his own internal dialogues and dreams. So when these convoluted storylines resonate with listeners, he's both appreciative and befuddled—which is exactly what makes Mumford such a compelling musician. It's also what gives you the impression that, if Brian Mumford were the last man on earth, he'd probably still be in his basement, planting songs and watching them grow. CASEY JARMAN.

MP3: "Aces," from Rebukes! 7-inch (Smells Delicious)

[audio:2007/04/24/dragginganox-aces.mp3]

Extra Content: LocalCut's extended Q&A and "photo shoot" with Dragging an Ox through Water.

Visit: dragginganox.org

9./10. (tie) Hey Lover: 20 points

Who: Justin and Terah Beth Varga

What: High-energy garage punk

Sounds like: The White Stripes sharing a sweet-'n'-salty Payday bar—one that fell on the ground and got a little dirty—with the Kinks.

Year formed: 2005

Most likely to be found: Swilling beers at Crowbar and cheering up house parties and dive bars near you.

Favorite Portland bands: The Shins, Elliott Smith

Who they would have voted for: Cafeteria Dance Fever

Voter quote: "Terah Beth is one of the most rocking drummers I've seen. Hey Lover features dueling vocals [and], hook after hook, complete audience captivity. They're high, high, high energy...probably the best overall pop band in town right now." —Tyler Riggs, member of Curious Hands, Jesus Burger, Die Kapitalist Pig; Le Bloody Hummus Haus booker

Though Terah Beth ("TB") Varga says she and husband Justin "always had crushes on each other," the duo didn't form—musically or romantically—until after their high-school years together in Tennessee. But after their love bloomed, all it took was a friend storing his drum set at the couple's apartment for a band to form.

After moving to Portland, the guitar-drums duo quickly got hooked up with Breakfast Mascot Records and Hovercraft Productions through shows at Ash Street and Porky's, respectively. Only a year and half after its formation, Hey Lover had a full-length record (recorded at Breakfast Mascot's North Carolina studio in six days) and a label (Hovercraft).

Justin, who plays guitar and does most of the singing, admits that having a cute, blond girl drummer in the band "definitely helps." But Hey Lover owes plenty to its high-energy live shows, playful tunes and natural chemistry, as well. "It's just a lifestyle for us," says the dark-haired, softspoken Justin. Considering the Vargas' first show was playing their own wedding—Justin lovingly describes TB's orange Converse All-Stars and the blood his guitar-shredded hand got on her dress—this couldn't be more true. TB chimes in, confirming the notion: "We played Daniel Johnston's 'Love Wheel,' and, you know, we changed the words from 'matrimony someday' to "matrimony TODAY!'" AMY MCCULLOUGH.

Hey Lover plays with Old Haunts and Leti Angel on Wednesday, April 25, at Holocene. 9 pm. $6. 21+.

MP3:"Here Comes the Snow," from Hey Lover (Hovercraft Productions and Breakfast Mascot Records, 2007)

[audio:2007/04/24/heylover-herecomesthesnow.mp3]

Visit: myspace.com/heylovermusic or heylovermusic.com

9./10. (tie) Pure Country Gold: 20 points

Who: Jake Welliver and Patrick "Petey" Foss

What: Filthy, loud garage rock

Sounds like: Chuck Berry guesting on a Dead Moon reunion tour.

Year formed: 2006

Most likely to be found: At the B Side or Billy Ray's, Hamm's tallboy in hand, or playing Slabtown and house parties.

Favorite Portland bands: Foss: Dead Moon. Welliver: "I think having a favorite band is stupid."

Who they would have voted for: The Eegos, SLiP iTS, Farmer's Almanac, Drunken Prayer, The Ones

Voter quote: "Pure Country Gold is so perfectly raw, electric and unpretentious that I actually witnessed a hipster take off his thrift-store sweater and flog himself with his white belt in shame at one of their live shows." —Matt Slessler, Pabst Blue Ribbon

At a Pure Country Gold show, you're hearing two men play songs that were originally conceived for a full R&B revue with a horn section: "We had no intention of being a two-piece," says guitarist Patrick "Petey" Foss over beers at Billy Ray's, where he met drummer Jake Welliver about five years ago. The original idea was a big band, but since they hadn't had any luck filling out the lineup after a year in the garage, Foss and Welliver went ahead and played their first show last year as a duo. It turned out there wasn't all that much to fill in. A mechanic by day, 30-year-old Welliver has big hands, big arms and a huge drum sound (downright deafening at a house show), and Foss' muddy guitar can emulate a train engine or pass out sweet, hip-swayin' leads, sometimes simultaneously.

"That's what we're all about," says Welliver, "creating dynamic musical landscapes." Then he and Foss crack up. See, PCG is on the juke at Slabtown and the B Side for a reason. "I don't much like stayin' at home," explains Welliver. Foss adds, "I like to go to a place where I can spit on the floor and be comfortable about it." And the loud, upbeat rock 'n' roll Pure Country Gold plays epitomizes just that. JASON SIMMS.

MP3:"King of Cortisone," from Pure Country Gold (Empty Records, 2007)

[audio:2007/04/24/purecountrygold-king.mp3]

Extra Content: Localcut's extended Q&A with Pure Country Gold.

Visit: myspace.com/purecountrygold

PAST BEST NEW BANDS AT A GLANCE:

2006: Copy

Perhaps the most distinctive of WW's Best New Bands, '06 winner Copy, a.k.a. Marius Libman, was able to quit half of his four day jobs since last year's poll. The dance-tastic laptop-and-keytar project also released the follow-up to his excellent full-length debut, Mobius Beard, earlier this year on local electronic label Audio Dregs. His new release, Hair Guitar, has been similarly lauded, but Libman didn't stop there: He also released a collection of "Diva" remixes and an entire album of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony restylings. Oh, did we mention he's also one-third of neo-disco outfit Do N' Dudes? Yup, busy guy.

2005: Talkdemonic

The ever-captivating laptop-'n'-viola duo of Kevin O'Connor and Lisa Molinaro, a.k.a. Talkdemonic, has toured nationally with the likes of the Walkmen and the National since gracing the cover of WW as 2005's Best New Band. The duo also released 2006's lovely Beat Romantic via Portland's own Arena Rock Recording Company, and Molinaro became a touring member of the Decemberists. Talkdemonic also signed with the U.K.'s One Little Indian label and is hard at work on a third full-length release.

2004: Menomena

Since being crowned WW's first Best New Band back in '04, experimental pop trio Menomena inked a deal with Seattle's Barsuk Records (known for releases by such indie-rock giants as Death Cab for Cutie, the Long Winters, and Mates of State) and released its Barsuk debut, this year's amazing Friend and Foe (the long-awaited follow-up to its much-raved-about '03 release, I Am the Fun Blame Monster). The band was also featured as a Spin "Band of the Day" and on MTV2, and it's toured extensively, including a spot at Barsuk's 2007 South by Southwest showcase.


1. THE SHAKY HANDS
2. HORSE FEATHERS
3. ALELA DIANE
4. LAURA GIBSON
5. NEW BLOODS
6./7. DAT'R
6./7. LKN
8. DRAGGING AN OX THROUGH WATER
9./10. HEY LOVER
9./10. PURE COUNTRY GOLD
Past Best New Bands at a Glance
Best New Band Letter and Ballots
 
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