Drew Grow and the Pastors' Wives, self-titled (Amigo/Amiga)
The culmination of a year of staggered singles from promising Portland bluesy experimental-rock outfit Drew Grow and the Pastors' Wives, this self-titled disc works surprisingly well as a complete album. Songs like "Friendly Fire" and "Do You Feel It?" would feel overly ambitious if Grow hadn't pulled them off so well. Some of Grow's songs drag a bit, and there's room in the middle for a stripped-down solo joint to break up the endless crunchy layers of production here, but there's so much promise among the wreckage that it's hard not to be really excited. (CJ)
Killer: The harmony-laden "Friendly Fire."
Filler: Slow-burner "All Around Your Name," which lingers a couple minutes too long.
The Kora Band, Cascades (OA2 Records)
The Kora Band—previously referred to as the Andrew Oliver Kora Band—further cements its singular West African jazz style on Cascades, even if it loses some funk in the process. Despite his name's disappearance from the band's title, Portland pianist Oliver is front and center on this new effort, and it makes for a pretty fascinating dichotomy of styles on songs like the jumpy "Serifu Sidi" and the almost-classical "Koulandjan." These genre-bending compositions are intellectually fascinating, but the buzzing movement behind "Za Ayi Neyi" and the playful energy of lively closer "Tantine" make us long for a few more rump-shaking tracks. (CJ)
Killer: The touching and mathy "Koulandjan," which merges Afro-pop rhythms with sentimental piano jazz.
Filler: " Sinyaro" falls a little flat for an opener, with peppy, polished vocals that don't quite live up to the instrumentation.
Parenthetical Girls, Privilege, Pt. II: The Past, Imperfect (Slender Means Society)
The second part of local avant-pop chameleons Parenthetical Girls' ambitious new record (released throughout the year as four limited-edition 12-inches), Privilege sees the band combining the orchestral pomp of 2008's Entanglements with crunchy New Wave guitars and blasts of noise straight off a Xiu Xiu record. The resulting tracks—including the remarkable "Present Perfect" and lead single "Young Throats"—are leaps and bounds above anything the band has ever done. (MM)
Killer: Lead single "Young Throats" sees Parenthetical Girls at its most bombastic.
Filler: Nothing, really; Privilege is a wonderful 17 minutes of music, with singer Zac Pennington toning down his pomp and flair for a set of undeniable hooks.
Blood Beach, self-titled (Self-released)
Named after the 1981 horror B-movie of the same name, local lo-fi garage quartet Blood Beach indulges in both the campy and the scary on its new self-titled EP. Not everything sticks—the opening instrumental tries to venture close to Explode Into Colors territory but lacks a steady groove—but the band's Nuggets-y garage pop sounds great augmented with theremin and mandolin. (MM)
Killer: The bopping "Stay Up All Night."
Filler: I wish the record didn't begin with "Regions of Terror," which is interesting but doesn't really go anywhere.
Chris Robley & the Fear of Heights, Ghosts' Menagerie (Self-released)
Local singer-songwriter Chris Robley has never had a problem sounding good. That doesn't change on Ghosts' Menagerie, a humble collection of pop songs soaked in mellotrons, strings, horns and, on album standout "The Charango Song," a, um, charango. But too often the production trumps the music and actual words, and Robley sings like he's trying to make a Grand Statement when a whisper would have been fine. (MM)
Killer: The plangent, easygoing "Charango Song."
Filler: " Ghosts" sounds like a John Mayer outtake.
Tender Forever, No Snare (K Records)
Melanie Valera—a.k.a. Tender Forever—may be living in Portland now, but her music still sounds true to its French pop roots: emotion-laden, hyper-enunciated vocals over moody, minimalist synths and staccato beats. This is a much darker departure from previous albums, but not an unwelcome one—this particular shade of melancholy suits her well. (RB)
Killer: "Like the Snare That's Gone" is a stripped-down and sexy little number that will have you snapping your fingers along on one hand while delicately dangling a long cigarette with the other. Très chic.
Filler: " Nowhere Good Enough" borders on a dirge—especially when the monk chanting kicks in.
The Honus Huffhines, A Brief History of… (Self-released)
The Honus Huffhines finally follows up its unexpectedly great 2007 7-inch with this debut LP. The fun, floppy, witty indie pop is the same, but with more polish and punchier vocals (and, obviously, more songs). Despite the band's shambolic sound, the songwriting is tight as a drum, mixing rock, pop and punk into quick and dirty ditties. (RB)
Killer: "Ron Anderson" is a short and sweet Elvis Costello-meets-XTC nugget, jammed with catchy hooks, hearty harmonies and a snappy horn line.
Filler: Cruise-ship crooner "Josh's Theme" lacks the energy that otherwise makes the band's music so likable.
The Upsidedown, The Town With Bad Wiring (Reverb Records)
The Upsidedown emerges from the shadow of best friends the Dandy Warhols on its third LP. Showcasing more melodic, satisfying songwriting and more spacious production than on its first two discs, this new effort finds the band shaking off some of the psychedelic-rock clichés of its past for a more unique hybrid of fuzzy shoegaze, blues rock and minimal psych-pop. (CJ)
Killer: " God's Bare Hands," which sounds like the Jesus and Mary Chain fronted by Gary Glitter.
Filler: "Night Kissed" and "La Paloma" sound conspicuously alike. One shoulda been a b-side.