5. Plastic Cactus (36.5 points)
SOUNDS LIKE: Surf rock written in the desert by a band who's never seen the ocean, and isn't sure they want to.
NOTABLE VOTES: XRAY FM program director Theo Craig, Sallie Ford, PDX Pop Now co-founder Ross Beach.
Considering that the nearest beach is more than 80 miles away, it's somewhat of a stretch for any Portland band to truly count as surf rock. And while Plastic Cactus knows a thing or two about twangy guitars soaked in reverb, they'd rather not be pinned down to a cut-and-dry genre.
"We heard someone call us 'beach goth,'" says vocalist and guitarist Michaela Gradstein. "Two words we often play with are 'beachy' and 'moody,' so we'll take it."
To their credit, the seed that grew into Plastic Cactus was planted two years ago with very different intentions. Gradstein met Brooke Metropulos, the group's other singer and vocalist, while working at Saint Cupcake. The two traded phones to share songs they'd recorded in their bedrooms–a Tom Waits and an Angel Olsen cover, respectively. Shortly thereafter, the duo wrote a pair of songs over a bottle of wine in Gradstein's apartment.
Plastic Cactus has grown quickly since then. Along with Gradstein and Metropulos, the band now comprises Bill Wilson on bass and Tyler Brown on drums. They've released two EPs of easily digestible nuggets of dreamy, spacey garage rock that swirls around the interplay of the guitars and Gradstein's and Metropulos's vocals. Plastic Cactus' catalog is full of breezy, timeless melodies, and tempo changes that sweep the songs away like a rogue wave abruptly breaking overhead.
Aside from a calamitous first show at Clinton Street Theater, Plastic Cactus has found a happy medium between good fortune and hard work. They just returned from a successful tour of California they booked on their own. Recently, at a bar in Seattle, Brown recognized the door guy as the drummer of Tacocat, and Gradstein leapt at the chance to put a tape in his hand. The outcome was an opening slot for Tacocat at their recent sold-out Polaris Hall show.
Plastic Cactus is still evolving, and now that Gradstein and Metropulos are slowly adding effects pedals to the mix, they expect their sonic footprint to grow considerably in the coming year. They still can't quite agree on how to classify their music, but as long as the vibes are sunny, it's surely worth a spin.
"We have a new song we're working on that sounds different to all of us. To me, it's like a Spongebob Squarepants thing with Hawaiian slack guitar vibe that makes you want a piña colda, but they all hear a spaghetti Western," says Gradstein. "At this point, we're not intentionally trying to keep our sound in any little box."
NEXT SHOW: June 30 at Rontoms.