Going into 2015, it looked like this would be a huge year for Portland music—if the year was 2006. All our transplanted indie-rock stars were coming back, including the Decemberists, Modest Mouse and even Sleater-Kinney, and it seemed like the national spotlight might return to the city and illuminate some of its shadowed corners. That didn't quite happen, but no matter: Portland's always done its best when no one is looking. Here is the music that stood out most to our writers.
Auscultation, L'étreinte Imaginaire (100% Silk)
L'étreinte Imaginaire is a proper introduction to outsider house-music don and recent Portland transplant Joel Shanahan. A man of one hat but many monikers, Shanahan channels Auscultation to evoke the space between DIY dance, dreamy synth pop and ambient techno, with a thumping groove throughout the cassette. WYATT SCHAFFNER.
The Body & Thou, Released From Love/You, Whom I've Always Hated (Thrill Jockey)
The Body's bleak, atonal nihilism combined with Thou's Southern rage produces one of the most vicious metal releases of the year, the latter's groove set off by the former's depressive electronics to make an album that doesn't sacrifice listenability for crushing heaviness. WALKER MACMURDO.
Divers, Hello Hello (Party Damage/Rumbletowne)
The best live band in Portland finally released its debut LP, and it did not disappoint. Shot through with frustration and wonder, the gritty and grandiose working-class anthems on Hello Hello cohere into a statement of real and rousing hope. CHRIS STAMM.
The Domestics, The Domestics (Tender Loving Empire)
There's something touching about the Domestics' debut, an earnest, bittersweet rock-'n'-roll record that's good for stumbling home the next day from a rough night out and getting blinded by the sunlight. SHANNON GORMLEY.
Fourth World Magazine Vol. II (Spencer Clark), Pinhead in Fantasia (Pacific City Sound Visions)
As a four-piece neoclassical synth masterpiece, Pinhead is a fitting eulogy to the Portland that Spencer Clark left behind, taking his Pacific City Sound Visions label to L.A., Australia and now Europe in a quest to evoke "A New Image of Man." WS.
Grand Lake Islands, Songs From Far (Good Mountain)
Erik Emanuelson's lo-fi ruminations cover former lives and lovers with such a beautiful frailty it makes all our hardships seem worth it—you just need to look beyond the haunting pedal steel and a voice that quivers as if it's been left out in the cold. BRANDON WIDDER.
Guantanamo Baywatch, Darling…It's Too Late (Suicide Squeeze)
Guantanamo Baywatch has been around town for years, but 2015's Darling…It's Too Late helped bring the band national attention with a snappy LP of retro instrumentals and vocal-based surf rock. HILARY SAUNDERS.
Kind of Like Spitting, It's Always Nice To See You (Topshelf)
Singer-songwriter Ben Barnett's triumphant return after nearly 10 years of dormancy is as great as anything on Kind of Like Spitting's cult-classic predecessors. These seven crunchy, hook-laden gems show a maturity and cohesion that was previously lacking, but the band remains open-book honest enough that none of its initial urgency has been lost. CRIS LANKENAU.
The Last Artful Dodgr, Fractures (EYRST)
This EP is only three songs, but that's all Alana Chenevert needs to show us her range, as she manages to work in everything from aggressive brass to electronic ambience, and alternates her nasally, soulful singing with some serious flow. SG.
Leviathan, Scar Sighted (Profound Lore)
Jef Whitehead has long been the best black-metal musician, able to combine his knack for incendiary songwriting, ambience and weirdness with rare consistency. Scar Sighted is both a return to form and a step forward into new levels of measured complexity. WM.
Marisa Anderson & Tashi Dorji, Marisa Anderson & Tashi Dorji (Footfalls)
Multi-instrumentalist Marisa Anderson's instrumental split LP with Bhutanese-American guitarist Tashi Dorji is blues-based experimental bliss. Anderson's contributions, which include new songs and reworkings of previously released material, capture American music's past and its exciting future all at once. HS.
Mean Jeans, Singles (Dirtnap)
Portland's slime brigade wrapped up its Dirtnap Records run (an album on Fat Wreck Chords is forthcoming) with a career-spanning collection of the 21st century's finest pop-punk singles. CS.
Months, Months (self-released)
A delicate and bipolar stomp from a Portland supergroup, Months' self-titled debut combines the aggressive rebellion of Fugazi with the familiarity of a shimmering lullaby. Months has managed to embody the modest charm of every band I love that has since become huge and less appealing. CL.
Natasha Kmeto, Inevitable (Dropping Gems)
Concluding the journey toward self-actualization she began with 2013's Crisis, Natasha Kmeto comes out of the closet and into her own, singing about desperation, satisfaction and submission with a boldness that carries over to her deeply evocative electronic production. MATTHEW P. SINGER.
Rasheed Jamal, Sankofa (self-released)
One of Portland's most cerebral MCs makes his formal introduction, spinning together autobiography and social commentary using a mental reference file that would send Dennis Miller running to Wikipedia. MPS.
Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love (Sub Pop)
After a decade on ice, the greatest band to ever put roots down in Portland picks up where it left off only in the sense of refusing to make the same album twice in a row. Vacuum-packing the overdriven bluster of 2005's The Woods into 10 tightly knotted anthems (even while declaring "there are no anthems"), No Cities acknowledges the passage of time without sacrificing a single degree of righteous fire. It's the rare reunion record that doesn't lean on past glories but instead creates a new one. MPS.
Summer Cannibals, Show Us Your Mind (New Moss)
Summer Cannibals confidently shrugged off any notion of a sophomore slump with this exhilarating helping of 11 fuse-blowing, coolly abrasive pop tracks. The heightened level of badassness demonstrated on Show Us Your Mind more than justifies the tempting comparison to Northwest legend Sleater-Kinney. MARK STOCK.
The Tamed West, The Tamed West (self-released)
A cleanly produced piece of anthemic psychedelia, the Tamed West's eponymous EP showcases its ability to craft perfectly layered pop music. A radio-ready effort by all available measures, the record is just the sort of thing that might bring more big-label attention to Portland. PARKER HALL.
Tiburones, Eva (Pink Smoke)
Outwardly rich and long overdue, Tiburones blends the best qualities of two Portland music stalwarts. Luz Elena Mendoza and Shaky Hands' Nick Delffs pair perfectly, offering up stirring woodwinds and rhythms that are more often found in cantinas just south of the equator than our own. BW.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Multi-Love (Jagjaguwar)
Left dizzied by a year of living polyamorously, self-made pop auteur Ruban Nielson went down to his basement and emerged with the most eclectic UMO record yet, working through his confusion via flubbery funk, jumpy disco and hung-over soul jazz, suggesting Nielson does his best work while his head is spinning. MPS.
Woolen Men, Temporary Monument (Woodsist)
Temporary Monument solidifies Woolen Men's rightful place in the forefront of the Portland analog rock movement, pulling from the very best eras of punk, garage and lo-fi without coming off as derivative or overtly nostalgic. Even better, it serves—at least partly —as a "fuck you" to the city's latest wave of gentrification. MS.