Who: Harrison Smith (vocals, guitar, drums, bass).
For fans of: The Pixies, Car Seat Headrest, Futureheads.
Sounds like: A grounded teenager lamenting his confinement to Gang of Four LPs played at 45 rpm.
Harrison Smith is fidgety. He blushes. He's visibly uncomfortable. He's exactly as you'd imagine a burgeoning young genius to be.
"I always thought of myself as a musician," he shrugs from across a table at the B-Side Tavern, his voice cracking. "But I also feel like I just rip off all my favorite bands."
In an era when home-studio setups are as ubiquitous to college dorm rooms as the slackers who inhabit them, Smith was another skinny kid among the college freshmen toting their Squiers to school along with their MacBooks. He'd played bass casually in the only punk band in the sleepy small town of Woodinville, Wash., before moving to Portland in 2015 to attend Lewis & Clark College. The ambition to begin writing was sparked more by observing so many of these pretenders strutting around campus, wearing their self-aggrandizement as proudly as the buttons pinned to their denim jacket lapels.
"There was this kid from L.A. who I hated," Smith says. "His band sucked, and I was really mad that I hadn't made anything and he still had his band."
Smith bided time the following summer, working in a factory manufacturing bobbleheads and cultivating ideas for songs that would form his first EP, Twisted Legs. His naiveté about production methods ended up being the impetus for a lo-fi aesthetic developed out of necessity, making the finished product all the more admirable. Using his laptop's built-in microphone for vocals and Garageband's makeshift keyboard plug-in, he created a ramshackle collage of songs improvised out of what he had on hand at the time.
"I'm just into doing things really fast and trying to learn," he says. "It was easy, and I could come out with ideas faster and be less self-conscious."
On his new record under the name Turtlenecked, Pure Plush Bone Cage, it's obvious that his improvisations have paid off. Smith shifts dramatically song to song, from the fey innocence of his first efforts to a newfound confidence. His violent scream on "I Always Thought I Was Watching Television" rises urgently and unexpectedly, like a concealed weapon revealed in a fistfight, sounding more like Frank Black than an angsty young adult. It's all over in a minute and a half. This bipolarity is perhaps Pure Plush's principal feature, moving seamlessly from screeching, atonal dirges to melancholic power pop on songs like "Mondrian," a slow-dance elegy about his latent artistic prowess. By the time its half-hour runtime is over, you feel battered by something immensely more powerful than you'd expect from another shy college student imitating his favorite records.
Across the table from me, though, Smith is still overly nervous and giggling, self-conscious about his previous statements about the classmate who inspired him. "I hope it doesn't sound like I have this campaign fueled by hate or something," he says.
SEE IT: Turtlenecked plays the Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St., 503-238‑5588, with Boreen, Mo Troper and the Assumptions and James Curry IV, on Thursday, Aug. 18. 7 pm. Contact venue for ticket prices. All ages.