These Are Portland’s Best New Bands

Best New Bands

Meet the local artists who are reshaping the city’s music scene.

In 1981, Suzuki introduced the Omnichord, a pale, pear-shaped electronic instrument that, in the wrong hands, can sound a little like a malfunctioning robot. It’s regarded as a kitschy artifact, one that would be rejected by most pawn shops along 122nd Avenue.

Early this year, the Portland indie pop-punk ensemble NONBINARY GIRLFRIEND used the Omnichord to bring a cascading grace to an album about identity, sexual violence and the often underestimated power of kindness. That record propelled NONBINARY GIRLFRIEND to the top of WW’s 2023 Best New Bands poll—and their innovative flair embodies the spirit of this year’s winners.

A music scene still rattled by the pandemic demands constant reinvention, not only to survive, but to seize the attention of 21st century audiences for whom the word “monoculture” has no meaning. Sometimes that means performing under a bridge, writing songs via email, or telling genre conventions to fuck off and embracing your role as a shoegazer with a touch of trip-hop.

For 19 years, WW has polled the people who care most passionately about local music about which acts lifted them off the floor of the club and into musical nirvana. Over the years, winners have included artists and groups that skyrocketed to national fame—including Aminé and Dolphin Midwives—and others you’ve never heard of. (But we still have their early stuff.)

This year, we partnered with MusicPortland, a grassroots nonprofit with a mission to cultivate a sustainable, equitable and thriving music economy in Oregon. With its help in tracking people down, we asked creatives, music insiders and well-informed clubgoers to nominate their five favorite groups.

We received votes for more than 100 different bands. Consensus was elusive, with the winners each commanding a narrow share of the final vote tally—which means our city is overflowing with new music. Not a bad problem to have.

Nothing inflames a debate like adding the word “best” to the bonfire. Art is subjective, and even a poll as wide-reaching as Best New Bands is just an amplification of personal perspectives, however well informed each voter is.

How do you compare the propulsive noise rock of Kill Michael to the Brandi Carlile-inspired introspection of Haley Johnsen? You can’t. But you can listen to them both at the Best New Bands Showcase, which begins at 8:30 pm Friday, June 30, at the Star Theater. The show will also feature Ghost Feet, Twingle, and Roman Norfleet and Be Present Art Group.

We hope you will see the following pages not as the last word in a debate, but the first word in a conversation. (Or at least the snippets of conversation you can overhear between sets.) The bands you will read about, and the music you can hear at, have helped define the sound of the city for the past year. And by next year, they will likely have inspired a new generation of bands to redefine it.

—Bennett Campbell Ferguson, Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

Best New Bands 2023

NONBINARY GIRLFRIEND Fearlessly Confronts Oppression and Champions Kindness

Through Experimentation, foamboy Has Mastered Jazz Post-Pop

Ghost Feet Opens Up About Songwriting, Influence and Sound

Kill Michael Is One of Portland’s Gnarliest and Most Politically Outspoken Rock Bands

For Twingle, the Pandemic Became a Creative Opportunity

Jonny’s Day Out Explains the Meaning of That Bunny Costume

Post-”American Idol,” Haley Johnsen Is Forging a New Musical Destiny

Small Million Met Cute at Holocene

Descending Pharaohs Transcends Genres and Borders

Roman Norfleet and Be Present Art Group Is Embracing the Moment