4. Reptaliens (51 points)
SOUNDS LIKE: Ariel Pink locked Beach House in a basement, fed its members LSD and forced them to make a vaporwave album.
NOTABLE VOTES: And And And's Bim Ditson, Eleven PDX magazine co-founder Dustin Mills, Willamette Week freelancer Cervante Pope.
Reptaliens have a hard time agreeing what to tell people who inquire about the band's genre. Variations on "dream pop" get tossed around, but keyboardist Cole Browning is quick to dismiss the label because it implies that "nothing happens." Considering the group's knack for miragelike pop songs built from rubbery basslines, woozy synths and absurd lyrics, the term "nightmare pop" would be more fitting, if the music didn't happen to be so goddamn pretty.
What the four band members can agree on, however, is the importance of fog machines.
"It was the first thing we bought with band money," says Browning's wife, bassist and vocalist Tammy Browning. "It's been the best purchase we've made—although the reptile masks are a close second."
To grasp the buzz surrounding Reptaliens, they must be seen live. Before a recent gig at Mississippi Studios, a pair of anonymous band members in the aforementioned reptile masks carried out an incantation ceremony involving a mysterious crystal box. Between-song banter yielded to samples of conspiracy theories and commercials for bizarre products from the future. And there was lots of fog, of course.
Stage gimmicks aside, the music holds up on its own. Reptaliens' roots can be traced to "Forced Entry," the group's debut single, written when it was just the Brownings' lo-fi side project. Having successfully tried his hand at the vaporwave game with his project Romcom, Cole, who also did time in Wampire, was already adept at making the kind of distorted, wobbly slow jams that provide the ambling current that Tammy's voice rides throughout the track. It's the dreamiest song about a serial killer murdering a family you're ever likely to hear.
"There's a lot of dark and fucked-up lyrics that you wouldn't necessarily realize because the music all sounds really pretty," Cole says. "There will be a song about a serial killer or a cult or Satan, but it's pretty, so you would never think it."
After tapping their deep well of musician friends—adding drummer Tyler Verigin and guitarist Julian Kowalski to the mix—Reptaliens enlisted the help of Lefse Records' Matt Halverson to shop for a label. Brooklyn's Captured Tracks, home to similarly dreamy acts like Beach Fossils and DIIV, was the first to bite. The group now has a 7-inch scheduled for release March 16, and songs from its upcoming full-length will be tested on a West Coast tour.
It's been a quick turnaround for Reptaliens, going from bedroom side project to serious live act with a record deal. But Cole says the group is no different from anyone else in the clique of bands that orbit the PDX Pop Now scene.
"We've all been in so many projects over the years that share a bunch of the same people," he says. "The scene has always been friends who do tight shit for a year, then dissolve into other projects. So if it wasn't Reptaliens, we know we'd all be plugging away at something else just as weird."
NEXT GIG: March 16 at the Liquor Store.