Best New Band 2014

10 local artists Portland's music insiders say you must hear.

In the decade we've been polling Portland's most knowledgeable music fans and professionals to compile our annual Best New Band list, we've learned one thing: Bands here don't just break up and disappear. They evolve and regenerate. They add a guitarist, lose a cellist, and emerge with a new Bandcamp page.

Of the 10 acts you're going to read about on this year's list, half have connections to bands who've made the list before. You may not know the septuagenarian soul singer in our top spot, but the drummer who revived his career played in two previous finalists. Band No. 3 is practically a Best New Band supergroup. Our fifth-place artist is a member of Au, a finalist from way back in 2008. The duo in sixth place spun off from last year's winner, Shy Girls. One of the rappers in the 10th-place group made the list as a solo artist two years ago.

Now you understand why we encourage voters—a coalition of more than 200 journalists, musicians, promoters, label owners, radio hosts and local music fanatics—not to get hung up on the definition of "new."

Despite appearances, this issue isn't a coronation. It's an attempt to capture a fleeting moment, before the cycle of regeneration starts over again. It's an imperfect process, we admit. There should be more hip-hop and electronic music on this list. More jazz. More everything. But Best New Band is never meant to be the last word. Rather, it's a starting point. It's a way to quiet the noise while selectively raising the volume, to slow things down and take in the landscape. Because in Portland, music moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and listen once in a while, you might miss something awesome.

—Matthew Singer, Willamette Week Music Editor

SEE IT: Willamette Week’s Best New Band Showcase 2014 featuring Ural Thomas & the Pain, Summer Cannibals and Tiburones, Saturday, May 17, at Mississippi Studios (3939 N Mississippi Ave.) Free. 8 Pm Doors, 9 Pm Show. 21kknd.


PAIN IS THE NAME OF THE GAME: Ural Thomas (center) and the Pain.
IMAGE: James Rexroad


POINTS: 121.5

FORMED: 2013

SOUNDS LIKE: A delayed radio transmission from an alternate version of the '60s, where the world's greatest soul man is from Portland and Hitsville USA is made out of recycled plywood.

It's a damp Sunday afternoon in early May, and church is most definitely in service at the House of Entertainment.

A small but loyal parish is gathered in the appropriately nicknamed home of Ural Thomas, where, for the last 40 years, the singer and son of a preacher man has conducted an ongoing sermon on the religion of blues, R&B, rock 'n' roll and, especially, soul. Every week going back to the late '60s, when he moved in behind the ReBuilding Center on North Mississippi Avenue, Thomas has opened the sliding glass door leading to his charmingly ramshackle practice space, inviting the public for jam sessions that start around 1 pm and, when things get really cooking, can extend past sundown.

In the last year, Thomas, a powerhouse performer who once shared stages with James Brown, Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder, has gone from being an artifact in a record collector's crate to a local living legend, headlining sold-out gigs at Doug Fir Lounge and Mississippi Studios with his young backing band, the Pain. But this is still where you can find the 73-year-old most Sundays, calling out chords from behind a silver Casio keyboard like an evangelist referencing Bible verses.

"Follow me, don't lead me!" shouts Thomas, dressed in a buttoned black shirt, warmups and knit cap, directing the six musicians surrounding him through a bluesy waltz. In comparison to the polished nine-piece soul orchestra that now supports him live, this slapdash group—two guitarists, a drummer, a slap-happy bassist, a tin-whistle player and the most enthusiastic egg-shaker you'll ever meet—is rough to the point of chafing.

But then, it fits the surroundings. According to Thomas, after his house burned down in the '70s, he rebuilt it himself using recycled materials. The place looks like it's being held together by plywood, old carpets and a lot of staples and glue. Decorations appear to have been grabbed blindly from a Goodwill bin: a stuffed Halloween spider; a velvet painting of Napoleon; posters of Bo Diddley, and Chunk and Sloth from The Goonies; magazine cutouts of Martin Luther King Jr., New Kids on the Block, a monkey in a Superman costume and Tupac with a pompadour drawn on his head. As the band stutters through Barry White's "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe" and Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways," it feels like the vibrations are going to cause the roof to cave in.

At a glance, Thomas is a homegrown version of Charles Bradley or Sharon Jones, once obscure singers who, thanks to younger admirers, have experienced late-career resurgences. In truth, Thomas might be closer to Portland punk heroes Fred and Toody Cole: someone who insulated himself from the harsh unfairness of the world by building his own.

"A cool thing about Ural that sort of puts him in the tradition of Portland is, he's been DIY since day one," says Eric Isaacson, owner of Mississippi Records, who discovered Thomas 11 years ago when a woman brought in a record Thomas self-recorded with local children in the '60s. "He was just sort of doing it himself. He made his cracks at trying to make it in the big time and be on major labels, but it never fazed him when he didn't make it in that world."

"I don't really feel like I missed anything in life," says Thomas, sitting with drummer Scott Magee and Ben Darwish, the Pain's music director and keyboardist, in a quieter moment at the House of Entertainment. "Even the rough times, I can't say they're really bad because I've learned something from every experience I've ever had. And I hope I've given something back along the way. I never expected anything from anyone except myself."

In the decades after he quit the music industry and returned to the neighborhood he grew up in, Thomas kept a low profile. He'd poke his head out on occasion—filming a segment for the Portland music website Into the Woods, performing at an exhibition for the Oregon Historical Society, appearing in a documentary about Seattle funk band Wheedle's Groove—but for the most part, only his jam buddies knew he was even still in town. And so, when Magee called to propose dusting off some of Thomas' old material, neither could believe the other was actually on the line.

"I still, at times, can't believe it, as far as how lucky I feel," Magee says.

A few years ago, the 40-year-old Magee, previously a member of indie-folk acts Loch Lomond and Y La Bamba, became obsessed with soul. He began collecting 45 rpm singles and spinning them around town as DJ Cooky Parker. "Push 'Em Up," a wild dance tune Thomas recorded with his original doo-wop group, the Monterays, found its way into Magee's rotation—a gift from Isaacson, who reissued two rare Thomas singles on his label in 2011. When Magee started talking in vain about starting an act that would reinterpret those old tunes live, Isaacson saw an opportunity.

"I felt like Ural deserved to have a really tight band that would complement his vocal style," Isaacson says. "I thought Scott was a tasteful enough guy, and motivated and ambitious enough to put it together. So I gently nudged him to give Ural a call."

A month later, Magee, Darwish and Thomas, along with bassist Eric Hedford and guitarist Brent Martins, were in a rehearsal room together. "We were all just standing there, like, 'Do we just play the song?'" Magee says. He counted off into "Pain Is the Name of Your Game," a sweeping ballad Thomas released in 1967, sans the recorded version's big horns and backing vocals. "Ural came in on the first verse, and it was really powerful," Magee says. "Within seconds, in my brain, I'm like, 'We're good.' If we can hold it together and if Ural wants to do it, this is going to be fantastic."

"I was like, 'I sure hope this works,'" Thomas recalls of that initial session. "But I just felt comfortable. I was ready to roll."

Darwish and Magee set about fleshing out the band, recruiting a three-piece horn section and two backup singers, while Magee developed a set centered on other Thomas originals—funky foot-stomper "Can You Dig It?", the buoyantly blissful "I'm a Whole New Thing"—and a few of his favorite deep cuts from other artists. After a few warm-up gigs, the Pain had its official coming-out party at Doug Fir Lounge in November. The response was rapturous. It wasn't just how authentic the band sounded or the palpable joy Thomas exuded onstage. It was the revelation that, at one point in time, the whitest city in America not only had soul but bred it, too.

"A guy like Ural wouldn't matter as much in Chicago or Memphis or New Orleans," Magee says. "There's a lot more people, even of his age, who are amazing performers, and down there, it's just kind of, like, expected. I feel we have this chance to seem somehow fresh, which is exciting for all of us to be part of musically, because it's not a sound we've had a chance to do here."

The excitement over the Pain has transcended Thomas' rediscovery. An "ecosystem," as Magee calls it, has sprung up around the group, of artists wanting to engage with a history it never knew existed. At the Pain's return engagement at Doug Fir in April, the Decemberists' Chris Funk sat in on guitar. DJ Rev Shines, of hip-hop mainstays Lifesavas, spun records. Shirley Nanette, another singer from Portland's past, made a cameo appearance, and just about brought the place down. The constellation of talent surrounding the group is beginning to resemble Daptone Records, the New York soul revivalists responsible for rescuing several artists from the margins of history. All that's missing is an actual record. But that's coming, too. Eventually.

"I'm interested in having the workload increase," Magee says. "I'd like to see everyone doubling down on the energy level this next year. Maybe an album can come out within two years. So that in 2016, people won't be like, 'Yeah, I remember that band, Ural Thomas and the Pain. They were cool.' I want it to thrive. Because Ural, he deserves that."

Thomas corrects him: "I think we all deserve it." MATTHEW SINGER.




FORMED: 2012

SOUNDS LIKE: J Mascis and Kathleen Hanna formed a secret one-off surf-rock band in the summer of 1994. They played two basement shows in Olympia before going back to their day jobs.

If recent Best New Band polls are an indicator of Portland's interest in what one may refer to as "rock music," the relationship status has been gradually digressing from "it's complicated" to "divorced." The clouds of grunge have parted, making way for genteel bedroom artists using laptops and layers of reverb to make what is now democratically referred to as "pop music" above all else. While this is great news for baristas in search of locally grown vibes to occupy sonic real estate between cuppings, it's a sorry state for everyone else who wishes these fops would grow a pair and shut the fuck up already.

Alas, the rockists have finally risen from their couches to make their voices heard: Summer Cannibals are the new "rock band" for the people.

The Cannibals started out like most ambitious youngsters, cutting their teeth as local support and participating in showcases at Rontoms Sunday Sessions. While being an important steppingstone for anyone trying to be someone, the uber-hip eastside spot is not exactly famous for drawing an attentive crowd.

"We're really loud! It doesn't matter!" bassist Lynnae Gryffin exclaims when crossed with the idea of uninterested scene kids. It's not subtle, sure, but it works: The group's amped-up surf rock has vaulted it to packed houses supporting Atlanta's Black Lips, Thermals side project Hurry Up and a sold-out Crystal Ballroom gig opening for Chvrches.

Since forming in 2012, frontwoman-guitarist Jessica Boudreaux has kept a sharp eye on the band's place in the hierarchy of the local music scene. The dream of the '90s has plenty of room for Summer Cannibals' garage-grrrl redux, but it's essential to dream bigger to escape the holding pattern of local fame.

"I think [attaining national success] is a little harder in Portland, at least more than it would be in New York or L.A.," Boudreaux says. "There's a ladder of success you can climb, and it's relatively easy to get to certain points initially, but in other places there's a more competitive vibe, and you're fighting for those spots that are enviable. I don't see that as much here."

"I think the ceiling is lower for that reason, too," Gryffin adds. "There's 'Portland' famous, but that's a pretty limited scope."

"Yeah, totally," Boudreaux says. "It's not a negative thing. It's just different."

Before testing its mettle on the road, the group will record a full-length this summer at Larry Crane's Jackpot Studio—a follow-up to its debut, No Makeup, which the Cannibals released last year on their own label, New Moss. (They also issued Diamond Junk by 2013 Best New Band finalist Sun Angle.) Besides being known for running the DIY recording tome Tape Op, Crane has a massive production résumé that includes records by such bands as Pavement, the Breeders and Summer Cannibals' often-referenced heroes, the Thermals.

"Our first show was with Hurry Up at Mississippi Studios, which was crazy to have that kind of support from them right off the bat," Gryffin says. "[The Thermals] have been a band for 10 years. They told us to do it forever. Don't stop. Just keep doing it."

With the other rising stars in the Portland scene having very little stylistic overlap with what makes Summer Cannibals a force to be reckoned with, it's easy to see their back-to-basics approach to garage rock taking off in a big way. Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees are slowly taking over the southern half of the West Coast, and it looks like the northern half is Summer Cannibals' for the taking. Even Boudreaux's mom seems to get it.

"We were having dinner with Jessica's parents and a couple other people in Gig Harbor, and [Jessica's mom] was really embarrassing us and putting on Summer Cannibals," says guitarist Marc Swart. "When she put it on, she asked the other couple, 'Do you like rock music? This song is rock music.' It was awesome." PETE COTTELL.




FORMED: 2013

SOUNDS LIKE: Post-Graceland Paul Simon, if he spent his time listening to Beach House and cumbia and watching footage of Nina Simone on YouTube.

Luz Elena Mendoza and Nick Delffs have been here before. Not necessarily at Savoy Tavern, the snug bar on Southeast Clinton Street, where they sit admiring the mounted buck head amid the warm glow of the table lamps, but chatting about being named to WW's Best New Band list. Delffs' former band, the Shaky Hands, placed first in 2007. Mendoza's Spanglish folk-pop ensemble, Y La Bamba, earned a spot on the list two years later.

But Tiburones—the band Delffs and Mendoza started last year and named after the Spanish word for sharks—is a different kind of animal. Though the music is still rooted in percussive flourishes and Mendoza's sweet vocal swing, it's less ethereal than both of their past efforts, and imbued with a heightened sense of collaboration.

VIDEO: Rachael Renee' Photography

“Everyone needs change,” says the tall, tattooed Mendoza when asked about the band’s beginnings. “When you’re doing the same thing over and over, even if it feels good, you start to wonder what it’s like doing something else.” Delffs, scruffy and clad in a slim sport coat, echoes those sentiments from across the table. “It’s like a well-oiled machine,” he says. “Beautiful things happen, but sometimes you need a fundamental change.”

In his case, the most fundamental difference is that the two musicians write songs together—a notable change for Dellfs, who’s used to playing frontman for both the Shaky Hands and his solo project, Death Songs. He and Mendoza began collaborating when a mutual friend brought them together to play at her house a few years ago. That one-off collaboration extended into days-long sessions in which they’d help each other flesh out their respective songs. A joint Death Songs-Y La Bamba West Coast tour followed in 2012, and the pair finally decided to start an official project.

“When you have the environment, tools, timing and right people, it just kind of happens,” Mendoza says. “A lot of people can resonate with that, but they probably have a different way of articulating it.”

With Mendoza at the helm, the band’s eclectic sound isn’t too far-flung a departure from past efforts. The music still incorporates traditional folk elements, with a heavy emphasis on syncopated percussion, instilling Mendoza’s distinctly operatic vibrato with a keen pulse flanked by delicately cascading guitar, lush harmonies and a scattered mix of keys and vibraphone. Additional percussion and Delffs’ dynamic drumming are pivotal to the rhythm, often rollicking in bare-bones fashion before erupting into a cannonade of toms and hi-hat. An all-female choir known as Maria Maria—which Mendoza refers to as a “vocal hug”—often accompanies the band, rendering her hushed, Feist-like timbre even more resounding.

With their other bands on indefinite hiatus, Tiburones is now both musicians’ primary concern. They just finished a short tour opening for Portland roots-rockers Black Prairie, and the band is wrapping up an album with the help of the Decemberists’ Chris Funk. But Mendoza and Delffs aren’t trying to look too far ahead. They’re happy enough just living in the moment.

“We’ve both been in bands who’ve toured and sacrificed a good deal for music,” says Delffs before he, Mendoza and bassist Samantha Stidham take the stage at Savoy Tavern. “We’ve talked a lot about our past experiences, and we want to try and do something different, to be smarter about this project.”

“But we also want it to allow us to be who we are,” Mendoza quickly interjects, “because we just can’t stop playing music. It’s an ongoing search for the balance.” BRANDON WIDDER.


KIN FOLK: Modern Kin’s (from left) Drew Grow, Jeremiah Hayden and Kris Doty.
IMAGE: Janet Weiss



FORMED: 2013

SOUNDS LIKE: Arcade Fire covering “I Put a Spell on You” with the intensity of a Daniel Day-Lewis monologue.

Drew Grow has a voice so fiery and convincing it makes his trio, Modern Kin, an act of near-religious catharsis. The band’s self-titled debut full-length, released last October, is a mesmerizing amalgamation of gospel and rock ’n’ roll, delivered with the fervor of a man touched by an unspeakable force, not to mention a musical gene pool: Grow’s mother, a trained vocalist, sang in coffeehouses in the ’60s, and both of his parents sang in opera choirs. He owes his evangelistic presence to them as well.

“By the time I came along, my parents had become evangelical Christians,” Grow says, “and my childhood was full of church music, choirs, holy-roller all-night camp meetings.”

Modern Kin started as Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives in 2007. Three-fourths of the band carried over to the current act. They’re fewer in number but bolder in sound, trading twang and folk for bigger amps and a bit of fury. Drew credits the band’s versatility and flexibility to his bandmates, bassist Kris Doty and drummer Jeremiah Hayden. “After playing with four [musicians] for a few years, I’m enjoying the space in the music so much,” Grow says.

Grow had become so attached to the music that, by the time it came to record an album, he needed an outside perspective. So he brought in his girlfriend, drummer Janet Weiss of Quasi and Sleater-Kinney, to produce. “It was invaluable to have someone with her instinct and chops saying ‘yea’ or ‘nay,’” Grow says. Songs like “Abandon” and “Pony” contain the volume and ferocity of Arcade Fire circa Neon Bible. Others, like “Big Enough to Cook,” show signs of Talking Heads and even shock-rock specialist Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Doty’s upright bass grumbles from below, while Hayden’s piercing ride cymbal creates a chilling effect. In between is Grow himself, belting like it’s his last sermon on earth.

Words like “stomp,” “shake” and “shatter” appear frequently in Modern Kin’s lyrics, which skip around subjects of mortality, family and, not surprisingly, religion. They’re potent words that carry a sound in and of themselves. “Let’s not talk or theorize, I can show I can surprise/ Pull the curtain back/ Ta-da/ Here is that bang,” Grow sings on “Modern Skin.” The diction is deadly, the written lines just as explosive and possessed as the music.

Last fall, Modern Kin played seven sets in 24 hours at Mississippi Studios. The shows were broadcast via YouTube, each scheduled for a different time zone. At 10 pm Pacific Time, the group was playing to a decent in-house crowd. At 7 the next morning, the band was scarfing doughnuts and playing before how ever many fans it may have in Beijing.

“It was an interesting experiment,” Grow says. “We wanted it to feel like we were playing from our basement, like Wayne’s World.” But he admits the shows played before actual attendees knocked the pants off the sets performed mostly for viewers half a world away. “The truth is that our rock show is not virtual,” he says. “It is a thing we do with our audience.” MARK STOCK.


IMAGE: Diana Markosian



FORMED: Made her first recording in 2008.

SOUNDS LIKE: A congregation of umlauts—Björk meets Arvo Pärt at Steve Reich’s synagogue.

Like a Villain’s Holland Andrews scares children. At least, the scant video evidence seems to bear this out. A torrent of operatic wails from Andrews during an outdoor May Day performance sent a wobbly 3-year-old running for the nearest high ground.

“I like to think that the sheer raw power of my screaming emotions blew her away and terrified her,” Andrews says. “‘Daddy, I don’t want to grow up like that!’”

And sure, the title track of her upcoming album, Bast—the name of the Egyptian cat goddess—was inspired by a deep-throated, wailing Diamanda Galas piece that the notoriously frightening singer performs naked while bathed in blood. But Andrews—shy in manner and, on a recent rainy afternoon, a bit under the weather—says her solo project is geared toward healing.

“Some people see me acting like a freak and screaming and getting on my knees, and they can find some inspiration in that,” she says. “I’m an emotional person. I’d like to hope I’m not the only emotional person ever.”

The 25-year-old started making her own music in California as a teenager, when she got her first Mac computer, after previous time as a clarinetist for her high-school band and, tellingly, as a musical-theater nerd.

Like a Villain has developed into a study in dynamics—simple parts that build into storms. Andrews constructs her songs live with nothing but a clarinet, a glockenspiel and a series of loop, delay and reverb pedals—and, of course, the power of her own formidable voice. Her songs build from woodwind, chime and simple lyrics, looped around to reach crescendos that sometimes come on like a breaking wave. “You’re worth more than what you know,” Andrews belts, and the feeling is somewhere between a squishy therapy session and a desperate howl into the abyss. Her songs are a cathartic game of emotional catch-and-release.

She’s neck-deep into recording her much-delayed new album with producer Mike Erwin, and has commissioned sounds from her own bandmates in AU and from members of Typhoon, at one point asking 10 friends to stand in a bowling alley parking lot singing, “We are never going to die!”

It isn’t true, of course. But the whole point is making you believe it, if only for a moment. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.


IMAGE: Akila Fields



FORMED: 2012

SOUNDS LIKE: Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come and a lost J Dilla drum track playing simultaneously in the back of The Millennium Falcon.

It’s been nearly a month since Noah Bernstein and Dan Sutherland of experimental jazz hip-hop duo Grammies have seen each other, and instantly they’re making up for lost time.

“We’ll give you a minute to catch up on the disguises,” Bernstein says, laughing as he switches his Google Hangout costume from a party hat and mustache to a pirate get-up. “I’m already having too much fun.”

Bernstein is forced to video chat because he’s spent the better part of April and early May on the road with Shy Girls, the band that was handpicked to open 14 shows across the country for rising sister-pop act Haim. But it’s his other band that is garnering tons of attention this year—odd and rewarding for a saxophone-and-drums duo that, to the untrained ear, makes a pretty weird racket.

Grammies’ music comes from the experimental world, but it also has two feet firmly planted on the dance floor. Sutherland’s beats—grimy, chopped up and syncopated, like something Flying Lotus would come up with when he’s super-baked—are aided by the use of a sampler, and he jokes that even if he screws up he can trigger it to match with the drums. Though Bernstein hails from a pretty strict jazz background, the duo’s mutual love of hip-hop and “modulating R&B chords” leads to jams that work surprisingly well as standalone songs. If the band’s rhythm were the foundation of an old church, then Bernstein’s heavily processed saxophone is all the intricate details: the etched markings above the entryway, the stained-glass window fading from too many years in the sun.

Bernstein and Sutherland interact, even in the digital space, like two long-lost brothers in on the same joke. Their chemistry is also immediately evident onstage, with Sutherland locking in on his kit while Bernstein goes nuts on the saxophone, soloing over the top like a free-jazz Damian Lillard. You can hear that same spirit in Grammies’ debut album, Award Winning (engineered by Shy Girls’ Dan Vidmar), and their follow-up, recorded straight to tape in a St. Johns basement during February’s snow storm with help from their friends in fellow 2014 Best New Band finalist, WL.

“I never really imagined being able to pull off such a full, intense sound with just two people,” Bernstein says. “In the past it was always, ‘I have this not very well-paying gig, let me call a buddy.’ This band is totally perfect, vibe-wise.” MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.


IMAGE: Anna Alek



FORMED: 2011

SOUNDS LIKE: ’90s R&B dreamboats getting weird in adulthood.

A year ago, Mike Grabarek and Jeremy Scott were an Internet-based phenomenon, grinding out difficult-to-define beats somewhere between R&B and the hazy “vaporwave” micro-genre from the comfort of their bedroom. Now, Magic Fades has developed into a bona fide live band, with a fan base flourishing both online and off. But according to the duo, it wasn’t as if they just decided one day to go legit.

“The thing is,” Grabarek says, “people only knew of us online because we played around Portland, but like…”

“...nobody cared,” says Scott, finishing his partner’s sentence.

It wasn’t until the pair played the Dark Arts Festival at Holocene in 2012 that Magic Fades finally began getting quality gigs. At this point, the group has performed in just about every tiny spot in town, as well as popular spaces such as Doug Fir Lounge, Mississippi Studios and Valentines. Magic Fades hasn’t had to change anything stylistically—it’s still making gauzy bedroom music to soundtrack the late-night fantasies of lonely bloggers—but it has adjusted sonically.

“We’ve had to change around a few things in order to mix in a live setting,” Scott says, “instead of strictly listening to something on your computer or streaming a live audio.”

The band is in the midst of creating new music that will showcase “less R&B and more experimental weird stuff.” “We’re trying to get the project as good as we can so we can go shopping around for potential labels,” Grabarek says. In the past, Magic Fades would create a single and release it online immediately. Now, the intent is to build anticipation for a full-length album by curbing the quick-hit uploads. As for when that album will be released, “we’re not sure,” Grabarek says.

Even as they talk about hype, Grabarek and Scott are adamant about staying low-key, in the fear they will be “overbearing about advertising online, which is annoying,” says Grabarek. All of these concerns—adjusting the music to a live setting, figuring how much promotion is too much—are things the duo didn’t have to worry about back in the bedroom days, when online play counts were all that mattered. But the most important thing to Magic Fades now is the same thing it’s always been. 

“It’s all about the beat anyway,” Grabarek says. KATHRYN PEIFER.


IMAGE: Todd Walberg



FORMED: 2010

SOUNDS LIKE: Heavy lullabies for the distortion-inclined. 

For a band that calls its music “dreamy,” the Ghost Ease certainly likes to turn up the volume.

“I’m a dreamy kind of person,” says singer-guitarist Jem Marie, who writes most of the group’s songs. “I’m also very intense, so there has to be those intense, punchy moments.”

The all-female trio released its self-titled debut LP last year: eight tracks of hazed-out garage rock, heavy on the distortion, which envelops trance-inducing guitar riffs and Nsayi Matingou’s crashing, frenzied drums. Marie’s high, delicate soprano mixes with the heaviness, slowly ascending right along with the surprisingly laid-back melodies—an effect that lends itself to a bleary, warm feeling, like waking up from a long nap.

Formed in 2010, the Ghost Ease first began as a solo project for Marie, who still performs solo under the moniker Murmur Ring. Matingou joined in 2012 after seeing Marie perform around town, and ditched the guitar—which she played in her previous experimental rock group, Kusikia—to learn drums.

“I think that’s why it was fun to jump into this, because it was such a new experience,” Matingou says. “You get so used to the ideas of what the rules are. And with drums, I don’t know the rules yet, so I do whatever I want.”

Following the release of its album—recorded in Matingou’s cousin’s house as a two-piece—the Ghost Ease added Fabi Reyna, also a guitarist, to the lineup to play bass. Fresh off a West Coast tour earlier this year, the trio is working on new songs for its second full-length, tentatively scheduled for release this summer. Marie says the new songs mark a shift in her songwriting, with the angst present in the first album beginning to fade.

“At that time, I wanted so many things and couldn’t get it,” Marie says of making the band’s debut. “Now with my life, I’m like, ‘I want it, I think about it and I get it.’ I’ve just discovered how to do that over maturing in all these different ways.”

Although the eeriness of the music will remain, the band says its songs have grown up, too, in part because of the newly stable lineup. “They’re going to be fuller and even more dynamic,” Matingou says, “because there’s three heads instead of two.” KAITIE TODD.


IMAGE: Lymay Iwasaki

9. WL


FORMED: 2011

SOUNDS LIKE: Waking up with a bad hangover before realizing your roommate has a plate of scrambled eggs and a cold compress for you.

Last summer, WL performed at a Red Bull-sponsored event at which the band was required to give the energy-drink company unlimited rights to one of its songs.

“They record it live at the show and then they can use it for whatever they want, anywhere in the universe, forever,” says guitarist Michael Yun. While some bands gifted a song from one of their albums, WL wrote a song specifically for Red Bull. Drummer Stevie Sparks chimes in: “The chorus line was, ‘Fuck all your bullshit,’ 20 times, over and over.”

“They kept saying, ‘What about this other one?’” adds vocalist Misty Mary. “But we just said, ‘No, we made this one for you.’”

That act of defiance says a lot about the band. While WL has frequently been referred to as “shoegaze,” due to the mellow, ambient sound of its debut album, last year’s Hold, the truth is that, underneath the slow tempos and atmospheric vocals, WL is a band with bite. For certain audiences, sometimes it bites too hard.

“We just played a show in L.A. where we were heavily pushed as a shoegaze band, and the audience was a bunch of kids crossed-armed wearing ‘Ride’ T-shirts and expecting something entirely different from the keyboard trio onstage,” Yun says. “In some senses, we embrace that, sure. If there’s an audience that wants to see a shoegaze band, come out and we’ll play for you.”

With its upcoming album, though, the band is looking to paint a more accurate depiction of itself. (The members confess they’re not even all that familiar with the shoegaze genre; Sparks is a metal fan, in fact.) They finished recording in January and have been carefully tweaking the record. Yun says the band is “getting pretty antsy” about moving on to its next project, but the members are  forcing themselves to reel in their impulse to jump ahead too fast. They believe they’re at the point where WL needs to garner more exposure for the next album, in order to develop its audience—the right audience.

“I am confident that when we release our next album, some of our shoegaze reputation will be shattered in a way that will help us connect more directly with people that will appreciate what we’re doing,” Yun says. “We’re working hard to create good music that we hope will enrich people’s lives.” LAURA HANSON.


IMAGE: Mike Grippi

10. TxE

POINTS: 37.5

FORMED: 2009

SOUNDS LIKE: Wandering into a house-party cipher and getting the strange feeling you’ve been kicking it with these dudes your whole life.

These days, MCs Anthony “Tope” Anderson and Jamiah “Epp” Sneed have a pretty good relationship with Portland’s indie-rock scene—better, in fact, than most other hip-hop acts in town. But there have been some bumps in the road. Like that thing at Rontoms two years ago.

“They kind of banned us,” says Tope from a table outside Peet’s Coffee & Tea on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, as Epp giggles at the memory. In July 2012, TxE, the rappers’ trio with producer Gabe “G Force” Edelmann, was offered a spot on one of the East Burnside bar’s free, often-packed Sunday showcases—a rarity for a rap group. They even got And And And, the hottest band in the city at the time, to open. “We get to soundcheck, and the soundman’s like, ‘There’s no way you guys are headlining over And And And,’” Tope says. After successfully doing just that, Epp took a moment to gloat. “The soundman didn’t think we could headline tonight,” he told the crowd, “but I think we just showed him, obviously, we’re worthy of headlining!”

“Then G Force comes from behind the tables,” Tope says, “grabs the mic and goes, ‘Yeah! Fuck the soundman!’”

“It was some real punk-rock shit,” Epp adds. A politely worded email arrived shortly thereafter, saying the group would not be invited back.

What’s ironic is that, at the time, TxE was at work on a clever crossover bid. On TxE vs. PRTLND, Tope and Epp affixed their casual, everydude flows to beats built from the guitars, synths and delicate vocal melodies of the likes of Typhoon, Sallie Ford and Starfucker. But the album, which didn’t drop until late last year because of label issues, wasn’t intended as an olive branch to Portland’s dominant music culture. It’s the product of what Tope calls “a weird summer,” spent going to house shows, drinking “bad Champagne and PBR” and “hanging out with a lot of hipster girls.” Making a record drawn from the sounds surrounding them just made sense.

“Subconsciously, it wasn’t like, ‘We need to be part of this,’” Epp says. “We were making music, and people were liking what they heard.”

With G Force having recently decamped to L.A., and with each member’s solo ventures taking off, the future of the group is somewhat in flux. But Tope, who placed on our Best New Band list as a solo artist in 2012, says when it comes to making another TxE record, “the door is never closed.” “We all sound different on our solo stuff,” he says, “but once we come together as a group, it shines.” MATTHEW SINGER.


11. Sama Dams 35 pts.

12. Talkative 33.5 pts.

13. Your Rival 32.5 pts.

14. Illmaculate 32 pts.

15. Thanks 29pts.

16. Hustle & Drone 28.5 pts.

17. Hook & Anchor 27 pts.

18. IBQT 27 pts.

19. Houndstooth 26 pts.

20. A Happy Death 24.5 pts.     


IMAGE: WW Archives
Founding member Ben Knopf left in 2011. Debuted its most recent album, Moms, with a laser show at OMSI.

Expanded into a four-piece and put out its last album, 2011’s Ruins, on Isaac Brock’s Glacial Pace label.

Mostly inactive since Marius Libman hung up his keytar and picked up another BNB nod with Sun Angle in 2013, but a new record is coming soon.

2007—The Shaky Hands

Disbanded in 2011, but has reunited sporadically since. Bassist Mayhaw Hoons and drummer Colin Anderson started Spookies, while Nick Delffs released an album as Death Songs before forming Tiburones with Luz Elena Mendoza of Y La Bamba.

2008—The Builders and the Butchers
Released Western Medicine, its fourth album of Southern gothic gallows folk, in 2013.

2009—Explode Into Colors
Imploded into nonexistence in 2010.

2010—Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside
Put out two albums, played Letterman, blew up in France, broke up last year. Ford immediately formed a new band with members of Albatross, Viva Voce and Point Juncture, WA.

2011—And And And
Still plays profusely and hosts its annual summer Rigsketball tournament. Drummer Bim Ditson has become the Portland music scene’s unofficial mascot.

2012—Radiation City
Released its second album, Animals in the Median, last year, along with an EP of remixes by TxE’s G-Force featuring a verse from Southern strip-rap king Juicy J.

2013—Shy Girls
Spent this April and May playing large theaters opening for Haim. Also received shoutouts online from Maxwell and Brandy.


WWeek 2015

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.