PDX POP NOW!—the city's only free, nonprofit, exclusively local, volunteer-run, all-ages music festival—is now in its 11th year, and its presence is more valuable than ever before. Thanks to a continuously dwindling all-ages scene and the entirely counterproductive über-commodification of MusicfestNW, PPN! remains, literally, one of the only opportunities that music-savvy kids under the legal drinking age have to see their favorite local bands. (And for free, no less.)
Like any flourishing enterprise, PPN! isn't without shortcomings: One could argue that some of the bigger bands playing this year are recycled acts, and while the booking committee has obviously made a concerted effort to include a diverse array of artists in this year's festival—perhaps more so than any other in its history—it still feels like a missed opportunity to showcase some of the city's great underage bands that aren't getting exposure elsewhere. (It is an all-ages festival, after all.) That said, three bands of high school students have been chosen by Music in the Schools to open Sunday afternoon, and all petty, cynical, and potentially biased grievances aside, PPN! has maintained true to its underlying philosophy for more than a decade now—absolutely no small feat.
The festival is still free, still all-ages, and a fairly fantastic mélange of some of the city's best and most relevant talent. This year, PDX Pop Now! returns to AudioCinema (226 SE Madison), the hallowed rehearsal space/venue under the Hawthorne Bridge that last housed the festival in 2007. Listed below are my picks for this year's standout acts.
The Estranged (8:15 pm): Tune-smart, post-punk luminaries whose newest self-titled LP is one of best local releases of the year.
Brownish Black (1:30 pm): Neo-soul Stax fetishists, distinguished from poseurdom by lead singer M.D. Sharbatz's staggering vocals.
Sad Horse (2:30 pm): Weirdo, angular drums-and-guitar duo who toe the line between garage minimalism and prog-rock complexity. Their latest LP, Purple on Purple Makes Purple, is a masochistic pop nerd's fantasy, inspiring pleasure and pain in equal doses.
Etbonz (3 pm): Strictly analog electro-alchemy, evocative of crazy, cosmic shit. It's strange, melodic, and atmospheric (which doesn't necessarily have to be a synonym for "boring").
The Bugs (6 pm): Endearingly Ramones-esque (may they rest in peace) garage pop duo the Bugs have long been a mainstay of the Portland music scene, churning out hummable micro-anthems with so-boneheaded-it's-profound subject matter for the last decade and a half (and counting). The group's latest release, the 17-track LP The Right Time, is as scruffy and impetuous as ever—because sometimes the worst thing a band can do is mature.
The Cry! (7:15 pm): On their first record, the Cry! cautiously modeled themselves after the Exploding Hearts, one of the most sacrosanct Portland bands ever, to an occasionally uncomfortable extent. The group's newest record, Dangerous Game, which comes after a considerable personnel shakeup that left only two original members (principal songwriters Ray Nelsen and Brian Crace), is catchier, smarter, and more imaginative than its predecessor, marking the sound of the young band finally cultivating a unique, and entirely worthwhile identity of their own ("Discotheque," "Toys in the Attic").
Summer Cannibals (11 pm): Hometown heroes, the world's biggest Breeders fans, consummate pop songwriters, rock 'n' roll's last hope, etc., etc. (you've read it all before).
Blouse (midnight): Inescapable, immaculately crafted pop music buttressed by vocalist Charlie Hilton's chilly, instantly iconic voice.
Eyelids (2:45 pm): It's not surprising that Eyelids sound like a sublime synthesis of Guided by Voices, Elliott Smith, and Stephen Malkmus, considering the group's members have played with all those artists. They're possibly one of the only bands whose music lives up to the "supergroup" designation.
Lunch (5:15 pm): Snotty, sloppy, and emphatically tuneful power pop, whose newish 7-inch, Johnny Pineapple, is one of the best local punk releases in recent memory.
Usnea (5:45 pm): Desolate, noisy doom; the newest addition to esteemed pizza-metal label Relapse Records' roster.