PDX Pop: Now and Forever 

Bands You Shouldn't Miss at This Year's PDX Pop Now!

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THE LINEUP for this year's PDX Pop Now! festival is almost too good. We wanted to whip together a quick highlights reel of the very best Portland bands that are playing the two stages of this year's fest. But the hardworking volunteers who put together the all-ages, all-local, all-free weekend of music haven't made it easy for us. There are really no weaknesses in the bill, no dry spots to be found in the spectacular lineup. Running the full gamut of the Portland music scene, from pure pop to fiery rock to hiphop to avant-garde and beyond—and sometimes several of these things at once—it's clear that Portland music is fertile to the point of sprawling. There are some familiar faces on the bill and some longtime favorites, but part of the fun of PDX Pop Now! is finding something brand new. To that end, we've picked some of the bands we're most excited about, as well as some underdogs you might not have heard of yet. It's going to be a long, good weekend. See you there. NED LANNAMANN Visit pdxpopnow.com for a full festival schedule.

1939 Ensemble, Fri 6:40 pm
Using a drum kit, a vibraphone, and a bank of electronic gadgetry, 1939 Ensemble makes the kind of music that would make actual music listeners from the year 1939 freak out. Even in 2012, the duo of David Coniglio and Revival Drum Shop's Jose Medeles sounds defiantly modern and avant-garde: shimmering vibes, clattering drums, and whirring factory noises all come together to make apocalyptic dinner-party music that'll clear the palate for three days of adventurous music. 1939 Ensemble will also boast some of the most impressive musicianship of the weekend. NL

Arohan, Fri 8:05 pm
Arohan (Taylor Gehrts) melts minds and hearts with his captivating style, making heady dance music with complex overtones that make you dream of an Italian disco bathed in flickering strobes. A surplus of synthesizers and drum machines accompany him live, giving reference points for his enchantingly alchemical concoctions. The music, draped in a sometime ominous, always cavernous voice, is evocative of the kind of soulful electronic music from the late '70s and '80s. Look forward to layers of intricately oscillating melodies, attended by elegant rhythms that will immerse you in the glamour of the night. CHRISTINA BROUSSARD

The Shivas, Fri 10:50 pm
Portland surf-garage quartet the Shivas connect the dots between retro, jangly lo-fi, and '60s beach pop on their March release Whiteout. And while paying homage to insular scenes like those pioneered by the Turtles and the Animals might be a trendy proposition, the Shivas obliterate any pretense through sheer force of their smart songwriting, melodic interplay, and feel-good, harmony-rich rockers. Their single "Gun in My Pocket" is a hypnotic example of their talents, a tune thick with sonic contrasts and barking crescendos. Equal parts throwback sock hop and buzzsaw punk, this set ought to reside in the "do not miss" category. RYAN J. PRADO

Houndstooth, Sat 1:25 pm
There's no question that John Gnorski's crackling hot guitar riffs are the sweltering backbone of Houndstooth. But if Gnorski provides the substance, Katie Bernstein's effortless voice is the style, a super cool foil to the overtly masculine vernacular of Southern rock. And even though she sounds so laidback and detached, it's Bernstein who brings the mystery, the sense that something dark may be lurking just below the vaguely surfy surface. Houndstooth's first LP is due out any month now, but in between their debut 7-inch and three new songs on Bandcamp, they've developed a reputation for smoking live performances. REBECCA WILSON

Neal Morgan, Sat 3:30 pm
You don't often hear of drummers having solo projects, not even drummers with the credentials of Neal Morgan, who has collaborated with the likes of Joanna Newsom and Bill Callahan. But Morgan is fundamentally a storyteller and, in his world, drums and voice are all that's essential. What's amazing is how well he manages to evoke such strong senses of place and experience through the most minimal of instrumentation. Though hard at work on his third solo album, Morgan has spent much of this year touring, playing his exhilarating, bombastic songs alone on a stage with only the occasional aid of backing tracks. RW

Vice Device, Sat 7:45 pm
If you like the sexy, stripped-down sound of live electronics and escaping into a leather-clad vortex of synth-pop darkness, rely on Vice Device (Andrea K and Bobby Kaliber) to deliver. Their dusty depictions of post-punk glory and arpeggiated soundscapes are performed live without the use of sequencers or backing tracks, giving this unrelenting duo ample street cred. Cavernous voices of unique power and intensity fill the space left behind by minimal yet well-placed instrumentation, reminiscent of the obscure but highly influential No Wave era. CB

Secret Drum Band, Sat 9:50 pm
Lisa Schonberg's all-percussion project makes a welcome return, following a pair of local performances in December, in which they premiered Schonberg's intricate, lengthy composition for a seven-member ensemble. Shifting from gentle atmospherics to full-on drum battering, Schonberg explores the wide possibilities and dramatic range that can be expressed via stick and mallet. We're hoping the band's striking stage garb—designed by ensemble member and Schonberg's former Explode into Colors bandmate Heather Treadway—also makes an encore appearance. NL

Illmaculate, Sat 11:10 pm
"Under Their Radar, Over Their Heads" is a cut from Illmaculate's latest release, Skrill Talk, but it might as well be an anthem for the uninformed. A veteran and world champion of countless high-stakes freestyle battles, the North Portland emcee has recently focused his energy into artfully constructed recordings that outshine his reputation as just another battle rap cat. Illmaculate has already sewn up the game for hardcore hiphop heads; it's time for everybody else to catch up. RYAN FEIGH

The Miracles Club, Sat 11:50 pm
Emerging as leaders of the nascent PDX house-music scene, the Miracle Club's fortunes are as auspicious as their fashions. The Miracles Club (Honey Owens, Rafael Fauria, and resident group dancer Ryan Boyle) recently dropped the Ecstasy comp through their own imprint of the same name, showcasing vintage-synth sizzlers and drum-machine nü-disco jams. Toeing the line between crisp house anthems and the melodically modified Eurodance heaters of the late '80s, the Miracles Club's art-pop is as visually stimulating as it is aurally pleasing—verified by the group's prolific lineup of videos, which delineate manic penchants for nostalgia, period-piece regalia and a whooooole lotta booty shakin'. RJP

Charts, Sun 12:40 pm
We should all be grateful for Charts' prolific streak (god knows I am). They've just released yet another EP, Tease, which is every bit as good, if not better, than the band's previous output. Even if principal songwriter Michael Rowan's songs are still rooted in that inescapable Flying Nun influence, his "voice" (as in both his singing voice and distinctive identity as an artist) have improved measurably in the mere 11 months since the band cut their first album. It can only get better from here, and Charts are already so, so close to the pinnacle of indie-pop bliss. MORGAN TROPER

Batmen, Sun 1:20 pm
Because its members are prolific performers, each involved in multiple bands at any given time, the punk-rock project Batmen almost fell by the wayside. This would have been highly unfortunate, as the group provides a singular strain of polish and urgency to the underground scene. Thankfully, they've rededicated their efforts. Batmen's sound is distinguished by Jose De Lara's petulant, fuzzed-out vocals, Andy Brown's masterful, J Mascis-esque guitar work, pulsing bass lines from Adam Garcia, and a full-body attack on the drum kit from Naveed Mir. Their debut EP Demonstrational Materials sounds like a response to the call for straight-ahead punk put out by unfuckwithable California band Hot Snakes. MARANDA BISH

Shy Girls, Sun 3:25 pm
The golden sounds of '90s-era R&B are ubiquitous on mixtapes and at dance parties, but rarely are they infused into pop music of the present day. Dan Vidmar and his solo project Shy Girls is breezily going about righting this wrong with a full-on embrace of the feel-good, grooving potentialities of smooth vocal stylings and head-bobbing beats. On the awesomely titled debut EP Sex in the City, Vidmar single-handedly crafts pleasing pop ditties through sophisticated layers of vocals, electronic samples, and both synthetic and acoustic instrumentation, reminiscent of the genre-blending work of UK's Hot Chip, while maintaining a decidedly West Coast feel. MB

Edna Vazquez, Sun 4:10 pm
Edna Vazquez was one of Portland's best-kept secrets for the last few years. But a steady stream of stunning performances has let the cat out of the bag, probably for good. Originally from Colima, Mexico, Vazquez has had inspiring sets of traditional mariachi and boleros at events like Latino Gay Pride, playing alongside Joaquin Lopez, and stints with the Los Palmeros mariachi band. Recent opening slots with Y La Bamba exposed Vazquez's unrivaled singing and flamenco guitar playing to a wider audience (unless you count that whole Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento national television appearance, in which she reduced two of the three judges to tears following her performance). RJP

Sons of Huns, Sun 5:30 pm
Regular readers of the Mercury should already be well aware of Sons of Huns, the riffy, explosive Portland trio that finds that brilliant, fist-pumping spot where hard rock just verges into metal. This is heavy music at its best—lean, supple riffs crammed through deafening amplifiers and slave-driver drums. If you've ever put a pair of devil horns in the air, or if you're wondering just what in the hell happened to good music since Sabbath Vol. 4, you will not want to miss a second of Sons of Huns' sure-to-be stellar set. NL

Dana Buoy, Sun 7:35 pm
Akron/Family drummer Dana Janssen dropped one of the most vivid, transportive records in recent months in the form of Summer Bodies, a warm and glowing celebration of rhythm and humanity. In different hands, that could sound a tad presumptuous, but Dana Buoy's gentle, affectionate take on sun-dappled pop couldn't be more approachable—or likeable. The gorgeous "Call to Be" is an anthem that fastens itself indelibly onto one's heartstrings; the rest of Summer Bodies is just as potent and vibrant. Don't miss the chance to hear live tunes from one of this year's most overlooked, and loveliest, albums. NL

Aan, Sun 8:20 pm
"I Don't Need Love" is the latest from Aan, a preview from their debut full-length Amor Ad Nauseum (the phrase from which Aan takes their name). It's a killer: a lithe, slithering tune that's both catchy and menacing, displaying the unique brick-building approach to songwriting that's made Aan one of the most inventive rock bands in town. We don't know when Amor Ad Nauseum is coming out—here's hoping very soon—but in the meantime, we'll have this appearance to tide us over. NL

Hausu, Sun 9 pm
Hausu are one of those bands that rock so fucking hard live that their recordings feel a tad sparse and unsatisfying by comparison (see also the MC5). But "She's a Babe," off their most recent, self-titled EP is still a hell of a song in any context. Between the jangling, chorus-submerged guitars (an aesthetic revitalized by the excellent Devon Williams), the explicit Robert Smith worship, and irresistibly awkward stage presence (frontman Ben Funkhouser's Michael Cera impression is uncanny), Hausu contain all the right ingredients for PDX success. MT

Pure Bathing Culture, Sun 10:20 pm
Daniel Hindman and Sarah Versprille are two-fifths of Vetiver, but as the duo Pure Bathing Culture, they have traded somber thoughtfulness for an aesthetic somewhere between bright and dreamy, dazzling and sleepy—a sonic reverie for a sunny afternoon. Their debut 12-inch is a perfectly crafted collection of pop songs laced with synths and ethereal vocals that center around humid places: Ivory Coast, Gainesville, and someplace called Silver Shore's Lake. But they aren't slaves to the concept, and the achingly lovely "Lucky One" might just be the best of the bunch. RW

Onuinu, Sun 11 pm
The buzz around Onuinu is starting to hit fever pitch—the danceable, rock-tinged electropop of Dorian Duvall whirls and illuminates like a Zeiss projector. His Mirror Gazer record won't be out until September, but that hasn't kept "Happy Home" from becoming the Portland jam of the summer. Onuinu's festival-closing set at PDX Pop Now! will be a block-party-style celebration of one of Portland's brightest, most exciting new talents. NL

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