In late October, local musician and producer Mo Troper posted a glowing preview of Who’s A Good Boy, the debut album from Bory—AKA the current music moniker of Portland-based singer-songwriter Brenden Ramirez.

“SO excited for everyone (and I do mean everyone) to hear the excellent first SINGLE off the excellent new record,” wrote Troper, who also produced the album. “The moodboard was essentially ‘figure 8 but elephant 6.’ we worked hard and i put my heart and soul into helping … develop some of the greatest, catchiest, most effortlessly heartfelt songs to come out of portland EVER.”

Some quick context for the non-indie-pop-nerds: Figure 8 is the beautiful fifth album by indie pop deity Elliott Smith. Elephant 6 is an influential collective of lo-fi indie pop bands, such as Neutral Milk Hotel, the Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control, etc. which had a major influence on music and DIY culture in the '90s.

When we mentioned this description to Ramirez, he slipped into a sheepish smile and replied in his usual understated way: “Figure 8 is my favorite Elliott Smith record and a huge influence on me and my songwriting. And I’ve been getting really into the Apples in Stereo lately. They were both definitely big guiding lights for us.”

And here’s the thing: They nailed it. Aiming to split the difference between two of the most beloved pop music movements of the past three decades, Ramirez and Troper came up with not just one of the best albums released by a Portland artist last year, but one of the best pop rock records of the year by anyone, anywhere.

Smith’s influence lilts in the insistent hooks of Ramirez’s songs and the sighing inflection of his singing voice, while the hallmark sounds of Elephant 6 echo in the album’s buzzy guitars, bursts of frenetic energy, and Troper’s perfectly imperfect brand of studio magic.

For Ramirez, just writing, recording and releasing an album of his own songs has been the realization of a dream he thought was out of reach. “I played guitar in bands before, but I didn’t think I would ever be, like, the singer-songwriter of a band,” he said. “I really started taking songwriting seriously in 2019, which is when I started writing songs for Bory.”

Originally from Southern California, Ramirez went to college in Salem before moving to Portland “to try to make something out of music.” Here, he met Troper, a longtime champion of both the local DIY scene and scruffy, homemade pop music. [Full disclosure: For many years, Troper also wrote for the Mercury. -eds] Ramirez joined Troper’s band where he got an up-close-and-personal look at the way the latter approaches songwriting. “At that point, I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got to start doing this. This is really cool.’ And that’s when the music that I’d been listening to kind of became a blueprint for the music I wanted to make.”

Musician Blue Broderick was another major influence; she also plays in Troper’s band and writes her own pristine pop music under the name Diners. “I was just hanging out with them and seeing all these songwriters up close, and it was so inspiring,” Ramirez said. “They both write from similar places, musically, and in terms of where they draw their inspiration. I was lucky to find them, and I think what they do definitely rubbed off on me and inspired me to write more.”

By 2021, Ramirez had enough songs to release the Sidelined EP. With his skills expanding and his confidence growing, he recorded a version of Who’s A Good Boy on his own and shopped it around to record labels, but then recorded it again with Troper in the producer’s seat.

“Mo was like, ‘We need these songs. I believe in these songs. We need to take them into a proper studio,’” Ramirez said.

The two worked on the album in their spare time at Red Lantern Studios, the Trash Treasury, and during wee-hours sessions at their practice space. The result is an album of expertly crafted guitar-pop songs that sparkle and soar, despite an ever-present layer of fuzz that often makes it hard to make out what Ramirez is singing about. (Hint: It’s often reflections of conflicted conversations from his real life. “We used to talk every single day,” he sings in “Five-Course Meal,” which is both a propulsive bummer and a strummy banger. “I guess I don’t have what it takes.”)

Who’s A Good Boy has already earned prominent and positive reviews since its December 8 release date. Pitchfork lauded its “quiet confidence” and “stylistic and emotional openness.” It's praise that Ramirez can hopefully tuck away for a rainy day.

“I’m at least trusting myself … that I’m going to be able to write another song." he said. "There was a time in the early stages of Bory where I was afraid that every song I finished might be the last one. Now I at least feel confident enough to say that … I’ll only stop writing songs if I decide to.”

The Mo Troper Band plays Show Bar, 1300 SE Stark on Fri Jan 12, 8 pm, $16 in advance, $21 at the door, tickets here, 21+, w/ Bory