Friday August 5
(6:30-7:00) Quiet Countries claims to create "lush, melancholic torch songs for a culture winding down." Wow, so what does that mean exactly? Ambient electronica with cool, spacey vocals.
MAN OF THE YEAR
(7:10-7:40) I suppose there's a place for rockers Man of the Year in PDX POP NOW!, though I'd be a liar if I said I was excited about it. I don't have anything against them, mind you, it's just that their sort of rock--vague, flavorless, and largely bereft of tangible emotion--sure as hell doesn't inspire me to really be for them, either.
PETE KREBS & THE GOSSAMER WINGS
(7:50-8:20) Former Hazel frontman Pete Krebs seems to play around town virtually every week, and honestly, we haven't really been paying attention for a few years now. This could mean that he's moved on to craft the greatest ambient hiphopera Portland has ever seen--though it's probably more likely that he's still churning out palatable left coast acoustic pop.
(8:35-9:05) Sweeping from hard rock to spare, beautiful emotion, Sarah Dougher is the thinking lady's musician. Loosely based on Homer's Odyssey, her newest CD spins this ancient tale into thoroughly modern ruminations on war, relationships, and the hope required to make it through both.
(10:40-11:10) From solo project to duo and back again (at least while the band member Jona Bechtolt is off rolling around Europe as Devendra Banhart's touring drummer), The Blow is equally indecisive about their performance M.O.--which can range from awkwardly challenging performance art to full-tilt dance explosion.
DESERT CITY SOUNDTRACK
(9:15-9:35) The name of this band recalls lonely plains and windswept, mournful music, which is sometimes true. But mostly, Desert City Soundtrack's, well, soundtrack, is loud, cacophonic, and angry. And it has a trumpet.
(9:45-10:15) For a self-described shoegazer band, the Charmparticles sure do make for a lucid, relatively translucent listen. Still, you got to hand it to them for keeping the torch burning--even if the flames lick a little close to alt-rock's rather flammable curtains.
(10:20-10:35) With a name as anonymous as Chevron, is it really any wonder that this largely instrumental three-piece trip the light Chicago? With maddeningly mathy time signatures and heavy jazz improv leanings, Chevron is like thoughtful, intricately composed post-rock comfort food.
(11:20-11:50) Portland prog veterans 31Knots show off their latest outing Talk Like Blood, featuring plenty of their amazingly cathartic highs and lows, sweetness and anger. Of course every song features the always-charged vocals of singer Joe Haege, although this time, he sounds just a little bit British.
(12:00-12:30) Tomorrow they'll be opening up for all of the Northwest's whitest in Bend at Summer Camp to the tune of $27.50, and in a week, they're off to the UK--but for tonight, Portland's hot shot pop duo Viva Voce are doing it all for free.
Saturday August 6
(12:00-12:30) Largely electronic trio General Studies blend keyboards, laptop, guitar, and a table's worth of effects into an agreeable pop stew--agreeable, up until they break out the vocorder and robot lyrics. Still, not bad.
THE VILLAGE GREEN
(12:40-1:10) Brit pop in our own backyard! Portland's the Village Green make noisy rock heavy on the Blur, Kula Shaker, and (duh) Kinks influences. Songs like "Under the Covers" are delivered with a Liam Gallagher sneer, but don't let that scare you, as the quartet exude plenty of non-assholic charm on stoner-pop tracks like "Get Up, Get Out, Get High" and "Wrap My Love Around It." This rock outfit is like an early Supergrass armed with arena-ready confidence.
(1:20-1:50) Producer Casiocity's fresh-faced laptop beats are comfortably suited to MC Colin Jones' slackcore rhymes, the two of whom come together as Brokaw. WHO IS COLIN JONES?
(2:05-2:35) Power pop for those few among us that still listen to contemporary rock radio, the Carolines ref Fountains of Wayne as one of their contemporaries, and the comparison isn't too far fetched. But neither is the fact that they've opened for the Gin Blossoms, or that they totally have a street team.
(2:45-3:15) Three cheers for PDX Pop Now! for flinging open their doors to hiphop--especially this underrated local practitioner. Smooth as a silk scarf crossing a baby's bottom, Ms. Su'ad mixes rap and song like fresh churned butter.
(4:50-5:20) The only band Portland band to my knowledge (and certainly the only band at PDX POP NOW!) to ever pop up on the cover of Wire. Enough said.
(10:25-10:55) Not familiar with Nice Nice's two-man aural assault yet? You're only hurting yourself, my friend.
THE SNUGGLE UPS
(11:45-12:15) Well, they certainly are polarizing. Though they seem to give most indierock girls I know a mega-boner, the pre-programmed, homoerotic karaoke of the Snuggle Ups may not be for everyone--but even if you hate them, the Snuggle Ups will always love you.
(3:25-3:55) This isn't much of a declaration, but here it is: Invisible are pretty good. While their static, middle-of-the-road music might induce some yawns, every once in a while they'll bust out with a weird twist, an unexpected choice, or an engaging melody. That counts for something.
TARA JANE O'NEIL AND FOUR ROSES
(4:10-4:40) Former Rodan/Retsin bassist Tara Jane O'Neil is also one of Portland's most criminally under-celebrated solo musicians. Tonight marks the debut of TJO's self-described country band--which, if the rest of her discography is any indication, will invariably be worth seeing.
POM POM MELTDOWN
(5:30-6:00) Aside from having the most awesomely fucked-up Tripod website we've ever seen (seriously, who has those?), the progressive (in more than one sense) ladies of Pom Pom Meltdown are known for volume, volume, volume. But not like a car saleman. Well, maybe a little. What?
ALL GIRL SUMMER FUN BAND
(6:15-6:45) While I constantly lament the name of this band, at least they're not pulling any punches. They're poppy and cutesy, but overall talented musicians. It's just all that chirpy happiness I can't stand.
(6:55-7:25) Lacktherof's style--that of blurring techno bleeps with speedy guitars, staccato drums, mopey lyrics, and, on occasion, vocals that sound like they're sung by Frankenstein's monster--may be a bit too artsy and self-involved for some. Still, this Menomena/Binary Dolls side project is occasionally pretty interesting, and generally fun.
(7:35-8:05) A seven-piece live hiphop ensemble chock full of classically trained musicians, Quivah is understandably jazz-based--blending elements of funk and soul with a two-tiered MC attack tighter than a Mormon on prom night.
(8:20-8:50) Considering that Sci-Fi electro duo Ainu recorded their proper full-length debut--the strong, swampy Octoporn--completely live, one can assume that their live show is nothing less than digital perfection.
(9:00-9:30) Derby specialize in hazy, layered pop like Sloan on a daydream bender, and their debut, This Is the New You, is as solid as debuts get. It's an impressive stack of crunchy chords and clapping hands with harmony vocals so note-perfect it's easy to mistake them for keyboard licks. Be forewarned: They sound much bigger than a three-piece.
(9:40-10:10) All hail the ebullient pop-rock of the Kingdom! Listening to them is like being at that perfect point of drinking, right before everything goes to shit--that point when you're tipsy and happy and smiley and confident. Yeah. Listening to the Kingdom is fun like that.
NORFOLK & WESTERN
(11:05-11:35) Norfolk & Western's frontman, Adam Selzer, is named after his grandfather, conductor of an 1800s rail line called… Norfolk & Western. Selzer also professes to have been born in a passenger car on a train from that very line, and that N & W actually rehearses in a similar passenger car set up in his backyard. Trains are in his blood and trains are in his music, which whispers and chugs tenderly through the night.
Sunday August 7
(12:00-12:30) The musical vehicle of one Eric Jensen, Tractor Operator is quiet, lo-fi folk-pop of the crackliest order--with Jensen's playful, circular lyrical constructions at the forefront.
(12:40-1:10) Proof if nothing else that this year's PDX POP festival was undoubtedly a democracy, Morgan Grace is a rock chick having little to do with the general aesthetic of the festival as a whole--and little to write home about, really.
JUNIOR PRIVATE DETECTIVE
(1:20-1:50) In spite of their distinctly Nickelodeon-y moniker, Junior Private Detective's Casio rock is laced with surprisingly dark currents--aided in large part by vocalist Emilie Strange's distinctly Natalie Merchantine-growl.
(2:05-2:35) Clean nearly to the point of sterility, the Dimes are a band of incredibly digestible melodrama--the sort not totally removed from the Coldplay aesthetic. How you react to the previous comparison will speak volumes toward your capacity to appreciate the Dimes.
SCIENCE OF YABRA
(2:45-3:15) Coming from only the hardest of cores, Science of Yabra is loud, tough, and tight, with a stage intensity gripping enough to pop out your eyeballs.
(6:55-7:25) As bassist/vocalist Alberta Poon does her bestest Goo-era Kim Gordon impression (which, by the way, is pretty spot on), the rest of Wet Confetti wax dance-a-delic across the whole of Sonic Youth's darker discography--and do so to great effect.
(8:20-8:50) The awesomely raucous junk store blues of Hillstomp--a punk-tinged duo who blend Mississippi blues, slide guitar, homemade drums, and a ton of attitude--is totally not to be missed.
THE PLANET THE
(11:45-12:25) The Planet The are simultaneously the most and least reliable band in Portland. Least reliable because you never know what to expect--be it rabid heckling, temper-tantrums, or simply brilliantly direct prog-pop. Most reliable because--regardless (or rather, because) of their wild mood swings--shit is never dull.
PORTLAND GENERAL ELECTRO
(3:25-3:55) Vocal filter-heavy, tongue-in-cheek electro duo PGE clearly have sufficient lap-chops to move most PDX audiences, but as with many electro-pop bands with nothing significant to say, largely lean on clichd robo-jargon to fill lyrical space. Note to all electronic pop bands: if all you have to sing about is robot love, why are you singing to begin with?
ALAN SINGLEY + PANTS MACHINE
(4:10-4:40) Burt Bacharach disciple and a pretty mean pop producer in his own right, Alan Singley's quiet, sugar pop constructions are heavy on twee sentiments. His quintessentially indie pop vocal slurring is sure to drive away all the assholes by the time he reaches the chorus, which'll just leave more room for the rest of us.
(4:50-5:20) With caustic, chugging guitar and cute, yelping vocals, punk two-piece We Quit set up a great dynamic--not too heavy, not too sweet, just a little bit sloppy, and overall a great time.
THE CANCER FAGS
(5:30-6:00) Time for a little comic relief, because as you well know, a band called the Cancer Fags can't be too serious. Julian Tulip and Corban Lester team up in a bizzaro DJ vocal match-up wherein Tulip tells goofy stories and Lester provides a blippy backdrop. It's cool, really.
WOW & FLUTTER
(6:15-6:45) Maudlin with a pulse, the near decade-old trio Wow & Flutter sound roughly like a Midwest indie take on the Cure's grey period. Over five full-lengths, W&F have perfected a sort of languid angst that's not altogether dissimilar to late-period Unwound.
(7:35-8:05) Ben Whitesides (of Portland's the Joggers) penetrating vocals pair with finger-plucked guitar, creating a band that's rootsy, but spiked with electricity. The results are downright lovable.
MANIC D & FOGATRON
(9:00-9:30) The grand prize winners of last year's PIZZAZZ! talent competition, and you'll see why; Manic D's smooth rhymes augment the absolutely amazing beatbox virtuosity of Fogatron. Prepare to be floored.
(9:40-10:10) Fueled by themes of ephemeral love, real-deal disco revivalists Strength lay down smooth synths against bouncing beats--and vocals that don't totally hide behind a vocoder.
POINT JUNCTURE, WA
(10:25-10:55) With an equipment roster that reads like a stripped down version of Tortoise (trumpet, vibraphone, guitar, and percussion), the oppressively named quintet Point Juncture, WA temper their otherwise rather conventional indierock sound with just enough unexpected texture to keep otherwise bored indie fans riveted. That the band manages to meld it all with completely pitch-perfect pop certainly doesn't hurt, either.
(11:05-11:35) The genre-defying pop (well, I suppose pop is a genre) of Blitzen Trapper is obsessively jumpy--touching base with bluegrass, psychedelia, folk, and spacey pop before totally stealing third base with your girlfriend. It'd be maddening, were it not so comfortably composed.
(12:25-12:55) Portland's Best New Band for three years running, Talkdemonic combine the beautifully ethereal viola of Lisa Molinaro with Kevin O'Connor's hiphop-headed percussion into a striking emotional score for the city's colder months.