Portland Handbook 2019
It’s no secret that Portland is attracting a shitload of transplants and newcomers, but that’s probably ultimately a good thing, at least for the music climate. And it’s not all just folk singers and indie-rock bands either! This city is home to a plethora of talented artists and bands creating hip-hop, pop, soul, cumbia, electronic music, and much more. Here’s just a smattering of them.
Portland singer/songwriter Amenta Abioto has yet to release a debut full-length, and she only has a couple of loosies available on streaming services. But that’s okay, because the best way to consume Abioto’s music is live, where the artist weaves her soulful voice through a looping machine, creating her tracks right in front of you. This allows her songs—like the chill-inducing call-to-action “Revolution” and the come-hither anthem “I Would Like”—to sound a little different each time.
Dan Dan is Eric Burch and Sarah McKenna playing synths, along with vocalist and bassist Misty Mary and drummer Parker Hall. The four-piece makes dance-y, electro-futurist rock, and their debut album 77 is loaded with Krautrock influences, space vibes, and psychedelia. “Freestyle Memories” is a definite highlight, blending an emotional riff with robotic vocal effects and live drums.
Portland-based pop/R&B singer Reva DeVito has been making waves for a while now. In 2014 she linked up with electronic/hip-hop/dance producer KAYTRANADA for “Friday Night,” and then again in 2016 for “The Move.” In 2017, she put out This Time, a collaborative, ocean-themed album with producer B. Bravo that blends soul influences with a nostalgic ’90s pop sound. Now she’s working on her next solo album and playing new material around town.
Space-jazz duo Brown Calculus comprises vocalist Vaughn Kimmons (Brown Alice) and producer/keyboardist Andre Burgos (Brown Calvin), who also play together in Tribe Mars. (Earlier this year, Kimmons was invited to become a voting member of the Recording Academy, AKA the Grammys.) The duo’s known for their soothing sound, a sort of interplanetary post-soul that pairs Alice’s mesmerizing vocals and spoken-word verses with Calvin’s prowess on the keys. Stand-out tracks from their debut EP Live at the Map Room include “Self Care” and “Good Job.”
This soul/hip-hop fusion band—whose sizeable lineup includes an MC, three vocalists, drummer, keyboardist, guitarist, bassist, and a saxophonist—is one of the town’s greatest treasures. The group came into their own with the addition of vocalist Vaughn Kimmons and Andre Burgos on keys. Their impressive self-titled debut from 2018 plays around at the intersection of psychedelic soul, hip-hop, and jazz. Songs like the subdued “Sun Raisin,” or the funkified “Best Fishes” are just two highlights from this band’s beautifully complex catalog.
Plastic Cactus’ desert-inspired psych-surf has a super-cool, easygoing vibe, and the band’s sunset performance at PDX Pop Now! was an audio/visual treat. Led by the exquisite harmonies of Brooke Metropulos and Michaela Gradstein (both guitar/vocals), the quartet’s dreamy, guitar-driven surf and desert rock sounds like a movie soundtrack waiting to happen. Check out their most recent project Moth Eyes, the follow-up to 2017’s Pricks.
In the past I’ve referred to rapper/producer Fountaine as a hometown hero, because he’s one of the most visible, talented, hilarious, and interesting hip-hop artists working in the scene. Fountaine’s rise has been characterized by his affinity for anime—a prominent theme in his earlier raps—and willingness to cross over into R&B territory. As an MC/DJ/producer, Fountaine’s potential knows no bounds.
Indie rock/dream pop trio Cry Babe is one of Portland’s coolest new bands. Their 2019 debut EP Be Cool is a radical selection of crashing drums, punky guitars, and lead singer Anaïs Genevieve’s hearty, pitch-perfect vocals. A Mercury favorite is “Soft Honk,” which claps back at a street harasser (“You’re not my friend/you’re just some creepy guy”) with a catchy melody and some of the most relatable lyrics of all time.
Orquestra Pacifico Tropical
Led by drummer Papi Fimbres (Portland’s busiest musician), Orquestra Pacifico Tropical (OPT) includes members of Máscaras, Dreckig, Bitch’n, And And And, Eagle Sun King, Point Juncture WA, Modernstate, Jippedo, and Quiet Countries. Last year the 11-piece band released El Tren to positive reception. Having become famous (at least locally) for their lively performances that get everybody on their feet, OPT is now one of the hottest tickets in town.
North Portland-bred rapper Mic Capes is one of the hip-hop scene’s most beloved and celebrated acts. In addition to being charismatic and commanding onstage, Capes’ content is raw, and the MC just keeps the quality output coming. Capes followed up his debut LP Concrete Dreams with a Sheesh EP in 2017, and then recently dropped his Cold Blooded project. A Mic Capes starter pack for noobs: “Five Finger Discount,” “Black Pearls,” “Well Known,” and “Menace.”