THE LOWER 48 The dog plays banjo!

WHEN THE LOWER 48 moved to Portland from Minnesota in 2009, they didn't know they were coming to reinvent themselves. Just a few short years later, they have slimmed down to a trio, picked up their pace, and have just released a beautiful, bubble-gummy self-titled new record.

Ben Braden, Sarah Parson, and Nick Sadler work collaboratively and cohesively, writing songs with the pop sheen of a '60s-era Beatles hit and the flair of a contemporary Jack White ballad. Says Sadler, "A lot of our best ideas happened in a split second, I completely lose track of who wrote which part of a song—it's a lot of rapid fire."

The Lower 48's change in lineup was accompanied by an evolution of sound; the band has veered away from the softer, folk-rock tunes of the past, replaced by a new, bursting energy. "We changed the band dramatically, and started playing every day. Now we're in our practice space all the time because it's where we want to be," Braden says.

Their songs punch and pull with precision—and the group knows how to take command of a stage. Sadler beams from behind the drums while Parson belts out smoky harmonies and switches off lead vocals, guitar, and bass with Braden.

"The vibe of the West Coast is so much different than Minneapolis," Sadler says. "It's more rock 'n' roll and more free. It's just been a perfect, natural progression since we moved here."

The combined force of Parson's husky vocals and the group's joint harmonies make for an illustrious sound, a result of their working together with a clear sense of style and inspiration. Braden says, "A lot of the vision for the songs is a feeling, or a very specific sound in our head, like 'I want the bass to sound just like this song on Revolver.'" The six new songs on The Lower 48 are clear proof that they have been making the right decisions. Parson says, "It's so exciting to see these little babies growing up and to show them to people. After living here for a couple years we've gotten to know what we want to play—and we're doing it right now."