With diverse dance nights and boundary-pushing local shows galore, Portland nightclub Holocene really does its part to build up the music community in Portland. To close out the year 2012, Gina Altamura and Van Pham have rounded up a list of their favorite local acts that you should pay attention to in 2013.



Shy Girls __ www.facebook.com/shygirlsmusic
Within a rising tide of young contemporary R&B artists, including oft-cited luminaries like Frank Ocean and How to Dress Well, we find Portland’s own Shy Girls. The music of Shy Girls tracks most closely with this emerging R&B zeitgeist in its reverence for emotional sensitivity. R&B, as a genre, finds strong emotions to be inherently valuable. It’s a genre where those brought to tears by the slightest experience are given a narrative voice, even – or especially – a narrative beyond interpretive specificity. Beyonce moans, “it’s just emotions taking me over”; Mariah Carey croons, “you’ve got me feeling e – mo – tions”. There is sublimity in this genre where the heart is prized, and Shy Girls are making magic with that spiritual force. GINA ALTAMURA

Editor’s Note: Said lady Gina Altamura celebrates her Capricornian birthday on January 3rd, and will be holding a show at Holocene featuring Shy Girls, PWRHAUS, and Houndstooth (descriptions for all three bands in this post). See the Facebook invite HERE. VIVIAN HUA


Brainstorm www.soundcloud.com/brainstormbrainstorm
Brainstorm’s Adam Baz spends his summers as a seasonal biologist, counting bird populations in the wilds of northern California. As part of his training for this endeavor, he’s set to work memorizing a formidable number of distinct bird songs. Perhaps it’s this unique study that’s helped to gift him with such a meticulously fine-tuned ear for melody: its manifold nuances, its multitudinous possibilities. Brainstorm make beatific pop, and their exuberance seems to stem from weaving such an intricate web of sound. Face-melting guitar shredding from Patrick Phillips calls to mind art rock, but his heavy flirtation with West African polyrhythms takes things to another level. Throw in some three-part harmonies with vocalist/bassist Dasha Shleyeva, some mystical polka vibes when Patrick picks up the tuba, plus the twinkly psych-pop of Adam’s toy keyboard, and – well – freak out on the abundance! GINA ALTAMURA


CLOAKS __ www.soundcloud.com/visiblecloaks
An effort that’s half Spencer Doran from Operative and half Ryan Carlisle from Eternal Tapestry, this duo rests squarely in the middle of those two paths – a rad combo of experimental meanderings that can sometimes unexpectedly crash land you into a healthy, heart-pumping, body-warming house beat. These two do much to ease your toes into the easy waters of a totally enjoyable mix of synth-based, vocoder-tinged forest-walking fodder and dance party-ready sentiments. My only complaint is that they don’t have much material available online to pick from and enjoy, but you’ll have to take my word for it (or come see them perform at the opening of Xhurch’s 2012 Nativity!). VAN PHAM

Editor’s Note: Catch CLOAKS at Xhurch (4550 NE 20th) in Portland on December 21st for an end-of-the-world party featuring bands like MSHR and Hair And Space Museum and large-scale art installations with infinite light tunnels, 3-dimensional holograms, and alchemy-related sound booths. It is also the joint birthday party for Emily Pothast of Seattle’s Midday Veil and yours truly. Facebook invite HERE. VIVIAN HUA


PWRHAUS __ www.soundcloud.com/pwrhaus
Almost definitely one of the best soul groups you’ve never heard, PWRHAUS has been rocking house parties in relative obscurity, but thanks to an utterly warm live show and word of mouth from such notable admirers as Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold, they’re starting to romance ever-larger audiences. There’s a horn section, a stand-up bassist, a commanding crooner behind a tinsel-draped piano, and much more….all working deftly together to convey an intoxicatingly peculiar take on classic soul. Frontman Tony Star oozes a strange and wonderful charm onstage that you’ll delight in never quite being able to wrap your mind around. GINA ALTAMURA



Swahili __ www.soundcloud.com/swahilinoise
Cosmonauts for the dance floor! Far-out lovelies Swahili are skillfully incorporating elements of dub and proto-house into their electronic psych soundscapes, crafting a listening experience that is pulsing with visceral energy while compelling you towards transcendence. To borrow a famous alchemical phrase: “As above, so below”. Not only do we find this notion of cosmic oneness explored literally in their lyrics and album art, we find it sonically connoted so deeply here in this symmetrical understanding of dance music and psychedelia. Only through understanding of the inner world, the spirit bound within the human form, may we unlock the corresponding splendor and mystery of the outer universe. In this way, the dancefloor is given such a noble purpose; perhaps dancing really will save us. GINA ALTAMURA


Concrete Floor __ www.soundcloud.com/concretefloor
A delightful duo that boasts members of ASSS, The Crow, and Onuinu, Concrete Floor is a practice in pummeling, iron-clad and hard-wrought EBM sound. Fat synth lines weave in and out of each other on top of atmospheric swells and seemingly unrelenting rhythmic blasts, creating a bleak but intriguing landscape. It’s not unlike a badass lost level on Mortal Kombat, or the soundtrack to one’s descent into madness. Their name, coupled with track titles like “Prince of Darkness” and “Metal Clamps”, solidifies their place in the greyscale palette of drearier acts like Throbbing Gristle and SPK, but without the aid of a deranged frontman, making them capable of toeing the line of being a bit more sleek. VAN PHAM


Grapefruit __ www.soundcloud.com/grapefruitmusic
Grapefruit is the bright nom de plume of Charlie Salas-Humara, former post-popster of Panther and a myriad of other local acts. In this musician’s spread of projects, Grapefruit certainly leans left of center, hearkening more to his work with far out A/V spectacle Regular Music than his effervescent tropical trio Sun Angle. This work travels the depths of territory charted by grandparents of synthesized sounds – giants like Klaus Schulze, Jean-Michel Jarre and Wendy Carlos rear their heads in shimmering works like “King Felix” and the aural helix-climbing “Escaper”. It’s meditative and beautifully textured material, a veritable atlas of digital arenas meant for you to explore through sound. VAN PHAM
++ SEE ALSO: Charlie Salas Humara (of Grapefruit, Regular Music, Sun Angle) Musician Interview


Magic Fades __ magicfades.bandcamp.com
Magic Fades, as a production duo, is deliberately post-internet. Standing on the front lines of the radical potential of digital technology, they align themselves with the Vaporwave movement’s avant-garde regurgitation of ubiquitous media (for reference, see Adam Harper’s excellent article on the subject:
http://dummymag.com/features/2012/07/12/adam-harper-vaporwave/). In their accompanying visual aesthetic (ghetto 3D animation gracing their digital singles, CGI roses and the darkest corners of The Sims fan forums used as live projections) as well as their vocal one (R&B crooning, nostalgic for late ’90s boy bands all the way down to their proclivity for earnestness over raw sex appeal), the key point here is that the fantasy is all that exists. Time to romance the precession of simulacra, bbs. GINA ALTAMURA


Atriarch __ atriarch.bandcamp.com
Black metal band Atriarch offers up the usual trappings of an act in their field – sinister doom and gloom shrouded in darkness, wailing guitars, thick and foggy atmospherics. But this grip of dudes pull it off with a little more bookish sort of spiritual style, snatching a passage from the Upanishads for their latest album’s ethereal coda, “Outro (Lucifer Speakers With Death).” It’s thoughtful, creepy material that seeks to grab you by the guts. Their latest work, Ritual of Passing, makes more use of synths and relies heavily on a macabre tone, menacing as it is expansive. They ride the trajectory of other slowly agonizing, pummeling bands like Swans, and singer Lenny Smith is able to switch gears easily from croaker, yeller, crooner, screamer, to orator — not unlike a pastor. Let their hypnotic work pull you in, initiate of their dark church. VAN PHAM


Pure Bathing Culture __ www.facebook.com/purebathingculture
Pure Bathing Culture are wide-eyed wild horses running through your dream pastures. The trio are crafting woozy dream pop a la Durutti Column, but with dainty singer Sarah Vesprille’s chirping vocals keeping things relatively buoyant. Their self-titled EP has been on heavy rotation for me this winter, and perhaps it’s because this is music that – like the season – reminds us to embrace the more dire forms of beauty. A repeatedly used lyrical snippet of Vesprille’s is of perceiving “black and gold”. Where there is misery / dark / bleakness / blackness, so too is treasure / so too is growth / so too is gold.


Litanic Mask __ www.soundcloud.com/litanic-mask
From the creative partnership of Kenna Jean and Mark Burden is a project devoted to airy, tender melancholy. Immediate comparisons cue up Zola Jesus and other Portland bands in the wispy tradition like The Chromatics. Their self-titled album on local imprint Fast Weapons is a peek into a ghostly love story. It’s smoky and breezy, but doesn’t lose its center as a pop record. Sentimental synth melodies uphold the tragic and triumphant croons from Jean, who holds the material together with sweet coos and more authoritative choruses that hint at the diva she’s got under their cool surface. VAN PHAM


Marcus Fischer __ marcus-fischer.bandcamp.com
Marcus Fischer is a craftsman in the field of sound and vision, a devotee of experiential performances that are likely influenced by his background for visual language. His ambient compositions are lovely, sweeping works that unfurl slowly and deliberately with touching results, a direct tunnel back to the proverbial womb as an ideal safe harbor for instances of synesthetic musical experiences — glowing, radiant pieces that are gentle in sound and sprawling in scope. Although slow, creeping, and what some might call uneventful, it’s reinvigorating in its assured calm and immersive qualities. Special note about the track featured here, from Bandcamp: “This set was centered around lapharp and non-computer-based signal processing which was fed into a 25 foot long tape loop strung from floor to celling in the event space. In addition to the tape being a recording and looping medium, it was also part of a feedback and delay system which was controlled from the mixer.” VAN PHAM


Tunnels __ www.soundcloud.com/tunnelsportland
When Eternal Tapestry’s Nick Bindeman isn’t shredding guitars with his quintet of psych compatriots, he’s navigating a much calmer but equally outer limits-reaching frequency with his solo work under the moniker Tunnels. With dizzying arpeggio synth arrangements alongside sparse, driving drum machine rhythms, Tunnels’ songs are cosmos-gazing music (some with dark vocal intonations that channel a bit of Suicide and Gary Numan, making any listen your own personal astral cabaret). Some of his latest Soundcloud material reveals a bit more instrumental introspection — thick with synthsplorations fit for fans of Tangerine Dream and Laurie Spiegel. It swells up and bows back, scintillates and oscillates in sound that’s surfing the great divide between this dimension and the next. Sounds like a pathway, straight to your center and concurrently out to the universe. VAN PHAM


Houndstooth __ houndstooth.bandcamp.com
Mr. John Gnorski (formerly of Inside Voices, now of Houndstooth) has really succeeded in musically distilling the particular regional mythology of our Pacific Northwest. He’s at the helm of a new rock group with his sweetie Katie Bernstein, with songs that feel just like that cozy flannel you wear like a uniform in this Northwest weather – such kicked back and comfortable grooves, that can draw from both grunge and Americana with equal ease. Moody love songs for rainy days, lush like green forests. GINA ALTAMURA





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