“You hear a lot about the faux weirdness of Alberta’s Last Thursday—but it pales in comparison to the real deal, the annual St. Johns Bizarre, in the heart of the realest neighborhood in Portland. Tons of vendors, kid crafts and activities, a beer garden, and insanely good music from actually awesome local bands. It does not get any realer.” — True Parent
Open Mike Eagle spent the 2010s finding comedy in rap music and American nightmares. The L.A. rapper is swinging through St. Johns in support of “Component System with the Auto-Reverse,” his most recent album of literate, playful rhymes and futuristic production by the likes of Madlib, Quelle Chris, and Diamond D.
On albums like “Brick Body Kids Still Daydream and Dark Comedy,” he delivered hilarious socio-political insights via half-sung verses laid atop progressive production. Acclaim from publications like Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and NPR coincided with headlining solo tours and top-billing at events like Adult Swim Festival. Between studio sessions, Eagle co-founded The New Negroes, a standup-meets-music variety show that explores perceptions of blackness. He and co-founder Baron Vaughn brought the show to Upright Citizens Brigade, Comedy Central, and venues around the U.S.
With over a dozen solo and collaborative projects to his name, Eagle has spent his career redefining and expanding the parameters of “art rap,” the term he coined as a shorthand for leftfield and avant-garde rap music. On ”Dark Comedy,” which Pitchfork called “one of the most compelling indie-rap listens of ,” he chronicled everything from smartphone addiction to the realities of being an indie artist in the streaming era with self-deprecation and side-splitting absurdity. 2017’s ”Brick Body Kids Still Daydream”(Mello Music Group) marked Eagle’s shift toward examining trauma. Here he waded through the rubble of Chicago’s demolished Robert Taylor Homes, where several family members once lived. Part documentary and part tribute, BBKSD b lended powerful fantasy and grim reality. It illustrated the strength and vulnerability of a community afflicted by institutional racism and the enduring pains of life in the projects. There were few jokes but decades of survival.
Eyelids’ new album, “A Colossal Waste of Light,” does an excellent job of framing the quintet — featuring the brilliant songwriting duo of Chris Slusarenko and John Moen (The Decemberists) — as one of today’s most compelling purveyors of lopsided guitar pop workouts and earworm-laden vocal melodies. It also proves that great guitar pop can still evoke favorites from a glorious past — the penetrating moodiness of XTC’s Black Sea, or R.E.M.’s Fables of the Reconstruction, comes to mind — while refusing to waste time on idle nostalgia.
The Portland band’s fourth full-length album (but 17th vinyl offering if you include previous 7”s and EPs) is the first to feature new bass player Victor Krummenacher (Camper Van Beethoven, Monks of Doom).
Eyelids is also living proof that “never meet your heroes” was a weak excuse that someone with the wrong heroes must have made up. R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck’s return behind the producer’s desk for Eyelids is as glorious and inspired as ever. Buck even joined the proceedings with some additional 12-string magic .
J. Graves is setting out to innovate something different, with bandleader Jessa Graves squeezing a tightly packed ball of anger, grief, and acceptance into her latest album, “Fortress of Fun” — an outpouring of wild fury and plaintive sadness with a dark, angular sound.
Big new ideas abound, not just musically, but conceptually, too. J. Graves have come up with a captivating idea: a “choose your own adventure” album.
The idea was borne from finding a choose-your-own-adventure book in a sci-fi themed studio when recording their previous album, “Deathbed.” Early 2020 was tough for the band; like many artists, their built-up momentum was quickly shuttered by COVID’s insurgence. So, in mid-2020, the band went on a getaway to the coast, and the house they were staying in — lit up at night next to the dark ocean —became known as their “fortress of fun,” an album title that seems immediately at odds with the album’s often-dark undertones, but one that nonetheless suits Graves’s fight to stay in the light.
Each song with a video, through which viewers/listeners can make choices that will lead to further interactive videos. Though the songs are, thematically and contextually, fully distinct from their choose-your-own-adventure video counterparts, the emotion remains raw and real, and J. Graves, with the help of mixer/producer Sylvia Massy, has fine-tuned their sound like never before into something simultaneously painful and buoyant.
J. Graves is Aaron MacDonald (drums), Kelly Clifton (bass), and Jessa Graves (guitar, vocals).
Julian Morris has been writing and recording as Layperson for 10 years. Culling inspiration from salt-of-the-earth lyricists including Iris Dement and Townes Van Zandt, Julian’s music is earnest and true to his life experience. Julian transitioned in 2015, which permanently altered his singing voice. Re-learning the voice as a new instrument allowed him deeper access to expression. Julian, who moved to Portland in 2008, writes and records the majority of his music from home.
The Portland Mercury‘s Ciara Dolan wrote that Layperson’s “songs resonate with the kind of infectious, wide-eyed joy that sounds ready for whatever’s next.”
And Chris Stamm of Willamette Week wrote that “Layperson has a seemingly effortless melodic sensibility that lives in the unlikely zone where Pernice Brothers and Elliott Smith and Tracy Chapman overlap.”
ROMAN NORFLEET AND BE PRESENT ART GROUP
Roman Norfleet And Be Present Art Group are Portland’s premiere spiritual jazz combo.
Roman is an interdisciplinary cultural producer and healer who uses sculpture, music composition, performance and social organizing as instruments in exploring his committed interest in spiritual and social development.
Originally hailing from Lockport, Illinois, Roman’s formative years were spent immersed in the vernacular traditions of the Baptist Church. His development journey led him to Los Angeles where he lived in an ashram and studied Hindu/Vedic Philosophies of Swamini Turiyasangitanada (Alice Coltrane) with her students. These years of deep immersion into his spiritual practices greatly influenced the way Norfleet approaches music and provided expansive insight into the sacred power of sound.
Roman has been surrounded by and involved in music and the arts since a child, but has been further artistically cultivated by the visual art and music scenes of Chicago, Los Angeles and Portland.
As Founder and creative director of “Be Present Art Group” Norfleet believes deeply in the power perception and persistence has on elevating one’s consciousness.
From devotional recordings, to an instrumental beat tape, to an experimental album, he has released a range of expressive projects that address his ever evolving approaches to honoring the divinity of creation. Roman seeks to continue that artistic, expressive expansion by continuing to incorporate visual and performance art elements that challenges the status quo, encourages spiritual expansion and calls for audiences to be present in the now moment.
Gata Galáctica are cool cumbiero cats from another dimension (another dimension) that intend to make your soul squirm & body melt into the soft pudding that life itself began as, billions of years ago. Gata Galáctica are infatuated with the infectious and otherworldly grooves from around the Earth such as Afrobeat, South American Chicha, & psychedelia of past and present. If you’ve ever wanted to BELIEVE, now is your chance…
Portland-based four-piece Rayon, fronted by main songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Eric Sabatino, have a self-described sound as “a life-long post punk and Sonic Youth fan trying to reconcile their love of The Kinks and 60’s British Pop”. An apt description if ever there was one.
Growing up in Michigan, and playing shows and touring across the Midwest and East Coast, have provided a wealth of experience behind Rayon’s unique and true-to-self sound. Influences from the likes of Magazine, Manchester UK in the 80’s, The Kinks, The Cure, Lora Logic, Yoko Ono and Berlin-era Bowie ring clear among Rayon’s growing catalog and sharp angular guitar lines — cutting through their captivating live performances like a well-sharpened knife.
Their new LP, “Colour,” was conceived largely during the height of the pandemic, in hotel rooms and trailers along the Pacific Northwest coastline. Recorded on a 16-track reel-to-reel (which broke and had to be replaced in the middle of recording), the album presented some challenges. But pushing through adversity can bring great results, all of which rings true with Rayon’s new record. “Colour,” released in 2022 on vinyl and cassette tape by Portland-based label Little Cloud Records, is an essential addition to any collection.
Cruise Control is a band of friends from Portland who strum up their love for classic country music through a filter of power pop songwriting. (Think wholesome Carter Family harmonies meet The Velvet Underground — or The Louvin Brothers jamming with Dwight Twilley.) On their debut album, “1st,” the vocals weave sweet like threading sugar, while acoustic rhythms give way to big-time choruses, blending twangy picking and fuzzy leads.
Lo Fives is a garage rock band from Portland. Their fuzzy guitars and frenzied drums evoke a DIY aesthetic that captures a Pacific Northwest basement studio with ample amounts of vitamin D. Lyrically delivering slices of daily life, from pondering the absurdity of media distractions to deciding what to cook for dinner, Lo Fives is an analog band in a digital world. They hark back to time-honored underground rock tropes in the vein of Swell Maps or Mission of Burma, despite trends that may come and go.
LOCATION SERVICES & DEREK HUNTER WILSON
This project brings together modern classical performer Derek Hunter Wilson with Location Services, the duo composed of multi-instrumentalists Mike Grabarek and Joshua Ward. Together, the trio explore a gorgeous zone that touches on the ambient — via Ward’s harp and Wilson’s use of viola and cello — but is often sent even deeper into the psychedelic stratosphere through thick washes of synthesizer and processed sound.
Since moving to Portland in 2018, multi-instrumentalist and composer Maxx Katz has challenged the pre-conceptions — and put pressure on the eardrums — of the local experimental music community. Her ritualistic live performances use flute, electric guitar and her voice in what she calls “a restless negotiation of the limits of communication.” How that translates on stage is a fearless clashing of jazz, modern classical, metal and drone.
ANTS ANTS ANTS
Portland songwriters Johnny Clay (The Dimes) and Dave Gulick (Derby) are embarking on a new and exciting musical collaboration called Ants Ants Ants!
With stylistic nods to 1970s-era Sesame Street, School House Rock, and “The Point” by Harry Nilsson, Ants Ants Ants recalls the best elements of a fun and fanciful childhood!
What is Mo-Fi? A TERRIBLY UNSOPHISTICATED WAY TO HAVE A GREAT TIME!
Mo Phillips is a teaching artist and a fun-time maker in Portland. He writes and records songs, makes oddball videos, and produces choose-your-own-adventure musicals, all in Mo-Fi. Mo-Fi is a way of making art centered on joy and exploration, primarily with inexpensive apps that do silly stuff.
When not teaching songwriting in schools or shredding ukulele for the people, Mo is a dad. That’s his favorite job — the rest is just gravy.