New Year, New Music: Three Portland Artists to Watch in 2018

Vortex Music Magazine

Whether looking inward for inspiration or finding it in the wide world outside, our next class of fresh local talent features multifaceted songwriters and instrumentalists creating narrative soundscapes and R&B-leaning hip-hop and pop. And while they may work well with others, they more than pull their own weight on their latest releases. It’s new music for a new year so listen to Drowse, Reo Cragun and Salvatore Manalo here!

Photo by Matt VrviloPhoto by Matt Vrvilo


GENRE: Ambient rock
FOR FANS OF: My Bloody Valentine, Unwound, Codeine, Explosions in the Sky

Kyle Bates has been unabashed in chronicling the oft-times spiraling mental escapades he’s endured throughout his young life. On his first LP under the Drowse moniker, 2015’s Soon Asleep, Bates brought the realities of prescription medication to aural life, documenting the aftermath of being diagnosed bipolar and surviving a suicide attempt by way of washes of narcotic noise. It’s dark stuff, to be sure, but Bates’ ability to reflect on the valleys of his life make the peaks all the loftier.

On his upcoming sophomore LP, Cold Air, his obsessive home-recording regimen yielded similarly inward-looking poetry, this time adorned with a broader palette of sounds, from the foggy folk of the Maya Stoner-accompanied “Klonopin” to the post-punk romp of “Rain Leak.” The record is interspersed with an audio interview with Bates’ mother, wherein she recollects some startling moments of his childhood, including finding him naked in his bedroom with a knife in his hands.

Throughout Cold Air, Bates keeps one foot firmly planted in the shadows of a harrowing, unspoiled self-analysis, and the other just outside of its casting. The results are stunning, and admittedly sometimes concerning, but the record as evidence of healing is ultimately a triumphant vivisection of the psyche. Even when he’s allowing the warble of distant vocals to inform the bleakness of lyrics like, “You’ll never know me without a seizure at age 4 / absent eyes, ambulance ride, life: a closing door,” Bates’ exploratory ambience is somehow uplifting by relation—by the sentiment that despite the isolation and hardship of our lowest points, we are never truly alone. —Ryan J. Prado

UPCOMING RELEASE: Cold Air out March 9

Photo by Kathleen ManaloPhoto by Kathleen Manalo

Salvatore Manalo

FOR FANS OF: John Mayer, Allen Stone, Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder

From an early age, Salvatore Manalo’s parents exposed him to a lot of oldies and Motown music. To say it had an impact on his songwriting and understanding of good pop music would be quite the understatement—it is transparent in his soulful R&B tunes.

Born in Vancouver, Wash., Manalo’s family moved around quite a bit throughout his childhood, but at age 13, he picked up a guitar and it became one of the few constants in his life. It led him to the prestigious Berklee College of Music as well as an audience on YouTube. Playing covers and originals for his more than 16,000 subscribers, he’s racked up 2.5 million views, landed back in Portland, and built a supportive online community to fund his first EP via Kickstarter.

Spending the last year fine-tuning songs for the five-track Salvatore, the resulting production—recorded at The Rye Room—is full of catchy pop, tasty grooves, big hooks, and bluesy guitar riffs, reminiscent of early John Mayer records. The matureness of this debut collection makes you feel like you’re listening to tunes crafted by a veteran artist, when in reality this was his first go at making a professionally recorded batch of songs.

The smoothness of Manalo’s voice is like butter, his guitar playing is technically precise, and his ear for songwriting is tasteful and to the point—all of which will have you singing along to the chorus by the end of every song. Delivering live performances that are as calm and humble as his demeanor, his music is uplifting and hopeful—and this new EP is another reminder that the Portland music scene cannot be defined by one genre of music. —Dan Cable

MOST RECENT RELEASE: Salvatore out now

Reo Cragun

GENRE: R&B, hip-hop
FOR FANS OF: Chris Brown, Khalid, 6lack

In the world of popular music, Vancouver, Wash., is not a name that’s oft dropped. Yet within the Portland metro area, our northern neighbor has produced some fantastic independent artists and crooner Reo Cragun appears poised to be the next musical success story out of the Evergreen State’s fourth largest city.

As a kid, Cragun picked up a new instrument each year, learning piano, guitar, violin and trumpet while also focusing on his vocals. I first heard Cragun in 2015 when he was working with the rap duo 2Reps, singing hooks and such. It wasn’t long before I’d heard he’d moved to L.A., leaving a full scholarship on the table at Washington State, and was working with some quality industry producers.

Fast forward to 2017 and Cragun has proven himself. After gaining buzz with a slew of hot singles, including collaborations with artists such as Troy Ave and Nipsey Hussle (listen below), the 6-foot-3-inch former biology major signed to Virgin Records and dropped his impressive freshman project, Growing Pains, over the summer, followed by a Bumbershoot set and a string of dates opening for Lil Yachty. A high-caliber singer, Cragun has a few bars as well, allowing him to create a standout hip-hop-influenced R&B record void of any noticeable vocal features.

The 23-year-old Cragun seems grounded as well. In a recent XXL interview, he stated his desire to be a role model, and he’s been spotted around his hometown working with local hip-hop artists such as I$$A. With millions of Spotify plays under his belt, Cragun is definitely on his way. Vancouver should be proud. —Mac Smiff

MOST RECENT RELEASE: Growing Pains out now

Listen to some new cuts from these artists below and then catch Drowse's album release show at The Know on Saturday, March 24.

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