Some Experienced Portland Artists to Watch This Spring

Vortex Music Magazine

Years of ambiguity, rocking dive bars and just general woodshedding have led these artists to the records they’re now releasing and the stages they’re now headlining. The lesson? Hard work pays off. It can be a slog to get wherever you’re going, but allow some heavy tones, psychedelic songwriting and live band hip-hop to get you there. Find your path while listening to new music from Ezza Rose, BlackWater HolyLight and The Pariahs.

Photo by Adam DemorestPhoto by Adam Demorest


GENRE: Dream rock
ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Baby, Come Down”
FOR FANS OF: PJ Harvey, Radiohead, Sharon Van Etten

In a social and political environment where words carry as much weight as a feather in the wind, Ezza Rose’s new album No Means No reminds listeners to take ownership of the words we share with one another, as they are the heart of compassionate communication. This advice may be important enough to scream, but Rose’s velvety, inviting vocals offer a different approach. This gives listeners an opportunity to do just that: Hear the lyrics and the message they intend to deliver.

Perhaps the graceful strength behind Rose’s lyrics can be attributed to the obstacles in communication she’s had to overcome throughout her life. She grew up in a small town outside of San Diego where her learning style proved to be different than the expectations the education system placed on her. While some might feel defeated by hearing, “You can’t do it,” the strong will handed down to Rose from generations of women in her family helped her turn these obstacles into creative opportunities. When Rose was 18, she left that tiny burg of Julian, Calif., to attend New York City's American Musical and Dramatic Academy, where she found her voice.

“I never planned on being a musician,” Rose tells. “I wrote songs to learn how to put emotions into a proper box; being creative gives people a healthy way to deal with hard things, to share those things with society in a way that helps people relate to it.”

No Means No is the fourth album from Rose since 2011. Her voice is sweet and gentle as ever, with an added clarity and grit that make her presence all the more hypnotizing. The atmosphere has evolved into dreamy rock and roll thanks to the hauntingly enticing electric guitar riffs of Craig Rupert, which replace the echoes of more folksy strings from her previous albums. Alec England’s rhythmic presence on bass and Ray Johnson’s steady drums deliver both consistency and juxtaposition from one song to the next. And it’s all drizzled with enough psychedelic solos to keep your ears too curious to wander away. —Skylor Powell

UPCOMING RELEASE: No Means No is out this summer—watch our live session with Ezza Rose below and see photos from it here

Photo by Rose LéonPhoto by Rose Léon

The Pariahs

GENRE: Hip-hop
FOR FANS OF: Soulquarians, Oddisee & Good Compny, Black Milk & Nat Turner

Raw talent, passion, energy, and the hunger to consistently raise the bar of the community that surrounds them—this describes the five-piece hip-hop crew The Pariahs. And the funky, soulful sounds emanating from their debut four-track EP, Introducing...The Pariahs, is an exceptional demonstration of what this band is capable of, capturing the vibe and love for their craft that they bring to people on stage and off.

Dialing in their lineup two years ago, The Pariahs showed patience before creating their first official release—they got to know each other, jammed things out, and took the time to perfect their sound, discovering what makes their nucleus strong. Their brand of live hip-hop stems from an ability to blend individual stylistic influences. Guitarist Brandon Lindsey brings a Jimi Hendrix-like grit to his bluesy style, Andre Burgos (Brown Calculus, Tribe Mars) adds a jazzy, J Dilla timing to the keys, and Frank Irwin is one of the most dynamic and animated bass players in the city, bouncing back and forth between upright and electric. Drummer Shandon Fox’s touch on the kit is effortless, providing an anchor for a band who weaves so many genres together. This all sets the table for the group’s high-powered emcee Wes Guy, who uses the canvas for storytelling, witty references, socially conscious bars, and showing off his singing voice.

While you can hear this level of musicianship on the EP, seeing it in the flesh is where you gain an understanding of how all the pieces fit together—from the joy on their faces as they share the experience together to the immense respect they hold for one another’s ideas. That reverence flows from the inside out and into their Hive Mind Collective, a group of musicians—including Tribe Mars, ADDverse Effects and Korgy & Bass—dedicated to live hip-hop, sharing creativity, and pushing each other forward. With the community housing some of the city’s most exciting and engaging bands, The Pariahs are right where they belong. —Dan Cable

MOST RECENT RELEASE: Introducing...The Pariahs out now—watch a live vid from the quintet below

BlackWater HolyLight

GENRE: Witch psych
ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Wave of Conscience”
FOR FANS OF: Chelsea Wolfe, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin

Psych rock is enduringly imbued with a sense of enigma, hypnotism and a heaviness that seeps into your soul. Upon first listen to BlackWater HolyLight, it’s easy to be mesmerized by the soft accentuations of lyrics, a dark chant lulling you to rest. It seems innocent when the tempo quickens, then the bottom drops out and you’re firmly indoctrinated into the cult of a band as wicked as Portland’s psych scene has seen in years.

The quartet’s unhurried public rollout mirrors the feel of their sets, with a simple Instagram featuring ghostly photos of the four women behind some of the city’s most imaginative bands followed by underground shows—including a set on the strip club stage at Devil’s Point—and a growing buzz.

A beloved band breakup paid off for Portlanders wanting to hear the voice and sludgier side of bassist Allison Faris after her years making psych-pop with Grandparents. Collaborating with fellow lyricist Laura Hopkins (Laura Palmer’s Death Parade) on guitar and Cat Hoch on drums, BlackWater HolyLight wrote the bulk of their record before bringing on synth sorceress Sarah McKenna (Dan Dan, Aan) to complete their slow-burning, dramatic vibe. It’s a group of heavy-hitting leading instrumentalists coming together to tear down the patriarchy in a perfectly maniacal fashion.

The eight tracks on their self-titled debut blend the moodiness of artists like Black Sabbath and Chelsea Wolfe with the experimentation of Captain Beefheart. It’s a record best played with a candle lit and whiskey in hand, artfully produced by Cameron Spies (formerly Radiation City; currently Night Heron, Aan) and driven by the masterful, rhythmic play of the artists. And for the fullest, loudest effect, experience the spell-crafting sonic capacities of all four women live. With accolades in local and national press multiplying, post-release plans are still developing. But one thing is sure, according to Faris: a follow-up is not far behind. —Jeni Wren Stottrup

MOST RECENT RELEASE: BlackWater HolyLight out now

Listen to BlackWater HolyLight's debut record below and then catch them rocking the St. Johns Bizarre with Wild Ones, Vursatyl, Tribe Mars, Fritzwa and many more on Saturday, May 12.

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