Three Portland Artists to Watch This Spring

Vortex Music Magazine

This city is so full of talent that it’s easy to miss rising acts the first time around. But consistency is key and two of these artists have shown a penchant for pop aesthetics fused with gloom and heavy metal on their sophomore records, while the third is an experienced player in the rap game who continues to make himself known. These fresh Portland sounds from Little Star, Skull Diver and Cassow deserve your attention—listen below!

Photo by Sam GehrkePhoto by Sam Gehrke


GENRE: Psych metal
FOR FANS OF: Mazzy Star, Sleep, Lana Del Rey

Through the buzz of heavily delayed guitars calls a whisper of a voice like an incantation, casting a spell over droning drums. But Skull Diver are more than spellcasters—they’re wizards deftly creating a massive sound that dances between metal, electropop and psych rock. With an omniscient stage presence, sisters Ally and Mandy Payne, with drummer Zanny Geffel (of The Cabin Project), have quickly turned heads in Portland’s rock scene with their present and mesmerizing sets.

Having arrived in Portland after a strict upbringing in Utah, the sisters have embraced this city, which they like to call their “big, weird, crazy, extended family”—a network that includes local drag royalty Patrick Buckmaster starring in the erotic nightmare that is their debut music video.

Blurring genres, Skull Diver are deeply orchestral and have found themselves sharing stages with artists like Hustle and Drone, Reptaliens and Thee Oh Sees, and although they’ve yet to release their sophomore effort, they’re already planning to hit the studio again to record an EP of duets with various local artists. Pushing boundaries and traditional conventions, the trio are ready to challenge audiences with their immersive visual and sonic potential. —Jeni Wren Stottrup (who is also the lady behind Gritty Birds and you can celebrate two years of the podcast with Skull Diver and Coco Columbia at Kelly's Olympian on Friday, May 12!)

UPCOMING RELEASE: Chemical Tomb will be self-released on May 28 but you can find their unreleased track "Nightmare Castle" on Vortex's vinyl comp—order here!

Photo by Nik PoppPhoto by Nik Popp


GENRE: Hip-hop
ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Never Know”—watch the video below
FOR FANS OF: Schoolboy Q, Nas, Curren$y

Sometimes your brightest young star is a local vet. Such seems to be the case with rapper Cassow—pronounced like Picasso without the Pi.

Going back to his first release in 2012, the NEP rapper just never seems to miss. Blessed with superior artistic vision and an ear for quality, Cassow has worked with some of the best producers Portland has to offer—Trox, recent EYRST signee Stewart Villain and a young TYuS—still he always emerges with his own unique sound. Oh, and he makes crazy videos too.

With his raspy voice and clever rhymes, Cassow can make you feel some type of way about anything, all while convincing you he could care less. His ruggedly emotional, yet curiously detached style is as appealing as it is intense, adding to the cult-like air of mystery that surrounds the rapper and his GOTY affiliates.

2017 might be his biggest year yet. Tag-teaming the wave with his old buddy TYuS, Cassow helped sell out the Hawthorne with an electric performance late last year, and word has it he’s readying new material. No time like the present to hop on the wave. —Mac Smiff

UPCOMING RELEASE: YOMMWIB (You Only Miss Me When I'm Busy) out this summer

Photo by Nitro EaganPhoto by Nitro Eagan


GENRE: Art pop
ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Calming Ritual #1”
FOR FANS OF: Elliott Smith, The Cure, The Good Life

On their second full-length record, Portland’s Little Star transcend the art-pop paradigm, brandishing smart, dark and melancholy songwriting into a strangely uplifting listen. The eponymously titled album finds guitarist and vocalist Dan Byers confronting the rigors of antidepressants through narcotic vignettes, exposing both an acquiescence and a rebellion that is wielded in stunning ways through his lilting falsetto.

Little Star’s 2016 full-band debut, Being Close, introduced the band’s intimate pop songwriting to a wider audience, leading to a steady onslaught of live shows. Along with the deft support of bassist and vocalist Julian Morris, the band have exuded a veteran status despite their brief existence.

The breakneck new wave of album opener “Mood” lathers Byers’ ultra-personal lyricism with Johnny Marr-like guitar aptitude, as Byers opens up singing: “I can be myself, figure out how to feel good without Zoloft / The mood will come, the mood will go / My life is empty and useless without you in it / I can take this feeling / and make it useful / to someone else.” On the subsequent “Yamaguchi,” Byers confesses: “It kills my motivation / it kills my imagination / I just wanna watch TV / I just wanna go to sleep / But I still care even though I’m a pill-popping guy.” In the album’s first two songs, Byers bravely foregoes the trappings of self-consciousness, and instead pivots to transform the taboo into moments of beautiful empowerment.

Later, “Annacortes” erupts in a Perry Farrell mutant-pop jam that coalesces with shrieking guitar feedback and a loud-quiet-loud dynamic, effectively offering a perfect demarcation of the sultriness, the sweetness, the ferocity and the ambivalence of one of Portland’s most exciting young bands. —Ryan J. Prado

UPCOMING RELEASE: Self-titled Little Star out now on Good Cheer Records

Listen to some of the hottest cuts from these rising artists below!

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