Three Portland Artists to Watch This Summer

Vortex Music Magazine

What’s old to you is new to someone else. From those with established indie creds stemming from years with The Shaky Hands and Genders, or an R&B collective featuring members who dabble in all sorts of jazzy projects, these creators have a habit of re-emerging with new sounds—it’s what they do. So whether you’re somewhat familiar or they’re all brand new, each of these Portland acts are worth (re)visiting for a dose of soul, folk and dark pop—listen now!

Photo by Todd WalbergPhoto by Todd Walberg


GENRE: Pop rock
ESSENTIAL TRACK: “With A Little Help”
FOR FANS OF: La Luz, Julien Baker, Radiation City

There is an innate mix of humor and darkness in the catchy madness of Sunbathe’s self-titled release. The solo debut from Genders’ guitarist and singer Maggie Morris, this new project explores the personal journey of the artist, particularly her seven-year “breakup” with her dad, while touching on her shifting relationship with Portland itself and the masked reflection of imperfect relationships. Backed by bassist Jenny Logan (Summer Cannibals, Deathlist) and Typhoon’s Pieter Hilton on drums and Shannon Rose Steele on keys, the dark themes are often hidden themselves.

With a touch of Morris’ melancholic wit in every optimistic chord progression and swelling harmony, the nine songs contain elements of swing and psych pop with overdriven bass and masterful guitar flavors. “Wearing sunglasses on your face in a city swallowed by grace... they hide the mistakes you made yesterday,” Morris sings to a punctuated, upbeat, four-on-the-floor beat in "I Feel U (Don't Turn Away)." It’s a touchingly real album from an artist who is constantly navigating how to break out amidst the challenge of balancing work and art, all while maintaining a sense of levity.

“I’m really scheming all the time: What can I do to make it?” Morris muses. “I’m thinking of getting a vehicle I could live out of; move into my van, move into the driveway, and charge someone for my room and make a living being a sort of slumlord,” she jokes.

Ultimately, Sunbathe is bitterly relatable—a dance through trying times. “I feel like I keep writing about that over and over again,” Morris says. “I guess I’ll keep writing about it until it gets better.” —Jeni Wren Stottrup

MOST RECENT RELEASE: Self-titled Sunbathe out now

Photo by Adi ZweierPhoto by Adi Zweier

Tribe Mars

GENRE: R&B, soul
FOR FANS OF: Lauryn Hill, The Roots, Marvin Gaye, BADBADNOTGOOD

From house parties to venue stages, the genre-blending act known as Tribe Mars aim to please—and they rarely miss their mark. After years of perfecting their jazzy, funky sound, the crew recently recruited the ever-soulful singer Vaughn Kimmons (aka Brown Alice, who is also one half of Brown Calculus) as their lead, and the resulting single, “$3 Kung Fu,” is simply mesmerizing.

The band—featuring the aforementioned Kimmons as well as Aaron Brennan on bass, Robert Grubaugh on drums, Brett Van Patten on guitar and vocals, Shawn Dungee on trumpet and vocals, Andre Burgos on keys (aka Brown Calvin, the other half of Brown Calculus), and Santigie Fofana-Dura serving as the group’s emcee—are preparing to release their first full-length album this fall. And while they’re keeping a tight lid on the details, the seven-piece have been spending time with local podcaster Dan Cable, whose new documentary on Tribe will feature several live songs recorded at The Secret Society in April.

Despite having only six songs available online, Tribe Mars have built an impressive real-life following through their wildly entertaining performances and grassroots appeal. Blossoming stars in various underground music circles, their principal means of promotion has been word of mouth. Easily one of Portland's best kept secrets, I'm not sure they'll be able to hold that title much longer. —Mac Smiff

UPCOMING RELEASE: Tribe Mars’ self-titled debut LP is out this fall

Photo by Ingrid RenanPhoto by Ingrid Renan

Nick Delffs

GENRE: Folk pop
FOR FANS OF: Bright Eyes, Elbow, Divers

Nick Delffs is an unlikely candidate for an “artist to watch.” After all, Delffs has had eyes on him for the last 15 years. As frontman for preeminent indie-roots crew The Shaky Hands, it would be easy to cite his notoriety as requisite pedigree for the success of all sorts of musical endeavors. It’s the maturity Delffs has found on his new solo LP Redesign, however, that actually proves it.

Redesign picks up somewhere just beyond the ethereal vibes of confessional, experimental folk. Delffs pines for an escape from the foreboding grid of modern life on the pleading, multi-instrumental brooder “Somewhere Wild.”

The Zen-like triumph of the title track finds Delffs overcoming the thorny perils of life, and instead recalibrating, even letting go. It’s the meditative element that is most compelling, backdropped as it is by a watery musical ambience befitting such self-searching songcraft.

“Song for Aja” is probably the best example of Delffs’ sunny disposition, in a gooey ode to his 6-year-old son that buoyantly enumerates the pair’s daily tasks while twinkling pianos dance around a tom-heavy beat. It’s the kind of song that will make you pumped to be alive, and that’s a remarkable thing from someone who put out an album under the name Death Songs. —Ryan J. Prado

UPCOMING RELEASE: Redesign out July 21 via Mama Bird Recording Co.

Listen to some of the hottest cuts from these rising artists below before catching Nick Delffs at Mississippi Studios on Friday, July 21 and both Tribe Mars and Sunbathe at PDX Pop Now! on July 21 to 23!

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