You may remember Karma Rivera (pictured above) from former Portland MC Vinnie DeWayne’s “Portland Female Cypher” video clip of rising local female talent back in 2015, where she blasted from the screen with a rhythmic wit and masterful delivery. Three years on, the Chicago-born hip-hop phenom released her debut EP this summer, a six-track diatribe calling out bad friends and worse lovers. “It’s relationships, friendships, talking about bridges that’ve been burned,” says Rivera. “I can’t say that I’m cool with everybody.” The album sees Rivera move into more melodic terrain, with some smooth R&B layers overlaying her signature rap-attack style. Her plan? To “pop off out of Portland” and find a national audience. “I wanna be seen.” And heard. —FM
For your playlist: “Feel Good”
After Allison Faris’s longtime band, Grandparents, broke up in 2015, she questioned everything—herself included. “I had an identity crisis,” says Faris. “I’d never existed here without that band. I didn’t know who I was artistically anymore.”
This transition period culminated in a realization for Faris: with Grandparents, she’d gotten used to being the only female member. It was time to change that. “I was curious what it would be like to have that kind of creative commitment to women,” she says.
Enter Blackwater Holylight, her new all-female project, whose self-titled debut LP dropped in April to acclaim. Pedal-driven riffs and haunting vocals make up the heaviest imaginable iteration of psych rock. Think Sleep, on mescaline.
Despite the “you guys are really good for girls” comments, Faris welcomes the change. In an all-female band, “our vulnerability is really celebrated,” she says. Watch this sweet-voiced, doom-rocking space. —SP
For your playlist: “Willow”
When beloved indie rockers the Thermals announced the end of their seven-album pop-punk run earlier this year, Portland music fans were bereft. But bassist Kathy Foster brings her own brand of healing with the arrival of Roseblood, in which some of the city’s musical royalty comes together in one guitar-shredding, deep-cutting, hard-rocking band.
With Maggie Vail (Hurry Up, Bangs) on bass, Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Quasi) on drums, and Elly Swope (Focus! Focus!) on guitar, Roseblood is like some kind of fantastical female supergroup born of riot grrrl roots and old Portland indie rock. But Foster is the driving force, writing and recording all the songs herself before pulling together the band to perform them. “Roseblood is primarily me,” says Foster, who is on the lookout for the right label to release her first record: full of guitar-driven, brooding rock with close, fuzzy harmonies and a hint of Mazzy Star twang. —FM
For your playlist: “Black Veil”
If you caught this high-energy soul funk phenomenon at one of several shows this year, you already get it: Sarah Clarke’s swooping, textured vocals, backed by six full-time band members, including a saxophonist, trumpeter, and guitarist/MC; and the jazzy-rocking-hip-hop genre mash-up that ensues. Formed by a gang of Grant High grads, Dirty Revival marked five years together this year with new single “So Cold,” a booty jiggling five minutes of joyous, soulful funk. The B-side? A slowed-down, smoky cover of Nine Inch Nails’s “Closer,” a fully sensuous, multi-instrument reimagining of the grinding electro-rock hit.
According to Clarke, the band’s sound is a blend of everything the members enjoy. “We started as a soul and funk band,” she says, “which was what we felt closest to. But as we’ve evolved, we keep bringing in different elements. So we have heavy-rock riff tunes, and all of the players have jazz backgrounds, so a lot of that creeps into our music. We have an MC so we play a lot of hip-hop. We smash it together in one ball, and that’s what Dirty Revival is.”
After their first East Coast tour this fall, they’re returning to bank some new singles, set to be released over coming months. Portland, be ready. —FM
For your playlist: “Closer”
For Fabi Reyna, describing how Sávila should make listeners feel is easier than describing how the band actually sounds. And even then, it’s still a little fuzzy.
“I want people to feel something that they’ve been wanting to feel, that they’ve been searching for,” says Reyna, who also founded She Shreds, a magazine devoted to women guitarists and bassists. “It’s a primal thing, a sort of instinctual connection.”
Since the trio formed two years ago, Sávila has most often been labelled cumbia. But Reyna—who plays guitar, joined by Brisa Gonzalez on vocals and Papi Fimbres on drums—says that Colombian genre makes a descriptor approximately as precise and meaningful as “rock.” Instead, Reyna considers their style a modern-punk take on Latin music that also draws on R&B, folk, and more experimental genres. Sávila’s eponymous debut album, which appeared in August, adds synths and ’90s club vibes to the sonic stew. The result is atmospheric and hypnotic, insistently—but not aggressively—urging you to dance.
Labels aside, the band allows all three members to tap into their Mexican heritage. “It’s not until you’re an adult that you get to choose: am I going to embrace my Mexican culture or am I going to be embarrassed by it?” Reyna says. “For us, it’s important to show that we are proud of it. We want to get people out of their homes and out of their fear and to feel powerful through our music.” —RJ
For your playlist: “Cántame”
The crushing bleakness of the Body’s May, 2018 release makes itself clear before you hear a single note: The title, I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer, comes from Virginia Woolf’s suicide note. To lump the Portland-via-Providence duo’s music into “metal,” or any of metal’s millions of subgenres, would be a gross oversimplification. It’s a viscerally gut-wrenching conglomeration of the two’s many combined influences, from harsh noise to electronic dance to doom metal. The result on I Have Fought Against It is 50 unrelenting minutes, like getting unwittingly sucked into someone else’s nightmare. (Weirdly, that’s kind of a good thing).
The Body formed in 1999, and relocated to Portland in 2012. Fitting into Portland’s occasionally cliquey heavy music scene has been a struggle for guitarist/vocalist Chip King and drummer/programmer Lee Buford. “When we’re not with our friends, the world’s pretty grim,” says Buford. Friends or otherwise, the Body makes the heaviest, most enigmatic music coming out of Portland right now. —SP
For your playlist: “The West Has Failed”
Haley Heynderickx sings of angry millipedes, sour milk and old olives, a god with thick hips and knockoff Coach bags. Fig trees and indigo skies, hornets’ nests and honeycomb—the images populating her songs could feel twee were they not so vivid, and were Heynderickx not so skilled, with resonant finger picking and a haunting, raw voice.
“All I know is that I’m a hoarder of notebooks,” she says. “I’m just trying to be an observer of our strange American culture. I write down the boring stuff, and see what I can pull from it.”
The Forest Grove-raised musician released her debut album, I Need to Start a Garden, in March. It unleashed a torrent of praise and launched a months-long tour across the US and Europe. When not headlining shows herself, she opened for Ani DiFranco and the Low Anthem. Calling from the road, Heynderickx is grateful for the success, but also eager to return home. “I feel very overstimulated,” she says. “I need complete silence to write. I would love to get back to regular life for a little bit and see if there’s a new batch of songs waiting for me.” —RJ
For your playlist: “The Bug Collector”
Sonia Weber wrote most of Sleeping Lessons, the debut LP from Alien Boy, alone in a basement, surrounded by amps and deeply stuck inside her own head. She was not in a good place.
A year after recording, Sleeping Lessons dropped on August 31. It’s a somber, shoe-gazey coalescence of the loss Weber confronted at the time. Whereas Alien Boy’s previous releases have had a clear pop-punk influence, the inspiration here comes more from darker bands like the Wipers, My Bloody Valentine, and the Smiths. It’s almost as cathartic for the listener as the recording process was for Weber. “After we recorded, I felt lighter,” she says.
The future looks brighter for Weber: Alien Boy recently signed to Tiny Engines—a major indie label for a resolutely DIY band like Alien Boy—and embark on a full U.S. tour with Dump Him this September. Weber sums up the current state of the band as “60 percent fashion, 40 percent guitar, and 150 percent feelings.” Sounds like the perfect recipe. —SP
For your playlist: “Somewhere Without Me”
If you track hometown stars, there’s a good chance you’ve heard Moorea Masa. To date, the 26-year-old’s career includes backup vocals with septuagenarian soul icon Ural Thomas, the Decemberists, El Vy—a side project from the National voice Matt Berninger and Brent Knopf of Ramona Falls and, formerly, Menomena—and country great k.d. lang.
She’s studied in England, spent time in Spain, and even has an American Idol appearance under her belt. But it wasn’t until 2013, when Masa appeared alongside Ural Thomas and the Pain during the singer’s glorious comeback, that she became a known entity around these parts. “Suddenly I started getting all of these offers for backup gigs,” she says.
Watch the Milwaukie-raised R&B-cum-folk singer and you’ll understand what others hope to harness: under a flop of curls, the diminutive powerhouse brings rich, gospel highs, and measured, sultry lows that simmer with earnest emotion. Masa’s debut full-length solo album, Shine a Light, is a tangle of complicated coming-of-age revelations. “All these things came to the surface—all of this darkness,” says Masa. There are allusions to childhood abuse (“Shine a Light”), police violence (“Lover Be Found”), and a make-out number that could give “Let’s Get It On” a run for its money (“I Can’t Tell”). —BT
For your playlist: “I Can’t Tell”
“I’m in six-inch kicks and a fresh new do / and I got my thighs out / body’s so bomb burn your eyes out.” Maarquii—aka Marquise Dickerson—lays it out on “Roll Up”, a single from their debut album C.A.B.O., which introduced the city to their new sound this summer. (Maarquii uses they/them pronouns.) The hip-hop artist, who delivers rat-a-tat rhymes with exuberant sass and brings vogue moves and diva looks to hard-core, no-holds-barred lyrical content, has been winning over Portland fans since their first EP dropped two years ago.
Teaming up with JVNITOR— producers Derek Stilwell and Saint Michael Lorenzo—for the new album resulted in an experimental hip hop and R&B ride through X-rated content that for Dickerson, now 27, represents a coming of age. “I’m very, very, very, very proud of the work, how it’s sounding. I feel like it’s a combination of me growing as an artist and also my relationship with JVNITOR,” says Dickerson. “It’s telling a story of me growing up, basically.” —FM
For your playlist: “Roll Up”
Top Image: Karma Rivera (photo courtesy Renée Lopez)