“We’re headed for Woodstock,” sings Isaac Eiger on Strange Ranger’s 2015 single “Stinks to Be You.” The line is delivered with an air of sly nonchalance, but it would still probably take a local to pick up on his meaning. No, Eiger isn’t fantasizing about trekking to the landmark music festival—he’s actually referring to the neighborhood in Southeast Portland, where, as the song details, he begrudgingly waits to catch a bus to a party, although he’d rather stay in.
That was back when the band went by the name Sioux Falls, and when they still called Portland home: last November, the group relocated to indie-rock hotbed Philadelphia. Six months later, they return for their first Portland show since the big move. On Sunday, June 2, Strange Ranger plays the Doug Fir in anticipation of their third full-length album, Remembering the Rockets, out July 26 on Tiny Engines.
Those keyed into the city’s indie rock scene might’ve been surprised to hear of Strange Ranger’s departure, and things don’t feel quite the same without them. Over the course of the band’s seven-year tenure in Portland, they had become one of the scene’s defining voices and were a ubiquitous presence across town. So why leave? The answer, according to Eiger, was simple: “We were just kind of looking for a change,” he says.
Eiger and bassist Fred Nixon started playing music together in high school in Montana before moving to Portland in 2011. Having spent their entire lives in the west, they felt it was time to scope out the other coast. Philadelphia, which plays host to a number of prominent, like-minded groups already (Alex G, Hop Along, etc.), seemed as good a spot as any. There’s also a more practical reason for the move.
“It’s easier to tour out of Philly,” says drummer Nathan Tucker—it’s just a few hours to New York City, Baltimore, or Washington, DC. (Tucker’s own band, Cool Original, was also a staple of the Portland scene before the move.)
Many have compared Strange Ranger’s sound to seminal Northwest bands like Built to Spill and Modest Mouse, and they certainly owe a debt to the music of the region’s past (on “Stinks to Be You,” Eiger even imagines himself signing to legendary Olympia-based label K Records). Their Portland lineage can be heard especially on their 2016 debut album, Rot Forever, with its intricate guitar lines and sprawling jams that evoke Doug Martsch and Isaac Brock in equal measure. But their follow-up, 2017’s Daymoon, saw the band taking a more delicate approach, favoring softer dynamics and gentle keyboards over blistering guitars, and Remembering the Rockets promises even more sonic variation—from ambient instrumental interludes to auto-tuned vocal effects.
It’s fitting, perhaps, that with their departure from Portland the band is also beginning to move beyond the sound of bands that used to define them. Yet it’s actually a Portland-based musician, Dylan M. Howe, with whom they credit much of this record’s new sound. Howe introduced them to bands like Primal Scream and contributed production on a number of songs, imbuing the new album with sampled drum rhythms that draw from trip-hop and other electronic-leaning genres.
“Working with Dylan was a big part of the stylistic shift from the last record,” Nixon says.
For now, you can listen to the first single off the new album, “Leona,” which plays as a sort of cross between the new and the old Strange Ranger. Buoyant vocal hooks and scuzzy guitar riffs recall their ’90s alt-rock forebears, but the song’s droning electronic textures and glittering synth lines stand out as distinctly new flourishes. Listen to the single here:
9 p.m. Sun, Doug Fir Lounge, $12–15