Reptaliens Are a Trippy Sci-Fi Band Time-Traveling from 1991—and We Dig It

The Portland group's inspirations include Of Montreal, Philip K. Dick, and of course, Gorgon, ruler of the third dimension.

By Marty Patail April 25, 2019

It's hard to define exactly what type of band Reptaliens is. Synth pop is probably the most accurate label—or "dreamwave," as the Portland band's own PR materials call it. Their vibe is certainly dreamy, both in their analog pads and soft vocals, as well as in the band's grainy, VHS-filtered visuals, which capitalize on the current hipness of all things retro and analog. (As a proud Xennial, I recall a time when digital was the new analog.)

But there's another layer of opaque oddity to the band's retro schtick. Sci-fi influences abound, for instance. Reptaliens' sophomore album, VALIS (out April 26) is named after a 1981 Philip K. Dick story of the same title, a trippy tale about a character named Horselover Fat, satellite beams from distant star systems, and the search for the messiah(s?). Going down the Wikipedia rabbit hole of Dick's book—which, I admit, I have not read—is to find yourself quickly lost in talk of pink laser beams and gnostic Christianity.

That is very much like watching the band's video to "Shuggie 2," the first single off VALIS. It's a poorly—nay, charmingly—green-screened collage of flowers, cannibalistic cooking classes, and dancing aliens in silver robes. On the surface, the lyrics, minimal, soft, and trancelike, dreamily sung by the band's excellently named Bambi Browning, betray only a vague, romantic longing: "When you’re not with me / I know that something’s missing / Oh oh Shuggie." 

My inner need for exegesis screams, but what does it mean? Perhaps Shuggie signifies some elusive truth—a pink laser of knowledge from space. Or maybe it's just a fun pop album and I should stop overthinking it.

In an email from the road, band members were no help. Instead, they offered a travelogue of sorts of their adventures so far, which only provoked more questions. We'll just let your imagination fill in the details:

We ate acid at Coachella last weekend. Made it to a show in a tow truck. Austin got a gun pulled on him in San Francisco. We drove through a tornado in Texas. Ate the best Indian food at Takal travel center in Laramie, WY. Kayaked into a bat cave in Austin, TX. Paid $400 for a room at a Super 8. Phoenix Lee wore a neck brace. A pirate threw change at us in Las Vegas. Julian saw the bad man in El Paso.

You can see Reptaliens tonight—Thursday, April 25—at the Wonder Ballroom—or listen to VALIS on April 26. Perhaps we will all find out who (or what) Shuggie is. 

Reptaliens (with Turnover and Turnstile)

7:30 p.m. Thu, Apr 25, Wonder Ballroom, $30

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