PDX Pop Now! presses play on Portland local artists

Portland’s music scene is as unique as its residents. So many artists and groups are born (and fade from existence) every year that, upon arriving in Portland, whether a wide-eyed freshman in the big city for the first time, like me, or a jaded navigator of subculture, the rainbow of sounds on display can
be overwhelming. 

While the Portland scene is undoubtedly vibrant and welcoming, it can be difficult to parse without a leg up. There is the tried and true method of falling down an Instagram rabbit hole, feverishly scrolling through chains of following lists and trying to build a mental network of local artists. I have discovered many great bands just by going to DIY shows with lineups full of names I have never heard of. 

Even so, it can be hard enough to distinguish the genuinely good house shows from those that are little more than an excuse for college students to get blackout drunk and vomit on someone else’s lawn, let alone to know what you are missing out on. What better way to find your new favorite underground artist than to blindly hear a song and fall in love? 

A compilation of each year’s best songs out of Portland, submitted directly by the artists and voted on by real, everyday music enthusiasts without any agenda or financial stake, sounds almost too good to be true in today’s corporate and algorithm-driven landscape.
Head over to pdxpopnow.com, and this is exactly what you will find. Sixty songs are available to listen for free on Bandcamp, and even better, this compilation was assembled
completely organically.

Musical artists submit their own songs for consideration, and the listening committee then divides up to listen to and vote on the hundreds of submissions, narrowing them down to the most critically rated songs from each genre. The compilation is a true display of the year’s best music, according
to listeners. 

One of the most interesting features of the compilation is that songs are not distinguished by genre. I recommend hitting play on the first song and listening straight through, with permission to skip a song if it does not grab you. You will be treated to a fun cross section of every genre and mix or subversion therein that the Portland scene has to provide. It feels like a friend made a mixtape of their favorite music for you. Just as you can learn a lot about a person through their music taste, I felt closer to the Portland community while listening to this compilation. Here are some of my recommendations to get
you started.

If you are alone at night and feeling melancholy, look no further than the soulful “I Would Go Home” by South Tabor for a Portland folk song complete with a harmonica solo and beautifully raw vocals. “Couldn’t Talk Right” by Small Town Sci-Fi is a solid, if derivative, Pavement-esque garage rock song celebrating the typical indie plight of awkwardness with catchy rhymes and
punchy hooks. 

If you want to discover local rappers, check out these two: “usual,lee” by OfF.Brand is a really playful song with cheeky lyrics for anyone who is just vibing their own way, brought together by great production and sax for a smooth-as-butter
listen. On the other hand, in “Biketown,” MLTZR & Dusty Fox offer a contemporary critique of Portland culture with intelligently crafted lyrics that flow seamlessly through its
two-minute duration. 

With a delightfully energetic groove that does not take itself too seriously and refuses to be pinned down, “Cucumber Vodka” showcases Johnny Franco’s quirky sound which has quickly become a Portland favorite. If you enjoy the soft-loud-soft sound and some good ol’ noise, check out “Placeless” by How Strange It Is for layered guitar riffs, top-notch vocals — and
chimes! In a similar vein, but with even more noise and a classic punk sound, “Cherry” by Saint Remy showcases some extremely tight drum fills and tasteful feedback.

This handful barely scratches the surface of the great music to be discovered in the 2023 compilation. I highly recommend giving it a full listen for yourself, or even scrolling through and randomly clicking on some titles that stick out. Even if the music is not your cup of tea, the next time someone brings up that up-and-coming artist at a party, you can sound super
smart and cool. 

If you are a musician thinking, “Boy, I wish my song could be discovered and reviewed in a prestigious publication like the Mossy Log, too!’” then good news: Song submissions for the 2024 compilation are open until March 12, via an online form at pdxpopnow.com. Alternatively, if you want to help
choose the tracklist for the 2024 compilation, community members can apply to join the listening committee by filling out a short online form. No experience or knowledge is required, just passion for local music and willingness to dedicate your time. 

Who came up with all this anyway, you ask? PDX Pop Now! began in 1998 as a listserv full of people passionate about growing and promoting the Portland music scene. In the early years of the internet, a group of forward-thinking music lovers harnessed its power to connect and
share information. 

Before long, they began to produce a yearly music festival to showcase the energy of the scene and the artists that they promoted. The first festival was in 2004, and in 2007 PDX Pop Now! registered as a nonprofit organization to ensure longevity of their mission. The organization remains completely volunteer-run. Board members’ resumes boast their genuine passion for the Portland creative community, listing bands, shows and festivals, recording studios, radio and
visual arts. 

“As an all-volunteer organization committed to being accessible, current, and local, we provide and support live performances and recorded materials. We aspire to advance a sustainable community which values inclusivity and a high caliber of artistry to enable a creative dialogue between artist and audience,” the PDX Pop Now! website states. 

In service of this mission, PDX Pop Now! also partners with the Portland Radio Project to host a show at 99.1 FM Mondays 7-8 p.m. which broadcasts local music and
artist interviews.

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