A bastion of independent thinking and creative freedom, it’s no surprise that Portland is a hotbed for musicians looking for a start off the beaten path. While it may lack the polish of Nashville or the glamour of Los Angles and New York City, Portland can definitely hold its own as one of the nation’s most musical cities.
1. Don’t Carry It All – The Decemberists – 2011
One of Portland’s most popular locally raised bands, The Decemberists are also one of the most commercially successful. With songs based on folklore and historical events, The Decemberists bring a literal and historical element to their live shows with reenactments and other eclectic shows. The band has released eight studio albums and were nominated for a Grammy Award in 2011.
2. We Used To Be Friends – The Dandy Warhols – 2003
Formed in 1994, The Dandy Warhols are one of Portland’s best-known alternative rock bands. Especially popular in the 90’s and early 2000’s, The Dandy Warhols are a great example of Portland’s syncretism, melding elements of garage rock, synthpop and psychedelic rock into a unique sound.
3. I Know You Know – Esperanza Spalding – 2008
Best known for her surprise Grammy win in 2008, Esperanza Spalding was no shock to her Portland community that was aware of her meteoric rise. The child phenom has matured into a pillar of Portland’s jazz community and a talented composer, bandleader and music educator.
4. Santa Monica – Everclear – 1995
Formed in the transitory period between grunge rock and 2000’s rock, Everclear is a great example of the post-grunge world. While they contain elements of grunge, they also paved their own path with more melodic riffs and lyrics and a much more mainstream influence.
5. Say Yes – Elliot Smith – 1997
Tragic Elliot Smith was imbued with melancholy, from his lyrics, melodies, instrumentation, unfortunate personal issues and ultimate untimely death. But from his personal pain was left a wide and long-lasting influence on generation after generation of artists, musicians and listeners.
6. Cherry – Chromatics – 2017
Formed in 2001, Chromatics build electronic symphonies off a variety of instruments and synthesizers. Their unique music builds on the synth pop of the 80s, the electronics of the 2000’s and dream pop from the 2010’s. The result is one of Portland’s most popular musical acts.
7. Here’s Your Future – The Thermals – 2006
The Thermals are an example of Portland’s DIY community that focuses on lo-fi production and local engagement with the community for marketing. Their music also often focuses on political and religious imagery, making them one the most genuine and earnest bands today.
8. Mountaintops in Caves – Talkdemonic – 2006
One of Portland’s most interesting groups, Talkdemonic is an avant-instrumental duo that can only be described as a mixture of both folk melodies and electronic instrumentation. The duo has released four albums and tour widely in the region.
9. Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second – STRFKR – 2008
One of Portland’s many indie bands, STRFKR takes great pride in their musical independence and self confidence. In one of the strange twists of life, the band intent on not having success in music, has become one of Portland’s most beloved indie bands. They have released five studio albums and gone on several commercially successful tours.
10. Sun Song – Laura Veirs – 2013
Folk singer-songwriter Laura Veirs is one of the most unique and multi-talented artists today. She’s worked on iconic albums such as Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie and Lowell, has published a successful children’s book, has released several albums and still manages to host a podcast surrounding parents in music. The folk star has become a Portland indie celebrity and is sought out for albums and collaborations.
11. Mine’s Not A High Horse – The Shins – 2003
One of the original proponents of a genre that would later become known as indie rock, The Shins are a popular band across the world. Their album Chutes Too Narrow would become a genre classic, and would lead to appearances on late night TV, television and movie soundtracks.
12. Feel It Still – Portugal. The Man – 2017
A throwback to a more experimental era for rock, Portugal. The Man combines elements of psychedelic rock with more modern indie influences to create one of the most popular groups out of contemporary Portland. Also common to Portland bands, Portugal. The Man are actively involved in political and social movements trending towards progressivism and environmentalism.
13. The Story I Heard – Blind Pilot – 2008
With three albums and an EP out, Blind Pilot are well established in Portland’s indie rock scene. The band also tours widely, especially in the Pacific Northwest.
14. Indian Reservation – Paul Revere and the Raiders – 1971
One of the most popular roots rock, western rock and Americana bands, Paul Revere and the Raiders helped to pave the way for future Portland bands by establishing a legacy of lyrics that tackled history, social ills and cultural movements.
15. Blues Off My Shoulder – Robert Cray – 2012
One of Portland’s most successful blues stars, Robert Cray has won five Grammy Awards is one of the most influential living blues artists today.
16. Sympathique – Pink Martini – 2006
A bizarre mixture of classical, pop, jazz, Latin and rock, Pink Martini provide a truly unique listening experience. This multi-instrumental, multi-lingual group provide a truly global perspective on music, giving listeners pieces influenced by any country or period.
17. The High Road – Broken Bells – 2010
A side project from one of the original members of the The Shins, Broken Bells represents an even more atmospheric and experimental take on music. At times categorized as “space rock”, Broken Bells features a synth sound mixed with electronic beats.
18. Strong Tower – Kutless – 2005
Unusual for the Pacific Northwest, but not the decade, Kutless was one of the 2000’s most popular Christian rock bands and helped popularize the genre among a wider audience. With over three million albums sold world-wide, Kutless were one of the most popular bands of their genre’s generation.
19. Excuse Generator – Lithics – 2018
A truly experimental band, indie pop group Lithics combine avant-garde lyrics with a sound built from electronic, synth pop and rock influences.
20. Oom Sha La La – Haley Heynderickx – 2018
Another young, rising folk talent from Portland, Heynderickx combines classic fingerstyle guitar licks with evocative lyrics and messages. Her debut album I Need To Start A Garden won critical acclaim and put her on the spotlight as one of indie folk’s budding stars.
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