“Sometimes it feels like we’re scoring a film,” describes singer-songwriter Malachi Graham, one half of the moody synth pop duo Small Million. “To write words to match that intensity, I almost have to close my eyes and picture the imaginary movie.”
She’s speaking of the cinematic soundscapes her partner and producer Ryan Linder labors over, layering guitars and synths for endless hours as he inspires and crafts deep and emotional songs—while “ruining my posture and slowly losing my social skills grâce à mon ordinateur [thanks to my computer],” Linder quips. Sonically, Linder analogizes that Small Million is: “If Anthony Gonzalez from M83 fell asleep at the wheel while listening to Sylvan Esso.” And while their music is ripe with modern electronic and pop references, Graham, as vocalist and lyricist, still retains shades of her Americana- and country-tinged upbringing—her love for the original rockstars of American folk music: the Carter Family.
An early mix of the group’s first track, “Six Feet” (listen below), appeared on the 2014 PDX Pop Now! comp, and it was this audible moment “where it felt like our collaboration was starting to click,” Linder explains. The finalization of “Six Feet” also represented “the embodiment of the kind of music we want to make together,” Graham says. “This cluster of songs [on the debut five-track EP, Before the Fall, released in June] came from that discovery.” Drawn to powerful female vocalists and songwriters, Graham wails over Linder’s electronic pulses as myriad harmonies swirl on the EP—the juxtaposition is beautifully cohesive, nostalgia-soaked and demurely danceable. —Chris Young
MOST RECENT RELEASE: Debut EP Before the Fall released on June 4
Listening to Aminé’s bright, eclectic take on hip-hop is the musical equivalent of gobbling a whole pack of Skittles at once.Over genre-defying tapestries of colorful synths and skittering percussion, the Portland rapper’s malleable flow has a habit of stretching to cartoony dimensions as he weaves tales of relationships and youthful adventure. Upbeat and bouncy, it’s the kind of hip-hop meant to be enjoyed on a warm summer day with a drink in your hand.
With open-minded enthusiasm, Aminé comes across as the kid in preschool who happily mixed every color together and finger-painted a giant smiley face on the wall—no sound or cadence is off limits. Working with a collection of notable producers including Canadian star Kaytranada, his 2015 mixtape, Calling Brio, turned heads with a globe-hopping style that borrowed from his parents’ Ethiopian roots and a collection of tribal influences—making for a rare hip-hop forray into world music.
2016’s follow-up, an infectious single called “Caroline,” built on that momentum. Co-produced by Pasqué and Aminé, the song became an internet darling on the strength of its playful flair, earning blog approval and crucial placements on several popular Spotify-curated playlists. Within a month of its release, the accompanying video has accumulated over a million views (watch it below)—drawing plenty of new eyes to Portland’s bubbling hip-hop scene and giving Aminé the sudden distinction as one of its brightest new stars. —Eric Skelton
A laid-back urgency lays beneath the surface of Arlo Indigo’s latest three-track EP Dreamboat. With psych undertones, it finds a groove in feel-good, summer-ready pop, painting a picture of breakups and listless moments of early love in its lyrics, all set to infectious, danceable beats. “It’s your world and I’m just livin’ in it, don’t waste your time with me,” he declares on the EP’s second cut (listen to "Your World" below).
First emerging as the solo project of former Noble Firs vocalist, Jeremiah Brunnhoelzl’s initial salvo as Arlo Indigo came in the form of his standout 2015 bedroom pop and electronic album Trends. After its release, Brunnhoelzl shifted gears, building out a band, collaborating with producer Brock Grenfell (of Gold Casio and Adventure Galley), and copiously writing, amassing a catalogue of more than 30 songs. “I just started trying to trust people again,” Brunnhoelzl explains. “With these three songs, it was like writing with the band, still having the skeletons, but writing with the band.”
With Dreamboat just released in June, Arlo Indigo are already back to work on a new album. Moving forward, Brunnhoelzl (vox, guitar, keys), alongside Carl LaRue (drums, synths), Ramón Bieri (bass) and Aaron Stern (organ), is building on the wins of the last year, ready to get on the road and keep recording. —Jeni Wren Stottrup
MOST RECENT RELEASE: Dreamboat EP released on June 19
ANDREW ENDRES COLLECTIVE
ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Consciousness”
FOR FANS OF: Kneebody, Christian Scott, Brian Blade & The Fellowship
Steeped as it is in the ethereal dark matter of spacey new wave jazz, the compositions that comprise Andrew Endres Collective’s debut LP Desolation hit on weighty tones. The Collective has steadily gained notoriety and fanfare for a seemingly intuitive disposition for relaxed tonal interplay, exchanging the raucous solo-setup blueprint for a unified front that lends equal balance to the band’s piano-baritone/alto sax-bass-drums-guitar sonic assault.
Consisting of band leader Andrew Endres on guitar, Dave Valdez on alto sax, Stephanie Cooke (also of The von Trapps) on piano, Lindsey Quint on baritone sax, Sam Hallam on bass and James Ford on drums, the band challenges the soundscape of modern jazz with understated elegance coming from every instrument. On songs like the titanic “Consciousness” (listen below), a staccato piano run is gradually given legs by descending chord progressions, eventually yielding to Endres’ inventive modal runs, sweeping subdued fretwork over a pocket-ready rhythm. When Endres concludes his brief spotlight, Cooke tickles the keys in a swirling diaspora of notes that dizzy your mind but do not deter from the original thrust of the melody. By the time a bookend drum solo is offered by the agile Ford, the tune is already an indication of the powerful bridge the Collective builds between the old and new worlds of jazz. —Ryan J. Prado
MOST RECENT RELEASE: Debut LP Desolation released on November 13
ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Insecurities”
FOR FANS OF: Bryson Tiller, Tory Lanez, PartyNextDoor
They say the road to hip-hop stardom doesn’t come through Portland, but 20-year-old singer, producer and songwriter TYuS has found a path less taken. “Being from Portland, a place with a very small music scene, made it difficult,” explains the burgeoning star. “But I keep everything to the music and I’ve been working since I was 13.”
Two years ago, local rap standout Cassow was buzzing and his single “MAjik” possessed a glassy, wailing beat produced by an 18-year-old TYuS. The duo went on to create a slew of songs, but it wasn’t until they dropped the “Bad Gyal” remix (listen below) in January 2015 that I heard TYuS’ voice and started to see him as a solo artist.
Silky, smooth and vulnerable, TYuS fits perfectly within the contemporary scheme of hip-hop and R&B. Though quickly compared to Bryson Tiller, Tory Lanez and PartyNextDoor, TYuS stands out with a unique vocal pitch, surprising range, a certain steadiness to his soulful voice, and dark production. Over the last year, his music has commanded millions of plays on SoundCloud, and on June 1, Warner Bros. Records signed TYuS to a deal. “The talent and long hours of perfecting sounds was always there,” Cassow says. “The world just needed to catch on.” —Mac Smiff