GENRE: Witch folk
ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Ether's Arms”
FOR FANS OF: Neko Case, Laura Gibson, Feist, Mountain Man
It’s all in the power of a name. Lenore., meaning light or torch in Greek, is a bright and burning collaboration between vocalists and songwriters Rebecca Marie Miller and Joy Pearson. Tight harmonies twine gracefully with hushed, earthy tones and exalted melodies, all threaded together by accompanying cellist Jessie Dettwiler and classical guitarist Edward Cameron.
Lenore. is a dark planet with twin satellites of ethereal voices orbiting around it. “It’s the two of us, but it has its own separate life force,” Miller explains. And Pearson agrees. “I think that’s the benefit of not doing this solo. As Lenore., the female energy of this project outside of us, I feel more free with songwriting and conceptualizing.”
This September, Lenore. released their self-titled debut produced by John Askew (Alela Diane, Laura Gibson). Lenore. features collaborations on “Sharp Spine” with vocals from Eric Bachmann (Archers of Loaf, Crooked Fingers) and the local Portland musicianship of guitarist Paul Rigby (Neko Case, Calexico), drummer Dan Hunt (Ages and Ages, Neko Case), and bassist Dave Depper (Death Cab for Cutie).
Nature-inspired, dark folk songs like “Ether’s Arms” and “Dig” are sharp and shining—the glinting edge of a spade in the garden. Songs about the moon, sun, ancient trees, the seasons, and explorations of darkness and light resonate throughout this purely Pacific Northwest creation of lyrical magic and vocal alchemy. —Andrea Janda
MOST RECENT RELEASE: Self-titled Lenore. out now
GENRE: Power pop
ESSENTIAL TRACK: “The Poet Laureate of Neverland”
FOR FANS OF: Elvis Costello, Wings, Ben Folds
On the off chance there were any doubters of the innate songwriting gifts of Mo Troper following his 2016 debut, Beloved, those suspicions ought to be dashed, scattered and abandoned after a listen to his follow-up, Exposure & Response. Where Troper’s first album flaunted the impulsive whimsy of a whip-smart songwriter unafraid of sounding vulnerable and fierce—often within the same song—his new record doubles down on the unabashed paradigm of guitar-pop excess, begging for and rebelling against the parameters of songcraft he’s chosen as his aural canvas.
A harmonic choir intro opens the record on the satirical “Rock And Roll Will Change The World,” a pessimistic shout-down to those who still believe in the transformative power of art. The rub, of course, is how gorgeously Troper masks his ironies, winking at his audience even as he attempts to break down their comfort zones. The subsequent “Your Brand” continues his admonishment of the social media generation, which Troper can most certainly count himself a member of, with a guitar-rock onslaught.
Shades of Brian Wilson melodics shine through Exposure & Response, especially on “Big School,” where the minutiae of daily struggles are given grandiose treatment within a “Don’t Worry Baby” pop structure. Troper’s vocal range is frequently given to elastic fits, stretching the thinness of his voice to notes that you can hear him struggling beautifully to attain. That element of Troper’s musical alchemy is central to the power of his songs; as fun and punchy as the music has the potential to be on its own, it’s Troper’s snarky lyrical charms that truly take center stage. —Ryan J. Prado
MOST RECENT RELEASE: Exposure & Response out now via his own Good Cheer Records
GENRE: Synth pop
ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Invite Me In”
FOR FANS OF: Alvvays, Tennis, Beach House
“You can’t create music in a vacuum,” Wild Ones vocalist Danielle Sullivan says. Mirror Touch, the second full-length from the lauded Portland pop natives, touches on how even the smallest interactions shape art and self. The five-piece, including Sullivan, Thomas Himes on keys, Seve Sheldon on drums, guitarist Nick Vicario and bassist Max Stein, have been together for years now, reaching a point in their careers where they have found and settled into a defined sound and a solid group writing process.
It’s music created in a melting pot, evolving from instrumental play and driven to new heights with Sullivan’s lyrics. The band writes collaboratively, their ideas building off one another. This is a core theme of the record, this sense of how we create based on what we’ve heard or experienced. “I often throw away my songs. I think they’re trash once I realize I picked them up from somewhere else,” Sullivan says.
For the self-produced and -recorded Mirror Touch, all of these interactions mingle and are brought together in Sullivan’s lyrics, which explore the fears that surround her. “My love and loathing, they always collide, and I can’t tell the difference between them tonight,” she sings lightly, accented by upbeat pop tones, on “Love and Loathing.” It’s an album that feels personal, with beats that hit your core but keep you moving through all of the uncertainty. —Jeni Wren Stottrup
MOST RECENT RELEASE: Mirror Touch out now