Those Willows' Jack Wells and Mel Tarter are the latest voices in Portland’s sweet pop market, with infectious melodies and well-written songs guaranteed to leave you in a positive mood. The duo met in Detroit and have been inseparable since, both graduating with music degrees and eventually settling in Portland, recording and also performing with songwriter Robin Bacior.
Those experiences shine on their new self-titled record—their second full-length. Shifting from their folksy origins to playful, dreamy, swinging pop, the album finds its pulse in a fusion of sounds akin to bands like Broken Social Scene and Lake Street Dive. Wells and Tarter say the evolution has been impending for a while, enabled thanks to the addition of band members Mike Grippi on bass and Josh Hertel on drums and their long-time collaboration with Old Wave’s Adam Brock, who produced the record.
The album is an intimate, heartwarming portrait of the couple whose personal and musical journeys have been fused since they were teens—their first kiss was at a music competition and the pair got engaged in Paris while touring with Bacior. They imagine their next years to be just like those fateful starts: traveling, performing and creating. “I’m happiest when I’m playing,” Wells says. —Jeni Wren Stottrup
MOST RECENT RELEASE: Those Willows out now
Striking self-awareness and intentionality are at the core of Harrison Smith’s solo project Turtlenecked. His music is experimental, catchy and never too self-serious. Songwriting seems to come easy to Smith, whose deliberate and prolific nature has resulted in multiple releases since 2015. His last full-length, Pure Plush Bone Cage, is a frenetic, introspective art punk record.
Portland’s music scene has long been dominated by white guys in rock bands. Fortunately, that’s starting to change as more and more distinct voices surface and make space for themselves in the city’s mainstream. Smith recognizes this on his recent single, “Boys Club,” forcefully singing, “Another screaming male oh he ain’t healing shit,” and “Oh this pale indie bro trash pile / I will be the king of it.” The song is a welcome commentary on male entitlement and, according to Smith, serves as a critique of “cis white male domination of the music industry [and] music scenes, and the hubris and complicity of my own participation.”
Smith’s talent allows him to walk the line between innovation and emulation, making his songs at once familiar and strange. His music evades traditional definition, but is consistently incisive, thoughtful and approachably raw. —Anna McClain
UPCOMING RELEASE: Vulture out April 21 via Good Cheer Records
With one of the most enjoyable mixtapes of last summer in CS16, L.A.-born, Portland-grown rapper ROBy is turning heads across the West Coast and beyond. An expert in the studio who churns out ultra high-quality music, the approachable rapper dominates live shows, whipping crowds into a frenzy with his intense charisma whenever he touches a stage. More than anything, the dynamic emcee is fun to listen to.
Armed with a tireless, syllable-focused flow you could set a watch to, he combines light-hearted street tales and dreams of a foreseeable future in music with surprisingly aware lyrics that flash glimpses of his striking social intelligence. Additionally, his ability to hit and hold deep, vibrative notes gives him an edge in a contemporary rap scene where the lines between singing and rapping are often blurred—it all allows him to get extra creative with his hooks as well as collaborate with ease.
Multiple aggressively sold-out headlining gigs in Portland and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (where his Caribbean-tinged single “Wine For Me” became a big hit), have upped the young spitter’s stock, leading to promo runs in Los Angeles, New York and Seattle where he’s accumulating fans at an excellent rate outside of his home base. “I’m very proud of the Portland hip-hop scene and I’m honored to be in a position to lift it up and add to the fire,” ROBy says. “This is fun and exciting—the best is yet to come!”
Expect at least three new projects in what may be a breakout year for the young star. He recently announced that an EP with fellow Portland upstarts Donte Thomas and Stewart Villain will be released “very soon,” CS17 is scheduled for June, and he’s also working with Ton Jungir on his official debut album. Indeed, 2017 is shaping up quite nicely for ROBy and his fans. —Mac Smiff
UPCOMING RELEASES: A collaborative EP with Donte Thomas and Stewart Villain out in early 2017 plus CS17 in June