MusicfestNW: Top 10 Acts of 2015
Saturday, August 15, 2015
The festival has gone from a multi-platform event spanning venues around the city to a gigantic, sprawling orgy of entertainment capitalism and pop culture. This means that they’ve added a third day to the outdoor fest held at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, and that you can still catch a handful of spectacular club shows as part of MFNW’s “nights” series.
Unfortunately, MFNW’s growth hasn’t exactly included a wealth of diversity, but don’t let that dissuade you! While you may be holding your $140 ticket, staring at an ensemble of white faces wearing trendy, pseudo-thrift shop clothing on the event’s lineup page, don’t let your cynicism push you into the well of despair. MFNW still has its pinky finger wrapped around the pulse of the Rose City and the nation at large, so it's fair to say that there is something for everybody this year.
Related Slideshow: MusicfestNW: Top Ten Acts of 2015
Music fans who exclusively listen to commercial synth-pop and quasi-intellectual indie singer-songwriters will have no problem filling their schedules throughout the weekend. MFNW has done a thorough job of making sure that the “majority” population of Portland will have plenty to see on the waterfront from August 21-23. For those of you seeking something a little more specific, or for those of you who want to get the most bang for their buck by purchasing the single-day, 60 dollar pass, here’s a comprehensive survival guide for your eardrums, in no particular order.
Few bands on the MFNW bill offer a sound as rich as Beirut. Drawing much of their influence from Balkan folk as well as the broader “indie” realm, the band is led by founding member Zach Condon and takes elements from all around the globe to create their unique audio motif. Cascading between methodic soulfulness and danceable baroque rhythms, they bring a lively sort of soul to MFNW that is endearingly sweet and emotionally enriching, the band is set to release their newest project, No No No in September and they will be performing at 8:30 PM on the Morrison Stage on August 22nd.
Milo Greene describes their sound as Cinematic-Pop. When the band was formed, the goal was to create music that they could, “potentially see being placed in movies and TV.” While some might interpret this as a soulless, capitalistic venture devoid of the essence that makes music worth creating, the band has managed to create their own brand of “cinth-pop” making them stand out in the genre. Their songs have a mildly filmic quality, relying mostly on catchy vocals and upbeat rhythms to get stuck in your head. We’ll see if their cinematic focus translates to an engaging live performance... they are set to play at 6:30 PM on the Morrison Stage on August 21st.
Foster The People
With “Pumped Up Kicks,” the band’s 2011 breakout hit, Foster The People became poster boys for commercial, electro-pop music. The leader of the trio, Mark Foster, was once quoted as saying, in regards to the early days of his career in Los Angeles, “I wasn't shy about taking my guitar out at a party. I wanted to be the center of attention." And that’s exactly what the band’s music sounds like. Foster spent a few years as a commercial jingle-writer, a fact that is evident from the band’s infectiously catchy sound. What they lack in depth, they more make up for with enthusiastic zeal and conventional good looks. So if you’re into pretty young men and seeing bands that are well known and popular, well, this’ll fill that particular void in your life... catch them at 8:30 PM on the Morrison Stage on August 21st.
George Lewis Jr., AKA Twin Shadow, is an artist who has been known for revisiting 80’s new wave music while infusing it with sophisticated R&B sensibilities and an intimate array of ambient synthesizers and punching drum sections. However, with his 2015 release, Eclipse, much of that has been stripped away to provide a simpler, more accessible record. With his first major-label project, Twin Shadow has created a style that lives less in the ethers, and more on the ground level. Eclipse is rawer, funkier, and more-booty shaking than his previous work, giving audiences a chance to get out of their heads and into their feet. See Twin Shadow at 6:30 PM on the Morrison Stage on August 22nd.
In a city which has become notorious for neglecting and even vilifying all things rap-related, it can be something of a surprise to see an artist like Danny Brown at an event that otherwise caters to the predominately white & affluent population of the metropolitan area. If it is a surprise, though, it is a pleasant one. Brown is unapologetically individual, with a voice and delivery that might mistakenly be labeled as goofy. He is at his best when engaging in sincere storytelling, such as with the intimately personal “25 Bucks” (Featuring Purity Ring) or the 2012 release, “Grown Up.” On other tracks, Brown delivers high-energy audaciousness with addictive hooks and fierce verbal delivery. Brown will be on the Morrison Stage at 6:30 PM on August 23rd.
Battles will shake your bowels. Every song they create has a life of its own, driven by a shared heartbeat of high-energy enthusiasm and sonic bravery. They seem to have more fun playing their music than doing anything else, and that is exactly what festivalgoers want to see. What pubescent laptop-jockeys pretend to do at EDM festivals across the country, Battles does with zero inhibition and 100 percent authenticity. They mix heavy electronics and brutal, pulsating organic rhythms into an alchemical auditory concoction that can be mesmerizing and uplifting. When they are playing, get close to the stage, and stay there. Get hypnotized and let your bowels shake at the Hawthorne Stage at 5:30 PM on August 22nd.
There’s no other way to say it; Aly Spaltro is an immutable badass. Supported by an impeccable band with whom she seems to share a unique level of connectedness, the singer-songwriter who goes by the moniker of Lady Lamb displays and enigmatic aesthetic, rich with diverse emotional substance and sprinkled around a landscape of passionately personal and occasionally esoteric lyrical content. She has a voice that can crawl inside of you and force your innards to resonate at superhuman frequencies, and her stage presence is capable of inducing audiences into a state of frenzied, messianic hubris. She will make you believe that there is no creature on earth more powerful than a human woman with an instrument in her hands. She’ll be doing this to you at 4:30 PM on the Morrison Stage on August 23rd.
If you are completely unaware of who Modest Mouse is, you’re probably too young or too old to be reading this. The Alternative/Indie ensemble has been around since 1993 and has since established a standard for all other contemporary Alternative outfits to hold themselves to. They have managed to become one of the most recognizable names in popular music, headlining the biggest festivals in the country and releasing their sixth album, Strangers To Ourselves, earlier this year. Amazingly, they have achieved this success without estranging fans of their early work. Modest Mouse delivers a distinct sound, one that is guided by a driving, forceful intention and laced with bright tones and decisive bass lines. Theirs is music that can make you stomp your feet, move your hips, or simply nod your head. But you will move. They’ll be closing out the fest at 8:30 PM on the Morrison Stage on August 23rd.
This is more of a precursor to the fest than it is part of it, as the show precedes the MFNW kickoff party occurring the next day, but Aesop Rock is too good of an act to not include in this list. The New York Native epitomizes hip-hop intellectualism and a music sensibility that transcends genre-conformity. Known for his work on one of hip-hop’s most distinctive record labels, Definitive Jux, as well as collaborations with Kimya Dawson and his own deliriously complex lyricism, Aesop now resides in Portland and will be performing with Rob Sonic, DJ Abilities, and Illmaculate at Star Theater on Wednesday, August 19th.
Part neo-soul, part pop-funk, with traces of high-concept new wave artistry, Miguel is an artist who gives you sensuality wrapped up in a digestible mix of personal confession and contemporary introspection. His latest album, Wildheart, teases at being sexy, while honestly observing modern sexuality and its complications in a world that has become less binary, less normative, and freakier. Along with this observation of sexuality as a function of modern relations, Miguel analyzes the subtler, nuanced aspects of how we interact with one another in the age of technology and social networking. His truthfulness and soulful songwriting will be on display at the Roseland Theater on Friday, August 21st for a sold out show... but who knows, maybe someone you know has two tickets and a crush on you.
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