Maze Koroma’s Psych-Rap Reflects the Tension of the Present, but He’s Got Hope for the Future

It’s morning in America, and like the rest of us, Maze Koroma is shell-shocked.

A day after the election, the soft-spoken 24-year-old rapper is nursing a latte at Papaccino’s coffee shop in Woodstock. He’s got a video dropping tomorrow, and a new EP later in the month. But after the events of the night before, he admits that normal artistic self-promotion suddenly seems a bit frivolous.

“It feels weird to put out stuff right now,” he says, “with everything else going on.”

It’s not the conversation either of us expected to be having. As a member of both the psychedelic rap crew Renaissance Coalition and the ascendant EYRST label, Koroma is perched at the vanguard of a hip-hop scene producing some of the most exciting music in Portland, his trippy-yet-personal style being a major contributor. As the year closes out, it would not be an exaggeration to say he and his peers could possibly blow up on a national level sooner than later. But it’s hard to look toward the future when doing so means staring into the tangerine-colored mushroom cloud looming on the horizon.

So maybe it’s best to start in the past. A son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, Koroma grew up in what he calls “a traditional African home,” one that was not particularly inclined toward the arts. He got introduced to hip-hop through his older brother’s Outkast and Wu-Tang Clan albums, but his initial creative outlet was poetry. “Whenever we had something in class, I would make a poem, using the NBA or something, talking about the players,” he says.

In high school, Koroma shifted toward rap, freestyling with friends and recording mixtapes. His junior year, he met future Renaissance Coalition partner Zoo, who had already established relationships with Portland hip-hop vets like Vursatyl and Libretto. “I felt this is the thing I could lock in and use,” he says. “When I found out I was good at it, and I liked it, I just went full force into it.”

 But there was a learning curve, particularly when it came to live performance.

“I didn’t even know what I was doing,” he says. “I had no DJ, I was rapping over my own beats. I didn’t know that at live shows, you’re not supposed to do it over the lyrics.”

He eventually figured it out, as anyone who’s caught one of his unpredictably quirky shows lately can attest. At PDX Pop Now, he tossed Ring Pops into the crowd. Recently, he’s taken to incorporating one of his favorite hobbies, karaoke, into his sets, delivering full-length covers of drunken-sing-along classics like “Careless Whisper” and “Time After Time.”

As off-kilter as he can be onstage, Koroma’s studio projects are conceptually disciplined. On Osiris, his first EP of 2016, he pondered life in the digital age over synth-fueled production matching the 8-bit cover art. “We used to go on the internet,” he declares on “Electronic,” “now we’re literally in the internet.” For the upcoming It’s Complicated, It’s All Happening so Fast, Even Though I Can’t Keep up With You, You’ll Always Be My Sunshine, Koroma got together with EYRST producer Neill von Tally for a jam session that was then cut up and pieced together into songs. Like its predecessor, the new project is at once honest and deeply hallucinogenic. On “Complicated,” Koroma describes the frustrations of the local rap grind in blunt detail against a disorienting whir of keyboards and static: “They see the moves, now they want to get involved/ Why you need a horoscope just to tell you who you are.”

Related: How a Former Blazer and Visionary Producer Created Portland’s Best Rap Label.”

It’s a project imbued with a sense of tension that, consciously or not, comes off as prescient of the current moment. But while Koroma admits that pushing a record feels weird right now, he has hope the future—for himself, the country and the world—is brighter than it seems.

“As far as hip-hop culture, that’s the most powerful culture right now,” he says. “People are definitely worried, but as long as we know that, there’s definitely power that we have, and a lot we can do.”

HEAR IT: Maze Koroma’s It’s Complicated, It’s All Happening so Fast, Even Though I Can’t Keep up With You, You’ll Always Be My Sunshine is out Nov. 18.

Those Willows’ Big-Hearted Pop Is the Sound of Young Love Actually Working Out

WHO: Jack Wells (vocals, guitar), Mel Tarter (vocals), Matt Grippi (bass), Josh Hertel (drums).

SOUNDS LIKE: When young love works out, or the color lilac, or two velvet ribbons tying themselves into a bow.

FOR FANS OF: Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Rilo Kiley, Grizzly Bear, St. Vincent.

“I guess we’ve known each other for a very, very long time,” says Jack Wells of Portland indie-pop band Those Willows. He and the band’s other primary writer, Mel Tarter, first crossed paths during ninth-grade theater productions in their native suburb of Detroit. Wells, who was singing in a pop-punk band, picked up an acoustic guitar for the first time when he and Tarter sat down to write some songs.

After discovering Tarter’s classical theater-style vocals and Wells’ pop-punk roots made for “a gross combination,” they experimented with “Regina Spektor kind of stuff.” But as they kept playing together throughout high school and college, their influences grew in number and scope. Wells cites Fleet Foxes and St. Vincent as informing their current amalgamation of folk and art rock. He adds that “Grizzly Bear has been this thing I tell our producers: ‘Please, try to get some Grizzly Bear vibes in the drumming.’”

Occupying a space where melodious acoustic pop lives happily alongside synth and reverb, the band’s new self-titled album is the sound of a folk band that’s grown roots in the same town as Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Its opening track, “Know More,” contains a sax line that Wells says “was directly inspired by St. Vincent. She uses a lot of interesting tones, and that’s something we always try to explore.”

Opting for the term “indie pop” mostly out of a struggle to pin down something more exact, Wells says the band’s sound is “no longer folk music,” especially on this album. Tarter chimes in with the clunky but helpful descriptor “dreamy folk jazz pop.” But through its stylistic twists and turns, the bright thread running through Those Willows’ sound is the magical blend of Wells’ and Tarter’s voices. It’s next to impossible to tell which one is singing.

Thankfully, the addition of a full band for this new album doesn’t drown out this focus, but actually highlights it. “The bass player and the drummer both joined about a year and a half ago,” says Wells, “and they helped us form these songs. We came to them with the ideas, but they brought a unique groove to them, which is something we’ve longed for.”

The added volume range of the full-band sound creates more space to marvel at Wells’ and Tarter’s harmonies as they crescendo and break off. Each found much more than a musical half in the other, and as if their music could be any sweeter, the two are now engaged to be married.

“Doing this with someone I love makes all the difference,” Tarter says. 

SEE IT: Those Willows plays Alberta Street Pub, 1036 NE Alberta St., with Lenore, on Thursday, Nov. 17. 9 pm. $7 advance, $10 day of show. 21+.

Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bundick Outlasted Chillwave and Has Dabbled in Indie-Pop and ’70s Jazz-Rock—but What He Really Wants to Do Is Play Country

Chaz Bundick is keenly aware that Portland doesn’t always take kindly to transplants.

“Yeah, sure, there’s a rivalry,” says the Toro y Moi frontman, who moved to Oregon from California last year. “But it seems kind of ridiculous.” He’s been angrily yelled at more than once because of his former state of residence, but he’s managed to laugh it off. “You know, that’s just how societies grow,” he says.

People like Bundick—ones with arty bands, a functional friendship with Tyler the Creator and a wife who, based on Google’s autofill results, gets searched for almost as much as he does—could get by just fine acting like defensive assholes. But that’s not Bundick’s style. Since moving to Portland and single-handedly infecting us with the clear-plastic-glasses-frames virus, he says he’s mostly “been laying low-key.” Oh yeah, and making a live album. And a mixtape. And another album, too.

Bundick has a chameleonic personality. He dresses playfully, in colors and patterns and jewelry, but he maintains a mellow enough disposition to blend into his surroundings. Also, his music changes hue effortlessly. Toro y Moi rode the inaugural chillwave over to indie pop, through hip-hop beats and now a bit of jazz, but there’s always been something intangibly “Toro y Moi” about it all. I underestimated the scope of Bundick’s musical influences, until I asked if he’s caught any Portland acts he liked and he immediately brought up local twangy country band Denver. “Seeing them live was something pretty impressive,” he says. “I love country music.”

Bundick doesn’t veer into self-congratulation, despite his remarkable genre versatility and play-by-ear fluency in about five instruments. Instead, he’s quick to compliment those he works with—most notably jazz duo the Mattson 2, which plays on Toro y Moi’s new concert album, Live From Trona, and is collaborating with Bundick on an upcoming studio release called Star Stuff. “I don’t even know where to start with them,” Bundick says. “First of all, they’re twins, so they have crazy powers. On top of that, they’re virtuoso prodigy jazz kids.”

He says the Mattson 2 was an obvious fit for Live From Trona because the project is hardwired to emphasize musicianship above everything. The album and accompanying concert video deliver. Hours of recording under the Mojave Desert’s stunning Trona Pinnacles at sunset—with no audience—revealed a Toro y Moi with new priorities. The band may have gained traction mostly because of Bundick’s crazy electronic production chops, but “I don’t think people really understand that I like to go all the way to the other side of the spectrum, too,” he says. Live From Trona presents spacious ’70s rock versions of familiar songs, with Bundick giving them a whole second life.

He says the filming took place on “a very cosmic day, almost a dream—we were the only ones out there. I knew I wanted it to be in the desert because it’s the setting that really isolates you. Every time I’m in the desert, I realize a lot of things about who I am.” The strangest part, he says, was that “if you had to go to the bathroom, it was a 15-minute trek, or you had to wait for the bathroom car.”

This is at the heart of Bundick’s artistic gift, as well as what makes him feel like a real person. All that cosmic talk is never divorced from lighthearted takes on good old reality. With two feet firmly on the ground, Bundick is a master juggler, in life as in music.

“My music is just this bouncing spectrum,” he says. “I just haven’t made any country music. One day, that would be nice.”

SEE IT: Toro y Moi and the Mattson 2 play Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., on Wednesday, Nov. 9. 8:30 pm. $20 advance, $22 day of show. All ages.

Sumalienz Is a Rare Union of Portland’s Hip-Hop and Synth Pop Scenes

WHO: Bryson the Alien, Mai Mae, SHK THT.

SOUNDS LIKE: Amy Winehouse joined your favorite hip-hop group.

FOR FANS OF: A Tribe Called Quest, MF Doom, Banks.

2016 will be remembered as the year hip-hop broke in Portland. There are greater opportunities to see rap shows today without fear of a police crackdown, but there is still little crossover between the local hip-hop scene and the city’s music scene—which makes a group like Sumalienz something of an anomaly.

“The name ‘Sumalienz’ came about partly because we all feel a little separated or alien from the scenes we’re part of individually,” says rapper Bryson the Alien, who formed the trio in early 2016 with singer Mai Mae of synth-pop outfit Fringe Class and electronic producer SHK THT.

The trio met not long after Bryson moved to Portland from Ohio in the summer of 2015. “When I moved to Portland, I sort of landed right in the DIY scene,” Bryson says. He met Maddie Goldstein, aka Mai Mae, at a house show later that fall, and the two began working on material shortly after. They then met electronic producer SHK THT through mutual acquaintances, like-minded local genre-benders Tribe Mars.

Sumalienz have ambitious plans, including two EPs titled Fried and Flooded respectively that will be released jointly on cassette later this winter. Fried will center on Bryson the Alien’s material and features production by Portland producer Johnny Cool. “New York,” the first single, offers a breezy take on classic hip-hop, with Bryson using his methodical yet carefree delivery to weave a tight, structured narrative about a meaningful missed connection over a laid-back, jazzy beat.

Flooded, meanwhile, will showcase Goldstein, long one of the most powerful pop vocalists in the city. Within Sumalienz, her vocals become more contemplative and understated. The group’s dynamic is captured perfectly on the track “4 AM,” which was written essentially as an improv with Goldstein ad-libbing verses over a beat SHK THT was composing in real time—a standout moment during the group’s live performances. “These memories burn like the summer sun,” Goldstein croons, surrounded by warm synth washes.

In contrast to the other Sumalienz members, SHK THT has been active within the Portland hip-hop community for a few years, and he’s hopeful about the future—not just for the group, but for the scene itself.

“With guys like Amine and Mic Capes growing, things seem like they’re about to go to the next level,” he says. “It’s something we want to be a part of—to grow with everyone else.” BLAKE HICKMAN.

SEE IT: Sumalienz play Lola’s Room at Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W Burnside St., with Deafmind, Mic Mar, Sean P B2B Approaching Sanity, Pennyweight, and Sling, on Thursday, Nov. 10. 8 pm. $6 with student ID, $8 advance, $10 day of show. 18+.

Chuck Westmoreland Is Portland’s Next Country Star

Chuck Westmoreland has lived through some serious shit. Between owning a bar and watching his wife battle cancer, the deep well of the 37-year-old singer-songwriter’s inspiration is unsurprising. His preference for country music may come as a surprise, but as far as Westmoreland is concerned, he’s just a good, honest dude making good, honest music.

“It’s a sound that I think is really honest when done well,” says Westmoreland. “Something about that and the rawness really appeals to me. When I listen to music, it’s usually at work, and George Jones sounds really good when you’re mopping a bar floor.”

Born in Louisiana and raised in the Bay Area, Westmoreland moved to Portland in 1999 after a brief stint in Ashland. Drawn to the music scene and the cheap rent, Westmoreland soon found himself at the helm of the synth-pop outfit the Kingdom. Though sincere efforts by all estimations, the conceptual fantasia of the group’s two records—2005’s Unitas, which portrays NFL legend Johnny Unitas as a “celestial deity hurling footballs across the cosmos,” and 2006’s K1, which has something to do with a Cannonball Run-style auto race from upstate New York to Brooklyn—is a stark contrast to the bittersweet sincerity that drives his eponymous solo debut.

Westmoreland helped open North Mississippi Avenue barbecue joint Miss Delta in 2006, and by the time he moved on to his current post—co-owner of North Albina Avenue patio spot the Red Fox—he was over being a musician. He got into tying flies and woodworking while he supported his wife during her victory over cancer, and ended up making a few homemade guitars. Figuring he might as well put them to good use, Westmoreland found the plainspoken roots country of Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt as a natural place for his sound to land—synth-pop roots be damned.

“I’ve always tried to write honest songs,” says Westmoreland. “I don’t think there’s a difference whether there’s a synthesizer or a steel guitar. If you write honest songs, it kind of transcends the hype and bullshit and baggage that comes with a genre.”

Chuck Westmoreland is the sound of a confident songwriter who can talk the talk and walk the walk. The lilting shuffle of opener “There’s a Pattern in the Blood” is classic country of the pre-Nashville hit-machine variety at its finest, while stomping barn burners “Satin” and “Echo One” are guaranteed to cause a ruckus at a place like the Landmark Saloon. Portland isn’t exactly a hotbed for country artists with crossover appeal to hit paydirt, but Westmoreland is more concerned with hard work than genre alignment.

“You’re always worried that people won’t give a shit, or that you’re delusional,” says Westmoreland, “but not based on genre. That was never really a question. What’s good about Portland is that you can see a synth band playing with a hip-hop band playing with a death-metal band. I’d like to think [the scene] is diverse enough for that to happen.”

When asked about the aesthetic of the album cover, which features a photo of Westmoreland decked out in Eastern Oregon rancher chic and the kind of groovy typeface you’d see in the end credits of a late-’70s action flick, Westmoreland insists the music speaks for itself. After a few spins of his achingly beautiful record, you believe him.

“An honest song is an honest song. I don’t think it matters what you look like—that’s the bullshit. You write songs, and you go out and play them. You love people and treat people with respect, and that’s it. I don’t think anyone’s checking out my shoes or making sure my jacket is ripped up enough. People know what’s bullshit and what’s not.”

SEE IT: Chuck Westmoreland plays the Fixin’ To, 8218 N Lombard St., with Sad Horse and Paper Cameras, on Saturday, Nov. 5. 8 pm. $5. 21+.

Preoccupations’ (Formerly Known as Viet Cong) New Band Name Means Nothing—And That’s How They Prefer It

When Preoccupations last headlined a show in Portland, picket lines greeted them outside Doug Fir Lounge. “It was the same guy who organized both the protests in Seattle and Portland,” multi-instrumentalist and co-founder Monty Munro says. “We went out for drinks with him after. They needed a drink as badly as we did.”

This was in October of last year, when the Canadian band, formerly known as Viet Cong, was touring exactly as that. “We started changing everything we could to ‘FKA Viet Cong’ until we had a new band name,” Munro says, “which we didn’t at that point.”

Related: Top 105: Suggested Replacement Names For Viet Cong, Taken From a Random Band-Name Generator

Viet Cong formed shortly after the dissolution of Calgary band Women, which wasn’t long after the death of Women guitarist Christopher Reimer. Lead singer-guitarist Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace joined Munro and guitarist Danny Christiansen to figure out what grief and sea change sounded like. While Women made bright, damaged indie rock, Viet Cong became something darker and more fervent in that band’s wake.

Back in 2012, little attention was paid to their name while the group was playing to mostly empty houses, peddling the tour-only EP “Cassette” and sharpening their sound into a menace-flecked arcana of motorik rhythms and Bauhaus goth. But by the time their self-titled full-length debut was released in 2015, whatever critical reputation they’d earned was quickly undercut by the backlash against their name. Promoters canceled festival dates, bookers turned them away, and as the band members waffled on how best to ditch the name they shared with a guerrilla army that murdered thousands of civilians during the Vietnam War, they were vilified for their seeming inaction.

“I wouldn’t mind being in a band with an offensive name if it was something I could defend. There just really wasn’t any good defense for it,” Munro says. “We had a bunch of conversations with people who actually fled the war. We knew that wasn’t our battle to fight.”

After many suggestions were emailed back and forth, a new band name was passively chosen, vetted to guarantee it would offend no one. As an objective third party, musician pal and early Women producer Chad VanGaalen christened the quartet Preoccupations.

“Ultimately [the name] was distracting from the music, which is all we really care about,” Munro says.

On their second album, also self-titled, Munro doesn’t see a new name as a fresh start. “We tried to make more of a pop record, I think,” he says, but considers Preoccupations a pretty natural follow-up. Look only to the LP’s 11-minute centerpiece, “Memory,” which features Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade, to witness the brilliant tension between pop and opaque post-punk that’s part of Preoccupations’ primordial code.

After this tour, Munro plans to visit New Zealand in January to record with Flegel at the studio of Liam Finn, the son of Neil Finn from Crowded House. Already onto more, Preoccupations have moved way past clearing up any controversy. “Once you look at enough band names, they’re all fucking stupid, anyway.”

SEE IT: Preoccupations play Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Methyl Ethel, on Tuesday, Nov. 1. 9 pm. $16 advance, $18 day of show. 21+.

Sweeping Exits Invites You to Live in Its Glam-Punk Fantasy World

Who: Mira Glitterhound (guitar, vocals), Myrrh Crow (keys, vocals), Shanley Narens (string section), Sonia Weber (bass, drums).

Sounds Like: The Punk Rocky Horror Monster Mash-up Picture Show.

For Fans Of: The Black Heart Procession, Nick Cave, Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie.

As she describes the inspiration behind the two upcoming records by her band, Sweeping Exits, Mira Glitterhound peels a long velvet glove off one hand, revealing painted purple fingernails. You’d think she was about to start referencing The Rocky Horror Picture Show, or maybe the Cramps. Instead, she starts talking about the melodic concept of polyphony. It’s not the highest degree of conceptual musical composition, but certainly much more than you’d expect from someone who writes albums about vampires.

“Studying classical has taught me so much about that,” she says. “I think of it as lifting weights, listening to a symphony by Mozart and trying to track different things that are happening. It’s like steroids for my ears.”

Previous to this conversation, one might have written off Sweeping Exits as something of a novelty act. But speaking to Glitterhound, the breadth of her ambition quickly becomes apparent. Her big idea for the band, she says, is to attach a specific genre to each album as a sort of sonic signature, in addition to a narrative storyline. One project will mimic Madonna and Scandinavian pop group Aqua and tell the story of “a transgender alien who comes down from outer space to give people the perfect pop music,” while the forthcoming vampire epic, Glitter & Blood, will more closely resemble glam-era Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. The albums will coincide with graphic zines written by Glitterhound and illustrated by local artists that will delve deeper into each album’s narrative arc.

If all that sounds daunting, The Projectionist EP is the perfect entry point for Sweeping Exits’ sprawling opus-in-progress. The punchy title track laments the exploits of a murderous vixen who hides in the shadows behind the illuminated glow of a theater screen, an orchestral string section reminiscent of late-’90s Belle and Sebastian bolstering a jumpy minor-chord progression, while Glitterhound describes the gory details in a Morrissey-meets-Vincent Price croon. The overall effect is of a hilarious, ramshackle musical production in which traditional narrative structure and conventional definitions of gender and identity are passé.

 “I want people to live in a fantasy with us,” Glitterhound says. “I’m enamored with any type of creativity that will allow people to escape the world that we all agree on.”

SEE IT: Sweeping Exits play Valentines, 232 SW Ankeny St., with Lubec and Blowout, on Thursday, Oct. 20. 9 pm. $5. 21+.

After Years Ruling Austin’s Synth Scene, Survive Is Now “The ‘Stranger Things’ Band”—but Maybe That’s Not Such a Bad Thing

Adam Jones has not seen Stranger Things, which is indeed a little strange. For one thing, who the hell hasn’t seen it at this point? It was all anyone talked about this summer. And as Jones admits, the show’s supernatural themes and classic horror references are right in his wheelhouse, too. Plus, you figure he would’ve made time for it, considering his band, Survive, created its instantly iconic score.

“It seems like something I’d be interested in,” Jones says with an audible shrug from his home in Austin, “but media like that is distracting for me.”

To be fair, Jones wasn’t directly involved in the soundtrack, which was helmed by his bandmates, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. And hey, the guy’s been busy. He runs a label, Holodeck Records, specializing in the kind of creepy-crawly synth music he makes with his own projects. And he has a tour to prepare for. Ostensibly, it’s in support of Survive’s just-released second album, but its newly widened fan base is surely expecting Stranger Things: The Live Show, which means he’s got to learn songs he hadn’t even heard until rehearsals started. Ain’t a lot of time for binge-watching in that schedule.

That’s left Jones in the odd position of riding the wave of a phenomenon he has yet to even engage with. But then, this whole thing is sort of weird for everyone. Survive formed in 2009, when Jones and longtime friends Dixon and Stein, along with college pal Mark Donica, had the idea to combine their teenage obsession with glitch gods Autechre, ’70s krautrock and the film scores of Tangerine Dream and John Carpenter in the form of an instrumental, four-man analog-synth band. While the group became torchbearers within their hometown’s small scene of electronic gearheads, their name hadn’t traveled far out of Austin.

Related: “John Carpenter Celebrates the Sounds of Horror at the Schnitz.”

No one is exactly sure how Matt and Ross Duffer, the creators of Stranger Things, even found them. But when the show premiered on Netflix in July, Dixon and Stein’s eerie, pulsing theme song became as much a point of critical adoration as the series’ various nods to the Two Stev(ph)ens, Spielberg and King.

“All of this attention is pretty new to us,” Jones says. “We’re still wrapping our heads around it—and trying to figure out how the hell we’re going to get our gear over to Europe.”

Even without the show, the year was setting up to be a big one for Survive. New album RR7349 is its first for venerable metal label Relapse Records, and its machinist grooves, layers of bump-in-the-night keyboards and ambient sense of dread probably would’ve expanded the band’s reach anyway. Of course, with the second season already being teased online, Survive is perhaps fated to always be known as “the Stranger Things guys.” But Jones doesn’t have to see the show to know that’s not such a bad thing.

“Now that Stranger Things happened, people have a context in their mind for how they’re supposed to enjoy [the music],” he says. “Before, it may have seemed boring to people who otherwise listen to synth music that’s more poppy. Something clicks when you see it in a sci-fi horror soundtrack setting, where they say, ‘This is the correct context for me to enjoy something like this.’” 

SEE IT: Survive plays Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., with Majeure, on Tuesday, Oct. 11. 8:30 pm. Sold out. 21+.

The Minders’ First Album in 10 Years Is a Triumph Over Cynicism—Specifically, Their Own

Martyn Leaper is a cynic. No denying it—it’s in his blood.

“I’m originally from England, and we tend to be a bunch of pessimists,” he says, his voice unchanged from the one heard on nearly two decades’ worth of records by his Portland band, the Minders. Leaper can’t be faulted for looking on the dark side of life. Despite a pedigree palling around with the Elephant 6 collective—which birthed such critical darlings as Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel, with whom the Minders toured last year—Leaper still takes pains to make this thing work. “We’ve always been pretty obscure,” he says, comparing himself to the rest of his indie-pop ilk. “It was just a struggle to get anything really concrete out there.”

He’s mostly talking about the band’s new record, Into the River, its fifth and first in 10 years. More expansive, but perhaps more traditional, than anything the group has released before, Into the River eschews the Minders’ previously staunch allegiance to lo-fi for songs that, while still deeply rooted in a lineage of ’60s and ’70s Brit-based power pop—think the Kinks and the Zombies, sometimes roughed up by a Springsteen-salient penchant for escape—sound like Leaper trying to find a new voice among all his influence.

One assumes that would also explain his choice of going into the studio with longtime friend Larry Crane after earning a reputation for intimate, DIY recording techniques. In that case, though, Leaper stresses the pragmatic.

“Most of the stuff we do is home recording for that very reason—because we’re broke. But I wanted to do something that was on a bit of a grander scale,” Leaper says, adding that sessions with Crane were spread over three years, whenever he could get funding together. It was all worth it: “You have an idea, [and] you can’t necessarily get that idea to come to fruition without a sort of technical structure in place. And he just has that. He has the ability to make those things appear.”

Leaper knows his story isn’t all that rare. Pretty much every band, especially in the saturated scene of music-inhaling Portland, has a lot of hope and noteworthy friends but no money. “I don’t support myself with my music,” he admits, as if it were ridiculous to assume otherwise, “and there’s only been one period in my life when I came close to that, a long time ago. I wouldn’t get so wrapped up in that being the goal. The goal is to make the best, most interesting music you can make, right?”

For Leaper, that means a sincere, unadorned breed of songwriting (“I hate to talk about the nuts and bolts of songs because then it takes the magic out of it,” he says), shot through with a lifetime of looking back. “I think a lot of it has to do with homesickness,” he says. “I left my home years ago to come to this country, and I think a lot of my songs tend to sort of deal with that homesickness.”

Music is the only way Leaper knows to look ahead, mining nostalgia to uncover ways forward. He remembers touring with Neutral Milk Hotel, the success of its latest tour obviously fueled by the over-romanticized feelings of its fans. Upon release of its first album in 1996, the band “definitely had this promise. It sort of made everything else, Elephant 6, that much more alluring,” Leaper says. But they never really got what they earned, never played the venues they deserved to, even though “the ’90s was the era for independent music in a big way, and Neutral Milk Hotel had everything to do with that. So coming back and playing to big audiences, it was appropriate.”

Which sounds optimistic, the idea that nostalgia no longer has to be about money, or about exploiting realities “that probably don’t even exist, or didn’t even exist in the first place.”

As a self-proclaimed “cynical turd,” Leaper relents. “I can’t be that cynical about music,” he says. “That’s where it stops, really. Music is one thing that’s off limits. You can’t be cynical about everything.”

SEE IT: The Minders play Secret Society, 116 NE Russell St., with the Minus 5, on Friday, Oct. 7. 9 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. 21+.

On Her New Album, Fritzwa Conjures Lovely R&B Daydreams That Will Resonate With Anyone Who’s Left a Part of Themselves Somewhere Else

SOUNDS LIKE: Soulful, organic R&B that’s classic without being retrograde.

FOR FANS OF: Lauryn Hill, Joni Mitchell, Raury, Solange.

For a born-and-raised New Yorker like Fritzwa, living in Portland took some getting used to.

“I’m not gonna lie, when I first moved here, I did not like it at all,” says the singer, songwriter and DJ. “It’s the case of East Coast versus West Coast. People from New York are not nice, but they’re friendly. And people from Portland are nice, but they’re not friendly.”

Fritzwa came here to take a job in Nike’s marketing department, and if you had asked six months ago whether she thought of Portland as her long-term home, her response would’ve been “hell fucking no.” Happily, her stance has since softened. She’s made friends, put together a band and learned to appreciate (or at least tolerate) nature. But that doesn’t mean she’s over her homesickness.

It was certainly on her mind as she worked on her new album. Named after the street on the Lower East Side where she grew up, Avenue A is a lovely R&B daydream gazing back at New York from the other side of the country. “It’s a very nostalgic record,” Fritzwa says.

Steeped in her love of soul, hip-hop and the classic American songbook, the music’s touch is light but the grooves are deep. Opener “Sittin’ Pretty” rises like dawn over the Manhattan skyline, the early-morning strings and jazzy drums lifting Fritzwa understated voice and carrying it like an autumn leaf through Central Park. She sings of a Harlem love affair on the sultry “A-Train” and incorporates a recording of her favorite subway bucket drummer on the interlude “Missed the L.” But while the references are specific, the mood of wistful remembrance should resonate with anyone who’s left a part of themselves someplace miles away.

“Trying to maintain relationships cross-country, missing home and missing your family—all that stuff is essentially what birthed this project,” Fritzwa says.

Fritzwa is feeling more comfortable these days. A month ago, she quit her Nike gig and downsized her living situation to focus on music full time. She’s still not sure if she’s long for Portland, but it’s now more a question of ambition than her surroundings.

“Right now, I’m happy. But I can’t say for certain that I’ll stay here,” she says. “The goal is to grow bigger than where you are. If all goes well, hopefully that’s what happens.” 

SEE IT: Fritzwa plays Chapter Mag’s Creative Cultivation Dance Party at Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., with Tribe Mars, Quaz, Eric Fury and Virtuous Vice, on Wednesday, Oct. 5. 8 pm. $7 before 10 pm, $10 after. 21+.