When thinking of bands and individual scenes local to the Pacific Northwest, most people tend to think of Seattle’s and Portland’s offerings before Idaho, but Boise’s defining music festival, Treefort Music Fest, is one of the best festivals this year in the Northwest festival circuit. Since its inception in 2012, the grassroots festival has wowed music fans of all sorts of backgrounds thanks to its consistently attentively-curated and impressively-varied lineups, which make careful note of enticing those with their ear to the world of indie music, while offering a myriad of smaller up-and-comers both local and national, much to the delight of those who like to use music festivals as a means of discovering their new favorite artists.
With other, more widely-known local festivals becoming more and more polarizing in the eyes of many people due to them heading in more mainstream-friendly directions, the demand grows and grows for a festival like Treefort, whose emphasis has always been on empowering the many worthwhile lesser-knowns of the modern era. When it comes to Treefort, you usually have three different tiers of artists that comprise the lineup.
First, you can typically look forward to anywhere from 25 to 50 bands and artists that will be familiar to anyone who frequents any notable online indie-leaning music publication or online indie music community. In the second tier, you have the artists that, while technically obscure on a national scale, have made the rounds in their local scene and already have a bit of a reputation. Finally, in the third tier, you have a whole host of artists both local and from around the globe that are almost completely unknown. Artists that, if you mentioned them when talking to someone about music and jokingly said, “You’ve probably never heard of them,” you likely wouldn’t be wrong.
However, most of the time, these smaller bands and musicians are completely deserving of your time and attention as well. Angel Olsen, Mac DeMarco, Deafheaven, Touché Amoré, and the many other recognizable bands sitting atop this year’s lineup alone may be enough to get music enthusiasts in the door, but there are over 400 artists playing the festival over the course of the festival’s five-day run, and out of all of those, surely there’s got to be some others that are great and worth checking out, right?
As anyone that’s tried looking through the entirety of the Treefort 2017 lineup can attest, familiarizing yourself with 411 artists can be a bit of a tedious project, which is why today I’d like to list my recommendations of 20 (mostly lesser-known) artists you shouldn’t miss out on if you’re attending this year’s Treefort Fest. Let’s get started.
Helvetia (Saturday, Linen Building, 6:30 – 7:10 P.M.)
Should you take on the task of trying to familiarize yourself with every artist playing Treefort, you’ll quickly find that this year’s outing has no shortage of atmospheric bands that like to blur the line between rock and guitar-pop music, and of all these blissed-out, somewhat druggy pop-rockers, few have the clout and finesse of Portland’s Helvetia. Born out of the demise of Duster, a short-lived but great and vastly overlooked slowcore and space rock crossover act, Helvetia furthers flagship member Jason Albertini’s love of experimentation and genre-blurring.
Across their discography, the five-piece band mixes indie rock and psychedelic music with everything but the kitchen sink, but Helvetia’s experimentation is more than just aimless navel-gazing, and it’s easy to lose yourself in the evocative, textured atmosphere presented by records like Nothing in Rambling and On the Lam. Check their live set out if you’d like to be transcended from our corporeal world for a good 40 minutes.
Great Grandpa (Saturday, Boise All-Ages Music Project, 11:30 P.M. – 12:20 A.M.)
I haven’t done the specific numbers to confirm this, but I’m fairly certain there are more ’90s alternative rock revival bands in the modern era than there are grains of sand across all of Praia do Cassino. I like to call these kinds of bands “Nirvannabes,” and while most of these passable, warm, distortion pedal-addicted bands only serve to further stagnate a genre that’s already in desperate need of a new shot in the arm, Seattle’s Great Grandpa hasn’t forgotten that having an enjoyable aesthetic is only half the battle, and that you need to have some sharp, memorable songs at your disposal if you want to keep your name in listeners’ mouths.
With charismatic vocalist Alex Menne at the helm, Great Grandpa’s debut EP Can Opener is loaded with great guitar leads, excellent, stylishly-rough production, and songs that’ll firmly plant themselves in your head even on a first listen. The band’s balance between noisy and cozy leads to not only great studio material, but fun live performances that are sure to get even the biggest cynics busting out the ripped-up acid wash jeans and red flannel shirt.
Hustle and Drone (Thursday, The Shredder, 12:15 – 1:15 A.M., 21+)
We haven’t heard from Portland’s Hustle and Drone in a full-length album capacity since they dropped one of the PDX music scene’s most notable albums of 2014, Holyland, but if there’s any album worth going back and discovering if it slipped by you upon its release, it’s Holyland. Admittedly, back in 2014, a first listen of this alternative pop band’s music left me more perplexed than entertained, but if you give them a chance and let the three-piece band’s music grow on you, you’ll find one of the most creative and standout bands in Portland.
Hustle and Drone’s music most certainly has its influences – contemporary summery, clothing store-friendly pop and early-2000s lo-fi indietronica are most notable, adopting the former’s sensual grooves and catchy vocals and the latter’s ambiance and dense production – but Hustle and Drone’s music feels definitively theirs, with unique, otherworldly synth textures and an unapologetically rough recording dominating their music and giving it unique life. Definitely give these guys a chance, and consider stopping by their Thursday set.
Cavegreen (Saturday, Boise All-Ages Music Project, 10:30 – 11:10 P.M.)
When we first premiered a new song and music video from this Olympia-based indie pop duo last month, I was taken aback by this collaborative project between Eleanor Murray and GianLuca Bucci in a way I rarely am by new indie pop acts. I mainly knew Murray for her work as a local oddball acoustic folk singer-songwriter, so when I first heard her newest project was expressly indebted to electronic, synth-based music, I wasn’t sure quite what I was in for, but Cavegreen is one of the most exciting and noteworthy bands to spring up in our local scene in recent memory.
Their debut album, Vita Lucida, is enshrouded in a vivid, lush, and somewhat thick sonic aura that recalls to mind the likes of Purity Ring or M83, and these songs are largely driven by heavy drum machine beats that are easy to move to, but their music goes beyond far beyond the DAW and maintains a natural, very human sound, mostly thanks to the inclusion of live instrumentation all throughout, as well as Murray’s unique voice. It’s difficult to pin down, but the folksy tone of Murray’s voice and the odd way it compliments these catchy and groove-heavy pop songs leads to a dynamic unlike the majority of artists currently working in this style.
If you’re headed to Treefort, keep Cavegreen’s set in mind.
Psychic Twin (Sunday, El Korah Shrine, 10:00 – 10:45 P.M.)
As Psychic Twin, singer-songwriter and producer Erin Fein makes music that’s romantic and intimate, as well as sleek and somewhat shadowy in tone. On the project’s debut album Strange Diary, released through Polyvinyl last year, cold, crystalline synthesizers set the perfect stage for Fein’s smoky and emotive vocals, and they come together to create a sound that’s light on the ears, but rich with detail and elegance. While the music of Psychic Twin is most certainly headphone-worthy and enrapturing, songs like “Lose Myself” are extremely catchy and memorable in the way you’d hope for from any good, sturdy indie pop song. This set is sure to be a worthwhile one.
Grouper (Friday, Boise Contemporary Theater, 7:30 – 8:30 P.M.)
Admittedly, if you’re someone who keeps up with the latest and most boundary-pushing names in contemporary ambient music, you’re likely familiar with Grouper‘s music already, but Liz Harris’ penchant for conjuring some of the most unique and affecting sounds in modern music has made her one of the most exciting artists of these times. Whether she’s dabbling in ethereal indie folk with Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, whisper-quiet piano-based singer-songwriter music with Ruins, or thick, hazy abstract soundscapes with her AIA double album, Harris has a lot of different experiments under her belt, and through solid release after solid release, has made a name for herself as a singular artist that’s helping keep ambient music exciting.
If you’re headed to Treefort and want an intimate, yet simultaneously strange and hypnotizing set, add Grouper to your schedule.
Marshall Poole (Friday, The Olympic, 11:10 P.M. – 12:00 A.M., 21+)
One of the Boise music scene’s strongest rock bands, Marshall Poole is a quartet that brings together the world of atmospheric post-punk with the abstract, kaleidoscopic world of psychedelic rock and stoner rock. On the band’s debut album, Totems, a somewhat rough, uncompromising recording lends a certain gritty weight to the visceral guitar tones and the strong lead vocals from singer Melanie Radford. They’re the kind of band that can take a really good idea and hammer it out to the six or seven minutes without the song ever growing stale.
Definitely a set to look out for if you’re in the mood for a heavy, but mind-altering performance.
Wild Powwers (Friday, The Shredder, 9:30 – 10:10 P.M., 21+)
Sure, if you’re in Seattle and you frequent a lot of local shows, it’s unlikely you haven’t seen local live staple Wild Powwers tear it up live, but as far as uncompromising and fun rock performances go, Wild Powwers are one of the best we have to offer right now. Whether you’re bearing witness to the sheer force of trio Lara Hilgeman, Lupe Flores and Jordan Gomes in the live setting or listening to/grooving to their worthwhile sophomore record Hugs and Kisses and Other Things, you can depend on Wild Powwers to deliver a flavor of rock all their own, one that’s distorted and unafraid to leave the listener with tinnitus, but maintaining an easygoing, fun-loving vibe that makes them both charming and accessible.
Wheelchair Sports Camp (Saturday, The Shredder, 11:15 P.M. – 12:00 A.M., 21+)
It’s rare that you discover a modern artist whose sound is decidedly theirs, but Wheelchair Sports Camp is one of the most instantly recognizable bands in modern music, and one of the most exciting. Their style seems somewhat familiar at first – smooth, jazzy, somewhat stonerish hip-hop with live instrumentation and a nice funk influence to its low-end grooves – but the vocals delivered by leading member Kalyn are some of the most striking and original you’ll hear in modern hip-hop, mixing a cool and collected delivery with abstract, but often politically-charged lyrics and a really odd tone of voice that you won’t soon forget after you hear their music.
Treefort attendees that want someone unfamiliar but nonetheless enthralling should check out Wheelchair Sports Camp.
The Green Zoo (Wednesday, Linen Building, 7:00 – 7:40 P.M.)
Keep an eye out for this band if you’re a seeker of modern rock that’s ambitious, experimental and (endearingly) pretentious. As The Green Zoo, the five members of this Boise-based experimental rock outfit pride themselves on constantly pushing themselves and each other in new artistic directions and challenging themselves through their music, whether they’re toying with noise rock, chamber pop, progressive rock, or art rock, just to name a handful of styles.
Last year saw the band drop the lengthy The Adventures of Johnny Nihilist, a record that not only had some of the band’s catchiest and most pop-oriented tracks yet, such as opening track “Johnny” and the free-wheeling “Burning Churches at the Bowling Alley,” but also some of the band’s most challenging material to date, with long and winding songs that aren’t afraid exceed the eight- and nine-minute mark.
Especially seeing as Wednesday is more of a fire-starter day for Treefort, with its most exciting performances spread pretty far apart, The Green Zoo isn’t to be missed.
Cuff Lynx (Saturday, Crowbar, 9:45 – 11:00 P.M., 21+)
As the Seattle electronic music scene continues to gain more and more notoriety far beyond the reaches of the Northwest, we turn our attention over to one of the most consistent duos in Seattle electronic and beat music. Under the name Cuff Lynx, this duo has been somewhat of an unsung hero in our local electronic music scene, helping shape that expansive, bright sound that’s become a trend among Seattle producers ever since they were formed in 2012.
However, Cuff Lynx have continued to put their own unique twist on this trend by being way more punchy and dance floor-ready than their Seattle contemporaries, not only through solid original works like “Best Friend” and “Prowl,” but through their great remixes of the likes of The Flavr Blue and Sisters.
Their set is bound to be an hour and 15 minutes of pure bright, life-affirming danceable bliss, so if you’re in the market for that sort of energy, don’t miss out on Cuff Lynx.
Maszer (Friday, The Shredder, 12:40 – 1:40 A.M., 21+)
Another staple in Seattle’s bustling live music scene, Maszer is a band that knows how to perfectly blur the line between being sweet and accessible and being somewhat eccentric and out-there musically. In their songs, you can hear hefty amounts of bleating, atmospheric and dark post-punk – the sort of stuff that calls for messy eyeliner and an Unknown Pleasures shirt – but this noisiness and smudgy recording is matched tastefully and evenly with some brighter-sounding, somewhat psychedelic instrumentation and effects, as well as catchy, easygoing vocals from lead singer Katie Blackstock, whose cadence and charisma help give this band’s sonic atmosphere a dreamy and seemingly friendly side to contrast nicely with the harshness of songs like “Roar.”
Maszer’s often harsh, but irresistible rock sound is sure to appeal to fans of everyone from the Jesus and Mary Chain to Dum Dum Girls to mid-to-late-’90s Mercury Rev. If you’re headed to Treefort, don’t skip out on this three-piece.
Sun Blood Stories (Friday, Linun Building, 10:00 – 10:40 P.M.)
Not only were they one of the first bands we featured in last year’s lengthy 100 Bands in 100 Days local music showcase, but by the time we were wrapping up the series, I declared Sun Blood Stories to be one of the best local music discoveries I had in 2016. In concept, Sun Blood Stories’ signature brand of rock music may sound kind of bizarre – “southern rock and desert rock mixed with kaleidoscopic, blissful neo-psychedelia, glitchy synth textures, and abstract art rock” – but once you sit down with a clear mind and your headphones on and let their album Twilight Midnight Morning melt into your ears, you’ll find that, for around 47 minutes, the album has taken you on a hot, lengthy journey through the desert while you’re on acid.
Sun Blood Stories’ approach to loudness and noisiness isn’t so much a wall of sound as much as it is a brisk whirlwind of texture and instrumentation, and their busy, detailed arrangements help give this band endless replay value if you’re a nerd for sound and production details.
Sun Blood Stories is a band that needs to be on your radar.
Cassiopeia (Friday, The Shredder, 7:30 – 8:10 P.M., 21+)
You may be asking, “Jess, what is Cassiopeia? Is that a theoretical dystopian future in which Casper the Friendly Ghost has taken over the world and reshaped it in his image?” No. Rather, Cassiopeia is a San Francisco band whose music appeals to both the inner introspective stargazer in us all, as well as the inner pouty teenage goth in us all. In Cassiopeia’s music, spacey and reverb-drenched, but dark and enveloping synthesizers, as well as some well-played live drums, serve as a nice textural backbone for the forlorn, occasionally distorted guitars and lead singer Hannah Skelton’s ominous vocals.
Cassiopeia’s debut EP, though somewhat short at just four tracks, lays down a cold, desolate atmosphere that pulls in the listener without a warm coat. It’s music for contemplating just how small you are in the grand scheme of the entire universe, as you’re currently standing on the moon, staring at the vast endlessness surrounding you.
SAUTRAH (Wednesday, Fatty’s, 9:00 – 10:00 P.M., 21+)
Those of you on the lookout for a set that’ll make you forget about anything that isn’t in the 90-300 Hz range for an hour of bone-rattling fun, don’t sleep on Boise native SAUTRAH. Listening to any of her many mixes available on SoundCloud, you’ll find the bass-obsessive has a serious ear for both unique sounds and unstoppable drum grooves, and using this talent, SAUTRAH is more than willing to treat listeners to an onslaught of music that’ll expand their minds and make them shake it like a red-nose.
Among the many promising dance and bass music sets Treefort will be putting on during the 2017 festival, SAUTRAH’s set is sure to be one of the best.
Good Dining (Thursday, The District, 10:00 – 10:40 P.M.)
Good Dining‘s performance is sure to be one of the quaintest and prettiest sets Treefort attendees will get all weekend. Though this Boise resident’s discography may be somewhat small, the talent displayed on these songs makes me wonder why Good Dining is one of the most tragically slept-on musical outfits set to play the festival. As Good Dining, sole member Elise Konkol doles out wistful, but pretty ambient folk that has a very humble lo-fi recording. While there’s little in the way of flashy production on these tracks, Konkol’s crestfallen vocals are emotionally-affecting and have an earnest, intimate charm.
If you’re a Treefort attendee looking for some late-night crying Thursday night, you can’t go wrong with Good Dining.
My Body (Saturday, Neurolux, 6:00 – 6:40 P.M., 21+)
My Body is the kind of music that’s perfect for a dark, cramped venue with dim, but colorful lights barely illuminating the crowd. While the Portland outfit’s sound is ostensibly simple, the sequenced, sensual drum machine grooves and rigid synthesizers come together to drive these redolent indie pop tracks, and with some woozy, psychedelic synth pads and alluring vocals from primary member Jordan Bagnall wrapping this band’s music in a veil of overcast, soft-focus bliss.
You owe it to yourself to check My Body out if you’re into eccentric, but stirring pop and electronic music.
Boytoy (Sunday, The Olympic, 11:00 – 11:40 P.M., 21+)
I first came into contact with Brooklyn’s Boytoy late in 2015, when they dropped Grackle, one of the best summer albums of that year, despite being dropped in the middle of autumn. Through explosive tracks like “Postal” and “Your Girl,” Boytoy makes it clear that they aren’t here to play nice, but they accomplish this while still coming off with ample amounts of swagger and charisma. Listening to this short, sweet album, it comes as no surprise Boytoy are affiliated with Burger Records; that distinct warm, fun, fuzzed-out garage-punk sound shines through in their music, but the trio’s too-cool-to-fuck-with-you attitude makes them far more enchanting than most of their contemporaries.
This set is sure to kick many forms of ass, so make sure to add Boytoy to your schedule.
Anna Tivel (Saturday, Basque Center, 6:00 – 6:40 P.M.)
When I think of sounds that have become synonymous with the Pacific Northwest over the years, one of the first that comes to mind is lyrically-thoughtful, instrumentally-lavish indie folk perfect for unwound nighttime listening. While a lot of post-Helplessness Blues folk singer-songwriters whom try to capture tangible feelings of bittersweet wonderment and picturesque imagery in their music come up short, Portland’s Anna Tivel has so much finesse and so many genuinely stunning lyrics that it’s hard not to praise records like 2016’s Heroes Waking Up. There are so many impressive lyrical moments that you’ll only pick up on several listens later, but the sheer beauty of Tivel’s voice, arrangements and instrumentation make each new listen even more enjoyable than the last.
Those of you who want to come away from a set feeling enlightened in all the best ways, you can’t go wrong with Anna Tivel’s set at the Basque Center.
Emma Ruth Rundle (Saturday, Mardi Gras, 9:10 – 9:50 P.M.)
The music of Los Angeles’ Emma Ruth Rundle is cloaked in an ominous, chilling aura. Listening to her latest full-length LP, Marked for Death, conjures imagery of foggy, eerie forests and leaden night drives alone through city streets devoid of human life. Rundle’s music expertly brings together bedroom folk with dark ambient music, and while her music can be quiet and tempered, the soundstage will occasionally be opened up tremendously by thick, distorted guitars that give these songs a great sense of drama and scope. Emma’s singing voice is passionate and affective, and her music overall has an unmatched gorgeous bleakness.
Sit in on this performance if you want to be devastated by sadness and high off the grim beauty.
Jess can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and can be found on Twitter @PaxilParty.