Record labels are more than plentiful in Portland. We have storied bastions of the ‘90s (Kill Rock Stars, Cavity Search) and others that came to prominence in the early aughts (Jealous Butcher, Hush) all still dropping iconic Northwest albums today. There’s a boutique that releases its own vinyl (Tender Loving Empire) as do our pink-boxed purveyors of fried dough (Voodoo Doughnut), while larger operations have relocated here (Relapse, Lefse, Dirtnap). Record stores supply their own resissues (Jackpot, Mississippi) or original albums (Beacon Sound), sometimes provided by our own vinly pressing facility (Cascade Record Pressing). Cassette-only imprints run by artist collectives have come and gone, while numerous artists, producers and studios at the center of their creative circles lead their own charges (like Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock and his Glacial Pace, E*Rock’s Audio Dregs or Pink Martini’s Heinz Records). It’s all a curated effort to get more ears hearing the music of Portland, and we believe these four labels continue to carry the torch for our city’s sound.
Good Cheer Records
YEAR FOUNDED: 2014
ROSTER: Little Star, Mo Troper, Sabonis, Mr. Bones
NEW RELEASES: Naked Hour’s debut album Always On The Weekend (out now), Rod's Pretty Sure EP (out now with Sound Judgement Records), Cool American’s You Can Win A Few (7/29), LPs from Seattle-based Churn (8/12) and PDX’s Turtlenecked (8/19)
As arbiters of good taste in what remains of Portland’s all-ages scene, Mo Troper and Blake Hickman have remained steadfast in their goal of promoting and releasing albums by under-the-radar artists. What began as a vehicle to release their friends’ records—specifically Mr. Bones and Sabonis—Troper and Hickman eventually identified a niche need for the kind of power-pop and emo punk that reigned supreme in the late ’90s and early aughts.
During the first half of 2016, the Good Cheer duo have been attempting to shed such a narrow focus for their label’s output, but releases as strong as Little Star’s Being Close, Troper’s own solo debut Beloved, and the aforementioned self-titled debut EP from Sabonis have endeared the label’s tastemaking prowess to a previously underserved area of regional artistry.
Troper’s boots-on-the-ground work ethic has yielded encouraging results thus far, as his own release on the label has generated press from NPR, Vice, Pitchfork and Spin, among local press accolades. His and Hickman’s ability to pick up on other unassuming-yet-powerful projects like Little Star—who are very much one of the best bands in Portland—makes for a promising beginning to the inception years of this homegrown indie label. —Ryan J. Prado
Golden Brown Records
YEAR FOUNDED: 2016
ROSTER: Jo Passed, Garden Gate
NEW RELEASES: Jo Passed’s Up EP (out now), Garden Gate’s Dark Harvest LP (8/5)
It's still early days for new Portland imprint Golden Brown Records. If their debut compilation is any indication, however, it ought to be a long and prosperous endeavor for label chiefs Thom Sunderland and Matt Halverson. Perfectly Toasted, Vol. 1 was just released in June by the cassette label and encroaches upon the far-reaching worlds of pop, electronica, dream pop and chillwave. As something of an imprint of Halverson's larger Lefse Records, Golden Brown has a solid prism through which to manage a toehold on not only Portland listeners, but on a worldwide level.
Emphasizing exposure for emerging artists, Golden Brown is similarly fledgling, currently being run out of Thom and Brooke Sunderland's Kenton neighborhood home office. The inaugural compilation's 11 tracks are a diverse cross section of the label's hopeful reach, bringing Portland artists like Casey Burge (Minden), Sunbathe and Winds together with other up-and-coming artists like San Francisco-based Bobey and the trippy baroque-pop of Paris, France's Lady D'Ascalie.
Burge's “Comin' Fulfilled” supplants the typically funk-inspired compositions of his work with Minden, imparting Beta Band grooves in line with the feel-good vibes associated with much of Golden Brown's roster. Expect great things from this niche label very soon, but until then, grab a download or cassette of a pretty perfect summer mixtape in Perfectly Toasted, Vol. 1. —Ryan J. Prado
Banana Stand Media
DIY documentarians and diehard lovers of local art, the crew behind the live sessions and albums consistently christened Live From The Banana Stand aim to capture a snippet of the independent Northwest music scene every time they throw a clandestine house show in their cramped but patriotically colorful basement. On course to release 100 albums by their 10th anniversary next year, Banana Stand Media, co-founded by pals Aaron Colter and Louie Herr, has amazingly managed to survive for a decade, supporting a thriving music scene by recording live audio and video, ultimately creating a document of that moment in local music history.
Like many unpaid passion projects, The Stand’s energetic contributors are truly patrons of the scene, throwing free, intimate concerts, recording and releasing high-quality live products, and offering them at a pay-what-you-want rate for the world to consume—and any meager profits are split between bands, audio engineers and The Stand. Whether releasing hotly anticipated live sets from rising bands or memoirs from now-defunct acts, Banana Stand Media may possess Portland’s greatest underground archive of our present-day live music scene.
More recently, the team has exited the basement to record live sets at local venues like Bunk Bar, Holocene and the Doug Fir as well as throw regular public concerts at other traditional venues. But when it comes down it, The Stand is fueled by an ardent love of music. “We love making stuff,” Colter says. “We’re so lucky to have incredible people with us. We want to do bigger and better things. Where that takes us remains to be seen.” —Chris Young
YEAR FOUNDED: 2014
ROSTER: Martell Webster, Myke Bogan, Blossom, ePP, The Last Artful, Dodgr
NEW RELEASES: Martell Webster’s free mixtape ARTT (out now) and EP Emerald District (8/12), plus upcoming EPs from Maze Koroma and ePP, a Calvin Valentine LP (Eugene out Sept.), The Last Artful, Dodgr and Neill Von Tally’s LP Bone Music (late 2016), Myke Bogan’s new LP (early 2017)
“Starting a label with an NBA player seemed like a crazy idea,” says EYRST president Taylor Dutton. But that’s exactly the offer he accepted when longtime friend and beatmaker Neill Von Tally introduced him to ex-Blazer and Seattle native Martell Webster and the team (along with head engineer Justin Longerbeam) set about establishing their cohesive, familial, forward-thinking hip-hop label.
With Von Tally masterminding the big picture—having a hand in pretty much everything the label does—EYRST is an exploration of the textures and temperatures of hip-hop music. For Von Tally, basic markers of the artists on his roster are talent that can “really gas up, rap fast and get technical but who mostly choose to be more lyrical and laid-back.” The sound? “Pre-post-modern, retro super-futurism,” he laughs. “If all of the conceptual drawings from the ’60s and ’70s about what the future would be like came true.”
He’s joking of course, yet that convoluted intelligentsia-speak does describe the label’s soul-filled, R&B-tinged flavor of hip-hop—an output that thus far has been creative, collaborative and captivating thanks in no small part to the close connections between the artists making the music. The label is more like a group of friends—everyone is easy to work with and like-minded, making music with purpose and intention behind it. It’s an artist collective with a family dynamic—one where the label itself tries to fill every role possible for its artists, from recording, producing, mixing and mastering music, to releasing and promoting it, to making accompanying videos and multimedia experiences, to booking shows and tours. And you can hear the close-knit—and growing—community in the results. “It takes a village,” Von Tally says. “I don’t think any of us are shy about the fact that we all need help in our lives. And we look to each other for that kind of support.” —Chris Young