Let’s start by considering your audio situation. What’s your gear look like, dear reader? Full-on hi-fidelity sound system, multiple speakers (including that oh-so-important subwoofer), comfortable couch, fancy turntable? Or earbuds on your phone and YouTube with ads?
Both are fine, but let’s define two ends of those categories. On the one end: if you prefer to listen to mostly familiar music on one of the popular streaming services, we recommend going ad-free and using a bare minimum of decent headphones or a quality bluetooth speaker. Other than that, though, you’re all set. An infinity of music is at your disposal. You can listen to nothing but your favorite songs, favorite albums, favorite artists. You can listen to all the latest coolest stuff from Beyoncé and Harry Styles and Bad Bunny and whatnot.
You can also check out all kinds of Oregon music, from YOB to Cascadia Composers. You can sample as little or as much as you like, and it costs you nothing but time and attention. Stream the whole Cappella Romana catalog, spend a month or two on YouTube watching 45th Parallel Universe and Resonance Ensemble and In Mulieribus concerts, build a playlist of compositions by Oregon School of Composition elders like Tomáš Svoboda (start here, here, here, and here) and Kenji Bunch (start here, here, here, here, and here).
Lie in bed and let the infinitude carry you away into an pine-blanketed Oregon dreamland. Pop your headphones on, escape the dreary limitations of the old flesh, and simply live the life of the mind. It’s the future now. You can do whatever you want.
This column is not for you.
On the other end of the spectrum, let’s be clear that you don’t need that super duper extra fancy sound system to enjoy physically reproduced music. If you’re not going with the simpler route outlined above, you might as well cut out the excluded middle and invest a modest sum in your listening pleasure. Otherwise you’re wasting your time. You might as well just read a book or go for a walk.
The good news is you can still do this on a budget. The most important thing is a good pair of speakers, with or without that subwoofer. Plan on spending about $150 there–several good options exist with solid bass and no sub, and the present author has found a $120 set of Edifier R1280T powered bookshelf speakers more than adequate. You’ll also want to pick up a CD player for $20 on Ebay, and an aux cable, and a streaming service–yes, you still want one of those, and for god’s sake pay the ten bucks for the ad-free subscription.
Then you need–absolutely need–a good turntable. That old all-in-one Victrola with the built-in speaker will not do. Your best bet is probably an Audio Technica–budget another $150 for one of their excellent “entry-level” AT-LP60 models. Call it $300 altogether and you’re all set–you, or whoever you’re buying this little gift set for.
Okay, you’ve got your sound system set up. You’ve seen the light of reason and have decided to reward ears and mind with music that sounds like music.
This column is for you.
Because today we’re going to focus on music you can buy in physical formats, made in Oregon by Oregonians, whom you can support with your holiday pay and your appreciation. We’re not going to belabor the whole “vinyl is better” thing today. No, that one’s obvious to anyone who’s held a record in their hands, gazed lovingly into its deep shiny old–fashioned black or its fancy multi-colored swirl or whatever, and put it on a high-quality turntable, and placed the stylus oh so carefully on the groove, and cranked up those nice speakers and soaked up all the delicious sonic glory. As the Sufis say, “who tastes, knows.”
The following is simply a somewhat representative but necessarily incomplete gathering of music that fits three criteria: the music was created by Oregonians, and is available on Bandcamp, in a physical medium.
We probably left off your favorite band. Complain about it in the comments. We also left out a ton of very worthy classical and jazz artists who, if they have released anything at all, have not released it on vinyl or compact disc or even cassette tape. Get on it, folks! We’d love to talk about your new record next year.
We also left off stuff that’s available as a physical release, but not on Bandcamp–for instance that Cappella Romana catalog we mentioned earlier (all available in a classic SACD-and-booklet format from their label site), various CDs of Mozart and Bach and Piazzolla recorded by Portland State University violin professor Tomás Cotik (available on his website), Resonance Ensemble’s debut album LISTEN (available on their website), and so on.
Caveat lector! On with the Bandcamp Fee Free Friday Holiday Gift Guide!
Grandma Nadine keeps the undertaking pure
There are two new records on the Nadine Records label that we’ve been waiting for since founder Mandy Morgan told us about them in August. The first is a re-pressing of the new Spoon Benders album, available in Galactic Glitter (“Deep space blue vinyl with galaxy glitter”), Tiger Eye (“coppery silky luster shimmer with black smoke”) and Metallic Pink Ripple (“shimmery metallic pink ripple”) editions. The second is a special vinyl with about thirteen minutes worth of music on one side and etched art on the other. Morgan explains:
The next Nadine release will be an EP by doomtown rockers The Mistons. Side A of the vinyl will be comprised of 5 high-energy blasts of garage/punk goodness, while the B side will contain an etching by celebrated local artist and Mistons’ singer/guitarist Sean Croghan. Look for it in mid-Nov 2023.
And that looks like this:
Spoonbenders, How Things Repeat
The Mistons, Extended Play
YOB is love, where’s my YOB?
Four albums from the YOB catalog are available on various types of splatter and/or metallic vinyl editions–or on CD, for those long car trips up and down the coast or the I-5 corridor. Three are remastered reissues, and one (Atma) is even available on cassette (read more about that whole remastering/reissuing process in this interview with YOB leader Mike Scheidt).
All four albums, like the rest of the YOB catalog, are exactly the sort of wide-band soul-pummeling sonic experiences that are best absorbed via turntables-and-good-speakers, ideally while sitting on a comfortable couch with eyes wide shut and ears wide open.
Our Raw Heart (2018)
Atma (2011, remastered and reissued 2022)
The Great Cessation (2009, remastered and reissued 2017)
Elaborations of Carbon (2003, remastered and reissued 2023)
Portland Jazz Composers
It’s a bit ridiculous how much music the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble releases (the only other Oregon label with this much hustle is a mysterious, supposedly Eugene-based bizarro collective called The Museum of Viral Memory). PJCE describes their organization and its mission like this:
PJCE Records is a grassroots recording label documenting the wide variety of original music being created by Portland area jazz composers and improvisers. We aim to provide an outlet to encourage the dissemination of new music in the area as well as fostering community within the jazz and improvised music scene in Portland. We release one album per month digitally and/or in limited CD pressings.
Take a look at their page and marvel at the catalog: we count fifty-six distinct releases, over half of them available on CD. This impressive oeuvre includes such gems as Darrell Grant’s The Territory, Jasnam Daya Singh’s Ekta: The Unity Project, Ezra Weiss and S. Renee Mitchell’s From Maxville to Vanport, the multi-composer Oregon Stories, and tons more. The most recent albums include guitarist Dan Balmer’s When The Night (featuring organist Gary Versace and drummer Rudy Royston) and drummer Chris Lee’s Quintet Music (featuring Balmer, pianist Greg Goebel, trumpeter Thomas Barber, and bassist Dave Captein).
We can’t think of more than two or maybe three important Oregon jazz musicians who don’t appear somewhere in the PJCE catalog. And just look at those covers!
Dan Balmer, When The Night (2023)
Chris Lee, Quintet Music (2023)
Jasnam Daya Singh, Ekta: The Unity Project (2020)
Ezra Weiss / S. Renee Mitchell / Marilyn Keller, From Maxville to Vanport (2018)
Darrell Grant / Mark Orton / Douglas Detrick, Oregon Stories (2017)
Darrell Grant, The Territory (2015)
Speaking of Darrell Grant, there’s one very special new release that deserves a mention here–and it’s not on the PJCE label. It’s called Our Mr. Jackson, and although it was recorded in 2018 by Grant’s MJ New quartet (a tribute to the Modern Jazz Quartet) it was only released on vinyl last month. The lineup is terrific, of course: Grant doing his thing on the piano, Marcus Shelby on bass, Mike Horsfall on vibes, and beloved KMHD host Carlton Jackson at the drums.
The album is named for and pays tribute to Jackson, who passed away in 2021. Here’s what Grant has to say in the album notes:
This album is dedicated to the memory of our friend and inspiration, Carlton Jackson. You graced us with your brilliant talent, your wealth of musical knowledge, your impeccable taste, generous spirit, and enduring groove. Thank you for always knowing what time it was. Rest in power, brother. The Message lives on.
Darrel Grant’s MJ New, Our Mr. Jackson
Backlit holy water
Over the last seven years, Blackwater Holylight has been catching up with YOB as contenders for the title of Oregon’s greatest metal/prog/rock/stoner/whatever band. They’ve released three albums so far, all available on vinyl in a variety of colors. Listened to in sequence, they form an arc that tells a story already in progress, drawing you deep into the dark woods, suggesting even grander and weirder things to come. If these three are Black Sabbath, Paranoid, and Master of Reality, what will their Volume 4 and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath sound like? Hurry and find out–of all the artists you’re reading about here today, this crew has earned the most “sold out” badges.
Blackwater Holylight (2018)
Veils of Winter (2019)
When we spoke with Roselit Bone singer/songwriter/bandleader Charlotte McCaslin earlier this year, she had this to say about the relationship between her band’s new album Ofrenda and its predecessor, 2019’s Crisis Actor:
Before this record I had a lot of climate change anxiety and general depression and anxiety related to what I would call societal collapse, what the future will probably look like with climate change, destabilizing governments, civil wars breaking out in developed nations. And I still think that’s all going to happen. So my music before was very immediate–not trying to draw attention to it, but it was a centerpiece of the songs I wrote before.
And I think we’re in it now. I think that the pandemic brought collapse awareness to the forefront of everybody’s mind, and everybody–unless they’re delusional–I think is on the same page about what’s going on. So it feels a little heavy-handed to drive that stuff home. Ofrenda is a record that’s more of a “dealing with it” kind of thing, trying to find beauty in whatever the world is going to look like now. The title of the album refers to people dying, but also the world that we’re currently in the process of losing.
People have asked me about the political underpinnings of the record–I don’t think there are any direct political opinions in there. I think that it’s more of just a salve. Some of the songs are very dark, but in those songs I tried to make the music at least some sort of comfort.
Crisis Actor (2019)
We leave you with two more representatives of the Oregon School of Composition: Reed professor Kirsten Volness and Columbia Riverkeeper composer-in-residence Deena T. Grossman, both of whom have honest-to-goodness limited edition compact discs available on their Bandcamp pages.
When we spoke with Volness in 2021, she had this to say about her album River Rising:
I wrote these pieces between five and 17 years ago, so this album has been a long time in the making, and not without a lot of help from my friends. Before teaching at Reed, I was primarily self-employed as a freelance musician and educator, so, by necessity, much of the album was pieced together from DIY sessions. Thanks to some friends in the multimedia and electronic music composition program at Brown University, I was able to access studio spaces and nicer mics than I had at home to capture many of the solo recordings.
The musicians featured are also good friends I have worked with often, so that aspect of the process was effortless and fun. The string quartet was recorded at a non-profit studio in Boston designed to be affordable for artists called The Record Company, with help from one of their engineers. Having someone else moving mics and hitting buttons allowed me to focus more on listening, taking notes, and communicating with the ensemble.
I love to collaborate, but it also feels empowering to have creative control over the final mix as an extension of the compositional process. I asked people I trust to listen and give me feedback along the way. It still feels like it took a village.
We hope that every Oregon composer will take note of this tidy little three-paragraph primer on how to record and release your own album. It’s not magic, folks–it’s just work.
Grossman is a composer who has, like Volness, been making waves all over Oregon the last few years: her music has been featured on recent Cascadia Composers and Chamber Music Northwest concerts, and flutist Amelia Lukas has been playing Grossman’s snowy egret, january messenger just about every chance she gets (including at this six-flute concert at Leach Botanical Gardens last summer). You can read more about Grossman’s backstory here in James Bash’s review of last year’s release show for her album Wildfires and Waterways.
Kirsten Volness, River Rising (2020)
Deena T. Grossman, Wildfires and Waterways (2022)