Tender Loving Empire Marks a Decade of Music

Take a spin through the catalog of the beloved Portland indie label and boutique.

By Fiona McCann October 16, 2017 Published in the November 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

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Typohoon, which released its second album on Tender Loving Empire, plays NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series.

Image: Courtesy NPR

In 2007 Brianne and Jared Mees opened a tiny shop in Northwest Portland, selling records on their own nascent label as well as zines and handmade goods. They called it Tender Loving Empire, a name neatly combining earnestness and ambition. Ten years, 70 records, and four stores later, TLE captures a particular Portland ethos: still rough-hewn and community focused, but also ready and willing to expand.

The label celebrates with a festival, November 1–5, at venues around the city. We’re celebrating with a deep dive into its echt-Portland catalog: the 10 most Tender Loving of this stalwart label’s releases.

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Jared Mees & the Grown Children

Caffeine Alcohol Sunshine Money (2008)
Any TLE list would be incomplete without an entry from Jared himself—here with Brianne and sundry local musicians for a warbling, irreverent kumbaya, with added espresso.

Musée Mécanique

From Shores of Sleep (2014)
Oregon’s Pacific coast infuses this return to the orchestral layers and folky feels of the band’s 2008 debut, doubling down with a maritime theme. You can even hear the ocean. Literally.


Song Force Crystal (2010)
This debut album introduces low-fi experimental pop, all distorted guitars and ethereal vocals from brothers Brandon and Richard Laws layered over syncopated beats. Splendid, spooky stuff. 

Boy Eats Drum Machine

Hoop & Wire (2010)
Samples and synth andsome serious saxophone come together for infectious uplift, from the disco crack of “Constellation” to the choral mashup of “New Mexico to Old Arizona.”


A New Kind of House (2011)
Five lush, layered songs of empty rooms and full hearts mark Typhoon’s follow-up to the previous year’s Hunger and Thirst. Blasting horns, clappy rhythms, mournful vocals, and big, big feelings. 

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Loch Lomond

Little Me Will Start a Storm (2011)
Ritchie Young’s sweet falsetto finds the perfect counterbalance in ornate chamber pop. Clarinet, piano, mandolin, theremin, and more turn lyrics about natural disasters and riding elephants into a sepia-toned delight.

Radiation City

Animals in the Median (2013)
The synthy space pop quintet gave us six delightful years and three cracking albums, including this sophomore release. Animals in the Median channels Beach Boys, bossa nova, lush doo wop, and some serious sex appeal.

The Domestics

The Domestics (2015)
The band parted ways with Tender Loving Empire this year after a Trump-related marketing gimmick got some major blowback. But this debut was a gem of old-school guitar riffs, tight melodies, and imploding relationships.

Y La Bamba

Ojos Del Sol (2016)
Front woman Luz Elena Mendoza’s Latin heritage is at the heart of this bilingual record, palpable in the musical arrangements and a storytelling that is deeply rooted in a sense of family. Her distinctive vocals elevate folk-meets-indie-pop melodies.

Friends and Friends of Friends

The nine iterations of this annual compilation have over the years included Summer Cannibals, the Wedding Present, Magic Sword, and more. Together, they function as the closest thing the city’s got to its own personal musical archive.

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