50 Oregon Albums That Define Our State

From Elliott Smith to Emancipator, Cool Nutz to Quasi, we’re running down the Beaver State’s most essential LPs.

Edited by Conner Reed By Conner Reed, Gabriel Granillo, Karly Quadros, Katherine Chew Hamilton, Margaret Seiler, and Fiona McCann Published in the Spring 2022 issue of Portland Monthly

Header image by Katie Leimbach

From Elliott Smith to Emancipator, Cool Nutz to Quasi, we're running down the 50 albums that define our state. Listed chronologically in order of release, these are the Oregon-made LPs we think best represent our rich, varied musical history.

A few notes: we made some difficult calls in compiling this list, and we've certainly missed a few gems. Feel free to yell at us on Twitter about that, but be gentle. Also, there are certain defining fixtures of Portland's live scene—Pete Krebs, Janice Scroggins, and many others—whose recorded output felt insufficient to sum them up. That doesn't mean they're not important; it just means they're not on this list.

See your fave? Miss your fave? Have your own list you'd like to submit? Let us know on the socials. In the meantime, kick back, crank the speakers, and work your way through a century of Northwest auditory excellence. Happy listening.

Lee Morse, Lee Morse: A Musical Portrait (1925–1951)

1. Lee Morse, Lee Morse: A Musical Portrait (1925–1951) 

This 20-song compilation, released in 1998 but comprising singles from the Roaring ’20s through the postwar years, provides a perfect intro to one of Oregon’s most fascinating musical figures. Born in Union County, Morse became a massively popular torch singer in early adulthood, riding that success to the Broadway stage before she died at age 57 in Rochester, New York. Across these songs, her distinctive alto sounds ghostly and disaffected, like a specter with a secret it’s too cool to tell you. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “I’m an Unemployed Sweetheart

2. Billy Larkin & the Delegates, Hole in the Wall (1965)

In the middle of the 20th century, Albina brimmed with jazz clubs. One of the best-known groups of the so-called “Jumptown” era was Billy Larkin & the Delegates, a trio who swirled together organ-centric jazz and blues to intoxicating effect. Hole in the Wall sees them leaning funk, with complex rhythms and sweaty guitar solos—the album art implies voyeurism, but with this thing spinning, you feel like you’re smack in the middle of the action. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Little Mama

3. Paul Revere & the Raiders, The Spirit of ’67 (1966)

The Spirit of ’67 received some recent love after a few tracks appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood, but pop-rock darlings Paul Revere & the Raiders have long held a special place in Oregon’s heart. ’67 embellishes some common musical signatures of the decade—twangy, reverb-laden guitars and ever-present keyboards—while also taking a few cues from the Beatles (“Oh! To Be a Man”) and the doo-wop harmonies of Pet Sounds (“Louise”). It’s an homage to the music around the Raiders and a stab at sounds yet to come. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “The Great Airplane Strike 

The New Tweedy Brothers, Psychedelic Journey (1968)

4. The New Tweedy Brothers, Psychedelic Journey (1968)

The words “Beaverton, Oregon” may not immediately conjure thoughts of psych rock, but this exemplary slice of late-’60s fuzz was indeed recorded in a basement there after its makers returned from an unsuccessful stint in San Francisco. The trippy, Beatles-adjacent “I Can See It” represents one end of the album’s sonic spectrum, with the sludgy, driving “I’d Go Anywhere” holding down the other. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Her Darkness in December 

5. Ernest Hood, Neighborhoods (1975)

This LP from a KBOO cofounder lays zither and synth over field recordings to evoke the shimmering warmth of daily life in mid-’70s Portland. The album’s initial run produced only 1,000 copies, but it found new life in 2019 courtesy of a reissue from avant-garde label Freedom to Spend. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Gloaming

Wipers, Is This Real? (1980)

6. Wipers, Is This Real? (1980)

It’s hard to imagine these songs—34 minutes of “little bombs,” as Poison Idea’s Jerry A. once called them—were originally recorded on a four-track in singer-guitarist/producer Greg Sage’s house. The influence of this singular, all-hooks record can be felt in waves of PNW rock, from Poison Idea to Mudhoney and Nirvana. Sage’s voice slips between the barks of a man on the edge to a stylish vibrato, kicking off Portland’s long punk legacy with primal flair. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Mystery

7. Quarterflash, Quarterflash (1981)

The artists formerly known as Seafood Mama scored a no. 3 hit with “Harden My Heart,” and much of this self-titled disc sticks close to that song’s formula: it’s a lot of taut, sax-slathered angst-rock of the power chord variety. That’s no knock. “Valerie” is a pleasingly anxious bicurious anthem, and the bonkers eight-minute “Williams Avenue” pays rapturous homage to the North Portland border with esoteric lyrics, a violin solo, and bass licks so rubbery they could break a window. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Right Kind of Love

8. Black ’N Blue, Black ’N Blue (1984)

Few Portland hair metal acts have survived the test of time, but glammy five-piece Black ’N Blue found a way. Like other ’80s entries on this list, the group rode into America’s ears on the back of a successful single: “Hold On to 18,” a nonsensical ode to youth and not caring “about society.” That song’s parent album is full of tracks with titles like “Show Me the Night” and “Chains Around Heaven,” and if you never looked at the cover art you could still close your eyes and draw it perfectly, like the hero of Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral.” ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Action

9. Nu Shooz, Poolside (1986)

Angular, deliciously fake disco is the name of the game on this mid-’80s slab of Teflon from Portland husband-and-wife duo Nu Shooz. “I Can’t Wait” was the megahit—reaching no. 3 on the Hot 100 and no. 1 on the dance charts—but the glistening “Point of No Return” and Wilson Phillips–adjacent “Secret Message” also deserve moments in the too-bright plastic sun. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “I Can’t Wait

Robert Cray, Strong Persuader (1986)

10. Robert Cray, Strong Persuader (1986)

The onetime Eugene resident technically recorded this seminal album in Los Angeles, but (sorry!) what’s more Oregon than moving to LA for your career? After coming up in Track Town’s music scene, Cray released three moderately successful LPs that capitalized on his clout as a live act, but Strong Persuader, beloved by critics, established him as an album artist and snagged Cray the first of five Grammys. On it, virtuosic blues playing melds with studio sheen, to glorious effect. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Smoking Gun 

11. Crazy 8s, Doggapotomus World (1989)

These Corvallis-formed ska-rockers count a spot in the Oregon Music Hall of Fame and a write-up in Rolling Stone among their successes. Once poised to break big, the group ultimately stayed small during a nearly decade-long career, but their penultimate release, Doggapotamus World, makes it easy to understand the hype. It skews psychedelic and maximal, and still sounds fresh some 33 years on. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Campaign Trail

12. Obo Addy, Okropong (1989)

A lifelong ambassador of Ghanaian music and culture worldwide, master drummer Obo Addy—who taught music at Lewis & Clark College and Lincoln High School—was known for fusing African and European musical elements, but his commitment to cultural preservation is what comes through on Okropong, which focuses on traditional Ghanaian music and dance. Layering hand drums, bells, shakers, and warm vocal harmonies, these songs unfurl and build texture slowly and insistently. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Gome 

Dead Moon, Unknown Passage (1989)

13. Dead Moon, Unknown Passage (1989)

A little garage, punk, country—Dead Moon’s emotion-drenched rock songs live in a genre of their own. It’s all propelled by the voices of Fred and Toody Cole, the #relationshipgoals Clackamas couple who married at 18, raised three children, ran a label and a music gear shop, put out record after record with drummer Andrew Loomis, and might generously be on a stage tonight after playing with their grandchildren all day had death not already come for Loomis and Fred Cole. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “A Miss of You

14. Dharma Bums, Bliss (1990)

Legend has it Kurt Cobain met Courtney Love at the now-dead Old Town punk venue Satyricon during a Dharma Bums gig. Whether or not they helped birth one of grunge’s most notorious partnerships, these Portland garage rockers deserve a spot in history for their musical output alone. Bliss smooths out the group’s prior sonics to deliver shiny, startling post-punk gems that helped lay a foundation for the ensuing decade’s surge of melodic alt-rock. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Stayed Up Late

15. Poison Idea, Feel the Darkness (1990)

Hardcore heroes Poison Idea threw it all on the table with Feel the Darkness, marrying speed, volume, and melody to birth a truly nerve-shredding listen that helped launch the group to legendary status. The punk iconoclasts continued to put out difficult, gutsy records into the 2010s, but Feel the Darkness remains their peak, placing pointed antifascist anthems beside pitch-black expressions of pure anguish. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Alan’s On Fire

Team Dresch, Personal Best (1995)

16. Team Dresch, Personal Best (1995)

Lesbian punk band Team Dresch provided the perfect soundtrack for cassette-clutching, zine-reading, unapologetic gay girls in the ’90s PNW. Tackling homophobia and patriarchy, unrequited crushes, and chosen families over insistent, distortion-drenched guitars that straddle the line between queercore and pitch-perfect mid-’90s emo, each Personal Best track feels like it exists only because it has to. Their ode to a crush mirrors the way so many other lesbians would come to feel about the band: “She’s amazing / Her words save me / She holds her head as if it’s truth.” ESSENTIAL TRACK: “She’s Amazing

17. Heatmiser, Mic City Sons (1996)

The shaggy queercore of Heatmiser’s first two releases, guided by singer-songwriter Neil Gust, yielded to the poppier leanings of Gust’s fellow front man and songwriter Elliott Smith on Mic City Sons, the band’s simultaneous swan song and major-label debut. The songs hardly betray any Let It Be–level discord, however—a few of them are among the era’s finest, and taken together, they constitute Heatmiser’s sturdiest, most locked-in full-length. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Pop in G

Elliott Smith, Either/Or (1997)

18. Elliott Smith, Either/Or (1997) 

Recorded while he was still a member of Heatmiser, Either/Or is so much more than the record that propelled Elliott Smith to the Oscars ... but it’s also the record that propelled Elliott Smith to the Oscars. Slightly more legible than the coiled, lo-fi songs on Roman Candle or Elliott Smith, Either/Or’s tracks presented a virtuosic songwriter smack in the middle of his comfort zone, ready to be seen and obsessed over. Twenty-five years on, the obsession shows no signs of slowing. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Between the Bars

19. Everclear, So Much for the Afterglow (1997)

Portlanders aren’t particularly quiet about their opinions of angsty alt-rock uncles Everclear, but So Much for the Afterglow is a bona fide classic, with three hit singles and a Grammy nomination to back it up. Everclear’s sound lives somewhere between a razor-edged Weezer and a bubble-wrapped Nirvana, and, love it or hate it, Afterglow, recorded in Portland, captures that late-’90s garage rock, post-grunge ethos with clever lyricism and catchy hooks. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Like a California King 

20. Cool Nutz, Harsh Game for the People (1997)

“Cool Nutz started this shit / I opened up your doors,” raps the Jus Family Records cofounder in 1997, repping the 503 back when we didn’t even have to dial the area code for a local number, with callouts to the corner of NE Alberta and 15th. A quarter century later, it’s easy to see the shit Terrance Scott (Cool Nutz) started and still has his hands in, not just as a performer but as a promoter, producer, collaborator, and supporter of the hip-hop community in the NEP and beyond. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “What I’m About” ft. Vursatyl

21. Dandy Warhols, ... The Dandy Warhols Come Down (1997)

The Dandys’ major-label debut signaled a shift from the Britpop-influenced sounds of Dandys Rule OK to a ’60s-by-way-of-’90s psychedelic soup. With it, the group was instantly launched out of indie basement bars and onto the Good Will Hunting soundtrack. It’s reverb-heavy music made for the kinds of slackers reading Sartre and space cadets surfing the information superhighway with a smug sense of self that predicted Portland’s reputation as a hipster playpen in the years to come. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Every Day Should Be a Holiday

Pink Martini, Sympathique (1997)

22. Pink Martini, Sympathique (1997)

Unlike a lot of acts on this list, Pink Martini was fully formed by the time it recorded its debut. Sympathique remains a perfect distillation of the group’s Whole Deal: jazzy cabaret standards from around the world delivered with musical aplomb and a sort of lush, almost-arch classicism, bumping against original compositions (in this case, only one). ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Qué Sera Sera

23. Worthington, He Was Not a Micromanager (1998)

This intriguingly weird LP—cut by Larry Crane at Jackpot Studios during the peak of Portland’s alt-rock golden age—was mostly lost to time. A 2021 rerelease changed that, and now it stands as an arty, jagged testament to those in the yield of PDX’s fertile ’90s soil not named Elliott Smith. National-esque codeine-rock and multiminute guitar fuzz is the name of the game here, bolstered by looping, esoteric lyrics delivered in an arresting baritone. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Smaller Monsters 

Quasi, Featuring “Birds” (1998) 

24. Quasi, Featuring “Birds” (1998)

A dizzying answer to the age-old question, “What would the Beach Boys sound like if you dropped them in a vat of acid?” Comprising Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss and her ex-husband, former Heatmiser bassist Sam Coomes, Quasi reached the height of its soft/hard melodic powers on Birds, sacrificing no fuzz in the quest for pop goodness. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “The Poisoned Well

25. Sleater-Kinney, All Hands on the Bad One (2000)

The fifth studio album by Sleater-Kinney provides the perfect snapshot of the Kill Rock Stars era, a time of self-conscious indie rock coming out of college towns and endless hand-wringing over which band had “sold out” this time. But Corin Tucker’s earnestly reflexive lyrics about gender and fame yowled out over Carrie Brownstein’s chunky guitar riffs and Janet Weiss’s force-of-nature drums are anything but glib. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “#1 Must Have

26. The Gossip, That’s Not What I Heard (2001)

In true Portland fashion, this (soon-to-be) PDX-based band—whose members hail from Arkansas and formed their group in Olympia—encompasses an eclectic range of styles in its sound, consistent from one track to the next: bluesy, punky guitar riffs with soulful vocals by the iconic Beth Ditto, and bare-bones, danceable, drums with some distortion around the edges. This debut studio album is a little gospel, a little riot grrrl, with standout tracks including the fast-paced, minute-long “Catfight,” and the growling, supercharged vocals on “Jailbreak.” ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Southern Comfort

27. Stephen Malkmus, Stephen Malkmus (2001)

The Pavement front man’s first post-Pavement effort sounds triumphant even when it’s peppered with Malkmus’s trademark mordancy. While Pavement’s impending breakup hung over their final album, Terror Twilight—released two years earlier—the songs on Stephen Malkmus course with post-Y2K, pre-9/11 possibility, portending Malkmus’s lighter, later, also Portland-produced work with the Jicks. It’s a little poppier and a lot less willfully obscure than many of the LPs that came out of the Rose City in the ’90s. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Jenny & The Ess-Dog

The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow (2003)

28. The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow (2003)

The Albuquerque-formed, Garden State–assisted Shins settled in Portland in 2002, where they promptly recorded their finest album in front man James Mercer’s basement. On Chutes Too Narrow, the twee fuzz of the band’s debut gave way to something cleaner and more substantial—it’s the sound of a group refining and deepening what works. The Shins’ next two projects have their charms, but the sonic balance was never better than it got here. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Saint Simon

29. Lifesavas, Spirit in Stone (2003)

After being “discovered” by Chief Xcel of Bay Area stars Blackalicious, it seemed like the Lifesavas were about to break big. It never quite happened, but the Jus Family–connected Vursatyl and Jumbo are still “the clever kid rhyming backstage, in your ear forever.” This debut and 2007’s Gutterfly, styled as a Blaxploitation film soundtrack with cameos from Vernon Reid, Fishbone, and George Clinton, are simultaneously deep musings on identity and a whole lot of well-crafted fun. Essential TRACK: “Hellohihey

30. The Decemberists, Picaresque (2005)

If the Decemberists had an imperial phase, this was its finest hour. Theatrical, nerdy, and steeped in English folk, Picaresque veers from sea shanty (“The Mariner’s Revenge Song”) to political satire (“16 Military Wives”) to espionage romance (“The Bagman’s Gambit”) and beyond. While the band’s next two LPs would feature album-length stories, Picaresque is so stuffed with narratives that it has no time to stick with one for longer than a few minutes—and is all the better for it. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “On the Bus Mall

The Mel Brown B-3 Organ Group, Smokin’ at Jimmy’s (2006)

31. The Mel Brown B-3 Organ Group, Smokin’ at Jimmy’s (2006)

Drum legend Mel Brown, who played locally with Billy Larkin & the Delegates in the ’60s before a Motown deal brought his talents to the likes of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Diana Ross, held down a regular gig at now-shuttered Pearl District jazz club Jimmy Mak’s throughout the 2000s. He still plays on occasion at downtown’s Jack London Revue, and this recording captures his casual virtuosity with warmth and wonder. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Isn’t She Lovely

32. Emancipator, Soon It Will Be Cold Enough (2006)

Some albums seem designed for passive listening, while road-tripping or catching up on chores, but Soon It Will Be Cold Enough is specifically designed for headphones. This self-released debut (later reissued by Japanese producer Nujabes) from Portland’s Emancipator blends ambient trip-hop with subtly immersive electronic music, sporting delicate guitar-and piano-focused melodies that seem to float and swirl and guide the listener through a melancholic, mystical, very PNW journey. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “With Rainy Eyes 

33. Chromatics, Night Drive (2007)

Throbbing, small-scale Italo-disco: Chromatics had teased it on a few EPs, but Night Drive marked their full pivot away from the noisy post-punk of their debut toward sleekness. The Portland shapeshifters stayed interesting long after Night Drive—their 2019 swan song, Closer to Grey, is a blast—but producer Johnny Jewel nailed his signature sound here, mixing sweeping instrumental suites with smoke-clouded pop nuggets, hypnotically sung by Ruth Radelet. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Healer

34. Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007)

Recorded between Mississippi and Portland, We Were Dead is one of the Rose City’s only homegrown albums to hit no. 1 on the Billboard chart. This ultra-nautical LP could make a comeback on ShantyTok at any moment (look it up), so do yourself a favor and give it a spin—Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr contributed writing, and his influence helps sharpen some of Mouse’s latent pop potential. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Dashboard

Blitzen Trapper, Furr (2008)

35. Blitzen Trapper, Furr (2008)

Positioned just to the left of their PDX indie rock peers, closer to the sonic territory of northern brethren Fleet Foxes, Blitzen Trapper churned out an extremely consistent array of country-inflected folk rock throughout the aughts. On Furr, the group’s Sub Pop debut, they broke through, going brighter and shinier than ever before. The title track, an earworm about some casual werewolfery, was a critical and popular hit, and the LP won them praise everywhere from Rolling Stone to Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Lady on the Water

36. She & Him, Volume One (2008)

Does it get any more Portland than this union of local guitarist/singer-songwriter M. Ward and singer-songwriter/actor/2000s it-girl Zooey Deschanel? It’s easy to see why the pair’s debut album was a popular and critical smash, as it’s stuffed with cheery, sunshiny songs in styles from country to vintage pop. “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here” combines doo-wop girl group vocals with Chopsticks-like piano riffs, crescendoing into wailing guitar lines and crashing cymbals, and contributions from such PDX mainstays as Mike Coykendall and Rachel Blumberg lend additional local bona fides. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “I Should Have Known Better

37. Richmond Fontaine, We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded like a River (2009)

Before Willy Vlautin was a novelist chronicling Portland’s hardscrabble underbelly in heartbreakers like Lean on Pete and The Night Always Comes, he was the front man of literate alt-country outfit Richmond Fontaine. By the time they got to Freeway, the ’90s-founded group’s ninth album, Vlautin was on his third novel, and it shows: the record plays like a somber collection of short stories assembled by a PNW Springsteen or Hold Steady. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “The Pull

38. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Unknown Mortal Orchestra (2011)

From its cover photograph of Croatia’s Monument to the uprising of the people of Kordun and Banija to its oozing lo-fi production, this New Zealand–founded band’s self-titled debut feels like music from another era trapped inside a tape deck that’s been thrust underwater. Part of that sense is guided by singer-guitarist Ruban Nielson’s decision to scour vintage stores in Portland for old microphones and reel-to-reel tape recorders during recording. It’s a deeply experimental gem full of fuzzy, funky psych-pop. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Thought Ballune 

39. Macintosh Plus, Floral Shoppe (2011)

Often credited as the first vaporwave record, Floral Shoppe—released by Portland electronic music maestro Ramona Xavier under the alias Macintosh Plus—is one of the most influential albums of 2010s, Oregon-born or otherwise. Its arch, codeine-addled, relentlessly chopped-and-screwed elevator Muzak reverberated across a million Tumblrs in the Obama years, and the DNA of its achingly nostalgic early-internet cover art wound up influencing everyone from Rihanna to PC Music. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Chill Divin’ with ECCO 

STRFKR, Reptilians (2011)

40. STRFKR, Reptilians (2011)

The airy, MGMT-adjacent synth pop group was at peak power here, crafting noisy psychedelia that felt both timeless and extremely of its time. The moody “Astoria” is, indeed, great beach drive music, and tracks like “Mona Vegas” scrubbed most of the cute from the band’s first two releases, leaving something deeper, darker, and more imposing. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Reptilians

41. Conjunto Alegre, Music by the River (2014)

Portland Latin band Conjunto Alegre, formed by multi-instrumentalist Aquiles Montas in the late ’80s, has been pounding the pavement for decades playing cumbia, salsa, merengue, and bachata music at festivals, events, and shows across the Northwest. The live album Music by the River is one of group’s few recorded efforts, and it gives a nice overview of their stylistic range—consider cuing it up next time you’re stumped on a party playlist. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Corazon sin cara” 

Laura Gibson, Empire Builder (2016)

42. Laura Gibson, Empire Builder (2016)

Call us suckers for resilience. This Coquille-born singer-songwriter had a string of bad luck following the release of her delicate western gothic La Grande in 2012: first soundtracking an ad for the Affordable Care Act–related Cover Oregon campaign, the equivalent of being hired as onboard entertainment for the sinking Titanic, and then losing her home in a deadly apartment-building gas explosion in New York City. Also gone were her instruments and notebooks of songs for what would become this lush, intoxicating record. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Louis

43. Esperanza Spalding, Emily’s D+Evolution (2016)

Five years after she scored a legendary Grammy upset—beating Drake, Justin Bieber, Mumford & Sons, and Florence & the Machine for Best New Artist—this Portland-bred jazz renegade delivered her finest work: a bracing fusion of funk rock and jazzy discursion that includes a Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory cover. Like any good prog-indebted project, there’s an alter ego, a loose storyline, and coproduction by Tony Visconti. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Judas

44. case/lang/veirs, case/lang/veirs (2016)

Remember when Laura Veirs and (then-Portland-resident) k.d. lang recruited Neko Case to the Rose City and laid down the greatest Lilith Fair album that never was? Opener “Atomic Number” is a baroque, almost-too-glorious meeting of the minds, and the momentum never really lets up: case/lang/veirs taps into the same magic that Dolly/Linda/Emmylou mined with their Trio series, highlighting the strengths of each individual member and assembling them into harmonious new shapes. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Honey and Smoke

45. Ural Thomas & The Pain, The Right Time (2018)

Thomas, a Portland soul legend, performed regularly at the Apollo Theater throughout the ’50s and ’60s, dropping a string of singles along the way. He never laid down a proper LP until he joined up with backing band the Pain in 2013, though, and The Right Time—the group’s sophomore effort—stands as an ideal introduction to the inexhaustible showman. Brassy, upbeat dance jams (“The Right Time”) share space with wall-of-sound weepies (“Smile”), all animated by Thomas’s contagious kineticism. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Smoldering Fire

46. Maarquii, C.A.B.O. (2018)

Over clattering beats, through thick clouds of smoke, Portland emcee Maarquii taunts, flirts, and flaunts their way through 30 too-brief minutes of bravado on this full-length debut. “Sometimes you just gotta cut a bitch loose,” they opine on the title track (“C.A.B.O.” is short for “Cut a Bitch Off”), and while they’re talking about ex-lovers or fair-weather friends, they might as well be talking about themselves. C.A.B.O. is a glorious reminder of the power in removing your fetters—never once do you sense Maarquii is holding something back. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Taalk Shiit 

Black Belt Eagle Scout, At the Party with My Brown Friends (2019)

47. Black Belt Eagle Scout, At the Party with My Brown Friends (2019)

“We will always sing,” intones Katherine Paul, a.k.a. Black Belt Eagle Scout, on the tender opening track of this sophomore release. It’s a defiant vow delivered like a potent whisper. Over nine songs that range from the quiet build of “Run It to Ya,” to “You’re Me and I’m You,” a touching ode to motherhood, Paul’s breathy, close vocals forge an intimacy that deepens over the course of several listens. It’s an album that vibrates with longing, but Paul makes space for comfort. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Going to the Beach with Haley

48. Aminé, Limbo (2020)

The second studio album from Portland’s most famous rapper goes moodier (“Can’t Decide”) and more virtuosic (“Burden”) than his debut. There’s an enduring sense of play, though (especially on the worthwhile deluxe edition), that captures the Technicolor appeal of Aminé both as a lyricist and a pop culture figure. When it dropped in summer 2020, Limbo’s prizing of simple pleasures—a turn of phrase, a silly instrumental flourish—felt like a corrective to global gloom and doom. Its ability to lighten the mood persists. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Woodlawn

MAITA, Best Wishes (2020)

49. MAITA, Best Wishes (2020)

Not to pull a “they should be bigger,” but MAITA’s crunchy, intelligent debut has all the hallmarks of a contemporary indie rock classic: brainy structures, a juxtaposition of the gentle and the abrasive, tongue-in-cheek track titles like “Someone’s Lost Their Goddamn Wallet.” The noirish “Japanese Waitress” and epic opener “A Beast” are highlights, but all of Best Wishes plays like a seasoned entry in a storied catalog. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Japanese Waitress

quickly, quickly, The Long and Short of It (2021)

50. quickly, quickly, The Long and Short of It (2021)

Since he was a teen, Portlander Graham Jonson has been making music under the moniker quickly, quickly, and his Stones Throw–inspired hip-hop breakbeats and spastic jazz have garnered more than 10 million Spotify plays. But his label debut, The Long and Short of It, is a true transition, blending spoken-word poetry with hypnotic instrumental breaks (“Phases”), and dark guitar loops with swelling strings and compressed beats (“Everything Is Different [to Me]”). Throughout, Jonson reminisces about Forest Park, his brief stint in LA, and self-validation. ESSENTIAL TRACK: “I Am Close to the River  

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