Portlanders have their share of vices. It pours about 360 days of the year here, which means an average citizen needs to fill 27,000 days of gray in his or her lifespan. Sounds a bit depressing, doesn't it? Well aha! If you've ever wandered around Southeast Portland's Division or Belmont districts,
you may have noticed two small Meccas in this rainwater sea we call life.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters' two brimming locations are oases of culture. Day or night, the three-year-old company's incredible coffee (roasted before your eyes at the Division cafe) finds complements in a frothy atmosphere of art, music and eclectic magazines.
Oh, yeah--and then there are the people.
Partners R.C. Gartrell and Duane Sorenson have managed to create an environment within their cafes that transcends the raw mechanics of the coffee business. Like any great company, there is never a huge turnover in staff, leaving a tight-knit crew drawn together through love of music and art. Turntables and stacks of vinyl in both locations help make this apparent--the analog stimulation at the Stumptowns rivals the caffeine jolt.
As it so happens that nearly every Stumptown employee boasts some type of musical ambition, a pub-side brainstorm a few months back birthed Stumptown Sessions Worker's Comp Vol. I, a compilation album featuring cafe-connected acts. In true Stumptown fashion, the album was recorded and mixed at the Division Street outlet after-hours and released in a limited run of 500 signed copies pressed on special heavy-duty vinyl.
The compilation takes you on a journey through the minds of different people from different backgrounds, connected through a common bond. 31 Knots' "White Hot" kicks off Side A with a frustrated, searing number. From there, the album bucks and dips from the electric to the acoustic. Glacier Park's "Sea Level" is a soothing track that helps settle the soul, while the viola and guitars on Igloo's "Paranoia" are reflected as their own personal symphony. Bootyproof's "Officially," a great twangy number, and Urban Legends' jaunty acoustic piece "Electric Heat" complete a driving Side A.
Side B elaborates the overall complexity of the album. Sierra Collum's enthralling "Traditional" violin piece kick-starts the pace. Opercycle's infectious "Purple Flying Suit" is as good as some of Coldcut's better Ninja Tune work--the man behind the music, Jordan Hudson, has a very bright future ahead of him if he keeps this up. The Planet The roars through "Sidepipe," which left me feeling like I'd been run over by a 1972 Pontiac Firebird driven by a man in a sleeveless shirt drinking Silver Bullet. Shelterbelt brings matters back to earth with "Downstate," beautifully organic with some great slide guitar and rolling melody. The Swords Project finishes off the album with a little more live instrumental ambience, managing to round off the LP with a nice comedown.
At first, listening to the album made me feel like I had just watched one of those movies that strips you of your emotions, beats them up, and slaps them back together using cheap glue, all willy-nilly. But then I realized that this record is a direct reflection of the way Stumptown Coffee gathers people from different walks of life in an environment that celebrates their individuality with an underlying avant-garde ethos.
In the first week after its release, Worker's Comp Vol. 1 sold out at local record stores and shot to No. 1 on some Northwest album-sales charts. Luckily, the crew held back some records for the cafes and their record release show. With the cafe stock already gone, you'll need to pick your copy up at the party this Friday at Blackbird. This terrific retail response prompted the Stumptown Nation to start planning its second album, to feature some new employees in a purely acoustic mix that will include some spoken word.
Vol. 1's a snip at $7. The project, it seems, was never intended as a moneymaking exercise but as a way to have some fun and show the world that there is life beyond the bland sonic-wallpaper CD compilations flogged at (insert Corporate Coffee Chain Name here).
This is the charm that connects all that is Stumptown: nice people, great coffee, good ideas and a profound unpredictability. So recycle your brown-paper hot-cup holders, tear down the Schmoove Jazz Collection display, and join the community, people.
Featuring Nick Marshall, the Ami's (Bootyproof), The Planet The, Operacycle, Schicky Gnarowitz and the Transparent Rings of Joy, Shelterbelt, and Glacier Park.
3728 NE Sandy Blvd., 282-9949 9 pm Friday, April 19 Cover. Stumptown's cafes are located at 4525 SE Division St. (230- 7797) and 3356 SE Belmont St. (232- 8889).