Every year, as the sun grows scarce and a moist chill once again takes to the Oregon air, the hirsute denizens of the Pacific Northwest resume their timeless wintertime ways. Nutria nest under houses, cats wend their way into Subaru engine blocks seeking warmth, band dudes grow fulsome neck beards, and, though the rest of the animal kingdom mates in the springtime, Cascadian record labels pause from releasing albums in order to seek out fresh musical partners with whom to pass the dark months coupled in studios and basements, locked in the impassioned procreation that will yield new albums when the flowers return to bloom. Local bands and labels have remained true to their biological need to consummate relationships with signings in 2008, and we in Portland have a bounty of new music-business couples to celebrate this December. 

Explaining his excitement at having just signed hometown indie rock quintet World's Greatest Ghosts to Lucky Madison, label co-owner (and Talker-demonic) Kevin O'Connor cited both the quality and quantity of the band's live shows. Indeed, there is a good chance that if you go down to your basement right now you will catch the Ghosts pounding out a Dungeons & Dragons-themed, unexpectedly earnest synth-and-riff anthem this very moment, so ubiquitous have they been on the Portland house show circuit this year. Next month they head into the one basement in town they haven't yet conquered—go-to Lucky Madison engineer Skyler Norwood's Miracle Lake Studios.

If gutters are more your thing than dungeons, you will be happy to hear that Portland punk flagship label Dirtnap Records has two new hometown signings of its own: scene-staple melodic hardcore hybridizers Autistic Youth, and self-described purveyors of "piss pop" the Mean Jeans. Albums from both are due in spring 2009.

Meanwhile, Kraut-rock disco divas Atole—having this year expanded from the solo laptop project of Manny Reyes to an appropriately iGlam five-piece band including new bassist Marius Libman (AKA Copy)—recently found their indisputably perfect record-releasing partner with local bastion (and world capital) of happy-virus-infected art house electronica, Audio Dregs.

Hockey, another local band that has made a name for itself on the subterranean show circuit in 2008 after settling in Portland after moving from Spokane and LA, has found itself a quaint little label you might have heard of, too. It's called Capitol Records. You know, the one with the big, deservedly iconic, phallus-shaped building near Hollywood and Vine, and the catalogue including the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, and Portland's own Decemberists, Everclear, and the Dandy Warhols. Apparently major labels still take a chance on an unknown band once in a while, and with their white-boy, Tom-Petty-meets-Stevie-Wonder funk rock, Hockey might just be a good dark-horse bet. The band is currently in England mixing their Capitol debut, which will include portions of this year's self-released Mind Chaos.

Lastly, erstwhile Portlander Alela Diane—who utterly commanded local folkies' hearts with her understated finger-picking and larger-than-life voice when she released debut album The Pirate's Gospel on Holocene Records in 2006 only to move to California shortly thereafter—has signed to major indie Rough Trade and will be releasing her sophomore album To Be Still in February. Better still, she's moving back to Portland just in time to celebrate with us, and earn the title "erstwhile erstwhile Portlander." Welcome back!