Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Best of 2009 (Local Albums)

Now for the local albums of 2009. Although you would think that it would be difficult for a local scene to compete with the breadth of releases on the National Scale, I strongly believe that Portland is responsible for some of the greatest music in the world right now. I realize I might be biased but I've long been a lover of music and have lived in many different cities, and simply no place has ever compared to the talent and creativity of Portland. I would place at least half the following albums above my #1 national choice. Anyway, read what I think and please get your hands on anything that sparks your interest.

1. Of Art and Intention - Dilly Dilly

Dilly Dilly's debut LP reached new sonic and emotional heights only hinted at on her 2007 EP (Akidleadivy), and it became one of Portland's most talked about albums of the summer. Then Dilly abruptly called an indefinite hiatus on her music career. Thankfully she left us these 12 amazing songs- including new takes on Akidleadivy's "Doo Write" and "Rival" (now fleshed out by Alias' precise production), the anthemic "Come What May", the emotionally devastating but strangely uplifting "AlossAlone", and the interplanetary electro come-on "Alien Dance Queen". This album still doesn't exist in physical form, but can be downloaded for free (or by donation) at dillydillymusic . Let's hope this isn't the last we hear from Dilly Dilly.

2. Anna's Ghost - Anna's Ghost

Yes, I'm plugging a release from my own label, but I wouldn't have put this album out in the first place if I didn't think it was one of the best artistic statement of the year. Like many others, I was a big fan of Anna's Ghost debut EP, and this follow-up was well worth the wait. In a city full of great female vocalists (Aly Spaltro, Colleen Kinsella, Erin Davidson, Sontiago, etc), I think Gabrielle Raymond's vocal delivery might be the best and most underrated. Her voice can both wrap around your heart ("Magdalene") or rip out your spine ("Good Enough"). Of course, she is also joined by her dark lieutenants, Ian Riley on drums, Chris Moulton on guitar, and Jake Pike on bass. They alternately sound like a four-member death squad ("He is in the Walls") and a demented carnival of skeletons ("After the Snow"). Sometimes they just sound skeletal, like on the haunting closing track "Comeback" ("when you come back we'll all be dead..."). An album to take to your grave.

3. Candy, Cake and Ice Cream - Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia

After spending a year regaling our city with his brightly-colored ensemble of masterful musicians, Spencer Albee finally released this collection of absolutely perfect pop songs. This man has clearly studied the Kinks and the Beatles well, and it is simply amazing how many of the songs on this album immediately get stuck in your head: "The Way of the World", "Come Back Monday", "So Good", "Nobody Got Off Easy", and "Glad You Came Back Home" just to name a few. My only complaint is that live highlight "Opportunity Knocks" can't seem to reach its full potential in its studio form. But really, that's hardly reason to complain. In a just world these songs would be playing on radios (and iPods) across the country.

4. Worried Love - Chriss Sutherland

On his second solo album, Chriss Sutherland takes a sonic leap from the sparer folk rock of his debut (strange to call an album a debut since it was preceded by almost a dozen albums from Cerberus Shoal), and incorporates the electric guitar textures of Ron Harrity (who released this album through his Peapod Recordings), more fully embraces his Spanish influences ("El Tiengo", Volando Voy"), and gives us the closest thing we got this year to a Fire on Fire reunion ("Hey Justice"). At first, I wasn't sure if I entirely appreciated the change as I was a fan of the cohesive melancholy of Me in a "field". But this is a truly great album that perfectly showcases Chriss' songwriting, musicianship, collaborative ability, and skill at turning his influences into a singular vision. This album received a well deserved mention in the New York Times and should be heard by all serious fans of music.

5 + 6. Already Gone Pt. 1 + 2 - Big Blood

With a band as prolific as Big Blood it can almost seem like a slow year when they only release a Double Album (sold separately but as connected as the beautiful cover art implies). As always, the "phantom four-piece that performs only as a duo" make each album count. Caleb turns in two of his best songs in the BB catalog ("Well Water" and "So Old Again"). Meanwhile, Colleen proves herself to be one of the preeminent interpreters of alternative classics, performing two cover songs that easily outshine the original versions (Captain Beefheart's "Beatle Bones-n-Smoking Stones" and The Cult's "She Sells Sanctuary; her version of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" though good is a little too languid for my tastes). And less you balk at having to pay separately for both albums (although it's worth it for the art alone, especially at $5 a piece), you should know that the entire Big Blood catalog is available online for free. Go familiarize yourself with one of the greatest bands that has ever walked this strange planet.

7. For Rosa, Maeve and Noreen - Samuel James

The main problem with all three of Samuel James' albums is that none fully captures the force of his live performances. But how could they? There is just no way to perfectly translate his train engine stomp and incredible guitar work to a shiny plastic disc. Fortunately, the albums, particularly this latest, do a great job of presenting Mr. James as a first-rate storyteller. The album opens with "Bigger, Blacker, Ben" a hilarious sequel to "Big Black Ben" from his last disc. It's the kind of song that makes me wish more artists did sequels about their lyrical characters (perhaps Paul McCartney can do a song about Rocky Raccoon's son). Samuel James also continues the adventures of Sugar Smallhouse and pays homage to the titular women (this album also wins cover of the year). I just wish their was a bonus disc of the cover performances from his cd release show- I would love to hear Sontiago singing "Wooden Tombstone".

8. Pecos Bill is Dead - Jesse Pilgrim

This EP heralded the end of Pecos Bill and the emergence of Jesse Pilgrim as a true songwriter. His songs are short and sweet and cover all the essential topics: booze ("Whiskey"), injustice ("Trial & Error"), and death ("Lead Me Down"). He capitalized on the success of this self-released EP by gathering up a strong backing band, kicking off the Tower of Song Festival, and turning in one of the best [dog] and [pony] performances yet to be seen. I can't wait to hear what he comes up with for a full length. Pecos Bill is dead, long live Jesse Pilgrim!

9. Decension - Meghan Yates

Another one of Portland's great vocalists. Meghan Yates simply sings from an otherworldly place that I can only describe as delicate trembling thunder. In fact, her voice is so arresting that the lyrics often seem like they're being sung in some long lost tongue. But careful attention reveals the lyrical beauty of songs like "if the devil is 6" and "Lay Your Weary Head Down". However, the undeniable highlight is the vocal maelstrom of "Man of Sorrow". Seeing her perform this song at Slainte with the great Moses Atwood and her fiance (now husband) Mordecai was a truly memorable night.

10. Apsis - Dead Man's Clothes

The elaborate yet off kilter packaging of this album does a good job of summing up the music inside. Dead Man's Clothes meanders through a number of topics and sounds, taking in both overweight ghosts, rocking zombies, spaceships, and relationships. Not every track works, but overall this is a hell of a ride, both funny and rocking, and full of wonderful and often unique instrumentation. Lead singer, guitarist and saw player, Don Dumont, has recently reconfigured the group with the addition of TJ Metcalfe (formerly of Lady Lamb the Beekeeper) on guitar and Ian Riley (Anna's Ghost) on bass, so I'm excited to hear what they come up with next.

Album that hasn't been released yet, but I'm sure will make the list:

Lady Lamb the Bee-Sides - Lady Lamb the Beekeeper

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