The year's top 10 local albums, and five EPs to boot

With Confidence
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  December 22, 2010

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I'm not sure when local music has been better. If there is any problem with our little scene here in Portland, it's that there's more talent than there are fans to support it. Which is why it's a good thing when people like Aly Spaltro (a/k/a Lady Lamb the Beekeeper) leave town (and, oh, win a Boston Music Award).

We must now be an exporter of music. The Portland musical brand is built with every success story that travels the country spreading the Maine gospel. Talk about the creative economy: What's the gross domestic product of Portland as measured in kick-ass music? At least eleventy-billion.

I know that sounds horribly boosterish, but I can't stand in the newly renovated State Theatre, in front of the iconic curtain featuring a painted pirate ship cruising toward a jutting island, alongside 700 folks at Greendrinks marveling at the new surroundings, without getting a little bit high on what we've got going on here.

It doesn't hurt that a look back on the year's best recordings makes for a lot of tough choices. These are some great records — and there are great records that just couldn't make the list. I have some sympathy for the NCAA Tournament selection committee. There's always a deserving album that has to be left out.

Criteria? Same as always: Albums are ranked by originality, musicianship, how long something from the disc lasts in my head, the number of plays they got on the iPod, whether they contain a truly outstanding song, and some consideration for production value and the quality of the listening experience.

Where's Ray? In Massachusetts, apparently. He's no longer local (despite the fact that I'd like to claim a Grammy nominee for the local scene). Where's Spose? Well, "I'm Awesome" is pretty clearly the sensation of the year, but he didn't actually release an album in 2010. Where's Space Vs. Speed? I'm not saying they would have made the top 10, actually, but I'm waiting to review the disc until the release show February 4, and I'm going to count it as a 2011 disc.

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If there is any common theme to these albums in the top 10, it's an emotional depth that's impossible to deny. That Spouse record can leave you with a full-body ache, while Theodore Treehouse give you a palpable head buzz. I recommend making a playlist with nothing but Spouse's "59" and Theodore's "Big Monsters" and playing it over and over again. It'll be like drinking 10 bourbon-filled coffees.

Covered in Bees are perfectly raw, as raw as Phantom Buffalo are shimmery and polished. Put on CiB if you want to get fired up about how shitty things are when they could be better, then spin Phantom Buffalo so that you really don't care.

Unlike the top-40 pap that continues to dominate mainstream-media discussion, these are albums built for the long haul and with a long view.

Like Roy Davis sings, "I'm not gonna fight you in a stranger's house."

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