This is the first year reviewing local music made me feel truly panicked. Like there was no possible way I could get to hearing everything that was being released. The amount of local albums and EPs released this year exploded (I published reviews of 70 releases, in total), buoyed in large part by digital-only releases on Bandcamp and the continuing cult of the EP, which has seen bands release less music more frequently.
A conservative assessment puts the total number of "local" releases — those by bands who call the greater Portland area home base — at 125. Sure, that's only about 2.5 a week, but that's just enough to make you feel like there's another one you're missing out on.
The quality kept up with the quantity, too. For instance, I think Grand Hotel's In Color is better, actually, than their self-titled debut, which I had ranked at number three last year, but the competition is better. I'm a Spouse sycophant, but I couldn't find a way to get frontman Jose Ayerve's A Severe Joy into the top 10. Spencer Albee's Space Vs. Speed album? Despite that Saiyid rap that I still listen to at least once a week, it fell just short. Jacob Augustine's three-album output was impressive, but no single release ultimately made my list. Both Metal Feathers and Huak deserve attention, and commendation, for strong releases that challenged me as a listener. Same with Hi Tiger and Good Kids Sprouting Horns.
No single song, actually, struck me more emotionally than Hi Tiger's "Nukes," which just about broke my heart.
Eric Bettencourt, Pinsky, Sparks the Rescue, Tree by Leaf (RIP), the McCarthys, Putnam Smith, This Way, Worried Well, Sidecar Radio — shit, even Doctor Astronaut — released strong pieces of work. It's my practice to rank every single album I reviewed, and I can honestly say that I still regularly dial up full-length-album #33 for a listen. I know I commit the sin of loving too much, but these are all records that deserve your ears.
But this ain't Lake Wobegon and not every album can be above average, and not every album can be in the top 10 best albums of the year (plus the five best EPs). So I made my picks. I hope you've listened to enough local music to be able to argue with me.
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. Here we go:
1) There Is No Sin, We Are Revealed
2) Sunset Hearts, Inside the Haunted Cloud
3) Steve Grover Quintet, Plus One, Statement
4) Baltic Sea, Period Piece
5) Arborea, Red Planet
6) Paranoid Social Club, Axis IV
7) Joe Walsh, Sweet Loam
8) Spose, Happy Medium
9) Mallett Brothers Band, Low Down
10) Whitcomb, Crown ParkEPs
1) Foam Castles, Come Over to My House
2) Mai, Mai, Mai, Mai
3) Vanityites, Once Again to Lillith
4) Arms Against a Sea, III
5) Max Garcia Conover, EP #1
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.