Best of 2013: Trails
I know, I know. The album is dead. Why bother with another stupid top 10 list?
Problem is, I love albums. It remains predominantly the way I listen to music.
Certainly, it is on the wane as a revenue-generator. But, tell me, who sold the most oil paintings last year? Who brought in the most revenue? Is painting dead? The top six novels in 2012, ranked by copies sold, are solely members of the Fifty Shades and Hunger Games series. Is the novel dead?
In this day and age of “mind-blowing” Upworthy headlines, where stark contrasts and hyperbole are the only way to grab attention, it’s easy to make things binary. Thus, “music” is either all about the album or the song.
First it was the song, then it was the album, now maybe it’s the song again. Good for the song. I want to write about albums.
It’s possible I’m the only one who still throws an album in the headphones or on the stereo while shoveling the driveway, or making breakfast, or playing a board game, or kicking the ball around (I have a pair of those rock-shaped speakers — they kick ass), or driving to work, but I don’t think it’s likely.
The album is about choosing to experience music in long form. It’s an intellectual experience coupled with — if the band know what they’re doing — emotional dynamics. What does it ask of you? How does it engage you? What thoughts does it trigger?
Great albums change your life a little bit, if music is important to you.
When I create these lists each year (I think this is number 12), I ask myself, which are those works that break new ground, that are so well executed that you actively think about the decisions the musicians made? Those albums that linger around in your consciousness so that you come back to them over and over again because it’s important that you hear them again. Those albums that have moments of extreme brilliance, to the point where you love them a little too much. Those albums that are a comfort and a salve.
Every once in a while I find a record like that here in Portland. Spouse’s Confidence is like that for me. And Rustic Overtones’ Viva Nueva. Satellite Lot’s Second Summer. Ray LaMontagne’s Trouble. The Cambiata To Heal EP that still seems hard to believe.
Was there a record like that in 2013? Maybe I don’t know yet. My impression is that it’s a great collection of albums just below that mark, a year where veteran bands did some of their best work, but where few new faces did the exceptional. Jeff Beam may have found his sound. Jon Nolan returned a different man. Spencer was Spencer. Anna Lombard played to her prodigious strengths. The Class Machine, Worried Well, and Whale Oil put out raw and important records. Zach Jones and A Severe Joy did it again.
It would be easy to put together a top-10 list of nothing but local hip hop.
Regardless, the below albums are ranked in terms of just how close they came to meeting all of the above criteria. Did they make me think? Did they sound good? Did they change my life? (I also made lists with similar criteria of local EPs, and albums made by people who used to live here.)
Top 10 local albums
Anvils and Pianos, Trails
Tadaloora, Phantom Buffalo
Let’s Start a Cult, Vol. 2, Rustic Overtones
Big Empty, The Coloradas
Confirm Reservation, Plains
Fortress of the Sun, Arborea
The Border, Coalsack in Crux
Sea Spells, Isobell
Land, The Mallett Brothers Band
Ego, When Particles Collide
The ConquerorEP, Whitcomb
Paper, Dustin Saucier and the Sad Bastards
Diaspora top 5
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Ripely Pine, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper
Still Fighting the War, Slaid Cleaves
Silver Bell, Patty Griffin
Station Wagon Interior Perspective, Robert Stillman
Wild Animals, Juliana Hatfield