The top 20 local albums of 2007

Here’s to the cream of a very impressive crop
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  December 19, 2007

Whatever you may think of Portland’s live-music scene nowadays — I’d argue it’s improving, but that might be like saying George Bush isn’t as bad on the environment as he used to be — there’s no question that the quality of the album releases in the greater Portland area has never been better. The past 12 months have been terrific, with a number of albums I’ve sent off to friends around the country, not simply because I was pushing our local scene, but because I felt like they were albums that people simply had to hear in a time when it can be difficult to make out the music worth listening to from the cacophony you’re assaulted with on a daily basis.

The mainstream music industry is becoming increasingly fractured, confusing, and powerless (are you paying attention to this In Rainbows thing? Radiohead don’t have a label. Do you understand what that means? Me neither, but it’s a big deal, let me tell you). Which means our local musicians are both on increasingly level ground with the rest of the world and also increasingly adrift at sea as that elusive dream of “making it” with a “record deal” gets more and more unrealistic.

There is the phrase, “content is king.” I find it increasingly true. As waves of bands wash over me year after year, so few stay in the rotation for long. And those few who do may leave a powerful impression on me without so much as registering with much of the general public. Are the Hold Steady stars? How about Sufjan Stevens? The Fratellis? Califone? LCD Soundsystem? Rogue Wave? The New Pornographers? Sloan? The Apples in Stereo?

If you walked up to 10 people on the street and asked them if those bands were local or not, how many would answer correctly? How many of you would answer correctly? (Hint: None of them has a Zip code starting in 04.)

So, if even great nationally recognized bands — bands that land at number one on people’s lists of best discs of the year — can’t get a minute of commercial-radio airplay, where does that leave our local folks?

Does anyone even know that the Wu-Tang Clan released their first album in six years last week? Public Enemy the week before that?

Yet more bands than ever toil over songwriting and recording to produce precious works of art that deserve to be heard and discussed and argued over. I almost lost friends over this year’s Wilco album (it’s awesome. Shut up), but it’s pretty rare to find someone else who wants to talk local music.

Hopefully, the following list of my 20 favorite local albums of 2007 will inspire some debate. It was not hastily or easily put together, but it represents my standard criteria: 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, and whether or not they contain a truly outstanding song.

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