>> Thursday, December 8, 2011
This is the list that makes me the most nervous. As a northwest music lover. As an occasional northwest music blogger. And as an "oh shit, one of the bands might read this" realization hits me, this list makes me nervous. But, it is also one of my favorites to write.
2011 has been a crazily strong year in northwest music. I have had this blog up and running for well over 3 years, including 600+ entries, and not once in that time, or hell, any time before that, can I remember the music scene being this strong. And this list barely even scratches the surface, as it is only about full length records released in 2011. Consider the fact that it does not include the likes of The Head and The Heart, Hey Marseilles, Pickwick, Lemolo, Macklemore, The BGP, Smoosh, Fences, or any of the excellent bands from Portland like Loch Lomond, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Fruit Bats and Blind Pilot. Read that list again of bands NOT included on this list along with the ones below and you see the strength in the NW music scene in full force.
Here is a bakers dozen of the best Northwest Albums of 2011.
1. Campfire OK - Strange Like We Are
There are some bands that you feel in your bones when you hear them. There are some bands that hit you in gut when they come on. And then there are some bands that shake you to your core, that shiver your soul. Campfire OK falls into that third category. It is also, from beginning to end the most complete record of the year, and not just in the northwest.
"Strange Like We Are"
2. Noah Gundersen - Family
This is actually only the first appearance of Noah on this list, but more on that later. Everytime Noah Gundersen plays, it is like he is cutting out his own heart and putting it on a platter for all of us to see. There is not a more honest voice in the NW right now. I say that with so much reverence, as so many of us hide behind ourselves that we often get lost in the facade of who we want to be, rather then who we are. Noah Gundersen is who he is, and he sings it outright, and it's f'n grand.
3. Youth Rescue Mission - Youth Rescue Mission
Youth Rescue Mission, a Seattle band, by way of Montana, has me all in a tizzy. This group of siblings make noises to die for. I keep trying to string together other artists to give you a good description/comparison of style/sound, but all combo's fall short. Yes, you can hear a bit of The Head and the Heart, a dollop of Blind Pilot, a tad of Hey Marseilles, and a smidge of Choir of Young Believers, but in only the littlest of amounts. They are distinctly their own. And I am loving it.
"Very Nice Things"
4. Allen Stone - Allen Stone
This Chewelah, WA product is something to behold. He is a honest to goodness oxymoron. I mean, look at him, and then listen to the songs. If soul music was dead, Allen Stone would be the revivalist. His album is so choice, (yes, I used choice like its 1988) that it feels unreal, and makes me feel bad for other soul singers out there, because there is just no competing. I get excited about music, we all know this, its the curse of being a passionate person/blogger. But this record is far and away the best Soul record I have picked up since 2001's "The Way I Feel" by Remy Shand.
5. The Lonely Forest - Arrows
So, this is a band that I did not give the chance it deserved. I know, shame on me. I just buy music in bulk, like, I get the music buying bug, and 15 mins later end up with nine new albums. One is bound to get lost in the shuffle here and there. Now, generally, that is not a big deal, 50% of the stuff I buy falls well short of awesome. But I fucked on when I over looked The Lonely Forest. This northwest band is pretty fucking fantastic.
"We Sing In Time"
"(I AM) The Love Addict"
6. Bryan John Appleby - Fire On The Vine
Some bands knock you away like a ton of bricks, and that is great and all, but sometimes the luster fades and you are left with a record that you thought you loved that you barely like. Then there are some records that hit you like a slow wave, that build upon itself with track after track. They don't need to lust slap you across the face, because the music speaks for itself. And the luster doesn't fade.
"Noah's Nameless Wife"
7. Brandi Carlile - Live At Benaroya Hall With The Seattle Symphony
I've mentioned in the past that I am not the biggest of fans of live albums, that they often only capture the noise of the show, but not the feeling, and no one really goes to the show just to listen. But, I eat my words today. I am going to let the songs make my case instead of blabbering on.
8. Seapony - Go With Me
Like a dream wave of airy indie pop rock. I may be wrong on all those descriptors, but that is how the album makes me feel. It makes me feel free, and light, and momentless. Yes, momentless is a word I just created, but it works. It's that feeling of just zoning out, so all the movements becomes blurs in your peripheral, and you are just lost, right then and there, you are lost and blissful. Seapony does that to me.
"What You See"
9. Beat Connection - Surf Noir
For the average NW music blogger, they might look at Beat Connection at number 9, and think this is way too low. And it might be, if this year was not so damn strong. This Seattle Duo can craft a beat and a hook like no ones business. When I review my most played tracks of 2011, the two songs below well cemented into the top 15. Out of over 2,000 songs, that's a hell of a feat.
"Same Damn Time"
10. The Cave Singers - No Witch
When I first picked up this record I was rather disappointed. I'm not gonna lie. But, a ways down the line, regrettably not sooner, I realized that I had unfair expectations. I was comparing it to their previous album Welcome Joy. A record that was not only great, but defined a year of my life. No record can live up to that. So I let go and let the noise in. And the record, or maybe myself, turned a corner, and it morphed into an album that I can celebrate outside of the unfair shadow of Welcome Joy.
11. The Courage - Fearful Bones
Before Noah Gundersen was Noah Gundersen he was apart of The Courage. A band that I think most of us missed. Now, this record was actually released in late 2010, but it deserves mention, as it is a soft kind of spectacular. Sadly, The Courage is no more, But because of this sad fact, we have our number 2 record on this list.
12. Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
A hip-hop collective that is making me rethink my views on the fact that hip-hop has reached its creative peak. I have long believed that hip-hop has filled in every corner of its creative capacity. That it is soon going to have to start repeating itself and backtracking to stay viable. And for the most part, that's true. Now, that does not say anything negative, there are a lot of things that reach their peak, that cannot be reinvented any further, sitcoms and neckties come to mind, but that does not mean the quality is not there. However, my impressions on the stagnancy of hip-hop were shattered by Shabazz Palaces. Shattered.
"Swerve... The Reeping Of All That Is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding)"
"An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum"
13. Ravenna Woods - Valley Of The Headless Men
I can't figure out why none is talking about these guys. They are fantastic, well crafted, and composed songsmiths. Now, this album wasn't perfect, rarely any are, but the full on needs to be celebrated. Just watch the video, and then go and pick up the record. I am tired of Ravenna Woods being my little secret.