Sound on the Sound’s Top 25 Northwest Albums of 2010
We’ll be the first to admit this list is arriving, oh, at least a month late. On the other hand, 2010 was an expansive year for Northwest music in many regards and worthy of chronicling one last time with thoughtful and focused intention. So we hope you will see that the extra time we’ve given this piece has led to more in-depth reviews of each release in a way that a December 31st publish date didn’t allow. Hopefully you’ll read one of them and discover a great local record that you missed in 2010 proper.
Unlike some other lists who will cite being on a Northwest label as being a candidate for a “Best of the Northwest” list, ours only includes bands from and making music in the Northwest right now. We’ve expanded to include Vancouver to the north, south to Cottage Grove, west to Forks and east to (at least) Billings, however there’s no denying, our list is heavily Puget Sound area-centered, and mostly Seattle at that. We didn’t pay as close attention to Portland and Vancouver as we should have in 2010, something we plan on remedying in 2011.
With that please enjoy our take on the 25 most significant records we heard from the Pacific Northwest in 2010.
25. Fences – s/t
“Clocking in just over 30 minutes, the long-awaited debut establishes it was worth the wait with the first strums of “Girls With Accents,” whose chorus of “I’m fucking up, I’m fucking up everything” is destined to become a teenage anthem. But this album isn’t just for moody teenagers. Fences sings sad songs filled with snide sweetness, self-deprecation and a confessional honesty that hits home to anyone whose been brave enough to admit they fucked up and flawed enough to do the same thing all over again.” [abbey]
24. Wild Orchid Children – Are Alexander Supertramp
Were you ever young? Nod your head “yes.” What did you do when you were young? I’m not talking elementary school age, that’s real kids stuff. Let’s focus on the beast that is adolescence. What did you do when you were young? Did you do what your parents told you? If so, you probably listen to (insert conventional musician using complex social analysis matrix here). Were you a bookworm or liked to secretly play with action figures even though you were probably too old for it? If so, you probably listened to Hum. (editor’s note: Hum totally rules…I swear I left the GI Joe’s alone.) Did you get inebriated in the woods behind a strangers house on the beer you kept buried in the ground, then had Roman Candle fights in a neighboring cul-da-sac? Did you go skating at night and drink beer out of your own Vans sneaker? Did you do acid and see thousands of David the Gnomes come parading out of your bathroom as you tried to sleep? If so, you probably listen to Wild Orchid Children.
That’s exactly what this album is like. It’s like lighting your friends’ parents roof on fire by accident then instead of calling 9-1-1, you decide to make Smores on the ashes. The insurance company has its eyebrows raised. Are you an arsonist? You tell them to
fuck off go kick rocks. You are Alexander Supertramp. [Phil]
23. Lesbian – Stratospheria Cubensis
Lesbian enjoys buttering up the listener with unassuming riffs at the beginning of their songs. Take the beginning Raging Arcania or Black Stygian for instance. The former being otherwordly while the latter is an obtuse delight. Eventually Lesbian decides your peace of mind is a bad joke and they’re not laughing. Insert weird metal breakdown here. Lesbian does something a lot of metal bands don’t but should. The band will throw in thrashy parts out of nowhere, creating quite the tempo shift. During these “brutal” fits, you would expect conventional usage of blast beats but Lesbian will not cave in to the needs of mundane metalheads across the globe. They stay true to their original outlandish form. After a few minutes of putting your mind in a blender, Lesbian decides that your pain bores them. The magical mushrooms that the band ingested before they decided to fuck-with-you-for-the-fun-of-it have worn off. They decide against taking you to Harborview because you don’t have insurance. They suture your skull back together with rusty, mostly heavier gauged guitar strings. That’s exactly what listening to this band is like. A prime example of this occasionally interrupted mayhem is the album’s title track. [Phil]
22. Language Arts & Def Dee – Gravity
Though it was a tough choice (a really tough choice) between the two full length albums LA put out this year (the other being Roll With The Winners with producer Blu-Ray), it may have been the warm feeling of nostalgia that surfaced while listening to Gravity that kept it on repeat for such a large part of the year. LA is arguably the most lyrically sound MC in the area code, from street-side cyphers to formidable entries on wax, and Def Dee’s classic east coast style, lowest-fi production, the sixteen tracks feel timeless. [Todd]
21. Baltic Cousins – s/t EP
“I’m the same as I was that day…” – Break Bread
It’s like they were there, but they weren’t.
All of us can reach back into our past and select a day. Depending on which day we take hold, the meaning and the outcome of those moments would be different. Close your eyes and think for a second. What day did you choose and would you change anything about it? Did you say the right things? Did you make the right decision? Has anything about you changed from the brief moment you selected? Is regret a shadow that follows you constantly even though we never see the sun around here?
The self-titled demo released by Baltic Cousins resonates heavily with those who hear it. There is not much to their bare approach to songwriting. No bass. No keys. No additional percussionist. This Bellingham supergroup doesn’t need the bells and whistles of the current dog and pony show that is indie rock. What Baltic Cousins lacks in number of members or presentation they make up for with remarkable honesty that is manifested in both lyrical and musical form. [Phil]
20. Frog Eyes – Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph
My husband suggested the following review for this album: “Weird, but worth it.”
Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph is an intricate concerto of noise, Bach for the rock and roll era. Seemingly influenced by everything from Dinosaur Jr. to Baptist preaching, this record is a master class in bringing together a slew of disparate influences into a harmonious – if not particularly melodic – whole. Sometimes delicate, sometimes rushing and rattling like a runaway train, Paul’s Tomb is a howling journey through frontman Carey Mercer’s brain. [Brittney]
Read the rest of our Top 25 Northwest Albums of 2010 after the jump
19. Victor Shade – s/t
2010 saw the emergence of Common Market’s Ra Scion as Victor Shade, a superhero in disguise on record who even emerged on stage as the cape-wearing half of the Marvel Comics character, The Vision; honorary designations bestowed upon him by his late brother in law. On the album, Scion charges over Everettonian MTK’s brain-rattling production, firing shots at greasy politicians, hypocritical members of society and most things evil. Room was left for both parties to shine, with thoughtful instrumental tracks sprinkled throughout to set up the action for Ra, who, without fail, jumps right into the thick of things. One of the most well rounded projects from a year full of great releases, Victor Shade is truly hip hop simplified to it’s most basic equation: quality MC-ing + explosive production = a really good fucking album. [Todd]
18. Joseph Giant – s/t
Seattle, meet your 2011 summer soundtrack. Released too late for 2010’s non-existent summer, Joseph Giant’s self-titled debut is a record to play with the windows rolled down. Joe Syverson’s vocals are all disaffected California cool in a warm Kodachrome haze, galloping drums to match the top down convertible cruising the coast. But despite the ‘60s California feel, there’s a distinct Texas twang to the guitar licks and tempo, like when the Byrds fell in love with the sweetheart of the rodeo. [Abbey]
17. Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band – Where The Messengers Meet
The local album I’m most surprised to have loved comes from one-time critical darlings Mt. St Helens Vietnam Band. When Pitchfork and the rest of Seattle was lauding the band’s self-titled debut, I simply didn’t care for it. And now, in 2010 when their moody, expansive, fascinating sophomore effort Where The Messengers Meet was pretty much panned, I’m yet again uncertain what everyone else was listening to. The feral children of Tapes’n’Tapes, Messengers is an album to get lost in. Which shouldn’t be a problem. Because if this album was a road, it would be full of blind hairpin turns — the next song is never what you expect. Unlike the fuzzed out garage or sweet folk pickings of much of what we loved in Seattle in 2010, the instrumentation on Messengers is sharp like a mod suit. Highly stylized and with a definite aesthetic, I’m still surprised and intrigued by the album on every listen. [Abbey]
16. The Lights – Failed Graves
For me, Failed Graves is the most straight up satisfying local rock record since The Hands. There’s a sinister snarl and sonic sloppiness to The Lights, a leering danger that evokes the edge of early rock’n’roll. Their sound is retro without affectation, with no touch of a throwback, even though the albums sounds like your most cherished dollar bin vinyl find. Failed Graves is easily one of the most underrated local records of 2010. Though it would seem by their spit in your drink (if not your face) delivery, that The Lights don’t give a fuck if you like them or not, which is what makes them so compelling in the first place. [Abbey]
15. Avians Alight – s/t
Avians Alight (nee: Jenna Conrad) sings grown-up songs about love and heartache. With sultry, sad knowing, Conrad isn’t singing about puppy love or her first broken heart. “I think I’ve got it understood, then I find I’m back here again,” she all but sighs on the album’s opener “Love is for Harlequins.” Its a break-up and make-up-though-you-know-better album. Its an album that laments that which you know you shouldn’t want, but you still do. Desperately. And it chronicles the full roller coaster ride of heartache that comes with such loving and the abatement of such a longing. Where even getting what you want is only some variation of sweet, bittersweet or desperate disappointment. Musically the songs themselves are an amalgam, a little bit folk, a little country twang, a little like her old singing companion Damien Jurado–more a feeling than a genre. An ache you don’t want to end. [Abbey]
14. Pearly Gate Music – s/t
Zach Tillman has been lending his nimble fingers on bass to all sorts of projects around Seattle, in Siberian for a good while until they broke up, also in his brother Josh Tillman’s band, and most recently, making time to contribute to Final Spins, Low Hums, and the debut Avians Alight record. In the midst of all that he got a record deal for himself with Barsuk Records as Pearly Gate Music, released a record in 2010, and toured internationally with his brother.
Knowing his sibling, the self-titled debut record isn’t quite what you’d expect, but Z Tillman isn’t standing in anyone’s shadow. Flirting with folk but ending up with a dangerous and leering sort of pop, he’s revels in the dysfunctional glory of offering a window into the mind of a series of slightly damaged souls. Though most of the record is admittedly best digested when your in the correct mood, that is probably to say woeful, his ability to paint a picture of a personality in only a few words is impressive and on a par with his brother. Most interesting about Z Tillman for this writer though is how his mood is communicated as much through heavy fingers on nylon strings as with words. Songs speedup and slowdown, flipping between distorted loud and then nearly an inaudible quiet with impunity, his plucking and strumming has a personality and fervor that provides each song with it’s own distinct identity to match his words. As a whole Pearly Gate Music marks Zach Tillman as entirely distinct songwriter from others making music today, in the Northwest region, or anywhere else. [Josh]
13. What What Now – Fingers and Toes
Once upon a time, I had the privilege of watching the very first show What What Now performed. It took place at house party in the shadow of Roosevelt high school. Admittedly, I don’t remember what they sounded like that night. Too much time has passed since then and I was quite inebriated that night. So much so that I lost my drum throne that evening and was not reunited with it until a much later date. In the meantime, the Ironclads and What What Now did a nifty West Coast tour in the spring of 2009. It was a blast. I’ve had the pleasure of watching this band get better with time. Fingers and Toes is an audio documentation of this band’s growth process. I’m well aware that the sentence before this one is a cliche. As long What What Now’s songs aren’t, does it really matter? A punk band that uses no distortion. On paper that sounds like a horrible idea but this band pulls it off better than any other that comes to mind. If you were to change the presentation of The Ballad of Jamie Cotton, you could easily turn it into a Takaru song. Right Angle is literally one of my favorite “pop” songs of all-time. I’ll let you in on a secret. I’ve never listened to that song just one once. I have to play it consecutively every time it shows up on my stereo or Ipod. It’s so ridiculously catchy that it was stuck in my head for months the first time I heard it. It has not left since. As demonstrated on Tired Head, This band performs with an emotional urgency that reminds of a time when “zines” were today’s “blog.” If you’re unfamiliar with the sounds of What What Now, I’ll give you the best comparison that I can think of. They sound somewhere between Cap N’ Jazz and North of America if both those bands took “study drugs” to produce more a less frantic, more concise effort. If you’re a Seattle rock fan, Fingers and Toes is a must have. I can’t wait for the next release by this quartet. Their new material completely obliterates the songs on this album. [Phil]
12. Ravenna Woods – Demons and Lakes
“Darkness. Paranoia. Materialism. Three elements of human existence that Seattle is all too familiar with that are routinely discussed on this album. Despite lyrically exploring territory that would make Edgar Allen Poe look like a Mr. Rogers, The music that Ravenna Woods has created is adverse to their seemingly bleak lyrical content. It also should be said that Ravenna Woods has created a sound that is all their own. Who sounds like them besides…them? It’s a unique landscape worth taking in, much like the distance traveled from Seattle to Portland. The songs off of Demon and Lakes are well crafted anthems, reminding me of the “hardcore” days of yesteryear. There’s only one song on this album that reminds me of another band in the most subtle of ways. I will not prevaricate, While the Town Was Sleeping does remind me of Tears for Fears a little bit. Am I insane? I can’t be the only one that feels this way. That’s not an insult to Ravenna Woods. Tears for Fears had moments of greatness, not all musical acts can say that. I know at least one of you is listening to ‘Shout or Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ as you read this.” [Phil]
11. The Lonely Forest – s/t EP
If the Northwest can be said to be developing a new legacy of rock, one of it’s torchbearers is most definitely Jon Van Deusen and his band the Lonely Forest, with Death Cab for Cutie guitarist and producer Chris Walla and his Trans Records imprint to curate their rise. The nationally released The Lonely Forest EP was their first joint effort, all new songs, and a titillating tease for their 2011 full-length Arrows. As heir apparent to the Death Cab contingent, John Van Deusen’s songs seems to appeal equally to girls and boys, chronicling the mistaking of our way through life while always searching for a better way. 2010’s Walla produced EP includes “Turn off the Song,” which in anthemic fashion encapsulates that philosophy as it implores us to “turn off the song and go outside” and in effect experience life for ourselves. The EP’s other main track “Live There” doubles down, calling out the fakery “LA made me think,” while declaring allegiance to the Northwest and its “miles of tall evergreens, the smell of the ocean, and cool mountain breeze.” “Live There” makes it clear, if The Lonely Forest is what Pacific Northwest rock is best known for in 2011, we’ve got a worthy champion. [Josh]
10. Dark Time Sunshine – Vessel
Though Onry Ozzborn’s career has taken many turns over the years, from the nationally renowned lyricist opposite JFK on Grayskul releases, to the secretive production wizard behind the monstrous Gigantics project Die Already, his most adventurous leap may have been in this years collaboration with Chicago producer Alex Zavala for Dark Time Sunshine’s formal debut Vessel. Expansive and moody, the album finds Ozzborn straying from his usual cloak and dagger raps in favor of a more emotive strain of soliloquy that floats above Zavala’s futuristic production as it jumps from ethereal dream-scape to pulse-revving electronica. From the future-G “The Sleestack Payback” to the whimsical “All Aboard” (“We never run out of that gold dust/we illustrious”), and the hard hitting “View Items 2″ and “Hands Up”, the tracks roll organically off the record, even on feature-packed songs like “Primor” (w/ P.O.S., PeeGee 13, D.J. Zone and Aesop Rock), that come off more as creative explosions than associative brand-boosters. A pleasant surprise from one of the most mysterious artists in town has come to stand as the most forward-thinking hip hop release of the year. [Todd]
9. Perfume Genius – Learning
“You will learn to survive me…”
SINISTER. This is the word that comes to mind when listening to Perfume Genius’s debut record Learning. The kind of dangerous and looming presence sub-genre metal bands are after, Mike Hadreas achieves with just a grand piano and a pretty voice. Learning is a bit like roaming through the guarded beauty of a Pedro Almodovar film but minus any comic dimension to take the edge off, as Hadreas documents experiences that from the outside looking in are distressing and hardly the stuff of popular song. Using few words, he leaves much to the imagination. The few he does use invite a deeper search for meaning and the use of that imagination, an endeavor that’s liable to take any attentive listener down a dark path. Both Hadreas’ lyrics and vocal delivery leave just about everything open for personal interpretation, and the uplifting vocal melodies and pedal sustain only confuses the matter further. It’s the same effect Sufjan Stevens employed in his equally sinister song “John Wayne Gacy Jr.,” a sweet song of a murderer that somehow manages to avoid judgment while still laying bare the depravity of his humanity. Though he bemoans his fate as inescapable and the despair of not being in control is palpable, part of what is so hard about listening is that Hadreas appears to have accepted that his unwelcome fate has him firmly in it’s grasp. This tension on Learning is tangible in ways I’ve rarely heard elsewhere, and as such I wouldn’t recommend this record for everyone. But for those willing to wade into the wilderness Learning, like a good play or story, has the potential to push your buttons. The big red panic button included. [Josh]
8. Beat Connection – Surf Noir
Beat Connection gave Seattle something to dance about with their self-released digital-only debut effort Surf Noir. The name of the record bares out immediately, the link to the waves is literal from the outset of the as the sounds of breakers splashing ashore background the opening track “Sunburn” as it builds into the second track “In The Water,” a rare Northwest dance gem. The core tracks “In The Water,” “Theme From Yours Truly” and “Silver Screen” are presented with the seamless transitions and shiny presence, on the verge of modern club megahit territory and instantly evocative the of flashing colored lights at an equatorial island discotheque when pumping through the speakers. My summer track of 2010 “Silver Screen” is being re-released internationally as a single on February 28th with Moshi Moshi/Tender Age Records, and a re-release of the Surf Noir vinyl is planned for May 2011. I can’t be the only one that thinks a forthcoming video treatment featuring half-pipes and hot bodies would be complete appropriate too. Amirite? [ Josh ]
7. S – I’m Not As Good As You
In a year of beautiful bummers, the best sad bastard record released in the Northwest wasn’t from Fences or Perfume Genius, but S. With I’m Not As Good As You Jenn Ghetto has staked her claim, yet again, she is queen of the Seattle sad song. Featuring the same aching whisper that made her other project the ultimate unknown sad-bastard band, this bedroom solo album challenges the best of Carissa’s Wierd. Plainspoken and torn straight from some seriously bad diary days, I’m Not As Good As You lacks the usual cloying cliches of such a confessional record or the need to end on a high note and make it seem like everything is going to be alright. There’s no hint of Elliott Smith “Say Yes” optimism here, the album ends with a song called “Outro (The Agony).” I’m Not As Good As You is the perfectly damaged goods and tender tragedies of day-to-day life and love. And as a sighing Jenn Ghetto seems to intimately understand, tomorrow is just another day. [Abbey]
6. Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives – s/t If you’ve read Sound on the Sound almost any week in 2010, it should have been painfully clear: we love Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives. Grow and his cohorts arguably put on the most compelling live performance we have been treated to. Not in 2010, but ever. Grow guides a crowd like Moses, able to quiet chatty drunks to pin-drop silence and just as able to incite joyful testament from normally staid Seattle in hoots, hollers and stomping. But this list is about albums, not live shows; and the Pastors’ Wives debut full length falls a hair short at capturing what sets them apart from just about every other band making music today.
Yes, on the vinyl only release the songs are still stunning. Spirituals with no dogma. Gospel without the good book. Rock’n’Roll with sincerity. The instrumentation and Grow’s lyrics are still passionate enough to give you goosebumps, but its missing the transcendental magic of the live performances. Perhaps Drew himself sums up the record’s shortcomings in the album’s first song, “Bon Voyage Hymn.” “Shallow waters can’t compare with a mighty chorus.” The studio is the shallow waters and we are the Pastors’ Wives mighty chorus. So get the album, learn the songs, but be sure you come sing along. Join the mighty chorus. [Abbey]
5. Hoquiam – s/t
When Damien Jurado set out to make a record with his brother Drake, it was with no expectations, a chance to rediscover the music making process all over again. In a gripping portrait of growing up on the Pacific Coast titled Hoquiam, the Jurado brothers created a narrative that taps into the frustration and growing need to escape that’s part and parcel for everyone growing up, but along with it the realization that leaving is never so simple. The record’s tension is masterfully built as it chronicles the protagonist’s struggle to find independence versus the bitter taste of the growing self-awareness of what “family” really is and means.
Drake’s shaker, organ and deep timbre casts a mossy shadow over his brother as Damien wanders a place caught in time and populated by the dying-on-the-inside and the already undead. The cumulative effect of an organ he learned to play for this project and deep voice that rarely finds it’s way to the front of the mix is a brooding and ominous overtone. His dark hand extends also to the cover art for the vinyl only release, which features spooky custom covers done by the band themselves where each cover is entirely unique. One cover featured a torn of piece of a map of Aberdeen Washington pasted to a white background with a handwritten note say “Kurt was born here.” Another with a map of King County and specifically Redmond is labeled, “I’ll eat your skin, let the Zombies in.” Other covers feature a screenprints or grotesque images.
“It’s nice to know, that I can’t leave, especially when I can see you don’t need me at all, down we go” Jurado laments in track two “Mo Clips.” It’s this dark undercurrent that defines family on this record, the rueful acknowledgment that kinship is the greatest Catch-22 that life has to offer. References to dysfunctional familial relationships and the need to escape pepper the record, but so does the recognition that we’re inextricably tied to those relationships, that in escaping we’re leaving something of ourselves behind. The final tracks on the record “Slow Bird,” “Gallons” and “Make it Back Islands” all frame this loss as an elemental longing for the ocean, with it’s predictable ebb and flow, dark waters and tumultuous riptides carries many parallels to the murk of dealing with blood relations. Hoquiam is the tumultuous tale of Jurado’s character coming to terms with this reality without ever quite getting over it.
4. Dan Mangan – Nice, Nice, Very Nice
Sneaking Dan Mangan onto this list under his U.S. release date lets me have one more bit of say about him before this year ends. I’ll make it to the point: this record is so full of heart that it practically beats. Unflinching and generous, Mangan gives each song, each word exactly what is needed, never fearful, never holding back. Nice is by turns funny and sweet, sly and knowing, and heartbreakingly sad – but it is always honest. By pouring every ounce of himself into every note, Mangan has made a record that defies classification and transcends genre. It’s not indie pop, it’s not folk rock, it’s just Dan Mangan. [Brittney]
3. The Moondoggies – Tidelands
Tidelands is a record that rewards patience. Not only was The Moondoggies’ highly anticipated follow-up two years in the making (and worth the wait), Tidelands trusts the listener to take their time with it, to clue into interconnected themes weaving lyrically and musically throughout. If a listener doesn’t, they’re apt to walk away disappointed … the band’s made no attempt to recreate the anthemic “Changin’” or the boogie blues of “Black Shoe.” But when given time, Tidelands unfolds as a carefully constructed and rhythmically rewarding narrative. Exploring the murky depths of the blues, both thematically and musically, water is used as a metaphor throughout for depression and longing. And like the tides Moondoggies’ front-man Kevin Murphy sings of, Tidelands is a journey of highs and lows: the dark tumults of “Down the Well” and the hopeful shallows of “A Lot of People on My Mind.” Tidelands is both a thoughtful and bold choice for the band. It trusts that the band’s listeners have grown up as much as they have in the two years since Don’t Be A Stranger and that their fans, like The Moondoggies, plan on being around for the long haul. [Abbey]
2. The Head and The Heart – s/t
Coming into oneself and growing up to a point of becoming self-aware and self-determining is that awkward period when we’re deciding who we want to be for the rest of our life, and feeling out how we’re most comfortable interacting with the world. It’s a time of thrill and fear, of excitement for the possibilities of the future but of regret for loss of innocence and the burden of responsibility. The Head and the Heart’s debut self-released self-titled record contrasts the difficulty and beauty of that time of change, but also the elemental need to wander and figure things out for oneself in spite of those ties that bind.
If most of us who’ve been through it remember that time as fraught with turmoil and a fair share of moments we’d rather forget, the Head and Heart smooth that over with playful pop harmonies and a jaunty set of keys that offer a vision of that time as the best time of our lives. The pull of home and familiarity is ever-present on the record, but so are the themes of self-determination. Acknowledging owning the mistakes from this time of growth, co-songwriter Jonathan Russel intones “lord have mercy on my rough and rowdy ways” while Josiah Johnson opines “oh I love my vices, but they’ve taken me to places I’d never thought I’d go.” The final track of the record “Heaven Go Easy on Me” addresses this tension directly and in a single lyric make clear the side they come down on, ending a verse exclaiming “don’t follow your head, follow your heart!” before building a refrain of “We’re on our way, we’re well on our way.”
Though much of popular music songwriting these days pivots on the notion of opposition and communicating a response to being wronged, the Head and the Heart have turned that idea on it’s head: instead of steeling themselves against the tides of life and shouting at the waves for existing they are bodysurfing the swells for all that they’re worth. It’s not exaggeration to say the Head and the Heart were the most talked about band in Seattle in 2010, and one only needs to think about them in this context to see why. For those younger than the early twenties of the band, they’re providing an aspirational window into what’s ahead for them, into the freedom to come. For the older among us, it transports us back into the thrill of the unknown and endless possibility that this time in life holds.
Already in 2011 The Head and the Heart has been digitally rel-released by Sub Pop Records with fan-favorite “Rivers and Roads” being added to the tracklist and “Sounds Like Hallelujah” having been recorded. A national release of the physical record, CD and vinyl, is expected this Spring. [ Josh ]
1. Damien Jurado – Saint Bartlett
Damien Jurado is an iconoclast. And in 2010, with his most fruitful year of creative output, Jurado staked his claim as the quintessential living Pacific Northwest songwriter. Three full-length albums. A new song every week for three months. Relentless touring. And the pinnacle of this passionate year of creation was Saint Bartlett, Jurado’s best record to date.
Saint Bartlett is nothing like anything Jurado has ever released, all the while being exactly what fans have always loved most about him: the songs. Except now the songs, the deft desperate stories of characters both sinister and sweet, are cradled in a sonic palette curated by the adept hands and ears of Richard Swift; as if Phil Spector had been weened on Portland micro-brews and 10 months of grey a year. Jurado still sings of the people he always has, people who live in storybook homes or lives, only to find themselves stalked by malevolent spirits both internal and external. And the duality of the haunted and the hopeful are at play throughout Saint Bartlett, both in lyrical content and Jurado’s vocals, which boom violently and sweetly soar.
Just like unplugging from his electric I Break Chairs stylings was a step forward in his evolution as an artist, expanding beyond the comfort of being one of America’s most adept acoustic singer-songwriters is a career defining moment for Jurado. And while the lush unknown and ’60s pop stylings of album openers “Cloudy Shoes” and “Arkansas” surely shocked long-time listeners, it shouldn’t have. Because the songs and Saint Bartlett itself showcases the Jurado we’ve always loved: the eager explorer and experimenter of identity and sound. Jurado the iconoclast: a man discontent with the expectations of industry, an artist determined to do it his way, a fearless creator.
Best of all, even with a banner year of inspired creativity and critical success, it is clear to this writer that Saint Bartlett is not the pinnacle of his journey. Jurado’s best is still to come. [Abbey]