Over the next two weeks we’ll be counting down our 10 favorite records released in the Pacific Northwest in 2011. We can tell you and enumerate 10 (after much debating), but we can’t tell you what our 17th and 23rd favorite records are (and keep a straight face), so after the new year we’ll also be sharing 25 other unmissable records from the Pacific Northwest. What can we say, 2011 was a very very good year to be a local music lover in Cascadia.
#10: Gold Leaves – The Ornament (Hardly Art)
When we look back at 2011’s musical output, much like our smart phone “polaroids”, I imagine we’ll cringe at the heavy-handed retro touches and never-ending nostalgia. Under the cross processing and “Hipstamat-acizing” of popular culture, we’re lost in a longing for a time and place that probably never existed. Most of it, like so many of those physical photos of old that our futuristic phones are mimicking, will be thrown out and forgotten, looked upon as quaint remnants from an unsophisticated era and technology.
But some of those photos and songs and sounds transcend the technology and the trend and stand beautifully on their own. Like Gold Leaves gorgeous debut album The Ornament. While it surely mines the retro sounds that are popular right now, there’s a warm wisdom to Grant Olsen’s lyrics and the album’s orchestration. A timelessness. Like the worn yellowed pages of your favorite book. With ‘60s psychedelic soul flourishes, a touch of Lee Hazelwood there, a little rolling timpani and bright, swelling strings here … The Ornament borrows from the best of the past, but is never stuck in it.
The album is steady, there is no crazy crescendo musically or lyrically, but this is not background music. The Ornament is a thoughtful character study not a blow-em-up, and if you don’t pay attention the grandeur of its scope will be lost on you. The Ornament paints sprawling landscapes about the minute and the momentous parts of life. And Olsen is more of an impressionist than a realist. The swirling imagery of passing time, places we hold dear even if we are there but a moment, the relationships we think will last a lifetime that don’t, losing the ones that do and how we are our own only constant companion. Olsen’s lyrics would be beautiful were they just words on a page, but with his honeyed delivery, the ragged warmth of his voice and the enveloping orchestration provided by Papercuts’ Jason Quever, they are poems and painting and songs, all at once.
Download two songs from The Ornament:
Cruel or Kind