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December 28th, 2011 12:01 am CASEY JARMAN | Music Stories

You’re The Best—Around!

The WW music staff picks their best albums of 2011.


Music Editor Casey Jarman’s top 15 local albums of the year.

This was the year Portland came face-to-face with its blossoming, narrowly defined international reputation for “keeping it weird.” Portland then slouched, dropped its head and let out a long sigh of defeat. We’re not all underemployed artisan cheesemakers who moonlight in tall-bike polo leagues, but damn if everybody’s not in a band. And while the local indie-rock world’s prevailing winds aren’t too far off the national average—with many of our fine local groups producing rock of the dreamy, spacey, electronic variety—many of Portland’s metal and experimental artists are gaining national acclaim for making masterful music that resides right on the edge of accessibility.

My tastes, however, run a bit palatable. I hope you find something you like here, but if not—try turning the page. Oh, and happy new year.

15. Tony Ozier, BeatsGalore
The multi-instrumentalist at the center of Portland’s fast-rising R&B and funk worlds surprises with a top-notch beat collection. 

14. Dolorean, The Unfazed
If Al James had been born 30 years earlier, he’d be a widely heralded national treasure.

13. Talkdemonic, Ruins
A rejuvenated Talkdemonic drops an epic disc full of avant beats and distorted soundscapes.

12. Starfucker, Reptilians
A grower, to be sure, but there’s a five-song stretch toward the beginning of the disc that is, in itself, better than most records I heard this year.

11. Cloudy October, The Metal Jerk
A  smart and occasionally challenging second disc from an MC who is perhaps more Portland than Portland.

10. Unknown Mortal Orchestra (self-titled)
If I didn’t desperately miss UMO godhead Ruben Nielsen’s incredible punk band, the Mint Chicks, this one might have topped my list.

9. AgesandAges, Alright You Restless
Churchy harmonies and Southern rock riffs will always steal my heart, but Tim Perry’s great songwriting really made this a Shinsian local classic-to-be. 

8. Nurses, Dracula
Probably the consensus favorite local indie-pop album of the year, and for very good reason. Nurses is bright, unique and pretty fucking strange.

7. Serge Severe, Back on My Rhymes
It’s hard to do throwback, DJ Premier-style hip-hop any better than this.

6. Typhoon, A New Kind of House
A well-built and haunting collection that expands Typhoon’s already loaded sonic playbook.

5. Your Rival, Seven Sparkling Children EP
A fine combination of quirky songwriting and twee-punk energy from this up-and-coming trio.

4. Deelay Ceelay, Sunset Drumsets
After an extended hiatus, drum ’n’ laptops duo Deelay Ceelay returned to drop an album just as colorful and explosive as its multimedia productions.

3. Radiation City, The Hands That Take You
I don’t think a better-sounding disc dropped all year than this one from Radiation City, the dream-pop outfit that will probably have my top Best New Band vote next year.

2. St. Even, Spirit Animal
The more time I spend with this gorgeous, whip-smart collection of puzzle songs from the vastly underrated Steve Hefter, the more I love it. “Long Distance Call,” in particular, is a generation-defining song.

1. Illmaculate and G_Force, The Green Tape
An ambitious, free download EP that showcases the smoother and more introspective side of decorated local battle MC Illmaculate, who is poised for a long-rumored breakout year in 2012.

The Rest Of The Best Albums Of 2011

Well, we put our heads together, and this is what we came up with. Not a complete list, to be sure, but a collection of our favorite local and national music of the year.


Bryan John Appleby, Fire on the Vine

The Seattle songwriter made his introspective and arresting debut album of slowly unfolding indie-folk songs with help from Kickstarter. (EB)

Atriarch, Forever the End
A feat of sustained malevolence, the album’s bleak 36 minutes of gothic doom established Atriarch as the underworld’s new dark lords. (CS)

Beastie Boys, The Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
The B-Boys drop politics and hone three decades of influence—from jazz to punk to reggae—to craft their best album since Check Your Head. (APK)

James Blake, James Blake
The London electronic music producer marries ambient dub with soulful R&B for a strange and beautiful union. (JF)

Blouse, self-titled
On its debut, Blouse combines ethereal synthpop with breathy female vocals. Not to be confused with fellow Kate Bush-loving groups like College, Chromatics or the Drive soundtrack. (DC)

BOAT, Dress Like Your Idols
Not BOAT’s catchiest record, but a very strong and even kind of mature (!) effort from our favorite Seattle pop-punk group. (CJ)

Rachel Taylor Brown, World So Sweet
The intimacy of a woman and her steadfast piano, succumbing to frequent fits of tender, jazzy rock and super-collaborative jangle pop. (MS)

Danava, Hemisphere of Shadows
Forward-thinking ’70s throwback metal played with the intensity of Karp or High on Fire. Thin Lizzy for the ADD generation. Organ solos that would make Arthur C. Clarke lose sleep. (NC)

Alela Diane, Alela Diane & Wild Divine
Trading her sparse, acoustic finger-pickings for a full-band sound, Diane’s new disc is rich with down-home twang and rich vocals. (EB)

Fucked Up, David Comes to Life
“Epic” and “punk” don’t normally go together, but this is an epic fucking punk album, all intertwining guitars and singer Damien Abraham’s grizzly-man growls. (MPS)

PJ Harvey, Let England Shake
From fallen dictators to political uprisings, the world shook in 2011. Harvey’s protest album provided a poignant soundtrack. (DC)

Nick Jaina, The Beanstalks That Have Brought Us Here Are Gone
The most impressive thing about this special, guest-loaded disc isn’t all the gorgeous voices on it, but (sometime WW contributor) Nick Jaina’s compelling, deep songwriting. (CJ)

Zola Jesus, Conatus
These beats are equal parts ancient and electronic. It’s hard to believe Zola Jesus’ supernatural howl comes from her tiny frame. (NV)

Key Losers, California Lite
Katy Davidson and company’s first full-length is alternately pretty, funny and so damn smooth. (CJ)

Log Across the Washer, 2009-2010 Collection
Lo-fi recordings from a garage-pop singer-songwriter with the humble, self-deprecating style of Elliott Smith. (NV) 

True Theory
Luck spits like a syllabic machine gun, but he balances his passion, wisdom, swagger and emotion to craft a bar-setting local album. (APK)

Other Lives, Tamer Animals
A surrealist’s masterful portrait, set to bone-shaking orchestral sketches. Vast, cinematic and ruggedly sophisticated, this record haunts. (MS)

The Physics, Love Is a Business 
Seattle-based hip-hop trio the Physics crafted the perfect soundtrack to a Northwest summer—warm, breezy and full of nostalgic tales of barbecues and love flings under the branches of a Douglas fir. (RJ)

Pulse Emitter, Spiritual Vistas 
Daryl Groetsch has made another coldly beautiful, modular synth soundtrack to an as-yet-unrealized sci-fi epic. Eat your heart out Vangelis. (RH)

Red Fang, Murder the Mountains
Oh, Portland isn’t manly, huh? Tell that to the burly riffs on this masterpiece of mountainous crunch. As pulverizing as Red Fang’s metal can be, though, the band never forsakes a good melody. (MPS)

Kelli Schaefer, Ghost of the Beast
Through songs at turns mournful and fervent, the PDX singer-songwriter’s versatile voice is the firm yet lovely linchpin of this emotionally raw, stunning debut. (JF)

Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What
Simon turned 70 this year. His poetry and percussive pursuits are as precise as ever, exploring new rhythms and empathetic musings. (AI)

Something Fierce, Don’t Be So Cruel
Houston’s punk classicists took it back to ’79 with this exhilarating collection of anthems reminiscent of the Clash’s slickest pop moves. (CS)

Tycho, Dive
The perfect antidote to dubstep mania: A calm, effective downtempo record that seeps into your pores and infects your whole being. (RH)

Virus, The Agent That Shapes the Desert
Cult Norwegian post-black metal/post-rock weirdness from a founding member of Ulver. A musical mirage that combines Die Kreuzen, Voivod and Unwound—and it swings! (NC)

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