TOP ALBUM: Ray LaMontagne's Gossip in the Grain.
I'm an enthusiastic guy, and maybe prone to hyperbole from time to time, but it's hard to argue that 2008 wasn't an all-time banner year for music created here in the Portland area. While the live scene continues to rebound, buoyed by the emergence of One Longfellow, the Meg Perry Center, and the Empire, particularly, along with a new handful of alternative venues where all manner of indie stuff goes down, it still cannot possibly hang with the album and EP releases. And there's the continuing issue of cover bands creeping into what was solely original music's territory.
Maybe next year when the Port City Music Hall gets its sea legs, and (fingers crossed, rumors are flying) the State Theatre reopens, things will even up between the digital and live scenes. Getting some more out-of-town blood flowing through our fair city can only serve to excite live music fans in general and make them hunger for more great shows.
But first, the numbers: I've been tracking full-length releases by Portland-area bands and solo artists since 2004, and this year saw at least a 33 percent jump over least year's previous high of 61. By my count, there were no fewer than 81 full-length albums released locally, with another 19 EPs (there were 52 full-lengths in 2004, just 28 in 2005 — what now looks like the nadir for local music, and 46 in 2006).
Of course, my standards have changed a little. Where once I didn't count CD-Rs and digital-only releases, this year I've decided to make the tent bigger. Especially the founding of Milled Pavement's Emben label and the increasing quality of the indie CD-Rs has changed the local landscape for music consumption significantly. None of these kinds of releases cracked my top 20 albums for 2008, but many of them were in the next 10 and you'll see some of them profiled in Chris Gray's accompanying article about some of the year's best hidden gems. I've continued to exclude compilations and live albums.
As always for this list, 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 they contain a truly outstanding song. I've also this year integrated some consideration for production value and the quality of the listening experience. I've decided that has to count for something.
So, here's the list. It was a agonizing process of elimination to get to this point. But first some caveats: I'm not counting the new Sparks the Rescue album as a 2008 disc because I think it will get a new and wider release in 2009 and would like to consider it there. Similarly, while I'd love to consider Pinkwood 2, Seekonk only released a limited 100-print run of it on LP, and it just seems unfair to tease people with what they might someday hear. Finally, people may quibble with Ray LaMontagne's localness, but I don't care. He's ours, and I want to keep it that way.
Top 20 Albums of 2008
1_Ray LaMontagne, Gossip in the Grain