For the record, this is a post-deadline reconsideration. My apologies to the Blow (whose Paper Television was heavily considered). Bitches Is Lord is simply the most devastatingly beautiful and devastatingly honest thing I've heard in the past year. And, at times, it elevates Orange's foggy, haunted lo-fi folk into electrified full-band rock songs. The honesty—the self-aware vulnerability and imperfection—lies in Orange's trailing and breaking baritone vocals, which carry short hopeful truths, desperate questions and admissions of powerlessness. Despite a few sparse, barely produced tracks, this is a rock record—one that's trying to figure out what the hell rock is while simultaneously cutting rock's throat. MICHAEL BYRNE.
Smoke, Bleed (Super Happy Wax):
It's pretty rare that a hip-hop record blows my mind by way of its adventurousness. But Bleed is satisfying thanks to both the Oldominion emcee's breath-defying roller-coaster flow and the album's distorted, sci-fi beats—all the more impressive when you consider it was a labor of love composed and executed almost entirely by one man. As 2007 creeps in, I still listen to this album on a regular basis to decipher more of Smoke's cryptic, end-of-days transmissions, and to get lost in Bleed's dark ambience. CASEY JARMAN.
It's a Bright Guilty World (Future Farmer): I woke up to the Minders' It's a Bright Guilty World just about every day this past spring; it was the CD in my alarm clock during what was quite possibly one of the loneliest periods of my life. And every day when it came on, I let it play straight through. I let the soft, fuzzy, minute-long intro—with its bright acoustic guitar and soft, sleepy vocals—be a warm sun in my eyes; I let "Don't You Stop," which delivers one of the best pop teases ever, be a cold splash of water on my face. The combination of Martyn Leaper's witty lyrics and keen pop sensibility with Rebecca Cole's visceral keyboard playing and sweet, smooth backing vocals is pop perfection. From the absurdly catchy "Same Time, Same Place" to the melancholy of "Jenny," It's a Bright Guilty World is the best way I've found to start a day—and one for the ages. AMY MCCULLOUGH.
Agalloch, Ashes Against the Grain,(The End):
I would put this album on par with a novel like Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, because, in both form and content, each work captures a force that, by comparison, highlights the frailty and helplessness of man. For Vonnegut, that force is time, and for Agalloch, it is nature. Characterized by deep, patient metal rhythms, broad harmonies and bright, vivid post-rock guitar, Ashes is downright elemental. It completely transcends the metal template: Rarely angry or melancholic, Ashes, like the waves and glaciers of its lyrics, simply is. JASON SIMMS.
The Exploding Hearts, Shattered (Dirtnap):
By now, you all know the tragic end the Exploding Hearts met in the summer of '03 (three-fourths of the band died in a car accident). And you're all familiar with the undeniable power-pop GENIUS of the band's one full-length, Guitar Romantic (right?). But maybe you don't all know the complete Hearts story—the Pink Palace, Studio 13, King Louie Bankston. Or you didn't until the '06 release of Shattered. Dirtnap's 16-page, yellow-and-pink CD booklet is stuffed with band photos, show fliers and tributes from friends and family—not to mention excellent liner notes by PDX scene-staple Fred "the Barber" Landeen. And the unreleased tracks and alternate versions that make up the disc proper? Pure punk romance, dressed in white denim. SAM SOULE.
See year-end lists throughout the music section. To read the Local Cut team's runners up for year's bests, visit LocalCut.com.