The Decemberists, The King is Dead
Portland's first number-one-charting album is a fine effort for the Decemberists—my favorite album from them since Her Majesty—and while I have my issues with a few songs on the disc, I think the band and the city have good reason to be proud. I bought this one for my mom for Christmas, and every time she played it over the holiday, I felt a little sting for not including it in the round-up. Even though this disc is number 18 or 19 on my year-end favorites list, I can't help thinking that we missed out on a historical opportunity by not labeling it one of our best. Fortunately, all kinds of national publications are doing that for us.
Portual. The Man, In the Mountain In the Cloud
This is a catchy, ambitious record and another high-profile release that Portland can feel good about. Sometimes this disc feels a little too epic-for-epic's sake, but there are moments on the disc that give me chills. The hype is pretty justified.
Cool Nutz, The Cook-Up
Leaving this off the list hurt the most. Cool Nutz's music isn't always my specific bag—and I was careful not to just advocate for fine work this year, but to advocate for my personal favorite releases—but there's an awful lot of craft and some true development that can be heard on this record. Cool Nutz is a more honest, smarter and more relevant rapper today than he was five or ten years ago. Portland hip-hop owes him a lot, but most of all it owes him a respect for his artistry and vision. He earns that respect on The Cook-Up.
Point Juncture, WA; Handsome Orders
I really, really, really like this record. I think the only thing keeping it off my list is that I think the band's previous record, Heart to Elk, is one of my favorite albums ever to come out of this city. Orders keeps creeping up on me, and I would imagine that, by the end of 2012, I'll be trying to figure out why it wasn't on my 2011 list.
Blind Pilot, We Are the Tide
Another Portland band having a huge year, and I hope no one thinks I'm offering a dissenting opinion on their awesomeness by not including them in my list. This group is full of fantastic musicians and frontman Israel Nebeker is an incredible frontman. The title track here might be my favorite song the group has ever written, but I do miss the stripped-down feel of the band's debut, and I miss the pronounced horn section even more. So while the disc veers a bit from my personal aesthetics, I'm still floored by the great songwriting and rich vocal interplay throughout We Are the Tide. People give Blind Pilot a hard time for being so accessible, but I think that this is what pop radio should sound like.