While those whose impact on local music is far greater than mine get only a few lines to list their top albums of the year (See Music, pg. 17), I have the advantage of writing in long form about the musical bounties of 2007. And while it seems to be standard procedure for some critics to insult the overall quality of music for each passing year, I won't bite—the previous 12 months unveiled unquantifiable amounts of excellent music, on both local and national stages.
1. Menomena—Friend and Foe
This year, there wasn't a record on the planet that I listened to more than Friend and Foe, and judging by the response of Portland's local music community and Cary Clarke in his column (see Our Town Could Be Your Life, pg. 23), I'm not alone. Local music isn't supposed to sound like this. Hell, no genre of music is supposed to sound like this. Menomena exist in a world entirely their own, familiar enough to relate to, but utterly challenging and unique in every way possible. Friend and Foe is a grand declaration of skewed pop music (the just-as-catchy-as-the-first-time-you-heard-it single "Wet and Rusting"), wildly inventive sounds (the sullen and introspective "My My"), and wonderfully surprising shifts in musical direction (the ghostly a capella vocals that appear out of nowhere during the album's final track, "West"). The saddest thing to admit is that this local trio is seriously in over their heads—mounting any sort of follow-up to a record as dead-on perfect as Friend and Foe will be a monumental task. But hey, no pressure or anything.
2. Bat for Lashes—Fur and Gold
Much like the record above it, Fur and Gold shuns all musical reference points. It's just a vivacious and dream-like debut from British—via Pakistan—singer Natasha Khan. Free form in nature, the record beats like a lovestruck heart that swoons in double-time, only to slow to a calculating thump—thanks to Khan's intimidating percussion staff (not "staff" as in personnel, but as in a big 'ole stick she wields and bangs on the floor)—during the album's chilling introspective moments.
3. Jens Lekman—Night Falls over Kortedala
The charismatic Swede, Jens Lekman, croons with classic flair, punctuates his songs with sample-heavy, grandiose arrangements, and has a voice so warm and soothing that it can melt the polar ice caps and flood the fjords of his native land. While the sweeping orchestration of Night Falls can be a bit indulgent, Lekman is painfully modest—if not self-deprecating—in his lyrics, and his arrangements are like a modern day Phil Spector, sans all that cocktail waitress-shooting, egomaniacal stuff.
4. Brother Ali—The Undisputed Truth
Full-length record number three for this outspoken Midwest emcee is a chest-thumping emotional call to arms from a man who has done a lot of hard living in his 30 years on this planet. But when Ali isn't effortlessly dropping his hook-laden rhymes, he is tightening up his lyrics, especially the politically scorching "Uncle Sam Goddamn," which declares, "Shit the government's the addict/with a billion dollar a week kill-brown-people habit."
5. Betty Davis—Betty Davis (1973 reissue)
Thankfully reissued by Seattle indie label Light in the Attic, Davis' flamboyant blasts of amplified feminist rock and funk were always overshadowed by her more famous, and influential, ex-husband (Miles Davis). There were two releases that saw the light of day this year, her revolutionary self-titled debut (from 1973), and 1974's scorching They Say I'm Different, both of which are absolutely essential.