Aside from the second season of Mad Men, Barack Obama, and Puppycam, I think we can all agree that it was a pretty mediocre year in national pop culture. Cobbling together a ten-best national albums list (mine's at thePhoenix.com) was a lot like picking a favorite episode of The King of Queens — there are plenty of decent ones, but they're all a little flabby and the plot lines are tired. Fortunately, our local music list-making activities this year have been a lot more fun. In solid agreement that it's been an exceptional year in local releases, Sam Pfeifle and I decided that apart from his top 20 (see p 15), we ought to make an additional column of noteworthy releases you may not have heard for any number of reasons — because they're not on the radio, they sold out their limited-edition runs, they're by new or pseudo-local acts, or just because they're a little weird (basically meaning that I liked them and Sam didn't). Herein are Ten Outsidery Releases You Should Really Track Down.
Arborea, self-titled (Fire Museum Records)
Shanti and Buck Curran are an internationally acclaimed folk duo, based in Lewiston, currently touring Europe on the undeniable strength of this album, which merges Shanti's heartstopping, magisterial vocals with slowcore blues and Appalachian folk stylings.
Nat Baldwin, Most Valuable Player (Broken Sparrow Records)
Baldwin, currently residing in Maine and New Hampshire, has made a strong name for himself this year — performing frequent gigs in New York City, solo and with the Grizzly Bear-related project Department of Eagles. His second album, produced by Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor, gives his solemn upright bass songs a swooning pop backdrop.
Cougars kill Cobras, self-titled and Vs. EPs (self-released/Peapod Recordings)
They've played in all-denim outfits, in Richard Simmons get-ups, and with 8-bit graphics splashed across their faces. Their brand of punk rock is primal, noisy, shrill, and alternately danceable and uncompromising. After these two wildly different EPs, we wait with bated breath to see where they go next.
Cursillistas, Wasp Stings the Last Bitter Flavor (Digitalis Industries)
Recorded by Matt Lajoie (founder of L'Animaux Tryst (Field) Recordings) and friends, Wasp Stings is Cursillistas' most accomplished blend of intimate avant-folk and psychedelic flair so far. Creaks and moans abound like surprises around every turn.
Fire on Fire, The Orchard (Young God Records)
Reviewed in last week's issue, the first full-length album by South Portland's five-member outsider-folk glee club was worth the awfully long wait. Order it exclusively through younggodrecords.com.
Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, Handsome Animals (Eternal Otter Records)
Portland's hottest new indie duo that we just can't stop talking about (we'll review this album next week), TJ Metcalfe and Aly Spaltro just released this sampler of the band's early tracks and Spaltro's solo material at Bull Moose stores. Spunky and sprawling, the group would be a force to reckon with even if the 19-year-old Spaltro hadn't already proven herself Portland's most commanding new female vocalist in quite some time.
Metal Feathers, self-titled (self-released)
Spartan drummer Althea Pajak joins former Cult Maze frontman Jay Lobley and Jason Rogers and Derek Lobley (both formerly of Diamond Sharp). Given their pedigree, we don't need to reiterate that Metal Feathers are one of Portland's most promising new indie bands, but this release is so effortless in its garage-pop charms that we will anyway. The album's available at Portland's Bull Moose.
Kelly Nesbitt, Beaks That Could Smile (L'Animaux Tryst (Field) Recordings)
This very limited-edition release gets my vote for the most overlooked local album of the year. Nesbitt is well-regarded around town for her theatrical skills and uncanny sense of humor, but who knew they'd lead to such a singular and quietly epic folk album, of sad and quirky stories, beautifully told (and sung)? Consider this entry a plea for a re-pressing: more people need to hear this.
The Rattlesnakes, Tidal Living (self-released)
At times willfully sloppy, at others wonderfully concise, you never quite know what to expect out of a live Rattlesnakes set. This album, taking a similar approach, proves how well they pull it off either way.
Christopher Gray can be reached at email@example.com.