Saturday, January 01, 2011

RIB's 2010 Album of the Year:
Laura Veirs, July Flame

This year's race for Most Important Album, at least in my mind, came down to two records: Arcade Fire's The Suburbs and Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Of those, the overwhelming edge goes to Kanye, who so brilliantly transcended his own genre he easily won over a hip hop hater like myself.

But there's just one thing: My Album of the Year isn't intended to be given to the year's Most Important Album. It goes to my favorite album. And that, beyond the shadow of a doubt, was Laura Veirs' July Flame.

Kanye West's record was, and is, a megaton of fireworks and a landmark achievement that deserves all its accolades -- I picked it as Unwinnable's Album of the Year, after all -- but no record has meant as much to me as July Flame, which stayed fresh, spin after spin, all year long, finding new ways to hold onto me at every turn.

I bought July Flame when it came out last January, and it's been the record I've listened to the most just about every month since. While it only appeared on a few other people's year-end lists -- I know, because I've been looking for it -- it doesn't matter. July Flame tops mine.

Song after song is its own tiny treasure. I Can See Your Tracks is about knowing what path to avoid, and resigning yourself not to take it no matter how much it hurts. The title track treads similar ground, though this time it's about reaching out instead of falling back. Life Is Good Blues is about finding the right dance partner, while Summer Is The Champion is about rolling around in the grass with her (or him, if you're Laura Veirs). Carol Kaye is a fan's ode to a musical hero. Make Something Good, as I wrote in my nomination entry last month, is a prayer from creator to Creator -- a mission statement for an artist (or a human) of any stripe.

Each of July Flame's songs is so perfectly realized it stops mattering that the record lacks both the bravado and ambition of Kanye West's masterpiece. After all, an Album of the Year doesn't have to want to be an Album of the Year. Sometimes it's just right, as it is with July Flame -- start to finish, a record that feels like home. And that's something you can't measure intellectually.

Most Important is a title to strive for; Most Loved is something far less tangible, and, at the same time, all the more valuable.


Anonymous said...

Not sure she’s exactly my style ‘cause there isn’t enough rage and ass-kicking involved, at least judging from this clip, but I completely agree with your sentiment and love your writing. ………Aw, hell, ya made me too curious and I just downloaded it anyway! Happy New Year, Big M – bring on the 2011 AOTY!!!

Chris Sikich said...

I am glad I have found another who believes "July Flame" was the best album of last year. What haunting beauty and grace from beginning to end.