Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Top Albums of 2011

So, I am cheating a bit by creating a list of musical discoveries and then a list of other top albums. So, take these lists and make one huge one for yourself. There was too much really good music for me to make a list of 10-20 albums that stood out, especially since no 1 or 2 albums were head and shoulders above the rest. In fact, it was a sub par year for extraordinary albums. However, it was a great year for really good music.

You will notice many bands that made year end lists not on this one. Iron and Wine reminded me too much of the Dan Fogelberg Yacht Rock of the 70s. I felt the same regarding the over-hyped Bon Iver. His album was very solid, but his new Christopher Cross direction did not excite me. I am hoping that we stop encouraging these bearded guys before they become Kenny Loggins. That said, Holocene by Bon Iver is a great song.

You will also notice that Fleet Foxes is not on this list. They do not write good songs. There, I said it. It is pretentious, overly serious and on par with poetry that stays under a mattress. Civil Wars is nice, but ultimately makes me wish I was listening to Over the Rhine.

Enough ranting. Here is the list.

* Not ranked because it may be the best thing of the year, but I will not realize it until later because it was so out of left field award goes to King of Limbs by Radiohead. Listen on Spotify.

Honorable Mentions:
by Elbow, Strange Negotiations by David Bazan, Within and Without by Washed Out, Portamento by The Drums, Wounded Rhymes by Lykke Li, Cults by Cults and Only in Dreams by Dum Dum Girls.

25. The Black Keys- El Camino

Not their best, but still a blast to listen to.

24. Devotchka- 100 Lovers

This album got no love this year, which saddens me. If you have never heard their World pop, do yourself a favor and check them out. Listen on Spotify.

23. Deep Dark Woods-The Place I Left Behind

The kind of alternative country that fans of Fleet Foxes think they play. Listen to what they would sound like if they actually had the songs. Listen on Spotify.

22. Blind Pilot- Half Moon

Nobody writes prettier songs and if you are going to attempt to rewrite the soft rock of the 70s, it is better to focus on the actual song writing than the atmospherics (are you listening Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver?). Listen on Spotify.

21. Raphael Saadiq- Stone Rollin'

He's come a long way since his Prince wannabe days, and this exemplifies why he is the keeper of the mantle for a long gone Motown sound. He is a national treasure. Listen on Spotify.

There is the exact point in between Radiohead and Coldplay. Elbow lives and plays there. Listen on Spotify.

19. Demdike Stare- Tryptych

The deejay and composer practicing the dark arts as Demdike Stare are mis-classified as ambient. It is entirely too challenging and hard work to listen to for this classification. An album that makes you want to groove at times and sit contemplatively at others, it is the least predictable and third most interesting album I heard this year. Listen here.

18. The Roots- Undun

Not as accessible as the last few albums due to its difficult subject matter, the musicianship is still unparalleled. It would have been higher had it come out sooner and I had more time to digest it. Listen on Spotify.

17. Destroyer- Kaputt

Sexier and more soulful than his old stuff. But, just as eccentric. Thankfully. Listen on Spotify.

16. Gillian Welch- The Harrow and the Harvest

It took forever, but the wait is worth it. Listen on Spotify.

15. TV on the Radio- Nine Types of Light

A little mellower than previous releases, this is a surprisingly pretty album, especially Second Song, the lead single. Less Bowie and Talking Heads fixated, they are truly original now.

listen on Spotify

14. Frank Turner- England Keep my Bones

A praise and worship album to the saving power of rock 'n roll, personal responsibility and a life without God, this is an easy to enjoy album with lyrics that will confront those that claim Christianity as their lens. An exceptionally simple album along the lines of those by Ted Leo.

listen on Spotify

13. We Are Augustines- Rise Ye Sunken Ships

From the ashes of the great underground band Pela and the darkness of family tragedy comes this redemptive song cycle dedicated to the singer's dead brother. Beauty can come from ashes and that redemption is born of pain. If you do not believe it, I recommend a listen to this album while reading its back story. For fans of The National (like me).

listen on Spotify

12. St. Vincent- Strange Mercy

If you have never experienced the wonder to behold that is St. Vincent, today is a good time to start. She is Kate Bush for a new generation, with a bit of Fiona Apple's quirk. I could go on and on, but just enjoy the eccentric loveliness.

listen on Spotify

Perfect companion piece for my #6 album, Vile's music is heavily influenced by the low-fi movement led by Pavement, Dinosaur Jr and Elliot Smith. While the Vile's singing and playing are so laid back and unaffected that they border laconic, it works in this context, especially on Jesus Fever. If I ever get sick, I hope it is from the Jesus Fever that Vile is spreading.

listen on Spotify

10. PJ Harvey- Let England Shake

I should tell you that when I saw her open for U2 in 2001, I was not happy. I acknowledge the talent, but she has never worked for me. Until now. Infinitely more focused and interesting than any of her so called "Angry Girl" albums, she has matured into a deeply political songwriter. No protest music out of America last year reached these heights. This is early-sixties protest movement for a disaffected England.

listen on Spotify

9. The Joy Formidable- The Big Roar

If you like thunderous music, full of swirling guitars and swagger, coupled with girl power, this perfectly named band is what you need. The Foo Fighters asked this band to open for them and will probably be embarrassed by how much better the crowd responds to these British dynamos. If you don't like this, you need to check your pulse and stop listening to so much sensitive guitar music before you die of musical boredom.

listen on Spotify

8. F---ed Up- David Comes to Life

Apparently a punk band will come out with an epic concept album each year that blows away people not predisposed to love their music. Last year, Titus Andronicus gave us the best album of the year, while this year, the Canadian post-punk/ post-hardcore with a name I cannot print due to the fact some people read this blog at church gives us an album that hearkens back to the classic hardcore of Black Flag, Husker Du and Fugazi, but with intricate instrumentation and melody coupled with the aggression. If you want to get your blood pumping, play this... LOUD.

listen on Spotify

7. Tom Waits- Bad as Me

While most artists in their 60s are playing the Oldies' circuits, making Boomers happy while reliving their old glories and reminding people how irrelevant they are, Tom Waits is making some of the best music of his long and storied career. While not his strangest album, this is not safe music. I dream of being this cool one day.

listen on Spotify

6. The War on Drugs- Slave Ambient

Sting once said that all artists steal. He just happens to steal from the best sources. Well, these guys steal from the best sources in rock history, Springsteen, U2, Neil Young and Dylan, yet sound like none of them individually. At once a mellow listen, yet driving and intense, I can think of very few bands that can pull off that combination. You can tell Kurt Vile was once in this band. If you like one, you will like both.

listen on Spotify

The soundtrack to a John Hughes movie that sadly never existed, this album will transport its listeners back to 1986 and OMD or Echo and the Bunnymen with the most joyous album of the year. Midnight City is by far the best song of the year and makes me want to break out the International News jacket and put on some Polo cologne. They've changed direction more than most bands during the past decade, but stayed interesting.

listen on Spotify

4. The Antlers- Burst Apart

I guess this album is a disappointment since it does not top my list like their album Hospice did in 2009. Not really though. A natural baritone that dances on the edge with one of the best falsettos in rock music, lead singer Peter Silberman learned a lot from the Jeff Buckleys and Thom Yorkes of the world before venturing into his own direction, releasing an album of dramatic heights without the depressive elements of their last album. After their last 2 releases, I am declaring these guys one of the best bands in America.

listen on Spotify

3. King Creosote and Jon Hopkins- Diamond Mine

I am never sure what people mean when they say something is "mood music." All music is mood music in my estimation. If I'm in the mood to dance, I won't listen to Metallica. However, I think this album is what people mean when they use the term. Unfathomably moody and simply beautiful, retaining classical form, but infused with electronica. Sad. But in a very good way.

listen to Spotify

2. Wye Oak- Civilian

Ambiguously spiritual lyrics of Biblical imagery with ethereal female pop vocals and the most feedback and distortion of the year. Sounds like a recipe for an A+ in the Rick Bennett music class. This is a special album full of worshipful music, the kind I wish churches played. Like many of the top albums on this list, it transports the listener to another place (and sounds particularly good with earphones on).

listen on Spotify

That is correct. The best album of the year for my highly personal list is by a bass saxophonist (and no one else). Stetson has played with Arcade Fire, the National and Bon Iver, among others. It is truly like nothing else I have ever heard and pretty much incapable of explaining. That said, I return to the album all the time. It is not jazz, ambient or rock. However, it is all of the above and not as challenging as my words imply.

listen on Spotify

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