my best of ’11
Well, 2011 is finally over, and not a moment too soon. It was generally a drab and dismal year…boo. However, there were some amazing music releases this year that are absolutely worth sharing & talking about. I’ve listened to hundreds of hours worth of new music all year long, and I have an urge to share with you what I’ve found. That’s why I’ve decided to put together a musical best-of list for the past year. In fact, I’d like to start a tradition that on the 3rd day of every year, I release my very own ‘best of’ for the year prior. That’s a promise I really hope not to break.
There were some highly-anticipated albums that came out this year: Bjork, Coldplay, Drake, Feist, Jay-Z and Kanye West. There were some musicians that took a first (or second or third) stab at film scoring: Jonas Bjerre from Mew (Skyscraper), Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead (Norwegian Wood), Jónsi from Sigur Rós (We Bought a Zoo) and The Social Network dream team, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). There were also some pretty disappointing albums that came out this year: Death Cab for Cutie, Foo Fighters, MUTEMATH, Noah and the Whale. And then there was Lou Reed and Metallica’s heinous abomination.
The overall vibe of the past 12 months seemed to be this: if 2010 was the year of ’80s throwbacks, 2011 was the year of ’90s throwbacks, especially with releases from J Mascis, Stephen Malkmus, Thurston Moore and UK newcomers, Yuck. Anyway, without further ado, here’s my list starting with a countdown of my 5 favorite albums released in 2011:
I was pretty skeptical before listening to the newest creation from Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox, AKA Panda Bear. I wasn’t a big fan of his last album, Person Pitch. I found it a little too sleepy and dull. But when I pressed play on the first track of Tomboy, I was hooked. The combination of vast, earthy soundscapes and artificially distant electronica meld so nicely together throughout the record. Noah’s voice is perfectly blended with every instrument, every note, every aural nuance. It’s a 50-minute musical hypnosis that never once brought me to the wrong place.
Notable Track: “Slow Motion”
This album has been getting a lot of recognition across the board for its excellence, and there’s good reason why. Where For Emma, Forever Ago was a beautiful and vivid first statement for Bon Iver, this year’s self-titled truly reveals their poker hand, all cards facing up in confidence. Each song is creatively arranged, wonderfully diverse and to put it simply, very beautiful. Overall, this album honestly presents Bon Iver’s musical ethos, and it’s a strong one. Here’s to their next project.
Notable Track: “Perth”
Here are two artists that I discovered this year, one fairly new on the scene and the other, fairly legendary. I had heard whisperings here and there of a soul/blues/jazz guru called Gil Scott-Heron but never listened to his music until after his death this past May. The first thing I listened to was I’m New Here, his last musical creation. With every new listen, I was blown away. I knew the name, Jamie xx, from UK indie stars, The xx. But again, I didn’t really know who he was. After listening to I’m New Here about 20-30 times, I checked out We’re New Here, the remix album released by these two unlikely collaborators. I couldn’t really believe what I was hearing upon first listen. It wasn’t a collision of ideas, it was a true musical meld. ‘Electronic poetry’ is the quickest way I could describe this music, but with any two-word discriptor, it doesn’t nearly capture how twistedly beautiful this music really is. It’s worth a hundred listens.
Notable Track: “I’m New Here”
I first heard Dan Mangan play an acoustic show on one of my favorite podcasts, Comedy Bang Bang. I was instantly attracted to his voice. The songs were well-written and well-played, but I wasn’t going to check out his album until he mentioned that it wasn’t just acoustic guitar music but rather full of diverse instrumentation and musical arrangements. Once I bought Oh Fortune on iTunes, I was sure glad I did. Out of all the records I listened to this year, there were few that became musical realizations to me. Dan Mangan’s was one of them. From the first to the last minute, I was captured and transported to a different place. So many moments gave me shivers, and so many moments made me want to press ‘stop’ and immediately write a song. I guess the best way I could introduce this music is to say that it has the heart of Glen Hansard, the dreaminess of Andrew Bird, the intention of Arcade Fire and a creative personality that is entirely its own. Dan Mangan is a fantastic artist that deserves all the recognition in the world. I’m excited to hear what he’ll put out next.
Notable Track: “Rows of Houses”
This album isn’t on too many best of lists, and I can see why. At first impression, it plays like an album that would only be really great to Wilco fans. But I don’t think that’s the case. Although it definitely took me several listens to fully appreciate the record, I believe there is something in it for everyone. The album opens with a 7-minute mechanically dark opus which ends with a frenzied instrumental, making one ballsy introduction. Things cool off after that with a series upbeat tracks, then the album trades off between darker, more beautiful ballads and killer, locomotive rockers. Each song contributes to a perfect amalgam of music that is self-complimentary. The Whole Love is, in the truest sense of the phrase, a ‘band album.’ You can hear each member’s musical input perfectly jelling with the next, all minded by Wilco’s creative leader, Jeff Tweedy. The last track, entitled “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend),” is 12 minutes long, consisting of the most breathtaking musical conversation I have heard all year. It’s intense but laid-back, naked but confident, vague but intimate. It is without a doubt, my favorite track of 2011, only fitting that it be on my favorite record of 2011.
Notable Track: “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)”
Here are ten additional records I’ve enjoyed this year that didn’t make it to the top 5. They are listed alphabetically by artist:
The Barr Brothers - The Barr Brothers
This album was very close to making it into my top 5. I’ve known Brad and Andrew Barr (from the indie trio, The Slip) for some time now. We actually grew up in the same little New England town. And I think that’s why I feel a connection to the their music. Not necessarily because of the town, but because it evokes a warm melancholy feeling of ‘home.’ The music is honest and from the earth.
Notable Track: “Cloud (For Lhasa)”
Battles - Gloss Drop
A good friend of mine first turned me on to Battles when they released Mirrored. Listening to that record for the first time, the layers of creative chaos I heard rendered me instantly entranced. On Gloss Drop, they accomplish this effect and then some. Each track is delightfully cinematic, and the overarching sonic schizophrenia delivers with a punch you don’t forget. It’s awesome.
Notable Track: ”Ice Cream”
The Black Keys - El Camino
Here’s a record I wouldn’t have guessed I’d have liked as much as I did. The Black Keys have always been one of those bands that have a cool vibe but I’ve never been crazy about. This is the first record of theirs, just recently released, that I’ve grasped onto. The songs are diverse, fiery and full of a pop confidence that I hadn’t heard on their other records. I’m curious to hear where they’ll go from here.
Notable Track: ”Dead and Gone”
CANT - Dreams Come True
I’ve been a big Grizzly Bear fan for years now, and when I heard that Chris Taylor (their bassist) was releasing a solo record, I got excited. Sure enough, it didn’t disappoint. There are a lot of terrific moments throughout the album that hint at a Grizzly Bear vibe, but disobey the direct similarities with tripped-out beats and atmospheric soundscapes. It’s a great thinking record. Taylor’s also amazing live.
Notable Track: ”Too Late Too Far”
James Blake - James Blake
This UK newcomer has blown up the indie world with his self-titled album, released at the beginning of the year. The first Blake track I heard was his cover of Feist’s ‘Limit to Your Love,’ which gave me one of those ‘holy shit’ faces at first listen. His album is equally a non-disappointment. It’s a brand new sound. It’s Kanye meets Ray LaMontagne meets something else entirely. It’s fantastic.
Notable Track: ”The Wilhelm Scream”
Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo
As far as I’m concerned, I think Kurt Vile might be the next J Mascis. His music is brutally wry, soulful and dark. The art and title of this album perfectly fit the mood. A combination of lazy-sounding vocals, deep acoustic guitar and melodic auxiliary instrumentation makes for an amazingly honest record that seems to come from both outer space and some back alley in Philadelphia.
Notable Track: ”Runner Ups”
Modeselektor - Monkeytown
Like with many of the aforementioned artists, I started to get into Modeselektor this year, especially after hearing their Radiohead remix, “Good Evening Mrs. Magpie.” This Berlin-based electronic group released a record this year that not only resonated with me but inspired me to write music. Monkeytown also aided greatly to my introduction into an amazing new world of electronic music.
Notable Track: ”Blue Clouds”
Radiohead - The King of Limbs
This was another album that almost made the top 5. When it was released in February, I was surprised at how unready I was for this music. I figured it was going to be different from In Rainbows, but I didn’t know how different. Each listen continued to get better and better, and now, I’d regard it as one of their best. Radiohead never really disappoints, there are always several gems hidden in whatever they release.
Notable Track: ”Codex”
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Mirror Traffic
I was so happy when this album came out. It was my summer album, both pleasing to the ear and slightly off. The songs are solid, the production is fantastic, the vocals kill and the guitars sound simply awesome. It was nice hearing some good old fashioned ’90s indie rock this year, and I’m particularly glad there’s still a good audience for it. Long live Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks.
Notable Track: ”Tigers”
Tom Waits - Bad As Me
I got into Tom Waits in a heavy way this past year. From this, my only regret was that I didn’t get into him sooner. He’s so prolific, so creative, so dark, so hilarious, so beautiful, so ugly, so…Tom Waits. Bad As Me met all these criteria and never lost a beat. The album is littered with so many great tracks, each containing a hearty fistful of grit and attitude. Waits hasn’t lost any charm.
Notable Track: ”Bad As Me”
2011 track snacks
Bjork – “Crystalline”
- first time i heard this, it blew my mind, especially the frenetic ending -
Britney Spears – “Till the World Ends”
- when Shaimus was in the studio earlier this year, this was our theme song -
Deer Tick - “The Bump”
- good old boys from my hometown, a fun & gritty track -
Jai Paul – “BTSTU”
- this track got a lot of recognition this year, i’m happy about that -
Jay-Z and Kanye West – “Lift Off”
- awesome vibe, Beyonce kills it, beautiful dreamy track -
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – “Bubble”
- thank you NPR for introducing me to this artist, the music is perfectly placed -
Oneohtrix Point Never – “Replica”
- i get a strong Blade Runner vibe from this track, dark & brooding -
Radiohead – “Staircase”
- from the King of Limbs sessions, amazing track, textured like a boss -
Real Estate – “It’s Real”
- the whole album is a little sleepy, but this track cut through to me -
Yellowbirds – “Beneath The Reach Of Light”
- thank you Elizabeth Ziman for this track, reminds me of The Byrds -