Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Baker's Dozen of 2011

This year kind of snuck on by me.

While certainly not the best year in recent memory, a quick check of my jpeg file indicates a healthy amount of good memories arose and a quick check of this year’s music finds a healthy amount of great records too.

Many of them will work well in matching up with some of those memories.

I noticed there was a big sense of bummers and dread in some of my choices this year.

Feel free to ridicule or add your own choices to the comment screen provided.

1.) Josh Pearson – Last Of The Country Gentlemen

Admittedly, this isn’t an album that I will be playing frequently, but it’s still the best, bravest album of the year by far. The songs are uncomfortably personal sometimes, and to rub against that kind of heartache and despair is unsettling. But it gets props as the album of the year because it takes a special person to not only use their muse as a therapeutic outlet, it takes an even more special one to release it.

2.) Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

A landmark record of beautiful harmonies trying to overcome was sounds to be the weight of the world. Touchingly personal and eloquently executed, Helplessness Blues will become a touchtone record in the years to come, when artists and music lovers alike need to remind themselves that no amount of technological wonder will ever replace the power of a human voice and the emotional weight it carries.

3.) Fucked Up – David Comes To Life

The best punk rock opera record since Zen Arcade, Not that there have been many attempts, but at least this attempt comes from a band that actually has the minerals to challenge it. Don’t bother with the translation, like most concept albums, the plot gets a bit muddled. But I do admire how this band of polar opposites work in conjunction to deliver something that’s beyond their expectations and, perhaps, their individual abilities. An immediate favorite for anyone versed in old-school punk rock angst.

4.) The Psychic Paramount – II

I’ve got this way too high for most of you, but for me the return of an awesome and unpredictable post-rock instrumental band is proving to be too much for my ears to take. I listen to it frequently and it makes me want to pull out my guitar again, until I realize that I’ll never be as good as these guys. Sure, it conjures up the best of math rock, which I automatically feel apologetic for uttering that godawful genre title. Bottom line, if you like it when an instrumental power trio whips up enough noise to signal a Mayan disaster, here’s your album.

5). Wilco – The Real Love

Alternate title: Tweedy Gets Weird again. Just when I was about to turn off the light with Wilco, relinquishing them to Dad Rock status and settling for mediocrity (yes, I’m re-evaluating everything post Yankee Hotel Foxtrot), they return with a worthy follow-up to that classic and make me think twice in believing that all of their sense of adventure was lost with Jay Bennett. It wasn’t, and shame on me for thinking that Tweedy couldn’t pull it off again.

6.) Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

I panned Girls’ last effort, so I may have to eat some crow with their remarkable turnaround on Father, Son, Holy Ghost. It’s leaps and bounds better than that one, demonstrating a maturation that is about as impressive as you can get. Christopher Owens ditches the DIY ethos that actually plagued Album (new band too), instead choosing to open up his heart to a wider pallet of sounds, wonderfully secured in a real studio document. Best of all, he matches this with top-notch lyrics. They sit comfortably next to Owens’ influences and suggest that this young artist may actually have a seat at the table.

7.) Tuneyards – Whokill

I’m tired of the upper/lower case drama of her name, but I’m in love with Merrill Garbus voice and words. While Whokill doesn’t posses the debut Birdbrains low-fi impressiveness, Garbus expands her own confidence along with the professionalism that her big studio provides. And when she starts talking about her ladyparts with complete disregard for manners, it’s only because the music is stirring a fucking confessional out of her. To lose yourself in the music, isn’t that what it’s all about?

8.) J. Mascis – Several Shades Of Why

You’ll find Kurt Vile elsewhere on this list, but I have to put the Uncle J. record ahead because Mascis has done that role before and he’s done it better. Several Shades Of Why is no exception when you’re swimming in the warmth of his stoner delivery and equally euphoric acoustic backlot. His wit is in fine form, and his guitar prowess is on fine display as this hollowbody edition proves.

9.) Atlas Sound – Parallax

I’m a bigger fan of Deerhunter’s guitar attack, but I can’t ignore how I fell into love with this Brandan Cox project release after a few listens. Far from a second-rate stop-gap, Cox puts his full effort into Parallax, creating a unique color scheme for the record, one that exists start to finish. This strategy has worked well with Deerhunter, and now Cox brings this sense of consistency over to his solo material, and the results are equally impressive.

10.) Adele – 21

A Mary J Blige record for white women too suburban to relate to My Life. This record has covered 2011 like a Snuggie, warming up the ladies during their lowest love moments-and it all has to do with the rich power of her voice. And while her youth is most noticeable in her lyrics and in her choice of covers, there’s little to indicate we won’t be looking at 21 in the next few decades like we do My Life or Back To Black.

11.) Chad Van Gaalen – Diaper Island

Should have been knocked out of contention due to the awful album title, but within Diaper Island’s homemade vibe is some nifty garage rock lifts inside a Brian Wilson imagination. It weaves in an out of your ears, leaving just enough resin to get you to come back to Van Gaalen’s questionable locale.

12.) Lady Gaga – Born This Way

What do you expect from a dude that lived through the bombast of pop metal blo-pops and Madonna’s PMRC-baiting simulations. While I may have grown tired with her continuous assault on my visuals, I can also find myself close to tears when she sits down at a piano and just plays. Same is true with the acapella version of this title track.

13.) Witch Mountain – South Of Salem

Imagine if Kyuss ditched their vocalist for an Ann Wilson worshiper. Witch Mountain features enough slow tempo guttural guitar sludge to keep you soiled for days (Help @diaperisland) with Uta Plotkin blowing your head off, Scanners style.

Honorable Mentions (aka the second Baker's Dozen):

14.) Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
15.) M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
16.) P.J. Harvey – Let England Shake
17.) Apex Manor – The Year Of Magical Drinking
18.) The Roots - Undun
19.) Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo
20.) Mastodon – The Hunter
21.) Okkervil River – I Am Very Far
22.) Faust – Something Dirty
23.) Richard Bucker – Our Blood
24.) Chris Isaak – Beyond The Sun
25.) Greg Allman – Low Country Blues
26.) Kate Bush – Director’s Cut


Jeff said...

Great Mary J analogy!

Flanagan said...

I can't believe you put Adele that high.

Cousin J said...

I was really surprised that I enjoyed the Adele cd. I'm not generally big on acts so mainstream. Maybe it's the throwback/retro sound of her voice. I hear a bit of a less fucked up Amy Winehouse in her as well. I also dig me some Gaga.

I got a bunch of old stuff again this year: Kinks remasters, Floyd remasters, Elvis from Memphis, more of the Apple remasters, etc. Always new stuff to discover that I missed way back when, ya know?

I only got a few new releases but my absolute favorite of 2011 was:

Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes. Wish I would have discovered it while she was touring the US. Really would have liked to have seen her live.

Honorable mentions:

Wobbler - Rites at Dawn (Norwegian prog that sounds quite a bit like 70's Yes - real organic sounding - great winter listening)

Steven Wilson - Grace for Drowning

Opeth - Heritage

Amplifier - The Octopus (modern prog trio from England - ambitious but probably a bit too long - 16 songs @ 120 minutes but its prog right?)

Steve Hackett - Beyond the Shouded Horizon

Cousin J said...

Not to keep rambling on but I REALLY liked a lot of individual songs by indie bands this year like; The National, Mumford & sons, Fleet Foxes, Decemberists, Wye Oak, Florence + the Machine, Foster the People, etc, etc. You get the point. Anyway I found it difficult to listen to entire albums by them for some reason. Maybe I'll have to settle for a great comp for 2011 and revisit them later.

Todd Totale said...

Nobody buys albums anymore, cousin. Don't feel bad if you're shelling out for samples, that's what got the record industry in the mess it's in the first place. If they made records the way they used to-10 songs and at least a few worthy cuts-they would be so glum about lost revenue on ITunes. Heck, I downloaded one song off of the Black Country Communion album because I knew the rest would be shite.
I almost had Opeth in the Baker's Dozen at one time, but the more I listened to it, the more I struggled with its progressive accessibility. But check out that Psychic Paramount album. It's like $5 at Amazon and if you still dig shit like Don Cab and early Explosions, this album will blow you away.