I received a lot of positive feedback concerning my expanded list last year. So here it is again… My top 10 albums, some honorable mentions, and a new section of recommended music videos. Please enjoy!
:::MY FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2011:::
• St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
Annie Clark took me even deeper into the rabbit's hole with this third record. The swelling of Angelic choirs and soft vocals colliding with crunching guitars and dour lyrics make for a beautiful nightmare of an album. She has created another dark and gorgeous landscape for listeners to explore… not unlike the one presented in her previous album Actor. However, she pushes all the familiar elements further, often ending in a swirling burst of audible anxiety. Seeing St. Vincent shred in the flesh at Portland's Crystal Ballroom made this already top-ten-worthy album rise to the top.
• YOUTH LAGOON - The Year Of Hibernation
One of the most emotionally charged records of the year was created by Boise's own Youth Lagoon. It was pretty easy to let the echoes of nostalgia and recollection of the awkward fill my head when listening to this record. It is a sound that finds strength in minimal arrangements washed together in reverb and pounded electronically. This is often accomplished through a slow build that has an exceptional emotional pay-off by songs end. It also didn't hurt that the music video for Montana was crafted in a way that brought tears to my eyes (which I believe is unprecedented in my experience with music videos). The visuals were created by another Boise creative professional, Tyler T. Williams. YL made this Boise native proud all around!
• tUnE yArDs - WHOKILL
For being a rising star in the rock world this year, I feel Tune Yards has more in common with Hip-Hop, R&B, and Soul. I was taken aback to find that the core of this band was a little Caucasian girl operating in the Bay Area. Her voice has such range and eclectic textures, that I originally thought the vocals consisted of multiple male and female singers. The combination of social, political, and sometimes intimate lyrics make for an intriguing listen. The reality of the bands process became amazingly clear when I caught them live in early 2011. Front woman Merrill Garbus is a true artist and an extraordinary talent. It was a treat to watch her build the songs of WHOKILL layer by layer with loop pedals all while wielding a mighty Ukulele!
• Real Estate - Days
This group of young lads are not bringing anything new to the table with their soft 60's/70's pop rock sound. I attempted to resist the hype for this very reason, but each listen of Days made me want to give it another spin. They work within a recycled template very well. Tracks like Green Aisles, Three Blocks and even the instrumental Kinder Blumen made me melt in my seat. The twinkling melodies created by the lead guitar work is top notch. Though their sound is often described as sunny surf rock, it's fall release date and lyrical content made it my autumn soundtrack this year.
• Toro Y Moi - Underneath The Pine
I enjoyed this album from the first listen in early 2011, but I continued to feel that it was not "top ten material". But its dreamy haze from the Chill-Wave movement interwoven with a more nostalgic sound, reminiscent of 70's Funk, Soul, R&B, and even Disco, proved irresistible. One minute it would shake my booty and the next it would slip me into a daydream inducing zephyr. I also associate it with stunning visuals due to the beautiful album artwork and fun video for the song How I know. I kept revisiting it throughout the year until it planted itself firmly in my "best of" list.
• Bright Eyes - The People's Key
This was another early 2011 release, but unlike Toro y Moi it was immediately deemed "top ten worthy" and nobody could remove it from it's lofty position as the year progressed. It should be said that Bright Eyes is a long-time personal favorite of mine. With their more recent ventures into alt-country, The People's Key felt like a bit of a return to form. It is a strange journey narrated by a kind, burly voice with far-out thoughts and warm ideals. But as Bright Eyes continues to prove, power is found in unparalleled writing, complimented by an unmistakable voice and no-frills arrangements. It is a lyrical journey with lots of twist and turns, ups and downs, but by the time album closer One for You, One for Me comes around, you still have hope in spite of seemingly dark times.
• Grouper - A | A : Alien Observer
This album is so minimal that it can be difficult to describe why it impacted me so greatly. I would best describe it as visiting the edges of deep space, beyond places where our most powerful telescopes can go. It feels as though it exists where the Gods are just beginning to gather materials in creation of new worlds. It is a lullaby to the birth of a new star. It is beautiful in a more fundamental way.
• BOBBY- Bobby
This is an album that kind of came out of nowhere for me. It was not critically acclaimed, a Pitchfork darling, or even boasting a killer single. It was just something I randomly listened to on the All Songs Considered website… and I really enjoyed it. There aren't any standout tracks or songs that blow you away, but each song is the strong quiet type. With song titles like Nap Champ and Groggy you can infer that it is a sleepy record, but in all the right ways. It is a multi layered cake with a folk foundation and male/female vocal icing. The layers in-between consist of everything from ambient noise and droning keys to choral arrangements and electronic beats. I softly and consistently bended to their will.
• Battles - Gloss Drop
Battles are the workhorse of contemporary progressive rock. Each member of the band represents a cog in a machine designed for audio onslaughts. I found myself pushing my way through mountain trails on my bike as their music pulled me forward. I dodged, weaved, and climbed rocks as they maneuvered notes, melodies, and beats in a similar fashion. The vocals of former Battles member Tyondai Braxton was sorely missed, but some of the guest vocalists did a satisfactory job. However, the highlights of this album are found in the instrumental tracks. It is also noteworthy to mention the representational technique in their craftsmanship. When listening to the track Wall Street, for example, it is easy to imagine a mass of people rushing around the stock exchange floor, desperately attempting to reverse a plummeting economy. Or to see a young child curiously wobbling along the grass while the song Toddler fills your mind.
• Panda Bear - Tomboy
This is a hazy, trance-inducing, sun-soaked album. Like Panda Bear's other band, Animal Collective, they like to change things up from album to album. Tomboy still has a signature modern, artsy style, but it manages to feel like a major shift from previous efforts. If Person Pitch was Brooklyn then Tomboy is the warm beaches of Portugal. Heavy repetitions of droning synths, echoing guitars and drawn out vocals make up the mantra that is Tomboy.
:::OTHER ALBUMS I REALLY ENJOYED IN 2011:::
• Death Cab For Cutie - Codes & Keys
DCFC has been one of my "go to" bands for around a decade now. Musically they feel very strong, but I found myself disenchanted with many of the lyrics on this particular album. Regardless, they are still a great band continuing to put out consistently great records.
• Talkdemonic - Ruins
Talk-D is another long-time favorite of mine. Ruins feels like a happy medium between the dreamy ambiance of Beat Romantic and the organic experimentalism of Eyes At Half Mast. Another great effort by the Portland Duo.
• Radiohead - The King Of Limbs
They do their thing and they always do it really well. It is a great extension and exploration of their previous release, In Rainbows.
• King Krule - Self Titled EP & Zoo Kid Single
This 17 year old British kid is on to something. He has an unreal amount of style and swagger for a skinny, freckle-faced Anglo boy. He has a smooth bluesy sound with lyrics that begged to be unpacked by the listener. I can't wait to hear a full length LP in the near future.
• Little Scream - The Golden Record
In a time of one note records divided into an endless amount of sub genres, Little Scream is a nice eclectic listen. I don't know if she is a rock star in her Canadian homeland, but she should be. Great voice, great mix of songs, good album.
• Whirl - Distressor
This is possibly the first Neo 90's album that I have gotten into since, well... the 90's. It isn't anything new, think My Bloody Valentine, My life with the Thrill Kill Cult, The Jesus and Mary Chain, etc… I guess I was just ready for a little wall-of-sound shoegaze again this year?
• Mates Of State - Mountaintops
MOS are yet another long time favorite and I think this may be one of their best albums to date. They seem to be a pretty polarizing band, you either want to jump and shout along with them or you don't.
• Balam Acab - Wander/Wonder
This is the sound of discovering deep sea caves never inhabited by human lifeforms. Dark, mysterious, and beautiful.
• Grouplove - Never Trust A Happy Song
This was a bit of a guilty pleasure for me this year. It took me right back to my collage days. It has big anthemic rock sounds with regular doses of juvenile lyrics and/or subject matters. It is a fun, youthful, carefree album.
:::RECOMMENDED MUSIC VIDEOS:::
YOUTH LAGOON - Montana: Better story telling than 95% of Hollywood was able to create this year.
TV On The Radio - You: Humorous indeed! A little depressing, but mostly laughs abound.
Hooray For Earth - True Loves: An epic tale from the world of science fiction.
St. Vincent - Cruel: Dark humor is the main course at this family dinner.
Toro Y Moi - How I know: A weird, fun, nostalgic exercise in 80's horror.
Fleet Foxes - The Shrine/An Argument: A great animated piece.