Favorite Records of 2011
Well another year passes and we get the obligatory “lists”. I've been doing a list of my favorite cds of the year since 1996. Started off as just a list of album title and artist. Then it got in to blog form with mp3s and all sorts of stuff. Now, sorta settling back with a little bit about the album. Some stuff to sample, but if you are that curious I figured you'd know places to go to go check this stuff out.
As always this is a list of my FAVORITE cds/records of the year. The rules are simple. Album had to have come out between January 1st and December 31st. No best ofs', live albums,eps or what have you. So, here it is. Hopefully short enough to get you to read, long enough to get you excited. It was a good year. Not astounding, but there were some gems.
One final thing to add, I've included when a band might have appeared before. For some reason I don't have all the years written down. Not that it matters..but if you see sort of a cryptic note, that is the reason.
Apologies on formatting, I keep fixing "one more thing" but i am gonna end up deleting something and being pissed. I hope you will sample some tracks and as always, comment away. I do care..just wonder if anyone else does some times.
25. Wilco - The Whole Love
Always a consistent contender whenever an album is released Chicago band Wilco seemed to stumble out of the gate on this one. You usually see their records on any number of “best of” year end lists, but this one seemingly has gone missing. Perhaps it was the extended guitar solo on the album opener “Art of Almost”, but that can't be it..since it is pretty great. Overall the record was on the “quiet” side for me and it took a long time for me to start to get what they were trying to do. No dig on talent, as there is a ton, just a little on the lite side of Wilco for me personally. A weak record for Wilco is what many bands could just aspire to release.
Stand Out Tracks - “I Might”, “Born Alone”
Previous List Appearances - Summerteeth #14 in 1999, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot #6 in 2002, A Ghost is Born #3 in 2004, Sky Blue Sky #13 2007, Wilco (The Album) #19 in 2009
24. Panda Bear - Tomboy
This pops up on a few lists this year. Seen as essential by some and just a passing trend by others. Panda Bear (Noah Benjamin Lennox) is a part of art rockers “Animal Collective” but barring the sound of his voice these are very different projects. Panda Bear channels the Beach Boys. There is just something about it that you can't escape. The vocal layers add to that vibe. A very polarizing artist, but if you get it, you'll love it.
Stand out Tracks – Surfers Hymn
Previous List Appearances - This is the first time.
23. The Decemberists - The King is Dead
Admittedly I am slow on the Decemberists band wagon. Listening here and there, getting a live show, or friends passing it along saying “you may dig”. Another early release in 2011 that I was happy I spent the money on. Seemed to reach out to me on the first listen, and perhaps it felt like the band was having a lot of fun. Not sure why but there is this perception that I have they are sort of doom and gloom/mellow folky stuff, but I am so very wrong. Harmonies from Colin Meloy and Gillian Welch are outstanding and the mix is perfect. Peter Buck (R.E.M) appears on a few tracks on guitar and mandolin and he adds to a stellar cast of musicians. Listening again for this list I realize this record suffered from me just not playing it enough, after my first two or three listens. It should be higher. My heart of heart knows its better than this ranking but remember..its my favorite records and I am tool for seemingly ingorning this for the bulk of the year.
Stand out Tracks – This is Why we Fight, January Hymn
Previous List Appearances - This is the first time
22. Bon Iver - Bon Iver
One needs to be in the mood for Bon Iver. When the mood is not there, this can be one of the most “what the fuck are people smoking who rave about this record”. When the mood is there, this record will strike many a chord. Justin Veron “is” Bon Iver for all intents and purposes. This is a late night album to put on. After a party with a final drink, just listening as it needs some attention and will help you wind down. There are many layers for guitar, to banjo to subtle percussive instruments to saxophone. Vernon surrounds himself with strong talent and his unique vocals offer a diverse collection of songs. This was high on many best of lists. I might get more out of it over time, but this is where it lands for now.
Stand out tracks – Minnesota, WI.
Previous List Appearances – First time, the last one came close but I got it late in the year.
21. The Roots - Undun
This is the 11th studio album from hip hop band “The Roots”. A loose concept album about a rough and short life in poverty. Not the most uplifting of subject matter but you seem to work past this. The band is solid and are always rewarding to listen to with the smooth, to funked up tempos. The Roots albums I look forward to getting and are a solid listen, but never seem to break out for me. This one came out in late 2011, so maybe with more time it would have done “better”. You'll be hearing about this collection for a while though.
Stand Out Tracks – “Make Mine”, “Kool On” “Lighthouse”
Previous list appearances - Phrenology #15 2002, Tripping Point #24 in 2004, Game Theory #20 in 2006, How I Got Over #16 in 2010
20. Russian Circles - Empros
Every time this band releases a record I am always impressed and astounded that three people make this wall of sound. Right out of the gate with the steady pummel of “309” the band rotates between quiet and loud, but all the while the drums from Dave Turncrantz are the wall to be stood on. He hits them like they stole money from him or something. Not to be out done the bass is thundering on track like “Atacka”. Just solid stuff. Instrumental music is curious to many, how can you not have words and still get 6 minute song out of it. Easy. Just have it be really good. Vocalists often times blow anyway.
Stand out Tracks – 309, Atackla
Previous list appearances - Geneva #14 in 2009, Station #4 in 2008
19. Shels - Plains of the Purple Buffalo
Combing a message board for a band I like the typical post was up “favorite record of the year so far” and I stared to see this band/album listed over and over and over. Taking a chance is always just that, a chance. The people that posted this were right. I'd never have known about this band and with the power of the internet within 5 minutes I was able to sample songs on line and 10 minutes later I was buying their music. Blending the “posts” like like the most (rock and metal) this (according to what you read) super group of British and American underground music scene put together some complex and overpowering stuff. Sure you get 2-3 guitars, bass and drums but toss in a trumpet and you'll be confused and fascinated they can pull this off all at once. Plains of the Purple Buffalo Pt 2 is all that and the kitchen sink. If that track doesn't sell you nuttin will. They are two records in (since 2003) so it might be some time, but it appears so far they are worth the wait.
Stand out Tracks – Plains of the Purple Buffalo Part 2
Previous List Appearances – They are first timers.
Crank this one up good..
18. The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar
A copy of this record was forwarded to me by a music fan. I downloaded it, but didn't “extract” it right away for whatever reason. Wishing I did it earlier. The Wales trio, fronted by Ritzy Bryan open with the epic “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie” which clocks in over seven minutes and is chock full of big guitars, bass and drums. You quickly will be impressed with the sound the three can pull off. The tracks are rocking and a whole lot of fun with catchy guitar hooks and hand clapping choruses. There is very little not like on this, their debut full length.
Stand out Tracks - “Austere”. “Whirring”, “A Heavy Abacus”
Previous List Appearances – This is the bands first time.
17. Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, but You Will
The Scottish noisemakers continue to be the upper echelon of post rock performers. They work a little more with vocals on this album, even if they are distorted and nearly incomprehensible. You want to sing along on “George Square..” but it is just impossible. The big walls of guitars and thundering bass and drums are constant trademarks.
Stand out Tracks – How to Be a Werewolf, George Square Thatcher Death Party
Previous List Appearances - Mr Beast #13 in 2006
16. Codes in the Clouds - As the Spirit Wanes
Fun story how I heard about these Kent, England instrumentalists for the first time. Music used in a music bed piqued my interest so I called the station and asked who it was. Their prior record was a joy to listen to and when this was released early in 2011 it was perfect timing. I still had not had my fill of their last record and here it was, new material. The songs are shorter on this record and seem a little more focused, but no less able to take your breath away one minute, and then snap you to attention when you seemed to bear down to listen to that lone guitar plucking single notes (see “Washington”). A track like “Look Back, Look Up” feels quick and to the point, almost sounding like a radio friendly single. The guitars slowly build and after the 2:30 mark it really takes off. How a track like “The Tragedian” hasn't landed in some major motion picture remains a mystery. Still waiting for the band to tour the US as well, so that is all the more fun as it is frustrating.
Stand out Tracks – Look Back/Look Up, The Tragedian
Previous List Appearances – Paper Canyon #5 in 2009
15. Elbow - Build a Rocket Boys!
Every time I listen to an Elbow record I think of Coldplay fans. Mostly feeling bad that none of them have a clue these guys do it so much better (and I don't mind Coldplay). Singer Guy Garvey has this deep baritone that finds angelic soaring at times. Opener “The Birds” might start off as brooding, but the playful keyboard from Craig Potter that meets the chugging bass lines from Pete Turner offer a great display of what they are capable of. America needs to wake up on this one. They are a few albums deep and you've been missing a lot.
Stand Out Tracks - “The Birds”, “The Night Will Always Win”
Previous List Appearances – Seldom Seen Kid #11 in 2008
14. Motorhead - The World is Yours
Lets face it..its a Motorhead record. What you see is what you get. They've done it, and done it well for longer than most bands are around. Its a dirty rock record..that simple.
Stand out tracks – Born to Lose. Bye Bye Bitch Bye Bye
Previous List Appearances – First time actually
13. TV On The Radio - Nine Types of Light
The band seems to be overly prolific the last few years. Seems like each year there is a new album or live record. The Brooklyn band also had its share of bad news with the passing of Gerard Smith (bass/organs). Tunde Adebimpe continues to shine as the vocalist and will shed these underrated “singer” categories soon enough. The album has extended organ and string parts to expand on the sound. Kyp Malone is stong on his guitar parts and the band does solid work on harmonies. This record didn't hit me as quickly as their prior releases, but its still a very solid effort.
Stand out Tracks - “No Future Shock”, “New Cannonball Blues”
Previous List Appearances - Return to Cookie Mountain #7 in 2006. Dear Science #2 in 2008
12. Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
I offer no apologies for enjoying this record. As far as “mainstream” rock there are few, if any bands that even come close. Band leader Dave Grohl continues to write one heck of a catchy tune and he surrounds himself with very competent players. Taylor Hawkins hammers the drums and offers the harmonies and Nate Mendel on bass is as solid as ever. Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett tandem on tracks like “Rope” and “Walk” to just hit you straight on. I am sure its about as cool as nothing to enjoy this bands output for whatever reason, but its a very solid rock record. Beyond the radio singles there are some real gems here. Not sure why people slag em, but they make a heck of a fun record.
Stand out Tracks – Dear Rosemary, White Limo
Previous List Appearances - The Color and the Shape #1 in 1997
11. Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin
The fun thing about doing these lists year after year is going back and seeing stuff that I'd never have expected to make my list. I knew not a lot about Raphael Saadiq and it was only later I found out he was part of the 80's pop band Tony! Toni! Tone! This is a far cry from that. Saadiq plays most of the instruments on each track, showing competence on each. From the super funky/buzzed out intro to “Heart Attack” to the crooning on “Go to Hell” (I know really?) its a great blend of styles. Its got that Mowtown feel, a splash of pop a kiss of funk and a whole lot of soul. The artist this year that will make you say “Really? On this list?” Yep. It is a solid record.
Stand out Tracks – “Stone Rollin”, “Heart Attack”
Previous List Appearances – First time
Lets him show off a little..
10. REM - Collapse in to Now
Hearing now that the band knew this was “it”. By the end of 2011 they'd disband, but they left us with this “return to the rocking” version of R.E.M. With the opener “Discoverer” there is the ringing guitar from Peter Buck, Stipe is in fine vocal form and it sets you up for a solid effort. We have the fun, really poppy tracks like “Mine Smell Like Honey” and more introspective tracks as well. Eddie Vedder helps out on “It Happened Today” and Peaches offers a rowdy backing vocal on “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” A wonderful swan song. Time will do this band well, people will realize now how great they really were.
Stand Out Tracks - “Discoverer”, “Oh My Heart”, “Alligator....”
Previous List Appearances - Accelerate #7 in 2008
09. ...and you will know us by the Trail of Dead - Tao of the Dead
There is no way to escape it, the last few Trail of Dead cds have been erratic. Sure there are listenable moments, but it always feels like the Texas group could never seem to capture their live essence on record. I was going to buy this record none the less, and what I then heard restored my faith. Disc 1, track one is an 11 part, single track Opus called “Tao of the Dead” (35:50), while part 2 (track 2) is in 5 parts called “Strange News From Another Planet” (16:32). When the cd came out there was a limited edition version that had a second cd, that was the same disc, but the tracks were broken out, but a little longer. Embracing “cover art” (which is lost to downloads) is both intricate and fascinating all done by Conrad Keely. If you were a casual fan at one time, I strongly suggest checking to see what they did here in 2011, you should be very pleased.
Stand out tracks - “Pure Radio Cosplay”, “Summer of All Dead Souls”, “Weight of the Sun”
Previous List Appearances - (Source Tags and Codes was a #1)
08. Explosions in the Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
The Texas four piece continue to offer solid release after solid release.. Their work with the film and TV show “Friday Night Lights” has worked in their favor as ticket and album sales seem to be up. The band remains true to their task unleashing these wonderfully sonic bursts of music that can lift you up as quickly as punch you in the gut. Long, swooping ebow infused tracks like the opener “Last Known Surroundings” blend well with the more “to the point” tracks like “Postcards from 1952”. The track “Trembling Hands” is about as short as any EITS song I can ever remember. The chanting vocals at the start are sort of odd, but the, pardon the use, musical explosion later in the track pays for it 10 times over. The most rewarding thing with this band releases for me personally is every time I listen, it is/was the right time and I always seem to hear something new.
Stand out Tracks – Postcards from 1952, Trembling Hand
Previous List Appearances - Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place #3 in 2003. All of A Sudden I Miss Everyone #8 in 2007
A little shorter (to the point version..but aces)
07. Adele - 21
Okay okay...lets just face facts dear readers. Its a good record. She can sing, leaves nothing back and has put out the finest “moving forward” record in years. She has made my list before with her debut “19” and the future looks bright. Don't feel bad your mother likes her too, its okay when there is talent involved. I refuse to let anyone tell me this is a bad record.
Stand out Tracks - Rumor Has It, I'll Be Waiting, Don't you Remember
Previous List Appearances – 19 at #16 on 2008
06 - Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
There are just some voices that hit you. Sometimes you'll hear the expression” They could sing the phone book and I'd buy it” Robin Peckhold has one of those voices. Perhaps not the most vocally diverse, but the vibrato he gets on his voice seem to fall on you like a light amount of rain. The songs have a “big” feel to them, but at the same time a few folks around a campfire or front porch also come to mind. If the title track doesn't get you, nothing will.
Stand out Tracks – Helplessness Blues, Montezuma
Previous List Appearances – First time, the last disc I got late in the year.
05. My Morning Jacket - Circuital
Even songs that don't seem to really take off slowly build and pull you in. Album opener “Victory Dance” is just like that. Slowly building before hitting the five minute mark and just exploding. Jim James, as always, is really shining vocally. The big, rowdy, reverb filled tracks seem to be limited, but MMJ continue to release one solid release after the other. They still do a great job of blending a lap steel portion in one song with a fuzzed out keyboard run on the next.
Stand out Tracks – Circuital, Wonderful (The Way I Feel), Outta My System, You Wanna Freak Out
Previous List Appearances - Z #11 in 2005. Evil Urges #6 in 2008 (It Still Moves has to have made it as well)
04. Battles - Gloss Drop
Before the band began work on this record Tyondai Braxton left the band. Braxton had played keyboards, guitars and offered up “vocal duties”. The band quickly re-shuffled things and you'd hardly notice the departure. Battles release complex stuff. Its just hard to really fall in to category with them. Gary Newman guests on “My Machines” (a driving rock tune) and tracks like “Ice Cream” are heavy with the math rock tempo while. “Africastle” which opens the record feels like trembling hands, with short guitar and keyboard notes that seem to drone for two plus minutes but that makes way for the frantic “Ice Cream”. If you want “erratic” just listen to the intro on that, but as it speeds up and begins to shape the drum roll that fires it off just slaps you in the face. It sounds like a circus organ with its off tempo downbeat, but the bass and guitars all rumble along with the quirky vocals that are thrown through pitch benders. The “circus” organ hook is the gel that holds this together. It can be a challengeing listen at times, but the payout is well worth the attention it needs during those times.
Stand out Tracks - Dominican Fade, Ice Cream, Futura. White Electric
Previous List Appearances – Mirrored #1 in 2007
A little NSFW..but man its a great video
03. Manchester Orchestra - Simple Math
Now and again, records just seem to hit you at the right time, or place. This was one of those records that if there was an award for “most played in the car” this cd would win in a landslide. Andy Hull has powerful vocals that he, and the band find the right times to use. A compliment of players for full rocking tunes, to laid back ballads to bar-room sing alongs. Tracks like “Mighty” build and build and the band just blows it up. “Pale Black Eye” is another real strong example of that. Using strings, a children s choir and a slew of percussion instruments to balance everything out. This record stands on its own for what it is. A very VERY solid rock and roll album and an album for short and long road trips. Worth every penny for “April Fool” alone.
Stand out Tracks – April Fool, Pensacola, Mighty, Simple Math
Previous List Appearances – Mean Everything to Nothing #3 in 2009
02. Mastodon - The Hunter
From the very first spin I knew we had a winner. The last few Mastodon albums (all amazingly awesome) were “concept” records and that can always be a buzz that can go good or bad. This time around the band focused on “songs”. Some freaking beastly, heavy songs. Opening with “Black Tongue” you get the speed and complexity you'd expect from these proggy metalist but with a lot more focus. Listening to tracks like “Basteroid” that have the speed and melody but with “that much more” and Brent Hinds just sounding “perfect” really makes for one of the best songs you may or may not have heard all year...back that right up with Octopus has No Friends..these two songs alone should sell millions of albums. Is it “metal” yeah, but its better than country. Remember that...always.
Stand out Tracks – Blasteroid, Octopus Has No Friends
Previous List Appearances – Blood Mountain #9 in 2006 Crack the Skye #2 in 2009.
Love love LOVE this tune
01. Fucked Up - David Comes to Life
Telling you now, Mastodon came damn close, but this is one record that..whew..just wow. This is a concept album. The idea is of David and Veronica, falling in love in England in the late 70's/early 80's. You can read the whole summary of love/life/death (You can read about it on Wiki). You are lead in to a false sense of what this is all about by the instrumental intro “Let Her Rest” which runs just over three minutes long, but after some delay and reverb the wall of guitars comes up and “Queen of Hearts” takes off. Seriously..it takes fucking off. A long guitar wails before the full band comes in and when front man Damian Abraham starts going you hair will blow back and stand on end. The band is furious and focused and when Damina tells you “hello my name is David...your name is veronica..lets be together...and fall in love” you long for this love story to work out. As the chorus runs through the lone female member (and bass player) Sandy Miranda takes the run at the verse and when she sings the same line of “Hello my name is David...” you just want this love story to work out. Broken in to four parts you can follow the journey with our heroes and when we are “Dying on the Inside” (The Other Shoe) we see how things are starting to change. 18 tracks in total that will leave you exhausted and begging for more.
Easily my favorite record of this year. This is not for everyone, I am fine with that, but, this borders on being an absolute masterpiece.
Stand out Tracks – Queen of Hearts and the whole rest of the effing thing....
Previous List Appearances – First time!
You will give up after 20 seconds or fall in love..there is no in between on this one.