OK. I’ve waited long enough. Here are my top-10 albums of the year. Most should come as no surprise, if you’ve been reading this blog all year. To start things off, we have the #10 album that I picked from a list of albums just outside the top-10…
I currently do not own this record. I missed their show in town. Finally, at some point in November, I gave the record a listen on Spotify and was blown away. Ever since, I’ve been playing the shit out of this record. I don’t think it cracks the top-9 as they have stayed constant all year or at least since they’ve been released. Either way, this is a strong, strong record. It has that lazy garage rock mumble former member Kurt Vile does so well, but there’s an aura of shoegaze and shitgaze all in one album. It’s cool and hauting, even beautiful in some parts. I still regret not seeing this band when they came to town. Oh well. I’ll make up for it by propping their album up as one of the best of 2011, a year that has turned out a surprising amount of good-to-great music.
Although “boring”, there is nothing wrong with this album and that should count for something. After falling instantly in love, I soon decided that it was my mission to hate it. I couldn’t. Somehow, Justin Vernon achieves epic soundscapes, big noise, soul, urgency, and bitter cold in the most subtle of ways. I want to hate this record, but I can’t. It just feels right. Gone are the quiet, hushed log cabin recordings of yesteryear, but the intimacy is still there. This album is a major achievement and should be recognized as such.
I missed this album’s release somehow. Insound was having a sale on Merge albums and I grabbed it since I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of Friedberger’s material with Fiery Furnaces. Anyway, this record is incredibly more approachable than the FF’s stuff. It doesn’t hurt that she was so cool hanging out the night she played St. Louis. I have a soft spot for artists who are nice people. Anyway, the album held up that night and I haven’t stopped listening since. Equal parts Patti Smith, Stephen Malkmus, and Joni Mitchell. It’s a really strong album from beginning to end. I can’t wait to hear what Friedberger does next.
I loved Thao Nguyen’s We Brave Bee Stings and All and saw she and Mirah perform some covers online. That was all I needed to purchase this largely overlooked yet timely album. Aggressive, percussive, completely danceable, and very fun, Thao & Mirah was a strong contender for this list from the first time I listened to it. This is a powerful record by two accomplished female artists about which I want my daughter to know. If this album somehow missed your awareness this year, go buy it and have some fun.
I don’t know what it is with all the nostalgia for Phil Spector these days, but Cults captured that and more with this solid effort, turning in the song of the summer in “Go Outside”. The album was a breath of fresh air since its release last spring. There was a time when I considered it an outside shot at album of the year. It captured my imagination that much. I worry that the band will struggle to put out anything as good as their first, but this isn’t a bad legacy to leave either.
Something about Tune-Yards was rubbing me the wrong way. Not sure what it was, but it didn’t last long. Everywhere I went, this record was playing. In fact, my favorite hangout often had this record spinning. I couldn’t resist. It’s infectious, raucous, fresh. I love the mixture of a lo-fi, nineties, guitar thing mixed with this dance-centric, percussive aesthetic all the kids are going for these days. I could listen to this album over and over, something I could say for any of these records, but especially for this one.
Wye Oak’s earlier material did next to nothing for me. Then, they did a couple of those AV Club things where they played cover songs. Then, they released a video and I was taken back to some mid-nineties indie. Stuff like Throwing Muses or Madder Rose when all these female voices began to emerge above the feedbacked fray of that era. This album is pure retromania for me and it’s plain good from first track to last. Jenn Wasner’s deep voice over a cacophonous racket fills my nineties nostalgic needs, much like the following albums on the list…
I have gushed enough about the nostalgic love I hold for this band and this release, but I have to say more so as to justify its placement in my top-10. And this is coming from a guy who doesn’t actually like the bonus material on the deluxe version of the record. Not everything these youngsters touch is gold. So, with this in mind, one has to consider that it’s impressive how right they got it when they put together an album that should have come out 15-20 years ago. Feedback, angsty lyrics, more feedback… It’s as if they invented the 90’s indie aesthetic and not Pavement or Sebadoh. I love this record. It’s nothing new or groundbreaking, but it perfectly captures what will be some pretty perfect moments in the development of my musical tastes.
When I heard this group was getting together, my head nearly exploded at the thought of all the possibilities. Then, they toured and my head blew up again re-imagining the ruckus Sleater-Kinney used to cause back in the day. Then, the music began to trickle out. Early on, the urgency detected in “Future Crimes” made me realize that this band was going to blow away all expectations. Wild Flag’s self-titled (a lot of these lately) debut is the perfect mix of S-K riot grrrl, Helium-style classic rock, garage punk, Runaways barnstorming, and indie sensibility. This album may be an all-time top-10 pick forever, assuming their follow-up isn’t more awesome. The guitar and vocals interplay between front women Mary Timony and Carrie Brownstein is only surpassed by the work Rebecca Cole and Janet Weiss are doing with backing vocals and holding down the low end. This is the super group to end all super groups.
Yes, I’m biased, but how is this album not on every end-of-year list. I either missed the memo or have yet to change out of my Pavement-tinted glasses. I’ve never thought a Stephen Malkmus solo album to be a top-10 record much less a #1, but Mirror Traffic is different. The prog wizardry and blues riffs have been taken down a notch with the perplexing and sly wit of Malkmus’ songwriting coming to the front. Plus, the accumulation of talent in this band is pretty insane considering the ramshackle band Malk fronted for a decade made some of the most memorable music of my lifetime. This is the first album he’s done that doesn’t feel like the continuation of Terror Twilight, a complete break from his former trajectory and an album that sounds like another band wrote and recorded it. Then, there’s the production which is quintessential Beck Hanson all over. This is the easiest Malk album to which to listen since those halcyon days of Slanted & Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. In fact, I’d say Mirror Traffic falls somewhere between those two great albums and Wowee Zowee. Yeah, I said it. So what?
I’m rambling a bit now, but that’s the list and I stand by it. (BTW, it’s no accident Janet Weiss is part of the top-2 records of the year.)
No, this is not a list of the twelve worst beers I’ve had this year. I won’t do that. What I will do is put together a cheap post, a list of my last twelve beers as a way to fill some space. Think of it as the twelve beers of this Christmas or something. Some of these I’ve had and might have reviewed somewhere, but I thought I’d look back and see what I’ve enjoyed recently*. Of course, most of these happened on Sunday at a beer geek holiday party, but they still count…
Parabola Russian imperial stout by Firestone Walker Brewing Company – Sycamore, a favorite place to get a beer and a fine meal was hosting a Firestone Walker beer dinner. I didn’t get tickets, but I was able to score a seat for my daughter and I. We ate pork belly sliders, their special salad (soft boiled egg, bacon, etc.), smoked trout belly, and their famous Parmesan fries. I washed all that down with this beer. At 13%, it was the only beer I could safely drink in order to get my kid home in time for bed. It’s a huge and intense flavor experience, but it’s plenty drinkable now and should be out of this world in a year or two.
Fuego del Otono by Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales – We had guests over for dinner. My wife makes this pumpkin soup where she bakes it inside a Long Island cheese pumpkin and we scoop out pulp with the broth and melted Gruyere. Somehow the brown ale I chose to pair was not going to make the cut. So, I quickly chilled this Jolly Pumpkin. The nuttiness, spices, and slight tartness played well with the soup.
Double Bastard by Stone Brewing Company – This one was served before dinner for a couple of bastards (myself included). I’ve always had an interest in drinks named “bastard” ever since I had my first Miserable Bastard at the bar around the corner from my college apartment. I like to pretend when I drink this beer that it’s what the regular Arrogant Bastard used to taste like before we all became acclimated to such big beers.
Firestone 15 (XV) Anniversary Ale byFirestone Walker Brewing Company – I was lucky enough to get a nice sample of this beer which should age nicely. I still have several bottles in my possession at the moment, but one is promised to a friend. This means that I either have one to sell or trade or I’ll drink it over the holiday with friends and age another for the future. Either way, I feel pretty lucky to have any and to have tasted it already. Did I mention that it’s pretty incredible already?
N’Ice Chouffe by Brasserie d’Achouffe (Duvel Moortgat) – After a while, I feel all these great Belgian beers – seasonal or not – begin to all taste the same. Of course they don’t really and of course this is not a bad thing. My underdeveloped tongue for Belgian beers just struggles to differentiate. This one was nice. I don’t remember anything that set it apart particularly. Plus, it was in the midst of a decent haul for a Sunday afternoon.
4 Calling Birds by The Bruery – I love The Bruery. This one was interesting. Unlike the one above, it stuck out as a Belgian style beer. However, I sensed a lot more clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, you know, Christmas spices. Still, it didn’t quite stand up to the actual Belgian beer. Had I consumed it alone, I might think differently. Of course, I’d drink this over 97% of the holiday beers out there. So, there’s that. (On a side note, this holiday get-together included a Yankee Swap. I walked off with a Cuir from The Bruery. I can’t wait for the perfect occasion to crack this baby open.)
Wytchmaker Rye IPA by Jester King Craft Brewery – I was very excited to try this beer as I have been reading for months about all the cool beers they’re brewing. It didn’t disappoint. Some couldn’t get past the rye, but I thought the rye was almost an afterthought as the tartness and hoppy bitterness shared center stage. I have to find a way to try more of these beers.
Doodle Dubbel by Doodle Brewing – So, the great thing about craft beer – like punk rock 25-30 years ago – is that anyone can brew beer. The bad thing about craft beer – also like punk rock – is that anyone can brew beer. I’ll just leave it at that.
Harvest wheat wine (2009 vintage) by Boulevard Brewing Co. – This beer came out two year ago. I hated it two years ago, but I still had an unopened bottle. So, I cellared it. Time passed by and I couldn’t find the appropriate time to pull it out of the cellar until the holiday party happened. I was considering contributions and noticed that the best by date was 10/10. I figured we might as well open it now. There’s no shame in pouring a beer down the drain…but we didn’t have to. In fact, this beer mellowed a ton and was well worth the wait. Sweet and smooth, nothing like I remembered it. It makes me rethink my dislike of the wheat wine altogether.
Winter Ale by Petrus – OK.
Rumpkin by Avery Brewing Company – I don’t know about a pumpkin ale, but this tasted more like a huge barley wine. I didn’t really sense much pumpkin at all. It’s so malty and sweet. I wish I was able to get my hands on some for aging purposes. Oh well. Can’t win them all. Still, I got to try some and it’s a nice barley wine – forget the pumpkin angle.
*Honestly, since I started this post, I’ve had a couple of other beers. One was the Shmaltz/Terrapin collab Reunion ’11. It was better than I remembered. There are moments when it’s spicy and others when the chocolate hits. It’s a very nice beer that I wouldn’t turn down. The other was one of my 90 Minute IPA‘s I have lying around, but I want to say more about it in another post. So, it will have to wait.