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.)
I don’t always do lists for best song, but I’ve paid particular attention to a few that have drilled holes into my brain and set up permanent residence. Most are the regulars but some might surprise. Also, I’m ranking art, y’all.
1. “Senator” – Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – This, unsurprisingly is a sign of things to come, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why no one is on this bandwagon. Just listen to the song.
2. “Another State” – Dee Bird – Here’s a local song that I haven’t been able to get out of my head all year. It’s simple, lovely, and connected to this past summer’s visit from the cicadas. One-half of the twindie duo Dubb Nubb creates easily my favorite local track in years.
3. “Rubber” – Yuck - Shoegazing, drugged, grungy, feedback-riddled, slacker rock just makes me feel 18 again. Yuck are great nineties revivalists that have captured the decade of my youth and for that, I am eternally grateful. BTW, the video is NSFW. Also considered “The Wall”
4. “Gangsta” – Tune-Yards – Tune-Yards has masterfully figured out how to make dance-able indie rock, utilizing big beats, emo vocals, and the essential loud-quiet-loud dynamic. Although I came into possession of this album late, the songs have been running in my head all year. “Gangsta” is a standout. Also considered: “Bizness”
5. “Michael Jackson” – Das Racist – I like humor and weirdness in my hip-hop. I also like a hook. “Michael Jackson” has it all. After 3 hours of Jay-Z and Kanye West, all I could hear in my head was this track.
6. “Future Crimes” – Wild Flag – This song is just so full of angst and urgency. It makes me uncomfortable in my skin. It makes me want to dance. For me, this is the highlight of one of the year’s best albums. Also considered: “Romance”
7. “Mother” – Wye Oak (cover) – This one was from the A.V. Club’s Undercover series where bands passing through would record a song from a list of suggestions. Wye Oak eventually released this one as well as their first Undercover appearance playing a Kinks song. Also considered: “Holy Holy”
8. “Go Outside” – Cults – For my money, this was the song of the summer. Isn’t going outside all we want to do when it’s so nice out and we have to sit inside working all day?
9. “Ni**as in Paris” – Jay-Z/Kanye West – This is a pretty wicked song that the duo played like three times to close out their show in Kansas City. There’s also the perfectly timed and placed sample from Blades of Glory. (NSFW) Also considered “Otis”
10. “Helplessness Blues” – Fleet Foxes – Epic and sprawling, the title track from this year’s Fleet Foxes release all of that and a bag of granola. The sentiment is a bit sappy, but as with most FF tracks, it’s all in the vocal performances. This album faded for me down the stretch, but this track stood strong.
11. “Shell Games” – Bright Eyes – It’s been a long while since I would have ranked a Bright Eyes song so high on a year-end list. The album is really uneven, but when Conor Oberst gets a song right, he really gets it right. The song’s so upbeat for a Bright Eyes track that it’s almost a pop crossover hit.
12. “Ice Cream” – Battles – I can stand Battles in small doses, but those doses are pretty incredible. This song is so bizarre that it appeals to that teenage, indie geek inside me. (NSFW)
13. “Video Games” – Lana Del Ray – OK. Let’s ignore all the hype and debate over her authenticity. This song took the world – indie and otherwise – by storm this year. It’s haunting and beautiful with a highly contemporary narrative. Yes, I’ve fallen for it as well. I probably won’t buy the album, but I’ll listen to this song whenever possible.
14. “America!” – Bill Callahan – I got to see Bill Callahan this summer in Washington, D.C. and this song stuck out. For some reason, I haven’t picked up this record. That may have to be rectified in the coming weeks.
15. “Perth” Bon Iver – Justin Vernon outgrew his cabin in the woods with this one. I mean, there are actual electric guitars in there. Some of his latest effort strayed from the cabin fever he spread across the land his first time out, but even with some electric guitars this track shows Vernon at his atmospheric best.
16. “My Mistakes” – Eleanor Friedberger – This song should describe the conversation I had with Eleanor Friedberger . Nonetheless, this song translates well live, but it doesn’t have to as it’s just a great rock song.
17. “Wake and Be Fine” – Okkervil River – Somehow, I’ve forgotten about this album over the course of the year. Luckily, I remember being pretty excited for its release when this video was released. The big sound played well with the video’s cinematography.
18. “Try to Sleep” – Low – Low really hit it out of the park with this year’s release. “Try to Sleep” was probably the closest they’ll ever come to a hit. It’s sleepy and melodic, much more upbeat than their usual shtick. Also considered “Witches”
19. “For the One” – Waters – Port O’Brien broke up and another narrative was born when Waters was thought up. “For the One” is what Port O’Brien sounded like had they wanted to rock. The Waters album as a whole does not always deliver, but the first single does.
20. “Santa Fe” – Beirut – For several albums, I’ve been curious what Beirut would sound like when not emulating the music and culture of wherever his muse was residing at the time. “Santa Fe” is that song.
As always, what did I forget? What are you favorite songs of 2011?
For those of you who read this blog a lot, you know that I have a certain affinity for the nineties. It was the decade I attended high school, fell in love for the first time, graduated college, and started a career. So, a lot happened durning those years, making them rather significant for me. And the whole time, music was playing.
One thing I’ve noticed in the indie music scene is the resurgence of anything retro, especially nineties sensibilities and aesthetics. This agrees with me and my tastes. So, to start out the month of lists, I will begin with a list of those responsible for this nineties revivalism.
10. Fleet Foxes – Hippies were big in the nineties. The Grateful Dead were still a huge draw as was up-and-coming Phish. Blind Melon and Spin Doctors broke through at various points. Half of my friends were hippies. I played hacky-sack between classes now and again. Also, grunge label Sub Pop was beginning to turn into a folk label, well, not completely. Still, a band like Fleet Foxes would have done very well in those days.
9. Those who promote session beers - I had to work in a beer angle, but this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. My first craft beers (or any kind of beer for that matter) was consumed in the nineties. I remember Sam Adams and Pet’s Wicked Ale being the most accessible of the craft beers. There were even a few brew pubs popping up. One thing all these breweries had in common was that they pretty stuck to style and rarely shot for extreme IBU’s or ABV. This is basically what the Session Beer Project is all about these days. So, I tip my nineties era white hat to Lew Bryson and his minions for keeping an eye on tradition as we move forward with craft beer or something like that.
8. Every band of my youth that has to reunite - Every time I think this trend will en, another band announces a tour and/or release. This time, it’s the Promise Ring shortly after Archers of Loaf’s run. This is after recent reunions for Guided By Voices, Sebadoh, The Breeders (again), Pixies (multiple times), Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Pavement, etc. The nineties keep coming back through these bands that shaped the decade. Now, I’m waiting to see who else decides to reunite and take another run at it or even who’s left. Afghan Whigs? Sonic Youth (assuming they’ve played their last gig)?
7. Flannel - I actually searched out and purchased a flannel shirt for the first time in probably 17 years. The other night, Kanye West wore a flannel around his waste. The all-purpose, workman’s standby-turned-grunge-uniform is chic again. I always liked the comfort and warmth such shirts provided. Why shouldn’t they come back?
6. The Nevermind memorial parade – I too participated in this bit of nostalgia during Nevermind‘s 20th anniversary. While the merits of the album’s musical quality can be debated, it is hard to ignore the cultural impact it had, even beyond Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, and grunge. The efforts to remember Nevermind and consume it made me feel like it was 1991 all over again… or maybe more like 1992.
5. Shoegazers – M83, Yuck, Atlas Sound/Deerhunter, Wavves, and many more young bands I’m forgetting may not be straight-up shoegazers, but they all contain certain elements of what My Bloody Valentine made somewhat famous 20 years ago. Veterans Yo La Tengo, Mogwai, and Ride have also maintained a presence in 2011 along with their shoegaze leanings. As I get older, I see elements including sampled drones, feedback, loops, unintelligible vocals, and just beautiful noise coming from indie circles. MBV’s legacy is that every band sounds like them on at least one track per album.
4. Lo-fi – Unbelievably, many bands have somehow been able to attain the sonic heights of shoegaze while simultaneously maintaining a lo-fi aesthetic/ethic. I blame shitgaze and the return of the original Guided By Voice lineup. Still, the warmth provided by some tape hiss and feedback take me back to my lazy days in college. Thank you, Times New Viking and other lo-fi revivalists. Your screwed up recordings make me smile at the thought of audiophiles throwing fits at you leaving their expensive speakers ineffective and pointless. That and you sound great on vinyl.
3. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – I remember when all the old hardcore kids and eighties indie rockers would come back around in the nineties, making me wish I was old enough to have both seen them in their prime and as matured, fully-developed artists. Malk provides this for me today. And he hasn’t really changed much since his nineties hay-day.
2. Wild Flag – Besides smart-ass, white boy indie rock, the nineties were known for the riot grrrl movement. In the Pacific-Northwest, it was about sheer energy and youthful exuberance. In the East, it was about songcraft and esoteric guitar music that amazed even the boys with hands in their pockets. Wild Flag captures both. Besides that, it was great just to see 2/3 of Sleater-Kinney and Mary Timony back on stage in an important band.
1. Yuck – More so than any other band or genre shift, Yuck epitomizes nineties indie rock. It’s surprising as most of the band members are barely old enough to remember what that was like. At times, they sound like Dinosaur Jr. and at others like My Bloody Valentine. Then, it’s just straight up indie a la Sebadoh, Pavement, [name of generic nineties indie band here], etc. It’s nothing new, but it’s done well.
More lists to come… Feel free to comment on what I missed or other lists I should write this month. Tomorrow is a Session post, so the next list might come out over the weekend but no later than Monday.
I’m thankful for a lot. However, I won’t go into all that here. This blog is about craft beer and indie rock. So, I won’t go into my thankfulness for my health, family, home, etc. Those all go without saying. No, this post pays homage to the little extras that provide a little spice to life, the things for which I obsess over and blog about incessantly.
10. Improved Missouri Distribution – Since I’ve moved here and eventually became a beer enthusiast, the distribution in this state has increased dramatically. I don’t even think I can name all the breweries we’ve added in that time. Off the top of my head, I can think of Firestone Walker, Lagunitas, Stone, Founders, Ska, Jolly Pumpkin, Stillwater, and a bunch more I probably didn’t realize weren’t already available here. We currently get nearly all the important Michigan and Colorado breweries. Our west coast selections improve monthly. It’s a great time to be a beer geek in Missouri.
9. Two Clubs, Two Cities – It’s tough trying to see bands in a town such as Columbia. We’re not really gib enough for a lot of acts, but we do have options. Two clubs here are just the right size for most indie bands. There’s Mojo’s with it’s barn-like qualities and the Blue Note with its old-school dancehall/porno theater feel. And when bands don’t want to stop here, it’s not a huge deal to drive two hours in either direction to see them in St. Louis or Kansas City. This year alone, among others, I’ve seen Sebadoh (Mojo’s), Yo La Tengo (Blue Note), Beirut (St. Louis), and Wild Flag (Kansas City) in four different places. That’s not bad for an old man.
8. The Ohio Pipeline – Even though Missouri’s distribution is improving, there are still many breweries we do not get. I could do some online trading or simply buy online, but that gets expensive. Luckily, for every brewery we don’t get here, there’s a better than average chance they do get it in Ohio. Between my siblings (one who works at a Whole Foods) and my mom (who drives here once a month to see
me her only grandchild), I have a steady flow of out-of-market beers to keep myself satisfied.
7. Insound – I’ve complained before that there’s no decent record store here. Thankfully, Insound is always a click away. At one point, they shipping so many records to me that the UPS lady asked my wife if I was a DJ. Hardly. No, I’m just a man with a problem, an addiction, an addiction to vinyl.
6. Glassware – A beer out of the wrong glass or even out of a bottle is just not the same as one served in the proper glass. Over the years, I have collected several different glasses in which I can enjoy some of the finest beers in the world as well as some tasty homebrew. I have various stemmed glasses for various styles of beer. I have enough conical pint glasses to serve a decent-sized party. There’s even the set of taster glasses for those who just want a small taste of a big beer. Over time and many bottles of beer, I’ve found the tulip to be the best, most versatile glass. The stem gives me something to hold onto if I don’t want to warm my beer. The bowl presents an option to make my beer warmer. The lip allows aromas to flow. Quite simply, it is the perfect beer glass.
5. The Nineties Are Still Alive – In case you haven’t figured it out, I am a child of the nineties and my musical tastes reflect as much. My favorites continue to be nineties mainstays and most of the new music sound so 20 years ago. The two best albums might be by Wild Flag and Stephen Malkmus, ambassadors for the decade. New, younger bands such as Yuck and BOAT have ’90′s written all over them despite their youth. It’s the decade that will never die. Spin and I will make sure of that.
4. My Bottle Opener – For whatever reason, I like to hold onto the bottle caps from the beers I drink. In the past, I’ve turned some into refrigerator magnets, but most just go into a drawer. Still, it’s a luxury to have an opener that opens caps without bending them. My opener does that. It’s fashioned from an old railroad spike. It’s heavy and rustic looking. My bottle opener is a conversation piece before we ever crack open a bottle.
3. 180 Gram Vinyl – I love to listen to vinyl, but I worry that it may warp or that the record won’t stand the test of time. However, with hefty 180 gram vinyl records, I don’t worry about that. One can feel the weight of a 180 gram vinyl record the way one should feel the resulting music from the grooves within. The record is so tactile anyway, it’s nice to feel some heft as you lift a disc to rest on your turntable.
2. Mikkeller, Stillwater, Jolly Pumpkin – I love breweries that push limits and don’t taste like any other brewery. These three do what they do at the highest level and often alone. Mikkeller, Stillwater, and Jolly Pumpkin are the kinds of breweries that keep my attention firmly set on craft beer. They’re always good and even when they’re not, they’re at least interesting.
1. This Blog and Its Readership – Seriously. This blog has really taken off since the Freshly Pressed moment last winter, but the continual participation and contributions from my readership have really moved me to post as often as I can. In fact, I’ve looked forward to finishing a post a day throughout November because I know that you all will respond in kind and often add to the discussion in a way that makes me think and motivates me to write again.
Thank you faithful readers and have a happy Thanksgiving.
On Monday…well…I posted nothing. But on Wednesday, I posted something about beer. Today, I’ll tell you about some music. Again, there’s no time for footnotes. You’ll have to make due with my lack of detail or explanation.
1993 called and they want their buzz band back. That’s all I can think when I listen to Yuck. These kids can play a 90′s indie rock tune like few others. Distortion, self-doubt, feedback, mumbling, quiet-loud-quiet dynamics…It’s all there and it’s quite good. Their label, Fat Possum, typically specializes in retro bands and I suppose 15-20 years ago counts as retro. They sound like Dinosaur Jr, Versus, and Velocity Girl, so, it works.
The following video roped me into the band. Sure, it’s the most erotic dog grooming video you’ll ever see, but the song, “Rubber,” is mesmerizing and induces head bobbing upon the first listen. Beware, it’s NSFW, but it’s worth watching for the editing and cinematography that somehow matches the track perfectly while mashing together images of a dog getting scrubbed down with video of said groomer bathing. Trust me. It works.
Mogwai is another throwback doing a throwback thing in their latest, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. The band came up in the mid-90′s, bridging the gap between 80′s hardcore and the shoegazers of the early nineties. With this record, the Scots make that bridge rather obvious, destroying your eardrums and breaking your heart along the way. This is a headphone album of the highest order as layer upon layer crushes you again and again. Friends had been telling me for months to be on the lookout for this record and they weren’t kidding.
Interestingly, the Mogwai video for “Rano Pano” is more narrative than character study unlike the one above, but the aesthetic of the track is strikingly similar. I hadn’t noticed it before, but listening to these tracks back-to-back reveal the overlap. You can hear for yourself. This one is SFW.
And for something completely different…The typically difficult Danielson comes through with maybe his most approachable album yet. It’s almost classic rock-esque it’s so conventional. However, don’t read that assessment as though Best of Gloucester County is boring. It’s anything but and it might not only be Dan’s most approachable album, it could also be his best. Of course, I say this with only one listen, but I think it will stick.
The only video for the Danielson album wasn’t embedable. You’ll have to visit P4kTV to get that kind of action.