Coming up with one’s ten best albums of the year is tough. I’ve done more than that, but narrowing a list to ten is a much more difficult task than simply naming all the albums you bought in a year. Also, I have the terrible habit of proclaiming albums to be the year’s best long before I should. Then, there are all the albums that simply have not been given the time they deserve.
That said, I have narrowed my list to nine. All I need is one more, but the list that follows is what I have left to consider. Sure, I might miss a few when it’s all said and done, but these are albums I’m still considering for one spot. Feel free to comment on what’s here and what isn’t. Keep in mind that I already chose nine to make the final cut. I just need one more…
The Albums I Haven’t Listened to Enough Even Though I’ve Had Them for Awhile: So, I’ve had some of these records almost since they were first released this year, but for whatever reason, I just haven’t had time to give them a proper listen. All of the albums in this group deserve serious consideration as I’ve spent some time over the past couple of weeks trying to get reacquainted.
Okkervil River – I Am Very Far
As I was considering my favorite tracks of the year, I rediscovered “Wake and Be Fine” on another list of top songs. It made me want to rediscover this album just to make sure I didn’t overlook it. I had. While the narratives and poetic flourishes Will Sheff normally demonstrates in his songwriting is somewhat subdued in order to make room for more hooks, the production and instrumental dynamics more than make up for it.
Joan of Arc – Life Like
Honestly, I could write something up that just tells you all I know and/or think about previous JoA records prior to this one and it might be somehow accurate in describing this record. However, I won’t tell you anything. Just know that it’s long overdue a sit-and-git. Maybe I’ll pour a beer also deserving my attention. Either way, I remember loving portions of it, but I never listened to it and it landed on the island of forgotten LP’s.
BOAT – Dress Like Your Idols
The poor man’s Yuck, possibly, deserves more listens. I’ve actually been playing the shit out of it lately, giving it a hard look for the final slot in my list. It’s loaded with all kinds of nods to my heroes and theirs (apparently). The aesthetic reminds me tons of the sort of nineties retro indie that The Soft Pack and Surfer Blood play. It’s good stuff but nothing earth-shattering.
Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
What a massively great album this is. Why isn’t it in my top-10 already? I really haven’t listened to it enough to make that decision. Maybe I’d hear that one bit that put it over the edge or make it unworthy of top-10 status. I don’t know. I blame the fact that Sub Pop’s digital download system didn’t work and I never bothered to follow up.
Low – C’mon
I loved this album a lot from the beginning, but I worried that I wasn’t giving it enough distance. Then, I gave it too much distance and nearly forgot. It seemed too perfect of an album to be Low’s and maybe I was missing something. That’s not saying Low doesn’t make great albums. I’m just surprised a Low album could contain so many memorable songs. Albums are their thing, not singles.
The Albums that I, for Whatever Reason, Did Not Purchase This Year: I know these bands are good. I’ve read and heard enough to know that these albums should be considered. Why I still haven’t purchased them is unknown to me. Luckily, there’s Spotify. I’ve been trying to catch up on some material I missed over the year. More than likely, I will own all of these albums by February. Still, they sit collectively just outside my top-10.
War on Drugs – Slave Ambient
I don’t know how one determines Spotify statistics, but I’m sure I’ve played this album more than all others over the past month while at my computer. For whatever reason, I didn’t buy this album, nor did I go see them when they came to town. It makes no sense and this record is pretty good.
Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo
See above, aside from the not seeing him even though he was in town, because he was not in town this year. I loved his set at Pitchfork last year and loved whichever record I do own. The crime of not owning this record will be rectified soon enough.
Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts
I own the other two Moore solo efforts plus a handful of weird records he’s done over the years. I have been loving anything Beck produces as of late – maybe my producer of the year. I am a Sonic Youth fan of like 20 years. So, why don’t I own this record? I have no idea. Now, I’m seeing it pop up on lists and I’m wondering what I’ve missed. Better give it another listen on Spotify.
I Saw These Guys and Was Impressed, So Their Albums Deserve Another Look: The following two acts were among those I saw play live. Somehow, I don’t own either album they were supporting. Upon considering the shows I’ve seen this year, that was an egregious oversight on my part. I’ll rectify it at least by giving them props where props is due.
Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
I made sure to see Callahan while in DC earlier this year, but I didn’t buy the record. Even his track “America” made my top tracks list. It’s a crime that I don’t yet own this record.
Jay-Z/Kanye West – Watch the Throne
Going to see Jay-Z and Kanye West forced me to play this album a ton on Spotify as a way to prep myself. Typically, I don’t like hip-hop records because they are single-heavy and loaded with filler. This album was different as it was complete from beginning to end. So, it deserves some consideration.
The Bands I’m Just Not Sure About at this Juncture: For various reasons, a few bands fell into this category. Some I loved right away, but I don’t know that it’s a long-lasting love, like for life kind of love. These albums still deserve some consideration, though.
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
At one point, I was ready to name this “album of the year”, but something made me reconsider. It may have been seeing so many bros in the Fleet Foxes camp or my general distaste for hippies. I don’t know. It’s still very, very good. I’m just not ready to commit to including it in the top-10, yet.
Beirut – The Rip Tide
This might be the most complete and realized album of Beirut’s string of excellent albums, but I don’t know that it qualifies this year. In year’s past when I’ve had a hard time thinking of ten albums I like, it would have held down a seven spot. However, I have found an embarrassment of riches in this year’s crop. Beirut’s record is good, but it might not be top-10 good.
Destroyer – Kaputt
This was another album I was ready to crown early in the year, but it seems its eighties aesthetic finally rubbed me the wrong way. Bejar writes a pretty awesome song and somehow harnessed bad Casios to sound cool and even contemporary, but I lost my patience for this record over time. Then, I saw it make a few lists of people I respect, causing me to pause for a moment. Should I reconsider Kaputt?
WU LYF – Go Tell Fire to the Mountain
This album popped up on my radar since its June release or sometime shortly before that thanks in large part to their underground marketing schemes online. It’s big, epic, and incoherent in ways I’ve never heard before. That usually means that it goes directly to my top-10 list, but this year’s list is loaded and I only just laid my hands on this record, maybe six months after its release. So, it may still take time to decide on this one.
Bright Eyes – The People’s Key
Bright Eyes has gone down hill, but this album grew on me for a while, especially after seeing the band on its final trip across the country. Also, it’s been receiving some recognition, making me think that I need to revisit. Of all these records, it may have the longest shot, but it’s still a worthwhile album.
Albums by Locals That Were Really Good and Maybe Could Use a Bump from the Coalition: I don’t often hear local releases that
Ptarmigan – The Forest Darling
I said it back in May and I’ll say it again, Ptarmigan put out a great record that stands out locally or beyond. Read what I thought here and I’ll let that stand on its own.
Dubb Nubb – Sunrise Sleepeyed
It’s hard to believe sometimes that Dubb Nubb are so young as their songs demonstrate a wisdom well beyond their years. On top of that, they have an infectious sound that’s hard not to notice. I’m looking forward to seeing them play again at True/False in 2012.
Jerusalem & the Starbaskets – Dost
Dost is getting some good press and deservedly so. Lo-fi and blues revivalism with a touch of country seem to be coming along at just the right time. The band is touring extensively, but I have to believe that their one big opening gig from breaking. People eat this shit up. I do.
That’s not even the final list. As mentioned before, I have nine other albums I love more than these, but I felt they all deserved some mention and the benefit of 100 page views. Which one would you pick to add to my top-10? Did any of these make your list? Comment freely. My top-10 will hit eventually. There will probably be something similar for beer as well.
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?
I am here to help you with your Thanksgiving music and beer pairings to insure a happy and enjoyable turkey dinner. That and I’m filling space until this post-a-day thing is over…
Indie Rock Thanksgiving
Here are five albums you should consider playing during Thanksgiving dinner. To some, this list may look “boring,” but to those I suggest that maybe we don’t want to rock out with our cocks out or balls to the wall, so to speak. Maybe this Thanksgiving, we want to be calm and reflective. That and my wife doesn’t want anything loud playing during dinner.
Jose Gonzalez – In Our Nature
Quietly haunting and intense, this record will carry the day with this unnerving feel that have you bobbing your head slightly. However, no one will notice as the quiet, hushed tones of Mr. Gonzalez will feed your soul the way turkey cannot. That and it reminds me of fall.
Nick Drake – Way to Blue: An Introduction to Nick Drake
I usually shy away from compilations or best-of albums, but this one is done right as a retrospective of Drake’s career. Throughout, feelings of the oncoming death of winter are prevalent at all periods in Drake’s catalog. His low whisper is pleasant enough not to interrupt dinner conversations, but his masterful guitar playing provides fodder over the table.
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
I had Thanksgiving dinner a couple of times in Wisconsin. This is what it sounded like (aside from the joyous times spent eating and getting drunk). The first time I made the trip up there, it was the last time I traveled anywhere with an old girlfriend. So, I can relate to Bon Iver’s dumping, the one that led to this album happening.
Nico – Chelsea Girl
I needed a woman mixed in here somewhere, but so many of the women I listen to are much to strong to play as background music at dinner. It’s hard to find a strong conviction in any music without interrupting the dinner. Nico’s somberness while being backed by the Velvet Underground pairs nicely with the whispery fellows on this list. That and it reminds me of Wes Anderson films that always look good at Thanksgiving.
Beirut – Gulag Orkestar
This album may be a little more bombastic than those above, but that tone fits with a raucous dinner that feels festive once familial tensions break over bread. Still, this is Beirut’s best album. It should be listened to during any feast.
Also: Sufjan Steven’s Come on Feel the Illinoise, Pavement’s Terror Twilight, Feist’s The Reminder, Beach House’s Teen Dream, Iron and Wine’s The Creek Drank the Cradle, Cat Power’s What Would the Community Think
Craft Beer Thanksgiving
Here are suggestions for each course of your Thanksgiving meal. There’s a style of beer as well as my favorite for the day. I’ll also tack on a couple of other beers that fit the profile. I’m basing this mostly on how my Thanksgivings usually go. This year will be different, but I think I can still keep up this pace.
Pre-game Warm-up: Lager (really, any kind) – Victory Prima Pils
The idea here is to awaken the senses without getting too drunk before you start. The light, effervescence of a well-carbonated lager can get your taste buds properly primed for the feast to come. I usually crack open the first one while I fire up the smoker.
Alternatives: Coney Island Lager, Great Lakes Brewing Company Dortmunder Gold Lager, Avery Joe’s Premium American Pilsner
Cheese/Appetizer Course: India Pale Ale – Firestone Walker Double Jack Double IPA
Cheeses tend to carry with them strong, pungent flavors and aromas that challenge any palate. The best beer to match a strong cheese is an IPA or DIPA. Even with softer, lighter cheeses, I find a west coast IPA brings enough fruity character that neither cheese nor beer is lost in the other. Plus, I just like IPA’s.
Alternatives: New Belgium Ranger IPA, Stone Cali-Belgique Belgian IPA, Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale
Main Course: Belgian Quadrupel – St. Bernardus Abt 12
We typically serve a smoked turkey which packs the juicy flavors we want in our Thanksgiving turkey as well as substantial smokiness. The malty Quad matches and stands up to the smoke like few other beers can. The dark fruit flavors in the beer pair with almost any food like a red wine does, but better. The Quad is the only way to go when it comes to turkey dinner.
Alternatives: Three Philosophers Belgian Style Blend, Boulevard The Sixth Glass, Straffe Hendrick Quadrupel
Dessert: Russian Imperial Stout – Schlafly Reserve Russian Imperial Stout
Dessert is going to be something chocolaty, fruity, or pumpkin/sweet potato. Russian Imperial Stouts bring coffee, bourbon, and chocolate to match and/or pair with any of these desserts. Or you could just sip on one of these beers alone for dessert. It’s the same thing.
Alternatives: Stone Imperial Russian Stout, Mikkeller Black, Hoppin Frog B.O.R.I.S The Crusher Oatmeal Imperial Stout
Digestif: American Barleywine – Great Divide Old Ruffian Barley Wine
Barleywines feature a sweetness and hop bitterness thats nice to sip, not guzzle. Of course, after all this food, sipping yourself off to sleep might be the way to go.
Alternatives: Avery Hog Heaven, He’Brew Genesis 15:15, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale
What will you be drinking? What will be playing on your record player (or iPod)? Do tell. Also, be sure to point out my faulty reasoning.
Like 15 years ago, my then-girlfriend and I traded some CD’s for new music at Used Kids in Columbus, OH. One of the records I traded for was a vinyl copy of Orange. We broke up later that year. She took my record. Late last week, a reprinted replacement finally arrived. I think I may have to write more about this.
My second (successful) go at Simcoe-dependency, a single-hopped IPA, is now bottled and should be ready for consumption in ten days. This beer is pretty dry in order to showcase the cattiness of the Simcoe. It also weighs in at 7.1% ABV, higher than anticipated.
New Albanian Brewing Company is one brewery I have yet to try, but they make the most bad-ass brewing t-shirt ever! I wore it for a Sunday collaborative brew session. Several folks all added ingredients to one beer, an imperial brown something or other. I contributed molasses and brown sugar just to be redundant.
I went to one of those fancy prohibition-style drink places with my wife before a show. Their beer list was lame, so I ordered a gingery Tiki drink. This took me back to a place I used to frequent in college and drink Miserable Bastards until I was the miserable bastard. This story relates to item #1.
Posted with my iPhone. RIP Steve Jobs.
Listening to a Beirut album is like when I had to take a map quiz in sixth grade. If you didn’t study, you were fucked. If you didn’t read early reviews of the record, you would have no idea from where the band’s sound is coming. The sounds that come from these records are hardly from the States. They are from Eastern Europe, Paris, the Mexican countryside, or wherever Zach Condon finds himself these days. These albums cover the sounds of cultures other than our own without being shitty world music you find in bookstores or hippie joints. A Beirut album is an overseas trip packaged on a vinyl disc.
When Condon travels, he doesn’t buy souvenirs or send postcards. Instead, he collects sounds, plays with local musicians, and brings back new music for Brooklyn hipsters to consume. He doesn’t do it in a National Geographic/misappropriation sort of way. There’s respect for the culture that birthed the music and Condon makes himself a native just long enough to authentically use these sounds.
Of course, all Beirut albums tend to veer toward music with common elements. Horns and strings that soar before rum-pumming along, marching in each locale’s unique gate. So, there are common elements that exist in all these musical influences Condon gathers, but they all combine to make the band’s unique sound.
Enter the bookish The Rip Tide.
And when I say “bookish,” I quite literally mean that the album sleeve is hardcover cloth packaging, much like an actual book. It’s heavy and somewhat thick like a book, but the stories within come on vinyl, not paper.
Those stories all come out with a truly American flare (or United States of Condon?). Left behind is the overwhelming feeling Condon is aping some street musicians as he plays a record that sounds 100% his. This is a pop record sung in an old-timey voice with histrionic horns to lend power. The melodrama is unveiled subtlely, but you catch it and allow the record to let you sit back and enjoy life for a moment.
Of course, it’s over before you know it. As is typical of a Beirut release, there’s very little material there. It seems whatever Condon overindulges in cultural influences, he makes up for it by only recording nine tracks for this LP. Still, this record makes me rather excited to see the band for the first time in October.