So, I work in an office now and I think in terms of hours, I listened to more music than ever in 2011. I listened to lots of new music, some old music but explored little new territory. My goal to review 1 album a week fell woefully short, but I’d say I listened to 30-40 new albums this year, which is fine.
I saw a lot of great bands live this year including (in alphabetical order): Bon Iver, Bright Eyes, Dan Deacon, The Decemberists, Destroyer, Mates of State, Mister Heavenly and Weezer (x2!). The most surprisingly good show I saw of the year was Tristen (opening for Ezra Furman and the Harpoons). I don’t want to rate these concerts from best to worst.
I will, however, tell you the three worst:
3 worst concerts of 2011
3. Okkervil River – The Pageant
This was my 3rd time seeing Okkervil River and the previous times had been fantastic. This show didn’t live up to my hype. Also, Will Sheff didn’t sing a verse of Westfall
This was my 3rd time seeing Girl Talk. The first time was great. The second time sucked. blah blah blah (full review here).
1. Oh No! Oh My! – Off Broadway
So I didn’t find out about this show until the day before, and I got excited because I had seen these guys do a 30 minute set at Lollapalooza (2006?) and it was awesome. I had their first CD and the EP after that and I loved them. Apparently they had a newer CD that I never heard about. I wasn’t concerned about this though.
So there were hardly any people at the show and the band… (it makes me angry to write this) ONLY PLAYED ONE SONG OFF THEIR FIRST TWO RELEASES. The entire remainder of the (short) show was all off their new album. I respect artists for sticking to mainly songs off their new albums. It’s good to be accountable to your new albums. But when you only have TWO FULL LENGTHS, how can you not play at least 3 or 4 songs from each of them? poo-on-you I say. I downloaded their new CD after the show, and I thought it sucked. But I am 100% sure I am just bitter.
The Top 10!
Now for the top 10. Some notes: I’m particularly short on real critique this year, so these reviews will be no longer than necessary. About 1/2 of these CDs I reviewed earlier this year, and I’ve put links up to those reviews. There’s no rap and very little not-real-music on this year’s list.
If you click the images, you will be taken to a magical land where you can download the CD
Jan. 19 update: Yo, Megaupload got shut down. Maybe will rehost files elsewhere if there is interest. Leave a comment.
10. Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde
Listen if you like: Summer, big guitars, chilled out but with pop hooks and not boring.
9. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
I was pretty sure I was done with Iron & Wine prior to this CD. Turns out, no. I’ve reread my earlier review and I stand by it.
My initial review of Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
8. Mister Heavenly – Out of Love
So, the Nick Diamonds/Nick Thorburn is a favorite of mine. He’s been in bands like The Unicorns and Islands. Here, he’s the front man of Mister Heavenly with the drummer from the Shins & Modest Mouse (Joe Plummer) and Honus Honus from Man Man. Michael Cera also toured with the band as the bassist for awhile.
Diamonds at his best writes some of my favorite weirdo pop songs and he’s near the top of his game here. Standout tracks are Bronx Sniper and Pineapple Girl. The whole CD is pretty great though.
7. The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck
My favorite songwriter. Becker family favorite. Lead singer John Darnielle triumphs again. My earlier review is just fine. However, I wouldn’t say the CD bloomed as much on repeat listens as I thought it would. Also, it is still my goal to do a mashup of “Teach Me How to Dougie” and “Never Quite Free.”
My initial review of The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck
6. Tristen – Charlatan at the Garden Gate
Tristen Gaspadarek is the only artist on this list that I had never heard of when 2011 began. All of a sudden I was at a show for a band I wasn’t familiar with, (Ezra Furman and the Harpoons) and the opening band comes on and it’s just a duo, a girl singing and playing the guitar and a guy doing… whatever the song called for.
So I’m sitting at a table when Tristen starts, just talking to friends. They start, and (the way I remember it) we stop talking, not to be polite, but because this singer’s voice was a force to be reckoned with. With a sound that I imagine only a special combination of whiskey, cigarettes and touring can produce, this tiny 28 year year old girl belted through a set of fresh stripped down country songs and made her voice the primary instrument. I was blown away.
I bought the CD and was a bit disappointed to find a full band and a bit prettier more restrained vocals. That said, it’s a great CD full of songs about murder, sex, drugs and other things that make for decent stories.
5. Moonface – Organ Music, Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped
Not too long ago, you may have read that John Darnielle is my favorite songwriter. Now, you will read that Spencer Krug is my favorite musician. Here are some things these artists have in common: I’ve done art projects on both of them and they are both pretty well respected in indie-rock circles.
This CD, Organ Music, is the second (or third, depending on how you look at things) release from Moonface, which is Spencer Krug’s solo project. Their prior release was called “Marimba and Shit Drums” and was just one long track. Much as “Marimba and Shit Drums” was a CD of marimba and crappy sounding drums, this one is a CD of organ music. There’s also drum loops here.
It’s a kind of short CD with kind of long songs. While most of Krug’s work with Sunset Rubdown and Wolf Parade has been pretty well structured, this is a little more exploratory. If you want to listen to it, give it a shot, but it may require some getting in to.
4. Mates of State – Mountaintops
What do 4 of the 5 bands ranked 4-8 on this listen have in common? They put on kick-ass shows at the Firebird this year. I saw Mates of State on Halloween and they were dressed up with the lead singer, Kori Gardner dressed up as a police officer, and husband Jason Hammel (and the two other male members of the band) dressed up as prisoners. Great already… but then towards the end of the show, they all stripped off their costumes to reveal Cardinals shirts… a week after the Cardinals won the world series. The crowd went wild!
Mates of State is a long-time favorite of mine. They are a husband & wife, organ & drums duo from Austin, TX and they’ve been writing great and cute pop songs for a long time. This is my favorite CD of theirs since Team Boo. It’s so good that it is featured on Burger King commercials.
3. Destroyer – Kaputt
Already reviewed this! Like it now more than I did when I reviewed it. If this was a list of 80′s saxophone revival albums, this would have been #1.
My initial review of Destroyer – Kaputt
2. Decemberists – The King is Dead
Who would have thunk that restraint, focus and lack of narrative could make for the best Decemberists album ever? I say best, but I’m not sure if it is my favorite. Anyway, this CD was the first one I reviewed this year and it is full of great short songs. Put this on a shelf. It will age well.
My initial review of Decemberists – The King is Dead
1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Jon Becker has the same #1 as Pitchfork 2 years in a row. What a loser.
…pfffft. I say.
I was late on the Bon Iver bandwagon. I didn’t listen ’til their first CD until a year after it came out, and I thought it was great. This one is even greater though. I would like to think that we’ve all gotten to the point where we have gotten over Bon Iver’s narrative and can just love his tunes.
This CD warms the heart. It’s beautiful from start to finish. Most importantly, I don’t think any of it is boring. I could not have said the same thing about For Emma. While I wouldn’t call this a particularly strong best CD of the year for my list, I would say it definitely deserves the spot.
So, that’s my list. What can we take away:
1) No rap this year. I probably listened to more rap than ever this year, but nothing cracked my top 10 list.
2) If you tour in St. Louis, there’s a good chance you’ll make this list. Smith Westerns, The Mountain Goats and Iron & Wine are the only bands on this list that I didn’t see in concert this year.
3) Office jobs are great for listening to a lot of music but not necessarily great for taking in and making impressions about music. That still requires a bit of attention and work, and I feel I lacked in that department this year.
More blogging this year? We’ll see how it goes.
2010 Best Albums of the Year