Tuesday, January 3, 2012
MATT'S TOP 40 ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
Happy New Year folks - sorry it took so long to post this... we needed some nice time off.
I'm not really sure what to make of this year. We seemed a little distracted, more argumentative, and fragmented. While there were frequent pleasures, and the fantastic highlights you find below, the critical mass seemed often too quick to elevate inferior content to ever-heightening levels of indie-rock stardom. Critical gatekeepers seemed too willing to settle, to accept as "great" hazy instrumentals, bedroom producers lacking vision, and in general, the absence of sharp songwriting in the critical mainstream. For as underwhelming as Bon Iver's massive album was - at least the album was bold - a step out - and a piece of work thought-out, conceived, and executed.
Yet, 2011 is ultimately notable for its commercial success stories, its quiet moments, its burgeoning country music marketplace, and the year people began to finally play some real electric guitar again. Gone were flash-in-the-pan distractions like Salem, the whole "beach rock" scene, and for the most part "chillwave."
The Weeknd emerged as a talented, versatile, and outright remarkable producer. The question remains, what can he do to focus his expertise and create something truly great next year?
There were refreshing returns to form from stalwart vets like Wild Flag, Gillian Welch and Ryan Adams, remarkable consistency from Kurt Vile, pure songs from Girls, and a standout, creative, knock-your-socks off sophomore record from tUnE-yArDs. The city of Nashville stood front and center - with releases from Tristen, Caitlin Rose, Jonny Corndawg, Nikki Lane, Those Darlins (by association), and Jeff the Brotherhood.
We listened to a ton of music, liked a bunch of it, and generally had a swell year.
Below is what we liked the best - enjoy folks.
Wilco - The Whole Love
Jonny Corndawg - Down on the Bikini Line
Nikki Lane - Walk of Shame
Pistol Annies - Hell on Heels
Veronica Falls - S/T
Caitlin Rose - Own Side Now (included in last year's list)
Foo Fighters - Wasted Light
Old 97s - The Grand Theater Vol II
Tom Waits - Bad As Me
Jason Isbell - Here We Rest
Tristen - Charlatans at the Garden Gate (we officially recuse ourselves from putting this on our regular list because we've lived with these songs so long and have worked w/ her in the past. BUY IT. It's Amazing.)
40. The Antlers - Burst Apart
39. Youth Lagoon - The Year of Hibernation
38. Middle Brother - S/T
37. Blitzen Trapper - American Goldwing
36. Jessica Lea Mayfield - Tell Me
35. Zola Jesus - Conatus
34. Wye Oak - Civilian
33. The Naked and Famous - Passive Me, Aggressive You
32. Gem Club - Breakers
31. M83 - Hurry Up We're Dreaming
30. Cut Copy - Zonoscope
29. Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What
28. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
27. Miranda Lambert - Four The Record
26. Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know
25. War on Drugs - Slave Ambient
24. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
23. Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong
22. Craft Spells - Idle Labor
21. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost
20. Ambrose Akinmusire -When The Heart Emerges Glistening
19. Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes
18. Young Galaxy - Shapeshifting
17. Ryan Adams - Ashes and Fire
16. Gillian Welch - The Harrow and the Harvest
15. Hayes Carll - KMAG YOYO
14. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo
13. Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact
12. Wild Flag - S/T
11. Black Keys - El Camino
10. The Caretaker - An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
9. Regina - Soita Mulle
This is Drive-by Truckers 1000th album. I can't wait to hear my favorite ear splitting guitar attack, Brad Morgan's thudding floor tom, and Cooley's snarling rock growl. Wait. What the hell is this. Dobro? Brushes? Oh shit. This record's good. No, I mean really good. What are these songs? Who is this band? Damn that story about the reverend murdering his wife with the fireplace poker is pretty fucked up. Is this an Eddie Hinton cover? Man, I love that guy. Shana sounds pretty tight on these vocals. Is "Pulaski" my favorite Cooley song?? Does the girl kill herself in the end? "Good ideas always start with a full glass" I wish I had written that line. Wow is "Used to Be a Cop" the best song Patterson's written? Who is this band? Shit, this record's good. No, I mean really good.
I've been told by those in the hardcore world (who are also fans of Fucked Up) that this is a "pussy hardcore record." They are quick to add the caveat that it's still really excellent. I don't know hardcore that well. I do know that this is a great album. Anyone with ears - regardless of their allegiances - can put on this massive, sprawling record (loud of course) and be completely sold on this band. From its bold length, to the crystal clear pop choruses (sung through an immaculate scream) David Comes to Life excels because of its passion and audacity. In the end, the record becomes devoid of genre, a true sign of a great album.
3. Destroyer - Kaputt
Switching to the first person here... I took a big risk in liking this record. As a big Destroyer fan in general, I, for the most part, knew what I was getting into. Yet, I was shocked at how much I didn't like on this album. The slick production, and those saxophones, oh god, the saxophones. But, there was something under the surface here that kept me coming back. An undercurrent of rhythm, excellent song structures, and a full album mood that hooked me. Writing at this moment, I still am not sure why I like this album as much as I do, given there are so many things my brain is telling me NOT to like about it. Maybe it's those contradictions that keep me coming back, but I'm pretty sure it's the consistency, the devotion to the whole album in and of itself that puts Kaputt at my #3 spot this year.
2. tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l
Merrill Garbus has crafted one of the most creative and unique sounds we have heard in years. Where Adele wears her influences on her sleeve, Garbus is a tour-de-force of originality, talent and spontaneity. From her fearless, face painted live shows to the passion she is remarkably capable of capturing on record tUnE-yArDs are making the freshest and most satisfying music out there right now. The songs are great, the execution is impeccable and, much like Adele - you'd be hard pressed to find many in the populace at large who have an axe to grind with such a captivating and talented frontwoman.
It's a rare thing... to watch a star be born in front of your eyes. Someone timeless. Not a Bieber or Gaga who epitomize and own their specific moment in history. We can always place the legions of boy bands in their proper eras, just as we will always place Madonna in the 80s and Britney Spears in the late 90s. But what of Adele and 21?
In many ways, 21 is the ultimate realization of a sound and a movement that began with Amy Winehouse and spread throughout the Duffys and Lily Allens of the world. A sound deep rooted in the past, but remarkably modern in its execution and production. It's huge, it's intimate, it's bold and comforting at the same time.
And of course, you have Adele herself. Full of whiskey, cigarettes, cutting lyrics and bravado, while at the same moment shy and publicly crippled by stage freight. Adele straddles the line between mysterious rock star and the persona that has made her the global every-woman. Her career and sound are filled with seemingly irreconcilable contradictions, yet the world adores her and 21 is a marvelous album. While not without its minor flaws, this is a TIMELESS record that your children will buy, and their children after that. This is the full arrival of a new force that (if healthy) will be around for a long time. 21 is an important record, and demands the album of the year title.