Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ten Records From Eleven Worth Twelve Bucks From Your Wallet

I used to obsess over my year end list.  This year, my other obsessions are taking up too much of my time to spend my usual time organizing and re-numbering and whatnot.  So, instead, here are ten albums that I really love from this year that I feel are worth your time and money, a few pithy comments, plus one song to sample.  This is not a definitive list, nor is it the best ten records released in 2011, or even necessarily my favorites from this past year - just ten records that I think should be heard.  Be on the lookout for my 20-track "Best of 2011" mix to be posted here this week, possibly tomorrow.

Ten Records From Eleven Worth Twelve Bucks From Your Wallet

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

This album may have more ideas, instruments, and layers than the other nine albums combined, and those other nine albums are all brilliant.  This is the fucking timpano of indie rock - everything you would expect, and more, is contained within.  No record challenged my expectations or changed my opinion more over multiple listens than this one.

Wild Flag - Wild Flag

To call myself a fan of Sleater-Kinney would be fair, but i would never say that i was a superfan.  However, i can say that i am becoming a superfan of Wild Flag, which features 2/3 of Sleater-Kinney.  A record that nearly bursts at the seams from the enthusiasm, spirit, energy and melody contained within.  I think it says a lot about how far i've come as a listener/feminist that it barely even registers that this is an all-female band.  At one point, i'd have viewed that as novel, but i don't at all anymore.  Just four great musicians making a devastatingly good album.

Danielson - Best of Gloucester County

This is the record on this list that will be the most decisive.  Some people just can't get past Daniel Smith's voice.  I'm not one of those people.  To me, this is his best/most consistent record since Brother : Son (which is credited to Br. Danielson).  And no, it isn't just here because it's a Jersey band.

John Vanderslice - White Wilderness

I am typically against records that feature a singer/songwriter and an orchestra - the idea is great, but the execution is never quite there.  Except here; Vanderslice, a guy whose music many times i respect more than i like, nails this type of record - it still sounds like him, but it also uses the orchestra as more than just window dressing.

Yellow Ostrich - The Mistress

Always be weary of records that get a lot of hype before you hear them.  I was set up to dislike this album because so many people seemed to really like it.  But this is really, really good.  The band uses their voices exceptionally well, and in unusual ways. This is the record i've spent the least amount of time with (despite having it for longer than many of the other albums on this list), and this has the potential to be a record that i forget about for years and years and rediscover at some point and kick myself for forgetting about it.

Mister Heavenly - Out of Love

This sounded too good to be true - Nick Diamonds from the Unicorns/Islands and Honus Honus from Man Man making a record together.  When i heard the first song, i assumed i was right - however, move past that one song (and skip the reggae-ish one later on), and you have a fantastic record that harkens back to the late '50s/early '60s as easily as it does to the members' other bands.  If only the album was also called Mister Heavenly, they could've had the rare band/album/song of the same name trifecta, Bad Company style.

TV Girl - Benny and the Jetts

I'm a sucker for great pop songs, and this EP is chock full of them.  This is a band i can honestly say i have no idea how i found, but this EP has been one of the more constant records i've returned to this year when i just want to smile.  In fact, the song below, from this EP, provided the theme music to the first episode of Expectations this summer...

The Roots - Undun

?uestlove can do no wrong in my book, and 2004 Brian would go apeshit if he knew that one day a Sufjan Stevens song would inspire a Roots record.  The Roots keep getting better and better (which is almost unfair, as almost no peers try an eighth as hard as they do), and this concept album in reverse is stunning on listen #1 or #100.

Destroyer - Kaputt

When I first encountered Destroyer, I wrote the project off as a second rate Bowie wannabe.  I was wrong.  This album is by far my favorite by Dan Bejar (outside of his 2-3 songs per New Pornographers album, which, if collected, would probably be my favorite), and this is the definition of a "mature Brian" pick; if you had told me when i was 16 that i would love a record full of early-mid 80s cheesy synthesizers and saxophone, i'd have laughed in your face.  But this set of songs really fits the style of production and is a really cohesive, great record.

Fucked Up - David Comes to Life

2011 was the year punk broke up (copyright some article i read about Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon splitting), but for me it was the year that i further dug my heels in the "punk" side of the field.  This year i've refined my theory that everyone in the world is one of the three types of people:  punk rockers, metal dudes or Deadheads.  I'm a punk rocker, despite being totally not a punk rocker.  What i mean is that i really value/love the sense of community, political awareness, DIY sensibility, and lack of fear that comes along with punk.  And no record more so than David Comes to Life embodies all that is great about punk rock, nearly 40 years after it broke: this record is aggressive, intelligent, melodic, tells a story and doesn't let up.  If i had to pick a best album of 2011, this would win.

Bonus Records/File Under "Full Disclosure:"

Unsung - The Paint

Steven Miller, aka Unsung, is a visual artist who makes music, and the sensibility of his painting bleeds through to his music in a way that makes it some of the most unique hip hop, or really any sort of pop music, that i know.  Thought provoking, melodic, intricate, and unwilling to bend toward trends.

Reason it didn't make the main list - Steve is a friend, and i once tried to put out one of his records via my now-dead label.

Jeremy Dubs Presents Speak!

An album mostly made up of Harry Nilsson covers, produced using a vintage analog synthesizer.  That alone should make your salivate and seek out this record.  But the best song here is an original, and Dubs puts his own spin on each song to create this beautiful, dense, (almost) Christmas album.

Reason it didn't make the main list - i did some promotional work for this album via Dubs's label, The Bureau.

The Bishoffs - Head Caves In

Catchy as shit, completely un-self conscious, and simply fun, the Bishoffs debut EP pales only in comparison to their live show, the most fun i've had seeing a band in years.  YEARS!

Reason it didn't make the main list - i interviewed David Heatley (guitar/vocals) earlier this year for a piece i still haven't finished/posted for this blog, and have since become friendly with him. NOTE: The video below is a Heatley solo joint, but is very similar in tone to the Bishoffs.  Also, a Bergen County native!

Paley & Francis - Paley & Francis

It should surprise no one that a Black Francis release makes my list.  However, his first collaborative album with, another Brian favorite, Reid Paley, finds him writing some of flat out great songs.  But the best part of this album is that it, hopefully, serves as a bit of a coming out party for Reid Paley, one of the finest songwriters around.  The songs that Paley takes the mic for here shine the brightest for me, and hopefully with having the Black Francis name attached to it, will get some more people to take notice of his three equally great solo records (and speed up the completion/release of his fourth record).

Reason it didn't make the main list - I've known/done some work for Mr. Francis for the past 6 years, and consider Mr. Paley a friend.  NOTE: This is a live version, seek out the studio version as well - both are great in their own way.

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