2011: My Year In Records

December 29, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Posted in Albums, Best of, Lists, Music | 12 Comments
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A year end albums list is kind of a strange thing, especially when it’s one person compiling it. Since this blog is a committe of one, it can become quite capricious. In all likelyhood I wrote about some records this past year that I was overtly enthusiastic about at the time. Now the end of the year rolls around and some of those records are not on the list. “What gives?” you might ask. It’s hard to remember which label flew me to Tahiti and which one comp’d my CMJ this year, so I may have forgotten to include a few records that I thought at the time were great.  These are the records that left an impression on me over the course of the last 12 months, paylola or not…


1. Destroyer – Kaputt (Merge)
Was this record flying in the face of fashion or swimming in it? These days I can never tell. Dan Bejar controls the vision of Destroyer and I have been following his erratic course for years, but nothing has ever grabbed hold of me like Kaputt did. Up until this point the minimalist keyboard focused Your Blues had been my favorite Destroyer album. That album from 2004 subtly evoked Prefab Sprout, Blue Nile, Microdisney, and Felt, but  Kaputt goes hook line and sinker for that sound and comes up with the huge treasure of the “big music”. Do not be afraid of the saxophone (the Waterboys weren’t)! This record evokes a time in music when highly stylized, heart on the sleeve pop was de rigor in some parts of the world. Even if you’re old enough to remember it, Destroyer do it in an entirely new and fresh way.
mp3: A Savage Night At the Opera


2. Total Control – Henge Beat (Iron Lung)
Total Control march to the beat of a different tune, one that will floor you. At least it did me. Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s Mikey Young and Daniel Stewart of UV Race combine to fabricate Tubeway Army, the Fall and Neu! If you dare listen to this record it will totally control your life.
mp3: See More Glass


3. Sweet Bulbs – Sweet Bulbs (Blackburn)
Sweet Bulbs can bend a guitar with the best of them. They sound like they’re torturing their guitars the way the Swirlies, the Lilies and of course My Bloody Valentine. Like all great bands, they broke up after making their first album. This is it, but don’t fret, they are now called Heaven’s Gate. So the magic is still happening, only under a different name.
mp3: Kissing Clouds


4. Veronica Falls – Veronica Falls (Slumberland)
Was a time when a record like this would have been on a major label. Pop songs that are so immediate and infectious that labels would have been falling over themselves to sign them. The world turned upside down a few years ago and bands like Veronica Falls sign to indies like Slumberland. If you dig the Bats and Wedding Present jangle of yesteryear, then I guarantee you will not be able to say no to this maelstrom of a record.
mp3: Bad Feeling


5. Wild Swans – The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years (Kitten Charmer)
Wild Swans in their initial incarnation released one seminal single and then disbanded. In their second incarnation they released two so-so albums. You might think that after one reformation that the next one might be worth sitting out, but they don’t say the third time is a charm for nothing. The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years is full of bitterness and pining for a better idealized past. A quest to return to those days is vividly chronicled here and makes a Wild Swans that far outshines anything from their past.
mp3: Chloroform


6. Sea Pinks – Dead Seas (CF)
This jangly record with simple songs that cut to the quick seemed to keep popping up on my turntable and on my headphones. Girls Names drummer Neil Brogan got his band-mates to back him up on Dead Seas, and in my opinion surpass their other band. That of course is a matter of opinion, Girls Names are no band to be sneezed at. Sea Pinks songs subtly evoke the Smiths while sounding nothing like them. A seemingly simple and understated album that peels like an onion.
mp3: Heir Apparent


7. Big Troubles – Romantic Comedy (Slumberland)
When I first heard that Mitch Easter was producing Big Troubles second album, the first thing that popped into my head was Moose. Moose started out as a shoegaze band, but hired Easter to produce their first album and their sound changed from My Bloody Valentine to Tim Buckly and Fred Neil. Big Troubles following a similar path went from their first album, a noisy affair to nuance of psychedelic sounds of the paisley underground.  I don’t give Easter all the credit for the metamorphosis, but I’m sure he definitely helped.
mp3: Misery


8. Useless Eaters – Daily Commute (Tic Tac Totally)
Yeah, Iceage got a lot of press for their album New Brigade, but Useless Eaters’ Daily Commute was my favorite art punk album of the year. Sure it sounds like it was recorded on a boombox in the kitchen, but you can’t keep a great songwriter down. Simply put, this record rips, and if it would have had better production you would be reading about it on sites much more popular than this one.
mp3: Daily Commute


9. A Classic Education – Call It Blazing (Lefse)
Bologna, Italy’s A Classic Education debut album is a melancholic charmer. Call It Blazing holds songs like sunken treasure in its depths. Luckily it doesn’t take a submarine to get to its yearning, oceanic pop that recalls the  genius of the Chills and the Shins.
mp3: Can You Feel The Backwash


10. Twerps – Twerps (UnderwaterPeoples)
I was somewhat intrigued by Twerps’s handful of singles, but not smitten. Smart kids that they are, they used the singles as building blocks, kind of feeling their way about until they got to a place that they were writing songs that they felt were worthy of a long player. This record is wise beyond it’s years. It echoes back so much of the amazing history of Australian pop like the Church, Paul Kelly, and the Go-Betweens. They’ve set quite a high bar for their follow-up.
mp3: Dreaming


11. Eleanor Friedberger – Last Summer (Merge)
Eleanor Friedberger is one half of the brother-sister duo the Fiery Furnaces. She’s not old enough to remember the late 60’s and 70’s, but she’s made a record that sounds like she is. It has this strange Jackson Browne or Jim Croce feel to it. It’s kind of a folk record, but it has a weird soulfullness to it that pulls it out of the folk genre. Nothing else sounded remotely similar to Last Summer. A unique record from a unique voice.
mp3Roosevelt Island


12. Mind Spiders – Mind Spiders (Dirtnap)
Mind Spiders deftly jumps from Jay Retard, to T Rex to Love and Rockets and then back again. It’s like being lost in the funhouse. You can’t find your way out, but you kind of don’t want to get off either.
mp3: Go!


13. Crystal Stilts – In Love With Oblivion (Slumberland)
The Crystal Stilts are not a live band, but give them a studio and they will kick your ass. In Love With Oblivion dredges the ghosts of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Bo Diddly, and Felt  from unmarked graves and breathes new life into them.
mp3: Sycamore Tree


14. Ringo DeathStarr – Colour Trip (Club AC30)
I have to admit. I was hot and cold on this record. First I was hot because it’s infectious shoegaze is pretty hard not to like if you already lean in that direction. Then I saw them live and was convinced that they used Auto-Tune on the album, because they couldn’t carry a tune to save their lives. Then I said fuck it, the songs are great and the record is amazing, who cares if they really can’t sing, they know how to use a studio. It never stopped me from loving the Stone Roses.
mp3: So High


15. Indian Wars – Walk Around the Park (Bachelor)
Seems like in a year when Kurt Vile and the War on Drugs got their props, critics would have dug a little deeper to find something that hadn’t been polluted with the whiff of success. Vancouver, BC’s Indian Wars bust through saloon doors and shoot up the bar the way the Long Ryders and Gun Club did in the past. Bands like this worry me. Why? Because they’re so damn good and nobody knows it. Too good to last? Hope not.
mp3Tuscaloosa Bar


16. German Measles – A German Joke is No Laughing Matter (Krazy Punx)
Funny how everyone bumming out over the fact that Art Brut are no longer funny missed this record. The German Measles did the prudent thing for any ‘funny band.’ They broke up after making their first album. It’s not belly laughs and punch lines, it’s just spot on observations about everyday life and raw spartan punk rock that sticks to your bones like oatmeal.
mp3: Totally Mild


17. Top Sound – Top Sound (Ça Ira)
Sweden’s Top Sound took their time getting their debut album together but it was well worth the wait. It grabs from the High Llamas, Stereolab, Style Council, and the Aluminum Group to create a bright sounding, highly stylized (erm) top sound.  This is toe-tapping and finger-snapping good. Those may not be the sweaty and bloody rock n’ roll terms you’re looking for in a rock album, but it ain’t all chicks and whiskey.
mp3: A Matter of Precision


18. Charles Bradley – No Time For Dreaming (Daptone)
In a time when there seems to be old soul compilations coming out every other week, 62 year old Charles Bradley burst on the scene with his brand new old soul. He was the singer in a James Brown cover band before being discovered by Daptone Records. Bradley has a gritty, working man’s soul voice that makes the songs feel current even though he’s firmly rooted in the past. This, amazingly is his debut album.
mp3: Lovin’ You, Baby


19. Cat’s Eyes – Cat’s Eyes (Downtown)
Soprano Rachel Zeffira teamed up with the Horrors singer Faris Badwan to make an moody record that stalks will stalk your stereo. The two apparently bonded over a mutual appreciation of 60’s girl groups. That affectation permeates the record, but it’s not like any Ronettes album you’ve heard. It’s dark and eerie and teams with both Zeffira’s high notes matched with Badwan’s low ones. An otherworldly record.
mp3: The Best Person I Know


20. People’s Temple- Sons of Stone (Hozac)
Play Sons of Stone for someone who hasn’t heard it and you could pass it off for a lost psych record from the 60’s that was left off of Nuggets. Hell, People’s Temple kept coming up on shuffle and I kept getting fooled myself. This Lansing, Michigan band are named after Jim Jones’ cult that committed mass suicide in the 1970’s. Instead of spending your hard earned cash on another Rolling Stones reissue, drink the juice and joion the People’s Temple.
mp3Where You Gonna Go?


21. Cave – Neverendless (Drag City)
I love this album because it seems to conjure the lost art of  the motoric. Mostly instrumental jams that bring Neu! to mind, but by way of Chicago. Perhaps the windy city has given up on the artery clogging deep dish pizza and gone for the heart healthy Kraut!
mp3: W U J


22. Comet Gain – The Howl of the Lonely Crowd (What’s Your Rupture?)
One thing about being a music blogger, you can keep putting records by perennially ignored bands on your list. Comet Gain have been around forever putting out difficult and rewarding albums. This one is no different. They are in my imaginary R&R hall of fame along with the likes of the Fall, the Mekons and the Pastels.
mp3: An Arcade From The Warm Rain That Falls


23. Wax Idols – No Future (Hozac)
Former Punx Heather Fortune goes it alone and inserts sex, fear, goth and serial killers into her brand of punk rock. It’s not all sex and death, you get the rough with the smooch, as she’s got a soft side too and a voice that can go from sensitive to tough in an instant. No Future has got depth and Wax Idols have a future.
mp3: Hitman


24. Walls – Coracle (Kompact)
Walls’ second album oscillates wildly between kraut, shoegaze and electronica. This could be a gateway album from stepping from one of those genres into another or the perfect music for stepping into that nebula on the cover.
mp3: Heat Haze


25. The Dirtbombs – Party Store  (In the Red)
You wouldn’t believe how many albums have been shuffled in and out of slot number 25 this year. It was a brutal fight, but the Dirtbombs persevered with their double Detroit muscle. Double because this the Dirtbombs tribute to their hometown. Techno classics from techno ground zero are covered with aplomb in this garage meets techno groove fest that is weird, infectious and above all danceable.
mp3: Sharevari

12 Comments »

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  1. Smashing list! Evidence that 2011 was a smashing year for music. I’m gonna check out the Destroyer record as I didn’t hear that.

    cheers, brogues

  2. I cannot argue with your number one…

  3. Just a thought, re: Ringo Deathstar: when a band sings really crappy live, sometimes it’s because the sound man isn’t getting them enough vocal in their monitor. And in the sound guys defense, if bands insist on a really loud amp volume onstage, it’s impossible to get an adequate vocal level to the monitors. And if you can’t hear yourself, you can’t sing well. I’ve definitely had really crappy shows because of monitor difficulties.

    • I saw Ringo Deathstarr live before I heard any of their records – they supported Dean & Britta in Glasgow – and I was impressed by the singing. I think that what Jeremy (hullo – enjoyed Baffin Island at the Glasgow Popfest!) said might’ve been the case when you saw ‘em. Anyways, I was convinced enough to buy the cd by ‘em after seeing them :)

      cheeres, brogues

      • Hi there, Brogues! Glad you enjoyed the show! I love Glasgow, BTW. I’m totally jealous of anyone that gets to live there full time.

      • Brogues,
        Could have been a bad day here. When they come back through Seattle I hope it’s at a different venue.

    • Jeremy, that could have been the case. I heard from some friends who had seen them in other places that the singing was weak, so it wasn’t just my isolated case. Of course, it could have been sound issues at those other venue as well. Still a great record, even if they didn’t quite pull it off live when I saw them.

  4. One of my favorite best-of lists for sure

  5. Charles Bradley – He’s got quite a life story. Love that song – The World is Going Up in Flames – amazing. Anyone who likes that should check out Menahan Street Band (Dap Tone records super group and backing Bradley on some or many tracks) and Lee Fields, another guy with a great story also on Dap Tone I think.

  6. Dude, I’ve seen the Crystal Stilts live, and they are awesome. I have no idea what that “not a live a band” comment was supposed to mean.

    • So have I. Great songs, zero stage presence.

      • Yeaah, well the way the songs sound is what matters since this is a band we are talking about, and I don’t really go to see a gloomy rock band expecting “stage presence.” In fact, I usually expect for the band to be a visual afterthought because most good psych-rock leaning bands’ intent is to create an atmosphere, transport the audience. You go to get lost in the music, or why bother? I’m guessing you would also think the sonic tour de force that is my bloody valentine is also a boring live band because Kevin doesn’t do any cartwheels.


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