The Top 11 of ‘11 (In Reverse Chronological Order)
Breakdown (Go ahead, give it to me):
11. Colin Stetson - New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges - Too avant-garde to be a crowd-pleaser, but you can’t help but appreciate a guy who comes out with a huge saxophone and plays this many notes without passing out. There’s a few production tricks here, but yes, he CAN play like this live.
10. Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact - Another avant-garde pick, but filled with enough rhythm at times to get you up out of your seat dancing. Who else can turn a song about being struck by lightning into a celebration of life?
9. Cults - S/T - Look, it’s a safe pick. An over-produced, completely accesible, crowd-pleasing pick. Girl group vocals, lo-fi sound, handclaps, and recordings from real live religious cults all mix together to form some sort of poppy bouillabaise. The band with the biggest buzz in 2010 finally made good in 2011.
8. Tycho - Dive - Scott Hansen took me back to the first time I heard the now-classic Boards of Canada album, “Music Has The Right To Children”. Tycho combines their woozy synths, submerged vocals, and spaced-out drum pads making me feel like it’s 1998 all over again.
7. Toro Y Moi - Underneath the Pine - What do you do when you’re close to being strapped into a scene that’s likely to become bloated by the end of the year? In the case of Chaz Bundwick, you keep your laptop, but hire a full band, and re-invent the wheel as fast as you can. “Underneath the Pine” didn’t just re-invent the wheel, but also the interior, the chassis, and the contents of the trunk. And it left everyone else in his rearview mirror.
6. Cass McCombs - Wit’s End - It’s a joke; get it? It’s not being taken to the ledge and jumping off, it’s accepting that ledge and saying, “Well, if I’m going to be miserable, I might as well make myself comfortable.” It’s still folk music for McCombs, but with added touches here and there, like the AM Gold, falsetto vocal, R&B slow jam feel of “County Line”.
5. Cut/Copy - Zonoscope - Wait, didn’t New Order break up? I did get to see this band live in July; it didn’t take long for me to get sucked into the groove and find myself doing my hipster shuffle. I never felt like a Cut/Copy was especially essential to my collection. Sure, some songs were good - great, even - but I always felt like they were just another French house meets dance-rock band. Especially amazing was watching them play the 15-minute “Sun God” in its entirety. Also, glowsticks.
4. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues - Never has the term “bigger is better” been more accurate. In the era of Coldplay, Florence and the Machine, et. al., this band made Big Music look simple.
3. Bon Iver - S/T - Bon Iver played Richmond shortly after I saw Cut Copy at the same venue. I initially scoffed at his $50.00!!! price tag. What was he going to do? Sit on a chair and have explosions, lasers, and neon lights accompany him? Nope, he was going to bring a nine-piece band and recreate this album as faithfully as he could. Of all the shows I missed this year, I regret this one the most. Also, “Beth/Rest” made me question my hatred for Bruce Hornsby.
2. M83. - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming - It all started with a teaser trailer. And then “Midnight City”. (Seriously, is it possible to hate a saxophone outro as amazing as that one?!) I sat in a music panel where someone chastised Anthony Gonzalez for releasing a 22-track double album in an era where “no one wants long albums anymore. You should just record 11 to 12 songs and call it a day.” How wrong she was! Admittedly, I was a little skeptical myself, but after hearing it once, twice, thrice, it became an example of how to record a double album. Just because you have 79 minutes to fill doesn’t mean it’s necessary to do so. If you’re going to record full-length intros and outros, make them stand-alone pieces that serve as bookends. Use interludes not as segues, but their own individual miniature pieces. To break this album into individual pieces would be a sacrilege.
1. Tune-yards - WHOKILL - Let’s set the record straight here: I hated “Bird-Brains”. Not disliked; not had an indifference to; HATED. I received it while serving as Music Director for my college radio station and after perusing it, I sent it directly into the reject pile. It was just another lo-fi, possibly home-recorded, singer-songwriter album. And, to this day, i have no desire to go back and see if I was “missing something”. But, from the moment I heard the looped vocalise in “My Country”, followed by that booming drum and Merrill Garbus’ percussion, I was hooked. Merrill was angry and she had no problem telling you what she was angry about - sound familiar? Sure, I had my moments where I said, “This is all wrong,” but I eventually grew past them. “Gangsta” quickly became one of my favorite songs of 2011 and when I saw her perform it on Jimmy Fallon, I couldn’t help but see Merrill’s smile and think, “Right now, she feels like she is on top of the world. And, dammit, she deserves to.”