28 December 2011

2011:: Favorite Albums

All told, I probably listened to about 400 albums in 2011. Tough to pick favorites, but here it goes nonetheless. Don't pretend these are the "best" just my favorites, subject to change as quickly as tomorrow. Plenty of great stuff that didn't make the cut.

As in the past, grouping them together...

The top ten (in alphabetical order):

Blitzen Trapper -- American Goldwing
After a bit of a dud (in my opinion) with "Destroyer of the Void," BT is back in fine "Furr" form with this release. As perfect a rock and roll album as I've heard this year.

Danger Mouse -- Rome
Growing up, the Good the Bad and the Ugly was one of my favorite movies, due, in no small part, to the soundtrack (which I also owned). Here producer extraordinaire and Daniele Luppi recreate and update the feel of those old Morricone soundtracks perfectly. With sweeping cinematic instrumental tracks and terrific vocal contributions from heavyweights Jack White and Norah Jones, Rome is a soundtrack to a movie we can only wish existed.

The Decemberists - The King Is Dead
Either you find Colin Meloy & Co. to be a bunch of pretentious Portlanders or you can't get enough of them. Chalk me up for the latter column and their latest release proves to me why. They've been all over the place lately, but this finds the band firmly in the Americana business with superlative songwriting and crisp acoustic instrumentation.

Bill Frisell -- All We Are Saying...
Hands down my favorite jazz album of the year. Frisell is a constant, usually pumping out 2 or 3 amazing albums a year and contributing to a few others. This record is all John Lennon covers performed to perfection by an all-star cast of Frisell regulars: Jenny Scheinman, Greg Leisz, Tony Scherr and Kenny Wolleson. As with any great album of covers, some are true to form while others take the source material as a launching point for further exploration. The instrumentation -- Frisell's dreamy guitar, Scheinman's violin, Leisz's pedal steel -- feels like it's built specifically for my ears. If you take my advice to listen to just ONE track this year, their take on "Across the Universe" is the single best thing I've heard in 2011.

Fruit Bats -- Tripper
Something about this album just makes me happy. I'm usually not at a loss for adjectives and metaphors to describe the music I love, but the phrase I keep coming back to with this one is "good music." Just well-conceived and wonderfully crafted pop rock music. Highly recommended.

Portugal. The Man -- In the Mountain in the Cloud
What can I say, I'm obsessed with Portugal. The Man. With good reason, they've popped out a "best of year" album almost like clockwork and this year was no different. Impossibly matching radio-friendly hooks with dense, psychedelic production ready-made for jamming in the live show, PtM proved that they are, indeed, at the top of their game. As fresh as exciting on the 100th listen as the first... take it from me.

Smith Westerns -- Dye It Blonde
Sure, it's derivative as hell, but if you're gonna rip off a sound you a) should choose some damn good music to copy and b) do a damn good job pulling it off. Smith Westerns may sound like some bastard child of T Rex and Mott the Hoople, but don't it just sound so good? Rock and roll at its finest and the songs are just so great. Loved it from first listen and hasn't gotten stale yet.

Gillian Welch -- The Harrow and the Harvest
Dear Gillian, take as much time as you'd like between albums, if they're going to be this f'in good, I'll wait 20 years if I have to.... Welch & her soulmate David Rawlings have done it again. Timeless. Simple. Pure. Amazing. If I were a musician I would probably hate these two for making it look so damn easy. Either you love this album or you have no soul.

White Denim - D
Edging their way into my obsessive can't-get-enough nature this year was White Denim. I've devoured their past output, but with "D" they've taken a leap into don't-miss territory. Jambands as we knew and loved them may be dead, but as long as bands like White Denim exist, that itch will continue to be scratched. Somehow combining the technical dexterity of Yes with the soulful southern jam of the Allmans or WSP, White Denim may very well be the best thing going these days.

Yellowbirds -- The Color
Here's what I wrote for Hidden Track about the Yellowbirds album: "Their biggest fans would contest that the now-dormant Apollo Sunshine was a band ahead of its time, but AS guitarist Sam Cohen’s new project, Yellowbirds is decidedly *of* the here and now. Cohen doubles as a visual artist with a focus on collage, which is no surprise because every track on Yellowbirds’ debut album, The Color, is a meticulously crafted collage of sounds. Psychedelic reverberating guitar and echoing harmonized vocals swirl with organ and otherworldly autoharp to beef up the already strong set of material Cohen brought to the studio. The result is a keep-hitting-repeat experience where every listen brings about new discoveries and details.  We’ve heard of a phoenix rising from the ashes, we just never knew that the bird was yellow."

Just one notch below (albums 11-25 in alphabetical order)  
The Dears -- Degeneration Street

Deerhoof -- Deerhoof vs. Evil
Eulogies -- Tear the Fences Down
Fleet Foxes -- Helplessness Blues
Eleanor Friedberger -- Last Summer
Grails -- Deep Politics
The Head and the Heart -- The Head and the Heart
Iron & Wine -- Kiss Each Other Clean
Buddy Miller -- The Majestic Silver Strings
Stephen Malkmus -- Mirror Traffic
My Morning Jacket -- Circuital
Real Estate -- Days
Toro Y Moi -- Underneath the Pine
Woods -- Sun and Shade

Honorable Mention
Bardo Pond -- Bardo Pond
The Barr Brothers -- The Barr Brothers
Battles -- Gloss Drop
Beastie Boys -- Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
A. A. Bondy -- Believers
Brett Dennen -- Loverboy
The Dodos -- No Color
Elbow -- Build a Rocket Boys!
Holy Ghost -- Holy Ghost!
Joan As Police Woman -- The Deep Field
Megafaun -- Megafaun
Middle Brother -- Middle Brother
Radiohead -- The King of Limbs
Gruff Rhys -- Hotel Shampoo
Josh Rouse and the Long Vacations -- Josh Rouse and the Long Vacations
Bob Schneider -- A Perfect Day
Andy Statman -- Old Brookly
Tea Leaf Green -- Radio Tragedy
Tedeschi Trucks Band -- Revelator
Thao & Mirah -- s/t
Chris Thile & Michael Daves -- Sleep With One Eye Open
Unknown Mortal Orchestra -- Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Vetiver -- The Errant Charm
John Zorn -- Nova Express

Finally, sometimes it doesn't take a full album to make a statement. 

My 12 favorite EP's of the year

    1. Broken Bells -- Meyrin Fields
      Carolina Chocolate Drops/Luminescent Orchestrii
      Gary Clark Jr -- The Bright Lights EP
      Collections of Colonies of Bees -- Giving
      The Decemberists -- Long Live the King
      Here We Go Magic -- The January EP
      Junip -- In Every Direction/Without You
      The Sea and Cake -- The Moonlight Butterfly
      Superhuman Happiness -- The Physical EP
      Typhoon -- A New Kind of House
      Kurt Vile -- So Outta Reach
      White Denim -- Take Place in Your Work Space

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