First thing first, there was way too much music released this year. Not that this is a problem that needs to be fixed. It’s just a pill that one needs to swallow as they put together their own list, while taking little peaks at others.
I tried my best to keep up this year. But try as I might, there was just too much music being dropped into the ether. At times, I found myself feeling like a salmon swimming up stream to lay my eggs (the stream representing the unrelenting flow of new music, the salmon eggs representing a failed attempt at an analogy that made any sense). As overwhelming a task as it was throughout the year, it was when everyone started posting their end of year lists that the true extent of how many albums I had not only just casually skimmed, but how many albums I had not even known were available for skimming began to really sink in.
That being said, I did manage to get lost in quite a few. Last year I did a list of 20, but as I started narrowing down albums for this 11th year of 2000, it became clear that 20 would not be enough. I was going to need a bigger boat. And I then I would have to turn that boat into a mix tape.
A few things about my list. I decided to scrap the idea of ranking this year. I started off by ordering them from 1 to 30, but I soon remembered that when making a mix tape, the order that is the most important is the order that benefits the flow of the mix tape and not the ranking from either last to first (start your mix tapes strong!) or first to last (anti-climatic). Besides, after reading so many end of year lists, I started to feel like ranking albums is a bit over dramatic and maybe a touch self important. And really, what is the difference between someones number 11 album and their number 15? Or at the very least, it is an unnecessary stress to put on yourself, especially when you know that no one is waiting on baited breath for your ‘top 5’ to be revealed.
That being said, J Mascis’ ‘Several Shades of Why’ is my gun-to-the-head favourite album of 2011. The rest? Well, they are all brilliant as well, and I’ve enjoyed each and every one of them quite a lot.
The Poison Tree by The Poison Tree | I almost missed out on this record. Which would have been a shame, seeing as how quickly it has impacted my thought process for my favourite albums of the year. There is something deceptively sexy about the whole thing. Kind of like how Leonard Cohen is sexy, even though he isn’t. And what better way to walk around town, then with music on your headphones that makes you feel deceptively sexy?
No Witch by The Cave Singers | I’m still not sure if I enjoyed this album more than 2009s ‘Welcome Joy’. The more I listen to it, the more I think I do. It is grittier and harder and darker. Like the cover art might be suggesting, it is a good album to put on at a small motel room party of one, get drunk and / or stoned, take your shirt off and start clapping.
Some Were Meant For Sea by Tiny Ruins| You will be hard pressed to find an artist with a more mesmerizing voice than Tiny Ruins. Last year, HI54lOFI RECORDS put outan EP that Holly recorded with A Singer of Songs, so it was no surprise to me how amazing her first full length would be (released on Spunk Records). And amazing it is. It is also lovely to see how well received this album and Tiny Ruins has been down under (she’s opened for the likes of Beach House and Joanna Newsom, and will be opening for Fleet Foxes next year). I’m sure her conquering of up over is just around the corner.
Diaper Island by Chad VanGaalen | Diaper Island is not the greatest of album titles. It makes me think of an island full of diapers (obviously). It also sounds like the album title a teenage punk band would chose, not a Canadian indie god. And you don’t need to know much about diapers to know that they are usually filled with one of two things (sometimes both), and neither of those things are good. This album, on the other hand, is only filled with good things and it is possibly the best thing the talented Chad VanGaalen has done yet. Don’t judge books by the titles on their covers.
Metals by Feist | Speaking of the best thing done by an artist who has done no shortage of great stuff in the past, Feist’s latest album is my favourite of hers. Ever. It does not have any obvious iPod selling songs, instead it focused on creating an amazing start to finish album. It is one of those albums that you can wrap yourself up in, sip on a hot coffee and think about all your relationships. Past, present, and future. And maybe daydream a bit about Leslie Feist.
The Whole Love by Wilco | ‘Dad rock’ seems to be the tag that Wilco is most often given. I’m not sure that is fair, as ‘dad rock’ kind of implies lame and safe, which is definitely no way to describe Wilco (and especially this album). I suppose they are the age of dads and probably most of the members are dads. And I could see how a lot of dads would like them. Especially with lines like “you won’t set the kids on fire… but I might”. So maybe ‘dad rock’ is justified. But then, I’m not a dad and I love them (the theory weakens). I am an uncle however, which is kind of like being a lower level dad (the theory strengthens). And yes, I might set the kids on fire too.
There’s Always Hope, There’s Always Cabernet by Benjamin Shaw | This is such a great album album. And by that I mean, you put it on at track one, and by the end of it, you really feel like you’ve just listened to an album. I know I would love this album even if I didn’t know Benjamin Shaw, as it is the perfect amount of heartfelt lyrics and fuzzy home recording and noise. The fact that I do know Benjamin Shaw just increases my love of it. And, back in Autumn, me and some other musical friends went on tour with Mr. Shaw and we had the pleasure of not only being some of the first to get to listen to his freshly pressed classic, but we even got to perform some of the songs with him. So when you listen to a track like ‘Home’, you’ll probably relish in refrains like “Such a strain on my liver / whenever I’m alone / but nothing pains, when I’m with her / should of stayed at home” as much as me. But I’ll also carry the extra knowledge of how much Ben really means each line.
Several Shades of Why by J Mascis | I know this album shows up as number 8 in the mix tape, but gun to the head, this is my favourite album of 2011. I knew I would have no choice in liking the acoustic solo album from the Dinosaur Jr frontman as soon as I heard about it; one of my favourite all time tracks ever (and definitely my favourite Dinosaur Jr track) was the acoustic version of ‘Get Me’. J Mascis’ crackly voice seems designed for acoustic guitar accompaniment, and even his amazing guitar chops seem more amazing when they are not completely fuzzed out. And that is exactly what this album is. A perfectly flawed singing voice matched with perfectly perfect guitar. To my ears, that makes for a perfect album and it has been on repeat since it first came out.
Arabia Mountain by The Black Lips | The Black Lips always put out fun, high energy albums and this one is no different. The songs are rough around the edges, but within those edges, there are some catchy melodies (sung in a strained, up all night voice). This album is as good as anything they’ve done, and one of my favourite ‘put on the headphones while I walk around town’ albums of the year. It goes well with wearing sunglasses.
The Year of Hibernation by Youth Lagoon | Of all the new, heavily hyped artists that came out this year, Youth Lagoon was the one that seemed the most deserving of the hype. It’s an album that works best as a whole, but each song stands ground on their own. Everything about it is just really pleasant. Head nodding, toe tapping gems, one after another.
Good Vibrations by Bill Baird | I discovered this album over on IGIF, and it was the mention that Bill Baird was the guy responsible for Sound Team—a band I had almost forgotten about, but have since put Movie Monster back on heavy rotation—that really made me give it a proper listen. And it was a good thing I did, as this is the sort of collection of songs that I always fall hard for. Heartfelt and beautiful songs, lo-fi in spirit without being lo-fi in quality.
Hysterical by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah | Remember when Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were the most talked about band around the internet? And then they just kind of disappeared. If hype wasn’t such a fleeting thing, and something that seems to only be thrust upon new bands, this album would have been on a lot more peoples lips and in a lot more peoples ears.
Summer Echoes by Sin Fang | I’ve been a big fan of Sin Fang (formerly Sin Fan Bous, but he cleverly dropped the ‘bous’ from his name - probably because he realized that ‘sin’ and ‘fang’ were both cool words that had evil meanings, while ‘bous’ is less cool, with less evil connotations) ever since I found out that this was the solo project of the guy from Sea Bear. It’s a really great album and proves that Iceland does more than make bjork, sigur rós, and really good looking people.
Wolfroy Goes To Town by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy | This is one of those albums that really pulls you in close. Everything is so quiet and empty, but at the same time, extremely powerful. I’ve found that everything around me disappears when this album is on. Which means I missed my bus stop yesterday. So now I find it is best to put this album on when I am safely at home and ready to wind down my day.
The Head and the Heart by The Head and the Heart | I know this album ‘officially’ came out in 2010, but since it was remastered and put out again by Sub Pop—and since that is the release that made my aware of them—it gets on my list. Also, it is a brilliant record and I’ve listened to it a lot this year. It sounds like the album I wish Dan Mangan would have followed up ‘Nice, Nice, Very Nice’ with. I mean, the tone of this guys voice is so Dan Mangan. And that is a good tone for my books.
The Rip Tide by Beirut | I remember being in a Barcelona cafe, drinking beer and sweating balls, when this album came on and I said to my friends “I love King Creosote”. And they said, “this is Beirut”. And then I said, “yeah, I know, but I also love King Creosote. Can’t a guy ever say something completely unrelated?”.
Cults by Cults | I missed out on the pre-buzz hype of this album (i.e. how everybody went crazy for the first single). It was when I started noticing a lot of people complaining about how they thought the album was a bit disappointing that I finally checked them out. And I found the album anything but disappointing. I thought it was catchy as hell.
Summer Skills by ARMS | I remember being in Chicago and seeing ARMS play to a crowd of about 12 (including the 3 of us) and thinking “what a shame it is that such a great band is playing for so little people”. Or at least I think it was ARMS playing. My memory tells me it was. This was back in October 2010, so maybe that timeline doesn’t add up. Either way, after this brilliant album, I doubt they’ll be playing to that number of people again. If they even ever did. My memory is shit. This album is not.
Howth by Howth | From the first time I listened to it, this album has been on my list of favourites. And to add to my sentimentalism for it, they even sent me a copy of their early handmade release - one they found under their bed (it has since been re-released by Mecca Lecca Recording Co.). Blake’s voice is a haunting instrument, and each song an enchanting piece of beauty. Still getting a lot of use out this album.
Brother Loyola by Jessica Jalbert | The Edmonton music scene is one of surprising depth and talent, and Jessica Jalbert might just be the biggest gem in the bunch. Her long awaited debut is start to finish perfection and her voice is one of my favourite of the female varieties going. After hearing it add a perfect layer to so many other peoples songs, it was nice to finally hear it up front and center. Also, this album is a great example of the amazing year of music that Old Ugly put out. If this list went to fifty, they probably would have been responsible for another two, at least.
It’s A Corporate World by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. | It was a Beach Boys cover that first introduced me to Dale Earnhardt’s Son’s Son, which was lovely and made me make a mental note to check them out more. I waited patiently for the full length to come, and the wait was worth it. It’s catchy and fun and would make Dale proud. Or not. I imagine Dale Earnhardt listens to stuff that is a little more Nascar friendly.
No Time For Dreaming by Charles Bradley | Anybody who is a James Brown fan will love this album (and anyone who isn’t a James Brown fan can not be trusted). I always find it a bit discomforting (discomforting in a good way) when a person can express so much emotion and soul some with their voice. It’s such a powerful thing, and it can make you feel a bit weak. This album is kind of like a lion roaring directly in the face of a lamb. The lion being Charles Bradley, the lamb being me.
KMAG YOYO by Hayes Carll | I grew up in a small farming town in Alberta, Canada (which some people say is the Texas of Canada). To say that a lot of people around me listened to country music would be an understatement. But they did not listen to this kind of country music. They listened to the Tim McGraw / Faith Hill brand of country music. Which made me despise a lot of them. If they were blasting the Hayes Carll brand of country music, we would have got on like honkey kong.
CoCo Beware by Caveman | Another album that I almost missed out on. This makes it on my list with what Flamgirlant might call ‘an intense flirtation, rather than love’. But I can’t help it. After seeing it on We Listen For You’s end of year list, I checked it out and fell hard with everything on it. And seeing as this list is not a ranking, and I’ve been listening to this album a lot while compiling this list, CoCo Beware finds its way on it. Also, remember Koko B. Ware?
Mirror Traffic by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks | 2011 could be considered the year that I finally got into Pavement. Spending hundreds of hours in a van with Benjamin Shaw and A Singer of Songs (it might not have actually been hundreds, but driving from Barcelona to Paris sure feels like it), who are both huge Pavement heads, meant I got my fair share of Malkmus education. Which not only laid the path for me to check this album out, but it also laid the foundation for my enjoying of it. Which I did. Great lyrics, great riffs and unexpected song structure? Yes please.
Bon Iver by Bon Iver | I’ve been in and out with this album. I’ve always liked it, but sometimes I found myself wishing it sounded more like ‘For Emma’ and less like ‘In The Woods’. But then a song like ‘Holocene’ comes on and I’m back in. I think there are 3 camps with this album: those who absolutely love it and think it is a masterpiece, those who hate it, and those who think it is pretty good, but were not as blown away by it as they were with the debut. I’m in the latter camp.
Idle Labor by Craft Spells | At first, this album threw me for a loop. It sounded nothing like I expected. But that was because I read the name as Cast Spells instead of Craft Spells. So once I realized that I wasn’t listening to the same band that was responsible for ‘Letters’, I was able to take the album for what it was. A brilliant 80s party that I was glad to be attending, especially because I was too young to party in the 80s.
An Empty Bliss Beyond This World by The Caretaker | If there ever was an album perfect for sitting in a dark room, with a glass of scotch and a cigarette, pretending to be a 1930s private detective on the case of a mysterious murder, while thinking things like “she was a tall glass of water, but I wasn’t thirsty”, this is that album. Or maybe I’ve been watching too much Bored To Death.
Slave Ambient by The War On Drugs | The War On Drugs was a new discovery for me this year. I think I had heard of them before, but it is possible that I am just thinking of the more literal ‘the war on drugs’ (of whom I am not a fan). I think this album is going to keep growing on me more and more, as I listen to it more and more in the upcoming year(s).
El Camino by The Black Keys | I don’t think The Black Keys will ever make an album that I don’t like, because they make the kind of music that I will always like. As long as there is still a touch of their ‘Thickfreakness’ days in each new album, I will always have a spot in my headphones for them. Although, as much as I wish it wasn’t true, I think them blowing up has impacted my love for them. I don’t want to be that guy, but I think we might all have a little bit of that guy in us. You know that ‘yeah their new stuff is good, but…’. I hate that guy.
So, those were my favourites of 2011… what were yours?