Another year is almost in the books and its time again for best of lists and xmas lists and all types of lists imaginable. For the last few months, I’ve been writing with other blogs and have neglected my own. I hope to change that (again) in 2012. For now though, here’s my favorites of 2011. Last year’s list is here.
1. WU LYF – Go Tell Fire To The Mountain [L Y F Recordings] – Once in a while a band comes around and releases a debut LP that truly stands above anything and everything that year. It’s rare, but when it does it is typically memorable. This year, a debut album did that. Manchester band WU LYF (World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation) do not read on paper like they would be able to pull this off (i.e. growling & sometimes undecipherable vocals), but they do in spades. Go Tell Fire To The Mountain is an album full of exuberance and musical maturity that you do not normally find in a debut. With tracks like “Cave Song” and the epic “We Bros”, WU LYF exceed in presenting their brand of “heavy pop” to the masses.
2. Wye Oak – Civilian [Merge Records] – Blending genres such as folk and shoegaze is something that has been done numerous times before. Bands like Mazzy Star made a career out of this. Baltimore’s Wye Oak, on their third full length, have added another record that can stand aside classics in either of those genres or completely on its own. With deft melodies, great vocal work, and a commitment to strong songwriting, Wye Oak have created an album that all future recordings they create will be judged against.
3. Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See [Domino] – On their fourth full length effort, Arctic Monkeys again create a record full of timeless alternative rock hooks and excellent lyricism from “The Songwriter of His Generation”, Alex Turner. Tracks like “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala” evoke classics like The Smiths and The Beatles, parading alongside crunchy numbers like “Library Pictures” that evoke some of punk’s better moments. Consistency seems to be the name of the game when discussing Arctic Monkeys. Their debut is a classic in its own right, but they (and Turner) are still seeking their masterpiece.
4. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues [Sub-Pop] – Robin Pecknold is quickly becoming one of popular music’s most interesting characters. He’s regularly engaged on discussion boards, Twitter, and other avenues on the net and comes across as a very accessible artist. Such is the rarity not only when discussing him as a person in his position, but also when discussing his band’s exquisite sophomore effort, Helplessness Blues. This album is a perfect compliment to the band’s full length self-titled 2009 debut with pastoral imagery, the best harmonies in music today, and an album that only has to be played once to realize its scope and beauty. This is a band that is coming into its own very quickly with a frontman who possesses arguably the best lead vocal today. It’s all on display here. On an aside, this is also the year’s best album artwork!
5. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds [Sour Mash Records] – Noel Gallagher. The Chief. Wonderwall. Knebworth. There are very few artists putting out their debut records these days that match the caliber of pedigree that Noel Gallagher does. While it’s arguable that the first two Oasis albums could be considered Noel solo albums for writing alone, this is not the case as brother Liam’s starpower on those essential classics (1994′s Definitely Maybe & 1995′s What’s The Story, Morning Glory?) makes it easy to forget who was the scribe behind them and the band would not have achieved 1/4 of what they did without the younger Gallagher. For the first time, Noel steps into the spotlight as a frontman, on vocals for an entire record. This album is a great success which retains Noel’s ability to turn a simple melody into something special along with bringing different flavors into his dish. While the two best songs in this period of Noel’s career have been relegated to “bonus track” status (“Alone On The Rope” & “A Simple Game of Genius”), the LP is rock solid from start to finish and Noel should be proud to place this alongside his best work with the legendary Oasis.
6. The Rosebuds – Loud Planes Fly Low [Merge Records] – Being in a band as a couple seems like it’s hard to handle. With the soap opera-like personal lives of 1970s megaband, Fleetwood Mac springing to mind, North Carolina’s The Rosebuds, while not coming close to that level of personal strife, managed to create a cohesive and introspective fifth record. Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp both shine on this very personal record with the common themes of love and loss on display. Reminiscent of last year’s #1 album on this blog, this record hits home and allows you to feel like you’re in the room with them. With tracks like “Woods”, and Crisp’s fantastic vocal on “Come Visit Me”, this is another top-to-bottom nugget that will be getting spins for years to come.
7. Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi [Domino] – Being a protege of Brian Eno cannot be a bad thing. Anna Calvi has been getting noticed for the last two years as an up and comer and only this year released her fantastic self-titled debut album. An excellent guitarist and amazing vocalist to boot, Anna’s debut is a romantic and swirling rock record that has the ability to captivate upon first pressing play. Showing off her chops on the opening “Rider to the Sea” to the lyrical nuances of “The Devil”, Calvi’s talent is in your face and greatly admirable. Immediately conjuring up comparisons to other chanteuses such as P.J. Harvey and St. Vincent is easy and immediate, but Anna’s ax-work sets her apart. This is merely the beginning for her, and the excitement is palpable.
8. North Highlands – Wild One [Self released] – Another indie pop band with a girl up front! However, this is no mere girl. This is Brenda Malvini, the highlight of listening to the music of North Highlands. Combining old school pop stylings along with the new, North Highlands unique musical diversity sets up a scene with one of the best new voices to emerge in Maldini, and you have a recipe for future success. With an assured sense of arrangement and melody fully displayed on tracks like opener, “Bruce”, North Highlands follow up their debut EP with a strong first effort out of the gates.
9. Wooden Shijps – West [Thrill Jockey Records] – Taking their name from a classic ’60s anthem (although spelled differently) may lead you to think that San Francisco’s Wooden Shijps may play a certain “style”. They certainly do make no mistake, but they wield the weapons of rock very well. A modern day psychedelic band with a shoegaze slant, Wooden Shijps play music that parents wouldn’t let you listen to, straightforward, distorted, dirty rock and roll. These guys have been around the block for a little while and have created their best record to date with this effort that echoes the best of Spacemen 3 and classic rock acts like The 13th Floor Elevators. From the opening snarl of “Black Smoke Rise” to the all out distorted noise of “Rising” to close, this is a record that does it exactly what it sets out to do and leaves you wanting it all over again…and again.
10. Marissa Nadler – Marissa Nadler [Box of Cedar Records] – Marissa Nadler is an artist you cannot help but to admire. She has an immense talent and works very hard to get her music out there for people to hear. Most striking about Marissa is her vocal, which is reminiscent of Joanna Newsom in respects, but there’s something more to it. A lilt that seems to hover and stay with you long after she’s stopped singing to you her stories of love and despair. On her latest, she delivers on a set of songs that conjure the best of folk, Americana, and dream pop in one swoop. “In Your Lair, Bear” sets the stage for a darkly enlightening ride in the moonlight.
The rest of my list…
11. P.J. Harvey – Let England Shake
12. Other Lives – Tamer Animals
13. Charlene Soraia – Moonchild
14. Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
15. Asobi Seksu – Flourescence
16. Cults – Cults
17. Explosions In The Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
18. Alex Turner – Submarine EP
19. Night Beats – Night Beats
20. Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know
21. Tennis – Cape Dory
22. Radiohead – The King of Limbs
23. Snowmine – Laminate Pet Animal
24. Real Estate – Days
25. Yuck – Yuck
26. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
27. The Sand Band – All Through the Night
28. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
29. Fruit Bats – Tripper
30. Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’
31. Megafaun – Megafaun
32. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire
33. The Raveonettes – Raven In The Grave
34. The Edgar Jones Free Peace Project – Stormy Weather
35. Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee #2
36. Alexander – Alexander
37. Shapes Have Fangs – Dinner In The Dark
38. The Pierces – You & I
39. Dirty Beaches – Badlands
40. Miles Kane – Colour Of The Trap
1. Radiohead – Lotus Flower
2. Wye Oak – We Were Wealth
3. Noel Gallagher – Alone On The Rope
4. WU LYF – We Bros
5. Other Lives – Tamer Animals
6. Asobi Seksu – Little House of Savages (Cover of The Walkmen)
7. Dirty Beaches – Lord Knows Best
8. Alex Turner – Hiding Tonight
9. She Keeps Bees - Vulture
10. Miles Kane – Rearrange
NYC unless noted otherwise. Top 12 because I wanted to.
1. L.C.D. Soundsystem – Madison Square Garden 4/2
2. The Black Angels – Bowery Ballroom 4/8
3. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Beacon Theater 11/15
4. Arctic Monkeys – House of Blues, Atlantic City NJ 10/14
5. Karkwa & The Blue Angel Lounge (separate sets) – Pianos 4/22
6. British Sea Power – Maxwells, Hoboken NJ 3/21
7. Asobi Seksu – Mercury Lounge 2/17
8. Richard Ashcroft – Bowery Ballroom 3/23
9. The Black Angels – Music Hall of Williamsburg 4/9
10. Fleet Foxes – United Palace Theater 5/18
11. Anna Calvi – Bowery Ballroom 5/25
12. Arctic Monkeys – Central Park 5/24