Oh, hi, remember us? Never fear, it’s that time of year again! The time to buy into consumerism, to plunge ourselves into debt for the sake of acquiring all the latest things in order to prove to our loved ones that they really are worth that object made by underpaid underagers on the other side of the world. But we need not be cynical! During this festive time, when the nights are still drawing in, when we wrap up warm and share in Christmas carols, hugs and kisses, mulled wine and mince pies, we at Lost in the Cloud are very pleased to share with our favourite albums in order to see us all through the winter. And, in typical LITC fashion, not a minute too soon. So do read, listen and enjoy in full frequency stereophonic sound!
Greg & Elijah
Elijah’s Top 10 Albums of 2014
10. Sunbathing Animal Parquet Courts — 2014 has been a good year for the revival of garage and punk rock. Parquet Courts’ Sunbathing Animal is just one of many great fruits of this harvest. With a barrage of home-made-feeling stripped down rock tunes, Sunbathing Animal explores the constant tension between, what vocalist/guitarist Andrew Savage describes as ‘a duality between freedom and captivity; that balance between the freedom that you find in being in a band—or just being a creative person in the world, that’s trying to leave their mark—and then the captivity that goes along with the constraints that you come up against … and a lot of the time having it fail.’ Like that poor diced up tiger on the album cover, Parquet Courts examine that tension in glorious fashion, with persistent drumbeats and sloppy guitars from a bygone era, rediscovered and executed with a shrewdness and confidence so lacking in this present age. And with track durations ranging from one minute to seven (each very satisfying in length) Parquet Courts further demonstrate that they are well aware of what they’re doing.
9. Crunch Eureka California — Also among the great garage and punk rock records released this year, Eureka California’s Crunch distinguishes itself with a shelling of persistently energetic, witty and hook-laden gems. As singer/guitarist Jake Ward confesses in the track of the same name, ‘You put your hand to the pencil and the pencil to the pad, never has anything so sharp ended up so dull and bland … because art is hard‘, good art is indeed difficult. But I’m pleased to report that Crunch is anything but dull and bland. Sadly, it seems many reviewers, to their own loss, have largely overlooked this record. Here at Lost in the Cloud, we [and by ‘we’ I mean ‘I, Elijah’] encourage you not to let this one pass you by as it has so many others!
8. Loom Fear of Men — As said by that great modern sage Tila Tequila, ‘I think every person has their own identity and beauty. Everyone being different is what is really beautiful. If we were all the same, it would be boring.’ I think there’s a real kernel of wisdom in that. I once heard a university professor express gratitude for his differences from his partner because, ‘If we were both the same person, there’d be no need for the other — I might as well kill myself.’ A wee bit harsh, but the point I am making is that although Greg and I are kindred spirits in so many ways (such as our love for Sufjan Stevens, Elliott Smith and Irn-Bru), our differences make us a better platonic pairing in many ways. Take Fear of Men’s Loom, for instance. I don’t intend to speak for Greg, from what I’ve gathered, Loom was a ‘like’ not ‘love’ album for him. Me, on the other hand — as you can see, it’s nestled right here between nine and eight. Their first full-length release, Loom is a great foray into dream pop/indie rock. Jess Weiss’ vulnerable vocals, teamed with Daniel Falvey’s watery, guitar-driven soundscapes wash over the listener like waves (and there are many aquatic references on Loom). It’s a beautiful piece of work and, at the very least, a beautiful debut.
7. Some Blue Morning Adrian Crowley — Maltese-born Irish singer-songwriter Adrian Crowley was described as ‘the best songwriter that no one’s heard of’ by Ryan Adams in 2005. I’m inclined to agree with Ryan. Although he has been active for fifteen years, during which he has released six albums, I was only made aware of Crowley’s existence in before Some Blue Morning. Crowley’s voice and style remind me of veterans like Leonard Cohen and Scott Walker and of more recent master Bill Callahan. With great skill and precision, Some Blue Morning is produced and executed very conscientiously, and it’s no exaggeration to claim that there is a maturity to Crowley’s songwriting that lands him among such greats.
6. Too Bright Perfume Genius — This record is most definitely what I would consider ‘a grower’. Too Bright is singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas’ third release. His first two, Learning (2010) and Put Your Back N 2 It (2012), eluded the major English-speaking charts, gaining momentum only in Belgium (and the latter in Ireland), for some reason. But Too Bright has found its way into the US and UK charts, riding on the success of the lead single ‘Queen’. Upon my first listen to ‘Queen’ I was impressed with the Perfume Genius himself, Mike Hadreas’ raw lyrics coupled with his cutting delivery. The rest of the album requires more patience, but the payoff is tenfold. There’s a primal aggression paired with serene meekness, which only grows more satisfying with each listen. Throughout the whole of Too Bright, one can hear Hadreas push himself to his limits, relying more upon vocal tone than words (of which there are relatively few).
5. Nobody Wants to Be Here & Nobody Wants to Leave The Twilight Sad — I usually ignore Pitchfork, but I was curious to see if any critics were loving Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave (for the sake of brevity, referred to as Nobody from here on out) as much as I have been. So I went and read Ian Cohen’s scathing review. He opens with these words:
‘Mainstream success has mostly eluded the Twilight Sad, which is somewhat disappointing and even more surprising—their compatriots We Were Promised Jetpacks and Frightened Rabbit still fill rooms in the States despite being only slightly more ‘pop,’ proof that a certain kind of Scottish miserablism will always play well overseas, especially when delivered with a whiskeyed brogue. Consequently, when you’re the most successful and long-running band with the word ‘sad’ in its name, the obvious question is, at what point does such a staunch commitment to misery become, well, kinda miserable? In the case of the Twilight Sad, it takes about a decade, as everything from the title of Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave to its uncertain sonic direction tells of a band feeling trapped within their own reputation.’
‘Scottish miserablism’ and ‘whiskeyed brogue’? Sounds like Mr Cohen is just being ‘patronising’ and ‘lazy’. He goes on to contrast Nobody with each of The Twilight Sad’s previous three albums and comes to the conclusion that Nobody lacks ‘palplable passion’. I assume he means ‘palpable’, but who hasn’t made typrografrical errors? Aside from his patronising tone and his minor slip of the keys, I’m left wondering if Mr Cohen and I have actually been listening to the same record. On the whole, I consider this record to be their strongest and most complete to date. I’ll grant Ian Cohen the fact that Nobody isn’t always as loud or aggressive as The Twilight Sad’s previous releases, but there’s no lack of conviction to be found. The music is more compelling and listenable than ever (though I’ll admit that, unfortunately, James Graham’s vocals on the sixth track of the album, ‘In Nowheres’ remind me of Eddie Vedder), warranting a stop in my top five albums of the year.
4. St Vincent St Vincent — One of my greatest anxieties in my attempt to be taken seriously as a student of pop music comes when I hear a record from a familiar and belovéd artist; an artist who has, in past, been part of my ‘Top 10 Albums’ rankings. It’s happened plenty of times in recent history—with great artists like Arcade Fire, Beach House, Deerhunter/Atlas Sound, Frightened Rabbit, Girls, Grizzly Bear/Department of Eagles, The National, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Tame Impala and Youth Lagoon, to name quite a few—and I fear that it makes me a lazy pupil. Have I just convinced you that I’m a hack? Well, let this year’s list convince you that I do resist the temptation as best I can. It is my intention to present you with ten albums that I believe truly are the best from the year. Two of my favourite contemporary artists (Owl John [Scott Hutcheson, singer of Frightened Rabbit] and Beck) are honourable mentions, whilst others (like My Brightest Diamond, The War on Drugs and We Were Promised Jetpacks) didn’t even make the honourable cut. But the one repeat artist I couldn’t resist was Annie Clark. St Vincent’s newest record demonstrates more than Clark’s typical-yet-excellent craft. It gives us something novel, something more adventurous as a whole. It depends yet more heavily on digital programming than any of Clark’s previous records and doesn’t give the impression of a one trick pony that even 2011’s masterpiece, Strange Mercy does at times. It’s probably helped that Clark has been exploring broader avenues of musical expression (see Love This Giant). She courts minor controversy with the prudes (with at least one explicit reference to masturbation[!]) and with the devout (with the expression of a preference for the love of another over Jesus), but she’s got this devout prude convinced that St Vincent is an excellent cut.
3. Burn Your Fire for No Witness Angel Olsen — Oscillating wildly between her country and rock sentiments, Angel Olsen delivers with her latest album. I was first drawn in by the garage-infused ballads, ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’, ‘High & Wild’ and ‘Stars’, but that is not all that this record has to offer. Burn Your Fire for No Witness is largely more energetic than her previous effort (2012’s Half Way Home), whilst the latter third of the record demands more of the listener. But make no mistake, great rewards are to be reaped upon repeated listenings. With these dramatic swings from more aggressive tracks to more spacious, reflective and tranquil ones, Olsen draws the listener into an intimate experience and makes us thirsty for the next note, the next word. Her vocal tones are mesmerising and her pace tells the listener that she is in no hurry — but we don’t complain because we have no good reason to do so.
2. pom pom Ariel Pink — I never expected to be made a believer in Ariel Pink. The first record of his (with the addition of his band, The Haunted Grafitti) I ever heard was 2007’s Scared Famous, which never quite convinced me he was as good as ‘everyone’ was saying. Then he seemed to disappear for a few years, proving, in my own mind, that my suspicions were true. When he released his next two records, Before Today (2010) and Mature Themes (2012), I didn’t pay them any attention. But for some reason I felt as if I needed to give Mr Pink a fresh listen. I must admit that when I first sampled pom pom (as is now my custom prior to any purchase in this digital age) my expectations were quite low. I expected it to be too avant-garde for its own or anyone else’s good. But upon that first listen there was something that made me think twice about pom pom. Maybe it was actually worth buying after all. pom pom is a pop odyssey, deriving low-fi influence from 1980s indie and new wave, combining these sensibilities with a heavily Kim Fowley-influenced 1960s feel, all in a crafty and novel way. It descends into adolescent sex-scapades and a wee bit of nonsense in its third quarter with ‘Sexual Athletics’, ‘Jell-o’ and ‘Black Ballerina’, which rubbed me the wrong way at first (not least due to my abstinence from gelatine), but the quality and strength of Pink’s songwriting prevails. The skilful eclecticism of pom pom has something for everyone and has made me a believer in Ariel Pink.
1. Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son Damien Jurado — I’ve always appreciated Damien Jurado’s determination and his commitment to doing things his own way, but if I’m honest, I’ve resisted many of his records for two silly and interelated reasons. The first reason is the fact that Jurado’s music is often littered with religious under and overtones. (As the title of this record reveals, Jurado hasn’t pruned away his biblical references for this record.) It’s not that religious artists are inevitably bad, but the remarkability of artists like Sufjan Stevens and Daniel Smith—artists who, however overtly religious their music may be, due to their innovation could be better classified as ‘artists who happen to be Christians’ as opposed to ‘Christian artists’ with all of the derivative trappings of American Evangelical culture—is hard to come by. And whilst I don’t think that Jurado has ever been as explicit as any ‘Christian artist’ on the Billboard ‘Christian Albums’ chart (it offends me that such a category even exists!), I’ve resisted any great investment in his music because of what I perceived to be its overall unremarkability. That being said, his recent partnership with producer Richard Swift (once keyboardist for Starflyer 59 and current member of The Shins) has proven to be a great success. Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son is Jurado’s third record with Swift and his 11th overall, and despite his lack of commercial success, this perpetual underdog has finally captured this Loser in the Cloud’s proverbial heart. In a video published prior to the release of the album, Jurado stated, ‘This new record is sort of a sequel to [the 2012 album] Maraqopa … and it is about a guy who disappears on a search, if you will, for himself and never goes home.’ With a stunning spectrum of aural depth and stylistic breadth, Jurado tells an intricately [scientifically] fictitious story with which I’m still learning to cope after innumerable listens — and it’s wonderful!
- Rooms with Walls and Windows Julie Byrne
- Salad Days Mac Demarco
- Rave Tapes Mogwai
- Everyday Robots Damon Albarn
- Owl John Owl John
- Piano Ombre Fránçois And The Atlas Mountains
- La Isla Bonita Deerhoof
- Morning Phase Beck
- Are We There Sharon Van Etten
- Singles Future Islands
Greg’s Top 10 Albums of 2014
To my listening ears, 2014 has not been a great year in music–a good year, sure. But great? Hardly. 2013–now THERE was a year! So many of those albums have STILL been the ones I’ve turned to this year when I wanted to hear something amazing, deep, moving, clever, heartfelt, and beautiful. My last year’s top 10 albums included masterpieces from Neko Case, Frightened Rabbit, The National, The Leisure Society, and Laura Marling, which I believe will hold up for eons. Now, granted, I have only encountered ONE of the albums on Elijah’s list (which is unusual & a bit sad), so I should hold my tongue until I’ve heard all that he has put on the sonic table, but for my part, it’s been a rather impoverished year of the kind of music I am drawn to (melodic, melancholic, lyrically astute without becoming too rarefied, mid-fi to lo-fi production, sincere, organic, etc.). Still there were enough examples to put a list of 10 albums together, and apart from #10, #4, and #2, all of these albums have a kind of REAL sound where you can really tell that people were sitting in a room playing a particular instrument to make the sounds that you are hearing, and that they had refined that sound as a craft, requiring the discipline to really hear everything that the others in the group were doing, and that they had achieved a mastery in their particular genre. Enjoy!
10. Songs of Innocence U2 — Elijah, forgive me, but here it is. I suppose this will be a sure sign of having moved permanently into middle-agedom and sentimentality, but I truly enjoyed this album, particularly the latter half. ‘Raised by Wolves’ married a lilting poignancy with a razor sharp intensity to produce a sound I haven’t heard from U2 in many years. Song after song, from the poppy production of early tracks (esp. ‘Every Breaking Wave’) to the darkly disconcerting, yet hauntingly lovely closers ‘Sleep Like a Baby Tonight’ and ‘The Troubles,’ I found it quite listenable, and indeed I did listen to it again and again, which is more than I can say about any album of theirs in the last 15 years, or many other albums that came out this year.
9. Phox Phox — This is a good album from a potentially GREAT band. All the pieces are there. Gorgeously idiosyncratic lead vocals of thick velvet & smoke with mysterious lyrics that suggest a wide narrative berth of times and places; brilliantly arranged dynamics with a variety of classical and folk instrumentation (I’m a sucker for a tasteful clarinet line); a vast, yet incredibly tight band that really seems to love playing together; and from what I’ve discerned from a live session, an amazing stage presence and performance. I’m anticipating great things from these phoxy kids!
8. Are We There Sharon Van Etten — There is a beautiful languour in her songwriting and voice that evinces a sense of longing and melancholy so deep it’s like someone avoiding eye contact with an ex-lover while they wade in a slow moving river at dusk under a purple sky, and then, suddenly, one finds the will to meet the other’s gaze and stares intensely with a flush of deep sincerity, painful uncertainty, and yet raw, emotional power. Something like that. If you want to feel that ‘that,’ listen to ‘Afraid of Nothing,’ ‘Your Love is Killing Me,’ and ‘Break Me.’
7. My Favourite Faded Fantasy Damien Rice — When I heard this record was coming out, I was surprised that Rice was even still at it musically. His break through album O had been a mainstay of my mid-2000’s playlists, but I only begrudgingly picked up his second album through some Russian website at $.05 a song and still felt like I’d been jipped. So when my friend Wade said this LP might be his favourite album of the year, I was a bit incredulous. Then I listened to it and knew he was onto something. Rice’s lyrics can be cliched (i.e. the idea not fitting in someone’s box) and bizarrely overwrought (exhibit A: ‘I just came across a manger / Out among the danger / Somewhere in a stranger’s eye’ which is utterly ridiculous), but he knows how to craft and perform a song, this one does. The music rolls along and suddenly slows, like held breath; it’s spare and then suddenly full, an empty stage becoming a filled hall; his voice is rich then falling apart, with emotion that feels unmistakably real. This Irish lad is back, in my book.
6. The Take Off and Landing of Everything Elbow — These fellows have mastered the art of lying a spare, haunting arrangement beneath the weathered sagacity of Guy Garvey’s Manchester melodic tales recounting the joy of simple lives, getting older, looking for some kind of meaning great or small. It’s best to not pick songs off this album — just allow it all to wash over you as a whole.
5. Upside Down Mountain Conor Oberst — I was so deeply disappointed after Oberst’s last outing, the ill-begotten final Bright Eyes album, that I had little hope that he’d return to the powerful lyrical storytelling and hook-filled songwriting I’d loved for so many years. But this album has it in spades. I was actually startled by how much I liked song after song on this record–while some are stronger than others, all are quite good. Such a relief to have the kid genius back in fighting shape!
4. Stay Gold First Aid Kit — This was another album that I didn’t want to like. The lead song ‘Silver Lining’ was obviously hooky and rich in harmonies, but it initially felt like some kind of schtick, as if these Swedish teenager sisters were playing at creating some throwback, middle American folk-pop (whilst cramming a bunch of syllables into a kind of talk-singing that I detest) as an experiment in musical slumming. But oh my gosh as I kept listening (and there was that clarinet line again!), I totally fell for these young women and their tragic stories sung so beautifully, having choruses that pull one into a vortex of loveliness. (Sadly, our American version of the harmonizing, tragic songwriting teenage sister band, Lily & Madeleine, had only a pretty mediocre LP come out this year after a strong start with an EP & album last year. Take your time ladies, there’s no rush!)
3. Familiars The Antlers — Imagine if a resurrected Jeff Buckley decided to become some kind of ass-kicking torch singer and got a really tight band together to lay down solid grooves that stealthily built up (with the help of a horn section) passionate suffering into crescendos like a tidal waves beneath the sound of gorgeous melodic whispers and soaring laments. Just listen to ‘Palace,’ ‘Hotel,’ or ‘Parade.’ NSFW language BTW.
2. Brill Bruisers The New Pornographers — I’m pretty much in love with Neko Case’s voice, so I was halfway there with this album as soon as I heard her tiger’s growl. In the past, I’ve loved the songs that she sung or A.C. Newman wrote/performed & that remained true for this album (title track, ‘Champions of Red Wine,’ ‘Marching Orders,’ ‘Another Drug Deal of the Heart,’ and ‘Wide Eyes’); I have no idea what they are ever singing about, but it is emotionally impressionistic enough that I know when to chuckle or sigh (for example, from ‘Wide Eyes’: ‘Overlooking the canyon / Right from where I’m standing / I swear I can see my former glory still burning / It had every intent of returning // There’s years to planning and landing / To prepare for jumping the canyon / It’s not the death-defying, or cheering / It’s the thrill of clearing, barely clearing’). However, on this record, I found myself actually enjoying the cuts from the other principle songwriter (Dan Bejar of Destroyer) — which then makes this an all-around delight. When tunes can become polished to this level of perfection, one cannot begrudge the super-group stacking of the deck!
1. Heart Murmurs Jeremy Messersmith — This is the one, undeniable masterpiece on this list. And to my horror, it looks like it’s going largely unrecognized on various Best Albums of the Year lists. I was introduced to the songsmithery of Messersmith by officemates who played his 2010 album The Reluctant Graveyard on repeat to the point that it should have been glass shards in my ears, and yet I found myself unendingly pleased each time I heard the familiar opening notes. (You may also recognize him from his brilliant Star Wars homage song & video ‘Tatooine.’) So of course I was excited when this album came out, but I couldn’t believe how deeply I came to love it the more and more I listened to song after song about relational heartache (which should be the most tired of lyrical subject matter, but isn’t here). His voice is the apotheosis of impeccably smooth tone. The arrangements are the finest lot of indie pop, skipping around in familiar genres (chamber pop, middle-period Beatles, Radiohead-esque alternative rock, etc.) with genius ease. The lyrics are clever, full of warmth and compassion for named folks like Steve and Heidi, earnest, hopeful, sweetly profane, and unimprovable. He was one of Time Magazine’s 14 Artists to Watch in 2014… but I don’t think most of the world was looking carefully enough. Please don’t miss him too.
- Bones + Longing Gemma Hayes (strong start, with guest guitar wall of sound from My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, but didn’t live up to it in the end)
- In Roses Gem Club (amazing chamber pop album)
- Seeds TV on the Radio (mixed bag of some brilliance in back-to-back ‘Love Stained’ and ‘Ride’ but otherwise I couldn’t see what they were broadcasting)
- Loose Ends Francisco the Man! — I hate to be contentious, Francisco, but I believe that Portugal was actually ‘the Man’ long before you came around. I couldn’t, in good conscience, put an album with this lyric on my top 10 albums list: ‘But every time that I get high / I close my eyes and I ask “Why?” / And then the world, she disappears / And I look for another beer.’ But the MUSIC on this album is often so propulsive and tuneful and thickly layered, feeling like a drive on the open road on a stormy day (for example, ‘You & I,’ ‘Loaded,’ and ‘I Am Not’). Reminds me of a more distorted instrumentation of Telekenisis + the vocals of The Helio Sequence.
- I was so sadly bored by Morrissey’s new album; Beck’s LP had one genius cut ‘Wave’ but otherwise felt like an attempt to cash in on a Sea Change reincarnation; and I was absolutely left cold by Lana Del Rey’s sophomore record. (I should have listened to Thom Yorke’s release a BitTorrent more, but it felt like bleeps and bloops for the most part. We’ll see if it’s a grower like his The Eraser was for me.)
2012 is nearly upon us, which means it’s time for our Best Albums of 2011 list here at Lost in the Cloud! We’ve been conscientiously consuming music to both nourish our culturally gluttonous souls and to deliver a collection of what we consider to be the finest music released this year. Last month we proudly presented our Best Songs of 2011 list and now we have painstakingly selected our top ten albums each. In 2010, we (Greg & Elijah) shared five albums in common on our Best Albums list. This year we have discovered that we only share one album in common, which may be an indication of our decomposing friendship (we’re only joking, of course!), but this means that while last year we shared 15 ‘best’ albums between the two of us, this year we are presenting you with a 19-album smörgåsbord!
Elijah’s Top 10 Albums of ’11
10. Bon Iver Bon Iver — Concerning Bon Iver’s 2008 release of For Emma, Forever Ago, a friend once commented, ‘Take the reverb away and there’s nothing there.’ I couldn’t help but agree at the time. This is my confession: I wasn’t a huge Bon Iver fan, in fact, I wasn’t a Bon Iver fan before this record. [I can already feel the rage boiling up inside many LITC readers…] But Bon Iver captured me in its move beyond the self-wallowing, isolated cabin chat of For Emma. This new record is a beautiful collection of multilayered sound and place names (some real, some fictitious), standing on its own without some self-indulgent backstory (though this is not attack on Justin Vernon, who is a lovely, lovely man). I think it could’ve done without ‘Beth/Rest’… SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Towers’, ‘Wash.’ and ‘Calgary’.
9. Demolished Thoughts Thurston Moore — When I first heard that Beck was producing a Thurston Moore solo album I was ecstatic, but I immediately began to feed myself a significant amount of scepticism leading up to its release. Could the actualisation of such a record truly be as great as it sounds? Probably not. With this dose of low expectation I found myself pleasantly taken aback by Demolished Thoughts, and my appreciation only grew with additional listens. This album plays on Moore’s Sonic Youth strengths and—like Lou Barlow—makes me feel like it’s the mid-90s in all the best ways while not sounding like ‘that guy from Sonic Youth’s side project’. And perhaps the early stages of Moore’s separation from his wife of 27 years, SY singer/bassist/guitarist Kim Gordon, contributed to the depth of his sometimes heartbreaking songwriting. SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Benediction’, ‘Circulation’ and ‘Mina Loy’.
8. Dancer Equired Times New Viking — I love lo-fi and the grittiness of Born Again Revisited, number eight on my Best Albums of 2009 list, was a significant part of its ranking alone. While this record isn’t ‘clean’ by contemporary production standards, it is far less mucky than TNV’s previous releases. But the lo-fi onslaught isn’t the only reason why I love TNV. Their beautifully lazy harmonies and their catchy, shoegazy simplicity are what really attract me. I’d even say that Dancer Equired is their catchiest record to date, though I don’t suspect these songs will be employed in any television adverts any time soon. SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘No Room to Live’, ‘Downtown Eastern Bloc’ and ‘Fuck Her Tears’.
7. Helplessness Blues Fleet Foxes — Fleet Foxes once again demonstrate their command of the Americana genre. While I was not entirely blown away by their debut record, I was able to recognise their talent and potential. I was eager to pick up Helplessness Blues and it did not disappoint. Principal songwriter Robin Pecknold taps into the soul of a man twice his age and delivers timeless lyrics with a well-groomed musical backbone. SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Battery Kinzie’, ‘Helplessness Blues’ and ‘Grown Ocean’.
6. Strange Mercy St Vincent — Annie Clark takes a step in the right direction with Strange Mercy. Building upon her previous efforts, Clark explores both the cheery and dark on Strange Mercy (I find ‘Cruel’ and its accompanying video especially haunting). As a whole, and perhaps because of this ‘darker’ element, the album is more engaging than her previous material. While more sonically stripped-down than Actor (an honourable mention from 2009’s list), Strange Mercy somehow feels fuller and more mature. SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Chloe in the Afternoon’, ‘Surgeon’ and ‘Dilettante’ (not picked merely because of the ‘Elijah’ mentioned…).
5. Father, Son, Holy Ghost Girls — About Father, Son, Holy Ghost, I will first say that I found this record a bit of a disappointment, but disappointment is a relative word. Unlike most other sophomore records in which I prepared myself for disappointment with low expectations, I actually suspected that this new Girls record would be my number one pick before even listening to it. Upon further listens I only grew more fond of their previous record, Album, ranked number six on my Best Albums of 2009 list, and last year’s EP, Broken Dreams Club, was equally impressive. But generally speaking, Father, Son, Holy Ghost is an excellent record. While I wouldn’t consider it a significant improvement on Album I also wouldn’t consider it any sort of regression. Unlike the front-heavy Album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost builds up into its eight-minute ‘Forgiveness’ before bringing us back down for the final two tracks. Like Album, this record does a fine job of holding in tension both the child and adult that is singer/guitar Christopher Owens, and it is certainly worth its place on this Best of 2011 list. SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Honey Bunny’, ‘My Ma’ and ‘Forgiveness’.
4. The Year of Hibernation Youth Lagoon — For me, The Year of Hibernation was 2011’s most striking discovery. Having heard the album without having previously known anything about its creator I was shocked to find that Youth Lagoon is just one person, Idaho-based Trevor Powers, and that Mr Powers is only 22 years old (which causes me to ask the question, ‘Elijah, what are you doing with your life‽’). The Year of Hibernation, recorded for next to nothing by a 22-year-old in his bedroom in Idaho, offers far more than the sum of its parts. SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Posters’, ’17’ and ‘Montana’.
3. Let England Shake PJ Harvey — PJ Harvey has released some excellent records – Dry, Rid of Me, Is This Desire?, etc. But Let England Shake—which earned Harvey her second Mercury Award—may very well be her strongest. While neither as dark nor necessarily as ‘personal’ as some of her previous efforts, this album is brimming with creativity. Harvey did her homework for this record, which explores some contemporary conflicts in British history, ranging from the Gallipoli campaign to the more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Without coming across as a ‘topical’ or ‘protest’ album, Harvey paints a critical and sober picture of Western military domination and its consequences both domestically and abroad. The music’s excellent too (Harvey picks up an autoharp for this record!). SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Let England Shake’, ‘The Last Living Rose’ and ‘Hanging in the Wire’.
2. Dye It Blonde Smith Westerns — What can I say, I’m a fan of good pop music. This record is just one of several that caught me entirely by surprise this year. While I had heard and enjoyed Smith Westerns’ first release, The Smith Westerns, it did not strike me in a way that would compel me to consider it one of my favourite records of 2009. But this record demonstrates significant pop songwriting maturation, songwriting the vein of—dare I say—The Beatles (specifically King George). SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Weekend’, ‘All Die Young’ and ‘Smile’.
1. Belong The Pains of Being Pure at Heart — After their debut record (which was an honourable mention on my Best Albums of 2009 list) I had no idea where PoBPaH (some acronym is necessary with such an obnoxiously long name) might go. They had successfully composed an album in the style of 1980s Brit-pop with their first record. I expected any subsequent releases to merely replicate that formula with varied success. But this record is a witness to PoBPaH’s evolution into a true force to be reckoned with. If we’re grouping the sound by decade, Belong showcases more of a 90s alt-rock feel than its predecessor. While it’s unlikely to be found in the top spot on many other ‘Best Albums of 2011’ lists, I’ve only grown more fond of this record over the course of 2011 and can safely say that as a whole it is my favourite. SONGS TO CHECK OUT: ‘Belong’, ‘Anne with an E’ and ‘My Terrible Friend’.
Elijah’s Honourable mentions
Because there were so many great albums this year (though I must confess, none quite as great as last year’s Age of Adz), I’ve taken the liberty of sharing an additional 15 albums that I believe are worth owning:
- Bad As Me Tom Waits — An excellent piece of music, though I can’t say more excellent than anything released in the last decade.
- Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming M83 — Over 70 minutes long, much of which can be considered music.
- Burst Apart The Antlers
- Wit’s End & Humor Risk Cass McCombs — Both of these records were released this year and each features songs that I believe are among McCombs best (such as ‘County Line’ and ‘Buried Alive’ from Wit’s End and ‘To Every Man his Chimera’, but ‘Love Thine Enemy’ from Humor Risk) it’s a bit scattered.
- The Last of the Country Gentlemen Josh T Pearson — Raw emotion in the form of heavenly songs, but they are gut-wrenching and tend to be quite lengthy.
- Degeneration Street The Dears
- Days Real Estate — While I truly enjoy this record, I believe it’s a wee bit hyped, but that’s just one man’s opinion.
- Best of Gloucester County Danielson
- Strange Negotiations David Bazan
- The King of Limbs Radiohead — Has some amazing tracks (see ‘Lotus Flower’ and ‘Codex’), though ultimately it felt like an EP.
- 100 Lovers DeVotchKa
Elijah’s Biggest Disappointments of ’11
- Parallax Atlas Sound — I am a huge fan of Bradford Cox and his band, Deerhunter, and solo project, Atlas Sound. Cox’s first Atlas Sound release, Logos, placed ninth on my Best Albums of 2009 list and Deerhunter’s excellent Halcyon Digest placed third on my Best Albums of 2010 list. While Parallax has received a fair amount of praise from critics I find that it only has a few songs that rise to the high standard set by Cox’s other efforts: ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘Angel is Broken’ and ‘Lightworks’.
- Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds — I bought this record on a whim with the hope that Noel would offer something better than Liam’s Beady Eye project. Unfortunately my foray into bestselling music was a tremendous let down. Noel was the musical brains behind Oasis, but he’s capable of so much more than this record.
Greg’s Top 10 Albums of ’11
This has been a strange year in music for me. A while back, I wrote a post about a number of albums coming out this year by bands whom I loved—four of which have ended up on this list. Yet, due to a phenomenon that I am calling “the tragedy of unanticipated mediocrity,” a number of the other albums were crushing disappointments: boring, lifeless, and one-dimensional. Even the ones that made the list (or almost made it—Low‘s C’mon) were a mixed bag, in which the album was only saved because the highs were so high that they overshadowed the lows. This type of confounded expectations from bands that I dearly adore, like Bright Eyes, Radiohead, Cass McCombs (who had TWO swings for the fence, yet almost completely struck out), Panda Bear and, to a lesser extent (in terms of my adoration), DeVotchKa, We Were Promised Jetpacks, and Norman Blake’s new band, Jonny, elicited a certain measure of disorientation and disillusionment–if I couldn’t trust Radiohead to make even a passably good album (which I felt The King of Limbs wasn’t–not even a strong EP’s worth of songs) and the Bright Eyes “comeback” LP (which some critics called their definitive work) turned out to be a messy collection of B-side material strung together with clips of some bizarre, deluded pseudo-preacher, then what sense was there in the world at all? This was my year of losing faith in the old (indie) gods…
Another surprising feature of my picks for this year was the number that reflected some subgenre of electronic music, a style for which I have never had any great affection but which I have been developing a taste for due to albums from Passion Pit, the last few Animal Collective releases, and especially Twin Shadow, whose album was on last year’s Best Albums post. I guess an old dog can learn to appreciate some new high-pitched whistles!
10. 12 Desperate Straight Lines Telekinesis — This album could end up much higher upon my favorites of the year, but to be completely honest, I just downloaded the full album today (this bumped off Low’s C’mon for the last spot on the list here…sad, but what can be done with a half-great album). This is super duper INDIE-POP/ROCK, but it’s so well crafted, exhilarating, and above all KOOL AS ALL GET OUT! This is this year’s Fang Island for my money. A jolt of propulsive rhythms (the singer is the drummer!), thick driving bass lines, and Jeff Tweedy-esque vocals. SONGS TO CHECK OUT: “You Turn Clear in the Sun,” “Dirty Thing,” “Car Crash,” and “Country Lane.”
9. Burst Apart The Antlers — The Antlers and Bon Iver have a few things in common, to my mind. First, the falsetto. Second, the emergence of both bands in the last few years with epic debut albums (though there were apparently a few prior albums for The Antlers, Hospice was what put them on the aural map) that reflected a profound life-change quite beautifully. Third, second albums that are much richer tonally, more diverse and layered, and resemble a flower opening up. That being said, in the contest between the two albums this year, The Antlers’ Burst Apart win hands down (though Bon Iver is a strong honourable mention). SONGS TO CHECK OUT: “I Don’t Want Love,” “Parentheses,” and “No Widows.”
8. Rapprocher Class Actress — Some of the appeal of this album has to be found in the way that the synthesizer settings, drum tracks, and melodic pop songwriting takes me on a nostalgia trip back to another time: the mid-1980’s. Seriously, we’re talking ABC, Pet Shop Boys, early Madonna, and some synthpop artists that are buried so deep in my subconscious that I am afraid to call them up, lest I find myself swept back into that age of longing, confusion, and heartache. This album is half irresistible loveliness and the other half, resistible attempts at the former. Still, if you skip some of the tracks in the middle, you will have a nearly quintessential example of the sythnaissance that is happening in music today. SONGS TO CHECK OUT: “Keep You” (which is PERFECT!), “Love Me Like You Used To,” “Weekend,” and “Missed.”
7. Build a Rocket Boys! Elbow — I wanted to love this album so much. Yet it took a while to grow on me and still hasn’t completely won me over. Still, Guy Garvey is the king of melancholic nostalgia & lyrical subversion and the band are in top form musically in the more mellow of their modes. SONGS TO CHECK OUT: “Lippy Kids” (another eternally perfect song), “The Night Will Always Win,” and “Open Arms.” (PS. Am I the only one who hears the intro theme from PRI’s program “The World” in the track “With Love” on this album?)
6. Last of the Country Gentlemen Josh T. Pearson — Sorry about that girl’s lack of a shirt. Josh T. Pearson is a strange and incredible man, about whom Elijah and I have written here so I need not say more. SONGS TO CHECK OUT: It’s only 7 songs…pretty much all of them.
4. Helplessness Blues Fleet Foxes — Finally, no nudity on the cover. I’m with Elijah on this, so you may see his write-up above.
3. The Devil’s Walk Apparat — The fact that this album has not received any more attention this year makes me want to cry like a man at a Twilight screening. It is simply amazing, so lovely, so hauntingly textured, the very best kind of electronic music and with a voice sweet as a mature Jeff Buckley. I don’t really know anything about this band—which I think may actually be only one person, but you really owe it to yourself, and to the entire human race, to check the first few tracks out and see if you don’t buy it.
2. Degeneration Street The Dears — Oh how I wanted this to be my number one album. I am such a tremendous fan of songwriter/singer Murray Lightburn, but The Dears last album was deeply underwhelming and I feared that the bands best days were behind them (I’ve said it many times here, but their Gang of Losers is one of the best albums in existence). And then, Degeneration Street appeared and I saw that they were back in every possible way (well, maybe some of the lyrics don’t quite meet the very highest standards). I love this album—so very much. I hope you would too. Give it a chance. They deserve to be topping lists all over the world, yet have been absent for all I can ascertain. Tragic.
1. Making Mirrors Gotye — I did NOT want for this to be my top album. I actually resisted it quite vociferously. “Gotye”—what kind of name is that?—and he looks like he would be a percussionist in Phish and he’s playing with all of these genres that I don’t even like—soul, electro-reggae, a kind of Peter Gabriel-esque “world pop” or something—and I think that this album is actually kind of…popular in some places in the world (imagine a pair of hipster glasses on Brando’s Col. Kurtz as he mutters, “The horror…the horror!”). Yet, in the end, the singular talent of this guy (and his accomplices, particularly whomever is playing drums) broke through all of my resistance. You may entirely disagree with me. Heck, part of ME disagrees with me. Yet, the other part won and convinced my fingers that the only place to put this album was at the very top. You may listen to it here and decide for yourself. (Also, I think the last song is about a cat dying, and it makes me tear up.)
Greg’s Honourable mentions
In anticipation of our favourite annual post here at LITC—Best Albums of such-and-such year—we are proud to share fifty tracks that we think are the best released this year. Trust us, there was so much good music released this year that we found picking our fifty favourite tracks to be a rather excruciating process. We’d also love to hear about any songs that you feel should not have been left off of this list in the comments section! So without further ado, here are our fifty favourite tracks from 2011 (in alphabetical order):
- ‘All the Sand in All the Sea’ DeVotchKa 100 Lovers
- ‘Angel Is Broken’ Atlas Sound Parallax
- ‘Animal’ Neon Trees Habits
- ‘Ash/Black Veil’ Apparat The Devil’s Walk
- ‘Battery Kinzie’ Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues
- ‘Belong’ The Pains of Being Pure at Heart Belong
- ‘Circulation’ Thurston Moore Demolished Thoughts
- ‘Codex’ Radiohead The King Of Limbs
- ‘Country Dumb’ Josh T. Pearson Last of the Country Gentlemen
- ‘Cruel’ St Vincent Strange Mercy
- ‘Days’ The Drums Portamento
- ‘Degeneration Street’ The Dears Degeneration Street
- ‘Don’t Move’ Phantogram Nightlife EP
- ‘Downtown Eastern Bloc’ Times New Viking Dancer Equired
- ‘5 Chords’ The Dears Degeneration Street
- ‘Fuck This Place’ Frightened Rabbit A Frightened Rabbit EP
- ‘Galactic Tides’ The Dears Degeneration Street
- ‘Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now’ The Pains of Being Pure at Heart Belong
- ‘Helplessness Blues’ Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues
- ‘Honey Bunny’ Girls Father, Son, Holy Ghost
- ‘I Don’t Want Love’ The Antlers Burst Apart
- ‘Keep You’ Class Actress Rapprocher
- ‘The King’ RAMESH The King
- ‘The Last Living Rose’ PJ Harvey Let England Shake
- ‘Lippy Kids’ Elbow Build A Rocket Boys!
- ‘Montana’ Youth Lagoon Youth Lagoon
- ‘Municipality’ Real Estate Days
- ‘No Room to Live’ Times New Viking Dancer Equired
- ‘No Widows’ The Antlers Burst Apart
- ‘People’ David Bazan Strange Negotiations
- ‘Save Me’ Gotye Making Mirrors
- ‘Scottish Winds’ Frightened Rabbit A Frightened Rabbit EP
- ‘17’ Youth Lagoon Youth Lagoon
- ‘Smile’ Smith Westerns Dye It Blonde
- ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ Gotye (ft. Kimbra) Making Mirrors
- ‘Song Of Los’ Apparat The Devil’s Walk
- ‘Steve McQueen’ M83 Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
- ‘Strange Negotiations’ David Bazan Strange Negotiations
- ‘Sweetheart I Aint Your Christ’ Josh T. Pearson Last of the Country Gentlemen
- ‘Tatooine’ Jeremy Messersmith Tatooine Single
- ‘To Every Man His Chimera’ Cass McCombs Humor Risk
- ‘Trembling Hands’ Explosions in the Sky Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
- ‘Try to Sleep’ Low C’mon
- ‘Under My Nose’ Fucked Up David Comes to Life
- ‘Video Games’ Lana Del Rey Video Games
- ‘Wait’ Alberta Cross The Rolling Thunder EP
- ‘Wash’ Bon Iver Bon Iver
- ‘Weekend’ Class Actress Rapprocher
- ‘Weekend’ Smith Westerns Dye It Blonde
- ‘Your Eyes’ Bombay Bicycle Club A Different Kind of Fix
If you’d like to check out these tracks for temporary review before you go out and buy the single or the record, you may click here to have a listen.
Keep a lookout for our upcoming Best Albums of 2011 post!
BEHOLD, the kingdom of heavenly music has come near!! I come to you once again with the proclamation of good taste, so that you may keep your ears open for bands that are bearing good fruit–and I’m talking about music that will baptize you with the Indie Spirit!!
–The Dears/Degeneration Street (February 15): The Dears are among that coterie of artists whom I will probably always follow, based upon the brilliant songsmithery of Murray Lightburn (the Afro-Canadian Morrissey), most gloriously displayed in their impeccable 2006 album Gang of Losers. Their last outing, Missiles, was a bit hit-and-miss, but I have greater expectations for this new album based on what I’ve heard so far. Download free song here, along with pre-order information. [UPDATE: The whole album is streaming here!]
–Bright Eyes/The People’s Key (February 15): Supposedly, this may be one of Conor Oberst’s greatest albums, solo or with Bright Eyes (I am partial to their 2002 masterpiece Lifted). I am going to wait to hear this when I get the physical CD in my hands (I’m old-skool like that). You can stream the full album at NPR’s webpage.
–Elbow/build a rocket boys (March 7): Ah, there is an eternal soft spot in my heart for this band…their last album, The Seldom Seen Kid, was a masterpiece, though previous efforts have been spotty. I have no idea what this album will sound like, but on faith, I’ve ordered the deluxe import edition on Amazon. Not sure if there will be an American release or what…
–Josh T. Pearson/The Last of the Country Gentlemen (March 29): Pearson was the genius behind the one-album legendary band Lift to Experience (The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads was #2 on my top albums of the 2000’s). This guy has a haunting magnetism in his voice, lyrics, composition, and instrumentation that is rare as a blue rose–I’m hoping to see him live in Scotland at the end of March as his shows are apparently life-changing. You may get a free download of an alternate take from the album here for the simple price of your email address. [Update: there is a version with bonus CD available on Rough Trade! And here‘s another free download.]
–Cass McCombs/Wit’s End (April 12): This guy always intrigues me–I can’t quite place his genre–it seems at moments that he belongs to another time–but I am fascinated by the unique and enigmatic work he consistently puts out. You may check out a track here.
–Low/C’mon (April 12): Slowcore gods (they’re Mormon, so I guess that’s not as blasphemous to say) that have long been able to produce hauntingly beautiful songs with nary an excessive note in the mix. Download the lovely track “Try to Sleep” here.
–Panda Bear/Tomboy (April 12): I’m not quite sure if this will live up to some of the work he’s done in the past & most likely cannot touch his contributions to Animal Collective‘s albums (if you’re unfamiliar with them, I’d recommend Feels & Merriweather Post Pavilion). I’ve got the title track and it has a fun groove, if not rather loose and loopish.
–Fleet Foxes/Helplessness Blues (May 3): After all the hype died down, I found that I really did like these guys quite a great deal (as well as side projects White Antelope & J. Tillman). From the sound of it, this is going to be lush lovely in the same vein as their eponymous LP. Download the title track of the new album here.
There you have it, 8 amazing releases in just a few months time. I really couldn’t be happier for the state of music in 2011 (supposedly Radiohead has a new album that should be coming out this year, as well as a new U2 album–don’t roll your eyes, and a new Coldplay album–ok, you can roll your eyes now, but I’m sure I’ll still buy it).
Any other impending recommendations that I’ve missed?
[Update: The Low Anthem, whose previous album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin was brilliantly lovely and intriguing, has a new work, Smart Flesh, coming out on February 22, which can be streamed in full here]
What follows is my unsolicited list of the finest 10 music albums of this year. Full disclosure: I have a rather limited musical palate and have been called a bit “elitist” when it comes to music (i.e. all tastes are not equally valid), so I apologize ahead of time for any arrogant presumptions or pretentious hype.