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Best Albums of 2016

best-albums-of-2016

Remember us? Neither do we. On with the show.

Love,
Greg & Elijah

Elijah’s Top 10 Albums of 2016

nattesferd

10. Nattesferd  Kvelertak — Listening to Nattesferd, Kvelertak’s third full length album, is something like travelling back in time. The album is a marked departure from aural onslaught of their previous record (2013’s Meir, produced by one of my all-time favies, Converge’s Kurt Ballou). Don’t get me wrong, Nattesferd is an onslaught, but of a much different nature. Fears that Kvelertak might be headed toward a more mainstream rock sound are allayed continually throughout this 47-minute masterclass in capturing the familiar energy, precision and fun of the American heavy metal sound of the early eighties and the aggression and fullness of the Norwegian black metal sound of the 21st century without losing any of their respective charms.

puberty-2

9. Puberty 2  Mitski — There are two distinctive threads running through Puberty 2. Firstly, there is innovation and a refusal to adopt a singular form of songwriting. Mitski demonstrates that she can write high quality and accessible pop tunes (see ‘Your Best American Girl’) whilst verging on proto-grungey post-punk (see ‘My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars’) and occupying more familiar, yet refreshing indie territory in between. The second thread demonstrates that Puberty 2‘s variety is not the result of simply compiling tracks from across a repertoire — this is Mitski’s fourth album. Looking past the fact that she’s only 25 (what have we done with our lives?), Mitski is demonstrating that she is a seasoned and consummate artist.

next-thing

8. Next Thing  Frankie Cosmos — Next Thing is the epitome of ‘big things in small packages’. This album lasts under a half an hour, with the longest of its fifteen tracks lasting only 164 seconds (that’s 2:44). But the listener will not feel cheated. Somehow, Frankie Cosmos (22-year-old Greta Kline) is able to capture complete, common, yet complicated thoughts with each track. In fact, the album is summed up quite well by the cover. As you can see, the perspective of the image is from that of a passenger in a car, doodling in a notebook. At the same time, the passenger is revealed to be using a mobile to take a photograph – captured as the cover image itself. The car is veering left, perhaps making a turn to the ‘Next Thing’. We also observe typical things – a fallen tree branch, a littered plastic bag, paw prints, a car driving off in the distance. It’s a brilliantly simple yet interesting composition, much like the record.

skeleton-tree

7. Skeleton Tree  Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — This album, as so many albums on my list this year, caught me by surprise. I first heard ‘Jesus Alone’ on 6 Music on 2 September and I knew Skeleton Tree was going to be special. The production was sparse and moving. Cave had moved from his typical narrative formula (in the accompanying documentary, One More Time with Feeling, Cave claims that he has lost his faith in narrative-based songs). The rest of the album reflects these shifts. With both the stirring words and ambient musical tone, Cave is reflecting on a profound sense of loss (having lost his young son Arthur in the summer of 2015) and engaging in some serious existential inquiries. So really, Skeleton Tree is not so atypical of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds after all.

teens-of-denial

6. Teens of Denial  Car Seat Headrest — There’s been a slight tendency toward slacker rock in my listening this past year. It’s probably a hangover from 2014’s GARAGE ROCK BONANZA. When Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial first appeared on my radar, I despised the names of both the band and the album. But as with a lot of things in life, those become invisible or at least inconsequential to an individual once a relationship is solidified. I could write a lot about this record, but Greg expresses it so well that I’ll cede the floor to him for this one (see Greg’s comment on Teens of Denial below).

painting-of-a-panic-attack

6. Painting of a Panic Attack  Frightened Rabbit — A familiar face. I’m going to be honest here: when I first heard this record I was convinced that I would consider it nearly, if not the weakest Frightened Rabbit album to date. Something about it fell flat for me. So I put it away for a few months. Maybe six months. Then I picked it up again – I knew there had to be something I was missing. Even upon the first re-listen I asked myself, ‘Was I even paying attention?’ It was as if I had never heard these songs. And they were actually quite good! Maybe you share my initial impression. If you have not got back to Painting of a Panic Attack, I implore you to give it another shot. I admit that there are times when it feels less adventurous/emotionally porous than FR’s other material, but there is a quality to the songwriting (thanks to the ever insightful pen of Scott Hutchison) and production (thanks in part to the National’s Aaron Dessner) that keeps me listening.

emotions-and-math

4. Emotions and Math Margaret Glaspy — Margaret Glaspy’s debut album makes one wonder, what comes next? Emotions and Math is as competent and complete as a veteran release. That’s not say that Glaspy has gone stale – far from it! She touches on Aimee Mann and Elliott Smith in equal measure and brings her own sophisticated musical sensibilities to the table in well packaged yet positively aggressive and unpolished pop rock tunes. Emotions and Math improves upon subsequent listens and leaves us thirsty for what Glaspy will do next.

a-moon-shaped-pool

3. A Moon Shaped Pool  Radiohead — I’ve done the maths and have discovered that the period between The King of Limbs and A Moon Shaped Pool is the longest gap between Radiohead albums since their first release, way back in 1993. That’s five years, two months and 20 days between KoL and AMSP! I know it might not seem like much, but perhaps you will remember that long gap between Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows – a mere four years, four months and one day. Okay, maybe it’s not so much about the quantity of time between records as it is the quality of material on each record that leaves us thirsting for more. The King of Limbs has its charms, including the special edition packaging, featuring the world’s first (and probably last) ‘newspaper edition’. But it fails to reach the bar set by previous releases, especially since In Rainbows seems to have become so loved amongst the Radiohead intelligentsia. But A Moon Shaped Pool proves to be not so much a simple return to form as it is a uniquely profound yet thoroughly ‘Radiohead’ collection of haunting and atmospheric orchestrations. It is unassuming, gritty, yet polished. It is all the things for which we admire Radiohead and with an added expanse of lyrical coherence.

my-woman

2. My Woman  Angel Olsen — Angel Olsen is another familiar face among my end-of-the-year picks. Her previous record, Burn Your Fire for No Witness, was my third favourite album of 2014. When an artist produces something as good as Olsen’s previous outing, it’s difficult to know how to approach subsequent releases. Should one set high standards only to be disappointed or should one go in expecting the worst? I was still weighing out this question when I first heard My Woman. According to Olsen, the album’s themes revolve around ‘the complicated mess of being a woman’. As one who does not self-identify as a woman, I believe this album also has plenty of energy to contribute to ‘the complicated mess of being a human’. Olsen’s lyrical, vocal and musical presence is stronger than ever and the record seems to hold together more fully than her earlier releases. In complete self-awarness, she addresses themes of despair, broken expectations and ultimately, hope, all borne with her trademark wit and defiant boldness.

masterpiece

1. Masterpiece  Big Thief — It’s been a while since I’ve been so completely surprised by an album. There are great albums from great artists that I can see coming from miles away (such as Sufjan Stevens’ masterful Carrie & Lowell from 2015) and there are the general surprises that make me a new fan (such as Emotions and Math and Teens of Denial above). But then there’s something like Big Thief’s Masterpiece. I had already heard the album before I realised it was released on Omaha-based Saddle Creek Records, which might have coloured my first listen with Midwestern angst. But the Midwestern angst found me over the course of that first listen. I grant that this is all becoming a wee bit self-indulgent for an Angeleño-Glaswegian commenting on an album from a Brooklyn-based band that reminds him of the American Midwest. (To give me some tenuous credit, singer/guitarist Adrianne Lenker is from Minneapolis.) But there are serious, though probably unintentional musical and vocal hints of the Anniversary (1997-2004) among others, which is enough to send me spiraling into an adolescence-fueled hunt for a [misplaced] sense of ‘authenticity’. Because of these fleeting emotions, I feel some sort of shame that I can’t help but make this album my top pick of 2016. Beyond these fleeting emotions, Masterpiece is an album with superior breadth and depth, musically and thematically, driven by Lenker and Buck Meek’s vocals and guitars, completely deserving of any scanty honour that I may offer. It will haunt me well into 2017, which, unlike UK and American politics, is no bad thing.

Honourable Mentions

  • Love  Muscle and Marrow
  • You Want it Darker  Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)
  • Slow Forever  Cobalt
  • Blackstar  David Bowie (1947-2016)
  • Air  Astronoid

Greg’s Top 10 Albums of 2016

everything-at-once

10. Everything At Once  Travis — Elijah may be holding his nose with this choice, but I felt like these Scottish lads (who’ve been together for 26 years!) finally found their way back to the simple, lovely tunefulness of their turn of the century apex (The Man Who, The Invisible Band) with this strong release. I’m a sucker for the gentle melancholic hopefulness of Fran Healy’s voice (check out 2:03 on this video) and shimmering indie instrumentation of the band.

winter-lives

9. Winter Lives  Matt Pond PA — I have a weak spot for this chamber-pop troubadour. He once again demonstrates a songwriting brilliance that has made me love his poppy, life-affirming tunesmithery over the years. His voice has such a perfect sincerity and tone, the lyrical nostalgia of songs like ‘The Glow’ and ‘Whoa (Thirteen and Sledding with Kerry in Northern New Hampshire)’ warmed my sentimental heart, and the arrangements are solid and masterful.

light-upon-the-lake

8. Light Upon the Lake  Whitney — You listen to this album and you wonder, what time-machine did these guys fall out of with their perfect falsetto over tight bass/drum combo and 60’s & 70’s guitar sounds. They may be aching for those ‘golden days’ but for my money, they’ve captured them quite perfectly here.

arranging-time

7. Arranging Time  Pete Yorn — Ah Pete Yorn, yet another brilliant songwriting flame from the early 2k’s that had somewhat flickered out over the years (a la Travis). But he found that former fuel somewhere and picked up right where musicforthemorningafter left off with this new release. Check out tracks 1-3, ‘Shopping Mall’ and ‘Walking Up” for shambling, big-hearted, melodic indie goodness.

daughter-not-to-disappear

6. Not To Disappear  Daughter — Oh her voice just slays me from the first word to the last: like smoke hitting a rain-covered window. Her elegant lyrical delivery taps into the deepest sadness you could imagine, but then soars into the sun over a cascade of guitars and throttling drums (check this video out, as well as this one and fail to be impressed).

a-moon-shaped-pool

5. A Moon Shaped Pool  Radiohead — This collection of songs (arranged alphabetically it seems) took a bit to grow on me. Initially, I thought it was just some stray songs they’d never really finalized that they’d figured they would finally put on a record, but as I listened more carefully, it opened itself up to me—a staggering heartbreak woven through with gorgeous orchestration and unexpected turns of phrase and melody. They are back at the heights of their powers after the floundering The King of Limbs.

the-birds-outside-sang

4. The Birds Outside Sang  Florist — This is just a gentle, artless, and moving reckoning of dealing with the aftermath of a serious accident. The singer’s voice is fragile, child-like, but full of wonder and hard won wisdom…remembering the light coming into the room where she lay recovering, re-imagining the moment of the accident, but also whimsically meditating on the beauty and capriciousness of life. The instrumentation is lo-fi guitar strumming, Casio keyboard humming, and some droning organs, with the occasional full-band kicking in to make a point.  It’s just so sweet and tender—the mending of a confused soul.  (You can sample the record here. I particularly love the title track.)

painting-of-a-panic-attack

3. Painting of a Panic Attack  Frightened Rabbit — Ok, earlier I had told Elijah this wouldn’t probably be on the upper half of my top 10, but as I’ve gone through and listened again to the 12 tracks, it really is strong (I was basing my early sense of the album on the deluxe edition with 3 extra b-side worthy tunes). I think I was initially turned off by some of the ‘radio-friendly’ tendencies I was picking up (‘Get Out’, ‘An Otherwise Disappointing Life’) and though it loses it’s way a bit on the second half, man, when you listen to ‘Death Dream’ and ‘I Wish I was Sober’ and ‘Still Want To Be Here’ and ‘400 Bones’, it’s clearly the same undeniable genius we’ve celebrated on their last 3 albums.

are-you-serious

2. Are You Serious  Andrew Bird — I’ve always been a fan of the Birdman, but sometimes his meandering obscurity (addressed here on the title track: ‘Used to be so willfully obtuse / or is the word abstruse? / Semantics like a noose / get out your dictionaries’) and multi-layered loop tracks could sometimes become a bit tiresome. Here, he is the TIGHTEST he’s ever been with a strong backing band, streamlined songwriting, and his most straightforward reflections (‘this is all non-fiction’) delivered sincerely alongside delicious whistled melodies. It’s an almost perfect album (save the two-chord gruelling groove ‘Truth Lies Low’).

teens-of-denial

1. Teens of Denial  Car Seat Headrest — I resisted listening to this album for a long time, despite (or because of?) the accolades coming in from various quarters of musicdom. I can’t remember what made me give in, but I’m so glad I did not hold out one moment longer. This is a concept album about a troubled teen exploring some deep universal themes (mortality, depression, anxiety) and others more teen angst-y (experimenting with drugs, drunk driving, relationship drama). The vocalist sounds (and reads) like two parts Ray Davies (Kinks), one part Beck, one part Stephen Malkmus (Pavement) with a dash of Black Francis (Pixies) to taste. The sound of the record is a blend of 90’s alternative rock (open chords through chunky overdrive pedal; double-tracked vocals) mixed with kind of a classic rock aesthetic (hello cowbell!), but as with all of the artists on this list, the song is king (the only number I’m not crazy about is the nearly 8 minute jam ‘Vincent’). This kid is only in his early 20’s but, to my ears, he has already been writing songs for years that hold their own with the greatest ever written.

Honourable Mentions

  • 22, A Million  Bon Iver — I actually like this experimental collection from the falsetto king, but it just didn’t seem substantial enough to qualify as a full-length LP—it’s only like 22 minutes and 22 seconds long (hey wait a second, that was on purpose!!).
  • Young Mood  Colt — It really is a great collection of songs—I just couldn’t get over the singer’s grating, narcoleptic baritone voice.
  • I also didn’t find the time to listen more carefully to a few records from artists I admire (Remember Us to Life Regina Spektor and Ruminations Conor Oberst, so they perhaps would have ended up on this list had I given their albums some attention).  I also want to keep my ears tuned to the Spanish alt/indie band Mourn, who had a so-so album come out, but have potential to be a great band in the days ahead.

Dishonourable Mentions

  • Painting With  Animal Collective — Not as bad as 2012’s Centipede Hz, this album still failed to make much of a dent in the AC canon, which is so disappointing as I love this band so much.
  • Mangy Love  Cass McCombs — I swing back and forth on this guy from album to album, but I almost felt like he was pranking his audience with this collection of his usual esoteric lyricism put to “easy listening” accompaniment.  It won many fans in a wide range of music critics, but I’m calling the Emperor’s New Clothes on this one.
  • Here  Teenage Fanclub — Oh how I love these Scottish indie gods, but this album, their 10th LP, bored me to tears.
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Best Albums of 2011

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:

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.

5.   Strange Negotiations David Bazan — Wrote about this album in detail here, including best tracks.  (And sorry for that girl’s lack of pants.)

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

  • 100 Lovers DeVotchKa There are a number of quite good songs here.
  • Bon Iver Bon Iver
  • C’mon Low
  • Portamento The Drums — Another singer/drummer act with some great tracks.

Best Songs of 2011

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):

  1. All the Sand in All the Sea’   DeVotchKa   100 Lovers
  2. Angel Is Broken’   Atlas Sound   Parallax
  3. Animal’   Neon Trees   Habits   
  4. Ash/Black Veil’   Apparat   The Devil’s Walk  
  5. Battery Kinzie’   Fleet Foxes   Helplessness Blues
  6. Belong’   The Pains of Being Pure at Heart   Belong
  7. Circulation’   Thurston Moore   Demolished Thoughts
  8. Codex’   Radiohead   The King Of Limbs
  9. Country Dumb’   Josh T. Pearson   Last of the Country Gentlemen
  10. Cruel’   St Vincent   Strange Mercy
  11. Days’   The Drums   Portamento
  12. Degeneration Street’   The Dears   Degeneration Street
  13. Don’t Move’   Phantogram   Nightlife EP
  14. Downtown Eastern Bloc’   Times New Viking   Dancer Equired
  15. 5 Chords’   The Dears   Degeneration Street
  16. Fuck This Place’   Frightened Rabbit   A Frightened Rabbit EP 
  17. Galactic Tides’   The Dears   Degeneration Street
  18. Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now’   The Pains of Being Pure at Heart   Belong
  19. Helplessness Blues’   Fleet Foxes   Helplessness Blues
  20. Honey Bunny’   Girls   Father, Son, Holy Ghost
  21. I Don’t Want Love’   The Antlers   Burst Apart   
  22. Keep You’   Class Actress   Rapprocher     
  23. The King’   RAMESH   The King
  24. The Last Living Rose’   PJ Harvey   Let England Shake
  25. Lippy Kids’   Elbow   Build A Rocket Boys!
  26. Montana’   Youth Lagoon   Youth Lagoon
  27. Municipality’   Real Estate   Days
  28. No Room to Live’   Times New Viking   Dancer Equired
  29. No Widows’   The Antlers   Burst Apart
  30. People’   David Bazan   Strange Negotiations
  31. Save Me’   Gotye   Making Mirrors
  32. Scottish Winds’   Frightened Rabbit   A Frightened Rabbit EP
  33. 17’   Youth Lagoon   Youth Lagoon
  34. Smile’   Smith Westerns   Dye It Blonde
  35. Somebody That I Used to Know’   Gotye (ft. Kimbra)   Making Mirrors
  36. Song Of Los’   Apparat   The Devil’s Walk  
  37. Steve McQueen’   M83   Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
  38. Strange Negotiations’   David Bazan   Strange Negotiations
  39. Sweetheart I Aint Your Christ’   Josh T. Pearson   Last of the Country Gentlemen
  40. Tatooine’   Jeremy Messersmith   Tatooine Single
  41. To Every Man His Chimera’   Cass McCombs   Humor Risk
  42. Trembling Hands’   Explosions in the Sky   Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
  43. Try to Sleep’   Low   C’mon
  44. Under My Nose’   Fucked Up   David Comes to Life
  45. Video Games’   Lana Del Rey   Video Games
  46. Wait’  Alberta Cross   The Rolling Thunder EP 
  47. Wash’   Bon Iver   Bon Iver
  48. Weekend’   Class Actress   Rapprocher  
  49. Weekend’   Smith Westerns   Dye It Blonde
  50. 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!

Time Capsule – 2001

Music has been very close to my heart since I took up violin and heard Weezer’s first record both at age 8.  And my listmaking obsession dates back just as far.  In this post (which may become a series if Greg wouldn’t mind sharing his 2001 ‘Time Capsule’), I’d like to reflect upon some of the music I loved according to a list from 2001, embarrassing admissions and all.

The Beta Band’s Hot Shots II, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s Ease Down the Road, Andrew Bird’s The Swimming Hour, Björk’s Vespertine, Bob Dylan’s “Love and Theft”, Fugazi’s The Argument, Lift to Experience’s The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, Mogwai’s Rock Music, Pinback’s Blue Screen Life, Spiritualized’s Let It Come Down and Spoon’s Girls Can Tell are just some of the many great records released in 2001 that I was completely unaware of at the time.  I will say that I frankly disliked The Strokes, Modest Mouse and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the time and I still wouldn’t consider myself a fan.  Sorry.

Alien Ant Farm ANThology — Since I’m listing these in alphabetical order, I suppose it’s good that I can get the most pathetic pick out of the way immediately.  Fourteen was a fortunate age for me: I had outgrown Blink-182’s Enema of the State and Incubus’ Make Yourself, and had not yet given myself entirely over to ‘screamo’ (let alone ‘Christian screamo’).  But I was unable to escape a love for Alien Ant Farm.  This record made sense to me at age fourteen for the following reasons:

  • I loved the album’s packaging – great designs and Photoshopped images of the band members in various historical settings, like a historical ANThology!
  • The single ‘Movies‘ captivated my adolescent mind with its catchy chorus and entertaining music video: so many amazing film references (Ghostbusters, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Karate Kid and Edward Scissorhands) and a cameo with Mr Myagi!
  • Singer Dryden Mitchell (whose name I always romantically associated with NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center) had an INVERTED MOHAWK.  HOW COULD I RESIST AN INVERTED MOHAWK???
  • I was in love with guitarist Terry Corso’s custom Schecter 006 guitar.

Despite all of these excellent reasons, I do not listen to them now.

Converge Jane Doe — 2001 had its lows, but it also had its highs!  Converge’s Jane Doe represents one of the highest of the highs.  This record revolutionised music for me and remains one of my absolute favourite albums.

Perhaps I found Jane Doe so palatable as a result of conditioning via hardcore and metal bands I was already listening to such as Black Flag, Minor Threat, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Slayer listener.  Along with being my gateway to Converge (who is among my Top 20 Bands), Jane Doe spurned my interest in many other great metal/metalcore acts such as Botch, Coalesce, Curl Up & Die, Unearth, Cave In and Daughters.  Do I listen to them now?  Yes.

The Hives Veni Vidi Vicious — ‘Hate to Say I Told You So’ was the first Hives song I ever heard.  It’s simplicity and raw energy enlivened my spirit.  Upon further inspection I discovered Veni Vidi Vicious, as well as The Hives’ previous record, Barely Legal.

The Hives were able to channel something primal about rock-and-roll while giving us something accessible and new, and they did it with exquisite pomp and style, complete with matching wardrobes and an excellent stage presence.  Their 2004 record Tyrannosaurus Hives demonstrated a great progression, and while 2007’s The Black and While Album proved less strong, it is still a highly enjoyable record.  Do I listen to them now?  Yes.

Jimmy Eat World Bleed American — ‘Bleed American’ was the first track I heard from this record, and after purchasing the record I found every track to be incredibly enjoyable (especially ‘Sweetness’ and it’s quiet/loud alternation).

After this record (and after seeing the band open for Weezer that year) I developed a great appreciation for their previous records: Jimmy Eat World (1994), Static Prevails (1996) and Clarity (1999).  But alas, by the time of their 2004 release, Futures, I had lost interest.  Do I listen to them now?  No.

Ozma Rock and Roll Part Three — On the coattails of Weezer I happened upon Ozma, a band named after L. Frank Baum’s Princess Ozma from his children’s fantasy novels.  Ozma captialised on Weezer’s pioneering geek-rock style and added some Casio, musical complexity and yet-more-wicked guitar licks (compare Rock and Roll with Weezer’s self-titled record from the same year [also known as The Green Album] and you’ll hear a striking difference).

They have since retained a special place in my heart due to their persistence as a pop-rock goldmine with the release of The Double Donkey Disc (2001/2002), Spending Time on the Borderline (2003) and (after a brief hiatus) Pasadena (2007).  Do I listen to them now?  Yes.

Radiohead Kid A/Amnesiac — For everyone who reached adolescence in the late 90s, ‘Karma Police’ from 1997’s OK Computer was the pinnacle of song, yet Kid A somehow managed to blow that all out of the water.  I remember when I first heard ‘Optimistic’ on the radio, which compelled me to buy the record.

I had no idea what I was in store for, considering ‘Optimistic’ would prove to be one of the weaker (though still incredible) tracks on the record.  Radiohead’s production had become more complex and experimental and Kid A would come to completely change the way I appreciate, experience and create music from thereon out.  This record is still a frequent listen and certainly one of my all-time favourites.

Saves the Day Stay What You Are — As with most other albums on this list, my purchase of Stay What You Are was inspired by the single ‘At Your Funeral’.

Saves the Day’s previous record, Through Being Cool, appealed to my emo and pop-punk tendencies, so it seemed like a good idea to investigate their new record.  Upon my first listen I wasn’t very pleased with half of the record, but over time it grew on me and became one of my high school favourites.  Their follow-up to Stay What You Are, In Reverie, proved to be more poppy less ambitious and I began to fall out of love with the band before their return to a more pop-punk sound.  Do I listen to them now?  Occasionally.

Thrice Identity Crisis — Unlike many other albums on this list (the only exceptions being the Converge and Ozma records), I did not learn about Identity Crisis from the radio.  In 2001 Thrice was still very much a local act, and fortunately for me, some of my friends had recently seen Thrice in concert.  I was told that they were ‘melodic hardcore’, and when I purchased this record I fell deeply in love with their music.

My love for Thrice was only intensified with the 2002 release of Illusion of Safety, which I considered a massive step forward for the band.  Unfortunately it was only a matter of time before Thrice would gain radio play, and in 2003 they released The Artist in the Ambulance and my heart was broken upon hearing the single ‘All That’s Left’ on a popular radio station.  Thrice had lost their edge and sounded like a dull rock band (though I want to take care not to lower them to the ranks of acts like Nickelback).  After Illusion of Safety I never bought another Thrice record and have had a difficult time ‘getting into’ their latest records.  While Identity Crisis was groundbreaking to me at the time (and along with Illusion of Safety has a few tracks that I still consider quite good), I no longer consider myself a fan and I do not recall the last time I was hankerin’ for a listen.

Thursday Full Collapse — Ah Full Collapse…thus began my high school interest in ‘screamo’.  What could be better than combining the genres of hardcore and emo?  Well, many things, and while I was an avid listener to ‘cultured’ bands like Radiohead, screamo occupied another place in my heart and mind.  Thursday was at the top of the screamo food chain, and there was certainly something special to me about hearing the screams from ‘Cross Out the Eyes’ playing on MTV in the morning before school.

My fascination with Thursday and screamo didn’t end at Full Collapse.  It wasn’t until some point between 2003’s War All the Time (which I loved) and 2006’s A City by the Light Divided (which I had no interest in) that the genre had totally dropped out of my listening queue.  Do I listen to them now?  No.

The White Stripes White Blood Cells — I recall hearing the track ‘Hello Operator’ from the White Stripes album De Stijl at some point in 2000, but it wasn’t until I heard ‘Fell in Love with a Girl’ that I felt this great compulsion to buy a White Stripes record.

White Blood Cells proved to be an excellent investment, with all of its garage-rock-revival sloppiness (and what Meg White lacked in percussive skill she made up for in keeping time).  Every record they produced (as they have officially announced their breakup this year) contained a bit of this genius, the sort of quality that can give us hope in the future of popular music.  Do I listen to them now?  Yes.

+++++

I stand by 60% of these albums now – I wonder whether that is a good or bad sign.

What were your favourite bands/albums in 2001?  How have they fared a decade later?

Top 20 Bands: 4

Now that we’re into the last four of my Top 20 Bands list I figured I’d share each band individually.

4. Radiohead (UPDATE: moved to number 5)

It feels incredibly cheap to write about most of the bands in my Top 20 list because they’ve been written about so many times before (though to my fault I don’t often feel such trepidation when approaching talk of the Almighty…).  My number four pick, Radiohead, is probably one of the more difficult of all to actually write about because I suspect—without having done any formal research—that it is the most widely commented about band on the internet, ever.  I will state that while I am not especially thrilled by the solo projects that various members of the band have embarked upon in recent years, Radiohead is an absolutely amazing group, constantly pushing the boundaries and reshaping the landscape of popular music and how that music is experienced, whether that be through innovative packaging, the way that music is exchanged, brilliant music videos, phenomenal live performances, etc.  I love every Radiohead song released since their 1997 album OK Computer, which along with Kid A/Amnesiac (2000/1) can be found on my Top 50 Albums list.  The grouping of Kid A/Amnesiac was also my favourite album released in the previous decade.

In a recent essay published here, bassist Colin Greenwood reveals that the band has finished recording their newest record and is in the process of deciding how exactly to release it after their groundbreaking self-release of In Rainbows in 2007 (which the band initially sold the record in digital form at a price determined by the customer).

‘There There’ from 2003’s Hail to the Thief (which was ranked number 18 of 21 in my favourites from the previous decade):

‘House of Cards’ from In Rainbows.  (This music video was made without video cameras – see how they did it here):

+++++

Top 20 Bands: 20 & 19, 18 & 17, 16 & 15, 14 & 13, 12 & 11, 10 & 9, 8 & 7, 6 & 5