Tag Archive | The Year of Hibernation

Best Albums of 2013

BAo13

We finished this list with but a single day left in the year.  We did not forget about you, dear readers, for we know that you would be lost in a musical netherworld without us to guide you out like Orpheus leading Eurydice by the hand (shout out to Arcade Fire!).  We’ve scoured the globe (quite literally) for the finest tunes in 2013.  There were some outstanding albums this year, about which you shall soon read, but the year was not without its disappointments (for us, this would be albums from Atoms for Peace, John Vanderslice, Josh Ritter, and to some extent, Sigur Rós).  And you won’t soon find Kanye West’s Yeezus anywhere near our list (have we poisoned the well for some readers?).  Still, it was a solid year, a year that the annals of music will look back on with a double thumbs up, if not quite a leaping in the air high-five.  So without further ado, we give you Lost in the Cloud’s Best Albums of 2013.

Love,

Greg & Elijah

Elijah’s Top 10 Albums of 2013

guessing the others10. guessing the others  swimming in speakers — I was first made aware of swimming in speakers by our resident Band Evangelist, Greg, back in April.  Duo Christopher Clarke and Meadow Elizabeth Erskine present a fine collection of both timeless and timely tunes, hearkening back to yesteryear’s American and Western European folk traditions whilst also venturing into the freak-folk electronica wave (and doing it oh, so well!).  Erskine is also behind the design of the very delicate album art.  They’ve not received an awful lot of press, but hear you me, keep an eye and an ear out for swimming in speakers.

Phosphorescent  Muchacho9. Muchacho  Phosphorescent — 2013 was a great year for the advancement of the freak-folk movement.  Combining Eno-esque production with Brian Wilson-esque harmonies and the country charm of Willie Nelson, singer-songwriter Matthew Houck has struck gold.  With Muchacho, Houck produces aural sweetness on every level, highlighted by his wavering voice.  Every second of the expertly produced 46:28 minutes wash over the listener like a warm Southern breeze.  And it’s not short of hoots and hollers neither!

Love's Crushing Diamond8. Love’s Crushing Diamond  Mutual Benefit — I must be on a desperate singer-songwriter bent this year.  Although Jordan Lee has been producing through his project Mutual Benefit for more than four years, this is his first LP, and although it’s running time is hardly over a half hour, it is well worth the four year wait.  This album caught me out of nowhere.  As with my number nine and ten albums, there’s a sweetness and maturity to the production of Love’s Crushing Diamond that keeps the listener eager for more.

Trouble Will Find Me7. Trouble Will Find Me  The National — As Greg pointed out, singer Matt Berninger’s voice might not be for everyone.  But like Greg, it’s for me.  And it might be for you.  Now, when I first heard 2007’s Boxer, I was unconvinced.  I found the music rather, dare I say, boring.  I’ll admit that Boxer has not yet become for me what it is for so many of my esteemed colleagues (one of Greg’s Top 50 Albums, for instance), but The National’s previous record, 2010’s High Violet, changed my opinion.  Trouble Will Find Me has only encouraged this continued trend of admiration, with more of the same of what The National always does, but somehow through those obscure lyrics and linear songwriting, they bring you through the mire and give you hope.

Monomania6. Monomania  Deerhunter — I wasn’t ashamed to admit that I wasn’t taken with Bradford Cox’s previous release (as Atlas Sound).  2011’s Parallax was my biggest disappointment that year.  It has a few gems, but by and large I found it boring.  It lacked the magic that flowed forth from all of Deerhunter and Atlas Sound’s previous releases.  So I approached Monomania with caution.  I almost let it slip past me this year, but I must thank my lucky stars that it didn’t.  It’s a departure from Deerhunter’s previous release, 2010’s Halcyon Digest (my third favourite record that year), but definitely a departure in a brilliant direction.  The album starts with a growl and persists with some heavy garage rock. Cox’s vocals oscillate between their typical dulcet tones to heavy distortion, reminiscent of The Stooges.  The guitars seldom let up.  All in all, I think I can sum up this album in one word: exquisite!

Secret Soundz, vol. 25. Secret Soundz, Vol. 2  The Pictish Trail — 2013 has been an eventful year for Johnny Lynch (aka The Pictish Trail), most notably when he announced (seemingly prematurely) that the King Creosote (Kenny Anderson)-founded, Johnny Lynch-run label, Fence Records, was to cease operations (the link to this announcement is now dead).  Since then, Kenny has announced that Fence is still alive and kicking and Johnny has launched Lost Map, taking with him several Fence regulars.  In the midst of this reshuffle, The Pictish Trail has released his first record since 2010’s In Rooms (which isn’t exactly your typical LP, consisting of 50 30-second songs).  For those of us eager to get our hands on The Pictish Trail’s newest tunes, which have speckled Johnny’s live sets for the last few years, Secret Soundz, Vol. 2 comes as a great relief, and if The Pictish Trail hasn’t exactly on your radar over the last decade, you should change that right now.  With his typical fine balance of earnestness and levity, something reminiscent of David Bazan (and not just because of the beard), The Pictish Trail acts as something of a spiritual intercession for us, a prophet who guides us through the banality and pain of life, but with a bold sense of hope on the horizon.

Partygoing4. Partygoing  Future Bible Heroes — I’ve been a fan of Stephin Meritt and Claudia Gonson’s band The Magnetic Fields for some time now, but I wasn’t completely sold on last year’s Love at the Bottom of the Sea.  Upon hearing that their electronica-based project Future Bible Heroes was to release their first record in over a decade, I had mixed expectations, but decided to give it a go anyway.  (*I wish to emphasize that the presence of Futura typeface and a kilt on the album cover had nothing to do with my willingness to listen to this record.)  Partygoing proved to be one of my biggest surprises of the year – and to think that it nearly passed me by!  Ever present are Meritt’s reflections on love, death and darkness, sprinkled with irony and humour, simple songs that prove incredibly touching without resorting to sentimental kitsch.  Chris Ewen’s accompaniment provides the perfect backdrop for Meritt and Gonson’s vocals and as a whole, the record shines.

Wandrous Bughouse3. Wondrous Bughouse  Youth Lagoon — Youth Lagoon’s first record, The Year of Hibernation, came as a great surprise to me back in 2011, especially considering it was the produce of then 22-year-old Trevor Powers in some shack in Idaho.  It came in fourth that year, just behind PJ Harvey’s Mercury-prize winning Let England ShakeThe Year of Hibernation was an inspired record and what it lacked in orchestration (which was very little) it made up for in innocence and artistic purity.  Any orchestral and production gap has been closed on Wondrous Bughouse.  The maturity of Powers’ songwriting and production is staggering, offering echoes of the later output of The Beatles and Elliott Smith.  Still present is Trevor Powers’ unique voice (both literally and figuratively), but with more confidence and tact than his debut release.

Pedestrian Verse2. Pedestrian Verse  Frightened Rabbit — It should come as no surprise that Frightened Rabbit’s Pedestrian Verse is featured near the top of this list.  Their last full length, 2010’s The Winter of Mixed Drinks, ranked very high on both my (number 3) and Greg’s (number 2) Top 10 Lists that year and their 2008 record The Midnight Organ Fight is one of the shared entries from both my and Greg’s Top 50 Albums of all time.  Needless to say, we love us some Frightened Rabbit.  With the release of two EPs since The Winter of Mixed Drinks, 2011’s A Frightened Rabbit EP and last year’s State Hospital, our inflated sense anticipation could only amount to disappointment with Pedestrian Verse, right?  WRONG.  With instant classics such as ‘Acts Of Man’, ‘Backyard Skulls’, ‘Holy’, ‘The Woodpile’, ‘Late March, Death March’, ‘December’s Traditions’, ‘Housing (in)’, ‘Dead Now’, ‘State Hospital’, ‘Nitrous Gas’, ‘Housing (out)’, ‘The Oil Slick’ (yes, that’s the whole album…), Pedestrian Verse somehow proves even more accessible (and perhaps even more complete) than any of their previous releases.  There’s a great sense of honesty in all of Frightened Rabbit’s music, and here with Pedestrian Verse, singer Scott Hutchison further exposes his own tendency toward immature sentimentality and gives us something more upon which we might latch in order to keep our heads above the waves.

Reflektor1. Reflektor  Arcade Fire — When I first heard this record I knew it was going to be on this list, but I didn’t expect it to be number one.  But as with most of the music I find worth listening to, Reflektor is a grower.  Being the silly man that I am, I wasn’t a fan of Arcade Fire’s first record.  When Greg and I decided to share duties when reviewing our shared Top 10 Albums entries in 2010 I dodged this confession by having Greg do The Suburbs writeup.  These days I find Funeral far more listenable, but you still won’t find it anywhere near the top of my favourite albums list.  The same goes for their second release, Neon Bible.  I found certain songs on both records very strong, but it wasn’t until The Suburbs that I found myself completely enamoured with an entire Arcade Fire record.  This might put a foul taste in the mouths of some of our LITC readers and maybe for ‘Arcade Fire purists’ the placement of Reflektor here at the number one spot—in light of my mixed feelings regarding Funeral, in particular—is seen as sad and weak.  But for these things, I am unapologetic.  Early Arcade Fire’s unsteady musical footing and maudlin lyrical content was wasted on me.  But with Reflektor the band has reached musical nirvana.  Conceptually, intellectually, musically, lyrically – it’s all there, stripping back contemporary pop sensibilities and gifting us with an organic piece of pop genius.  And as I said before, Reflektor is a grower.  The tracks I once considered weaker, the last five, are now the ones I to which I cannot stop listening.  They hammer home some of the conceptual genius of Reflektor, this play between Eurydice and Orpheus (see the Rodin sculpture which features prominently the cover of the album) and the paradoxical insanity of the ‘Present Age’ (see Kierkegaard’s Two Ages).  In the midst of the convergence of these themes, Reflector also proves highly listenable, echoing the bodily and rhythmic sensibilities of a Haitian carnival.  So if you’ve not already, find yourself a comfy seat this New Year’s Day and Reflekt.

Honourable Mentions

  • Once I Was an Eagle  Laura Marling
  • Sub Verses  Akron/Family
  • Desire Lines  Camera Obscura
  • Tomorrow’s Harvest  Boards of Canada
  • Everyday I Get Closer to the Light from Which I Came  Jesu
  • Country Sleep  Night Beds
  • {Awayland}  Villagers

Greg’s Top 10 Albums of 2013

The Weight of the Globelily_and_madeleine_cover110. Lily & Madeleine/The Weight of the Globe EP  Lily & Madeleine — Based on their EP alone (buy the deluxe version of it, for the heavenly spare acoustic versions), these teenage sisters belong on this list, but their autumnal (both chronologically and stylistically) LP had a number of outstanding tracks as well (though didn’t completely live up to the trajectory their earlier work had promised). They are best when outside production & instrumentation is minimal and the simplicity of their voices intertwining with timeless lyrics over rudimentary piano or guitar are left to enchant the listener.  Listen to EP tracks “In the Middle” and “Back to the River” and album cuts “Disappearing Heart” and “Paradise.”

We're Not Lost9. We’re Not Lost  The Show Ponies — I chipped in a bit for this local LA band’s fundraising campaign to make this album, so hopefully it’s not a conflict of interest to place it on the list. First of all, they are a kick in the pants to see live (they’ve played twice at my church this year–pretty amazing to have such a talented band come to your door). But though their energy is infectious and exhilarating, I think they’re actually at their finest when they let the soulful, Appalachian-tinged violin of Phil Glenn (really the finest calibre of musician imaginable, though all of the musicians in this band are profoundly talented) wander among the rich harmonies of the two lead vocals in their slower numbers. Check out “Gone,” “We’re Not Lost,” “Pieces of the Past,” and “The River”–keep an eye and an ear open for these kids, cause they’re going places (I just read Elijah’s review of swimming in speakers’ album and saw that he had written something exactly like what I just wrote–only he wrote his review last week. Me and this guy are twinsies, for realz).

Us Alone8. Us Alone  Hayden — His last two albums have also been on my top 10 lists in 2007 & 2009…there’s just something about Hayden’s idiosyncratic songwriting style; his moody, introspective lyrics; and his naturally gifted musicianship (he’s playing all the instruments on this album) that resonates with me at a pretty deep level—but I always give the caveat that Hayden is not for everyone.  What some find morose, I find beautifully melancholy.  I’m in line with one of the fans he sings about, for whom music was once “Almost Everything,” a song which is a profound & bittersweet capsule of his career. I love the lyrical fast one he pulls on “Motel”—parents of young children will appreciate his escapist fantasy. “Blurry Nights” is a lovely duet with his sister-in-law, Lou Canon, whose self-titled album from 2011 Hayden produced. And “Instructions” is a haunting, yet sweet song about what to do with his remains once he’s died. Only Hayden…

Lives7. The Lives Inside The Lines In Your Hand/Threep  Matt Pond — This kind of smooth-throated, melodic pop is where Elijah and I part ways (he’s more of a raw-throated, energetic punk enthusiast). But Matt Pond makes songs that I love listening to. His album (The Lives…) is solid, confident, and catchy, but especially great on “Love to Get Used” (a favorite song from this year) and “Human Beings;” the EP (a combination of Three EP’s, I presume, that I got off NoiseTrade) has some great instrumentals (which I’m not usually fond of in any genre) and outstanding tracks in “Starting” and “Remains.”

Modern Vampires of the City6. Modern Vampires of the City  Vampire Weekend — I really enjoyed this album so much & this despite my own reticence (being that VW are over-hyped, schticky, pretentious origins, etc.). Yet from start to finish, it is a polished, captivating album, asking questions that go so much deeper than the value of an Oxford comma. Listening to this record, I found myself moved to ponder, enchanted to pick through the layers of instrumentation, and I even chuckled more than a few times at the brilliant/dense lyrics and their delivery. They’ve won me over with this one…”Step” was a song of the year, and “Don’t Lie” and “Hudson” are highlights among the many great tracks on this album.

Once I Was an Eagle5. Once I Was an Eagle  Laura Marling — This is one of those records that has to be listened to (and appreciated) as a whole album.  It’s hard to pull a track out of this organic work, which feels like a poetic self-declaration of independence (I don’t know from whom or what) whilst simultaneously a homage to musical dependance upon a host of singer-songwriters, so I can only recommend that you take an hour, put this on, and lose yourself in this roaming, searching acoustic masterpiece that exists somewhere between Joni Mitchell and PJ Harvey.

Alone Aboard the Ark4. Alone Aboard the Ark  The Leisure Society — The work of British musical gadabout Nick Hemming, the songs on this album borrow from a wide variety of genres, yet Hemming’s wry and knowing voice, along with his timelessly assured songsmithery, literary wordplay, and the band’s orchestral accompaniment bear the indelible stamp of a band in the tradition of late 1960’s Kinks, yet one which also adds multiple other layers of complexity.  There’s not a bad track on the album, but from “The Sober Scent of Paper” on, it just gets unbelievably good (especially “Everyone Understands” and “We Go Together”). Shout out to my mate Wade for hooking me up with this band, whom I’ve never heard from outside of his recommendation.

Trouble Will Find Me3. Trouble Will Find Me  The National  — This is one of the best bands around today; heaps and heaps of talent and style; truly distinctive: musically, vocally, & lyrically. That all being said, about half of this album—the more upbeat half—somehow feels a bit like they are on autopilot, which is to say, just cruising at a high altitude, but not really soaring. As to the other half? Genius unparalleled. “Demons” was simply one of my favorite songs of the year and there are three songs at the end of the album that stand among the cleverest and loveliest songs I’ve EVER heard: “Slipped,” “Pink Rabbits,” and “Hard to Find.” I could listen to them on infinite desert islands.

Pedestrian Verse2. Pedestrian Verse  Frightened Rabbit — For those of you who know how much Elijah and I profoundly admire these Scots, it might seem inevitable that their new album would rank so highly. To which, I say, “Nae!” These guys have earned this place (though I’m sad to see this album has not ranked as high on many end of year lists), producing their third masterpiece in a row—albeit one that has fewer of the anthemic odes to the suicidal, desperate, or simply screwed up (though they have achieved a near apotheosis of this genre in “State Hospital”).  Even though they’re digging the knife in at religious folk like myself in a number of tracks, their masterful songcraft, propulsive and perfectly complimentary musicianship, and esprit de sadcore leads me to absolve them of this pettiness (though I have to say, the criticisms of religious hypocritical condemners feels pretty tired–we get it, there are mean, small-minded people in the church…and everywhere else too).  They are one of the few groups that consistently make important music nowadays (or “Music Now” as they might say).  Tracks to check out: EVERY ONE, except “December’s Traditions,” but especially the first five tracks, climaxing with the epic anti-social love song “The Woodpile.” And make sure to get the Bonus Tracks too. (Got to see them play live this year—they are unbelievably amazing. Don’t ever miss an opportunity to see them play. Just, don’t, ok?)

neko-case-13776170351. The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You  Neko Case — The first time I played this album, I knew it would get under my skin and did it ever. It’s funny that the first single, “Man,” is the one song I actually can’t stand. But every other song on here has Case’s Queen Midas songwriting touch all over them. She is tender, intimidating, self-deprecating, illuminating, sometimes shining like the only star in the night sky, other times whispering through the crack of a closet door. At one point, she sings, “I wanted so badly not to be me”—but how could anyone listen to this album and not feel exquisitely grateful that she is exactly who she is? Her “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” is poignant to a breaking poi(g)nt. There is some powerful musical experimentation happening here too; the music walks a tight rope, careening & almost losing balance, but ultimately it only makes you unable to take your eyes (and ears) off of what is happening. All of the fighting in the title was worth it. You rule, Ms. Case.

Honorable Mentions

  • Reflektor  Arcade Fire — I’ll just be honest and say that I haven’t actually listened to this album enough times to really justify NOT including it on the top ten. My first few listens were not that gratifying, sensing a bit of unredeemed pretension (which AF always have, but which they most often transcend) and visible effort, so I put the album on hold. But there were enough tracks on the double album that really did have some of the old magic and made me think when I really settle down and sink my teeth into this, it will be rewarding. Favorite tracks thus far include: “Here Comes the Night Time,” “Joan of Arc,” and “Afterlife.”
  • Regions Of Light And Sound Of God  Jim James — There was something strangely magnetic about this album to me. I found James to be some kind of hillbilly mystic wunderkind. I don’t know why it’s compelling to listen to a man chant vowels & nursery rhymes (as he does on “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)” but the more I listened to this, the more fascinated I became. Also listen to “Dear One” and “All Is Forgiven.” (Don’t hate me, Wade!)
  • Defend Yourself  Sebadoh — In some sense, this is a return to old-school Sebadoh of 1994’s Bakesale, but all that really means to me is that there are some amazing Lou Barlow tracks (though nothing quite up to his best material) like “I Will,” “Calves of Champions,” and “Let It Out,” mixed in with some interesting, noisy, but lesser tracks from the other two band members.
  • Bigfoot  Cayucas — I really liked the first four tracks off this album; the main shortcoming is that it feels like Vampire Weekend’s first album a few too many years late (and a bit of a Pet Sounds rip-off at times too–Brian Wilson could sue over “A Summer Thing.”)  The lyrics often get to be a bit too much. But worth a good listen…
  • Somewhere Else Indians
  • Love Cloud Cult
  • Stiches Califone

Albums I Never Got to REALLY Listen to Which I Wish I Would Have

Big Wheel and Others  Cass McCombs; We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic  Foxyygen; Hummingbird  Local Natives; White Lighter  Typhoon; and nearly everything on Elijah’s list.

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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.

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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.