Dec 232011

It’s that time of the year when everyone is reviewing their favorite musical releases of 2011, and we at Rock Town Hall should be proud to add to the fray. Although I’ve been thinking about my entries for the last few weeks, I’ve continued to be haunted by themes of Simon ReynoldsRetromania and our discussions about Moving Forward in our consideration of younger musicians and recent bands. We tend to not discuss a lot of new music on this site, and often it is in relation to previous bands or previous styles. However, I am the first admit that when I listen to new music, I’m always reminded of other records. While I hope we don’t only listen to bands because of their aural similarity to those that come before, I think that the experience can be a bridge to enjoying the music to a greater degree. With these hazily-drawn ideas on display, I give you my three favorites and additional honorable mentions from 2011.

  1. Moon DuoMazes: A splinter group from San Francisco’s Wooden Shjips, Moon Duo play highly addicting, droney, psychedelic garage rock. While their sound is not particularly new (see Suicide, Spacemen 3), I like that they are a dueling long hair male/female team. I’ve always been a fan of that Farfisa sound, but there’s something about watching a curtain of black hair swinging in time with the music that kicks it up a notch. And the guy’s deadpan voice is additionally mesmerizing.
  2. Real EstateDays: This album got a lot of press which is odd given what an intimate record it is. The somewhat hushed vocals, the chiming guitar: the sound evokes the color green to me. Each song is melodic and a nice mixture of cheerful and wistful. The single, “It’s Real” will stick in your head (in a good way). For fans of Felt and The Go-Betweens.
  3. Stephen Malkmus and the JicksMirror Traffic: Malkmus’s first Jicks album that really sounds like a band. The songs cover a variety of styles, some Pavementesque, others a la Steely Dan, and a couple Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds. But the very pleasant surprise here is Beck Hansen’s production: his understanding of their mutual stream-of-consciousness lyrics style takes this record to greater levels. (Honorable Mentions follow the jump!
  4. Tom WaitsBad As Me: Waits at his graveled-throated best and with plenty of political content.
  5. Atlas SoundParallax: While I don’t like this album as much as Bradford Cox’s previous two, there are some very beautiful moments, including the song, “Te Amo.”
  6. Dirty BeachesBadlands: I had previewed this album earlier this year and heard a lot of disgruntled, “Alan Vega did this before.” But this album reflects a strong personal vision by creator Alex Zhang Hungtai.
  7. Tommy GuerreroLifeboats and Follies: Guerrero plays jazz, funk and latin-tinged guitar that highlights his street-smart days as a professional skateboarder.
  8. Oneohtrix Point NeverReplica: Innovative electronica haunted by references to Bladerunner and Eno.
  9. The Black Keys – El Camino: Adding a dose of T. Rex boogie gave this duo a jolt in the pants. Mr. Royale adds, “Last men standing from the garage/blues revival.”
  10. Raphael SaadiqStone Rollin’: Thanks, Mr. Moderator, for playing one of these tracks on a previous SNSI. Soul music is going strong in Oakland!

  33 Responses to “Looking Back and Looking Forward: Favorite 2011 Releases”

  1. jeangray

    I dunno.

    I could possibly come up with a Top 10 list of songs from 2011, but I got nothin’ when it comes to albums. I feel like I listened to a lot of new releases this year & not a one was good (let alone great) from top-to-bottom.

    I’m not sure what that says about me. As I type Ima listening to a Johnny Otis album from 1969. Perhaps I jus’ don’t have it in me anymore to find the appeal in modern recordings. Lots of great songs, but no great albums.

    I’ll listen to some of your recommendations & get back to you.


  2. Happiness Stan

    I don’t think that I’ve heard, let alone bought, any new music this year, although at the very end of last year I bought “Through Low Light and Trees” by The Smoke Fairies which came out in 2010 and which I like a lot.

  3. I want to hear your Top 10 songs, jeangray. I’m trying to get with the RTH Youth Movement as much as anyone around here. Baby steps are acceptable to me. Thanks.

  4. 2000 Man

    There were a lot of things that came ou that I liked this year. I’m not going to put anything in any order, but I’ll tell ya what I liked.

    Wild Flag. If I’m going to have a favorite, this is it. I love it and the more I hear it, the more I love it.

    Blitzen Trapper – American Goldwing. I don’t care if they sound like other bands that came before them. Classic rockers that ripped off blues guys get a pass so why don’t people today? It’s got good songs on it and the white vinyl, keychain and sticker were nice surprises.

    The Bloody Hollies – Yours Until the Bitter End. One of my favorite bands and they just keep getting better and better. If Mr. Royale thinks The Black keys win the Garage Rock Revivla just by still being here, these guys get the nod from me for being way more Rock than Blues. Besides, there’s no garage rock revival, it’s just like heavy metal, it never goes away.

    Bufflao Killers – 3. I love these guys, and 3 is just more goodnes from them. I really like these guys and their two albums as Thee Shams and the three Buffalo Killers records have been a grat run.

    Dave Alvin – Eleven Eleven. Dave can be mighty mellow in his older age, but this one is mostly plugged in and rockin’. It really souds terrific, too.

    Deer Tick – Divine Providence. I just love Deer Tick, and this is just a fun mess of an album. It’s not nearly as low key as their other stuff has been. It’s loud and kind of sloppy and I bet it makes for a great show.

    I haven’t gotten the new Black Keys album yet (No new some girls or Fort Worth DVD, either). Maybe for xmas or my birthday. I’m not allowed to by myself stuff in December and early January so people can buy me presents without me saying, “Oh, I already have this.” So I’m hoping!

  5. ladymisskirroyale

    I hear you, jeangray. I only had 3 albums that I really loved this year – last year I had more, if my memory hasn’t failed me. I too spend a lot of time listening to older music. Whether it’s the “Retromania” or the “It was done better the first time around,” I spend more time going through a Camper Van Beethoven or a Pavement phase than I do wanting to buy the new such-and-such album. It also seems that music production has moved more to a focus on The Next Big Single rather than a whole album. There were a ton a single songs that I liked that I don’t know whether I would want a whole album let alone whether it was any good.

  6. ladymisskirroyale

    I look forward to checking these out! I loved Blitzen Trapper’s previous album (and saw them live with Fleet Foxes opening at a very small club in SF a few years ago) so will look forward to finding this. I heard something from Deer Tick on Fresh Air’s review of the best albums of 2011 and want to hear more – I lived in Providence for years and at the time all the musicians knew each other but I think I moved away before getting to know these guys. But they make me nostalgic. Thanks for the recommendations!

  7. misterioso

    JG, just embrace your inner bad attitude and let the negativity flow. Don’t worry, I’m with you in Rockland, so to speak.

  8. misterioso

    I’ll take a pass on new music from 2011.

    But two compilations were released this year that I did love, quite different from each other:

    Boddie Recording Company: Cleveland Ohio, 5 discs of obscure and unknown (to me) soul, r&b, gospel, funk, whatever, recorded and released in Cleveland. Great stuff.

    To What Strange Place: The Music of the Ottoman-American Diaspora, 1916-1929. Very lo-fi, to be sure. Armenian, Greek, Turkish, Kurdish, Assyrian, Jewish performers using various languages and styles, all recorded in the U.S. Not for everyone, I am aware, but wonderful to my ears. Includes the earliest version of “Miserlou” I have heard, by the way.

  9. BigSteve

    I’m still trying to whittle my list down from 50 or so. I’ll be lucky to get down to 20. A few that I know will make it are Wire, PJ Harvey, Mekons, Tinariwen, and Richard Buckner. This comp is my number one most listened to:

  10. Maybe later, I’ll cherrypick some worthwhile Youtubes, but for now, here’s my top 10 of the year. I thought this was a pretty great year for music, even though most of the really ballyhooed stuff (Fucked Up, Bon Iver, etc.) bugs me.

    1. Meg Baird, Seasons on Earth (Drag City)
    2. Wussy, Strawberry (Shake It)
    3. tUnE-yArDs, w h o k i l l (4AD)
    4. Wye Oak, Civilian (Merge)
    5. Celebration, Hello Paradise (Friends)
    6. The Kills, Blood Pressures (Domino)
    7. Eleventh Dream Day, Riot Now! (Thrill Jockey)
    8. EMA, Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)
    9. Ty Segall, Goodbye Bread (Drag City)
    10. Craig Wedren, Wand (Nerveland)

  11. ladymisskirroyale

    I knew we could count on you, BigSteve!

  12. ladymisskirroyale

    I’m interested in your thoughts about tUnE-yArDs. I’ve tried but haven’t really bonded yet.

    Thanks for the list!

  13. alexmagic

    I liked that Atlas Sound album a whole lot more than I thought I would, though it was a little bit too much of that sound for a whole album for my taste, if that makes sense?

    My favorite album of the year was Ty Segall’s Melted, and he’s got the exact right mix of garage/Bolan on this one, having gone as far as actually putting out an EP of T. Rex covers this year, too.

    I’m never quite sure of garage is the right genre for Segall, or for anybody anymore, but the other albums I really liked this year in the same style were both of the albums put out by Thee Oh-Sees (Castlemania and Carrion Crawler/The Dream, start with the latter, I think it’s a little more accessible) and the Black Lips album, Arabia Mountain. I think all four of those could appeal to fellow Townspeople as long as they can get past the heard-it-all backwards malaise.

    I did like the Blitzen Trapper album, but didn’t love it. I’d put it above their last one, but still below Furr and Wild Mountain Nation.

    tUnE-yArDs isn’t going to appeal to many here (the name alone is going to lose most of you), but I still think w h o k i l l is worth listening to, and I personally enjoyed it, while being equally aware of many off-putting qualities. I’d say the St. Vincent album is also worth a listen.

    Of other things mentioned above, I thoroughly enjoyed the Wild Flag, Wye Oak and Kills albums, really liked the Malkmus/Jicks album (and like it even more now than I did when it came out) one of those albums, havent had a chance to listen to the full Black Keys album and will seek out the Buffalo Killers album, as I liked what I’ve heard from them in the past and what they do is a something that I felt was missing from this year’s music.

  14. I’ve had bad luck acquiring the new Malkmus album! eMusic no longer carries Merge releases, I guess, making it a minor hassle to download the album elsewhere. This also shut me out of the other new and anticipated release, the solo one by Eleanor Friedberger from Fiery Furnaces. Then every time I think to look for either of these albums in a brick and mortar store the CD version is unavailable. I love vinyl as much as anyone around here, but I’m not paying $21 for the belated fetish of buying new vinyl. Argh! Maybe I should breakdown and buy the albums from iTunes.

  15. BigSteve

    Pince nez — Malkmus is on Matador, not Merge.

    I prefer Amazon as my non-emusic download source. No DRM, no proprietary file formats.

  16. ladymisskirroyale

    SF’s Amoeba Records has free shipping:

    I went there on Monday to get Mr. Royale a few extra discs and found what I was looking for as well as some out of print cds. They have quite a few used cds which is great for replacing all my tapes from the 80’s.

    I still like to buy cds over MP3s and will do almost anything to not shop Amazon. I still try to go to local establishments which, luckily, SF still has several. Mod, next time you are out here, Amoeba Records, or my back up, Aquarius Records, will be a pilgrimage.

  17. Yes, I hit Amoeba almost every time I visit SF! Maybe I’ll order it from them if I can’t find real versions at reasonable prices somewhere local.

  18. Thanks for the pince nez! I, too, prefer Amazon. My rare iTunes downloads come with all sorts of proprietary baggage attached.

  19. ladymisskirroyale

    You’re right, that Ty Segall is GREAT. We loved it but I thought it was out last year. This year’s “Goodbye Bread” was not as good so it didn’t make our list.

  20. No big surprises on my 2011 favorites

    1. The Jayhawks – Mockingbird Time
    2. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead
    3. Wilco – The Whole Love
    4. Drive By Truckers – Go Go Boots
    5. The Smithereens – 2011
    6. Beady Eye – Different Gear Still Speeding

    In all honesty, these are the only *new* records I purchased this year

    I liked what I heard from Superheavy and from Daryl Hall (he did an episode of Live From Daryl’s house about his new record as well as an in-studio with Howard Stern).

    I did not like the new REM record at all, which surprised me since I did like the one before (Accelerate) very much.

  21. alexmagic

    Sorry, I meant Goodbye Bread, not Melted, which was indeed last year’s album!

    I loved both, though Goodbye Bread did take a few more listens to really open up for me even though it’s the more “traditional” album of the two.

  22. 2000 Man

    I was driving around with my wife last night and she had Adele’s 21 in her cd player. I know you cant turn on TV or radio anywhere in the US and not hear a song by her but that’s a terrific album.

  23. I’ve yet to knowingly hear a full song by her! I’ll have to rectify that before the year is out.

  24. Count me in the tUnE-yArDs camp. What I heard about it made it sound like something that I would like, but my first encounters were not really satisfactory. I heard her play live on Sound Opinions, and it really opened up what she was doing. Her weird throaty singing style is unlike anything you’d hear in pop these days, with an obvious but well digested African influence. I like the racket that she makes with the ukelele, the twin sax arrangements and the bass lines that have a nice relaxed dub feel.

  25. Besides the tUnE-yArDs, I really liked Deerhoof Vs Evil. Like tUnE-yArDs, things I read made them sound right up my alley, but the first album I picked up by them, Halfbird, left me underwhelmed. Last year I got a compilation called “Tradi-Mods Vs Rockers”, which had various artists doing their take on Congotronics, basically electrified (and really distorted) thumb piano ensembles. It was by far my favorite album of last year. A Deerfhoof song opened it and persuaded me to take a flier on their new record. i liked it a lot, and seeing them live brought back memories of the Magic Band doing Mod’s Beefheart favorite, “Dirty Blue Gene”. It was really that severe relentless and amazing.

    Other new stuff I liked but probably didn’t love were Tom Waits, Wilco and, to a lesser extent St. Vincent, who displays a little less subtlety and detail with each subsequent release.

  26. BigSteve

    Thanks for reminding me about Tradi-Mods vs Rockers. I forgot that was a 2011 release. It’s definitely going on my list.

  27. ladymisskirroyale

    Update: I received a slew of music from 2011 today so my list may be altered a bit. Eagerly awaited and soon to be listened to: Washed Out, Destroyer and Toro y Moi.

  28. Some of my most listened to albums from the past year, according the tops of the stacks.

    Garland Jeffreys — The King of In Between
    Pretty good comeback record for a guy who is pushing 70. Includes the great single — Coney Island Winter.

    Dum Dum Girls — Only In Dreams
    This sounds like The Pretenders on several tracks, which OK by me.

    John Wesley Harding — The Sound of His Own Voice
    Probably his best album since 2000’s The Confessions of St. Ace. My little guy loves singing along to several songs, so that kind of keeps this on top of the stacks.

    Like Jungleland12, I liked Beady Eye, but I think Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is better. Like it more and more — a good “headphones” album.

    Carrie Rodriguez and Ben Kyle — We Still Love Our Country
    A nice little EP from Carrie and the lead singer of Minneapolis –based Romantica.

    Emmylou Harris — Hard Bargain
    The song about Gram Parsons is not to be missed. The whole thing is pretty good.

    I also like Real Estate and Washed Out. The 2011 Ryan Adams is growing on me too.

  29. ladymisskirroyale

    I’ll have to listen to more of the Dum Dum Girls. The one track I heard off the album sounded just like “Fade Into You” and Hope Sandoval has always annoyed the crap out of me.

    Thanks for including your picks! I look forward to listening to them.

  30. BigSteve

    I’m not good at ranking music. A top 40 is the best I can do. I can’t narrow it down more than this. Here’s my list, sorted alphabetically:

    Apparat – The Devil’s Walk
    Atlas Sound – Parallax
    Bill Frisell / Vinicius Cantuaria – Lagrimas Mexicanas
    BLNRB – Welcome to the Madhouse
    Bossa Nova and the Rise of Brazilian Music In The 1960s
    Cut Copy – Zonoscope
    David Kilgour and the Heavy Eights – Left by Soft
    Decemberists – The King Is Dead
    Demdike Stare – Tryptych
    Fabriclive 59: Four Tet
    Factory Dance
    Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest
    Horrors – Skying
    Invasion Of The Mysteron Killer Sounds : 3D Dancehall Digital Dub
    Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
    Joe Henry – Reverie
    Junior Boys – It’s All True
    Kode 9 & Space Ape – Black Sun
    Lou Reed & Metallica—Lulu
    Mekons – Ancient & Modern
    Moderat – Wuppdeckmischmampflow
    Moritz von Oswald Trio – Horizontal Structures
    Nigeria 70 – Sweet Times: Afro-Funk, Highlife & Juju from 1970s Lagos
    Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica
    Orchestre Poly-Rythmo – Cotonou Club
    Paul Simon – So Beautiful Or So What
    PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
    Ricardo Villalobos – RE: ECM
    Richard Buckner – Our Blood
    Ry Cooder – Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down
    Sofrito: Tropical Discotheque
    The Hearers – In Dreamlife
    The Weeknd – House of Balloons/Thursday/Echoes of Silence
    Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972
    Tinariwen – Tassili
    Tom Waits – Bad As Me
    Tradi-Mods vs Rockers – Alternative Takes On Congotronics
    TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light
    Wild Flag – s/t
    Wire – Red Barked Tree

    I know that there are albums out there that I would like as much as these, but there’s just too much out there for me to listen to. I mean, I just found out about The Weeknd this past weeknd, and I’m really digging these three albums he put out this year.

  31. ladymisskirroyale

    I notice that Bon Iver is not on your list, nor mine, nor any other RTH responders. I liked the first album so much but am sort of the Anti-Iver after all the fuss about the 2011 album. I don’t see why it is so amazing.

    BigSteve, I always admire your breadth of music knowledge!

  32. Next to not knowingly hearing a lick of Adele in 2011, I think I most regret not knowingly hearing a lick of Bon Iver. In May, however, I did overhear one dude tell his clerk friend in a cool bookstore on Sunset Boulevard that his (the band’s?) name was pronounced like the French for “good winter.” This was helpful, through the rest of 2011, as I was always prepared to say the name properly, should I find myself in an appropriate conversation. It would have been embarrassing to have said “Iver” so it rhymed with “fiver.”

    Perhaps my third-ranked regret of 2011 was not ever having the opportunity to drop the guy’s name in conversation.

  33. I agree with you that Meg Baird is at the top of the list. Fine guitar playing and singing.

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