Tag Archives: My 2011 in Music

My 2011 in Music: #10-1

Here it is, my top ten albums of 2011. If this looks familiar, it may be because you saw this exact list on Row Three when we published our music picks earlier this week. But! I did change one video from a live performance to the music video. So there’s that.

10. Blondie – Panic of Girls

Blondie have been making music for longer than I’ve been alive; when I heard they were coming out with a new album, I was only mildly interested, since most of the time older bands who come back to make new records don’t always work too well for me. But this album both sounds recognizably “Blondie” and also quite current. I guess that makes sense, because even Blondie’s 1970s and 1980s music sounds fairly current right now – so many indie bands are picking up their style and using it themselves. Blondie pays back the favor, even, covering Beirut’s “Sunday Smile” but giving it their own flavor that makes it almost sound like a sequel to “Sunday Girl.” The band is showing their age a bit in the video for “Mother” (below), but they can still rock it out and sound great.

9. The Raveonettes – Raven in the Grave

Each new Raveonettes album and tour stop is definitely an event in my home – they put on one of the best live shows I’ve seen – and after their previous In & Out of Control neared the top of my 2009 charts, I was particularly excited for this one. It’s not quite the instant favorite with me, but its quieter and more melancholic riffs have a way of haunting me when I least expect it.

8. Death Cab for Cutie – Codes and Keys

Somehow despite my obvious hipster-ish music tastes, Death Cab always passed me by until this album, which I mostly picked up out of curiosity to see if they still had whatever it was that made them such a household name in my circles. Technically, I still don’t know, because I haven’t done enough listening to their back catalog yet, but holy crap did I fall for this insanely catchy album immediately. It pretty much just took the main guitar riff from “You Are a Tourist” (see below) and I was gone. So much so, you’ll note this is the only all-male band on my whole list. :)

7. Vivian Girls – Share the Joy

I have a thing for all-girl bands (and co-ed bands, as you’ll notice), so whenever I hear about one, I usually give it a listen, but I really didn’t like Vivian Girls’ 2009 release Everything Goes Wrong – a little too noisy and unfinished-sounding for me. This time around, though, they’ve cleaned it up, giving a much brighter, clearer sound without sacrificing too much of their fuzzy roots. More mainstream-friendly? Sure. But that’s not always a bad thing. From the bait-and-switch opening of “The Other Girls” to the self-consciously ’60s-pop of “Take It as It Comes” (below) and the minorly-inflected “I Heard You Say,” I’m with this album all the way.

6. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar

My fiance introduced me to this band last year, and I’d just gotten really into their earlier album (which at 8 or so songs is much too short) when their first real full-length dropped – perfect timing for this trio of epic Welsh rockers to blow me away. So many of these songs are great, it was hard to pick just one, but “I Don’t Want to See You Like This” has a great video as well, so that barely got the nod. Whenever I just need to kick back with some densely-orchestrated, big sounding tunes, this is what I reach for.

5. Givers – In Light

An EP from Givers last year had me intrigued, but not totally sold – songs like “Up Up Up” are infinitely catchy, and the rest of the album bore out the promise of that initial single (which is included on both last year’s EP and this year’s album). The band is out of Lafayette, Louisiana, and Southern charm radiates from them – there’s nothing but joy on this album, and that comes through every note.

4. The Submarines – Love Notes/Letter Bombs

The Submarines are one of my favorite bands, so I was pretty sure they’d feature somewhere on my list when I heard they were releasing an album this year. The story of the now-married couple’s lives is basically told obliquely through their albums (courtship, breakup, reunion, marriage), and with this third one they settle into married life and the challenges and joys that come along with that. Their music is adorable and upbeat, but the lyrics always have unexpected depth – it’s not surprising to learn that Blake Hazard is F. Scott Fitzerald’s great-granddaughter.

3. Grouplove – Never Trust a Happy Song

This album has been steadily climbing my charts (just a week or so ago when we started putting together this post, they were in 6th place), because I cannot get their songs out of my head for the life of me. I’d heard but not been impressed with their EP last year, but the full-length takes all the things that were good about that EP, trimmed off the things I didn’t like, and ended up with an album that hits all my buttons, including ones I didn’t even know I HAD.

2. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes

I’ve moved this around on my list a lot, too, but every time I pop it in, I’m overcome with the raw emotion that Lykke Li has captured this time around. I’ve tried to like her earlier album Youth Fiction without success, but this one – every lyric, every musical choice, every orchestration is simply perfect. And this video has Stellan Skarsgard in it. So there’s that.

1. Cults – Cults

Last year, Cults’ 3-song EP would likely have been on my top ten list if I didn’t resist putting EPs on my top ten list. This year, they have a full-length (with a couple of the same songs as the EP), so it’s not surprising that it’s on here – it does surprise me a little that it ended up this high! But if I mess with the list any more, I’m going to go insane, so here it stays. The indie pop catchiness of “Go Outside” and the retro ’60s stylings of “You Know What I Mean” are clearly up my alley, but there’s not a song on here I don’t like. And it doesn’t hurt that they’ve got some of the more intriguing music videos, too – especially the one for “Go Outside,” which places the band Cults inside an actual cult, blending new and archival footage to put them at Jonestown.

My 2011 in Music: #20-11

You probably thought that Honorable Mentions post was my 11-20, right? Wrong! I couldn’t squeeze everything into a top ten or fifteen this year, so I did a top twenty, split into two parts. My top ten will post tomorrow, though between you and me, you could hop over to Row Three and see it now.

20. The Belle Brigade – The Belle Brigade

The first album from local sibling act The Belle Brigade was a self-produced collection of solid and sweet folksy songs. This time around, they have a label, a bunch of promotion (I’ve even seen them featuring on some big-name year-end lists!), and a bigger, bolder, more rollicking sound. Los Angeles musicians have their own take on country, sort of an indie-country hybrid, and I like it.

19. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong

Every time I hear The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, I really enjoy them (also lead singer Kip is like the nicest guy ever). They don’t stick with me for that long, though, which is the main reason this album isn’t even higher on my list. This one’s even catchier and more fun than their previous stuff, if possible, and the video for “Body” is a great tribute to the endless summers of childhood.

18. The Dodos – No Color

I quite liked The Dodo’s first album Visiter, but didn’t care for the second at all – with No Color, they’re back in form, with intricate arrangements and exuberant drumming backing up soaring vocals. Plus, this time they’ve got Neko Case on background vocals, which lends an extra air of awesome to many of the songs, especially “Don’t Try and Hide It.”

17. Los Campesinos! – Hello Sadness

The most surprising thing about this album is that Los Campesinos! haven’t used this title before. Yes, you won’t find much new on here if you’re a long-time Los Camp! fan, but if you are a fan, you’re probably okay with that. It continues the slightly slower, gloomier tone that characterized the second half of Romance is Boring, with lyrics that are slightly more mature and considered. Losing more original members is starting to take its toll, though – nothing against the replacements, who are solid, but Aleks’s sunny counterpoint to Gareth’s desperation is missed.

16. Wild Flag – Wild Flag

A band combining former members of Sleater-Kinney, Helium, the Minders, and others, I knew I had to check Wild Flag out as soon as I heard about them. I don’t love all of the songs (some tend toward the same noisiness that makes Sleater-Kinney just a sometimes band for me), but the ones I do like I like a LOT. Especially “Romance,” which also has a really fun video – basically a short film, really. Carrie Brownstein is also active as a comedienne (currently on IFC’s Portlandia with Fred Armison), and that sense comes through here.

15. Ida Maria – KATLA

Somehow I missed until a few weeks ago that Ida Maria had a new album out this year! Thankfully I got hold of it in time for this list, because this is one fun punk throwback album. There’s a few songs that tend a bit too abrasive for me, but for the most part, KATLA is immediately and unavoidably catchy. Throw in Ida Maria’s sly wit, and this is at least as fun, maybe more so, than her debut. “Cherry Red” is one of my favorite songs on the album; this version is acoustic, but the album is not.

14. Florence + the Machine – Ceremonials

I didn’t give Florence + the Machine’s debut album Lungs nearly enough listening time when it came out, beyond the two or three singles that got a lot of play, but I tuned into this one more. I’m still not totally sold on the whole package – her voice is amazing, there’s no doubt of that, but it often overpowers everything else that’s going on. I think that’s part of the point. But there’s a lot to appreciate here, and there are several songs definitely standing out to me on here.

13. Mates of State – Mountaintops

It’s so great to hear Mates of State back doing original music again after an admittedly-great cover album. I need more time with this one; the second half starts to get a bit same-y to me, and they’re definitely moving into a more melodic and pared-down style that I like, but doesn’t excite me as much as Bring It Back, which remains my favorite of their albums. That said, songs like “Palomino” and “Maracas” are right up with their best.

12. Veronica Falls – Veronica Falls

A friend has proven to me he shared UK band Veronica Falls with me last year, which I don’t remember at all, but after stumbling across them on Stereogum earlier this year, I find myself more taken with Veronica Falls’ eponymous debut LP every time I hear it. The combination of gentle vocals with melancholic chord progressions, tight harmonies, and just a hint of medieval intervals feels fresh and unique, and imminently pleasing.

11. Dum Dum Girls – Only in Dreams / He Gets Me High EP

The EP He Gets Me High was my #1 of the first half of the year. I still love it, and I quite like Only in Dreams as well, but it’s a lot less noise-poppy and a lot more polished than their previous album, which is throwing me off. With more time to get used to Only in Dreams, I’ve little doubt this pair of excellent discs would jump back into my Top Ten, but as of right now, I’m not getting the same exhilaration from Only in Dreams that I got from the EP or their previous album, so I’m reluctantly bumping them down here.

My 2011 in Music: Honorable Mentions

Over the next few days, I’ll be listing out my favorite things of 2011 – music, movies, games. I’d do books, but I only made it through a pitiful number of books in 2011, not even worth listing. All this stuff is listed on my 2011 Favorites page, which I’ve been keeping updated all year, but calling my favorites out with a bit of explanation is something I always look forward to doing.

To start things off, here are ten albums (in no order) that I really enjoyed, but didn’t quite make my favorites of the year.

Neon Indian – Era Extraña

I came across Neon Indian via NPR’s First Listen – I often check First Listen to preview albums I’m planning to buy a week early, but once in a while I find something I’d never heard of before. Neon Indian are a bit heavier on the electronic-sounding distortion than I usually like, but something about their sound really pleases me, especially when it falls into fuzzier distortion. Both “Hex Girlfriend” and “Polish Girl” would rate among my favorite songs of the year, but the rest of the album left me colder – kind of same-y and unmemorable, knocking it down into the honorable mentions.

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

I can easily see this album being in my top twenty if I’d given myself more time to get accustomed to it, but I find St. Vincent something of a tough sell, personally. I don’t know why; lots of people whose taste I generally share love Annie Clark a lot, and I can see the appeal, but she just doesn’t grab me immediately. Like I said, with more time to let it seep in, it might.

An Horse – Walls

The third album from this Australian duo takes their basic sound and polishes it up a bit – not quite so much reliance on the fourth interval, for one thing, which is welcome.

Braids – Native Speaker

A January release, so this one has had plenty of time to earworm me, but only the opening song “Lemonade” has succeeded in sticking with me very long. That song is killer, a pop-happy experimental number that promises more than the rest of the album can quite deliver.

The Pauses – A Cautionary Tale

It’d be disengenuous of me not to mention that I’m pretty good online friends with this Florida band’s drummer; I wouldn’t know they existed otherwise. They have a very pleasing indie pop sound, with strong vocals and a bit of experimentation around the edges that sets them apart from the crowd.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Hysterical

I’ve not really liked Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s previous albums all that much, but listened through this one on a whim and was duly impressed. It’s tighter and stronger than what I’ve heard before, with catchier hooks and a great sound.

Pepper Rabbit – Red Velvet Snow Ball

I saw these guys opening for another band several months ago and remembered enjoying their set, so when I saw they had an album out now, I figured why not check it out. Often I enjoy opening bands at the show because, well, live music is awesome, but Pepper Rabbit followed through in the studio.

Feist – Metals

Most people who like the bands I like put Feist way up at the top of their lists. I like her all right, but I just can’t quite love her stuff (aside from her vocals with Broken Social Scene, of course – those are awesome). It’s a little too spare, a little too quirky, or something. That said, I enjoyed listening through Metals more than I’ve enjoyed her other albums. Maybe next time is the charm?

The Violet Lights – Sex & Sound EP

Another band I’m friends with, but I think this EP is really strong aside from that – an LA-tinged throwback to Britpop, like a touch of Oasis mixed with a dash of the Libertines, and then a sprinkling of Jack White thrown in on top.

Twin Sister – In Heaven

A bit of an electropop touch layered in makes this album really listenable; with a bit more time it might’ve risen higher, but on the other hand, it’s maybe a tad forgettable outside of definite earworm material like “Bad Street.”