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Our Favorite Albums of 2011


Josh Hurst
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Sarah Jarosz - Follow Me Down

Ooh. Good one!

"It's a dangerous business going out your front door." -- J.R.R. Tolkien
"I want to believe in art-induced epiphanies." -- Josie
"I would never be dismissive of pop entertainment; it's much too serious a matter for that." -- NBooth

"If apologetics could prove God, I would lose all faith in Him." -- Josie

"What if--just what if--the very act of storytelling is itself redemptive? What if gathering up the scraps and fragments of a disordered life and binding them between the pages of a book in all of their fragmentary disorder is itself a gambit against that disorder?" -- NBooth

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this year I'm going with my gut, based on whatever sounds grooviest from the clips I've heard online. That means I'm looking at Medeski, Martin, Scofield and Wood's In Case the World Changes Its Mind; Rene Marie's Black Lace Freudian Slip; and, based on the Brad Mehldau concert I attended earlier this year, Live in Marciac.

So much for that approach. Sort of.

I had $50 cash. I had a $35 Amazon gift card. I had a $25 Visa gift card.

Has anyone tried to order online using a Visa gift card? It's a nightmare. It mimics a credit card, so the online systems don't understand, if the total amount is greater than the amount of the Visa gift card, how to process a second credit card to cover the balance.

I have a temporary Barnes & Noble membership, which gives me 10% off my purchases, including sales prices.

I put all these facts into the hopper and decided to piece together some online orders (BN.com and Amazon.com) with some brick-and-morter Barnes & Noble purchases.

A cursory comparison between BN.com prices and retail-store B&N prices revealed that I'd probably be paying more for a worse selection at the brick-and-mortar store, but as noted here previously, I still enjoy the shopping experience at book and music stores. My wife was glad to let me go shop, so off I went. I had a list of a few CDs I wanted. I had decided to skip books, being behind on some other books I've acquired in the last year. Why add to that pile?

First I decided to use up my Amazon card. That went to Brad Mehldau's Live in Marciac and to ... The Age of Movies, a collection of Pauline Kael's movie writings. Because I wanted it. But no other books!

I went to a local Barnes and Noble last night with a list of these CDs to purchase, if they were in stock:

Miles Davis, Live in Europe

Kurt Elling, The Gate

Rene Marie, Black Lace Freudian Slip

Ambrose Akinmusire, When the Heart Emerges Glistening, even though I said I wouldn't buy into the hype; figured B&N might carry it, so why not?

The answer to whether the store had any of these in stock -- any of them, including the high-profile Davis release?

No

No

No

No

I didn't press for which other stores might carry each title, although the customer service rep looked up the Davis title and said several other locations has the deluxe version. I wasn't sure I wanted the deluxe version, which is pricey, but given that there didn't seem to be too many other options, I decided to keep it in mind.

Went looking for Haruki Murakami's 1Q84, a book I said I wouldn't buy, but had seen for 47% off at BN.com. Maybe the brick-and-mortar store had a similar discount. I wanted to buy SOMEthing.

No copies of that title available.

I came home, got online, and, after midnight, was still trying to figure out how to apply my Visa check card to BN.com order Kurt Elling's The Gate and ... and to another book, the updated edition of Rebel Bookseller, which feeds my dreams of going into a dying business and bankrupting my family. I loved the first edition and have considered the updated edition a few times, only pulling the trigger last night, because the Murakami seems too overwhelming at 900-plus pages.

I went to bed frustrated, unable to complete the order.

Today Sarah said I should go to another Barnes & Noble. I'm off work, and she knew that money was burning a hole in my pocket. So I went to a different location. Lots of copies of 1Q84 there, at retail price! After browsing, sipping a coffee, I finally looked at the Jazz section.

It's so sad. the music section is now two-thirds taken over by DVDs (that'll end soon, but seems to be a hotter technology at B&N than CDs), and the remaining shelves for music were largely empty. Jazz had a two-sided CD rack to itself, but the selection was meager. I started going through it, title by title, hoping to find something on my list.

I didn't. BUT ... I found two worthy titles that almost made my short list: Fred Hersch's Alone at the Vanguard and James Farm! One title retailed for $17.99, and the other was "on sale" for ... $17.99. What a deal! Plus, I saved 10% off the "sale" price!

I bought both CDs. Wanted to justify my visit, and I was sure the music would be good, maybe great. I was trying to avoid solo piano stuff. (Mehldau doesn't count; I'm not even sure if Mariac is a "solo" album, or if he's with a band.) I've just listened to Vanguard, and while I'm sure it's excellent, it wasn't exactly what I was looking for. James Farm, which is currently playing, is much more to my liking, although the Hersch sounded pretty great -- if only I were in the mood, or felt the need, for more solo piano stuff.

I returned home, and after two phone calls to B&N customer service, managed to order The Gate and Rebel Bookseller. I just received the emailed receipt, and it looks as though my $25 credit may not have been applied. :think014: Looks like I might be calling Keisha at customer service to see what we can do. Good thing I got her name. (The "total" in the receipt doesn't mention how the charge might have been spread across more than one payment method, so maybe I'm in the clear.)

That Kurt Elling CD better be great. :)

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I've just listened to Vanguard, and while I'm sure it's excellent, it wasn't exactly what I was looking for. James Farm, which is currently playing, is much more to my liking, although the Hersch sounded pretty great -- if only I were in the mood, or felt the need, for more solo piano stuff.

Never underestimate the drug-like effects coffee can have on one's mind and spirit. Downing two cups this morning, I listened to both of these CDs again, and was dazzled by Hersch. Love James Farm.

Am I really that susceptible to chemical stimulation? When the caffeine high fades, will these CDs sound like lesser works?

It's a good thing I never did serious drugs. I think I'm a prime candidate to become an addict.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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dropping in to add my list. Happy New Year, everyone!

1. Dolorean "The Unfazed"

2. Wilco "The Whole Love"

3. Alela Diane& Wild Divine "AD + WD"

4. Feelies "Here Before"

5. Dengue Fever "Cannibal Courtship"

6. Wild Flag "Wild Flag"

7. David Kilgour + The Heavy Eights "Left By Soft"

8. Daniel Martin Moore "In The Cool Of The Day"

9. REM "Collapse Into Now"

10. Screaming Trees "Last Words"

And a few others:

Richard Buckner 'Our Blood'

Ezra Furman 'Mysterious Power"

Centro-matic 'Candidate Waltz"

Glossary 'Long Live All of Us"

Wooden Wand + the Briarwood Virgins

Wussy 'Strawberry'

Jesse Sykes + Sweet Hereafter 'Marble Son'

Wooden Shijips

Reigning Sound 'Abdication'

a few of my favorite songs:

British Sea Power "Who's in Control?"

Centro-matic "Only In My Double Mind'

Wilco "One Sunday Morning"

Yellow Ostrich "WHALE"

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(Mehldau doesn't count; I'm not even sure if Mariac is a "solo" album, or if he's with a band.)

Uh, solo piano. But having seen Mehldau play live last year helps.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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(Mehldau doesn't count; I'm not even sure if Mariac is a "solo" album, or if he's with a band.)

Uh, solo piano. But having seen Mehldau play live last year helps.

Yes, solo piano, which is usually the kiss of death for me. I think of Keith Jarrett in the Koln Concerts, complete with 15-minute stretches of noodling accompanied by orgasmic moaning and cooing.

Not so with Mehldau, though. I think you did just fine with your Marciac choice. Even better is Elegiac Cycle, which, along with a few Bill Evans and Monk solo pieces, pretty much represents the pinnacle of solo jazz piano for me.

Edited by Andy Whitman
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1. Dolorean "The Unfazed"

and

a few of my favorite songs:

British Sea Power "Who's in Control?"

* clap clap clap *

I think this album and song are near the top of both of my respective lists. Nice, Ward. I'll have a complete list soon. I'm still spinning a few discs I wanted to check out but haven't had the chance 'til now (Kurt Vile, Wye Oak).

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I was hoping to have had my list spiffed and polished by this point, but alas, I've made the mistake of actually hunting down all of the albums I missed in 2011. (Thanks for the help, Rdio.com) So nailing down the favorites has been hard. I was surprised at how much I didn't like Polly Jean Harvey's newest, and I was also surprised how much I've enjoyed the new Mastodon.

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Favorites. I was considering not ordering them, but I ended up doing it regardless.

1 - Dolorean - the Unfazed

2 - Wye Oak - Civilian

3 - Crooked Fingers - Breaks in the Armor

4 - Joe Henry - Reverie

5 - Sloan - The Double Cross

6 - Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo

7 - Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will

8 - Southeast Engine - Canary

9 - Mick Harvey - Sketches from the Book of the Dead

10 - Urge Overkill - Rock & Roll Submarine

11 - They Might Be Giants - Join Us

12 - Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost

13 - Telekinesis - 12 Desperate Straight Lines

14 - Wilco - the Whole Love

15 - Richard Buckner - Our Blood

Honorable mentions:

Ambrose Akinmusire – When the Heart Emerges Glistening

Army Navy - the Last Place

The Antlers - Burst Apart

Atlas Sound - Parallax

Bon Iver - Bon Iver

Cymbals Eat Guitars - Lenses Alien

Early Day Miners - Night People

Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1978

The Jayhawks - Mockingbird Time

Mastodon - The Hunter

Okkervil River - I Am Very Far

Joshua T. Pearson - Last of the Country Gentlemen

Real Estate - Days

The Roots - undun

Rapheal Saadiq - Stone Rollin’

TV On the Radio - Nine Kinds of Light

Veronica Falls - s/t

Craig Wedren - WAND

Yuck - Yuck

Liked, but was underwhelmed in some way:

British Sea Power - Valhalla Dancehall

Centro-matic - Candidate Waltz

M83 - Hurry Up We’re Dreaming

Maritime - Human Hearts

Radiohead - the King of Limbs

Didn’t like or was disappointed:

Death Cab for Cutie - Codes & Keys

Explosions in the Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

Matthew Sweet - Modern Art

Over the Rhine - The Long Surrender

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  • 4 weeks later...

Jason--I'm used to our lists being so similar. I'm surprised we don't have much crossover this year.

Personally, this was the year I felt I went mainstream. There wasn't a ton of indie-pop/twee that I got too excited about. As a result my top ten was fairly common.

I wrote about them here (6-10) and here (1-5):

  1. M83 “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.”
  2. the Decemberists “The King is Dead”
  3. Gillian Welch “The Harrow & the Harvest”
  4. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart “Belong”
  5. Real Estate “Days”
  6. Low “C’Mon”
  7. Wye Oak “Civilian”
  8. the Roots “undun”
  9. Alexi Murdoch “Towards the Sun”
  10. P.J. Harvey “Let England Shake”

I did, however, find a few other album that deserve some mention:

LP's

  • Acid House Kings “Music Sounds Better with You”
  • Marissa Nadler “Marissa Nadler”
  • Seapony “Go with Me”
  • Mates of State “Mountaintops”
  • Bjork “Biophilia”
  • Raphael Saadiq “Stone Rollin’”
  • The Bandana Splits “Mister Sam Presents the Bandana Splits”
  • Wild Flag “Wild Flag”

Of these, Raphael Saadiq was very exciting for me. I don't normally get into the neo-soul movement, but Stone Rollin' was the wild trip. The Bandana Splits is a fun one. They're a total twee band. Their stick is that it's three part harmonies and ukulele through and through. Fun stuff.

EPs and 7"s

  • Burning Hearts “Into the Wilderness”
  • Dum Dum Girls “He Gets Me High”
  • Ivan & Alyosha “Fathers Be Kind”
  • Jens Lekman “An Argument with Myself”
  • Brave Irene “Brave Irene”
  • Chalk and Numbers “He Knew”
  • Kids on a Crime Spree “We Love You So Bad”
  • Le Man Avec Lunettes “Sparkles”
  • Allo Darlin’ “Darren/Wu-Tang Clan”
  • Lana Del Rey “Video Games/Blue Jeans”
  • Mazzy Star “Common Burn/Lay Myself Down”
  • Afternoon Naps “Summer Gang”

    Burning Hearts is going to become a favorite, I can tell. They're a french group that basically is a keyboard driven dance group that meats the psychedelic swirl of shoegaze.

    I saw Ivan & Alyosha open for Rosie Thomas. They're pretty much a straightforward American rockband in the vein of later Wilco. They write catchy songs.

    Yes, I'll own up to Lana Del Rey. Those two songs at least. I didn't care much for the LP.

"It is scandalous for Christians to have an imagination starved for God." - Mark Filiatreau

I write occasionally at Unfamiliar Stars.

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Yeah, not much overlap. Does that mean I have to hang up my shirt that says "East Coast Kyle" on it?

Anywho, glad you're posting again!

We'll see if we can't remedy that in 2012.

And yeah, I hope to get back to posting again. It's been a brutal stretch of lack of time. We'll see.

"It is scandalous for Christians to have an imagination starved for God." - Mark Filiatreau

I write occasionally at Unfamiliar Stars.

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  • 4 months later...

Now that I can make my Top 10... here it is (am I late? oh yeah, six months - what are six months?)

1. Hunx & his Punx - Too Young to Be in Love

I can do nothing about it: it's the catchiest album I've heard from 2011. Seth Bogart, the singer, is an exhibitionist gay, so what? That album is a classic. It may sound like an old classic, but it's a classic nonetheless.

2. Crystal Stilts - In Love with Oblivion

That band may be my big favourite today. They make the rock of my dreams, somewhere between the Velvet Underground, the Doors, the Cramps and the Dream Syndicate. Some people complain about the singer's voice, whereas he has a perfect voice to me. The only problem is too much echo on that voice in the recording studio. But this band sounds really great overall.

3. Kids on a Crime Spree - We Love You so Bad

It's a 8 tracks EP, and it sounds like a lost gem from the 70's power pop. Brilliant and super enjoyable.

4. Sonny & the Sunsets - Hit after Hit

Chuck Berry is still the King. For this band's best tracks anyway (with a light Seeds/Stooges noisy thing around the beach).

5. Jessica Lea Mayfield - Tell Me

A delightful record mixing darkness with cinnamon sweetness. In my opinion producer Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) and singer songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield create something new here, an affair of style and tone.

6. Mates of State - Mountaintops

To my ears they're the best band to make sunny pop today. They always make my joy when I listen to them, not that they're musically so adventurous, nor especially wild, but they keep a perfect balance of hooks and inventivity. It's pretty close to the New Pornographers, but I like them better.

7. Jolie Holland & the Grand Chandeliers - Pint of Blood

She's more raw than usual here and it's for the better. Unmistakable voice with seductive spirit and tunes, Jolie Holland is like the new Karen Dalton.

8. Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know

Laura Marling may be the creature we don't know. She came so full developped at an early age, with her world of dark and shady songs, merging from gothic age while keeping a modern language and view. Sometime she recalls Bob Dylan, and sometime Nick Drake, and she sure sounds English. She's haunted and her music is haunting.

9. Paul Curreri - The Big Shitty

Well, I guess the title is a play upon the words (the Big City). The opener sounds like a destroy Paul McCartney (you know, when Sir Paul rocks crazily), and the following stuff pretty much like the Black Keys played by a folkie alone, or as if Loudon Wainwright had a jam with the Creedence in their Cosmos Factory. Anyway, Paul Curreri rocked in 2011.

10. Those Darlins - Screws Get Loose

That album may be not perfect, but I love the spirit of this band, especially the lead singer's charm and charisma. And the title-track is great.

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