Saturday, May 19, 2012

Best of 2011 - Going Paperless

First of all

Despite numerous requests, this did not make the list. It was Josie's song of the year.

2010 Misses

 The Whigs


The Candles

Two Cow Garage

Trampled by Turtles

Trends in Music

It's all about technology these days.  For me, the two big ones for this year are the ipad and spotify. The ipad is ending the reign of the personal computer and Apple is so far ahead, its not even close. Whats more amazing is the Steve Jobs plotted this out when he rejoined Apple in 1998 (the same time that Bill Gates penned his internet manifesto which came to nothing).    The pc isn't dead yet.  The ipad is great for consuming content but not great for producing content (I am writing this from a pc).  But other than a big screen tv, there isn't much competition.

Streaming is the other game changer.  Last year, we had Mog. Now we have Spotify. For ten dollars a month, you get unlimited music. What an amazing deal. Mog actually has more functionality than Spotify, even if spotify looks like itunes. But either way, this is the future. We've seen some artist pull music from the streaming services, but I'm convinced its because they think they get more publicity that way; but pulling away is the modern equivalent of saying you don't want your music on the radio. It only works because of your "installed base".  A newcomer doesn't have that base though.  The next generation will have to do it through the services. (By the way, I don't care if Paul McCartney's latest is on Spotify or not.)  But the breadth of these services is amazing.  Me, Matt and Liz spent a night playing name that tune with bluegrass versions of alternative and hard rock songs - the pure bliss of having the music world at your fingertips.  I'm still buying music (and downloading and ripping), but now my first stop is spotify/mog to check out the latest.

Even more amazing, the music business grew in 2012. Actually, for the first time digital revenues increased faster than physical revenues declined. Hope?


There were so many albums I was looking forward to in 2011 that failed to live up to expectations. Not necessarily bad (but plenty of those) but failed to deliver a new chapter of songs to love.

Jane's Addiction: One of my all time favorites really let me down. Sonically interesting in tones/layering, but more like a dj than a new creation. The last album at least delivered a couple of kick ass tunes, this one shows how well they play together (plus bass lines from tv on the radio) but when done, the songs don't really make a lasting impression.

Red Hot Chile Peppers: Into the hall of fame (for whatever that is worth), they deliver a top 40 album. The last one showed they still had vitality: this one, not so much.

Fiest: You don't need to show us how indie you are, just give us good songs please.

Rhett Miller: a collection of live covers. Second miss in a row. My guess is the Old 97's are getting the best songs. But could Jon Brion make this more interesting?

Fountains of Wayne: not a bad album although a bit of a downer. But where are the hooks?

Jay Z and Kanye West: too much Kanye production?  This is like a Pixies album: hard to listen to the whole thing through. I dig it, but not up to previous efforts. It just should have been better. This might be the only concert I saw this year and Kanye was awesome. Jay Z is playing a character called Jay Z but Kanye just laid it all out there: positives, negatives, anger, whatever is on his mind.  The problem here isn't the talent, but the tone.  2011 was the year of Occupy, but look at the first shot in this video. It's a great song but it trivialized the struggle of Otis and others to the pursuit of the dollar.  Nothing wrong with that from here, but raise your consciousness and pay attention to the tone of the culture.

Death Cab for Cutie: A band that I have liked more with every releases. This one just left me feeling nothing. Maybe divorce will be good for them.

Twilight Singers: another of my all times favorites (if you include Afghan Whigs) that produced nothing new that wormed its way into my brain.

Ryan Adams: went away for a few years for health reasons. Now he's back doing soft rock and ballads. Sorry, but prefer Bon Iver in that space.

Robbie Robertson: would have been a great album in say 1992. Just twenty years late. And while it's probably better if artists only do an album every twenty years, it better be a good one.

J Mascis: a song can be just a guitar solo with words and drums, but not necessarily. Should do an instrumental album.

The Kills: love their more traditional blues take on alternative, but this album just doesn't stand out for me.

Cake: always enjoyable, but we've heard this album before.

The Strokes: done for the money I suppose.

Radiohead: at least try guys. only Ryan Adams can have an album of outtakes that is awesome (see last year)

Coldplay: a surprising listing? I think that "a rush of blood.." is a perfect album (one of all time best) and they have shown growth from album to album. This one, despite the hooks, seems a step backwards. We expect more from Brian Eno.  It seems like when they made this album they said "remember Yellow? lets re-write it but replace that pesky guitars with keyboards."  I blame Eno: he really needs to get on board with what sometime partner Daniel Lanois is doing.

Best Album of 2011 that is not an album for 2011

"Pocketful of Kryptonite 25th anniversary" Who doesn't remember the first time they heard "little miss cant be wrong?" Okay I'm kidding. Despite the comic book reference, just don't see why this getting the deluxe treatment (I must admit I did own this cd at one point).

I'm not going to say "Achtung Baby" either. Even though it has my favorite U2 song ("Until the end of the world"), this album was more about saving U2's career than changing the course of music.

And I won't go with Nevermind. First of all, this was a slow burn, not the explosion that leveled everything that people portray it as. Teen Spirit was a great song, but I remember watching "Lithium" on MTV and realizing this was a Great Band. A band that has been so mythologized and whored (come on 4 albums?) that everyone should understand how Cobain felt.

No my pick is Peter Gabriel's "New Blood." Actually, I prefer "Live Blood" and I prefer the second bonus disk of New Blood which is instrumental versions of the same songs (not on spotify). These are orchestra versions of classic Gabriel songs (with Live Blood being live versions). It finally got my kids to listen to Mr. Gabriel and for that alone it deserves a shout out.  But no matter how many times I hear Solsbury Hill or Red Rain, I can't get enough.  Part of that is the songs, but Gabriel's voice is so strong and full of emotion and meaning that I can't resist.

I'll also give a mention to Bruce Springsteen's "The Promise" which is a re-issue/re-working of "darkness on the edge of town." I was never a big Bruce fan back in the day, but over time have come to love the songwriting and musicianship. This was a throw away album in 1978 but "the promise" turns it into a noble failure by reconstructing the album with the best of the outtakes which changes the tone completely.  For some reason, it stayed in the mp3 player for the whole year. On one of his outtake compilations, Bruce once said (I paraphrase) "you look back on why you chose one song over another for an album and you understand why, you just wouldn't do it that way today." That captures the spirit of my "best of."   I can look back over ten years of these now and the music hold up, but I probably would of done a couple of things differently.

Undecided/Too soon to tell

This is all the music I've recently discovered, I'm enjoying but haven't decided where they will end up in the long run. As I troll "best of" lists, there are literally dozens of new albums to listen to or re-listen to.

Glossary - arrived in November, just haven't really spent any quality time with it

M83 - I kind of skipped this (my first response for all dance/electronica/keyboards music) but felt I should check it out during best season. Radio had wormed it into my brain and I love the expanse and different styles of it (note as of May, clearly my biggest miss of 2011 - one of those double album masterpieces that are once a decade occurrences)

Common - in a world where rap music is either alternative music rip off or dance music, a good throw back is always appreciated. It's not throw back run dmc but will take early oughts when Jay Z, Kanye and Just Blazed rules and someone tried a lyric that mattered.

Butch Walker - I didn't even know he had a 2011 release until I started reading all the year end lists. Butch, one more plea: please work with Rhett/Old 97's.

Black Joe Lewis - This record is automatic party.

Next Year

Magnetic Fields..hope they get their groove back

Craig Finn...solo, hopefully measures up to the hold steady

Sharon Van Etten...Internet radio Indie turned me onto her

Sleigh Bells...will be interesting to see how they evolve

Shins...down to one guy, hopefully its the right guy

The XX...don't need to say anything more

Not making the cut

Dawes / Middle Brother / Hey Rossetta - the follow up to Mumford and Sons, but that was really last year's sound. Americana still has legs to run, but I think you need to be more authentic to break through. Dawes is just too Jackson Browne for my tastes, no matter how good the songs are. If you're going to pick one, go with Middle Brother which is a hipster supergroup - anyone who covers Paul Westerberg (Portland) can't be all bad (actually they are pretty good).

Aloe Blacc "I need a dollar" just the song, love the hook.

Raphael Saadiq Stone Rollin' is a great album but while the last album was both a throw back and original, this comes off as more derivative. I love old school r&b a la Junior Walker and love this album because it falls right there. Would love to seem him live.

Hugo "99 problems" a little mumford a little Jay Z but not really of 2011

David Alvin eleven eleven he got the numbers right but this roadhouse country didn't make the cut. But make sure you watch "Justified" where we saw him first.

Go Team - I love their sounds, the enthusiasm of a drumline meeting an alternative band. Plus the tunes are so catchy. But this more a party song than storyline.

Amy Laverne - this year's representative of the old school country/r&b blend that is centered in Memphis. Just needs a little more umph to be the next Lucero.

TV on the radio - I really like this album, but it doesn't have the hooks that caused "dear science" to get stuck on repeat in my brain. Supposedly, this is a song about the end of a romance; I don't get that feeling. I enjoyed the album "but I don't hear a single."

Trent/Nine Inch Nails - They/he are back. To tell you the truth, I have not listened to the whole things (only three hours long) but the singles are great. That may be more nostalgia speaking and I'm sure NIN doing "zoo station" is unnecessary. But I will tell you that the soundtrack took "the social network" from being another David Fincher movie to a special place and I assume "dragon tattoo" will work similarly, particularly given that the music was written first and used by Fincher to re-construct at a higher level. I don't need another NIN album (see above for problems that might occur), but would love to seem them/him live again.

Final Cut

Always a tough call. This is the equivalent of last year's Animal by Neon Trees. But what a weird song. It is like 1990 where people are trying to mix the Smiths with dance music. Insanely catchy. It is also a song that Josie approves. The only thing weirder that the song is the video

Album of the year

Not even close. First of all, the album sold twice as many as the #2 album and more copies than anything since 2004. I don't know what is more amazing: that the public could embrace something like that or the record industry could turn back the clock seven years.

Secondly, it is that good. Adele has a great voice, the tunes are polished, the musicianship good (as well as actually existing). Most importantly, the album and Adele connect emotionally. This is real, not just platitudes that hide the complexity of emotion. If you don't get it, well good for you because you're lucky that you never had your heart broken.

Third, this album stand on its own: it's not related to any of the big movements in music. Its not rap, top 40, rock or alternative or even "industry."  I'm sure the imitators will quickly arrive, but the combination of talent, emotion and songwriting is a rare occurrence. The album just stands on it own, as a thing of quality and beauty.  This is actually an old school album with the artist and record company working together to raise the game.  Rick Rubin produced. Dan Wilson (rehabilitated Dixie Chicks, "closing time") co-wrote and performed, among others. The lesson: talent plus vision = greatness.  Sometimes, the record companies do a good job in growing an artist, musically as well as financially.

I love this version of "turning tables." It just her voice and a piano. I got it as a mp3 but found it while putting this together. Don't watch; just close your eyes and listen.

The list
Given the arrival of streaming music, here/hear the playlists here (if you want a cd copy, just drop me a line and I'll get it out.) Missing mp3's are at the bottom. If you want a cd copy, just tell me and I'll burn you one.

Old 97's "Marquita" Volume 2 (or vol. 2) of the Grand Theatre came out this year, but it was a bit of a disappointment. The first three songs are great and then it fades. It would have been better to make one mega-album out of the two volumes or do it as one giant double cd. But hey, they got many mouths to feed so it came out as two cd's in two different years. But this gem is buried in the back. It's like a theme to a 70's Italian Western, which is about perfect for the "Best of."

Army Navy "I think it's going to happen"
Well actually, it didn't. These guys put out an ep of Big Star/Teenage Fanclub style alternative rock a while back. But this follow up got zero press. I stumbled across it on the web and it delivers on the original promise, albeit a little darker, a little more mature. I would say no one cared, but I did.

Fitz and the Tantrums, "Moneygrabber"
In our tour of styles, the Motown entry. I think Liz heard it first but falls under the adjective "infectious."  If you can't dance to this, you don't like music.

Centro-matic "Against the Line"
One of my favorite albums of the year, with all the tracks good. Really struggled picking this one over "if they talk you down" This is least alt-country of their albums, and comes across darker, but also tighter and well written. I love the counter-point of the guitar vs. the vocals. "Against the line" adds a great subtle bass drum part.

Yuck "All shook down"
Yuck is the youngest band on the list with members all around 21, reviewed as a Sonic Youth rip off (both as a compliment and an insult). While that is true sometimes, they have a lot more talent than that and I have a feeling we will be hearing a lot more from them. I picked this one because it's a mellow song, but great hook in the big star tradition.

Bon Iver "Calgary"
This album comes off as a modern Michael McDonald. I mean the 80's jazz soft rock, not the Doobie Brothers version. While Bon Iver's first album was full or pain and emotion, this one comes off as cool and beautiful, so there is real talent there.

Adele "turning tables"
I chose the acoustic version of this one, as it strips down to just her voice and a piano. Amazing.

Florence and the Machine "Heartlines"
Why the Machine? Its like Prince and the Revolution, we don't care about the "and" part. I do have one major complaint about this album: its production. Clearly, the record company heard Adele and mixed/produced Flo to sound like "21." But Florence doesn't need that. She's beautiful and weird and hugely talented. She doesn't need to rip off Adele. Flo is not going to be a blues queen; maybe a modern day Kate Bush, but I'm fine with her just being herself. This album could have been better if they had just let her evolve from the first album. Having said that, it's still pretty dam good.

Frank Turner "If Ever I stray"
Despite him being a communist (no really), I always liked Billy Bragg. Here is the 2011 version, but with out the politics. Punk rock plus Irish drinking songs is still a great combination. Also a great example of playing lots of gigs and keeping your nose to the grindstone is the only way to make it.

Trampled by Turtles "Wait so Long"
Not technically a 2011 song, this came up so often on my ipod (no easy feat when you have 1,200 songs), I will always associate it with 2011. And although my musical tastes push boundaries (at least I like to think so), this is the first time I really loved a blue grass band.

Hayes Carll "Stomp and Holler"
The title says it all. Hayes can combine a rave up with political commentary better than anyone. He opened up for the Old 97s last winter if you have any questions about his bonafides.

Grace Turner and the Nocturnals "Paris (Ooh La La)"
A band people have raved about for a long time in these parts (she's from Burlington VT), but I was a never a real believer. But this is they type of rock and roll song I grew up on and I can't resist. Plus you gotta love anyone who would cover the complete Top Gun soundtrack: Best New Years Eve ever!

Foster the People "Pumped up Kicks"
This could have been song of the year, but not quite. Catchy, good bass line, you can dance to it. The lyrics are little strange/scary but any of the singles will get stuck in your head.

Clap your hands Say Yeah "Mania"
The second coming of the Cure, but funner (no killing arabs even if it is fashionable). The stuttering drum beats, keyboard fills, nasal lyrics = too weird for mainstream, but just right for me. Its like David Byrne fronted a progressive rock band that didn't pay guitars.   Hard to pick just one song.

Peter Bjorn and John "Second Chance"
Better know as a beer commercial but still, what a great hook. These guys keep getting better. Three words for you: more. cow. bell.

Lupe Fiasco "Friend of the People"
First of all, it was a weak year for rap releases.  Then long awaited Lupe Fiasco album came out after he sued them to get it released and we wished he had lost.  (I knew the Grammys were bad but nominating this as best rap is just ridiculous - if no one is worthy, just give it to Kanye so he doesn't throw a fit).  But then the mix tape "Friend of the People" hit (download here), sequel to 2009's Enemy of the People. And it was amazing. This is the skate kid rapper I fell in love with, rapping about his personal life and current events over an alternative keyboard soundtrack. In the year where rappers missed the political mood, Lupe gets it here and I only get half of the it.  Another lesson: challenge your listeners and you'll get better results. It's not on the services: there is still an underground, even on the internet. Lupe is probably one of the smartest rappers out there as his songs are spew of references: half part of his flow, half to just show how smart he is (or make us think how smart he is) This is Lupe at his best (he played Tufts spring fling this year). Just listen to the first verse - Por-sha, more doors and Modor (yes Frodo too).  I'll excuse the throw away homophobe line from partner Dosage to hear three minutes on consumerism, slavery, commentary on his record album battle and personal resilience. 

Ida Marie "Bad Karma"
Another out of the way favorite, who has released a record without support. Here Ida does a Zeppelin album and kicks ass over a dozen songs. We need more musicians like Ida; I can't wait to see what she does next.

Black Keys "Lonely Boy"
Song of the Year. The more I listen to it, the more I like it. And what is amazing is that it goes across so many genres: blues, alternative, rock, whatever you want to call it. Two guys and a hook..its magic.

Sam Roberts "The Last Crusade"
I heard these Canadians on the local college station. Old fashioned rock and roll songs, with sax solos, which just isn't done anymore. Bring back the rock and roll sax solo!

The Baseball Project "Don't call them Twinkies"
A vanity project if there ever was one-Craig Finn of the Hold Steady proclaims his loves the Minnesota Twins. There's no doubt it is the honest truth (or his truth), a good story as well as old school rock and roll song. But we need more of this. This is a band playing together, not fiddling with keyboards or in a studio. There's nothing wrong with dance music, but dance music is not about the music, its about dancing. Rock and roll is about the music. Mick and Keith and Paul and John didn't do it for the money, they did it for the music.  Play your instruments, give me great hooks, move me, and I (and the public) will follow you anywhere.

sidebar: Josie comments: "You listen to weird music. Why would I call you a twinkie? What kind of song is "if I want to destroy your sweater?""
That's all folks.  I apologize for the lateness of the post.  I actually finished the list by January 3rd, but it took me four and a half months to finish the writing.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Bram said...

Wait … do I need to request one?

Better make it soon. I have no idea who just about everybody is on that list.

Dori said...

You *do* listen to weird music, Andy. It's just that all the good stuff is weird.

Such juicy goodness in this post. Where to start. Adele: Over-exposure Victim. It's like radio stations across the world were only issued two albums last year - Adele's and LMFAO's. Totally agree that she carries such range of emotion and depth in her voice. Just wish the sound of it didn't want to make me claw my ears out from annoyance at having to hear that song one. more. time. I know it's great for her that she got found, but I wish for my own selfish reasons she hadn't so I could fully enjoy her gorgeous album.

I think a few good things happened in rap, and one very bad thing happened in hip hop. Well, people are calling it hip hop - it's really just pop with hip hop flavah (like how I made it all urban there?). I'm of course talking about Ms. Minaj (another performer I loved until she was featured on every song on the radio no matter how far-fetched the combo). Back to rap, though. I didn't pay enough attention to Lupe's album. I shall do so now. Not sure it's technically rap, but did you check out Shabazz Palaces?

Didn't even know Army Navy had another album!! I'm really excited to check that out.

You've gotten me curious about alt-country since it's always on your year-ends. Kinda hate regular-country, so I'm not rushing to assuage that curiosity, but it is there.

Bon Iver. I think this is a performer I should spend more time with, but perhaps after taking a Valium. I had a little love affair with his first album for a few months, but then I had my fill. I'll dip my toe in to see how the water feels. I guess I'll start with Calgary.

Florence and the machine - totally agree with losing everything from "and" on. I'd like to hang with her for a day.

Clap Your Hands - such a great band! You know who else I'm loving, is Here We Go Magic. I just heard HWGM interviewed for XMU and they are hilarious, so now I love them even more. They have a new album dropping any minute, or possibly just dropped. Check it!

So much interesting music on your list, and lots of stuff I've never heard of! Love it! Thank you for sharing :)

Dori said...

LOVE the Lupe. Thank you! Did you see who released a new album in May - El-P love that track and everything else I've heard off it. Prolly gonna make my best of 2012