Best of 2011

I know, I know. I just (well, just a couple of months ago…) wrote that lengthy post about getting “caught up” (during which I didn’t even actually get caught up & anyway I’ve since let a ton of other e-mails and press releases stack up in my inbox, but whatever right? It’s not like this is my job. In fact, my job is actually why I don’t blog as much. But I’m still here, just a lot less frequently than I once was.)

Anyway, I can’t believe it’s already December. It’s amazing to me that another year has come and gone so quickly and since we’re closing in on the end of the calendar year, I figured that it would be appropriate for me to post about all the things I’ve been listening to (and not blogging about!) this year.

As usual, my list is un-ranked and presented in alphabetical order. YouTube clips and information on where to buy are included with each album.

The Babies, Self-Titled (Shrimper)

One of my most treasured memories of 2011 is a weekend spent in Columbus with two of my best friends before they moved out west to California, a weekend that is forever linked in my mind with the Babies’ self-titled album (mainly because I listened to said album on repeat while my friends were at their respective jobs.) I’m being honest when I say that “garage rock” has been more or less ruined for me by bland dude bands, but some of the songs on this album sound like they could be on an updated version of Teenage Shutdown, which automatically makes me love them. Like, “Breakin the Law”? How is that not the best song? And “Sunset”? This album is full of songs that make me want to make a roadtrip movie. The Babies hit on some of my favorite rock and roll tropes — songs about being on the run, dueling boy/girl vocals, and production that makes it sound like everyone got shrunk down super tiny and decided to record an album in a tin can (this is the best kind of production, in case you are wondering.)

The Babies, “Breakin the Law”

(Get it from InSound)

Beyonce, 4 (Parkwood Entertainment)

I went without internet for a significant period of time this year (at least, significant for someone who has been basically breathing in wireless internet signals for the last seven years), and the first thing I did when I was reunited with a stable internet connection was stream Beyonce’s 4 on Spotify and it was GLORIOUS. If you don’t know me in real life, you might be surprised that 4 ranks in my top ten (you might be shocked just to find out that I listen to Beyonce), but if you’ve had the pleasure of being in the car with me you will know that I probably don’t care about any song written and recorded in the last five years more than I care about “Countdown” and that is because “Countdown” is a perfect song. I am not even beginning to joke with you when I say that “All up under him like it’s cold (wintertime)/All up in the kitchen in my heels (dinnertime)” are my favorite lyrics of 2011. FULL DISCLOSURE: I may or may not have watched Beyonce’s The Year of 4 documentary and CRIED when she talked about not letting other people set your goals for you and how you have to be an agent of change in your own life. (2011 was a dark year for me, okay?) Is it possible that my love of “Countdown” may have falsely inflated my sense of how good 4 is as an album? Yes. Do I care? Oh my god, no. No I do not.

Beyonce, “Countdown”

(Get it from InSound)

Brilliant Colors, Again and Again (Slumberland Records)

Can I just start by saying that 2011 was, as far as I am concerned, The Year of Slumberland Records? Because, seriously, I could have made a top ten list that was at least 90% Slumberland releases (and believe me when I say that it took a GREAT DEAL of editorial restraint to not make that list.) Picking just my most favorite of this year’s Slumberland releases was not easy, but after a long hard think, Again and Again, the sophomore album from Brilliant Colors, is where it’s at. A half hour of perfect pop songs that I’ll probably never get sick of — I think that my constant streaming of this album via Spotify is probably what inspired my network administrator to ban usage of Spotify at work.

Brilliant Colors, “Round Your Way”

(Get it from Slumberland)

Coasting, You’re Never Going Back (M’Lady’s Records)

I first heard Coasting when I reviewed a free summer compilation from Solid Melts — the song they contributed jumped right out at me & since then I’ve been keeping a close eye on their releases with labels like M’Lady’s and HoZac. You’re Never Going Back is full of blistering pop songs with great vocals — my two favorite tracks are easily “Kids” and “Pirates Cove.” Both are startlingly beautiful and poignant amidst the other fuzzy pop songs that make up the bulk of You’re Never Going Back.

Coasting, Kids”

(Get it from M’Lady’s)

EMA, Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

Sometimes, if I am really lonely and on tumblr late at night, I will dramatically refer to a “dark time” during my college years where I was dating this older dude who totally wrecked my life in the way that older dudes who are too into Yeats and Foucault and shit will sometimes do. If I could time travel back to 2007 and bring EMA’s debut album with me, that time in my life would be soundtracked not by Sufjan Stevens’ “The Dress Looks Nice on You” on repeat, but by “Marked” (which is worlds more sinister, but similar in that “tragically beautiful” kind of way.) Listening to Past Life Martyred Saints is intensely sad and cathartic and empowering all at the same time and it totally takes me back to a time when I lived in an ant-infested duplex and had a secret boyfriend and spent a lot of time watching The OC on DVD and crying. I basically want to vomit whenever I think about The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but this album is full of “and in that moment I swear we were infinite” jams. Hearing this record almost makes me want to be a teenager again so that I could at least have an excuse to REALLY FEEL all of the super intense feelings that these songs evoke. I’m not ranking this list because I’m bad at ranking things, but if I were ranking, this would easily be my #1 album of 2011.

EMA, “Marked”

(Get it from InSound)

Fucked Up, David Comes to Life (Matador)

I know I just said something about how “Countdown” is the only 2011 song that I care really deeply about, but “Queen of Hearts” from David Comes to Life is a very, very close contender for the second place only 2011 song I care about. I’ll be honest — I didn’t really “get” Fucked Up until I heard this album, but when I did hear this album? Oh my god — I just want all the guitars in the world to sound like the guitars on this album. Listening to David Comes to Life feels like listening to the hardcore punk rock opera that Rush never wrote. And I love it.

Fucked Up, “Queen of Hearts”

(Get it from Matador)

P.S. Eliot, Sadie (Salinas Records)

The more I think about it, the more I start to feel like the Crutchfields are national treasures. I’m so sad to think about P.S. Eliot not being a band anymore, but also can’t think of a more perfect note for them to go out on than Sadie. Everything about this album is heart poundingly great — this is an album for the windows down, for all the new days, for moving forward. When I initially wrote about Sadie, I said something about P.S. Eliot making great music for the liminal times in your life and I still believe that — there are songs on this record that feel like legit guiding lights for lost people. Listening to this is like finding your way home.

P.S. Eliot, “Jesus Christ”

(Get it from Salinas)

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Mirror Traffic (Matador)

When I first heard this album, I thought that “Senator” was going to be my favorite song — it was so bold, so catchy, so inexcusably cool (for real, that moment where SM is all “Smoking weed in our truck/The cops pull up/How could they not know?” — how does a dude get to be so effortlessly dope? I am in awe.) Anyway, the more I listened to Mirror Traffic, the more I was struck by the simple beauty and grace and maturity of so many of the album’s songs, but “Stick Figures in Love” was a particular standout. The moment where SM says some line that I can’t remember, but ends with the word “Carolina”? The sound of him singing that “Carolina” is a sound I will never forget. I just want to crawl inside of that sound and live there forever. (It will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that I am in love with Stephen Malkmus. I would listen to him sing the phone book.)

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, “Stick Figures in Love” (Live)

(Get it from Matador)

Widowspeak, Self-Titled (Captured Tracks)

I love to judge books by their covers and when I saw the cover of Widowspeak’s self-titled debut, looking like the cover of some amazing late sixties YA fantasy novel (like Madeleine L’Engle’s The Young Unicorns or something), I knew I would love it. I hope that the modern media machine never, ever remakes Twin Peaks, but if they did, “In the Pines” would be the new “Falling.” It’s “Fir Coat” that catches my heart though, with that perfect circular sound that just carries you along. It’s Fir Coat that makes this album into something special for me.

Widowspeak, “Fir Coat”

(Get it from Captured Tracks)

Witches, Forever (Bakery Outlet Records)

Forever came out right around the time that I started my job at the museum. I have many fond memories of summer mornings in Cleveland — driving past gorgeous homes on Fairmount listening to Cara Beth Satalino’s voice and feeling nauseated at the thought of beginning yet another new phase in my life. Witches have a warm guitar sound & Satalino’s voice is heart wrenching — there are moments where I find myself physically responding to this album, my fists clenched and my heart aching. I will always have the softest of spots for vaguely country tinged rock and roll and the slightly twangy, but always powerful and introspective, songs on Forever have a total lock on that soft spot.

Witches, “Grey”

(Get it from Bakery Outlet)

Sleeper Hits

A lot of stuff came out this year that I really loved, but you know, as much as I’d love to blog about it all, I barely have it together enough to write about my top ten. So.

  • Big Troubles, Romantic Comedy (Slumberland Records)
  • Brave Irene, Self-Titled (Slumberland Records)
  • Double Murder Suicide, The 4th Horseman (Self-Released)
  • Frank Ocean, Nostalgia/Ultra (Self-Released)
  • Gold-Bears, Are You Falling in Love? (Slumberland Records)
  • Joyce Manor, Self-Titled (6131 Records)
  • La Sera, Self-Titled (Hardly Art)
  • The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Belong (Slumberland Records)
  • Puro Instinct, Headbangers in Ecstasy (Mexican Summer Records)

(Please note that nearly half of the above list is Slumberland Releases. I wasn’t kidding about that banner year.)

My list of favorite singles and EPs is a lot skimpier. This is partially because I try not to double up on artists, so even though EMA released a bomb Danzig cover as a single-sided 7 earlier this year & The Babies’ Here Comes Trouble single also ruled, they don’t make appearances on this list. A bunch of amazing singles and EPs came out this year, here are 5 of my favorites.

Allo Darlin’, Darren b/w Wu Tang Clan

Some of you may remember that earlier this year my partner and I had an unfortunate (and short lived) residence in an apartment overrun with roaches. In the midst of unpacking all of our things, examining them for roaches, and then repacking them, I pre-ordered this 7”. Later that summer it was one of the first pieces of mail I received at our new (roachless!) apartment. Over the last couple of years, Allo Darlin’ has become one of my most beloved contemporary artists. The older I get, the more appreciative I am of sincerity & nobody does sincerity better than Allo Darlin’. For me, both songs on this single speak beautifully to the role that music plays in our lives — in helping us find a language that allows us to feel in new ways. I’m eagerly awaiting Allo Darlin’s second album and you can be sure that it will make an appearance on my best of 2012 list.

Allo Darlin’, Wu Tang Clan

(Buy on vinyl/mp3 direct from Allo Darlin)

Grass Widow, Milo Minute (HLR)

Have I mentioned yet how I think that Grass Widow is my favorite new band of the 21st century? It’s like, finally, a band that I can get behind sonically, aesthetically, and politically. They are like a trifecta of everything that’s right in the nebulous work of independent music. If you haven’t already heard their first two albums (both great!) or their debut EP (also great!), Milo Minute is a great entry point. While the two original songs on this 7 are both stunning, my real favorite is their cover of Wire’s “Mannequin.” It just doesn’t get any better than that, kids. I’m sorry. Just burn yourself a CD with that song on it like 20 times in a row and you’ll be all set.

Grass Widow, “Mannequin” (Live)

(Buy vinyl direct from Grass Widow)

Dum Dum Girls, He Gets Me High (Sub Pop)

Just when I was feeling like maybe I was over the Dum Dum Girls they threw a (totally beautiful and perfect) curveball with this EP. Wrong Feels Right and He Gets Me High got me excited about Dum Dum Girls all over again & the slow-burning Take Care of My Baby was the perfect prelude to their 2011 sophomore album.

Dum Dum Girls, Wrong Feels Right

(Get vinyl/CD/mp3s from Sub Pop)

Lana Del Rey, Video Games b/w Blue Jeans

Lana Del Rey is an equal mix of things I love (slow-burning sad jams that could have, at one time, been used to soundtrack montages of a drunk Mischa Barton during the heyday of The OC) and things I hate (people who use the word daddy in a sexy way.) Anyway, regardless of how I feel about the word daddy, Video Games is the perfect drunk Mischa Barton song and an anthem for anyone who has fallen asleep on the couch hating their life with the TV on in the background. I love it (ok, not as much as I love her song National Anthem, but that is only because I really love songs with people chanting cheerleader-style) &, yes, am looking forward to her album in 2012. (Duh, of course I have a lot of critical thoughts about LDR and image and women in music and whatever, but most of those thoughts are summed up by this.) Also? This short-form piece by Michelle is probably the best thing I’ve read about Lana Del Rey yet.

Lana Del Rey, Video Games

(Vinyl is sold out, but mp3s are available via iTunes)

Wild Flag, Future Crimes b/w Glass Tambourine (Merge)

I have conflicted feelings regarding WILD FLAG — feelings that are part pure fangirling delight (Janet Weiss and Mary Timony and Rebecca Cole and Carrie Brownstein in the same band? And when they play live they cover Television and The Misfits??? It is like rock and roll fanfiction!), part just a little bit bitterness (yes, I am sad/upset that Janet is no longer with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, but it is also not my job to tell Janet Weiss what to do with her life), and (this is hard to admit) part disappointment (I may not have enjoyed their album as much as I thought I would.) But, BUT, the promise of this 7 was undeniable — Future Crimes is, hands down, an amazing song and even if their album fell a little flat for me, WILD FLAG was still one of the best live acts I caught in 2011. Listen to this song, see this band, live your dreams, etc. (P.S. I have a mix CD that I like to listen to in the car where this song is followed by Wiz Khalifa’s Roll Up and the two actually go really well together.)

Wild Flag, Future Crimes (Live)

(Vinyl sold out, mp3s available via Merge Records)

About K.

25 year old book, comic, zine, and record enthusiast. Favorite things include: 7"s, books about teen sleuths, and rabbits.
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2 Responses to Best of 2011

  1. Ed Zeitz says:

    aw man, i thought that witches record was older than this year…i bought it when i saw them at athens popfest, they were even better live. now i gotta squeeze them onto my faves list!! great stuff on your list, for sure!

  2. Chelsey says:

    this is a great post. thanks for keeping up on 2011’s best music for those of us who can’t.

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