Oh, is it that time of year again? The time just before the end of the year when everyone else’s Best Of lists have been published for weeks, thereby allowing me to peruse them and cobble together my own Best Of list based on everyone else’s editorial efforts, making it look like I spent the whole year researching and contemplating new music? Haha, just kidding! Mostly.
I started writing this post and it immediately spiraled into a long, rabling analysis of how I listen to music, why something should end up on a list, the reason best of lists should eve exist, and BOORRRRRRRRRING. Let’s just get to it.
This year I came across 6 albums (released in 2011) I thought were worth talking about:
Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
ZOMG, a rock opera from a hardcore band! When I first heard this record, I absolutely loved it. It had The Shape Of Punk To Come aspirations and I wanted it to live up to the hype. After about a week of listening, however, I decided I hated this record. Exhibit A, the opening lyric to “Turn The Season”: “Things go up, and then go down. Chase a smile with a frown.” Are you kidding me with that Dr. Seuss filler? After a few months off, I gave it another listen and had a much more balanced experience. Spin magazine made this their album of the year, which, okay. I guess my biggest complaint is that it takes itself WAY too seriously (see the video below, though, band nerds beware–the female actor’s “conducting” is going to make you really angry). After much internal deliberation, the bottom line is that I like listening to this record and I’ve returned to it repeatedly, so it’s on the list.
Chuck Ragan – Covering Ground
I love me some Hot Water Music, even if they did get a little glossy there toward the end. I say the end, but they reunited and are recording a new album early next year. During the HWM “hiatus”, Chuck Ragan has released three full length solo albums, the most recent being this year’s Covering Ground. It’s hard for me to describe Ragan’s solo work without sounding like Jeff Lebowski, so I won’t. It’s gruff, powerful folk music, but it’s uplifting and triumphant. Listen to “Nomad By Fate.”
Old 97s – The Grand Theatre Volume 2
It is well documented that The Old 97s would have to really shit the bed in order to not end up on my list in any year they release a new record. I got to see them play earlier this year at the newly renovated Buckhead Theater. During their set, I remember thinking, “If I had to describe my moral center in one word, it would be Old 97s” (yes, that is one word). That is likely aspirational, but I believe it. About last year’s Grand Theatre Volume 1, I wrote:
I just picked this one up a couple weeks ago and I am still digesting it, but there are elements on The Grand Theatre that harken back to the mid-nineties, which, let’s be honest, is really all anyone has ever wanted from the Old 97s. Most notably, The Magician sounds more like Doreen or Time Bomb than anything since the first Clinton administration.
I originally thought Volume 2 might actually be a little bit better than Volume 1, but I have to come to appreciate them both equally. Not that it really matters.
Torche / Part Chimp – Split EP
Torche is great. Like them a lot. I hadn’t heard Part Chimp before this release, and I was dismayed to learn that they are in the process of calling it quits. Drag. This was a vinyl-only release so finding tracks online is tricky. Here is a link to Torche’s cover of “Exit Flagger” by Guided by Voices on Soundcloud. No idea for how long the link will be good.
Dead Man Winter – Bright Lights
Last year was all about Trampled by Turtles. TbT did not release a new record this year, though I believe they have one in the bag. TbT frontman, Dave Simonett, did release a record this year for his solo project, Dead Man Winter. DMW is described as an outlet for Simonett’s songs that don’t quite fit with TbT. Whatever, I love it. It paired brilliantly with our trip to Iowa in August.
Russian Circles – Empros
Sprawling, instrumental metal. Devilishly sludgy riffs contrasted with soaring melodies. Something sounded strangely familiar the first time I heard this record. I read later that Russian Circles’ bass player is none other than Brian Cook from Botch and These Arms Are Snakes. I’m not saying I could pick him out of the mix, I’m just saying something sounded familiar and I have listened to a lot of Cook’s playing over the years. Shut up. Leave me alone. This record is frigging awesome and everyone should listen to it. If you only give it one song, make it Mlàdek:
I listened to a lot of new music this year. I also missed a lot of new music, which I’m sure you’ll let me know ALL about in the comments (note: please do). Reading other people’s Best Of lists, I found myself thinking, “Who are all these bands? I haven’t listened to shit!” And you probably noticed that my list is full of stuff I was already familiar with and pretty much expected to like.
I also seem to have this habit of discovering lots of great new stuff the year after it was released. For instance, this year I spent a lot of time with Cavalcade from The Flatliners and Chamberlain Waits from The Menzingers, both of which were released mid-2010 and both of which are great records to listen to while running.
Albums I listened to this year that I enjoyed, but didn’t find myself returning to repeatedly:
Bright Eyes – The People’s Key
400 Blows – Sickness and Health
Bone Dance – Split w/ Divider & Plebeian Grandstand
Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
Future of the Left – Polymers are Forever