Musings and Eats with Mikey

Musing #82
December 15, 2011, 9:58 pm
Filed under: Musing, Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Favorite Records of 2011

With the year ending, it is time to recap my favorite records of the year.  I like to go with the term “favorite records” as opposed to “best records” of the year, because I just want to give insight into the records that I really enjoyed this year.  Music is subjective, so who am I to say what is the best?  Plus so many records come out each year that there are usually some I haven’t had the chance to even hear.

2011 saw some great music and what follows is my list of my 20 favorite albums released this year (amongst other things).  I find it difficult to rank records in a particular order, but basically every album on this list is one I really loved and listened to a lot, and the number rankings mean very little.  That being said, the few records at the very top are the ones that I thought were the best of my picks.

1.  Frank Tuner – England Keep My Bones (Epitaph Records)

This year is the year I discovered that I love Frank Turner.  I had heard some of his songs before, but this year is the year I really paid attention to what he was doing (mostly from the EP he released last December called Rock n Roll).  Lucky for me, he also decided to release this new record.  Frank, who hails from England, is amongst the great new young singer/songwriters.  With a background in punk rock and a sound that mixes folk with rock n’ roll, Mr. Turner finds a way to make extremely meaningful and well written catchy songs.  England Keep My Bones is little more polished then his last record, but there is not one bad track on this album (even the acapella “England’s Curse” is good).  Though Frank Turner is not doing anything particularly new with his music, what sets him apart from the rest is the passion you can hear in every song he writes and records.  Suggested for fans of Chuck Ragan, Bruce Springsteen, and The Gaslight Anthem.

Favorite Tracks:  “I Still Believe”, “If Ever I Stray”, “I’m Disappeared”

2.  Tom Waits – Bad As Me (Anti- Records)

Well it has been a good seven or so years since the great Mr. Waits has put out any new material, and as usual, it was well worth the wait.  Bad As Me delivers what Tom Waits does best, which is make music that is strange, yet familiar.  It’s the sound of the underbelly of the city, the homeless, the wanders.  If you are a fan of Wait’s music, you know what to expect.  This time around, he delivers shorter and more focused songs with an eclectic mix of sounds.  This year has been the year I have been diving deep into Tom Waits’ back catalog, and this album stands among the best of his work.  Suggested for fans of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, blues and rock.

Favorite Tracks:  “Get Lost”, “Bad As Me”, “Everyone’s Talking at the Same Time”

3.  Cults – S/T (Columbia Records)

There has been a lot of “buzz” around Cults this year and this debut record proves that the buzz was well deserved.  With a sound that is equal parts rock n’ roll throwback (similar to She & Him) and reverb laden indie pop (think MGMT) Cults were able to create a record that was the perfect sound for the summer.  The record creates a laid back light and airy vibe, but the songs are so damn catchy that they get stuck in your head.  Suggested for fans of She and Him, M.I.A., and MGMT.

Favorite Tracks: “Go Outside”, “Oh My God”, “Bumper”

4.  Portrugal. The Man – In the Mountain In the Cloud (Atlantic Records)

Proturgal. The Man have been around for a while now (putting a new record almost every year) with a sound that started as progressive rock and has melded more with psychedelic rock.  Though in the past I have listened to their records, I have never been super compelled by their albums (though they are pretty great live).  This record on the other hand, really does it for me.   While at first it may seem that all the songs sound fairly similar, after a few repeat listens you notice the nuances and genius to each song, as its catchy hooks get ingrained in your head.  I have heard a lot of people compare this record to Ziggy Stardust era Bowie, and I think that is a fair assessment.  Suggested for fans of David Bowie, MGMT, Rx Bandits.

Favorite Tracks: “Got It All (This Can’t Be Living)”, “Head is a Flame (Cool With It)”, “So American”

5.  My Morning Jacket – Circuital (ATO Records)

Louisville favorites My Morning Jacket returned this year with one of their most cohesive and brilliant records to date.  With a mix of all the sounds of their past records, but in a way that pushes forward their sound, My Morning Jacket have found the right balance of bringing that big sounding rock n roll to their country folk esthetic.  The album was recorded mostly live, with minimal overrdubs, in a large gymnasium, which allowed the band to capture more of their live sound and energy.  As to be expected from the band, top notch songwriting and Jim Jame’s golden voice is what set these guys apart, and they only seem to get better with each record.  Suggested for fans of M. Ward, Lucero, and Radiohead.

Favorite Tracks: “Wonderful (the Way I Feel)”, “Circuital”, “Holdin’ On to Black Metal”

6.  Childish Gambino – Camp (Glassnote Records)

This has been a big year for comedian Donald Glover, who is the brainchild behind Childish Gambino.  While it would be easy enough to write him off as just another actor turned musician/hip hop artist, Donald Glover has the talent to back it up when claims “why does every black actor got to rap some / I don’t know / but I’m the best one”.  Though this album is obviously heavily influenced by the sound that Kayne has been putting out the last few years (almost to the point of being derivative) the cleverness of Gambino’s rhymes is what takes this far beyond being just another copycat act.  Of course, being a comedy writer (30 Rock, Community) gives him a bit of a leg up in the cleverness department.  On top of the that, the record is almost entirely self produce, which is impressive as the beats and sound of the record is pretty damn good.  Suggested for fans of Kayne West, Jay-Z, and Kid Cuddi.

Favorite Tracks: “Backpackers”, “Heatbeat”, “Fire Fly”

7.  Feist – Metals (Interscope Records)

Leslie Feist hit it big a few years ago after her song “1234”, from the album the Reminder, was featured in an iPod commercial.  It seems like this record is a response to the success that was thrown upon her.  Less upbeat then her last record, this more dense and complex record may take a few listens to really fall in love with.  That being said, all the elements of a great record are here; good songwriting, beautiful melodies, complex guitar sounds often juxtaposed against a more simplistic musical background.  While the album at times can feel dark, at the end of the record there is sense that you have been let into Feist’s world of thoughts and sounds and have come out completely satisfied.  Suggested for fans of the Swell Season, Broken Social Scene, and Neko Case.

Favorite Tracks:  “How Come You Never Go There”, “The Circle Married the Line”, “Get it Wrong, Get it Right”

8.  The Horrible Crowes – Elsie (Side One Dummy Records)

Side projects are a tricky thing to get right, especially when it is more then just a solo album.  On the one sense, you don’t want it to just be a repeat of your main project, on the other, you don’t want to stray too far from what people liked about you in the first place.  Brian Fallon (of the Gaslight Anthem) and his collaborators were able to find the perfect balance on the debut from the Horrible Crowes.  While it could be said that a lot of these tracks would not feel so out of place on a Gaslight Anthem record, an album by Gaslight with the majority of these songs on it would be pulling that band pretty far from the direction in which they started.  Here we have what could be described as mellower versions of the type of songs Fallon has written for Gaslight (heavy Springsteen influenced rock n roll) with some interesting notes thrown in (like the clear Tom Waits influence).  More than anything though, this record cements Fallon is as one of the great up and coming songwriters of his generation, who will likely be around long after his main act, or this side project, disappear.  Suggested for fans of the Gaslight Anthem, Tom Petty, and Tom Waits.

Favorite Tracks:  “Behold the Hurricane”, “I Witnessed a Crime”, “Ladykiller”

9.  Chuck Ragan – Covering Ground (Side One Dummy Records)

With his third full length, it seems that Chuck Ragan (formerly of Hot Water Music) has found his “sound”.  This is not to say Chuck has spent the last five years not knowing what he wanted to sound like, as his first two solo releases were quite good.  It just seems like this recording finally best represents his sound.  It is both raw and has the energy and passion of his live show, which makes sense because on this record he has chosen to be mostly just accompanied by Joe Ginsburg (on bass) and Jon Guant (on fiddle), who are his live band.  Of all the punk rock singers turned folk troubadours, I think that Chuck has the most authentic Americana sound, one that really throws back to the heart and soul of American folk/country music.  There is just something about the mix of his voice, his songwriting, and his bit of bluegrass sensibility that really does it for me.  Suggested for fans of Bruce Springsteen, Hot Water Music, and Austin Lucas.

Favorite Tracks:  “Nomad by Fate”, “Wish on the Moon”, “Valentine”

10.  M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute Records)

My interest in M83 was sparked after I saw a teaser for this record that was shot almost like a trailer for a Malick film.  From that I decided I would check this record out.  My understanding of this band is that they are from France and the main guy pretty much writes, arranges, and records everything mostly himself.  With this record, M83 finds a way to create lush dreamscapes with a throw back to 80’s pop.  This is the type of record you put on with your headphones and just allow yourself to drift away.  The 80’s sensibilities really bring this record to life, making it more than just a floaty ethereal record, allowing the songs to get stuck in your head.  Suggested for fans of Phoenix, the Sounds, and LCD Soundsystem.

Favorite Tracks: “Midnight City”, “New Map”, “Reunion”

11.  Man Man – Life Fantastic (Anti- Records)

Man Man is a strange band and Life Fantastic is a fantastically weird record.  With a sound that is like Tom Waits fronting Oingo Boingo, Man Man is able to create an album of catchy tunes using all sorts of interesting instrumentation (think xylophones and lots of percussion).  The songs and lyrics can be weird at times, but they will get under your skin and stuck in your head.  This record is both fun and really well done.  It is nice to see a band taking the risk of being  truly unique and succeeding so well with it.  Suggested for fans of Tom Waits, Oingo Boingo, and Talking Heads.

Favorite Tracks: “Piranhas Club”, “Steak Knives”, “Life Fantastic”

12.  Andrew Jackson Jihad – Knife Man (Asian Man Records)

Another best of list and another Andrew Jackson Jihad album making the cut.  Andrew Jackson Jihad has been at the forefront of the folk/punk movement with his brutally honest lyrics, and Knife Man is his most realized (and possibly best) record to date.  This time around, AJJ goes even further away from just being an acoustic guitar and stand up bass, with much richer arrangements and production value (though this has been teased a bit on the last record).  At first this album may not quite click, but after a few listens, when all the nuances come to life, one can fully appreciate what AJJ brings to the table.  The songs are catchy, well written, and actually say something.  Suggested for fans of Against Me!, Fake Problems, and Chuck Ragan.

Favorite Tracks: “Big Bird”, “People II 2: Still Peoplin'”, “Sad Songs (Intermission)”

13.  William Elliot Whitemore – Field Songs (Anti- Records)

Could there be any greater name for this record than Field Songs?  William Elliot Whitemore’s latest effort is a real nice collection of songs that are best described as just that, field songs.  This record is modern day dust bowl folk record that feels very authentic (possibly because William Elliot Whitemore actually lives on a farm?).  These songs are protest songs for the working class modern day farmer set to the musical accompaniment of guitar and banjo.  Suggested for fans of Woody Gutherie, Chuck Ragan, and Bob Dylan.

Favorite Tracks:  “Field Songs”, “Everything Gets Gone”, “We’ll Carry On”

14.  Dead to Me – Moscow Party Ante (Fat Wreck Chords)

This is the only real punk record I felt good enough to make my list.  San Fransisco’s Dead to Me has had a different line up on every record, yet every record has been great.  This is probably a testament to anchor member Chicken’s perseverance more than anything, but I’m glad they have kept it together this long.  A little more straight forward then their last record, Moscow Party Ante is a straight ahead punk with the spirit of ’77 and all sorts of catchy hooks.  The vocals are buried a bit in the mix, but once you listen to it a few times you get whats going on and its great.  Suggested for fans of The Clash, One Man Army, and Rancid.

Favorite Tracks:  “The Trials of Oscar Wilde”, “The Evolution Will Be Tele-Visualized”, “Dead Pigeon Tricks”

15.  Laura Stevenson and the Cans – Sit Resit (Don Giovonni Records)

Jangly female fronted indie rock is what I have heard used to describe Laura Stevenson and the Cans.  While that is some what true of their sound, what sets them apart from other similar acts is the voice and cleverness of front women Laura Stevenson.  Mix those qualities of Stevenson with her backing band, the Cans, and their mixture of strings and horns with straight forward indie guitar (and some punk rock influences) and you get a great little record with some great tunes.  Suggested for fans of Regina Spektor, Tegan and Sara, and Christine Fellows.

Favorite Tracks: “Master of Art”, “Caretaker”, “The Healthy One”

16.  Jolie Holland – Pint of Blood (Anti- Records)

Jolie Holland’s unique voice and her mixture of jazz and folk music has set her apart as one of the best female singer/songwriters in the game.  That being said, her last couple of records have been somewhat lackluster, with a few good tracks here and there, but on the whole not too consistent.  Pint of Blood is true return to form for Holland, with its cohesiveness and great tracks all the way through.  The sound of the record is a bit of Escondida mixed with the Living and the Dead.  Beyond the solid songwriting, the great lead guitar work gives the songs just the right texture.  Suggested for fans of Neko Case, Audra Mae, and Jenny Lewis.

Favorite Tracks: “All Those Girls”, “Wreckage”, “Little Birds”

17.  Mates of State – Mountaintops (Barsuk Records)

The catchiest record of the year goes to Mates of State (I think they win this one almost every year).  Nothing too groundbreaking on this record, but Mates of State bring their usual brand of super catchy indie-pop tunes.  This time around there is a bit of an 80’s synth influence on a few tracks, but all and all a fun time.  Suggeseted for fans of Tegan and Sara, Los Campensitos!, and Slow Club.

Favorite Tracks: “Palomino”, “Maracas”, “Mistakes”

18.  Lemuria – Pebble (Bridge Nine Records)

Lemuria’s sophomore full-length shows a great deal of progression and maturation.  This album takes what they learned from their first record, Get Better, and builds on it, in terms of the songwriting.  The sound of the record is a bit slowed down, with a heavy late 80’s, early 90’s indie rock feel (the Pixies come to mind).  This one takes a few listens to get into, but afterward one can hear both the catchiness and the delicateness of the record.  Lemuria has found its sound and moved successfully from being a punk rock band with some indie sound to being an indie rock band with some punk influence.  Suggested for fans of Jawbreaker, Tegan and Sara, and the Pixies.

Favorite Tracks: “Wise People”, “Different Girls”, “Durian”

19.  Bright Eyes – The People’s Key (Saddlecreek Records)

After a long hiatus from making records under the Bright Eyes moniker, Conor Oberest is back with an album that seems like the perfect album for Bright Eyes right now.  Though it is a little more polished then previous releases, the songwriting is top notch and the album is the most cohesive the band has put out in years  The songs are smart and catchy, and exactly what I wanted from them at this point in their career. Suggested for fans of Cursive, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, and Bob Dylan.

Favorite Tracks: “Jejune Stars”, “Approximate Sunlight”, “Triple Spiral”

20.  Slow Club – Paradise (Moshi Moshi Records)

Though less folky than their debut release, this UK duo know how to make some sweet music together.  Their voices play off each other so well, and the passion and energy really comes through on the record.  More of an indie rock sound with some folk influence, then a folk record, this record takes what they have done in the past and expands on it.  More electric guitars, but still poppy and cute.  Suggested for fans of Mates of State, Mumford and Sons, Los Campensitos!

Favorite Tracks: “Two Cousins”, “If We’re Still Alive”, “Where I’m Waking”

Honorable Mentions:

Jay Z and Kayne West – Watch the Throne
Casio Kids – Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen
Marachi El Bronx – II
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Tegan and Sara – Get Along
Wilco – the Whole Love
Mayer Hawthorne – How Do You Do
Paul Simon – So Beautiful, So What
Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire

Favorite EP of 2011:

Look Mexico – Real American Spear It (Adeline Records) – This EP is awesome, and I can’t wait for them to follow it up with a full-length.

Favorite Live Shows of 2011:

Frank Turner / Andrew Jackson Jihad – The Glasshouse – October 11, 2011
Rx Bandits farewell show – The Glasshouse – August 6, 2011
Slapstick Reunion / Slow Gherkin Reunion (Asian Man Records 15 Year Anniversary) – San Francisco – June 16 & 17, 2011

Favorite Record of 2010 That I Didn’t Discover Until 2011:

The Wild – Everything We Needed (Asian Man Records)

Most Anticipated Records of 2012:

Not too much has been announced, but I’m looking forward to new albums by these artists in 2012:

Lucero, Good Old War, John K. Samson, Look Mexico, Gaslight Anthem, Against Me!, Cheap Girls

2011 Mixtape:

Side A:

1.  Laura Stevenson and the Cans – Caretaker
2.  M83 – Midnight City
3.  Porturgal. the Man – Got it All (This Can’t Be Living Now)
4.  Childish Gambino – Fire Fly
5.  Cults – Go Outside
6.   My Morning Jacket – Wonderful (the Way I Feel)
7.   Andrew Jackson Jihad – Distance
8.  Mayer Hawthorne – Finally Falling
9.  Mates of State – Maracas
10.  Feist – Cicadas and Gulls
11.  William Elliot Whitmore – Field Songs
12.  Audra Mae and the Almighty – I Won’t Grow Up

Side B:

1.  Frank Turner – I Still Believe
2.  The Horrible Crowes – Behold the Hurricane
3.  Dead to Me – The Monarch Hotel
4.  Bright Eyes – Approximate Sunlight
5.  Look Mexico – Arrest? I Don’t Feel Like I’m Under Arrest
6.  Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire
7.  Jolie Holland – Little Birds
8.  Man Man – Piranhas Club
9.  Lemuria – Pleaser
10.  Chuck Ragan – Come Around
11.  Slow Club – If We’re Still Alive
12.  Tom Waits – Get Lost

Listen to the 2011 Mixtape on Spotify