Top Ten Albums of the Year 2011 AD

Nothing fancy this year, not much time to devote to stuff like this when you have a job. But nonetheless, now that I have a few days break, I figured I should throw something together, because I do like to clarify my own thoughts on each year’s new music in an entirely arbitrary way and satisfy my apparent need to create some lists of some things for no good reason.

This year, I’m not really putting them in order, just picking the record, and posting a song from each, so you can get a little bite-size flavour if you will…

Bear in mind the caveat that I have not listened to every album that came out this year, not even all the albums that I would normally have wanted to listen to but for one reason or another have missed. I will do my best though, and I will catch up with the rest next year. There will also be a complimentary list to this one for albums that did not come out this year, but were listened to by me, a lot, this year.

Without further ado, here’s my list.

J Mascis – Several Shades of Why

Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis is a cool dude, with long white hair, nerdy glasses, and a guitar. Here he plays largely acoustic tunes, singing in his particular Neil Young-inspired nasal drawl. It’s pretty neat daddy-o.

Song pick: Not Enough

It’s a poorly kept secret that there’s a girl that I met relatively recently that I’ve become a little smitten with. When I feel that way, my taste tends towards a certain lyrical and musical style, and this particular song happened to resonate with me pretty strongly because of that. I love the chords. I love the tambourine. I love the words. I love the voices. I love that little bit of guitar in the chorus. I love this song, even though I know it can never love me back…

***

Akron/Family – S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT

It’s hard for me to say anything about Akron/Family without fumbling my way through a weird child-like metaphor because this band is all about the pure child-like joy and wonder at the mere idea of life. Loud haphazard celebrations are their bread and butter, and this record has a vigor about it that’s unmatched.

Song pick: Light Emerges

This is a great example of Akron/Family’s gentle whimsical songwriting style. Beautifully simple words sung softly, suddenly descending into absolute unbridled instrumental mayhem.

***

Battles – Gloss Drop

I was wondering for a while if or when there would be a new Battles album. Then one of the band’s members left. Then a new album did come out and it turns out I like it better than the first one. So there. Lots of herky-jerky off-kilter funky grooves and electronics.

Song pick: Sundome

This song has the feel of an epic, building with stuttering synthetic steel drums and organ, a crazy guy yelling what could well be absolute gibberish with absolute conviction, and a jerky chopped-up guitar and eventually a relentless, almost motorik drum beat.

***

Darren Korb – Bastion Original Soundtrack

Bastion is a video-game that is awesome and may soon appear in another list on this here blog. An independent production that plays great, looks great, sounds great, and is just all-over one of the best games to come out all year. The soundtrack is full of country twang and electronic beats. A lovely melange of style and substance.

My copy of this album is signed by the composer.

Song pick: The Pantheon (Ain’t Gonna Catch You)

This track does not actually appear in the game, but is rather an example of the kind of folk song that might exist in the game world. Acoustic guitar, and the smooth sultry tones of the game’s narrator, singin’ ‘bout the Gods and their ways.

***

R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now

Review

R.E.M. are no more. Which is a shame and all, but I’m glad they put out one last record, and that it’s actually really good. Similar to their previous release, the high-energy Accelerate, Collapse Into Now has a broader range of styles on show.

Song pick: Oh My Heart

This is a song about New Orleans, and is a direct sequel to a song on their previous record Accelerate. But you don’t really need to know that, it’s an R.E.M. song with accordion. Nothing much to say really, but I think it’s pretty neat.

***

Björk – Biophilia

Oh Björk you crazy crazy lady. How I love how crazy a lady you are. Ach, it’s not that she’s crazy, it’s that she’s uninhibited. And this record, as with all of her others, is all over the place with weird ideas that hang together by the force of her will. And boy what a will she has.

Song pick: Virus

How about a love song from a virus to a cell? The metaphor is clear, the virus loves the cell so much it yearns to be one with it, but in so doing, it destroys the cell. Anyway, Björk’s voice carries the bulk of this song, as it does most of the record, with a sparse tinkling pulsing soundscape surrounding her.

***

Dyskinesia – Dalla nascita

Somebody sent me a link to this free download record, and I was pretty smitten, which is almost never the case. This is what some might class as Post-metal, in the vein of Isis, Neurosis, et al, but actually the closest comparison I can draw is to pre-Pelican band Tusk, or at least their last album The Resisting Dreamer.

Song pick: 2

The perfect post-rock structure here, descending arpeggio guitar and crunchy bass, surrounded by warm fuzzy drones and hums, driven forward relentlessly by the crashing of cymbals. Of course, it slowly disintegrates into a swampy near-structureless dirge of feedback.

***

Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What

Review

It’s Paul Simon. In case you didn’t notice. No further explanation is required. But in case you need one, here is one: Paul Simon, of Simon & The Other Guy fame, writes better songs than just about any other songwriter in the world, and has done so for almost 50 years now. His new album mixes the wisdom that comes with age, with the musicality that comes with being Paul Simon.

Song pick: Rewrite

There’s something about Paul Simon’s songwriting style that speaks very deeply to the sweetly mundane nature of the human condition. In this song, which lurches and jitters along with some confidence, he describes a veteran who is trying to rewrite his life story into something more interesting, more cinematic and perhaps find some overarching theme he has been lacking. That’s something I think we can all identify with.

***

Earth – Demons of Light, Angels of Darkness I

Earth continue to do what Earth do these days, but drifting further into realms of folk and traditional musics. The addition of cello lending a breathy, soft and warm quality to proceedings.

Song pick: Descent to the Zenith

Dylan Carlson’s trademark picked guitar sound is present as always, with his trademark mobius strip of repeating country licks. Slow as ever, this song crawls forth with all the haste of an armadillo wandering aimlessly across a desert in an autumn sunset.

***

Steven Wilson – Grace for Drowning

I have not listened to this record(s) nearly as much as I would like to, partially because it’s quite long, and partially because as previously mentioned, my free time tends to get eaten up with more important social concerns. But it is damn good. Lots of very direct prog-rock influences here, especially King Crimson. Sectarian and Raider II in particular seem to evoke Lizard-era KC, which Wilson has confessed to be one of his favourite records.

Song pick: Index

This song appears to be a dark twist on Steven Wilson’s own obsession for collection. There’s a really menacing tone at play here that Wilson is pretty good at pulling off. Electronic beats and real drums abound, with sinister electric piano.

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