Kathleen’s 10 Favorite Records (National) of 2011
Girls ::: photo by Josh Lovseth
End of year lists give me the cold sweats. Much like when I was in college and finals were looming, I suddenly forget about everything that sparked in my mind, and all I’m left with is, “I don’t know…when did River Deep, Mountain High come out? THAT COUNTS, RIGHT?”
2011 was a spitfire of a year. While I was still knee deep in snow in Colorado, artists had started to bury themselves in my chest with warm melodies, inventive loops, lyrics that bound to me with knots as tight as the ones in my throat.
So, barring Ike and Tina Turner actually releasing River Deep, Mountain High in 2011, here are my top national releases for this year. Yes, there was a playlist made on Spotify called “Sophie’s Choice” with 30 possibilities, so I can safely say this was a good twelve months for our ears, and all the other soft human parts that music electrifies into waking.
1. Megafaun – s/t
Clearly fans of Phil Lesh, this band of bearded brutes crafted an album that solidified their predilection for lush folk. It often veers into psychedelic, brain melting jams, and then transitions without a breath into piano heartbreakers like “I Hope You Know.” The album flows with flawless precision, and airtight songwriting that allows for the kind of sonic free fall these guys always send me into.
2. AA Bondy – Believers
AA Bondy is a songwriter who pulls me closer, seeking warmth in his stark, distant melodies. I didn’t think he could top a song like “Mightiest of Guns,” or improve upon spellbinding melancholia. But he has in Believers, which blooms into an opulent soundscape that has moments of such pure sparseness that the whole world exhales into the song and all of a sudden you realize that you’re in a whole different world than when you started.
3. Tinariwen – Tassili
A desert guitar band hailing from the Sahara desert (actually), Tinariwen set aside the electric guitars they had adopted during their extensive touring and picked up their acoustics for a release that has such threads of longing and homesickness through it, it unravels even girls who grew up in the safe concrete suburbs. With guest spots from Nels Cline, who throws in his own ambient touch, and a couple pals from TV on the Radio, the album is a beautiful homage to roots and change.
4. Feist – Metals
What can I say about Feist’s 2011 powerhouse of an album? I don’t skip a song. A long way from the safety of the precious, breathy singles like “Mushaboom” and “1234,” Feist has emerged creatively refreshed, her amber voice darker, her songs full of dynamism that I hadn’t heard before. With towering numbers like “Anti-Pioneer,” and some folk-pop tunes that bring back her fans from the beginning, it’s an album that animates, spiritualizes, and expands fearlessly.
5. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for my Halo
I think Kurt Vile read my diary. And then put it to music. And then channeled John Fahey, and then washed off some of that gritty lo-fi grime he had accumulated, and then made an album that crystallized all his guitar influences into a singularly beautiful, wry, and affecting work.
For the rest of Kathleen’s favorites & runner’s up
6. The Antlers – Burst Apart
If Kurt Vile read my diary, then The Antlers read my dream journal. It is composed of ghostly, flickering numbers that spin delicate and dark images of disaster and loss, and is curiously capped off with “Putting the Dog to Sleep,” which sounds like slow motion doo-wop in an industrial washing machine. It’s an album that departs from the forceful beauty of Hospice, and points The Antlers down a path that we can all relate to; maybe lonely, always winding, and curiously lovely.
7. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
The opening riff of “Honey Bunny” sounds almost like a sample of “Fun, Fun, Fun” by the Beach Boys. Possibly even Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome”. But unlike when other artists lean on retro influences to flesh out their work (see: Sleigh Bells sampling Funkadelic), Girls jumps into a record that takes old influences and sounds good because, well, old music was really good. It is a simple declaration that going back a little can bring us farther forward than giving Katy Perry any more airtime. Girls’ frontman Christopher Owens has a modern voice, soft and touchable, and jumps from clean cut pop songs to winding, introspective opuses like “Forgiveness,” and somehow it all seems fresh.
8. Tune-Yards – WhoKill
Tune-Yards is by far the most inventive and fearless woman in music around right now. Unafraid of much, it seems, Merrill Garbus is assertive, commanding, and evocative. Not to mention, catchy as hell. Listen to “Gangsta” and marvel at the orchestrated chaos that seamlessly coalesces into a singular melody. Approaching subjects that people shy from like gender roles, sexual fantasy, body image- Garbus puts them into a personal narrative articulated through jazzy, high risk music, and arpeggiated chords that shock and draw me in. She’s got it. I didn’t even know it was out there to have, this level of bad-assery, but she’s got it.
9. Real Estate – Days
Understated, layered, rolling, stitched together so seamlessly that it seems impossible to pick out the complexity in the concept, Days has been playing for me constantly. As soon as it kicks off, it’s an idyllic transportation into precise, elegant guitar lines that sound just like sparkling, filtered sun through trees on that one perfect July day.
10. Wye Oak – Civilian
Jenn Wasner is a guitar goddess, and that’s just it. Whether she is displaying her full range in big, savage numbers like “Dogs Eyes”, or coloring dark blues in the lines during “Plains”, Wye Oak’s duo dynamic is fully realized on this year’s release.
1. Black Keys – El Camino 2. Yuck – s/t 3. War on Drugs – Slave Ambient 4. Wilco – The Whole Love 5. Colin Stetson – New History of Warfare Vol. 2: Judges