SNAVE'S BEST MUSIC OF 2011 - revisions noted in red!
Time for more of these lists! There was a lot of great music out there in 2011. Thanks to everyone who turned me on to such great music during this past year! As always, there was too much good music and not enough time or ears to hear it all! A few revisions have been noted in red, for albums released in 2011 that I have managed to hear and consider since I posted the original list. And because it's 2011 for another eight days, another one or two might sneak in here or there! 8-)
My 25+ best albums of 2011:
1. Other Lives - Tamer Animals - Quintet from Oklahoma (pictured above) produces some of the most creative and dynamic work I've heard in ages. Hard to describe their music, but I love it. At times there are hints of classic rock influences such as the Moody Blues and Pink Floyd, and songwriter/keyboardist/guitarist/main vocalist Jesse Tabish recalls Roy Harper at times in his tone and delivery. Full of power, full of emotion, Other Lives' music touches me on many levels. I saw them in concert on 12/8 in Portland, Oregon... see them if you get a chance! Everyone in the band is a multi-instrumentalist, and they can create multiple moods within songs. Songs like "For 12" and "Dust Bowl III" are only about four minutes long, yet they have an epic feel about them. Other Lives will open for Radiohead on that band's tour soon, and I think they're a band on the way up. I'm already excited about their next album, whenever that is!
2. Tame Impala - Innerspeaker - This is actually music from 2010, but I include it here because I believe it was not officially released in the US until 2011. I searched for it in stores in 2010, and couldn't buy it until 2011, anyway. 8-) This is great psychedelic groove-rock from a young trio from Perth, Australia. I listened to "Innerspeaker" many times during the past year! The vocals are Lennon-esque, the melodies are good, and the moods are great! "Innerspeaker" is available with a second disc called "Extraspeaker" which includes the song "Sundown Syndrome" (used in the soundtrack album for "The Kids Are All Right" last year).
3. Radiohead - The King Of Limbs - Very trippy, very strange, and highly underrated. No, it's not "The Bends", "OK Computer" or even "In Rainbows". Call it "inaccessible" if you want, but there is a lot going on in this record, and every time I listen to it I hear something new and different. One of their best in a while, in my opinion (although I wouldn't bother with their 2-disc set of remixes of these songs, "TKOL RMX 1234567"... it's OK, but really nothing too special). While I am one of the many who would love to hear Radiohead release something like "The Bends" again, I love just about everything they do... I suspect whatever direction they move next will be fine with me.
4. Steven Wilson - Grace for Drowning - Ambitious double-CD by a modern prog-rock master, this one runs the gamut of moods. It is great stuff. His guitar, vocals, songwriting and arranging are all topnotch. My friend Jim refers to Wilson's music as "cinematic", and I agree with him 100%. It is big, it is expansive, and it creates images for the listener as it goes! His previous solo release "Insurgentes" is also pretty amazing. One of our times' more interesting talents, Wilson has fronted Porcupine Tree for years, recorded as Blackfield (see #23 below) and has produced for Opeth and others. Check out "Grace For Drowning", it's incredible.
5. The Antlers - Burst Apart - Mostly mellow, melodic and atmospheric. This one saw lots of time in my CD player this year. Vocalist Peter Silberman is an acquired taste for some listeners, though I find his singing to be sublime. His understated guitar and keyboard work creates beautiful atmospheres and textures throughout the album, and his lyrics are arguably more uplifting this time than on 2009's "Hospice" (also an excellent record). Michael Lerner and Darby Cicci provide more than able support in the construction and arrangement of the music. This is beautiful stuff.
6. Wye Oak - Civilian - Duo from Baltimore, Maryland produces some great music! I guess I would call it electric folk-rock but it's deeper than that. Singer Jenn Wasner has a great voice, strong at times and ethereal at others. See them live if you can... there are just two of them, but they sound like three or four people. Drummer Andy Stack plays drums with one hand and keyboards with the other; he and Wasner both sing. "Civilian" is a fine record, one I think more people should hear.
7. Bon Iver - Bon Iver - Unlike his first album, this one is more slick and produced-sounding... but he creates some truly amazing sounds. He shows how multidimensional his talents are by expanding from quiet folk-like music into more textured and complex material that is louder and has a more electronic feel, yet retains his wonderful vocals and harmonies and his great sense of melody.
8. Steve Hackett - Live Rails - The ex-Genesis guitar master shows that he can play his own new material just as well as he does the old Genesis classics. Hackett is similar to Jeff Beck in some ways, particularly in how he finesses his guitar to get some delicate sounds, then turns around and attacks it to get sounds that border on metal. He is a pro's pro on his instrument, totally worthy of much greater respect and recognition than he gets. The sound of this album is so immaculate I can hardly believe it is a live recording. His backing band is great. "Live Rails" makes me want to see Hackett and his band play next time they are on tour!
9. Wilco - The Whole Love - While maybe not as strong lyrically as some of their past efforts, I think it's one of their best when it comes to the music and the overall sound. Basically, they're just a great band, and I will probably like most anything they do. I like this one more than their last two. Some have been critical of "One Sunday Morning" for being 12 minutes long, but for me it's 12 minutes of sheer beauty. If you can get the "deluxe" version of this album with the 4-song extra CD, I think it's worth it for the alternate version of "Black Moon". My favorite Wilco album is "Summerteeth", and of all their albums since then, "The Whole Love" comes closest to capturing the feel of "Summerteeth" for me.
10. Younger Brother - Vaccine - This trio produces some of the best electronic rock sounds today. "Train" sounds suspiciously like Alan Parsons Project, and I mean that in a good way. It's a pretty outstanding record from start to finish. Electronic music becomes more organic as masterminds Simon Posford (Shpongle, Hallucinogen) and Benji Vaughan create new worlds of sound with recently added full-band-status member Ru Campbell providing some fine vocals. It's modern, but comfortably old-school in enough ways that it should be cross-generational in its appeal.
11. Umphreys McGee - Death By Stereo - This new release is more accessible than some of their previous records. "Death By Stereo" is very concise, enormously well-crafted rock music inflected with prog. Some label this group as a "jam band" but Umphreys McGee is more eclectic in their approach enough so that they transcend categorization. On this record you'll hear some good loud rock and roll, but also some funk, some R & B, some prog rock moments, and even a few jazz inflections. I highly recommend "Death By Stereo" as well as their 2009 album "Mantis". These guys are highly polished musicians, and their craft is high-level and high-octane.
12. My Morning Jacket - Circuital - I think this one is their best records since 2003's "It Still Moves". The title track and "Outta My System" are standouts for me, but I like just about all of it. Over the years they have expanded their sound to include different styles of rock, and this time out they synthesize the high points of their past efforts into a cohesive product. Jim James is as good as ever at hitting most of the notes head-on with his unique vocal stylings, and he is so influential to so many young singers nowadays. The band sounds tight and powerful. They are always exploring, always creating, and doing things on their own terms... and "Circuital" is no exception.
13. Deer Tick - Divine Providence - An ode to drinking and excess at times, this is a fun record from some very talented guys. Some of those who are more "in the know" than me are saying this CD represents something of a departure for Deer Tick, so now I'll have to hear some of the rest of their catalog... because this one is excellent! It growls, it rocks, it burps, it swears, and it mostly just has a good time.
14. The War On Drugs - Slave Ambient - Their lyrics are interesting, they have a great, carefully crafted sound. My only complaint is that all their songs are written on maybe two chords, sometimes three... but I haven't heard anybody write such simplistically musical songs and do it this well in a long time! They're supposedly going to be at the Sasquatch festival in May... I'm looking forward to it!
15. Real Estate - Days - Sunny day rock and roll from this New Jersey trio, the music is drenched in reverb and it's full of atmosphere. Plenty of ethereal guitar textures for those who like that sort of thing (as I do!) Dreamy music for a fun drive on a sunny day.
16. P.J. Harvey - Let England Shake - I love Polly Harvey's voice. Untrained, unencumbered, and unusual. These songs are interesting, they have some nice atmosphere, and they are simple and subtle. The lyrics are excellent, and most of the songs have to do with some aspect of England. I can see why so many people like this one so much! I like it the most of anything she has done since 1995's "To Bring You My Love". One of my standout tracks on this album is "On Battleship Hill".
17. Yuck - Yuck - More than just a little bit of fuzzy Smashing Pumpkins and early-90's sound from this quartet based in London. A very pleasing record. It is such a strong debut it makes me wonder if they will be able to top it. A lot of this record features mid-tempo, grunged-out stony slacker sounds, and it would make a great party record.
18. Feist - Metals - Leslie Feist creates some pop music that is just non-conventional enough to make it quite interesting (not a lot of stuff like "1, 2, 3, 4" on this one). She has a very fine voice, and I like her lyrics as well. Add all that into some creative and fun song arrangements, and it's a very pleasant listen!
19. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming - Ambitious release, presented as a 2-CD set (although it would fit onto one disc). It has some highs and lows, but the highs make it a good record. I was unaware band member Anthony Gonzalez had the vocal range he does... his singing on "Reunion" and a few other tracks totally took me by surprise. Nice packaging and presentation, too.
20. Boston Spaceships - Let It Beard - this Robert Pollard side project represents a real creative outlet for him. This album has 26 tracks, but it is 70 minutes long... it's a real drunken psychedelic opus, and it covers a wide musical range. There are some low points, but for the most part it's pretty solid. Chris Slusarenko does most of the guitars and basses, and the Decemberists' Jim Moen is on drums. J.Mascis and Steve Wynn guest.
21. Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will - I think this "post-prog" band just gets better and better. Over the years they have refined their sound, taking it from extremely primitive to highly sophisticated. The music on this album portrays not just shades of light and dark, but so many shades of gray in between. Bright, dark, light, heavy, day, night... So many moods, so little time!
22. Yes - Fly From Here - This hybridization of Yes combines some of the feel of the later, more pop-oriented stuff with the feel of their earlier material. No Jon Anderson this time, but bassist Chris Squire, drummer Alan White and guitarist Steve Howe are still around, and singer Benoit David more than holds his own. Lots of Geoff Downes keyboards going on. It's not what I'd call "classic Yes", but it's lots of fun!
23. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy - Very nice album, only a couple of tracks I don't care for (1 and 9). The rest sounds like (as J. Marquis put it) like the album we wish Kate Bush could have (or would have) made this year. Annie gets a good groove going in quite a few places this time. Seems there is a little less polyrhythmic starting-and-stopping, and longer periods of time where the toe has a great time tapping. Good guitar work too, as always.
24. Tommy Keene - Behind the Parade - Great music from one of the unrecognized and unheard-of modern masters of power pop. He has plenty of guts, but still hasn't achieved much glory. He won't be in very many Top 40 lists, but he made my Top 20. 8-) Lots of sunshine, heartache and jangle to be found in this record.
25. The Feelies - Here Before - Nothing really outstanding in the reunion album from these rockers except that after about 20 years without releasing anything, they haven't lost a step. If you liked them before, you still should. Lots of typical uptempo freneticisms, with Bill Million and Glenn Mercer's guitars interplaying and intertwining like always.
26. Blackfield - Welcome To My DNA - The third full-length collaboration between Steven Wilson (see #4 above) and Israeli singer Aviv Geffen, this one is emotional, cinematic, and accessible to many ears. Well-produced, beautifully recorded. Wilson's influence is strongest in the arranging and production, but all the tracks were written by Geffen on this one (with the exception of Wilson's song "Waving").
27. Low - C'Mon - Some highs and lows on this one, but "Try to Sleep" and "Witches" make this CD a very good one for me. Wilco's Nels Cline helps with some of the guitars this time. I love Alan Sparhawk's plaintive vocals, and the harmonies he and Mimi Parker do are still there in all their glory.
28. Sigur Ros - Inni - very nice live double-disc set from Iceland's finest (sorry, Bjork fans... Sigur Ros is better! LOL!) These guys are totally about atmosphere, and whether its live or in the studio, their music makes me think of ice, mist, glaciers, and alien landscapes. This album has lots of E-Bow sounds, lots of high, ringing notes, lots of primal vocals... it's quite powerful. I just got it recently, and I suspect that with more listens it might rise up a ways in this list. "Inni" is available with a Blu-Ray concert disc that you will probably find to be wonderful (if you are Sigur Ros fan, as I am).
29. The Decemberists - The King Is Dead - I'm usually not a fan of this band, but I like about 2/3 of this album quite a bit. "This Is Why We Fight" is one of my favorite songs of the year. I like the stride they're hitting, and as I am gradually getting to like them a bit more with each release, I look forward to their next one.
Honorable mention (these have their moments):
Elbow - Build a Rocket, Boys! - Guy Garvey is a great vocalist, I just think this material is not as strong as some of that on their earlier records.
Atlas Sound - Parallax - Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox's solo project, sounds pretty mellow.
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues - getting in touch with their inner CSNY.
Battles - Gloss Drop - A bit harsh and repetitive in places, but they are still as mathy and precise as always.
Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo - I love a few tracks off this one, but find the rest of it mainly forgettable.
Foo Fighters - Wasting Light - Seeing them in concert at Sasquatch helped me realize what a really good band they are. This album is not great, but it's pretty powerful in places.
Bright Eyes - The Peoples Key - Conor Oberst is a great lyricist, in my opinion. And I like his lyrics much better on this one than on some of his previous efforts. Musically it's OK.
The Strokes - Angles - I'm not crazy about this band like a lot of people seem to be, but there are a few tracks on this one I really like, particularly the opening track "Machu Picchu".
Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto - Nothing as adventurous as their previous output, but it's very pleasant, immaculately produced and well-played. Sounds like they're going for the pop jugular this time...
Todd Rundgren - (re)Produced
Radiohead - TKOL RMX 1234567 - 2-Cd set of remixes from "The King of Limbs", only in a couple of places do the remixes begin to approach the magic of the original songs.
Still haven't heard, but plan to and am looking forward to it because I hear they're great:
Matthew Sweet - Modern Art
Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde
Ray Davies - See My Friends
Adele - 21
Elliott Murphy - Just a Story From New York
Kate Bush - 50 Words For Snow - I was excited to hear it, but found it to be a very tough listen.
Lou Reed and Metallica - Lulu - I had such high hopes for this one, and I think it may be one of the worst things I've ever heard.
Ones I have accidentally left off or have forgotten:
Probably too many to count!
Best band I discovered in 2011 that has been around a while and that I had never really heard before:
A 2010 release I discovered that I like after seeing the artist in concert:
JBM - Not Even In July
Best forgotten band I remembered in 2011:
Some of my Top 40+ Songs of 2011:
1. Other Lives - Dust Bowl III
2. The Antlers - No Widows
3. Kurt Vile - In My Time
4. Tame Impala - It's Not Meant To Be
5. My Morning Jacket - Outta My System
6. Other Lives - Tamer Animals
7. Other Lives - For 12
8. Tame Impala - Desire Be Desire Go
9. Bon Iver - Holocene
10. The Decemberists - This Is Why We Fight
11. Low - Try To Sleep
12. The Antlers - Corsicana
13. Bon Iver - Calgary
14. M83 - Reunion
15. Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3 - Resoulution
16. Deer Tick - Let's All Go To The Bar
17. Wilco - One Sunday Morning
18. Low - Witches
19. The Antlers - Rolled Together
20. Steven Wilson - Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye
21. Radiohead - Bloom
22. Wilco - Black Moon
23. Real Estate - Green Aisles
24. Feist - Comfort Me
25. PJ Harvey - On Battleship Hill
26. Yuck - Georgia
27. Younger Brother - Train
28. Radiohead - Little By Little
29. Wye Oak - Fish
30. Younger Brother - Safety In Numbers
31. Real Estate - It's Real
32. The Feelies - Way Down
33. Tommy Keene - Already Made Up Your Mind
34. The War on Drugs - Brothers
35. Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3 - Colored Lights
36. Boston Spaceships - Chevy Marigold
37. Yes - Hour of Need
38. The Strokes - Machu Picchu
39. Deer Tick - Clownin' Around
40. Wye Oak - Civilian
41. Atlas Sound - Angel Is Broken
42. Boston Spaceships - Christmas Girl
43. Dwight Twilley - You Close Your Eyes
44. Elbow - The Birds
45. Boston Spaceships - Tourist UFO
46. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo
If you see anything I have left off this list that you think needs to be on it, and if it is something I have heard, I can always readjust. 8-) Happy listening!