J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

J's Indie/Rock Mayhem - 21st December 2011
Top 25 Albums of 2011


[It's the 10th Annual Top 25 Albums show and I'm excited. It's one thing to have been a DJ here at WQFS for 12+ years, but now to have my annual best albums countdown reach its first decade, well, that's even more exciting. Hopefully the list will do what all the best lists on sites do for me as a reader - inspire you to check out stuff you haven't heard or had dismissed earlier in the year without giving them a fair shot. It also might inspire some heated feelings about the placement (or non placement) of records, but that's okay, too. It's all in the spirit of our love of the music.

2011 was an interesting year for music - as many people other than me have said, there weren't a lot of break-out, overwhelmingly epic records. In fact, it's hard to really think of any. Instead, the year was peppered with really good, really strong albums that are going to make themselves into our constant home rotations for years to come. And really, for each of us, that's more of a true mark of excellent art than if the album is some sort of artistic triumph. Those epic albums are amazing, but there's a reason I keep listening to the albums I do and just maybe this year was jammed full of a crop of records that will be added to that list for me.

I'd love to hear about what you were listening to this year, what you liked, what you didn't, thoughts about the list and so on. So leave 'em in the comments below and have a Happy New Year! But while the year still is, onward.]

J's Indie/Rock Podcast: Top 25 Albums of 2011 Show

25. (tie) A.A. Bondy - Believers ; Veronica Falls - Veronica Falls : Cheating as usual, my (now annual) tie at 25th place has a lot to do with how these albums channel a feel and run with it for their total running time. Believers is a dark, melancholic record about searching for meaning in everyday images and experiences, while Veronica Falls adds another cog to the really excellent return of C83 music from the past few years with their self-titled debut. For Bondy, this was his first step out from the sound of his first two solo records, but for Veronica Falls, the challenge will be not to let this record define them. Played - "The Twist" (Bondy) and "Misery" (Veronica Falls)

24. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Mirror Traffic : My expectations were pretty high for this album given that it was going to be drummer Janet Weiss' last go-round with the band and that the previous record, Real Emotional Trash, has been, in my opinion, Malkmus' best post-Pavement work. I was a little underwhelmed, but when I got my prejudices out of the way, this was another excellent outing for Malkmus. Is he old enough yet to where we pretty much just want to hear him do the same thing over and over though? Or was he always that way courtesy of co-creating one of the most unique and definitive sounds of indie-music back in the 90s? Played - "Stick Figures in Love"

23. Birds of Avalon - Birds of Avalon : The first North Carolina band on the list, Birds of Avalon are a rock and roll band, plain and simple. There are big and knotty hooks all through this record and, I'll be honest, this year that really caught me. So if you want yourself a thoughtful rock and roll record, go grab this now. Played - "Invasion"

22. Thurston Moore - Demolished Thoughts : Sometimes it's really amazing watching the idols of noise and punk get older and turn out amazingly beautiful pieces of more approachable music. Moore did that this year with his Beck produced LP of mostly acoustic music. This is still one of the co-founders of Sonic Youth here, though, and there are plenty of bits that remind you who you're dealing with, but this is still just a gorgeous piece of work. Played - "Benediction"

21. Tom Waits - Bad As Me : I am a long-time fan of Messr. Waits, but Real Gone had left me fairly cold. It was far from my favorite of his albums and though I liked what he was doing, it just didn't connect. Not so Bad As Me. Maybe it was going out on the Glitter and Doom tour and hearing fans go nuts for classics right alongside newer stuff, but this is one of Waits' most expansive and career summarizing albums to date. It still sounds like a late-period Waits record - don't get me wrong. But when the immaculate "Kiss Me" comes on, we're instantly teleported back to 1978's Blue Valentines and that's not a bad thing. Played - "Satisfied"

20. Obits - Moody, Standard and Poor : Easily winning the award for year's best album title, the second record from Obits was even more dynamic and varied than the first. I think anyone with the pedigree of this band, though, better produce great records. I mean, did you hear the last Hot Snakes album? Seriously. Keep it up, fellas. Played - "I Want Results"

19. Future Islands - On the Water : When Ryan Snyder and I reviewed this record for the Indie/Rock Roundtable earlier this year, I was pretty impressed, but this album is a slow grower and it has worked its crooning magic on me throughout the time since. There's a tendency to want to lump this record in with the other bands mining the 80s synthesizer and reverb heavy sound, but this is just simply too good for words. Played - "Balance"

18. Hammer No More the Fingers - Black Shark : The second North Carolina band on the list (or 3rd if you count Future Islands' actual origins). Infectiously and foot-tappingly mining the indie sounds of bands like the Dismemberment Plan and the math-rock liquidity of people like Faraquet, this was just a tremendously fun record. It takes you back a little (if you were alive and paying attention then), but still sounds rooted in today. Great job. Played - "It's About Carin"

17. Dum Dum Girls - Only In Dreams : Bands that evade the sophomore slump are always exciting to me, and Dum Dum Girls way outdid themselves with this record. It probably had a lot to do with this being their first full-length with the entire band rather than just their main songwriter on instruments, but whatever it was, this is a huge step up and a really fantastic record. Played - "Bedroom Eyes"

16. The Raveonettes - Raven in the Grave : I really enjoyed this band's debut, but almost immediately tuned out of their subsequent work. Thank goodness for In and Out of Control and this year's entry, Raven in the Grave, as they have completely turned me around on this band. This might be their finest hour yet as their music takes on new dimensions and depths. Played - "Forget That You're Young"

15. Bon Iver - Bon Iver : Not many records earned more controversy this year in the "is it good or not" discussion. A lot of people hailed it as a masterpiece, others as boring. I found myself significantly won over by their new work - a needed departure after the singularly magnificent debut that just begged not to be echoed. Here's hoping there's more great stuff to come. Played - "Towers"

14. tUnE-yArDs - W H O K I L L : I hate typing out this band and album name - at least if I want to get them correct, but this is one of the funkiest, engaging and head-nodding records of this year. I was a big fan of this band's first record as well, but this record is in another stratosphere. Played - "Gangsta"

13. Megafaun - Megafaun : The third (or fourth) North Carolina artist on the list. Having been wowed by these guys from the start (and originally through a live show I caught back in 2007), it's hard to know what to expect from them and their ever evolving sense of musicianship. After their stellar work on the Sounds of the South performance at Duke University last year, this record makes a lot more sense. It's all over the place and in the best of ways. Well worth visiting and revisiting. Played - "These Words"

12. Girls - Father, Son and Holy Ghost : Girls' debut was simply stellar and this follow-up ups the game even more. There's something tremendously sad and uplifting at the same time going on in these songs. I don't know exactly how to describe it. Hard for me to admit, but just listen to the thing. Played - "Vomit"

11. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy : I'm never quite sure how to compare St. Vincent to anyone, let alone while avoiding the trap of automatically comparing her to other female artists. Strange Mercy does remind me of one of the other truly unique and multi-faceted artists of the last 20 years - P.J. Harvey. And in a year when Harvey put out one of her best (though missing from my list because I just slept on it this year), it's great to see Annie Clark release something just as engaging in many ways. Played - "Cheerleader"

10. Apex Manor - The Year of Magical Drinking : This was the year of me being magically upset. Twice this band was supposed to play in North Carolina this year and both shows were canceled for various reasons. Listen to this record and see why I was dying to hear this stuff live. Power-pop and perfect melodicism at its absolute best and I was jonesing for it all year. Ross, please, come to the East Coast! There's a reason this record placed both in the top 10 albums and had my #1 single of the year. Played - "Teenage Blood"

9. Sloan - The Double Cross : Sloan took me a long time to get, but so did power-pop in general. Took me getting older, if that says anything. Now, with Sloan on a tear since Never Hear the End of It, their 20th anniversary gets celebrated in style with a tremendously poppy and catchy record to match the best of their work. Played - "Follow the Leader" and "The Answer Was You"

8. Big Troubles - Romantic Comedy : Here we have an interesting situation. A record that was shrugged at by several reviewers ends up as one of my favorites of the year. Why? Regardless, this album is just a simply stellar channeling of pop music. I love the song writing here. There's no guarantee I'd love another album by this band in the same vein, but for now, it's awesome. Played - "You'll Be Laughing"

7. Royal Bangs - Flux Outside : The band I most wish I'd caught at the Hopscotch Festival this year. Tremendously hooky, big, overpowering percussive songs. I can't say enough about this album and how it won me over from the get go. Played - "Faint Obelisk Two"

6. Wye Oak - Civilian : I can remember the interested yet indifferent feeling I got about this band when I listened to their debut. What a difference two albums makes. Wye Oak has hit a stride I hope they never come down from and this album is the apex of their work so far. Played - "Civilian"

5. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues : A remarkable step up from a remarkable debut, there is very little I can say about this record that hasn't been poured out upon it already. I still find myself drawn to it as a fan of the English Folk Rock movement, but there's so much more going on here, I hate to even pigeonhole it in that way. Played - "Sim Sala Bim"

4. Sandro Perri - Invisible Spaces : I had never heard of Sandro Perri before picking up this record, and I'm so glad that has changed. This album is infectious and open with spaces of music that just draw the ear in and don't let go. The higher up my list I go, it seems, the harder it is to accurately describe a lot of this music, but here's trying anyway. Played - "Changes"

3. Real Estate - Days : There were many times this year where I thought this would be my number one. It's a gorgeously constructed record and its warm tones are just the epitome of everything that can be right in music like this. It's not going to grab you by the throat. It's going to take you by the hand and walk slowly and enjoy everything going on around it. Played - "It's Real"

2. Fucked Up - David Comes to Life : I rarely get drown in by big, loud punk or hardcore records anymore. And certainly Fucked Up already transcended those lables with The Chemistry of Modern Life. But this album is a whole other beast entirely and it's a steamroll of a listen. I can't say enough good things about this band and if they call it quits soon, I wouldn't blame them. I wouldn't want to try and follow this record up either. Played - "Queen of Hearts"

1. The Decemberists - The King Is Dead : The Decemberists have been a band I've enjoyed a lot for some time, but this record goes beyond that. I've never listened to one of their albums as much as this one, and I've never been so immediately drawn in. There isn't a bum track on the whole damn record and it just gets better and better as it goes. At 10 songs, it hits me right where I love an album - it doesn't overstay its welcome and it doesn't give me any filler. Just track after track of perfect pop songs and then done. Seriously. All jokes about this being "the best REM record in 20 years" aside, the Decemberists managed to channel the Athens bards in a way that no one else has seemed to be able to do - at least not in a long time. This is 2011's best album. Played - "Don't Carry It All"

That'll do it. I'll be back next week with the usual mix of new and classic stuff. Thanks for all you listeners this year, and I hope you'll continue to come back each week to check out all the great music we'll be bound to get to know together. Until then, thank you, and take care.

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