This is not a standard “year-end list,” nor is it a standard “Knox Road year-end list.” See, we decided to do something different this year. I should note that, most importantly, Jamie and I just didn’t have the time to make a post like we’ve done the past couple years (see here and here), and we also didn’t have the time to listen to so many of the great albums out this year. So, we asked our talented writing team to contribute not only with their picks, but with some of their words as well. Thus, this post may seem a bit disorganized, but the content should hold you over. Also, note that Bari’s picks are not, in fact, all albums from 2011; they are the albums she listened to (and connected with) most in 2011.
Oh, and of course I asked the team to pick their ten favorites, but knowing our writers, they did whatever the hell they wanted. And you know what? That’s why we love them.
2011 was a fantastic year for music. Not only were there great new bands that became fast favorites, like Oax and Magic City, but there were comebacks, for lack of a better term, by old favorites like Low. I had a really tough time ranking this list and if you ask me tomorrow this would change, but as of right now, this is what I’ve got…
1. Youth Lagoon — The Year of Hibernation
2. Pontiak — Comecrudos
3. Peaking Lights — 936
4. Antlers — Burst Apart
5. Oax — This Distance
6. Wooden Shjips — West
7. Washed Out — Within and Without
8. Decemberists — The King Is Dead
9. Low — C’Mon
10. Wye Oak — Civilian
11. Glenn Jones — The Wanting
12. Bonnie Prince Billy — Wolfroy Goes to Town
13. Barn Owl — Lost In the Glare
14. Neon Indian — Era Extrana
15. Kurt Vile — Smoke Ring For My Halo
16. Real Estate — Days
17. Mogwai — Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
18. Mountain Goats — All Eternals Deck
19. The War on Drugs — Slave Ambient
20. Tom Waits — Bad As Me
21. Wilco — The Whole Love
22. Death Cab for Cutie — Codes and Keys
23. Six Organs of Admittance — Asleep On The Floodplain
24. Tim Hecker — Ravedeath 1972
25. Drive By Truckers — Go Go Boots
26. Fucked Up — David Comes To Life
27. Grouper — Alien Observer
28. Woods — Sun & Shade
29. Yuck — Yuck
30. TV on the Radio — Nine Types of Light
It’s no mystery that this last year has been super crazy and really topsy turvy for me…in a good way! I’ve been busy matriculating into a new culture and although music has been helpful & I really revisited a lot of music as I arranged our collections, I really didn’t buy too many NEW records. Music is always a high priority but 2011 found it a little lower on the scale than any other year of my life. I expect it to return to one of the highest points in 2012. So, I’ve heard a lot of singles on amazing radio over here (blows the US out of the water), and investigated other tracks by these artists, plus suggestions from KR and other blogs, but purchasing many of the records is still on my to do list. To put an artist/group on a ‘best of’ list I mustmustmust listen to the hell out their entire record. Self imposed rules I guess. That said, let me give you a short list of what I am confident that I DO like through and through and did buy (I’m not a complete lame-o)…it’ll probably be a top 5.
Panda Bear — Tomboy (this is such a beautiful record and is a chart topper for many…as it
Mogwai — Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (best TITLE of 2011 fo sho)
Braids — Native Speaker
Radical Face — The Family Tree: The Roots
Washed Out — Within and Without
M83 — Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming ( I don’t care if Gonzalez *is* doing a Victoria’s Secret advert, the dude’s the reason I met my husband)
Lanterns on the Lake — Gracious Tide, Take Me Home
Ok. So a top 7. In no particular order.
it’s an amazing thing about music – and all art forms, really – that the further you delve into something, the more your tastes expand and where you are in your life, in what circumstances you find yourself, what miscellanea you’re currently dealing with, you’re drawn to something new that you wouldn’t have previously been. 2011 is no exception for me. while 2010 found me anxiously downloading album after album every day on magiska, 2011 slowed her roll and i began the process of digging deeper into my life, finding my roots. 2011 was nostalgic and archaic and my musical tastes this year reflect that. so this year i’m not doing a best of 2011 in the traditional sense – instead, i’m submitting the top 10 albums that i found or rediscovered this year. they’re old – many from late 70s and early 80s – some are from last year and i’m sure have already been meticulously inspected – on their release date – by knox road. give them a listen if you’re so inclined or just smirk at the fact that i’m not gushing about bon iver’s album as a proper audiophile should.
also, please note that instead of the traditional 10, 9, 8, count down, these are going in chronological order from the beginning of the year to now.
1. perfume genius – – learning
it was may in denver. cold and rainy as hell – the time of year colorado gets most of her snow. 6 months of winter had taken its toll and everything was feeling pretty damn barren, myself included. my apartment – a 100 year old renovated warehouse in the ballpark district – had had just enough of the rain and my ceiling lead the protest by leaking water. it wasn’t bad – a few little drips every minute or two, and luckily only in one spot – my living room – into which i have a perfect view from my home office. i placed a bowl under the drip and watched, transfixed, as each little drop made the 16 ft drop from the wooden beams to my concrete floors. there was something incredibly beautiful and peaceful about it. it was at this time – exactly – that i listened to perfum genius’ 2010 release ‘learning’. it was the perfect backdrop – slow, melancholy and unabashedly hurt. broken. i loved it immediately. the notes of whimsy, the promise of spring. it woke me up.
2. m. ward – – post-war
yeah, i know. 2006 album. she & him and monsters of folk super god. old hat in the music scene. i know. but i can’t argue it – one of my favorite rediscovers from this year. it was a few weeks after the perfume genius incident and something in this album struck major chords. it was saturday night and i was watching ‘wallace and gromit: a close shave’. that’s a hit to your social barometer. a great movie? yes. watching claymation on saturday night in your 20’s? no. it didn’t matter that people were calling or texting – i had zero interest in going out. instead, i played this record and drank wine. wallace was getting into trouble in the background, gromit was saving him from near calamity, and i ended up talking to my sister on the phone for a good two hours. i felt grounded for the first time in a while.
3. josh ritter — the animal years
i’ve always loved this album. ever since i initially heard it back in 2007 after moving home from nashville – the first city where life kicked my teeth in. i was floundering and sputtering, trying to get my head on straight and dealing with my first heartbreak. that period of my life was incredibly painful and terribly rewarding. i cite nashville and my eventual return as my aborigine walkabout – all i wanted was to get my feet wet. instead, i nearly drowned.
but i didn’t.
i found myself drawn to ‘the animal years’ again early june of this year. it’s only fitting that i was once again in a position where i needed to get my head above water and clung desperately to this album. instead of navigating to ‘thin blue flamer’ as i did in ’07, i had a obsession with ‘monster ballads’. i listened to it on repeat and cried. it was cathartic and probably drove my neighbors nuts, but it got me through. ‘monster ballads’ got me smiling again. it got me living again.
4. twin sister – vampires with dreaming kids
we’ll start in 2010 for this story – it was spring and i was very much in love. head over heals, his-and-her-towels in love. he lived far away and to help bridge the distance [and also because we’re both music junkies] we’d send each other music links every day. songs that reminded us of each other. songs that made us laugh. songs we liked. songs that gushed about love. it was all very sweet, nora ephron shit. it was perfect. he sent me the song ‘i want a house’ by twin sister … “i want a house … you can paint it any color you like, just so long as i can live with you.” – oh how quickly my sentimental heart beat. fast forward to 2011 and our relationship had gone down in a blaze of fire and smoke. as is inevitable with those kinds of break ups, i went through a period [a long period] of resenting everything i associated with him. unfortunately, twin sister was on the hit list. it wasn’t until i accidentally reheard ‘nectarine’ in june that i fell in love with them again. and i don’t know if it’s just because enough time had passed or because i had finally decided to act like an adult about the whole thing, but somehow the nuanced history of the album made it all the more endearing and wonderful to me. the same songs that had turned into such heartache were bringing me joy again.
5. french films — take you with me
this is admittedly cheating as this is a track, not an album. it’s also pretty transparent as to why i was drawn to it when the chorus reads “and i can’t take you with me, oh i can’t take you with me, no. and i can’t take you with me, how i wish i could take you with me now”. it’s funny, though, as despite the obvious yearning in the lyrics, i was drawn to it because it was the first time i was acknowledging that i had to be at peace with my past. all the mistakes and broken promises. i realized there comes a point when you can’t carry everything around with you. you have to let it be. it had its time and place and while it’s certainly a part of you, it isn’t the only thing in your composition.
6. wire — chairs missing
‘heartbeat’ is my favorite track from this album. i was sitting in a friend’s apartment reading e.e. cummings and ‘heartbeat’ was on in the background. it leveled me. i listened to it about 5 times in a row, went straight home and downloaded the album. it got my blood flowing. all of the sudden i developed a ‘fuck you, this is my life’ mentality. it made me want to fight. it made me fight. it was the door that opened to an entire room of music i had never considered – 70s and 80s british punk rock. ‘heartbeat’ is the song that is playing during my internal riot.
7. and 8. and 9.
the mekons — where were you
gang of four — armalite rifle
ultravox! — ha!ha!ha!
i’m cheating again. the first – the mekons – is a single released in ’78. the second and third are both proper albums. all three are amazing and were the soundtrack to me coming into my own. not just realizing i needed to come into my own – an important step – but the actual act of coming into my own. realizing where i am and where i want to go. figuring out how to get there. breaking rank and skipping along the way. smiling at my morning coffee. laughing in my sleep.
10. bruce springsteen – – born to run
‘born to run’ is the culmination of this year. having been born to a mother who is a fan of ‘the boss’, he’s always been my favorite musician. before the last two months, however, i always tread the ‘born in the usa’ line [‘i’m going down’, ‘cover me’, ‘darlington county’ being my favorites], however there’s something raw and electric about ‘born to run’. it’s an amazing album, head to toe. it’s sexy and desperate, challenging, provocative, energizing. it’s the perfect end to this year – a time during which i wandered, got lost, and came back to who i was. who i am. i started and ended in the same place – with bruce springsteen at the center of my musical taste – but my focus has shifted slightly. i’m a little different now, a little older, a little more worn, a few more bullet holes, a lot more whiskey.
i lost a few battles, but i won the war. and that’s worth everything.
In no particular order:
tUnE-YaRdS — whokill
Childish Gambino — Camp
Panda Bear — Tomboy
Toro Y Moi — Underneath the Pine
Kurt Vile — Smoke Ring for my Halo
Destroyer — Kaputt
Gil Scott Heron/Jamie xx — We’re New Here
Bon Iver — Bon Iver
Wye Oak — Civilian
Smith Westerns — Dye It Blonde
I will also cop out like Jamie and say “no order”
Gem Club — Breakers
Youth Lagoon — The Year Of Hibernation
Bombay Bicycle Club — A Different Kind of Fix
Snowmine — Laminate Pet Animal
Adele — 21
Miracle Fortress — Was I The Wave
St. Vincent — Strange Mercy
The Civil Wars — Barton Hollow
Bon Iver — Bon Iver
Wye Oak — Civilian
Bonus: Emma-Louise — Full Hearts and Empty Rooms (EP)
…And with that, we welcome 2012 with open arms.