Favorite Albums of 2011

  1. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
  2. Battles – Gloss Drop
  3. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
  4. Slow Club – Paradise
  5. The Dodos – No Color
  6. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
  7. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
  8. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
  9. Canon Blue – Rumspringa
  10. Cold Cave – Cherish the Light Years

Here’s to an awesome year in music!

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Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica (Software, 2011)

I’ve never been too much of a fan of ambient music, and even less of sample-based music. So the first time I heard “Sleep Dealer” on Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica, I couldn’t honestly say that anything captivated me on the first listen. Expecting something to grab me, to be deemed epic or exciting, I came out the other end of that first listening experience underwhelmed and disappointed. After hearing a lot of praise for Replica and subsequently streaming the LP, I can now say that this here is something really special.

What starts out seeming like a simple computer-based mish-mash of sound bites, vocal loops and ambient hums becomes a really awesome amalgamation of recorded music. And I do mean that last statement. The collection of sounds on this album are in fact music, whether you like it or not. It’s definitely unconventional and not what most listeners will be used to. From what I’ve read in an interview, artist Daniel Lopatin (who fronts the Oneohtrix Point Never project) took collections of various old advertisements and creating a variety of soundscapes from them. From his point of view, Lopatin said these songs collectively are futuristic recreations of songs and feelings of the past. The feeling is entirely there: what we get here is music that is entirely synthetic, taking from a collection of source material and re-interpreting it. I honestly can’t really explain why I’m so drawn to the potpourri of ambient sounds here, aside from the fact that it manages to continuously surprise me. Like I said before, this is music, and it’s ability to be surprising and exciting is part of what makes it music. There are repetitions, there are themes, and among it all there are even harmonic progressions in some of the songs. I especially love the vocal effects and the alterations in pitch on the vocal sigh on “Sleep Dealer”, the first track I ever heard from this artist. I do have to wonder what this kind of sound would be like if combined with an artist like M83 in a side project. I definitely hear the potential for a project like that in tracks like “Replica”, what with the different synth melodies that are so prominent there. If there is anything somewhat negative I have to say, it’s merely that the first half of the album (“Andro” to “Replica”) is stronger than the second half of the album (“Nassau” to “Explain”). In the end, that’s not really saying much, as Replica still brings forward a strong electronic talent, and a smattering of intriguing sounds.

Key tracks: “Andro”, “Power of Persuasion”, “Sleep Dealer”, “Remember”, “Replica”, “Nassau”, “Up”, “Child Soldier”

Favorite Videos of 2011

To tell you the truth, I’ve never really been a big fan of music videos, especially lately. I feel like in recent years, most videos have absolutely nothing to do with the song material associated with it. Sometimes that’s very disappointing, but at other times it can be surprisingly effective and exciting. This year was no exception to the latter part of that rule.

So here are some of my favorite videos of the year. I’m not going to go in any particular order, but these are the videos that most entertained/captivated me.

Battles – “My Machines (feat. Gary Numan)”

Battles already put out one of the most enjoyable albums of the year with Gloss Drop, a record filled with plenty of fun beats and melodic moments. “My Machines” was easily one of my favorite tracks off the album, especially with the addition of Gary Numan’s vocals. The video for the track matches the spastic and absurd energy of the band, coupling the intricate drum work with shots of a distraught shopper wrestling with some escalators that just won’t let go.

Check it out below!

tUnE-yArDs – “Bizness”

One of my favorite artists of this year, Merril Garbus really brought a brash and exciting sound to alternative music with W H O K I L L. “Bizness” was the first track and video I got to witness from this new talent, and it was more than enough to intrigue me. Another bizarre video, this one has children with face paint that later in the video become adults in a sort of tribe. It’s very weird, but it makes for a cool watch.

St. Vincent – “Cruel”

Easily a new favorite of mine, St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy was another nice surprise this year. “Cruel” is one of many great tracks on that album, and the video matches up well with the dark, vicious feel and text of the song.

Slow Club – “Two Cousins”

Liked this vid as well. Simple, with loads of dancing. Matches really well with track too! Wish I had more to say about this haha. On a similar note with our next video…

The Black Keys – “Lonely Boy”

This video (whether or not if it is the official one for the track) features the same concept of someone dancing to the track, except not as choreographed/scripted as “Two Cousins”. Still fun to watch though!

Canon Blue – “Bows and Arrows (Vegas)”

Another nice surprise from this year was Canon Blue, with their effort Rumspringa. “Bows and Arrows” was one of my favorite tracks of the album, and the video is a nice complement to the song. Plus, doesn’t that lady right at the beginning look sort of like Beyonce? Haha.

The Dodos – “Companions”

This was a very dark video, but nonetheless included a track from one of my favorite artists of this year. Great stuff.

Manchester Orchestra – “Simple Math”

Manchester Orchestra is a group that really knows how to channel the basic drive of alternative rock today. With Simple Math, they made an album that is a testament to rock music. While I didn’t enjoy the entire effort, “Simple Math” itself was one of the better tracks of the disc. The video isn’t incredible, and is sometimes cheesy. However, it does match up to the song somewhat well, which is always good.

Los Campesinos! – “Hello Sadness”

This was a very disturbing video to one of my favorite tracks of the year. It shows the band being tortured by different people in various ways.

M83 – “Midnight City”

One of my favorite tracks of the year, the video for “Midnight City” has some great visual effects and is a cool juxtaposition to the already effusive track.

Girls – “Honey Bunny”

Another fun one. I especially find Christopher Owens’ over-acting in the video really entertaining, as he struts down the street, showing off and chasing after different girls.

TV on the Radio – “Nine Types of Light”

As much as a visual/aural mess Nine Types of Light was, I still enjoyed the whole thing. It’s even the exciting moments like “No Future Shock” and “Caffeinated Consciousness”, that don’t exactly fit with the rest of the disc that are a lot of fun. The music video equivalents don’t disappoint, though “Caffeinated Consciousness” is a little strange. And the zombie apocalypse blast that is “Forgotten” is cool to watch as well. Favorite segments: “No Future Shock”, “Will Do”, “Repetition”, “Forgotten”

Real Estate – “It’s Real”

Another sort of strange yet entertaining watch, the video for “It’s Real” shows the band hanging out in different places, with plenty of dogs. Fun stuff.

Mother Mother – “The Stand”

More fun stuff.

Cults – “Abducted”

My favorite track off of Cults, the video for “Abducted” shows us some interesting visuals mixing the band with different scenery. One of the coolest shots shows the lead singer opening her mouth and a road being there. I especially enjoy the “twist” at the end.

Honorable Mentions of 2011

2011 really was a great year for independent and alternative music. It was also an important year for me as a musician and as a listener. I took in a lot of new music this year, and I can now say that a lot of artists are new favorites. Many of the artists I’ll be posting about below put out some great stuff that I loved over the year, even if collectively the work didn’t fall under my Favorite Albums list. I’ll be sure to watch for many of the new talents listed here, as well as to praise the work of some artists I’ve listened to for a while. Here they are:
tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L

Merrill Garbus was quite the oddity this year, with her work under the moniker tUnE-yArDs. I was first exposed to the group via the video for “Bizness”, a solid track on the album. The disc is filled with many more great tracks, including “Gangsta”, a thrashing romp filled with heavy beats, screaming horns and some digitized stereo production that throws Garbus’ vocals between both channels. Love it.

Key tracks: “My Country”, “Gangsta”, “Powa”, “Riotriot”, “Bizness”, “You Yes You”, “Killa”

TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

I had never heard a single song by this Brooklyn group until this year, when I played “No Future Shock” during my show. After hearing their previous effort, Dear Science, I can say that Nine Types of Light, while certainly not a bad album, is nowhere near that prior disc’s melodic caliber. There are some great tracks all throughout the record, but altogether the effort is a little spastic and disjointed (particularly with red-headed tracks like “No Future Shock”, “No Cannonball Blues” and “Caffeinated Consciousness”). That disjointedness, however, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the frenetic energy present here is why this album is an honorable mention here.

Key tracks: “Second Song”, “You”, “No Future Shock”, “Will Do”, “Repetition”, “Forgotten”, “Caffeinated Consciousness”

Yellow Ostrich – The Mistress

An impressive debut on Barsuk records, Bandcamp artist Yellow Ostrich really took off this year. The Mistress is an album filled with many minimal yet grandiose moments. It’s the simple builds they do on “Mary” and bonus track “Fog” that most impress me (and even remind me of another favorite group, The Middle East). I also love their heartfelt and straightforward lyrics on tracks like “Hahahaohhoho” and bonus track “Bread”. Great stuff.

Key tracks: “WHALE”, “Hate Me Soon”, “Hahahaohhoho”, “I’ll Run”, “Campaign”, “Mary”, “Bread”, “Fog”

Atlas Sound – Parallax

Delivering some extremely catchy tracks for 2011 here is Bradford Cox, and I for one find the music of Atlas Sound, his side project, much more accessible than the music of his band Deerhunter. This is an album filled with plenty of catchy melodies, from opener “The Shakes” to the nice closer “Lightworks”. I feel like this could have ranked higher on my list had I more time to listen to it.

Key tracks: “The Shakes”, “Te Amo”, “Modern Aquatic Nightsongs”, “Mona Lisa”, “Doldrums”, “Terra Incognita”, “Lightworks”

The Antlers – Burst Apart

What was a promising performance at SXSW 2011 by the Antlers definitely delivered in the studio. However, some of the studio renditions on Burst Apart were a bit too digital for my taste and underused the band’s drummer, who is phenomenal. That’s evident on tracks like “No Widows” and “Every Night My Teeth are Falling Out” (the latter being too minimal in its studio form, unable to match the intensity of their live performance). Regardless, the songs here are still great and this is a wonderful follow-up to the stunning Hospice. One of the tracks here (“Corsicana”) even outdoes the live version, and is my favorite here!

Key tracks: “I Don’t Want Love”, “Rolled Together”, “Hounds”, “Corsicana”, “Putting the Dog to Sleep”

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong

Belong is filled with plenty of stupendous alt-rock songs here, many of which sound perfect in an angst-ridden teenage soundtrack (“Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now” is immediately what comes to mind!). What impresses me is how the title track alone reminds me so much of 90s-era alternative rock. The ability to replicate an older sound is something I think many listeners take for granted, brushing this type of music off as derivative, forgettable and already been done before. Aside from any of those thoughts, Belong is still a fun record to put on, filled with many great tracks.

Key tracks: “Belong”, “Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now”, “Heart in Your Heartbreak”, “The Body”, “Even in Dreams”, “Girl of 1,000 Dreams”, “Too Tough”

Los Campesinos! – Hello Sadness

Featuring one of my favorite tracks of the year (“Hello Sadness”), this disc, like the title, is filled with a lot of sadness. Ironically enough, it’s also filled with plenty of energy, especially on the first few tracks (“By Your Hand” to “Hello Sadness”). It’s an interesting juxtaposition that isn’t far out of place from the band’s other repertoire, or other artists on Arts & Crafts. I especially love the guitar work present here, which reminds me a lot of various bands, from New Order (“Hello Sadness”) to Pavement (“Every Defeat a Divorce”) to Modest Mouse (“Light Leaves, Dark Sees Pt. 2”), to even the exact reverb guitar sounds of Explosions in the Sky (“To Tundra”).

Key tracks: “By Your Hand”, “Songs About Your Girlfriend”, “Hello Sadness”, “Life is a Long Time”, “To Tundra”, “Light Leaves, Dark Sees Pt. 2”

Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica

I think I’ve said plenty about this album in my review from a few days ago. There’s a lot of interesting sounds here that just come together to make some impressive sample-based music. And to think that a lot of the source material here was 80s-era ad campaigns! Love the ambient vibe here.

Key tracks: “Andro”, “Power of Persuasion”, “Sleep Dealer”, “Remember”, “Replica”, “Nassau”, “Up”, “Child Soldier”

Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lenses Alien

I was already impressed by this heavy alt Jersey outfit with their debut Why There are Mountains. A lot of Lenses Alien astounded me, and reminded me of the power of rock music. This is an act with a lot of promise, who is fully able to combine the energy and the arena-sized sound rock demands with capable songwriting and melodic force. Love it.

Key tracks: “Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)”, “Shore Points”, “Keep Me Waiting”, “Definite Darkness”, “Another Tunguska”, “Wavelengths”, “Gary Condit”

Mister Heavenly – Out of Love

I loved the sound of this three-piece band, containing members of Man Man, Modest Mouse and The Unicorns. The genre of “doom-wop”, presented and prominent here, gives 50s doo-wop a dismal and distorted makeover, complete with songs all about tragedy. It all oddly enough works, and the vocal call and response between Honus Honus and Nick Thorburn are just wonderful. In fact, a lot of the sounds here, aren’t too far from Man Man!

Key tracks: “Bronx Sniper”, “I am a Hologram”, “Mister Heavenly”, “Reggae Pie”, “Pineapple Girl”, “Hold My Hand”, “Your Girl”

The Middle East – I Want That You Are Always Happy

While this release didn’t overwhelm me like the band’s first effort, The Recordings of the Middle EastI Want That You Are Always Happyisn’t exactly a sophomore slump. There are plenty of tracks here that showcase the band’s musicianship, from the intricate finger-picking on “Months” to the catchy “Jesus Came to My Birthday Party”. There are many highlights here, but the effort didn’t hit me as hard as their first disc did. It’s a real shame that they broke up (again!), as there was so much potential here.

Key tracks: “My Grandma Was Pearl Hall”, “As I Go to See Janey”, “Jesus Came to My Birthday Party”, “Land of the Bloody Unknown”, “Very Many”, “Months”, “Dan’s Silverleaf”, “Hunger Song”

Grouplove – Never Trust a Happy Song

This band really caught my ear with the energetic yet emotional “Colours”. They’ve pretty much catapulted themselves toward the ears of mainstream listeners by now, what with their recent hit “Tongue Tied” playing in iPod commercials. Still, this is a band and a record worth highlighting. While it does sort of spin out toward the end, the ride beforehand is so much fun. Some more great indie-alt-rock.

Key tracks: “Itchin’ on a Photograph”, “Tongue Tied”, “Lovely Cup”, “Colours”, “Slow”, “Naked Kids”, “Spun”

Real Estate – Days

This Ridgewood, NJ, outfit really did impress me on their debut, and sophomore follow-up Days is no disappointment either. I love their entire summery chill vibe, paired with lyrics of wasted days of youth. The problem I do have with Days though is that it’s an album merely of one sound. The band, while talented enough to produce something like this, is mainly guitar-driven, and most songs follow the same reverb-drenched sound. I would be intrigued to hear the bass/drum players push forward on a later record, only without sacrificing the chill, grounding feel they contribute to the songs. I do admire the guitar textures presented here though, and I give the rhythm section plenty of credit on tracks like “It’s Real” and “Green Aisles”.

Key tracks: “Easy”, “Green Aisles”, “It’s Real”, “Municipality”, “Wonder Years”

The Drums – Portamento

The Drums’ sophomore album, while not favored by many, impressed me on its cool juxtaposition of surf rock and 80s post-punk. Tracks like “Book of Revelation”, “I Don’t Know How to Love” exemplify this. The problem here though is this disc is filled with plenty of great tracks, yet it almost becomes monotonous. The vocal loop effects here are really cool, especially on “Book of Revelation” and “I Need a Doctor”. I do love plenty of the tracks here, and this will be listened to again and again in my collection.

Key tracks: “Book of Revelation”, “Days”, “What You Were”, “Money”, “I Don’t Know How to Love”, “If He Likes It Let Him Do It”, “I Need a Doctor”, “How it Ended”

Cults – Cults

Cults produces an extreme brand of sweet indie pop tunes that it’s a shock that this album isn’t buried in sugar. Their sound here is nice and catchy, but doesn’t necessarily hold all of the album together. The songs here are generally great, but some stand head and shoulders above the others. I do love this debut, and will be excited for a future release from this group.

Key tracks: “Abducted”, “Go Outside”, “Oh My God”, “Bad Things”, “Rave On”

Other Great Artists to Watch from 2011: Mother Mother, …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Mogwai, the Horrors, Zola Jesus, Youth Lagoon, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Gauntlet Hair, Of Monsters and Men, Bobby, Memphis

Albums/Artists That May Have Made the List: Washed Out, The Wilderness of Manitoba, The Kills, Deer Tick, They Might Be Giants, Wilco, The Rapture, YACHT, Ohbijou, WU LYF, Tom Waits, James Blake, Destroyer, Fucked Up, PJ Harvey, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Comet Gain, Liturgy, The Weeknd, The Darcys, Shabazz Palaces, Man Man, Wye Oak, Little Scream