Thursday, December 29, 2011

Big Love 2011

Personally 2011 sucked pretty big, but musically it was a pretty great outing. Some perennial favorites made some great releases: The retooled, renamed, Corin Tucker-less Sleater-Kinney offshoot, Wild Flag. Wilco finally releasing a disc that comes close to their landmark Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album, and Jeff Tweedy coming one step closer to showing you musically what a migraine sounds like, The Flaming Lips releasing a split EP with Lighting Bolt as well as the 24 hour long track “7 Skies H3”.

On a down note, 2011 saw the end of what is probably the second most influential and important American bands of the past 30 years, Sonic Youth. Love them or hate them, their reach and circle of influence is only eclipsed by The Velvet, and depending on how important you think knowing how to actually play your instruments is, they might even be stronger.
Another downer, the ever growing toilet clog that has become country music… For every Hayes Carll out there, we end up with five Lady Antebellums or The Band Perrys which lower the curve so dramatically you would think country radio is a GED night school. Seriously, Jerry Sandusky’s locker room conversations have to be more entertaining and listenable than anything by Jason Aldean or Thompson Square. And while “alt-country” has seemed to flourish on satellite and the web, 2011 was not the brightest year for the genre. There were some bright lights like the latest from Those Darlin’s, Blitzen Trapper and the Old 97’s, unfortunately the Old 97’s disc was offset by the abysmal release of Rhett Miller’s cover collection.
Anyway, without further ado here are my picks for Best of 2011, the write-ups were thrown together in a hurry as I somehow just realized that the year actually ends in a couple of days. Oops...


1. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints When I first tried to tell someone about EMA, the first thing that came to mind was a more self-assured, less pretentious version of In Utero, performed by a giant, cocksure female. Saints is above all things raw; stripped down, full of angst, hurt and baggage but with an underlying element of coiled venom. Standout tracks like the ominous, near nightmarish “The Grey Ship”, and a cutter’s dream anthem “Marked”, show a pained vulnerability where one like “California” offers the perfect amount of piss and vinegar to balance the pH with Erika Anderson snarling “Fuck California, you made me boring” over a droning guitar.

EMA – Marked

2. Wild Flag – s/t If you were to do a search for Riot Grrrl, the first three results you get back should be Kathleen Hannah, Carrie Brownstein and Allison Janney’s pussy. Inarguably the best rock and roll album of 2011; essentially Sleater-Kinney with keyboards, Wild Flag chugs along like Pac-Man gobbling Adderall and chasing spiders instead of ghosts. Added bonus, the mom from Home Improvement can totally tear up a set of drums.

Wild Flag – Romance

Wild Flag – Endless Talk

3. Hayes Carll – KMAG YOYO It was probably a disservice that this disc was released so early in the year and I had plenty of time to wear it the fuck out. But those first two months Mr. Carll and I had some beautiful times together, kind of like the musical equivalent of priapism: great fun for the first hour or two, and then hour three rolls in and you better make some urgent changes or your dick will fall off. There was no better country cd released in 2011. Granted the bar was set pretty low, but tracks like “Bye Bye Baby” and “It’s Hard out Here” are destined to be classics and strong enough to make you forget that he was involved in the Country Strong abortion.

4. Peaking Lights – 936 At first I was going to describe this disc as the perfect soundtrack to cool down to if you were to find yourself standing in a field in a cold sweat watching a taco truck melt before your eyes while being chased by angry unicorns, but then this morning my daughter told me while she was half awake that she wanted me to bake her a pink bunny full of grape jelly for breakfast. I think that might be more appropriate for the sugary, dubbed out brain melt that is Peaking Lights. Definitely the standout, but not the only excellent release from the Not Not Fun label in 2011. If you can’t get lost in a field of dandelions while grooving out to “All the Sun That Shines”, you are deader on the inside than the dressing room at The Trophy Club.

Peaking Lights – All the Sun That Shines

5. The Weeknd – Thursday Imagine if Luther Vandross had an ounce of swagger in his 400 or 150 pound frame (you pick the era). Granted his songs might have all been geared around cocks or chocolate or meatloaf, or meatloaf cocks full of chocolate but his tunes would have been legendary panty droppers, the likes of which would put Barry White to shame. So 2011’s entry into Babymaking 101 is The Weeknd. Within the last eight months the elusive producer has dropped two classic discs (this the second, “House of Balloons” being the first) of lo-fi bedroom production soul, raised the bar on Drake’s “Take Care” disc, and made this year’s equivalent to Massive Attack, mirrored ceilings and cocaine. Plus he was able to make, “Baby, I can fuck you right” the “You complete me” of 2011.

The Weeknd – Lonely Star

The Weeknd – Rolling Stone

6. Beyonce – 4 For most artists it only takes the release of an album by their alter ego to put the brakes on an entire career (see Chris Gaines), but Beyonce’s foray into the world of Sasha Fierce had nothing on the schizophrenic turn she takes on 4, easily her best album to date. I remember telling a friend the first time I heard the album that it was pop music in a vacuum, like she decided to take everything that was hot right now and do the exact opposite, with mind bending results. Granted, the disc is a little bloated and could have shed a couple of tracks but lesser artists spend an entire career looking for just one stunner like “1+1” or the claustrophobic, bi-polar freak-out of “Countdown”.

7 & 8 .Yuck – s/t, Los Campesinos – Hello Sadness If you were able to wipe the shit stained gloss off of what passes for pseudo indie pop at the top of the charts this year, instead of getting date raped to songs about “pumped up kicks’ and “party rock anthems”, you would find something like these two discs of raw blissful energy that could get any event jumping without all of the unnecessary sheen and Axe Body Spray. Yuck’s faithful homage to all things 1994, and Los Campesino’s welcome regroup bubble with more legitimate joy than a redwood forest full of MTV Woodies.

Yuck – Get Away

9. Jessica Lea Mayfield – Tell Me The fact that Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys signed Mayfield because he thought she reminded him of a female Nick Cave should be ringing endorsement enough, but her sophomore release, Tell Me, should have people asking questions like “Grace Potter who?”, “what’s a Jolie Holland?”. Tracks like “Run Myself into the Ground” and “I’ll Be the One You Want Someday” show a knowledge of despair, longing and failure well beyond what any 22 year should be aware of. And even if every other song on the album stunk like Patrick Carney’s leather jacket, it contains “Our Hearts are Wrong” which is absolutely the best track of 2011.

Jessica Lea Mayfield – Our Hearts Are Wrong

10. Danny Brown & Black Milk – Black and Brown True story. When I was a kid, we were in Savannah one time and I saw a guy tagging a wall with the phrase “Pan-Africanism leads to Black Unity” (I think I have a pic that I snagged with my top of the line S&H Green Stamp camera. Thanks Winn Dixie). I can still remember the look on my mom’s face as she tried to answer this pressing question. Her expression of what I can only describe as “white confused panic” is the same face I must have made the first time I heard this drop.

Danny Brown and Black Milk – WTF

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