Well, folks. It’s that time of year. Time to take stock of my most played, most adored, and most positively associated music of 2011.
I had a big year. I celebrated one full year in LA. I got married. I left the music business. I finished business school. Big changes, high highs.
I’ve been assembling and sharing year end lists for more than a decade. When I go back through them, I’m always surprised and a little embarrassed by how closely the music tracks where I’ve been. That’s the magic. And the reason to keep doing it amidst the flood of nearly identical or preposterously obscure compilations.
So, without further qualification or ado, I present Chewable Vitamins’ Best Albums of 2011, in alphabetical order.
The Antlers - Burst Apart
Like Bon Iver’s self-titled, this is a follow-up album that didn’t stand a chance in my estimation. I was so glad to be proven wrong again. Pete Silberman made a crushing breakup album two years ago with Hospice. He followed it this year with Burst Apart — a less tragic but no less beautiful collection. Opener “I Don’t Want Love” sets the stage for 9/10th of the album, and the closing 10th track, “Putting The Dog To Sleep,” leads it out on a high note. I like it and hope it hints at what’s next for The Antlers. Personally, I’m not sure I could love Hospice now the way I did in 2009, so this was the perfect evolution for my relationship with this band. Bravo.
MP3: I Don’t Want Love
James Blake - James Blake
I couldn’t believe my ears when this dropped. Throbbing bass and schoolboy vocals. Oh my. I was one of the lucky few (hundred) to get into the church in Austin for the James Blake, Twin Shadow, Tune-Yards, Cults, Glasser, Juliana Barwick show at SXSW this March. Yeah boy, it was worth being locked into the only venue in town with no booze for 6 hours. His reimagination of Feist’s “Limit To Your Love” is the best cover of the year, hands down.
MP3: The Wilhelm Scream
Bon Iver - Bon Iver
I was sure it was impossible to follow For Emma with anything respectable. I was wrong. This album is wonderful. Tomes have been written, so I’ll spare you. According to LastFM, this was my second most-played album in the last 12 months.
Dawes - Nothing Is Wrong
Los Angeles’ Dawes is a second iteration on Simon Dawes and a subset of Middle Brother. I saw both bands and former member Blake Mills play the Troubadour late last year. They are the kings of 70’s era West Coast rock n roll. Despite Bob Lefsetz’s frequent and reverent praise, this may be the most overlooked record of the year. “Time Spent In Los Angeles,” “Million Dollar Bill” and “A Little Bit of Everything” are the standouts. Do yourself the favor and spend some time with this album if you haven’t already.
MP3: Million Dollar Bill
The Decemberists - The King Is Dead
When I was at Topspin, I ran The Decemberists campaign for The King Is Dead. I probably spent more hours with their manager than with my partner for a few months in there. I love the band so getting to meet, hang out with and work for them was a blast. I probably listened to this album 500 times and saw 5 or 6 dates on the tour. When I look back on 2011/2010, I’ll think fondly of The Decemberists.
MP3: Don’t Carry It All
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
Robin Pecknold and the boys have got it. Like The Band, Simon & Garfunkel, or CCR. I could get a band together and practice 10,000 hours, and we would never hold a candle to the rhythm or harmonies of these guys.
MP3: Gown Ocean
M83 - Hurry Up We’re Dreaming
I wrote just after this album’s release date that I miss Morgan Kibby and wish she were more in evidence on Hurry Up We’re Dreaming. That’s still true, and I will probably always love Saturdays=Youth more primarily for that reason. But M83 is feeling like Radiohead to me these days — a great, but not tremendous, M83 album is better than 99.9% of other bands’ albums. This is a go-to. Waking up, going to sleep, on the plane, out for a run… it’s all-weather.
Laura Marling - A Creature I Don’t Know
The song that comes out of Laura Marling is otherworldly. She’s this little girl with a big guitar, her lyrics are wise beyond her 21 years, and she’s so fair, she looks like a glowing apparition on stage. A Creature I Don’t Know has broader range than her last releases, Alas I Cannot Swim and I Speak Because I Can. “Night After Night” and “Sophia” are the must-listen tracks.
MP3: Night After Night
Motopony - Motopony
The debut album from Seattle’s Motopony was in my top 5 most-listened of 2011. You may have heard the track “Seer” on “How To Make It In America” or featured as track of the day on KEXP and the like. It’s an awesome blues/soul stomp, but uncharacteristic of the album’s tone. I think Motopony is at its best when the band gets its psychedelic folk-pop on, as in “King of Diamonds,” “God Damn Girl” and “Euphoria.” Good things are in store for these dudes.
MP3: King of Diamonds
St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
You know Annie Clark is one of the best guitar players on the planet, right? She’s of the Neil Young school, in my mind. She doesn’t have to melt your face on every track. She knows when to play and when to leave space. But she will melt your face. Check out her covers of Big Black (1, 2) if you’re not sure. This album is a study in contrast. Clark’s crisp vocals layered over ragged melodies, her violent lyrics sung in a honey sweet voice. The pretty/ugly show is in full effect. Front to back, I think this is one of the very best albums released this year, not just a personal favorite.
Tune-Yards - w h o k i l l
I’ve already written so much about Tune-Yards. whitneymcn turned me on in early in 2009. I saw her for the first time in March of that year, the day Birds-Brains came out on Marriage Records with hand screen printing on recycled jackets. I think Merrill Garbus is one of the most talented, authentic, and compelling musicians in the business. I had w h o k i l l on constant rotation for most of this year. “Gangsta,” “Powa,” “Bizness.” Misspellings aside, these tracks are genius.
Next up: the most overlooked albums of 2011 and my 50 favorite tracks.