Once again, the great releases of this year are roundly ignored by other ‘best-of’ music compilers. I am again mystified how some of the releases included here got such short shrift, particularly, when there was not much by way of competition. 2011, overall, was largely dominated by folkie southern-rock sounding bands, which is a direction that is easy for me to ignore except for the insanely good The Wooden Birds record, which, against all reason has shown up on no best-of lists that I have seen. Low put out another great record, which, has long been expected out of Low. I am convinced that Low and The Wooden Birds are the two current active pillars of great American rock music, without which, the whole shaky edifice would crumble. Once again, these two great bands release another great record and because they are expected to do just that, they get passed-over by critics for the latest pan flash.
Otherwise, based on prominence of keyboard based bands last year, I figured we would get much more of the same in 2011. We did get a new Cut Copy release and similarly styled debut by Holy Ghost! but there wasn’t near the output of synth driven bands as I expected.
Anyway, the following are the top-ten very worthy cds that kept my laser occupied.
1.Acid House Kings – Music Sounds Better With You
AHK put out the best pure pop album of the year by a country mile. Music Sounds Better With You is pure and effortless and along with The Wooden Birds release nearly monopolized my cd laser for the whole year. The track “Windshields” is so good I can barely stand it – even after hundreds of listens.
2.The Wooden Birds – Two Matchsticks
As noted, 2011 is full of Southern-Rock and Folk-Rock tinged albums. The Wooden Birds, the post American Analog Set project of Andrew Kenney, mine some of the same influences but do it with subtle brilliance and without being retreads. The cool burn of Two Matchsticks and its delicate, yet assertive guitar and male/female vocal interplay make The Wooden Birds the best thing going right now. How this band has gotten so little attention is criminal. I just don’t get it. Pure. Simple. Brilliant.
3.Low – C’mon
Low have been quietly releasing the best catalog of the past 20 years, and this is another nice addition to their epic high standards of quality. Unlike their also great release of a few years ago, Drums and Guns, C’mon has pretty fuss-free production, which I think is how the religious experience that is a Low release is best served.
4.Cut Copy – Zonoscope
The Cutters self-produced 2011 release, Zonoscope, starts out with a face-melting gem in “Need You Now”. The rest of the album doesn’t reach that high again, but is a consistently good stream of interwoven synth excursions.
5.Anything Goes Original Cast Recording – Broadway Original Cast Recording
What can I say, I bought my first ‘show tunes’ album (I don’t think buying Laibach‘s Jesus Christ Superstar really counts). I would generally not be too proud of that fact, but this Sutten Foster led production of the Cole Porter classic was too irresistible to one who swore he was immune to the saccharine charms of musicals. This Cole Porter and P.G. Wodehouse collaboration has to be among the best examples of ‘all killer, no filler’ ever, like the Purple Rain of the 1930s!
6.The Pains of Being Pure of Heart – Belong
The Pains went big with this album as far as production goes, but their charms remain subtle. I hope they are hard at work on a follow up.
7.Holy Ghost! – Holy Ghost!
Based on a few tracks of Holy Ghost! 2010 ep, I was really hoping for a band that was going to re-inhabit Shriekback as a bit more sophisticated and bit more aggressively vocaled synth band, but that hope is dashed pretty much after the second track of this, their self-titled debut. Nonetheless, this is a great synth pop record.
8.Peter Murphy – Nine
This record pretty follows along the buzz guitar rock of Cascade, which is, in my opinion, Murphy’s best. Nine is a shockingly good and fresh record coming from a true unabashed living legend.
9.Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
Lykke Li has dropped some of her quirks that acted as a kind of hook for her in her debut and put out a little more straight forward release that digs more in ’50s girl group soul rather than in asymmetric indie affectations, which got her initial notice. I like.
10.Chain Gang of 1974 – Wayward Fire
This is the only new band, for me, to make the list. Chain Gang tread in the ’80s and ’90s New Wave New Romantics territory that several others are into these days. The vocals and other intangibles makes this effort by Chain Gang of 1974 my favorite of the lot.
Here is a list of releases that are honorable mentions but were eeked out of the top 10 slots.
Peter, Bjorn, and John – Gimme Some
Foster the People pretty much lifted the template that PBandJ set with “Writer’s Block” and I hope are paying PBandJ their due royalties. PBandJ, to their credit are moving on.
Jane’s Addiction – Great Escape Artist
This might not be a great Jane’s Addiction album, but god-knows, there is no where to get killer top-shelf hard rock vocals like Perry Ferrel’s anywhere else. I am glad they are providing me a new fix.
Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital
This probably would have made the list but I totally forgot about it. This was the best M/F with Synth record of the year.
Top 10 Concerts of 2011
As in 2009 and in 2010, the best of 2011 is once again filled with veteran bands. If you are a new band, for the love of god, go see some of the bands on this list and see how it is done. Actually, the top slot belongs to the sublime The Wooden Birds (see above for best album pick) for their 2011 performance, who also was my pick for tops performance for 2010 too!
1. The Wooden Birds – Rock Shop (see Sept 28, 2010 TSOI post)
2. Savoir Adore/French Horn Rebellion – Glasslands (see French Horn Rebellion Jan 4 2011 TSOI post and see Savoir Adore Dec 8 2010 TSOI post)
3. The Cure (first three albums) – Beacon Theater
I was not particularly looking forward to hearing The Cure perform three of their least accessible albums back-to-back, but wow, this was a great way to see why The Cure are so good and why they have been able to fill stadiums for decades. This short tour was a nice display of the gestation of the weird genius that is Robert Smith.
4. Bad Religion – 3 Decade Shows – Irving Plaza (’80s, ’90s and ’00s)
5. Controlled Bleeding – Death by Audio
6. Advance Base – Mercury Lounge
This is the first NY showing of Owen’s first Casiotone for the Painfully Alone project. I look forward seeing more of this bigger-and-badder enterprise.
7. OMD (Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark) – Terminal 5 (see March 29 TSOI post)
8. Universal Order of Armageddon – Death by Audio
9. D Generation – Irving Plaza
D Generation are to be praised for bringing Rock and Roll back to New York City, where it belongs. I am sure The Strokes tip them a hat when they cross.
10.Jane’s Addiction – Irving Plaza
Truth be told, the most notable part of this show was an enterprising gentleman that took it upon himself to raise his phone video recorder among the sea of other raised arms getting crappy YouTube fodder, but instead of recording footage, played porn on his screen. The affect was like he was recording something much more interesting than the rest of his neighbors. Super funny. I hope it catches on.