Boiling down a year’s worth of music into a manageable 10-entry list is a bit daunting, but when the powers that be at Tympanogram gave the order, I obliged. The problem, of course, is that I am riddled with insecurities. I haven’t been able to listen to everything I’ve wanted to the extent that I would have liked. Maybe the records I gravitated to just don’t cut the mustard. Maybe my preferences for marginal styles diminishes my ability to enjoy pop music. Whatever the case, it’s funny how writing something for a lowly blog can begin to take on an artificial sense of importance to me!
That said, I still had a rough time managing my “short list” of 50 entries. Some were great releases that come from styles that I do not necessarily enjoy (Fucked Up, Iceage), solid plays by acts that were new to me (Wye Oak, EMA, Wu Lyf) fantastic releases from acts that I enjoy (tUnE-yArDs, Zola Jesus, Girls, Explosions in the Sky, M83, Wooden Shjips, Grouper, Real Estate, Nicolas Jaar, Mountain Goats), returns to form from grizzled veterans (Wire, Faust) or big listening projects that I never paid proper attention to (Julianna Barwick, Josh T. Pearson, Kate Bush).
So my contribution is inherently flawed. So flawed that I actually reviewed a whopping eight out of ten of these releases, proving that I generally write about stuff that I love and shattering any semblance of objectivity that you, the reader, may have had. But, eh, I think I highlighted the releases that really mattered to me (probably not you!) this year. But I bet if you asked me in a week, I’d tell you something completely different.
10. Veronica Falls // Veronica Falls
The Veronica Falls album is precisely what I am looking for from a Slumberland release. Engaging girl/guy vocals, a pleasant shoegaze haze, and catchy hooks fill the release with an energy that makes for an easy listen. Sure, we’ve heard it before, but I am not going to complain. It works. ‘Tis twee but ce la vie.
Veronica Falls // Come On Over [mp3] from Veronica Falls
9. Oneohtrix Point Never // Replica
OPN’s Replica is an album that I initially liked (but didn’t love) until I listened to it five times. Then when I thought I was done listening to the thing, I put it on for the 35th time only to realize that I freakin’ loved it. Replica is a lovely record that finds Daniel Lopatin using samples with the dexterity and vision you would normally associate with Kieran Hebden. Replica will grow on you, quietly but quickly.
Oneohtrix Point Never // Sleep Dealer [mp3] from Replica
8. Fovea Hex // Here Is Where We Used To Sing
This was my first real encounter with Fovea Hex and Clodagh Simonds, so I was blown away. The vocals of Simonds and Laura Sheeran steal the show, but the atmosphere is unforgettable. Brian Eno, Colin Potter, Michael Begg and a host of players twist and stretch the dark folk aesthetic of the record in a way that is sublime. Fovea Hex was my find of the year, so jump on this if you haven’t already!
7. Moritz von Oswald Trio // Horizontal Structures
The Moritz von Oswald Trio pushes its way into my 7th slot with Horizontal Structures. I was considering splitting the spot with the Vladislav Delay Quartet’s release from this year, but I liked Horizontal Structures too much to give it the indignity of a split. The gist of this project is a bunch of soulless, mechanical techno guys chasing the spirit of jazz and organic improvisation. Probably the least popularly appealing album on my list, but the most rewarding if you can meet it on its own terms.
6. John Maus // We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
There’s no doubt that We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves is a damned good record, but what keeps bring me back is the texture of Maus’ voice, which is like a hybrid of Ian Curtis and Brian Ferry. The sonic landscape is highlighted by splashes of synth, bursts of chaos and driving bass lines. But the record’s strength is how Maus redefines the strength of a pop song throughout the record.
5. St. Vincent // Strange Mercy
St. Vincent’s third release Strange Mercy finds her refining her sound thanks to a more polished production. That said, the unexpected twists and overall weirdness of her first two records remain intact. Strange Mercy is a great record that shows Annie Clark hitting her stride. I said before that the three song run of “Cruel”-“Cheerleader”-“Surgeon” was so good that it would have derailed a lesser record, and I firmly believe it’s the best song arc from any record this year.
St. Vincent // Surgeon [mp3] from Strange Mercy
4. Craft Spells // Idle Labor
Probably the simplest and most straight-forward album on my list, Idle Labor is the raw debut from Justin Paul Vallesteros’ Craft Spells. Like the Maus record, the vibe is heavily new wave, but the songs have a light and lush richness that shines through the lo-fi vibe. If you haven’t heard this, you need to get in like Quinn!
Craft Spells // After the Moment [mp3] from Idle Labor
3. Bon Iver // Bon Iver
Yep. Here it is. I include this almost as a begrudged afterthought, but the truth is that it is a great record. A record so great, in fact, that I was irritated that I liked it as much as I did. I’ve never been able to truly appreciate Bon Iver and the surrounding hype machine, but my only other option this 3-spot was to put on next year’s Lana del Rey release, since it’s starving for hype. While we are talking about things infinitely more interesting than Bon Iver…
See?! Aren’t you happier with Lana?
Let it not be said that I am anything but a gentleman and a patriot.
2. Tim Hecker // Ravedeath, 1972
Tim Hecker returns with Ravedeath, 1972 and provides the most captivating electronic release of this year. Like I said, (quoting myself for a record second time) Ravedeath, 1972 is an “engaging call to sonic arms and a statement about how music can be steamrolled by sonic hegemony.” Aside from over-using the word “sonic,” I brought up a valid point: Hecker’s record is a stellar reaction to the forces that restrict the ideas that make music exciting and relevant and worthy of making a list in the first place. Ravedeath, 1972 is best served cold and followed by its sister release Dropped Pianos. Drone on, brotha!
1. PJ Harvey // Let England Shake
When I first heard this record, I thought to myself that this was going to be the album of the year, and I was right. Let England Shake asks macro-minded questions, but the album works thanks to Harvey’s lyrical shift to microcosmic narratives. Harvey does not back down, and she produced something that feels bigger and rawer than anything from last year. It’s a stunning achievement and easily the best offering of 2011.
Song of the Year: Destroyer // “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker”
This should be seen for what it is: a shot across the bow directed at the rest of the blog. Kaputt rocked. BOOM!