[Best of 2011] Rich’s List

Why not create a list that’s not limited to albums? Actually, I stole the idea to do a ‘Favorites’ list from Andy after telling him the struggles of choosing my top 10 albums. Sorry, Andy, but it’s a damn fine idea. Perfect for someone so musically indecisive as myself. Instead of having to listen to and rank album after album, I was able to thumb through my mind and rabbit-ear the songs I incessantly repeated, the few albums that rarely left my car’s CD player, and the newfound loves that I’ll be sure to watch out for from this year on. So, without further ado, a countdown of my 10 favorite music stuffs in 2011.

10: Woodsist Records. Sun & Shade by Woods, …Is Growing Faith by White Fence, and III: Arcade Dynamics by Ducktails: Three extremely solid albums, all released in 2011 from a young label that has yet to put out a disappointing record in my book. With a healthy balance of folk, 60’s-influenced pop, and psychedelic tendencies, all of the albums released on Woodsist allow the label to continue its accent up the indie mountain. Safe to say that label owner and Woods founding member Jeremy Earl has a sharp ear for talented artists. His label will have my undivided attention for all future releases.

9: Bon Iver. His self-titled album is fantastic. Whether you want to call it inspired soft rock or an evolution in artistic style, the fact remains that Justin Vernon is no longer in the Wisconsin woods with his guitar and broken heart. He’s stepped into society and gathered some talented musicians to craft an album out of unorthodox instrumentation and unique melodies. The result was a collection of songs unlike anything on For Emma, Forever Ago, yet are still able to complement Vernon’s falsetto perfectly. The album isn’t 100 percent perfect. I’m not a big fan of ‘Beth/Rest,’ but the other nine songs are great. ‘Perth’ and ‘Holoscene’ are both beautiful singles, and the keys on ‘Calgary’ establish a completely different style for Vernon that sticks out from the other numbers. Only time will tell whether or not this albums sticks with me over the years, but for now, the work of Bon Iver sits atop with some of the best music released this year.

8: tUnE-yArDs performing ‘Gangsta’ on Jimmy Fallon.

Merill Garbus’ work on tUnE-yArDs’ w h o k i l l may not have been my favorite album of the year. And ‘Gangsta’ may not be my favorite single, but watching a musical performance as unique and original as this on network television is a breath of fresh air. Fallon did a great job bringing on popular indie artists throughout the year, but tUnE-yArDs’ performance was easily my favorite, mostly because you can sense Garbus’s nervousness and excitement to play her work in front of a national audience. Coming in a bit early with her opening “Whoa-oa’s,” is the kind of imperfection that makes a performance like this so authentic and memorable. Plus, she has ?uestlove backing her. Can’t beat rhythms like that.

7: ‘Spitting Blood’ by WU LYF. You know a song truly hits where it counts when you can remember exactly what you were doing the first time you heard it. That was the case with ‘Spitting Blood’ by WU LYF. I was driving home at night, listening to WITR, when I first heard the slurred, gargled vocals scream, We’re spitting blood / spitting blood / Like the golden Sun God / golden Sun God. I had no idea what I was listening to. I could not understand a single word of Ellery Roberts’ lyrics, but by the time the chanting in the chorus started, I was hooked and automatically addicted to the Manchester band, who’s name stands for “World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation.” Indistinguishable punk rock-style vocals, with reverberated guitar twang and Hammond organs are the M.O. for these guys, who have done a masterful job of holding a bit of mysteriousness around their origins. But, by the time the debut full-length, Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, was released, the band extended beyond its reach of being an indie buzz-band in the U.K. and earned a great deal of respect in the U.S. and across Europe. From the opening church organs to the final guitar strums, WU LYF grabs your attention with a punch to the gut that’ll knock the wind out of you. ‘Spitting Blood’ sure did that for me. But it didn’t hurt. I swear.

6: Cut Copy/Washed Out Tour.

This was the best concert that I attended in 2011. If seeing Cut Copy (‘Take Me Over” video) and Washed Out (“Soft” video) on the same bill, during a year in which they both released high-quality albums, doesn’t excite you, then check your pulse, because you may be lifeless. Seeing Ernest Greene and Washed Out expand beyond samples and synths, and reform with a live rhythm section added a new style to his songs that was both refreshing and entertaining. Cut Copy’s performance was a 180. The night began easy, as if we were enjoying a refreshment on a deck during a summer evening. Then later came the down and dirty dance party. The video may not show it, but these guys give it their all throughout the entire performance, only letting up to take a sip of water. The Zonoscope songs were entertaining, but by the time ‘Lights & Music’ and ‘Hearts on Fire’ from the amazing In Ghost Colours came on, I began to question the sturdiness of the floor below me. It felt more like we were on one of those inflatable bouncers. A ‘Need You Now’ encore was the perfect release to send on on our way from an amazing show, and a perfect tour.

5: ‘Buffalo’ by The Deloreans. WU LYF’s ‘Spitting Blood’ may have surprised me the most, but I didn’t listen to any song this year more than I did ‘Buffalo’ by The Deloreans. It was released in January, so I had 11 and a half months to revel in its catchiness, but for it to be released that early and still stand as my favorite song of the year says something. The album that the band released, American Craze, was good, but ‘Buffalo’…I still can’t get enough of it. I even made a Spotify playlist where the song repeats for two hours so I don’t have to keep pressing play. It’s 60’s-inspired pop music in its purest form. Catchy guitar riffs, with accompanying organs and infectious rhythms–sounds like a recipe for perfection. Listen to the chanting of “Oh, oh, oh, oh, Buffalo!” and guaranteed, by the second chorus, you’ll be chanting along. It’s been almost a year and I haven’t even stopped chanting.

4: Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Twitter Account (@UMO). The self-titled full-length debut that Unknown Mortal Orchestra (UMO) released this year was the perfect blend of psychedelia, blues, and funk. It’s one of my favorite albums of the year because it’s easy to listen to from beginning to end, and the songs will stick with you long after the album ends. But, another special part of UMO is the band’s Twitter account, which is managed by their frontman and mastermind, Ruban Nielson. Not only is he helpful with providing concert info to fans, talking about music, and talking with fans who reach out to him, but he’s also hysterical. Whether he’s asking for weed in the cities he’s playing in, taking part in the ridiculous hashtags that show up in the ‘Trends’ column on the side, or posting something completely random, the dude never fails to crack me up. I now leave you with these links to see for yourself: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8  10 11 12 13

Unknown Mortal Orchestra // Ffunny Ffrends [mp3] from Unknown Mortal Orchestra

3: (The Evolution of) Chillwave. Yeah, I said it. Chillwave may have gained traction in 2009 and 2010 with all of Hipster Runoff posts, but the heavy hitters in the ‘genre’ kicked things up a notch in 2011 and I loved every bit of it. I don’t even know what chillwave really is, but I do know that bands who are described as being part of it have been owning my iTunes and Spotify playlists all year long. Neon Indian, Toro Y Moi, Memory Tapes, and Washed Out: Four dominant leaders in this mysterious, debatable, joke of a genre that each released a spectacular album this year. Sure, there’s no set stipulation for being chillwave aside from the music makes you feel chill and the synthesizers (and there apparently has to be synthesizers) sound like a rolling wave. Chillwave legitimacy debate aside, Era Extraña, Underneath the Pine, Player Piano, and Within and Without were damn fine records, each with it’s own distinguishable characteristics that don’t make any of them sound like the others. Whether it’s the 8-bit echoed metallic pop of Neon Indian, the funk and disco beats of Toro Y Moi, the blissed out 80’s pop stylings of Memory Tapes, or the lush, ethereal synths of Washed Out–it has become harder and harder to lump these bands under one all-encompassing genre. So, don’t do it. Just call them what they are: Great.

2: David Comes to Life by Fucked Up.

My heart and soul belonged to punk rock from third grade up to my sophomore year of high school. Then I started to lose interest when it all started to sound repetitive and I had trouble finding albums that truly meant something to me. It wasn’t the same genre that I grew up lovingUp until this year, I haven’t bought a true punk rock album since probably around 2002 or 2003. Then I heard David Comes to Life by Toronto’s Fucked Up. This is everything that a hardcore punk album, and even a concept album, should be. With a heart-wrenching love story, the band explores common, yet intense, themes such as love, loss, and perseverance, all taking place during the hardest of times. It’s the most fitting album for 2011, and on top of all the messages and the storyline, the passion behind the music is what sells it. The rules are thrown out the window with David Comes to Life. At 77-minutes long (on a hardcore punk record?), Damian Abraham’s vocals never let up for a second as he growls the love story of David (our protagonist) and Veronica. Accompanied by a three guitar assault, Abraham and co. build melodies and hook after hook in a style that many may find uncomfortable experiencing. The four-part masterpiece about David may not sound pretty to the ears of someone unfamiliar with hardcore punk, but the story that Fucked Up is telling isn’t exactly pretty. And, we’re not exactly living in prettiest of times. But, an album like this is inspiring. It ignites a spark within, encouraging one to forge on and break free from the ugliness.

1: Reptilians by Starfucker. Who would’ve thought that a synth and sample-happy band whose inspirations are hip-hop and a British Zen philosopher (Alan Watts) who focuses on death would release one of the most joyful celebrations of the year? Sounds odd, right? But, with Starfucker, the Portland band makes sure to live in the moment, and while doing that, they make the most of it. Death is a frequent theme for these guys. Sounds gothic and depressing, but au contraire. The tunes may be about death, but they’re more about focusing on the existence of death and how thinking about it frequently can inspire creativity. Reptilians is the result from this way of thinking. ‘Julius,’ ‘Bury Us Alive,’ and ‘Death as a Fetish’ are thought-provoking songs when you read the lyrics, but when you listen to the music, these are songs that overflow with liveliness and positivity. The album provides a carefully crafted experience for the listener. It’s starts out with a firework’s burst of energy and takes a chill pill for a few songs before culminating with the rambunctious ‘Millions’ and ‘Quality Time.’ It’s an album that when you finish a complete listening session, you’ll walk away feeling like you’re floating. With a smile on your face, of course.