Sunday, August 14, 2011

2011 Q2...a bit late then...

You know what they say about the best laid plans. Anymore, life just seems to get in the way of me posting my favorite lists in any sort of timely manner. I guess the two of you that read this blog will be lucky if I get my year end list of favorites up on time. Until then, I struggle along to get these things up and keep with the times.
It has been a very strange year so far. The biggest event in my life was moving into a new home that was built from scratch. It has been a wonderful home for the past couple months, but the stress leading up to it was unlike anything I have ever experienced before, nor do I ever want to again. There have been passings too--my wonderful grandmother at 95 last month, for one. There was a famous acquaintance of mine who died a mile from my job back in June and the whole town came to a halt (hint: he was a real jackass).
Another person who died in the past year was a good friend of mine from work. He was older (60) and also a great lover of music, and since his passing, his wife has put his record collection up for sale at my store. I have been lucky to acquire a handful of great records in pristine condition that are considered classics, some of which I never heard before, so that has been an education for me through his legacy.
Possibly the strangest of all involves an acquaintance from my job who suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth one day in late February, and I have not seen nor heard from this person in the five months since. This is somebody who used to call me at least three times a week and visit my workplace once or twice a week as well. He was experiencing many transitions in his personal life, but also had underlying ailments, the likes of which seem to have caught up with him. The reason I am spending time talking about this person is that he was a great lover of music, and had recently been exposing me to loads of older things that I missed or never would have given the time to otherwise.
I have listened to more "old" music this year than ever before, and have fallen in love with lots of different artists: Joe Jackson, Talking Heads, John Cale, Nico, Lou Reed, and Velvet Underground, Brian Eno, Stevie Wonder (70s), early Pretenders, early Pointer Sisters, Mike Oldfield, Renaissance, Laura Nyro, Kim Wilde, Kid Creole, Tom Tom Club, Teardrop Explodes, Joni Mitchell, Genesis (old), Squeeze, House of Love, the Clash, the Church, the Cars, Carpenters, the Slits, the Time, early Simple Minds, Roberta Flack, Aztec Camera, etc., etc. These are just some of the bands whose albums either escaped me the first time, or I couldn't afford to buy them to hear them.
With that being said, I am going to spend less time talking about the new music I love in this following post, but let it be said where I think something needs to be. Here they are:

1)WILD BEASTS--Smother
An utterly fantastic and unique postmodern album mixing the best of 80's lush pop (Blue Nile, Talk Talk, Kate Bush) with sensitive modern rock like Elbow. Hayden and Tom's voices bounce off each other in very special ways, and there is an economy of writing and texture that is the antithesis of excess. There is also a dark sensuality at work underneath the surface here, and I defy you to find a more beautiful expression of catharsis than "Burning". Breathless.

2) GAVIN FRIDAY-Catholic
Gavin got busy with life and other projects in the ensuing 16 years since his last album, Shag Tobacco, in 1995. Formerly of 80's obscurities the Virgin Prunes, Friday has gone on to make some of the best suave pop of the past two decades, incorporating elements of Bryan Ferry, Billy MacKenzie, and Bono all into one. Catholic is somewhat of a distillation of recent life experiences and emotions in Friday's world, especially in tracks like "Able", "It's All Ahead of You", and "Lord, I'm Coming". Breathtaking.

3) LADY GAGA--Born This Way
So, it's not number one. It's also not absent from the list. I loved the Fame Monster (NOT the generally poor The Fame), so much so that it was number one on my 2009 list. Expectations here were high, and while I think the hype may have overshadowed the actual album (along with Amazon's fucking 99-cent sale--what the hell was that?), I do think it is generally a very good album. It may be a bit full on, firing on all cylinders most of the time. There may not be a "Bad Romance" or "Alejandro", but any album that has the driving "Edge of Glory", electro-hoedown "You and I", urgent "Marry the Night", Madonna-esque "Bad Kids", Marc Almond-in-flamenco mode "Americano", and gothic "Bloody Mary" can't be all bad. Maybe it's a bit overlong and could lose a track or two, but all in all, it's generally a success. Too bad about the videos though. Maybe a little less talking about how great the album is beforehand would help next time.
Can you believe it finally came out? I was beginning to lose hope. And guess what? It was better than I ever expected it to be. Not only were all the previously released singles positioned well, but the new entries were sparkling. "Magic", "Synchronized", and "Starlight" are all great songs, in addition to "Bittersweet" and "Not Giving Up On Love", which I had purposefully held off on listening to until the album dropped. "Homewrecker" is funny, "Make a Scene" is kooky, and "Cut Straight to the Heart" jawdropping. Possibly the best pure pop album of the year right here. She deserves respect NOW.

I am at a loss as to whether I should namecheck the band or their producer, Paul Epworth, as he has worked similar magic to what he worked with Annie on her last album. Full, lush textures set to amazing island beats are the flavor for this indie band who suddenly go widescreen with the sound of this album, and while some may think their writing has suffered in the process, I disagree and say their writing has just become more focused in service of the music they are creating. I can't think of many indie bands to make such a quantum leap from debut to sophomore record. Radiohead? Goldfrapp? Dead or Alive?

6) SARAH NIXEY--Brave Tin Soldiers
Shows just how much she contributed to Black Box Recorder.

7) ARCTIC MONKEYS--Suck It and See
A return to form with a very melodic album combining all the best elements of the Monkeys.

8) MILES KANE--Colour of the Trap
Other half of Arctic Monkey Alex Turner's Last Shadow Puppets. Maybe the better half? Great debut.

9) JESSICA 6--See the Light
Former contributors to Hercules & Love Affair make early Madonna referencing debut. Golden.

10) HOLY GHOST!--Holy Ghost!
DFA dance duo come up with the goods on a CD still not released in the US (import only). I usually hate on albums that are iTunes exclusives, but you can get this for under $20. Fun!

Other good efforts:
FOSTER THE PEOPLE--Torches (catchy debut)
DIEGO GARCIA--Laura (tunes AND growth)
COLD CAVE--Cherish the Light Years (best goth-inspired record of the season)
WASHED OUT--Within and Without (best electro-dreampop record of the season)
CAT'S EYES--Cat's Eyes (these guys are almost as good as the Horrors!)
HANDSOME FURS--Sound Kapital (major growth but still fiercely indie)
MARC ALMOND & MICHAEL CASHMORE--Feasting With Panthers (some parts are quite lovely)
JOSEPH ARTHUR--Graduation Ceremony (his best album in nearly 10 years)
VACCINES--What Did You Expect From the Vaccines (great debut, if a little derivative)
D:REAM--In Memory Of... (not all great, but certain spots shine. Welcome back)
BRENDAN PERRY--Ark (10 years since this Dead Can Dance vet released an album. Almost worth the wait)
FLORRIE--Experiments EP (make it physical now--it's that good)
DANGER MOUSE & DANIELE LUPPI--Rome (a bit Broken Bells, but very enjoyable)
WOMBATS--Modern Glitch (following in the footsteps of rock bands like Hoosiers going pop. Not better than last time, but not exactly worse either)

General letdowns:
GLASVEGAS--Euphoria///Heartbreak (bombastic and overblown, it could have been so much more)
KATE BUSH--Director's Cut (who could listen to this and honestly believe these versions were better than the originals???)
KEREN ANN--101 (not bad really, but leadoff single and cover art foreshadowed so much more)
MOBY--Destroyed (he keeps making the same album over and over)
I know, I know...I need to write more often...