Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: I can't believe it's all gone...

I can't believe we are saying goodbye to another year.  They keep coming and going faster all the time.  At least, that's my perception.  2011 was a difficult year for me personally.   There was lots of upheaval at home with selling and building/buying a new home and moving on the same day in April--I STILL haven't recovered!  I have to say that since I've now gone through the process of moving for the first time in ten years, I can totally understand why people are fed up with how things are now.  It took the better part of a year to sell, even though the previous sale happened within weeks and the sellers had us at their mercy.  This was completely the opposite, and the amount of paperwork needed to secure a bank loan in 2011 is seriously OUT OF CONTROL.  It's no wonder people don't want to move.  The move itself is stressful enough, but when you cannot get bank approval or have to sign hundreds of documents, the prospect of following through with it seems rather daunting.  Still, I love my new home, and hope I can at least spend some time in it before things ever get really bad.  2011 was one of the most beautiful Christmases at home I have ever had.  Now I just need to get moving on finishing some decorating touches and 2012 is the year I hopefully get a little more settled.

2011 was the year my 95-year old grandmother passed away.  It was very hard for me emotionally, especially since we were rather close.  With all my moving expenses, I couldn't really afford the $700 price tag needed to fly to her home town for a couple days for the funeral, but I was there in spirit.  I was almost more at peace remembering her how she was when she was vibrant and energetic.  There were also dramas in my wife's family which I will not get into here, but needless to say, there was a lot of change and worrying for 2011.  Less next year would be a good thing.

So, enough of the Auld-Lang-Syne-ing and here is my list of the top albums of 2011.  Sorry it wasn't up sooner:


I've been championing this band for the three years I have known about them, and nothing could have made me happier this fall than seeing their first full length album finally come to fruition.  And what an album it is!  The songs!  There are so many great tracks--"Into the Clouds", "Wonders", "M.A.G.I.C.", "Ruins of Rome", "My Shadow", "Longest Ever Dream", "Nova", "Conquest" actually gets difficult choosing singles to release!  There is a smooth quality to the singing and music that echoes a Pet Shop Boys sensibility, yet the synths are completely epic in Vangelis/Giorgio Moroder style.  It is an album with 80's written all over it, yet it feels fresh and modern.  Of course, it won't get the attention it deserves, but for now, it's our little secret, and my favorite album of the year.  Favorite track: "Wonders" is amazing, and "Ruins of Rome" is bliss

2) DURAN DURAN--All You Need Is Now

Some may say this album is actually 2010, but since three tracks were held back from Christmas for the April physical release, the album felt short and incomplete.  The final album is a fantastic statement of what made Duran Duran special in the first place, and what they can still be.  Mark Ronson seems to have acted more as therapist than producer, getting the band back in touch with the sound that made them famous, and there are some incredible results.  "Girl Panic!" is "Girls on Film" with more intensity, "Leave a Light On" is "Save a Prayer" meets "Ordinary World", and "The Man Who Stole a Leopard" a quirky "The Chauffeur" inspiration.  Favorite track:  a tossup between "Runway Runaway" and "Too Bad You're So Beautiful"

3) FLORENCE & THE MACHINE--Ceremonials

While some critics have lashed back at Flo for making a big-sounding album with a more unified sound than her first, someone needs to tell me what's wrong with that?  After all, isn't that what artists usually strive to do?  Ceremonials has some stately gothic numbers ("Only if For a Night", "No Light No Light", "Seven Devils"), uplifting tracks ("Shake it Out", "All This and Heaven Too"), and even some R&B ("Lover to Lover").  This is a very mature and fully-fleshed out album by a young singer who likes to emote a lot, and while it might hit some as overkill, in a world of Adeles, Florence is staking her claim.  She might want a little more restraint next time, but that does not keep Ceremonials from being a stellar, consistent album, top to bottom.  Favorite track:  "Spectrum"

4) TOM WAITS--Bad as Me

Not what you might consider a typical choice of mine, I am actually a big Tom Waits fan, and this album was his best since at least 1999's Mule Variations.  Anyone interested in Tom's body of work could really start here, as it serves as a good entry point featuring many different types of sounds and voices in one cohesive and explosive album.  He is an original, and nobody else sings or writes songs like him.  One to treasure.  Favorite track:  For romance, "Kiss Me"; for anger, "Hell Broke Luce"

5) GAVIN FRIDAY--Catholic

An artist who has been recording for nearly 30 years but known very little, Friday was a member of an early-80's underground group, the Virgin Prunes, and left in the later part of the decade for a solo career which has led him into much more satisfying avenues of musical expression.  His sound is sometimes reminiscent of a mix between the late Billy Mackenzie of the Associates and Bryan Ferry, and Friday is good friends with Bono and other U2 cast members.  He stopped making albums in the late 90's when soundtrack work came calling, but now after the death of his father and a divorce, Friday returned with some of his most important work after a 17-year hiatus.  Catholic is meant as a loose dedication to Irish culture, but is much more of an examination of life as we grow older and put mistakes in the past.  Darkly comic and simultaneously touching, Catholic deserves its place on this list.  (If you seek out the U2 Achtung Baby tribute by Q Magazine, Friday's take on "The Fly" is one of the best.)  Favorite track:  "A Song That Hurts"


An immense step up from their first record, I so wish Pala had sold better.  I am afraid many of their fans accused them of selling out and trying to sound like a mix of Vampire Weekend and Wham!, but whatever the reason, Pala is an amazing pop record, and deserved to be just as praised and respected as that Foster the People album famous from a song about killing kids.  Plus Ed MacFarlane is the best dancer in pop now (eat that Lady Gaga).  Favorite track:  "Hurting"

7) WILD BEASTS--Smother

Critically acclaimed but little heard, Wild Beasts suffer from having a lead singer with a quirky voice, but oh, what a voice!  Smother saw Wild Beasts begin to grow into their skins a little bit more, and become comfortable with who and what they are.  Mark my words, this is one band to watch, as they continue to grow and mutate into an ever stronger proposition.  The word is sex...don't be scared.  Favorite track:  "Bed of Nails"

8) THE HORRORS--Skying

Another UK band that just keeps getting better and better.  When the Horrors started as a shriek-y goth-punk band, I had zero interest.  When their second album was produced not only by Geoff Barrow (Portishead), but also Chris Cunningham (video director for Aphex Twin and Bjork), I took notice at their slackening of the noise but the increased tension that ran throughout their music.  Now they've gone all psychedelic-shoegaze with a bit of goth and glam remaining.  The last time I remembered a band improving so much over the course of their first three albums, their name was Radiohead.  While the Horrors don't sell in those kind of numbers, maybe they should.  Favorite track:  the epic "Moving Further Away"

9) DESTROYER--Kaputt

This came out quite early in the year, and maybe got forgotten by some, but it really stuck with me.  Dan Bejar softened some of his musical edges with keyboards piped in from Prefab Sprout-era pillowy 80's records, yet the lyrics remained just a sharp as ever.  I think Bejar has come up with something truly special, and cannot wait to see what he does next.  Another artist more should know about.  Favorite track:  the title song, "Kaputt"

10) LADY GAGA--Born This Way

Of course, it had to make the list.  It is not a token gesture.  While BTW may not be as immediately likeable as The Fame Monster was, it is a lot longer for one thing, and manages to synthesize all the things that make Gaga who she is in a mostly appealing way.  While some of the lyrics may be a tad over-reaching at times ("Born This Way" and "Judas"...I'm looking at you), there are some real winners present (I actually like parts of both of those songs too).  It's a shame "Marry the Night" wasn't released earlier, as it stands as one of Gaga's most iconic lyrics.  The album also features a Def Leppard homage and Clarence Clemons' last recorded performance.  So there.  Favorite track:  either "The Edge of Glory" or the Madonna-esque "Bad Kids"

And the rest:

11) COLDPLAY--Mylo Xyloto (their best since Rush of Blood...)
12) LAURA MARLING--A Creature I Don't Know (it really grew on me)
13) PATRICK WOLF--Lupercalia (I waited all year to buy this domestically and finally gave up for the import--he's never sounded so buoyant)
14) CUT COPY--Zonoscope (formerly #1 on this list a couple years back--this was still excellent)
15) JENS LEKMAN--An Argument With Myself (a great EP that could have been higher as an album)
16) DARREN HAYES--Secret Codes & Battleships (excellent consolidation of his talents, and very accessible)
17) SOPHIE ELLIS-BEXTOR--Make a Scene (the album that finally saw the light of day--I wonder if it would have done better had it been released earlier)
18) KATE BUSH--50 Words for Snow (sex with a snowman--need I say more?)
19) LYKKE LI--Wounded Rhymes (excellent goth-girl group harmonies)
20) YOUNG GALAXY--Shapeshifting (shivering electro-pop rework of the original record--more please!)
21) PJ HARVEY--Let England Shake (excellent lyrics and D-A-R-K)
22) MIRRORS--Lights & Offerings (Ultravox meets OMD in 2011 for this collaboration--not really)
23) TORI AMOS--Night of Hunters (she's better without all that 70's MOR baggage from the last couple records--her 10 year old daughter is alarmingly good)
24) ORIGINAL 7EVEN (aka the Band Formerly Known as the Time)--Condensate (Morris Day's still got it)
25) HOLY GHOST!--Holy Ghost! (why this never got a domestic US CD release is beyond me)
26) PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART--Belong (the ghost of John Hughes called and wants his soundtrack back)
27) DUM DUM GIRLS--Only in Dreams (Chrissie Hynde is reborn as a retro girl-group songstress--FAB!)
28) M83--Hurry Up, We're Dreaming (John Hughes meets Giorgio Moroder in France, 1982...)
29) BETH DITTO--Beth Ditto EP (this should have been an album--AMAZINGLY good)
30) BRITNEY SPEARS--Femme Fatale (one of her best albums ever--up there with Blackout)
31) PENGUIN PRISON--Penguin Prison (great debut, and mostly done all on his own--impressive)
32) RAVEONETTES--Raven in the Grave (an especially gothy effort from the Danish duo, yet there were some light moments)
33) ERASURE--Tomorrow's World (the Frankmusik collab sounded better on paper than it actually did, leaving Andy Bell sounding a bit shrill.  Still, there were some sparkly moments...)
34) PETER GABRIEL--New Blood (now about that new album,'s been 11 years again...)
35) JUSTICE--Audio. Video. Disco.  (this was good--I just wish there were more Justice-y bits)
36) HUMAN LEAGUE--Credo (I actually really liked this record.  It's not at all commercial, granted...)
37) JESSICA 6--See the Light (not only did they feature Hercules & Love Affair's former lead singer, they stole their guest singer Antony Hegarty as well)
38) LIGHTS--Siberia (twee pop gets an edge)
39) WILL YOUNG--Echoes (there were many very good moments here, I just wish he'd get a little more excited--a bit too smooth at times)
40) GIRLS--Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (retro rock done right and not simply derivative)

other notables:
Adele, Miles Kane, Arctic Monkeys, Metronomy, Elbow, White Lies, the Vaccines, Cold Cave, Washed Out, the Drums, St. Vincent, Hard-Fi, S.C.U.M., Brett Anderson, Kasabian, Thomas Dolby, Nikki Jean, Foster the People, Diego Garcia, Feist, Active Child, Brendan Perry, the Rapture, Sarah Nixey, Florrie.

Up in 2012:
Lana del Rey, Ladyhawke, the Presets, Saint Etienne, Pet Shop Boys, School of Seven Bells, Marina & the Diamonds, Little Boots, Santigold, La Roux, Dragonette, Bat for Lashes, Robbie Williams, Empire of the Sun, the Big Pink, Sleigh Bells, Metric, Phoenix, Air, Morrissey, No Doubt, the Killers, Garbage--a BUSY 2012 awaits!