Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top 50 Albums of 2011 (10 - 1)

Male Bonding - Endless Now
10) Male Bonding - Endless Now (Sub Pop) : Endless Now is the second album from this UK trio. The band's music is a slight throwback to the noise pop of the 90s (i.e. Dinosaur Jr.); but Male Bonding give it a twist of punk and a hint of shoegaze to make it their own.
09) Maritime - Human Hearts (Dangerbird): On the fourth album from Milwaukee's Maritime, the band finally hits it on all cylinders. The band features two former members of The Promise Ring, so you know the songs will be catchy as all hell. With Human Hearts, Maritime exceeds their previous band for the first time. If it were not for the upcoming Promise Ring reunion, Maritime would finally be judged solely on its own merits. Funny how things work out like that.
08) The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar (Canvasback/Atlantic): If you are fan of the classic shoegaze bands of the early 90s (i.e. Swervedriver, My Bloody Valentine), then you will no doubt find a lot to love about the debut album from Welsh trio, The Joy Formidable. As the title states, the album is a big roar...of guitars right in your face. If these guys (and gal) are this good on their debut album, imagine what will come next!

07) Tommy Stinson - One Man Mutiny (Done To Death): Stinson's second solo album is another high water mark on his post-Replacements career. Sadly, with Stinson's busy schedule (he plays in both Guns 'N Roses and Soul Asylum), there will be little promotion for this record and few will ever hear it. For this collection, Tommy still shows his appreciation for the music of The Faces; but like his previous solo record, Village Gorilla Head, Stinson shows his progress as a songwriter and musician by going beyond the range of his influences.

06) Arctic Monkeys - Suck It and See (Domino): I have to say that I have no idea why Arctic Monkeys are not rock stars in America. In fact, this band could barely get arrested in most of this country, while it enjoys massive success in its native UK and much of Europe. Suck It and See, the Monkeys fourth, is chock full of singles. American radio could really use a dose of these guys in regular rotation. The band's merging of 90s indie rock with classic Britpop and the sounds of The Smiths, make for some mighty fine listening.

05) Dum Dum Girls - Only In Dreams (Sub Pop): Dum Dum Girls debut album, I Will Be, was #47 in my Top 50 of 2010. In retrospect, it should have been higher. Regardless, for the second album, Only In Dreams, the group continues in the same vein as the debut (classic 60's girl group mixed with garage rock) but exceeds it to a great degree. The elements are all the same, but the writing is what propels this record and what makes it stronger than the already stellar debut.

04) Middle Brother - Middle Brother (Partisan): Very is an artist's "side project" on par with its main project, so consider Middle Brother an exception to the rule. A major exception. The group consists of John J. McCauley III of Deer Tick, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit - all fantastic bands in their own right. The combination of the three is fantastic and the music does not come across as that of three solo artists working together (as, say, Monsters of Folk did), but of a group of guys who have played together for years. Fans of Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, and The Replacements will thoroughly enjoy this record. Speaking of The Replacements, Middle Brother an amazing cover of that band's 1989 outtake, "Portland." It is unbelievably awesome.

03) Wilco - The Whole Love (Anti): Wilco's The Whole Love continues the band's decade and a half creative hot streak with yet another powerful and beautiful collection of Jeff Tweedy songs. Excluding the album's epic opener, "Art of Almost," and its twelve + minute closer, "One Sunday Morning (song for Jane Smiley's boyfriend)," any of these songs would fit in perfectly on rock or classic rock radio. They sound instantly timeless. Wilco is, perhaps, the greatest band of the current era, yet few people outside of the indie/alternative world know them due to a nearly total radio boycott. Sad. 

2) Deer Tick - Divine Providence (Partisan): I had been hearing a lot about Providence, Rhode Island's Deer Tick over the last few years, but I guess I'd never really listened to them. That was before I heard Middle Brother (see #4) which features DT's main man, Jon McCauley. It took a side project to make me listen to the main project...and I am very thankful that it happened. Simply put, Deer Tick sounds like a combination of two of my favorite bands: The Replacements and Uncle Tupelo. Considering it has been decades since both of those bands broke-up, I don't know if those are good comparisons for someone aged 18 or so. But really, music like this just isn't made any more. Passionate, reckless, intense, emotional, rockin', drunk, clever, stupid, inspiring...all those words could be used to describe the music of Deer Tick. Bottom line, however, if the idea of Paul Westerberg singing lead for Uncle Tupelo sounds like something you might like...I suggest you grab this record immediately.

1) St. Vincent - Strange Mercy (4AD): Here we are at the top spot. I pretty much figured as soon as I heard the album once that St. Vincent's third release, Strange Mercy, was going to end up being my favorite record of the year. Hell, the first time I heard the advance track, "Surgeon," I predicted it. And now, after listening to the record about 50 times, I confirmed my earlier suspicion...We are living in the St. Vincent era. Annie Clark's thoroughly original compositions, brilliant lyrics (though usually not about what you think they are about), and fantastic guitar playing, make St. Vincent's music so enjoyable. Many hear similarities to Kate Bush, and I understand that, to a point. But Kate Bush can't wail on guitar, and she doesn't do cover songs by Big Black and Tom Waits in her live show. There really is no comparison.

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