Monday, December 5, 2011

Favorite Albums 2011

1. The Caretaker - An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
A beautiful piece of work by an exceptionally talented man. Easy enough to throw on and enjoy pretty much any time but challenging to the point that I played it repeatedly just trying to compare the differences between tracks that at first seem like identical twins. James Kirby's modus operandi is still the same, dust off some musty ballroom 78s, work his magic and see what comes out the other side. If only it were that simple. The jump cuts that occur between tracks and even within tracks on top of and inside of familiar sounding melodies became the earworms themselves. I became addicted to hearing those static skipping noises as much as I anticipated the actual melodies. Another entry in an astoundingly overlooked oeuvre/back catalog.

2. Grouper - A I A: Alien Observer/Dream Loss
The first of two double albums on this list. Nearly interchangeable with #1 as far as quality, amount of time spent obsessing over it, and total enjoyment. Liz Harris delves back into the type of recordings she was doing before Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill but somehow comes out with two albums that are far better than anything she's done in the past. "Alien Observer" is both the best and saddest song I played endlessly all year. Completely barren in approach and execution, Harris proved that you don't need volume or drums or much of anything other than a quietly repetitious melody and absolutely killer vocal arrangements. I will admit that listening to both albums front to back in succession is not dissimilar to what I imagine downing a whole bottle of barbiturates will get you. It's more lovely though.

3. Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica
With each successive album I like Daniel Lopatin's work more and more. I love it that he mostly abandoned the Emeralds style synth drone that so many bit off of this year and last. Replica is a garbage dump of manufactured commercial sounds, recontextualized and reformatted in a style not dissimilar from the turn of the millenium glitch trend. The source material is different and makes for a wholly other listening experience. Bonus points for best album art of 2011. The back cover is even better than the front.

4. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
Another case similar to Gang Gang Dance. Anthony Gonzalez gives it his all in a bid to make his version of a double album opus ala Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness. I love double albums. I especially love double albums where the artist is obviously going all out trying to do different things that may make their core audience uncomfortable in some way. This might be the most pop M83 record yet and definitely his best in my opinion. The retarded spoken word bits were limited to exactly one track that was easily skipped. My initial reservations about him affecting a Peter Gabriel style singing voice eventually subsided along with any reservations I had about the garish architecture of some of the tracks (hello, one of them has slap bass). Most of the shoegazery bits have been whittled away in favor of overt synth/electronic pop. M83 suffers naught for it.

5. Demdike Stare - Tryptych
I won't waste too much time here. Last year Demdike Stare released three limited edition 12" albums (Voices of Dust, Forest of Evil, and Liberation Through Hearing). They were all phenomenal. Minimalist, dub techno with samples from two of the best crate diggers in the world (one of which works for Finders Keepers so I think that's a pretty good resume alone). Bleak, sinister, and complex are all words I'd use to describe it. Knowing last year that they were going to release this compilation I was hesitant to put any of those albums in my list. So here you go for all the assholes that can't get with it since the entire world decided that 2011 should be the settled upon year for us to actually critically analyze them. Whatever, as long as these guys keep making records I don't give a shit when people hear them.

6. Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972
Do I think this record has anything on Hecker's classic 2006 album Harmony in Ultraviolet? Simply put, no. However this is a much better record through and through than his last album, An Imaginary Country. It lacks the awesome mellotron pieces that I loved so much from that album but it makes up for it with a little track called "The Piano Drop" which might be one of his best compositions ever. The first half of the album surges and seethes with industrial strength distortion grind but drops off in the final third when he backs off the noise into some airy piano compositions. Not that these are bad but they make what would have been an even better album play a little lopsidedly. Hecker still has it over pretty much all of the guys who sound even remotely like him at this point. It's been a long time since even Christian Fennesz (who I would call his only real challenger) even posed a threat. As always I can't wait to see what's next. And if you enjoyed the piano pieces from this he released an entire album of piano sketches on a whim that were used as the starting point for this record but sound nothing like what ended up here, instead echoing Satie or Rachel's.

7. Julia Holter - Tragedy
One of those records that just kind of subtly comes in and sweeps you off your feet. It reminds me of The Hospitals' Hairdryer Peace, not that the two albums sound anything alike but that the songs are more like suggestions that emerge half formed from a fog of other sounds. In the Hospitals' case it was blown out/deranged garage rock and harsh noise whereas Julia Holter comes at it from a sort of musique concrete or modern classical background almost. There is a strange vocoder piece in the middle called "Goddess Eyes" that is not at all like the rest of the album. There are samples of an opera singer and foghorns. It's all based around Euripides' play Hippolytus. A completely highbrow affair but prior knowledge is not required to enjoy what I would call a modern classic in the realm of avant-garde pop.

8. John Maus - We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
If you want a fun evening you could read John Maus' thesis on Punk Rock here and then try to parse out what it has to do with the lyrics of his song "Copkiller" (not at all related to the Bodycount song of the same name). Or you could just listen to this great record he released this year which falls in line as a worthy companion to his friend Ariel Pink's Before Today from last year.

9. Skullflower - Fucked On a Pile of Corpses
Reconciles the Skullflower of IIIrd Gatekeeper with that of Tribulation. Featuring a fleshed out lineup with Lee Stokoe, George Proctor, and Samantha Davies. Unendingly harsh and completely unforgiving. Come prepared to suffer hearing loss or do not come at all. Mountains of treble, strange subtle minor key dirges underneath a shitstorm of static. Offensive track titles. People talk about black metal like that panda makeup is supposed to scare me, it'd go a lot farther if more of those guys made music that sounded like this instead of nth generation Burzum and Emperor tremolo picking and blast beats. Leans towards harsh noise wall at times reflecting back the one dimensional aspects of Vomir and The Rita into something that is actually far more interesting.

10. John Wiese - Seven of Wands
A much quieter album than I would have expected from Wiese. Initially doesn't seem as good to me as Circle Snare but I thought the same with that album vs Soft Punk and now I like it better.

11. Moon Wiring Club - Somewhere a Fox is Getting Married
I almost didn't hear this one in time to even make the list. What a moron I am. I really liked MWC's last album A Spare Tabby at the Cat's Wedding too but I waited to even check this out until it was almost too late. I swear "RSVP VIP Fresh" has a sample of Vincent Price's voice. Hands down the best thing to come out of the whole Ghost Box camp this year even if it wasn't released on that label. Way way WAY better than the new Advisory Circle which I pined and moaned about wanting until it turned out to be a snorefest. "Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail that brings our friends up from the underworld." This should be in the top ten. Don't look at that number and pretend you can add an extra one and stick this in the top ten somewhere because I couldn't find a place for it.

12. Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact
You want to get weird? Here's a crystal bug staring right at you. Here's Gang Gang Dance pushing weather channel muzak lite into the outro of "Chinese High". Here's the bizarre Siouxsie indebted version of house music on "Mindkilla." Here's another piece that sounds like '90s smooth R&B. You don't like it well I think Eazy E had a few choice words for when that happens. A careful balance between tasteful and distasteful. You decide whether they ride that line carefully enough. There are some missteps I think but a solid album nonetheless.

13. Panda Bear - Tomboy
This is the weakest album to come out of Panda Bear in a while either as a solo album or in his position as a member of Animal Collective. That being said it is still a great electronic pop album. Vastly different sounding than the mind bending sampledelia of 2007's Person Pitch but maybe more like a black and white rendering of the style Animal Collective was into on Merriweather Post Pavilion. Maybe think of this as MPP's awkward little brother or something. The songs are better than a lot of other people's but coming from this guy I kind of expected more. I really like his song from that one skate video this year. "Atiba Song" is what it was known as on the internet I believe but it never got an official release. Why couldn't this record have been more like that? It is what it is I guess. Settling for merely great isn't so bad. (oh and this cover art is fucking awful, thanks for purposely baiting those dudes who were already calling you a man child Noah Lennox...a girl crying...sheesh)

14. The Field - Looping State of Mind
This is the third album from Axel Willner's project. The third to use nearly the exact same cover art as the first two with slight variations ala Pole's 1, 2, and 3. The title pretty much sums it up. Lots of ambient loops playing repetitively. Your enjoyment of this album will depend on your love of such things or ability to stomach/tolerate it. For those of us that do I will say that I like this far more than the second Field album and it is either on par or maybe better than From Here We Go Sublime.

15. Ursula Bogner - Sonne = Blackbox
There has been a significant amount of postulating that Ursula Bogner does not exist, that she is in fact a hoax designed by German electronic musician Jan Jelinek in order for him to produce albums removed from his own canon that owe more to Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram. Bogner's legacy has been a wealth of recordings given to Jelinek by her son Sebastian who he met by chance on an airplane. According to the story the real Bogner died in 1994. This is the second set of recordings produced under this moniker, whoever it really is. It makes no difference to me. I can't fathom why Jelinek wouldn't want to claim these pieces as his own if they were in fact. Beautiful compositions for tape and voice.

16. Tombs - Path of Totality
Another record from a group whose debut I completely slept on. Someone once described this album to me as "like ISIS if they only played a faster version of stuff from Oceanic." Sold. I also hear some tribal post-punk in here like Killing Joke or even early Death in June plus maybe something like Helmet and Quicksand to boot. Good stuff.

17. The Horrors - Skying
I was late in hearing The Horrors' last album Primary Colours. A friend of mine had to convince me that it was actually somewhat within the realm of shoegaze in order for me to finally check it out. I had only heard the band's first album where they did a really bad mix of Bauhaus, The Cure, and The Birthday Party while bringing nothing to the table to really make it seem worthwhile. This album still retains traces of shoegaze but is more in line with '80s soundtrack music like The Psychedelic Furs or Simple Minds. Not bad.

18. Stare Case - Lose Today
I'm sure you're thinking "oh boy yet another Wolf Eyes side project" so go ahead and count yourself out for this one if that's not your thing. Although self-described (hilariously I might add) as a "blues roots" album, Lose Today sounds like a logical extension of the Wolf Eyes sound. Made with more traditional instruments and a few rotten sounding horns this is still harsh enough to distance it from most people's interpretation however loose of "blues" plus there's still enough gross feedback to link it to the noise canon.

19. Andy Stott - Passed Me By
Much like his pals in Demdike Stare, Andy Stott crafted an album of forbidding menace through the use of snails pace tempo and disturbing low end. There are clipped vocal samples that litter this graveyard but the whole affair is massively cold sounding as if the only people that inhabit its space have long since been passed on from this world.

20. Zola Jesus - Conatus
This record started out much higher on my list. I kept going through phases where I loved it but then felt disappointed because I didn't think it pushed the boundaries of what people expect from her enough. Nika Roza Danilova has a great voice, that much I feel certain about. Still a great pop album even if it doesn't quite live up to the highs of the Stridulum and Valusia EPs.

21. Nate Young - Stay Asleep
I always make it a point to keep up with any of the side/solo projects of Wolf Eyes and any of its former and current members. These guys are always cranking out good stuff. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Nate Young's last solo record Regression and this one released on tape continues in the same tradition. Horror movie style drone but supposedly this time designed to ward off evil spirits according to Mr. Young. Sounds more like what I would expect if those spirits were trying really hard to creep me out instead. Quieter than you'd expect from a Wolf Eyes member but stylistically still not that far removed from the family tree.

22. David Tagg - I Am The Wolf
David Tagg has released a ton of drone records and I Am The Wolf is just one of two great releases he had this year along with the gorgeous Dream Compost tape on INSTALL. I played this album endlessly both before and after the tornadoes that destroyed parts of where I live here in Tennessee back in the spring. It's subtle beauty helped me forget about how cruel and terrible life can sometimes be. Sounds like spring to me.

23. Locrian - The Clearing
When I told a friend of mine that Locrian was one of only two metal bands on my year end list he kind of looked at me funny and told me he didn't think of them as a metal band. Only under the most generic of terms would they even be classified as that. This record incorporates elements of old industrial music, drone, and noise under one roof. It has the most wide open space I've heard on a record of its ilk too. It's Locrian doing what they do best and doing it better than they have before even.

24. Atlas Sound - Parallax
This is my least favorite of Bradford Cox's Atlas Sound albums so far. I keep waiting for him to create a record under this alias that equals anything he's done with his band Deerhunter. That doesn't mean Parallax is devoid of great songs, see "Doldrums," "Mona Lisa," and "Te Amo" for the best examples here.

25. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong
Not much to say here. A solid dream pop record leaning toward twee. If you told me you hated this I wouldn't blame you but I played it enough.

1 comment:

Belu said...

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