I'm not one of these guys who's going to say that 2011 was a weak year for new releases. I think I got more new releases this year (about 150 in all) than I have in a long time. Some of them were pretty mind-blowing.
I struggled making the list last year, and I thought that broadening it a little bit this year would help. I'm not sure that it did, but in any case, I felt like I would be leaving too many on the editing room floor if I didn't expand it a bit.
The criteria for this list are that it has to be a full-length album(generally defined as "more than 30 minutes and/or more than eight songs"), the band has to be other than Canadian in origin, and the record had to have been released in 2011. Anniversary re-issues aren't included in this list. And again, I'm not saying that these are objectively better. I'm just saying that I liked them a lot.
I should add that I couldn't have done any of this without the support of a group of Music Geeks with whom I've been engaged in music email conversations for the last 18 months or so. They've opened my eyes to some new stuff and given me some fresh views and different opinions on some stuff that I already knew. As we like to say, "Viva la Geek!"
So, here we go with the countdown. With some commentary, and a video for each. Feel free to make your voice heard in the comments section
22. Fredrik -- Flora (Sweden)
I know next to nothing about this band. They're Swedish. I never would have known that they exist if not for the suggestion of one of the Music Geeks.
21. Big Troubles -- Romantic Comedy (New Jersey)
One of many great releases from Slumberland Records this year.
This video is, umm... goofy.
20. Zola Jesus -- Conatus
She came in at #5 on last year's list, and it didn't take long for a new record to come out. It's more of the same, but it doesn't get near the top this year.
19. Telekinesis -- 12 Desperate Straight Lines (Seattle)
18. Wild Flag -- Wild Flag (Portland)
I wanted to like this more. I should like this more. I had the privilege of seeing them play live about 8 months before the record came out, and it was an amazing show. I always used to say that Sleater-Kinney was more enjoyable as a live band than on record, and the step-sister of that band is no different.
17. Yuck -- Yuck (London, England)
I loved this record passionately for about seven weeks. The romance has fizzled out a bit, but we're still really good friends, and it's definitely worthy of a spot on this list.
This video is NOT SAFE FOR WORK:
16. Mogwai -- Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (Glasgow, Scotland)
This record has way more vocals than I'm accustomed to with this band, but then again, their sound has changed a bit over the years. This is the first Mogwai record I've bought since 1999's Come On, Die Young
15. This Will Destroy You -- Tunnel Blanket (San Marcos, Texas)
Only their second proper album, this took a long time and was highly anticipated. Not exactly a disappointment, but nothing earth-shattering either. With TWDY, the key word for the listener -- especially the first-time listener-- is "patience". Stick with it.
14. M83 -- Hurry Up, We're Dreaming (France)
This double-album is something that front man Anthony Gonzalez has wanted to do for a long time. Every song is a little different, and it's all good. It doesn't chart higher because I see this record as an exercise in decadence. As one of the Music Geeks (Viva la Geek!) brilliantly put it :
(I) can't help thinking that there was an amazing single album hidden amongst the overwrought doubleThis video, for "Midnight City", is a little unsettling, but really well made:
13. Julianna Barwick -- The Magic Place (Brooklyn)
Not much other than a bunch of wordless vocal loops and some really sparse instrumentation. Very haunting and very good.
12. Jessica Lea Mayfield -- Tell Me (Kent, Ohio)
I got this early in the year, thanks to one of the Geeks and gave it a little bit of play. I had it on a back burner for a long time until she had a fantastic Daytrotter session a couple of weeks ago. I was thankfully reminded of how great this record is
11. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart -- Belong (New York City)
Another great release by Slumberland Records. Like the others, it brings to mind the mid-1990s, which was a real good time for indie music, and a real good time for Slumberland Records.
10. Los Campesinos -- Hello, Sadness (Wales)
This one kinda came out of nowhere. I've liked this band in the past, and there have been some standout tracks on some otherwise average albums. They've gotten better as a band (and changed the lineup again), and they've put out a solid record from start to finish.
9. Explosions in The Sky -- Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (Austin, Texas)
I love this band. However, it's been four years since their last record, and my first response to it wasn't exactly favorable. It took a while to grow on me, but it did. Like most of the records on this list, I don't have a physical copy of the release, but I'm told that the liner notes can be folded out to make a tiny house. I keep telling myself to order one of these.
Here they are performing a short song "Trembling Hands" at a show that I should have gone to:
8. Blouse -- Blouse (Portland)
These guys just dropped their debut record in November, and I don't remember how I first heard about it, but I was taken right away. This also reminds me of some of the dream-pop from the early-mid 1990s. In a lot of ways, this record reminds me of the brilliant (and only) record -- Blow by the band Swallow. Everyone should own a copy of that. Tragically, Blow is out of print, but digital copies are available. Get it.
Anyway, this debut record from Blouse is pretty amazing. Here's an unofficial video for the great song "Into Black":
7. Bird of Youth -- Defender (Brooklyn)
I'm pretty sure that I discovered this band because I follow Kathryn Calder on twitter. At any rate, I'm glad I found them. This is largely the work of Beth Wawerna, but she's got a band, and she's got a lot of important friends. I'm convinced that she's written a song that Colin Meloy of The Decemberists wishes he had written. Here's that song:
6. The Antlers -- Burst Apart (Brooklyn)
I was so excited about this record that it's one of four on this list that I pre-ordered a physical copy of. I don't buy very many physical copies these days, so that's sort of a big deal. I absolutely love it.
5. Low -- C'mon (Duluth, Minnesota)
Another that I pre-ordered. Every time I think that this band can't make another great record, they do. I think, actually, that they keep getting better. I love how they eschew the "slowcore" categorization even when they're the pioneers of the genre.
Here's a fantastic video for "Try to Sleep", featuring John "Uncle Jesse" Stamos and some girl who used to be a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model:
4. Wye Oak -- Civilian (Baltimore)
The Maryland two-piece became indie darlings in 2009 with their towering sophomore record The Knot, and it's been full-steam ahead since then. They've been a touring machine and they put out a well-received EP last year. They've come through here about three times in the last 18 months, but I've somehow missed or been shut out of each show. I won't let that happen again. If they keep doing what they're doing, they won't be playing small clubs very much longer.
This isn't a record that'll leave you slack-jawed and gasping for air. It's much more subtle than that. It will, though, make you want to play it again. And again.
Here's a great video that was probably less fun to make than it looks like. That Coney Island Cyclone is one hell of a bumpy ride, and somewhere along the line Jen got a nasty bump on her forehead. It's all about rock and roll:
3. Veronica Falls -- Veronica Falls (London, England)
A bit like the legendarily twee Heavenly. A bit like nearly everything on Slumberland's roster back in 1995. Dark as hell. Clearly inspired by 1960s rock, or at least those production values. Pop with a bit of noise. And a ultra-minimal drum kit of bass, snare, a floor tom and a tambourine. Veronica Falls and Slumberland Records is a perfect marriage. I hope it lasts for a long time.
2. The Head and The Heart -- The Head and The Heart (Seattle)
This Seattle sextet self-released their album in 2010, then created a bunch of buzz in the Puget Sound area. Enough for Sub Pop records to take notice and give the album a proper release. They released it digitally in January, when it was recommended to me by eMu. I fell in love with it immediately. In April, it was released in physical format on Record Store Day, for which I pre-ordered a copy.
Five smelly dudes and a girl with a violin. Great vocal harmonies. A piano. The best tag for this band is "indie-folk", which is pretty much what described my entire list in 2010. I don't think I would like these kids as people, but I sure do like them as a band.
1. The Dodos -- No Color (San Fransisco)
Ever since I saw them open for The New Pornographers a couple of years ago, I've loved this band, and eagerly anticipated this new record. I pre-ordered a physical copy as soon as I found out that the fabulous Neko Case was doing guest vocals on the record. Sadly, the label messed up my order and sent me vinyl instead of the CD that I ordered, but there was a coupon for the lossless download, so it didn't really matter. I kept the vinyl. Unopened.
I love every song on the album and often play it twice in a row.
These guys are known for playing oddball instruments and using oddball techniques to play them. There's also some really strange time signatures and some drastic change of signature within songs. It's a bit shocking, and it really works well for me.
No video that I like enough to share, so I'll just share this song, which is currently my favorite song on the record.
Hunting Season by The Dodos by Mute-Song
Okay. That's it. Those were my favorite 22 non-Canadian records of the year 2011. I know there are some big names left off that list. It doesn't mean that I didn't like them. It just means that I liked them less than this lot. I'll probably make an "also ran" list at some point. And if I get really squirrely, I might make a composite list of my favorite 25 records of the year, regardless of nationality.
What do you say?