"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Monday, December 12, 2011

Best Music of 2011 (part one of four)

So begins my own blogfest of one. Wherein each Monday in December I present some of the best albums of the year in alphabetical order.

Bon Iver, Bon Iver

A couple of years ago, Bon Iver's album For Emma, Forever Ago was widely hailed as a neo-folk masterpiece. It was nice, but this self-titled album from 2011 is better. Building off of the stripped-down sound of For Emma, Bon Iver includes layers of horns and keyboards over an ambient sound that's highlighted by Justin Vernon's illustrious vocals. The whole thing has definite retro vibe to it, which is a commonality among many of my favorites this year. The last song, called Beth/Rest, is a shameless, unironic take on 80's pop, complete with Casio keyboards and sax solos. I would have hated this had I heard it in the 80's. Now I love it.

Apparently, on the "Delux" version of the album, each song comes with video accompaniment, and each is a visual treat complementing the music beautifully. You should be able to see them all on YouTube if you want. But here's "Beth/Rest."

Cold Cave, Cherish the Light Years

I discovered Cold Cave this year with their first album from 2009, Love Comes Close. Just a few weeks later, they released Cherish the Light Years, and like with Bon Iver, there's no sophomore slump here. A couple of tracks are pretty aggressive, employing near-industrial beats. The first song, "The Great Pan is Dead," drives out of the gates and doesn't let up. Other tracks are produced with a slick synth sound that wouldn't be out of place at the dance club I pranced around at in 1988.

Cults, Cults

Here's how pretentious I am: I first heard this band on NPR's "All Things Considered" one afternoon on my way home from work. Once home, I immediately logged on to Pandora and heard a few complete songs, then went and bought the album on Amazon.

Cults epitomizes this recent sub-trend in indie music where 60's girl-group melodies are nearly washed out with shoegaze fuzz. It's as if the offspring of the Shangri-Las and My Bloody Valentine came of age in the two-thousand-and-teens to sing syrupy-sweet ditties about Jim Jones (see "Go Outside").

Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi, Rome

I could take or leave (mostly leave) Gnarls Barkley, but Broken Bells sold me on Danger Mouse's brilliance. When my wife bought me this collaboration with Italian composer Daniele Luppi, I proudly professed it to be the best birthday CD ever.

Kind of a tribute to the music of spaghetti westerns and the Italian composer Ennio Morricone, it creates an atmosphere that's wholly modern and could easily be part of a Tarantino film. Nora Jones and Jack White (as in The White Stripes) contribute vocals to a few tunes. Nora Jones's vocals would probably complement any music, and Jack White has a vocal sound that completely works here. I'm consistently taken with this album and now look forward to Danger Mouse's next cool project.

I've said before that I don't go around buying sucky music, so choosing the best ain't easy. Here's some others from this part of the alphabet. Consider them the runners-up:

Active Child, You are All That I See

Cool, atmospheric electronics, accompanied by a falsetto from singer Pat Grossi that hearkens back to the great a-Ha (as in "Take On Me").

Arctic Monkeys, Suck It and See

The Arctic Monkeys's first couple of albums were decent offerings of hip, angular guitar, but were not any better than the dozens of other post-punk, neo-new wave bands of the two-thousand-and-naughties. However, this album comes after the cool experimentation that was frontman Alex Turner's side project The Last Shadow Puppets, and Suck it and See retains some of that Burt Bacharach-on-steroids sound.

Cut Copy, Zonoscope

A couple of years ago, I couldn't stop playing Cut Copy's album In Ghost Colours. Zonoscope is essentially the same clever, hooky electropop. It might not be as immediately great as the previous album, but it's still good, peppy fun.

Tune in next Monday for part two of my list. Please feel free to join in the fun. Since I have little clue and don't know how to set up a proper blogfest, if you'll be making your own post of your favorite music from 2011, drop your blog name and address in the comments below and I'll add them in next week so others can stop by your site.


  1. Blog post of one? I bet there'd be other people that would be interested in helping out with this.

  2. Bjørk: Biophilia, Death Cab for Cutie: Codes and Keys. 2011 was actually kind of a lame year for music, at least according to my iTunes library. :)

  3. Those first three songs definitely had an 80's sound to them. New songs for a nostalgic sound? I'd love to hear someone come up with new songs that sounded like the old "chicka-wow-wow" electric guitar riffs from the early 70's stag flicks.

  4. @ Michael: Yeah, I don't know how to get the Linky thing set up for people to sign up, and I don't know how to make a fun badge for advertisement. Those sorts of things. So it looks like I'm flying solo.

    @ Gaskell: I haven't bought the new Bjork yet, but will someday. I just got an iPhone. Will the Biophilia apps work on that?

    Codes and Keys is pretty good, too. I'm actually saving that for a later post.

    @ rev: ...thinking thinking thinking...Nothing comes to mind. I don't know if that would be retro-enjoyable (like the Bon Iver song) or just retro-parody (like something South Park would do).

  5. Very cool post idea. Your choice of music is awesome. I can't wait to see what you come up with next!

  6. Yay. New music I can look up! I've heard of Bon Iver for a while. Now I have a recommendation.

  7. You always list such interesting music. It just goes to prove my significant other's theory that I have the world's most boring taste in tunes. =)

  8. I am musically retarded, so any opinion I might share on your choices would be worthless, however I can say I am happy you've added the mobile version to your site.

    Several blogs I read have done this lately, which is nice because I do much of my web surfing on my phone lately. Your site, especially, was slow to load and I tended to avoid it. You can expect more visits from me now (once you are done with your one-man 'fest).

    I know. You are excited.

  9. How did I miss these last comments? I was out of it last week, sheesh. Sorry.

    @ ER: My new post is currently up. Hooray!

    @ McKenzie: Have you checked out Bon Iver's videos on YouTube? One of the few examples of music video that I would actually recommend.

    @ MJ: Check out the 80's-sounding stuff. You'd like it.

    @ Doug: I'm not sure what I did that made my blog viewable mobily. I'm also not sure what I just did to those last two words. But I'm glad you can view it. I should check to see if I can view it on my new iPhone.

    And I am excited.

  10. It turns out that all Blogger sites were viewable mobily that day, but they have since reverted.

  11. @ Doug: Is there a switch I can flip or is this just a Blogger hitch that can't be fixed? I don't understand things like this, so I have to be told what to do.

  12. I just fell in love with Bon Iver last month. Now I've been OD'ing on him. He makes me mildly depressed, but in a really good way.

  13. @ Nicki: Yeah, what's with that sad lilt in his voice, anyway?