Friday, December 23, 2011

Fritz's Top 30 Albums of 2011 (#15-1)

15. A Winged Victory For The Sullen - S/T

This album is, quite simply, breathtaking. A side project of Stars Of The Lid, A Winged Victory make ambient drone sounds with a string quartet, guitar effects, and a piano. It's sort of easy to describe this kind of music - pretty, melancholy, hopeful, etc. But I'd say an accurate depiction of this stuff can be found by simply looking at the album art. This album transports you to the most serene, peaceful place possible, and makes you float there, in endless, self realizing bliss. This is an album for late night listening, where you can leave this world behind with all of it's troubles, and just be.

14. *shels - Plains Of The Purple Buffalo

Speaking of albums that sound like their cover art, *shels is a post rock/post metalish mostly instrumental group who make music that can only be described as epic. These guys use lots of different instruments - horns, strings, along with the tried and true guitar/drum/bass setup - to make really fantastic soundscapes. Especially evident on the title track, when you listen to this stuff, you can see purple buffalo striding across some massive field. The vocals, popping up only every now and again, add an extra layer of power with their shout-a-long lyrics. This album absolutely soars. Fantastic stuff.

13. Bruce Peninsula - Open Flames

Bruce Peninsula came out of nowhere in 2009, and quickly became a favorite of mine. With Open Flames, the group has made a very solid follow up, teeming with emotion and tinged with darkness. Still making fantastic soul/folk music, this album is filled with gorgeous choral vocals that juxtapose the gruff lead perfectly. There's more of a focus on female vocals this time around, and it matches the darker tone of the songs. There's sort of this ominous ambiance that follows these tunes, and for good reason - while this album was being created, the lead singer was diagnosed with Leukemia. That news, that feeling of impending end, made a major impact on these songs. There's always a somber tone in the vocals, in the instrumentation, especially on the second half of the album. But all the while, there's a hint of hope, a hint of happiness. Very beautiful stuff. From what I've read, he's recovered quite nicely, and I'm very excited to see where these guys go next.

12. Radiohead - The King Of Limbs

Okay, lemme just get this out of the way first. If I made a disappointments of 2011 list, this would be on there, no question. I mean, four years in the studio, and we get under 40 minutes of stuff? What the fuck Radiohead! But while this may be one of the lesser Radiohead albums, it's still one of the best of the year. There's some obvious krautrock influence on these songs, especially on Morning Mr. Magpie, probably my favorite track on the album. Jagged, stuttering drums make you wanna get up and dance. The second half is much calmer, prettier stuff that bring the record to a peaceful end. Now, while this is a disappointingly short album, Radiohead was kind enough to release four more songs, two of which, Supercolider and Staircase, are phenomenal tracks. Honestly if they were on the album itself, it would probably be one of the top for the year. But, until the next time Radiohead decides to grace us with their music, this will have to do.

11. John Knox Sex Club - Raise Ravens

The sophomore album by these Scottish Twilight-Sad-ish rockers is everything a sophomore album should be; bigger, fuller and grander, all while keeping the good stuff from the debut present. Raise Ravens starts off with a massive, 13 minute epic full of building, bombastic percussion, guitars and vocals. The other tracks on the album are decidedly calmer, introducing violin and female vocals that add gentleness to the music. The album closes with The Thaw, bringing the album to a huge, hopeful ending; "The grass grows beneath the ice and snow", they sing. These guys seem like they've been getting bigger over on their side of the world, and I hope that trend continues.

10. Braids - Native Speaker

This album came out pretty early in the year, and quickly became a favorite of mine. Braids makes that kind of music that transports you to summertime in some decade you didn't grow up in. There's a hazy, nostalgic mood to these tracks that's instantly recognizable, yet somehow unique. I've seen comparisons to Animal Collective, which I can kinda sorta see. They're more organic though, I think. Poppy tracks all about love, making love, doing love, etc etc etc. Every now and again it breaks away from it's lifetime summer attitude, especially in tracks like Lammicken, a slow dance song for the apocalypse. This album has stuck with me all year, and I can't wait to see what they do next.

9 The Dear Hunter - The Color Spectrum

I am absolutely convinced that there's something for everybody in this collection. These nine EPs, each one corresponding to one of the colors in the color spectrum, plus black and white, all tackle different genres, styles, and sounds with surprising finesse, with each set of songs surprisingly illustrating the color it represents. Red is full of high energy rock n' roll tunes, Blue is drenched in echos and reverb, Green has folky songs about love and nature, Orange is...a weird, watered down, alt-country version of Red? I dunno, Orange is such a weird color, and probably the worst in the collection. The best would probably have to be Indigo, taking you on a mind-bending trip through cyberspace, or White, probably one of the most hopeful, realized set of songs this group has put out. Maybe it's just me, but these EPs flow together tremendously, just like the colors of a rainbow. Wonderful as a whole, wonderful as parts, simply wonderful.

8. O'Brother - Garden Window

O'Brother takes the soaring rock styles of Radiohead and mixes them with metal and drone sounds to make something massive. These guys know how to mix harsh, yelling vocals and crunching guitar tones with beautiful ambiance perfectly. On tracks like Poison!, possibly my favorite song of the year, the group builds everything up into a towering wall of sound. The last song on this album is notable as well. There's a small bit that they play a few times, after the line "Keep your last breath, make it worthwhile", that, whenever I listen to it, has an interesting effect. Whenever I head that part, I feel absolutely alone, and overwhelming sense of solitude fills the room almost instantly. That loneliness, though, is accented by a shred of hope, of power, that says "you'll be fine." That theme is present over the album too, I think. Life is hard, life is tough, life is empty. And yet, life is beautiful. This is a fantastic album that I'm sure will stick with me for years to come.

7. Farewell Poetry - Hoping For The Invisible To Ignite

Calling on the post-rock gods of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Farewell Poetry burst onto the music scene this year with their four track debut album, which may be just what the stagnant genre needed. Starting with a nearly 20 minute track, Farewell Poetry quickly illustrate what makes them a band to watch. Seasoned with a dark, sensual spoken word piece about Troilus and Cressida, the band makes beautiful, brooding music that builds and builds until igniting in noise. The next piece, split into two tracks, doesn't get as immense and powerful as the previous song did, but still works as a powerful piece. I will admit, it is disappointing that the album didn't finish off as incredibly as it started, but these four tracks still make one of the better, more unique post rock albums I've heard in a long time. These guys can only go up from here.

6. Years Of Rice And Salt - Nothing Of Cities

Like I said in the last blurb, post rock is a pretty dead genre right now, over-saturated with boring, generic, twinkle-core movie soundtrack stuff. However, this group is a beautiful diamond in the rough of this genre. These guys don't try to do anything different to the formula - they just make damned good post rock. One of the things YoRaS have going for is their heavy use of strings in their music, which adds a certain beauty that no guitar effects can provide. Another thing is the general mood of the music; most post rock thrives on sadness and darkness, but this group makes some of the most hopeful music I've ever heard. Certainly helped by the massive support that this album's Kickstarter page had for it, the music suggests a sense of community, of togetherness, that I almost never hear in instrumental music nowadays. Hopefully other bands will take notice of this album, and realize post rock doesn't always have to be dark and depressing - maybe then, we can breathe life into this once wonderful genre.

5. The Beach Boys - The Smile Sessions

(It counts, it counts!)
It's interesting to think about what would have happened if this album came out when it was supposed to. Finally presented in it's most complete form, Smile is a schizophrenic masterpiece, skipping between ideas multiple times in each "song". For the most part, the sounds on this album are what you'd expect from The Beach Boys - harmonies, summery guitars, harmonies, more harmonies, etc. However, being the experimental masterpiece it was intended to be, there's definitely a noticeable, conscious effort to move away from their surfing music days. This is especially noticeable on the track Surf's Up, which was released after Smile had been abandoned. The chorus of "surfs up, before the tidal wave" carries such heavy emotions. It's a song where Wilson realized the struggles he'd have to face in order to get away from their happy-go-lucky past. On Mrs. O'Leary's Cow, that struggle is put front and center, with a chaotic, frightening track that echos (dare I say it?) Radiohead and their contemporaries. If this album was released in the 60s, who knows what would have happened? Well, who knows. The album is fantastic anyway.

4. Skeletons - PEOPLE

Skeletons are probably one of the most unique groups I've ever encountered, and this album might be their most realized yet. Among all the jagged, math-y instrumentation and odd falsetto vocals is an underlying accessibility and relatability. Lyrics that describe the drawing of our house that all of us drew in kindergarten with eerie accuracy, about the general sense of confusion that we Americans are facing nowadays, and a closing statement of hope fill this album with ideas that support it's title - PEOPLE. This is a human album. Real, jagged, beautiful, odd, and generally mysterious. Wonderful.

3. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

To be honest, I'm not really sure what it is about this album that makes it so good. Fleet Foxes' 2nd album is simply really, really good. All the songs are beautiful, filled with soaring harmonies and perfect instrumentation that paint a picture of the country side. When this first came out, I called it perfect. I actually do stick by that label, frankly. I can't find a single thing to dislike about this album. It's weird though, I can't really describe what exactly makes it so good either. Maybe it's a cop out, or maybe I'm just dreading writing the next album's blurb. Either way, do yourself a favor, and listen to this record - you won't regret it.

2. Giles Corey - S/T

"Sometime in the spring of 2009 I tried to kill myself"

That's how the accompanying book for this album starts. Dan Barret, half of the seminal Have A Nice Life is Giles Corey, and his music is his story. There's no question of what the theme of this album is. Darkness. Depression. Solitude. Sadness. Suicide. There's a fucking song where the lyrics are literally "I'm going to kill myself." The music itself is very much what an acoustic Have A Nice Life would be - stark, beautiful, and drenched in reverb. If you look past the lyrics, and look past the story behind these songs, you could easily write off this album as another trite collection of songs about how tough life is after loosing your girlfriend or something. But if you really listen, and feel this music, you'll see that it's so much more. This music is real. It's an album of absolute, pure emotion that simply can't be accurately described with words. When you listen to this album, you realize Barret's struggle, and share it with him.
And then there's the personal side of this album for me. This album came out during a pretty dark time in my life. For one reason or another, I was simply unhappy for a long period of time, up to a point where suicide almost seemed...reasonable? I'm not sure. I cried to this album, many times, simply because of how disgustingly relatable it was. I hated it. I hated the album for making me realize that those awful feelings weren't uniquely my own. And yet, I visited it, almost daily, for a long time. Through the help of time and friends, I let go of those depressed feelings, and Giles Corey almost seemed like a used prescription. I didn't need to be exposed to those feelings anymore. However, I found myself listening again and again, with a new mind frame. Now, these songs about suicide and depression, gave me a sense of hope. It's like, when I listen to it now, I realize that life is truly beautiful, and worth living.
This album has become an artifact for me. A piece of indescribable art that conjures up feelings and thoughts that simply can't be described. You have no idea how much I've dreaded writing any sort of thing for this album, because I knew I wouldn't do it justice. I still don't think I have.

1. Moonface - Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I'd Hoped

I'm not gonna lie to myself this year. I usually top my year end lists with the album that absolutely destroyed my emotions, like Hospice, or absolutely crushed my senses, like Swans. This year, however, Spencer Krug released his first full length album as Moonface, and I can't lie to myself and say that it wasn't the most enjoyable, rocking, kick ass group of songs I've heard all year. This thing fucking jams. With five songs clocking in at just under 40 minutes, Krug builds some really awesome soundscapes with his organ sounds. His lyrics, weird and quirky as always, have a somewhat relatable tone to them that simply adds to the enjoyability of the record. I saw him play the album live in August, a few months or so after it came out. There were only, like, 20 or 30 of us there, which wasn't very surprising. But the cool thing about it was how into it everybody in that hall was, musicians and fans alike. Everybody realized how hard these tunes jammed, and took advantage of it. Just like Fleet Foxes, this album is simply good, and absolutely worth a listen or thirty.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fritz's Top 30 Albums of 2011 (#30-16)

Dude, this year was really good, like, seriously. Kayo Dot has a new record coming out on the 24th. That's probably gonna be really good too. But, whatever. Here's my top 30 albums of 2k11

30. Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi - ROME

I've always been a fan of Danger Mouse's stuff, and ROME is par for the course. A very western sounding album, ROME conjures up images of a weird, nostalgic, burlesque type of thing. Jack White and Norah Jones supply very fitting, and in the case of Jones, very sexy vocals to a couple of songs. This album definitely dropped off my radar after a few months, but it's still a solid record with a bunch of catchy tunes that are worth checking out.

29. Giraffes? Giraffes! - Pink Magick

Giraffes? Giraffes! make some of the catchiest math rock I've come across. The drums and the guitar are always on point here, blending the wicked quick riffs of bands like Hella with hints of post rock thrown around - this group knows how to use silence to their advantage. Really cool album.

28. Earth - Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light I

Pretty much the exact opposite of #29, Earth made yet another slow, creaking monster of an album with Angels Of Darkness. With five tracks lasting for about an hour, Earth does what they do best; make lengthy, slow, repetitive tracks that somehow never get boring. This is an album to sway to. It's pretty incredible to experience live, too. You can't help but get lost in the sound.

27. The Middle East - I Want That You Are Always Happy

This group makes a very dark, somber kind of indie/folk/whatever we're calling it this year. Drenched in reverb, this album maintains a nice mix of woods-dance-party type stuff, with tracks like Jesus Came To My Birthday Party, and heart wrenching soul like Deep Water. Unfortunately, this band broke up this year, which is really too bad. They've got a lot of good ideas to play with.

26. The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - From The Stairwell

When this album came out, there was some press release going on about how the music encompasses the idea of "mood," which I'd say is a pretty accurate description. The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble makes beautiful, emotional, and (of course) dark jazzy music. This album is very much a soundtrack for a non-existent film noir. Unfortunately, the two longest tracks, Cocaine and Past Midnight, are ultimately, in my opinion, aimless ambient noise tracks. But I have to give them credit; they definitely maintain that idea of mood.

25. The Decemberists - The King Is Dead

Taking a number of steps back from their experimental Hazards of Love, The Decemberists decided to make a simple record of very nice folk tunes. Colin Meloy's lyrics are on point here, with songs about mining, the end of the world, and his young son. The band doesn't stray far away from the simple verse-chorus-verse formula here, but they don't really need to when the writing is this spot on. Maybe I'm just a sucker for Meloy's vocals/lyrics, but this is as good as any other album in their discography, and all in all, a good group of songs.

24. Low - C'mon

To be honest, I never really looked into Low other than Things We Lost In The Fire, no matter how much I love that album. But, I checked into this new one, and it was well worth it. Really beautiful songs here, substantially 'quicker' than stuff I've heard on earlier works, but all still leave plenty of room to get lost in. I really like the emphasis on female vocals on this one, somehow they complement the general beauty of Low's music. The track Majesty/Magic pushes this album even harder for me though, with it's slow, almost crushing build up of stomps and claps. Amazing stuff.

23. Masturbation Goes Cloud - S/T

Speaking of music to get lost in, Masturbation Goes Cloud makes a wonderful mixture of math and kraut rock that really grooves. There's not a whole lot going on in these songs, but there doesn't need to be. Mathy bass riffs slink along with somewhat simplistic drum beats, and create a rather unique, often times beautiful sound. This is some cool music to get lost in.

22. Seryn - This Is Where We Are

Seryn is another one of those "group of mountain-type folky folks getting together in a circle and pounding on their instruments" kind of bands that have been popping up lately, but these guys shine through for me. The male/female vocals absolutely soar on these tracks. The rapid finger picking match the simplistic, almost tribal drumming perfectly. A summer album for late nights on the beach, check it out.

21. Deer Leap/The World Is A Beautiful Place - ...Are Here To Help You

I'm not gonna lie. Deer Leap is a cool band, and I really like the tracks they put on this split. But when I first listened to this split, I went straight for TWIABP's songs. After seeing them (at probably one of the most interesting gigs I've been to...some of you guys know what I'm talking about) this summer, I was sure that these guys were gonna be huge someday soon, and this split cemented that opinion. These are probably the best tracks the band has put out yet. A perfect blend of twinkly shit, weird-but-understandable lyrics, and beautiful post-ey breaks. These guys can only get better from here.

20. Owen - Ghost Town

Owen, the post-American Football project of Mike Kinsella, returns with another wonderful acoustic album for winter listening. It's pretty clear that becoming a family man has affected Mike - lyrics about home, hoping to know his daughter when she's older, and (in one of my favorite tracks of the year, I Believe) God make this album very personal, and very relatable. Mike is a pretty soft singer, to the point where him saying 'fuck' in a song is actually shocking, and matched with the gorgeous strings and guitar, he makes beautiful music.

19. Beirut - The Rip Tide

Beirut has made their most accessible album this year, at least as accessible as a rustic horns band can get. This is a very summery album, transporting you to some foreign beach whenever you listen to it. Um...yep! Good album! Can't think of much else to say. Listen if you like good, summery pop type stuff.

18. Portugal. The Man - In The Mountain In The Cloud

While Portugal. The Man may have strayed away from the conceptual epics of Censored Colors and It's Complicated Being A Wizard, they still make some damn good pop music, and this may be one of their best albums yet. These guys have the formula down; falsetto vocals, bright guitars, and violins thrown in the mix here and there. Probably the most 'epic' song (or at least, the video) is Sleep Forever, a six minute track masterpiece about family, and death. With the rate this band cranks out good albums, I'm sure next year will bring something equally as awesome.

17. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

This is probably the weirdest, sexiest album of 2011. Annie Clark's seductive vocals, and somewhat creepy and almost disturbing lyrics, float along as the musicians behind her freak the fuck out. These guys groove like crazy, especially at the end of Surgeon, where they do a funky, silky smooth bass/synth breakdown that simply requires the volume to be cranked. The album ends on a more sober note, where Clark almost begs America to "owe her one". This album is equal parts unique and accessible - check it out.

16. The Antlers - Burst Apart

When The Antlers announced their new album for this year, I was worried. I can't count the number of times I burst into tears (no pun intended) while listening to Hospice. It was, is, and always will be a really important, sentimental album for me that has tons of memories attached to it. How the hell could the follow that up? Well, of course, they didn't, really, but they still made a damn good record. Taking more of an electro-pop route here, The Antlers make songs on tried and true topics, love, loneliness, regret, and makes them sound fresh. Peter Silberman's vocals are astounding on this album. If there was ever a 21st century Jeff Buckley, Silberman would be it. The band doesn't completely forget its heart-wrenching past, though, as evidenced by the last track, Putting The Dog To Sleep. In some senses, it's almost like Silberman saying goodbye to Hospice and all the feelings that created it. "Prove to me that I'm not gonna die alone," he sings. I think we all have to ask that now and again.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Top 5 Albums Of 2011 (with no explanation)

1. "Stranger Ballet" by The Poison Control Center

2. "Triple Trinities" by Mumford's

3. "We're All Dying To Live" by Rich Aucoin

4. "The Seed Of Something"by The Seed Of Something

5. "We Love Evil" by Little Ruckus