It intrigues me how music heads compile their “best of” lists. Some order their lists by the number of track plays of a particular album from that year, while others use staff or public polls. My route: I sat down with a pen and made a list of albums released in 2011 that I thoroughly enjoyed. Albums I’ll return to in 2012 from bands I will make a point to follow and see live. Here’s my list of 54 albums in no particular order interspersed with some general overviews of last year. Click on the names to listen to the albums on Spotify.
Blueprint – Adventures In Counter-Culture - Rhymesayers
The Antlers – Burst Apart – Frenchkiss
Los Campesinos! – Hello Sadness – Arts & Crafts
Wye Oak – Civilian - Merge
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake - Vargrant
Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes - Warner
St. Vincent – Strange Mercy - 4AD
Fucked Up – David Comes To Life - Matador
The Kills – Blood Pressures - Domino
Kanye West & Jay Z – Watch The Throne - Def Jam / Roc-A-Fella
David Bazan – Strange Negotiations - Barsuk
2011 was the year music went into the clouds. Programs such as Spotify, Grooveshark, Rdio and MOG gave access to enormous music libraries allowing one to easily explore, listen to, and share albums on their computers and smartphone. These programs extroverted the music listening experience, opening up new and social routes through which to discover music. I especially like how these apps utilize Facebook’s “friend-pool”, allowing one to stay in touch with friends’ music tastes and also find something in common. And then there’s Turntable.fm which gives listeners an interactive and human way to discover music with avatars and virtual dj rooms.
I support this new model. I know there’s concern that putting music into the clouds will kill the physical album, but I think there will always be a place and a need for owning an album that is important to you. And what happens when the world ends, or your favorite music website goes belly up? You’re going to need a hard copy to get you through the rough patch. Ultimately I believe these new forms of listening and interacting with music expose people to more music, which is always a positive thing.
James Blake – James Blake - A&M/Atlas
The Features – Wilderness - Bug Music / Serpents & Snakes
The Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing - Saddle Creek
Handsome Furs - Sound Kapital - Sub Pop
Little Scream - The Golden Record - Secretly Canadian
Gorillaz - The Fall - EMI
Little Dragon - Ritual Union - Peacefrog
M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming - Mute
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. - It’s A Corporate World - Warner Bro.
Sbtrkt – SBTRKT - Young Turks
Active Child – You Are All I See - Vargrant
Bon Iver – Bon Iver - Jagjaguwar
Cults – Cults - Sony Music
The War On Drugs – Slave Ambient - Secretly Canadian
2011 was a banner year personally for going to shows. I went to 27 shows and saw over 60 bands. Philly is an amazing city to catch live music with lots of interesting venues, be it a sanctuary show at the Unitarian Church, jazz at The Rotunda or Tritone or crammed into Johnny Brendas. This year’s Ear Trumpet “Hustle” award goes to R5 Productions for putting on over 1000 live-acts and opening up a new music venue, Union Transfer. It’s a beautiful venue with great sound, stage site lines, and I even heard they have a Nintendo Wii on a big screen in the band’s waiting room. Eleven live acts that stick out in my mind from 2011 are: Los Campesinos!, Phantogram, The Antlers, Titus Andronicus, The Joy Formidable, The War On Drugs, Cage The Elephant, Sharon Van Etten, The Black Angels and The Dismemberment Plan. Honorable mention goes to Crystal Method who put on a great show at Identity until they were cut short due to a thunderstorm that engulfed the night.
Drive-By Truckers – Go-Go Boots - ATO
Wilco – The Whole Love - dBpm
The Roots – Undun - Island Def Jam
Men – Talk About Body - IAMSOUND
Youth Lagoon – The Year Of Hibernation - Fat Possum
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Gonna Eat That? - Rhymesayers
HTRK – Work (work, work) - Ghost International
Nerves Junior – As Bright As Your Night Light - SonaBLAST
The Seedy Seeds – Count The Days - SonaBLAST
Wooden Shjips – West - Thrill Jocky / Wooden Shjips ASCAP
The Black Keys - El Camino - Nonesuch
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Fat Possum
Cut Copy – Zonoscope - Modular
Laura Marling – A Creature I Don't Know - Ribbon Music
The Ear Trumpet award for best Music Festival of the Year goes to the Philadelphia Film & Music Festival Sunday BBQ. The line up included performances by Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, The Head and the Heart, Jukebox the Ghost and Good Old War on a small stage in the backyard of the Ukie Club. Tickets were $15 for 16 acts on 2 stages, with numerous delicious food-truck options and at the end of the festival they had a half-off drink special on the remaining supplies. It was awesome. Thank you Whitney for making me aware of this great festival.
Austra – Feel It Break - Domino / Paper Bag
Phantogram – Nightlife - Barsuk
Feist – Metals - Interscope / Polydor
The Ax Raccoons - Ax Rax Lp - Self Released
The Head And The Heart – The Head and the Heart - Heavenly Recordings / Sub Pop
Lindi Ortega – Little Red Boots - Last Gang
Ume – Phantoms - Modern Outsider
Banjo Or Freakout – Banjo Or Freakout - Rare Bookroom
Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde - Fat Possum
The Black Angels – Phosgene Nightmare - Blue Horizon Ventures
Braids – Native Speaker - Kanine
Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi – Rome - EMI
Middle Brother – Middle Brother - Partisan
Radio stations I listened to most this year were WKDU in Philadelphia, KGBA in Missoula, LU Radio in Thunder Bay Ontario and KEXP in Seattle. 2011 also marked the year one of internet radio’s founding fathers, WOXY, had its website taken down. Luckily the WOXY DJ’s are still addicted to music and share their musical tastes online. Mike Taylor runs The Big Beat, Joe Long still curates Each Note Secure and Shivvy is on Twitter and Tumblr. Other blogs I followed in 2011 included NPR, The Line Of Best Fit, PitchFork, The Recommender, The Burning Ear and Clicky Clicky. I used my I-Phone to listen to a lot of music, especially after a wave soaked my i-pod at the beach. Some music apps I highly recommend are Soundcloud, Turntable, 8tracks, Hypem, Daytrotter and Spotify.
I hope you all enjoyed this round up of 2011 and I wish you an adventurous, productive and Happy New Year.