The Best Music of 2011

The Best Music of 2011

Okay so I am a couple weeks late getting this list posted for several reasons, but mainly because it’s so difficult to choose which twenty of the fifty-six 2011 albums I purchased belong on the list. 

The top five are the albums I’ve listened to the most during the year, and two of the top five are by groups that don’t get anywhere near the attention they deserve, especially in the United States.

1. CapsulaIn the Land of Silver Souls.  This is the album I’ve listened to probably a hundred times, and I never tire of it. Their sound is part seventies Bowie, part Stooges, part Sonic Youth, a pinch of Link Wray, and a whole lot of “it.” Martin Guevara on guitar and vocals, Coni Duchess on bass and vocals, and Ignacio Villarejo on drums take all of their influences an blend them into one of the best sounding sonic stews I’ve ever heard. Top tracks are “Wild Fascination,” “Communication,” and “Hit ‘n’ Miss.”

 

Now that you’ve watched that video, you’ll probably want to go buy the CD. Good luck. Right here in Seattle where’ve they’ve been in heavy rotation on KEXP and have played two shows in the past six months (The Comet and the KEXP BBQ), you can’t find their music at Sonic Boom, Easy Street Records, Silver Platters, or any other store I’ve wandered into. The album is on the BCore Disc label, which must have very poor distribution in the U.S. Amazon sometimes has it, and you can buy it from the band for $10 if you go to a show. So what I guess I am saying is go to a show, see the band, buy their music, spread the word. (I guess you pod people can download it too.)

2. P.J. HarveyLet England Shake. When I read that P.J. was working on an album of songs she plays on an autoharp, I thought that’s gonna be pretty weird. What it is, is a masterpiece – an incredibly focused, forceful collection of passionate and sometimes angry songs about war. Here’s one of the twelve films by Seamus Murphy that are available on YouTube and on a DVD now available in the UK that hasn’t yet made it across the pond.

 

3. Tom WaitsBad as Me. It’s been a long time since Tom Waits put out an album of all new songs, and it was worth the wait. Tom uses all his voices in this album. He delivers the rockers “Bad as Me” and “Satisfied” in a howling gravelly voice with a nice shout-out to Mick and Keith, and “Back in the Crowd” and “Last Leaf” in deep, slightly raspy melodious voice.

 

4. The DecemberistsThe King is Dead.  I had heard the Decemberists on the radio quite a few times, but I never paid much attention to them until this album came out. This is a pop album that the band says was influenced by Siouxsie and the Banshees, XTC, and R.E.M. (Peter Buck plays guitar on three songs.) Top tracks are “Calamity Song,” “Down by the Water” and “This is Why We Fight.”

 

Be sure and watch the video for “Calamity Song” too.  It was inspired by the David Foster Walace novel, Infinite Jest.

5. The Duke SpiritBruiser.  This album was released in Europe in September and has not yet been released in the U.S. where they don’t get near the attention they deserve. KEXP has recently started playing a couple of tracks, so maybe the band will get a little traction and release their album in the U.S. soon.  Liela Moss has one of the sexiest voices in rock ‘n roll today, and the band backs her up brilliantly. Key tracks are “Don’t Wait,” and “Surrender.”

The Duke Spirit – Surrender from The Duke Spirit on Vimeo.

 

This is taking too long, so not much commentary and no more videos from here to the end.

6. The Head and the HeartThe Head and the Heart. The kings of Seattle folk-pop on Sub Pop.

7. The Low AnthemSmart Flesh. This album will grow on you. With lyrics like, “Then she left me here reeling with that time-release feeling/Like a long wisp of hunger, I swung from the ceiling” how could it not?

8. The Civil WarsBarton Hollow. I learned about this band from Paul Krugman of all people. He posted videos of the band on his blog when he needed a break from all the political craziness.

9. Viva VoceThe Future Will Destroy You. The album was released on the first day of summer and this guitar-heavy, retro-psychedelic-pop record instantly became the soundtrack to my summer. It’s a great one to listen to while driving through the city on the way  home.

10. Anna CalviAnna Calvi. She’s got pipes, she can play guitar, and she’s got impeccable taste. Here’s a list of her influential albums from the November 2011 issue of Uncut Magazine: Aladdin Sane – David Bowie, Death of a Ladies’ Man – Leonard Cohen, Heaven or Las Vegas – Cocteau Twins, Gris-Gris – Dr. John, Grace – Jeff Buckley, The Ecstasy of Gold – Ennio Morricone, Quartet for the End of Time – Olivier Messiaen, Let Love In – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Wild is the Wind – Nina Simone, and Limehouse Blues – Django Reinhardt. ‘Nuff said.

11. RadioheadThe King of Limbs. John Buckley over on Tulip Frenzy picked this as his number one album of the year, so go read what he has to say about it.

12. Scott H. BiramBad Ingredients. If you want some nasty junkyard blues, this album is for you.

13. The Black KeysEl Camino. This album was released in December, and because of publishing or voting deadlines, it didn’t make a lot of lists, but thanks to my tardiness in posting, it made mine.

14. WilcoThe Whole Love. Nels Cline does some extreme guitar shredding on “Art of Almost.”

15. White DenimD. This Austin band smoothed out the edges of their sound on their latest release. Sometimes that’s not good, but in this case it is.

16. Black Joe LewisScandalous. James Brown is alive and well, he just goes by a different name and his band is awesome.

17. Dum Dum GirlsOnly In Dreams. You like girl pop? You’ll love this.

18. Kurt VileSmoke Ring for My Halo. Great title. I just recently bought it, and it keeps growing on me.

19. John DoeKeeper. It’s John’s “happy” record. No, really. Listen to “Little Tiger” and “Lucky Penny.”

20. Wild FlagWild Flag. Carrie Brownstein’s new band: “What is the sound of an avalanche taking out a dolphin? What do get when you cross a hamburger with a hot dog? The answer is: WILD FLAG.”

Honorable mentions to: Dave Alvin, The Cave Singers, Danger Mouse and Daniel Luppi, Ry Cooder, Drive By Truckers, Jason Isbell, The Kills, The Pimps of Joytime, The Roots, Sons and Daughters, Tinariwen, Trombone Shorty, and Thurston Moore.

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