Friday, December 9, 2011

Year in Music 2011 - Part One

It's that time of year again, in which I attempt the somewhat futile and thankless exercise of trying to rank the top 50 or so new albums I listened to during the year. With music never more disposable and easy to acquire than it is now, these kind of lists at least serve as a useful reminder and a reason to reflect on all that "content" you acquired in the last year. And I guess it helps put some kind of value on it, during a time when it's essentially a value-less commodity to many.  You know that album you downloaded for free somewhere in early March and listened to 3 times, well this is an opportunity and an excuse to go back and listen again.

Part One is below - containing a list of live shows, best EP's/Singles/Compilations/Reissues, etc, and the other albums that didn't make it the final round. Part Two will be the "Honorable Mentions" and albums that just missed the cut. And the final parts will be my Top 25 albums of 2011. So without further ado, let's begin with the usual throat-clearing items.

2011 Shows

Dismemberment Plan – The Starlight Ballroom 1/27/11

Jesse Malin and the St Mark’s Social with Tommy StinsonThe City Winery in Soho NYC 2/19/11

J Mascis with Kurt Vile – World Café Live 3/23/11

Sebadoh – Johnny Brenda’s 3/25/11

Titus Andronicus – the First Unitarian Church 4/28/11

Alejandro Escovedo/Jesse Malin – World Café Live 5/5/11

Face to Face – the Trocadero 5/21/11

Jesse Malin and the St Mark’s Social – Johnny Brenda’s 12/9/11

Best Live, EP, Singles Compilations, Reissues, etc

Ryan Adams - "Wasted Years". Not officially released, but Adams did this great acoustic cover during a BBC radio session of Iron Maiden's "Wasted Years." Worth downloading from You Tube (see above)

Alkaline TrioDamnesia (Heart and Skull). I found myself liking this more on subsequent listens. This is an album of acoustic re-recordings of some of their best songs. Some of which – “Calling All Skeletons”, “Mercy Me”, “Nose OverTail”, and “Every Thug Needs a Lady” work well in this re-interpretation. Some others don’t. A surprising high point was the Violent Femmes cover “I Held Her inMy Arms.” And “I Remember a Rooftop”, Dan Andriano’s new song included on here (probably a leftover from his solo album), is a keeper.

Best Coast-WavvesSummer is Forever Split EP (Mexican Summer).  Mostly old songs on here except Best Coast’s gem “When You Wake Up.” Worth seeking out for that.

The BitersAll Chewed Up - EP (Underrated Recordings). The Biters recall Cheap Trick or Thin Lizzy 70's rock so they stand out among their peers.

Dum Dum GirlsHe Gets Me High - EP (Sub Pop). This was a nice preview for the LP that would come later in the year.

Frost WatsonS/T - EP (no label). I saw these guys open for Titus Andronicus and was impressed. Solid debut EP that recalls 60’s British invasion pop/rock (Kinks, Beatles) updated to sound fresh with today’s garage rock bands.

Rhett MillerThe Interpreter (Maximum Sunshine). A live solo acoustic covers album from the Old 97’s front man, recorded at Café Largo in West Hollywood at his final show there as a final tribute to the club that closed its original intimate location and moved elsewhere. This was sort of Miller’s local bar where he’d try out new tunes and play lots of solo acoustic shows back when he had an apartment a few blocks away. He covers all of his major influences – David Bowie, the Beatles, the Kinks, Elvis Costello, the Pixies, etc, plus some of his peers like Wilco/Billy Bragg and Elliott Smith. All in all, it was an enjoyable listen, even if it was all covers. But I could listen to Rhett Miller sing the phone book and be o.k. 

OupaForget (Boiled Egg). Solo EP of piano ballads from Yuck’s frontman, Daniel Blumberg.  Sounds like more melodic, but less busy Kid A-era Radiohead.

R.E.M.Life’s Rich Pageant reissue (Capitol). I listened to this reissue for a solid month this summer, on the 25th anniversary of its release.  The bonus disc is the “Athens demos”, 19 tracks consisting of early versions, outtakes, etc, that were recorded in Athens (duh) before the final less raw recording was made. Among other things, it has the early version of “Bad Day”, plus great outtakes like “Wait”, “Mystery to Me”, and “All the Right Friends” (the first song the band ever wrote together).  If you’re reading this you know who R.E.M. is and you probably know how great this 1986 release was. Go buy it if you don’t have it.

Jay Reatard - You Get No Love/I Am Growing - Single (Shattered). The final recordings of Jay Reatard. RIP. Cover art kind of says it all. 

The Rolling StonesSome Girls reissue (Universal/Virgin). This was the “last great Stones album” in my opinion and was finally reissued this year, with a 2nd disc full of outtakes that missed the cut. The mid-late 70’s were such a vibrant time in music, where you had punk, rock, funk, country-western honky-tonk (remember Urban Cowboy and the Electric Horseman?), disco, and early hip-hop all percolating, especially in a big diverse city like NY. Some Girls seems to capture the whole late 70’s NY vibe better than most other records at the time, even those made by native New Yorkers.

Toy SolidersGet Through the Time  EP (Ropeadope Records). Not to be confused with the Martika song. This is a local Philly folk-blues band I’d heard good things about. At times they sound quite a bit like Ryan Adams. I finally checked them out after seeing their really good opening set for Jesse Malin.

U2Achtung Baby reissue (Island). This is a reissue of U2’s classic album. For me it was worth getting to hear the alternate take of “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”, along with b-sides of the Lou Reed cover “Satellite of Love” and the “Lady With the SpinningHead.” 

Kurt Vile - So Outta Reach - EP (Matador).  Nice supplement to Smoke Ring For My Halo. “Life's a Beach” and the cover of Springsteen’s “Downbound Train” are worth it alone.

WavvesLife Sux - EP (Ghost Ramp). You'd have thought the highlight of the year for Wavves would have been having bassist Stephen Pope getting kicked out of the MTV awards for drug possession, among other things. But no, this is one of the best EPs of recent memory for me. It includes “Bug” (song of the year?), “I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl”, and "Nodding Off", along with other tracks included on the expanded version like“TV Luv Song”, and “Mickey Mouse." I’m a stickler for separating EPs and LPs, otherwise this would have probably been in my Top 10.

The Rest

The ElectedBury Me in My Ring (Vagrant). This is the 3rd album from Rilo Kiley guitarist Blake Sennett’s side project (or now full time project, I guess). Overall these songs could use more punch.

Get Up KidsThere Are Rules (Quality Hill). The Get Up Kids return after hiatus with a new album that sounds a lot more like Death Cab For Cutie. I give them credit for doing something different than Emo meets Squeeze, as their last few albums sounded. A few decent songs and the rest was boring.

Thurston MooreDemolished Thoughts (Matador). Pretty good 2 or 3 songs on this album and the rest sounds nothing like you’d expect from Thurston Moore, for better or worse. But hey when you’re in a legendary band and you make solo records on the side, might as well make very different records than what you’d make in your regular band. And I assume Sonic Youth is calling it quits considering Moore and Kim Gordon are splitting in real life, so it should be interesting to see what Moore does after this.

Tom Morello (The Nightwatchman)World Wide Rebel Songs (New West).  You could probably guess from artist and title what this sounds like - more stripped down socio-political folk-blues songs from the former Rage Against the Machine guitarist.

Red Hot Chili PeppersI’m Without You (Warner Bros).  Without guitar god John Frusciante in the band, the Chili Peppers seem more like a funky Sugar Ray with less catchy songs. Honestly, I never really cared  much for what they've done on the albums without Frusciante. Even when the songs were kind of boring and same-sounding, at least you’d hang in to hear what interesting guitar thing he would add. There probably wasn’t a more high profile album I wanted to hear less than this one in 2011. 

The StrokesAngles (RCA). While there are some pretty good songs on here, overall this just feels like the result of a band getting back together after a hiatus for the paycheck and mailing it in. Too many of their potential best “Strokes songs” ended up on their various side projects instead. And even though "Under Cover of Darkness" was a really good song, there just weren't enough other worthy songs on here. Ultimately this was the most disappointing album of the year for me, since expectations were so high. For many numerous reasons, I wanted so badly for this album to be great and it was just o.k. 

Thee Oh SeesCastlemania (In the Red), Carrion Crawler / The Dream (In the Red). I really don’t have much to say about these guys. I gave some of their stuff a listen and it just never grabbed me. I didn’t dislike it, but it just never rated on my radar. And overall just too many releases for me to really dive into any particular one.

Eddie Vedder Ukulele Songs (Universal). What? Yeah one rock’s greatest frontmen put out an album of songs played on ukulele. You know that Pearl Jam song, “Soon Forget?” It’s the one nobody really ever liked, but occasionally he’d play it in concert during the “solo” part of the encore, while the rest of the band rested? Just imagine 16 songs like that. Oddly, neither of the 2 most famous “rock” ukulele songs – R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” or the Who’s “Blue, Red, and Grey” are included among the few covers on here.  Pearl Jam’s “Can’t Keep” however is reinterpreted on ukulele. It’s actually not a terrible album and it puts emphasis on Vedder’s vocals, which is never a bad thing. If you’re a Pearl Jam completist, throw this on a random playlist and you’ll enjoy it more than hearing 16 songs in a row that all kind of sound the same.

Vivian GirlsShare the Joy (Polyvinyl). Not a bad album, but in general I’m just kind of sick of most this retro 60’s garage/psychedelic surf rock/Phil Specter “wall of sound” trend of recent years. And the Vivian Girls are the poster children for it for me. With so many bands like this sounding the same, you have to bring some unique (or just really “good”) vocals to keep my interest. If the vocals sound like the singer is disinterested in the song, I’ll probably be also.

The War on DrugsSlave Ambient (Secretly Canadian). I really wanted to like this album by a local Philly band. It's not a bad album, just sounds like guys trying too much to sound like Kurt Vile. I just seem to recall Bob Dylan made a few albums (like Empire Burleseque, etc) in the mid 80's with keyboards and synths and such to try to sound more trendy and relevant at the time. That’s what this whole album sounds like to me.

Next: The Top Honorable Mentions of 2011.

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