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The Top Albums of 2011

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posted by Kirstie Shanley alias kirstiecat on Monday 9th of January 2012 01:22:36 PM

(Many thanks to Cinchel for taking the above photo after I had set the camera settings. Then, I ran as fast as I could up and down my street holding The Dears album..I mean, how exactly do you guys spend your weekends?!?!) #1 The Dears: Degeneration Street Without a doubt in my mind and not one cell in jeopardy of rebelling against my entire person over it, The Montréal, Canada based Dears have released the album Degeneration Street and it was at the very top of my list pretty much the moment I heard it (no need to wait for it to grow on you). No album that came out afterwards had the passion and the brilliant melodrama that this one had (and, friends, I am a fan of Melodrama!) It was 2003 when No Cities Left was first released in Canada and that album was nothing short of mind blowing (It made my #6 in my top 75 albums of the decade) See: In any case, after Gang of Losers was such a disappointment in comparison (it's not a bad album, it just seems lacking when held up to No Cities Left), I thought perhaps lead singer and genius Murray Lightburn had lost his flare with surreality. Not so, though, because after 8 years, the band released what would have been an exceptional follow up to No Cities Left and shows that the band is actually back and in top form. I've said this before and I'll say it again. Though I don't know this band personally, I feel they are criminally underrated. In other words, critics and fans should go to jail because they don't appreciate this band properly. I kid, I kid. I'm as much of a fan of free speech as the next girl, even if you are terribly wrong. But, let's just say-don't make their mistake. This album is the best I've heard this year. If you don't believe me, have a listen: "5 Chords" "Stick With Me Kid" Official Site: Myspace: #2 Julianna Barwick: The Magic Place Do you sometimes come home from work or a long dark day thinking all the beauty and humanity has left the world? Do you sometimes feel like you're going to scream and tear (and climb!) the walls, curl yourself into a big black ball in the middle of your bathtub until it's ok? Well, have I got the album for you! And, friends, you might think it's absolutely life changing because for people that need basically a desensitization tank and a solace from things like genocide and the eleven o'clock news, Barwick is your girl. She's going to make you feel like you are dissolving into nothing, becoming part of the collective consciousness of a better world. Best yet, she'll make you feel like you can sleep at night and even get up the very next morning, doing it all again. Not too many musicians can do that for you. "The Magic Place" "Envelope" Official site: Myspace: #3 Smith Westerns: Dye it Blonde I love every moment of this album and the only reason why it isn't a perfect 10/10 is that it's really an EP to me clocking in at just under 40 minutes long. BUT, each of those 40 minutes is a glorious cascade of 60s drenched triumphant pop music. It's like these kids (and I say kids only because they are much younger than me, which I find so unbelievable) listened to The Beatles and The Pretty Things and said, "OK, yeah, but we can 2011 this up!" That's exactly what they ended up doing. They wear their hearts on their sleeve like the best of them with their beloved influences but at the same time, there is still this modern sense to the tracks that suggest "These guys were raised on the good stuff...but they aren't as old as your dad." Anyhow, I digress. This album should be big. If they played them in shopping plazas, I might actually considering to going to one. Ha ha just kidding. "Smile": "End of the Night": Official Site: Myspace: #4 The Rural Alberta Advantage: Departing I was a huge fan of Hometowns and I really wasn't sure if another album could come that dear to me from this band but Nils Edenloff sings from his heart (and through his nose, but I like that!) and so the possibilities seem endless. This one is a bit of a grower but if you enjoyed Hometowns, I would highly recommend it. "Under the Knife" easily became a favorite of this album. "Coldest Days" was so sweet and sentimental to me that I held it to my ears like muffs, "Stamp" was the funniest video I've seen in awhile and their nod to Ringo and The Beatles on "Good Night" ending the album was sweet and sentimental in a way that clearly wasn't lost on me. "Coldest Days": "Stamp": Official Site: Myspace: #5 Cashier No. 9: To the Death of Fun I need to thank Bill Pearis of Soundbites ( ) for this recommendation. From time to time, I am lucky to have observant friends who have a pretty good idea of the albums I'll like and this was passed along to me earlier this year. This band is Irish and they have a lovely and simultaneously huge pop song. Let me get to the point..we've had a slight resurgence of Irish bands that are not far Cashier No. 9 haven't toured here but they are better than anything from Ireland on album that I've seen in the last few years. They are currently touring the UK with some guy named Noel Gallagher, whoever he is. No doubt, they'll blow him off the stage. This band's songs are super melodic and super catchy...cant' get these songs out of my head. So difficult to get this release in the U.S. I finally ordered it on import from Bella Union: but if you want to wait it out until they have a distributor, youtube has pretty much all of the tracks. Here are a couple of my very favorites: "Goldstar": "Lost at Sea": Official site: Myspace: Soundcloud:[fulltext]=Cashier+No+9 #6 Woods: Sun and Shade People, I saw Woods play 5x this year, including twice in Big Sur and over the course of that time, I became incredibly attached to this album. If I were to see Neil Young, it would be in a huge theater and he would remind me of the age of myself and those dear to me and I'd lose the moment I'm quite sure of it. But seeing Woods...a band who seems to exude the essence of Neil Young in terms of vocals as if the musician was a strong bulb of garlic seems alright and completely savorable. Maybe I'm not conveying what I mean correctly...I guess it's such an extreme sense of longing, a feeling of place and being home without reference to age or any possible terrible futures that I'm consumed with when I listen to Woods, including this most recent album Sun and Shade. This album is sing songy and sad at the same time, making for strange anthems which over time grow upon the listener, becoming a second auditory skin. Love it. Live it. Make it yours. "Pushing Onlys" "Be All Be Easy": Woods myspace: Official Site: #7 Low: C'Mon If you're like me, you listened to the really catchy single of Low's C'Mon "Try to Sleep" and dismissed the album a bit at first. I caught them twice this year on tour and that helped. I don't listen to Low to dance. I listen to Low because it's reassuring to me that someone can see the world through depressing lenses like I do. So, when I heard the single and I recognized whimsy, I was very skeptical. I'm not good with change when it has to do with Low. I like my Low consistent just like I like my two free range eggs scrambled up in the mornings. If I don't have my depressing but heartfelt Low songs, my body just feels off, like everything is wrong and no one is going to understand and rock me to sleep that night. In any case "You See Everything," "Especially Me" "Majesty/Magic" "$20" "Nothing But Heart" are desperately honest and show Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk working together in their usual perfection. I will always love this band. I will always be devoted to their melodrama because it is pure and real. It is without pretenses and it is life changing, especially if you like all that mundane pop music crap (YOU DON'T, DO YOU?!?!) "$20" "Nothing But Heart": Official Low Site: Myspace: #8 I Break Horses: Hearts This is another recommendation from Bill Pearis of Soundbites ( ). This album is sort of like if you took a modern Cocteau Twins and made it into catchy pop vs. simply shoegaze yet still retained all the ethereal wonder of the vocals that made them great. This is accessible from first listen and opens up with a super positive energy you won't feel guilty about loving. There's a super feminine softness but you might be dancing and spinning to your heart's content so much that you don't even realize it. Sometimes, as in "Wired" the instrumentation builds to the most delicious hammering that would be like Swervedriver if Adam Franklin was a gentle and wise woman. I doubt if you'd find this in stores as it is a British import can also probably seek it out via Bella Union directly. In the end, I had to buy it off of Soundcloud and it is highly recommended: #9 Myrmyr: Five Star I'm lucky enough to be married to an ambient musician but he tends to get a little obsessed with drone music from time to time. I've gone to the drone shows at various Wire Fests and Neon Marshmallow Fests and I have to say, I greatly prefer psychedlic, garage, and indie pop to what most musicians these days are making. Another thing I've noticed is that a great deal of these musicians (the vast majority that I've seen tour in Chicago at least) are men. I think we all know how boring it is to watch a dude press buttons on his laptop on a stage. The good news is that there is Myrmyr, which is made up of two women searching to find that perfect balance between dark and whimsical. This isn't really drone in my opinion because it's just too melodic. It's a gorgeous midnight sounding symphony that envelops you and says, "I understand your darkness and it's going to be alright." It has a much less ethereal feel than Julianna Barwick yet still keeps to the same organic feeling. The instruments do the main talking here and the strings are especially vocal. It's easy to come up with some desolate but beautiful stories to accompany these tracks and let your imagination go wild. Soundcloud: Myspace: #10 Explosions in the Sky: Take Care, Take Care, Take Care These songs really didn't hit me at first and are just getting to me now on further subsequent listens. It takes a great deal of time with post rock before you can fully absorb it into your bloodstream and the cells of your temporal lobe. It's like a slowly moving film with more subtitles than you're used to processing on a weeknight. In any case, I think every Explosions in the Sky album has been a real treat and, though this one didn't get nearly as much press as I seem to remember the previous ones getting, it has some real moments of edgy building and it's fair share of shimmery greatness. Like many prior EITS albums, it's the kind of thing you have to immerse yourself into, have unique and tumultuous real life experiences with these songs to guide you, and when you emerge from that multisensory cave, you'll come out with all of the cells in your body regenerated and new and you'll recognize all the beauty you had inside you all along. "Trembling Hands": Official Site: Myspace: #11 The Caretaker: An Empty Bliss Beyond This World When I listen to Caretaker, I imagine wandering through deserted carousels, ballrooms, flapper parties where there is nothing but clothes on the floor to step over. There is a bit of a faded glamour and static from a victrola or at least that's what I hear. I imagine environments spinning and floating about in the subconscious of the human brain, which can sometimes be the richest place one can visit. This album is nothing if it isn't sad and beautiful simultaneously bringing the listener on a strange dance not just through memory but almost through another planet's existence altogether where nothing and no one has to die or be forgotten. Perhaps it's a world better than are own, where experiences are kept in an omnipresent sort of vault and are nourished by The Caretaker. This was also an album recommended on Soundbites: ( ) Many thanks also to NickD and Brian Leli for seconding and thirding the recommendation. Soundcloud: #12 Jasper TX: The Black Sun Transmissions This one is not for the faint of heart. It is quite dark and brooding and reminds me of a cerebral landscape at the end of eternity. I think this might just be the future field music for that...wandering around, seeing nothing but char. It's impossible not to think of Sweden's Jasper TX as a sort of abstract instrumental sound that infiltrates your brain and then your very existence. It is thick, it is dense, and it will take over. It's an epic desolation where the little glimmers of scattered hope are more like turbulence on a crashing plane. Jasper, TX on Soudcloud: #13 Veronica Falls: Self Titled There are a great many of girl groups that have hit the stage and are really adept at delivering catchy songs that skirt the line between pop and garage. This British group, which actually has two men and two females but seems to features the female vocals most prominently really captures the sense of nostalgia in everything but at the same time you can't help dancing about to these songs. I was happy to find this on vinyl at Wicker Park Reckless Records in Chicago and I was very excited. I missed the band on their first tour here as it was the same night as Besnard Lakes but will be seeing them at the Empty Bottle on February 16th. It seems almost impossible that this would be the band's debut album but, if this is the starting point, I can't wait to see what they come up with next! "Beachy Head": Official Site: Myspace: #14 Baxter Dury: Happy Soup This is another album that seems impossible to find in the states. I mainly have my friend Thierry Côté to thank for this one. I tend to advertise that I like the British melodic but somewhat talk singy swanky vocals that musicians like Jarvis Cocker of Pulp and David Gedge of The Wedding Present made famous. I adore the backup female vocals here, too. The songs are catchy but it can at times be just as sad as it is provocative. Baxter is Ian Dury's son and as he pleads to Claire to not waste her life and her bus fair and talks about peoples' reactions to The Sun, one can't help but feel a little more than a mere affinity to the whole song altogether..though to me it's the lyrics and the vocal delivery that really grab me more than anything. If no one told you nothing, nothing at'd still be able to find something endearing about Baxter Dury..unless you're completely heartless..I hope that isn't true. "Claire": "Happy Soup": Official Site: Myspace: #15 Bill Callahan: Apocalypse I think my main barrier for me to liking this album in a top ten sense is that it seems so subtle to me in many ways. The one thing I would recommend to people, however, is to see Callahan tour as afterwards these tracks sort of clicked with me in a way that made them more effective. I also think that if he hadn't had named the album Apocalypse, I would have had a much different impression of how the songs would sound and I wouldn't have had my initial reaction. If you like Bill Callahan and Smog, you'll still find room in your heart for this one. You'll realize that these tracks can be brooding at times, wondrous at others. You'll realize that Callahan is part of the indie west, which hasn't yet been conquered yet. You'll also realize he has a great deal of insight into America, history, and everything that seems to encompass these rather large topics. He even manages to be his poignant sentimental self again during "Riding for the Feeling." The real people went away but thank God Bill Callahan is finding a better way. "The Drover": "America": Myspace: #16 Wild Flag: Self titled If you're still one of those people crying yourself to sleep because Sleater-Kinney broke up, look no further than Wild Flag. There are literally no duds on this album and singer Carrie Brownstein is in top form (both on stage and vocally). She seems to take over the songs a bit with her strong throaty delivery but there is a slight Helium influence provided by Mary Timony to be detected here and there. This is fun, fun stuff that you can easily rock out and dance to. Every song feels like a single. It's been a long time coming and a great deal of anticipation and I'm happy to say it lives up. In some ways, these girls got epic. "Glass Tambourine": "Romance": Myspace: #17 The New Lines: All That We See and Seem Another band I heard about through Bill Pearis and actually it was only about a week ago when he told me about them. Boy, I love my melancholic psychedelic music with moments of abstract experiments transitioning the songs and helping emphasize the main tracks with structure even more prominently. This is another band I'm convinced grew up listening to the right vinyl but still have a modern influence. They aren't as urgent as Tame Impala but if you do like Tame Impala, you will probably like The New Lines and you can listen before you buy on Soundcloud: #18 Dum Dum Girls: Only in Dreams Dum Dum Girls wear their style on their sleeves and these easily accessible songs really pack a punch that Vivian Girls songs (as fun and wonderful as they are) just don't and they seem quite timeless even the first few times you hear them. Seeing this four piece and the chemistry on stage made the songs come to live but even on record this is a great follow up to I Will Be, the debut album. This band deserves to be playing much larger venues given the strength of their tracks and their live performance. This is a bit of dark fun perfect for playing on your Saturday night, even oddly when it hints at the tragedy that befell the band when Dee Dee Dum Dum recently lost her mother. "Bedroom Eyes": Myspace": #19 The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: Belong It took awhile for this second album release to grow on me but there are still a great many luscious and wondrous tracks on this one as there was on their first release. What the band continues to do is take the ethereal and welcoming moments that one remembers out of the best of the shoegaze genre and make it powerful and strong when it needs to be so that the tracks don't completely fall out and dissolve. In other words, it's shoegaze but with choruses and verses defined and brought to an anthemic tradition. This band is sincere and sweet and they deserve to be as big as their sound can allow them, which continues to grow. This past year saw the band playing a decent slot at Lollapalooza and probably garnering even more fans during that performance. If you love the lush, deep feeling enlightenment, try a little Pains. "Heaven's Gonna Happen Now": "Heart in Your Heartbreak": Official Site: Myspace: #20 White Fence: In Growing Faith Warped psychedelic music..drenched in sunshine and the 60s just the way I like it. White Fence is much brighter than Darker My Love, Tim Presley's earlier band but it is no less enchanting. This release is a bit more jangly than most psychedelic releases these days and isn't mired by postmodern production. In other words, it's nods to decades past are heartfelt and complete. Sometimes, the warped warbled songs make one even feel like he/she is going in and out of consciousness, which is an interesting feeling if nothing else. Thanks to my brother in law (who goes by the internet moniker Quartertonality) for telling me about White Fence..I had no idea Tim Presley was up to these antics before he mentioned the album and I was happy for the awareness. Myspace: #21 Mikal Cronin: Self Titled Many thanks to Chris Zakorchemny ( ) for telling me about this record. It is quite a bit bipolar..starting off kind of like a throw back Beach Boys album and exhibiting such a heavy kick on songs like "Green and Blue" to a catchier pop on "Get Along" to a downright languid pace on the appropriately named "Slow Down." In any way, Cronin keeps us guessing and keeps it interesting. "Green and Blue": Mikal Cronin on myspace: Mikal Cronin on Bandcamp:

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