Wednesday, December 14th, 2011
Chromewaves’ favourite albums of 2011
Okay, let’s get this over with. More than any year in recent memory, 2011 was tough to distill down to a top ten – not because there was a dearth of notable releases, but because there was a glut of them. Plenty of records this year were good to great – from those you’d expect as much from, those who surprised by upping their game and/or those who you’d simply never heard of before – but head-and-shoulders standouts? More of a chore than I expected.
But here are ten records which, as of this midway point of the final month of 2011, do a pretty good job of representing what I listened to and enjoyed the most in the past twelve. I like the mix of geography, genres, and genders and also of veterans and up-and-comers – I think most who’d know would agree this is a pretty, “me” list and consistent with past years. And if you can be bothered to read the past prefaces, you’ll see that those, too, are pretty consistent. Which is to say repetitive. So no more talking, yeah?
Yeah. And you like the philatelic angle for this year’s art? I do.
Always a casual fan of the Beirut but not what you’d call a believer, The Rip Tide won me over by concentrating less on sounding of a time and place and more on just writing great songs and melodies and letting the rest take care of itself. Because if you do that and bring them to a band like Zach Condon has assembled, there’s simply no way it’s not going to sound sun-kissed, sweeping, and beautiful. Putting this record on is like taking a 33-minute vacation.
Anna Calvi’s debut reminds me not a little of Jeff Buckley’s first record, all of seventeen years ago, in hitting that sweet spot that pulls together pop and drama, virtuosity and songcraft, potential and accomplishment and makes it dark, seductive, sensual, and goddamn sexy. All that and jaw-dropping guitar playing – what’s not to like? A thing of mystery and beauty and hopefully just the beginning.
I think this one slipped under the radars of most thanks to the hubbub around the return of Archers Of Loaf, but it deserves some attention. It doesn’t redefine Crooked Fingers, as Eric Bachmann has done numerous times in the past, but instead represents a summation of everything that he’s done in that guise, from the spare to the lush, the ruminant to the rocking. Sometimes the very best thing is one of your favourite artists reminding you of why that is.
And other times, some wholesale reinvention is exactly what’s needed. Dan Bejar, having mastered the guitar-led free-form poetics of his last few records, decided to go all smooth jazz, lounge-rock and ambient-electro on his latest. That it would be polarizing was obvious; that it would be brilliant wasn’t, but it is and it’s a record that’s so unique and odd and compelling that the addition of an extra side of largely ambient compositions entitled “The Laziest River” on the vinyl edition somehow makes the record even better.
Some will get on Elbow for being a bit dad-rock and sentimental, and yeah – it’s true that they’re not the edgiest band on the block. But with age and experience comes the ability to write about love – not just the romantic but all its myriad forms – with honesty, sensitivity, and beauty. No cynicism here, and some days you need that. Most days, really.
It’s a shame for Emma-Lee Moss that the huge creative leap between her first and second albums had to come at the cost of such personal turmoil, but from great ordeal comes great art. Virtue has all the wit and wordplay of her debut, but adds rich and creative production as she tries to navigate deep emotional waters with story and allegory.
Exhausting but also exhilarating, the main point of appeal for this audacious hardcore rock opera isn’t the ambitious narrative or Damian Abraham’s throat-shredding roar; it’s the incredible, stadium-sized guitar riffing of Mike Haliechuk and company. Utterly incendiary stuff, and oh yeah the rest of it’s pretty good too. It only took a couple of years to get me from “I don’t like these guys” to “one of my top albums of the year”; well done.
MP3: Fucked Up – “The Other Shoe”
MP3: Fucked Up – “Ship Of Fools”
MP3: Fucked Up – “A Little Death”
MP3: Fucked Up – “Queen Of Hearts”
Video: Fucked Up – “Turn The Season”
Video: Fucked Up – “The Other Shoe”
Video: Fucked Up – “Queen Of Hearts”
I don’t rank albums – I let the alphabet do that for me – but I usually have a clear, single favourite album in a given year and for this year, it’s Hearts. So warm and immersive with its blankets of synths and Maria Linden’s gorgeous vocals, it’s a record that I was actually afraid to play over and over again lest its magic fade with familiarity. I eventually got over that and the magic hasn’t faded a bit. Inarticulatable beauty.
Every Loney Dear album has been a stylistic iteration of similar meditations on melancholy, but with Hall Music Emil Svanängen has made both his most intimate and expansive-sounding record and in doing so, struck a new chord that resonated perfectly with the cathedral-created reverberations he had to work with. And he closed it out with one of the very finest pop songs of the year in “What Have I Become”.
If you told me at any point in the past decade or so that Sloan would make one of my year-end lists, I’d have asked you what you were on. After all, they’d long settled into a groove of releasing okay records but certainly nothing that would stop me in my tracks. But to mark their twentieth year as a band, they seemed to have decided that the best anniversary gift was an album that reaffirmed them as one of the country’s best power-pop bands and that would stand up amongst their very best.