TV: Game of Thrones, Dr. Who, Homeland, Colbert Report. Maybe it's because i turned 30 this year, maybe it's because i bought a big TV and i needed justify the purchase. This year i watched more TV than i have in the last 10 years. I try to reserve my TV time for specific series and episodes, but who am i kidding, There's alot of House Hunters and Hoarders in their too. 3 Shows i'm not ashamed to say i enjoyed though are Game of Thrones, Dr. Who (thanks to my girlfriend.) and a Homeland. GoT is all things wonderful about a premium HBO series married to a dungeon masters guide. Dr. Who, while i admit to only a handful episodes is Sci-fi for real lovers of sci-fi - it reminds me of watching old Star Trek episodes in that ability to be both totally weird, and totally wholesome. Homeland satisfied my interest in geo-politics, which is to say, i wanna pretend i have some actual understand of it (them?), which i don't. Colbert Report is just, well... one of the greatest pieces of television of our generation. The man is a satirical genius and doing something truly unique in comedy. Watching Colbert work is like watching a tight rope walker dance an irish jig nightly.
Movies: Melancholia, Beginners, Drive Melancholia gave me a panic attach. 3 days after i saw it. People wrote about how cathartic it was, i suppose they were right - i always thought catharsis felt better than that, but if feel-bad, transgressive nihilism is what we've come to expect from Von Trier and with "Anti-Christ" being his most over the top example to date, in my mind, Melancholia makes Anti-christ look like Date Night. My advise is if intend to see it - follow it up with a great unicorn chaser like "Beginners" or "Drive". Beginners is one of those Indie-feeling flicks with alot of clever dialog and so-cal locations, about a father an son both looking for love in life. The twist being that Father who's in his 70's and recently widowed, just came out of the closet. If that doesn't sound awesome, it's got Ewan McGregor in it, and dad is Christopher Plummer playing against type (stuffy menacing dude). If either of those aren't you're cup of tea, well there's Drive. Which is such a perfect distillation of itself that its practically a haiku.
Books: Logicomix, High Fidelity I love comic books. It's probably because i don't read that fast, because i'm a bit lesdixic. See what i did there? This year i ready Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis - a great biopic on the life and trials of Bertrand Russell, famous 20th century mathematician and philosopher. I read it over 5 days i spent with my girlfriend's family in Arizona and i after i read it i said "Look i finished a book in 5 days!" and then my girlfriend said. "That's good honey." and gave me that look she also gives my dog when he gets his leash caught around his back legs. She loves my dog. High Fidelility was the second book i finished this year, it's not a comic book, and i finished it in about a month, so for that reason alone it deserves it's place on this list. It's also an incredible book and as a record store employee i felt it was my duty to have read this book so as to be able to say "The book was better." when anyone brings up the movie, which was good, but not as good as the book. Which was better.
Music: M83 - Hurry up, we're dreaming, Clams Casino - Mixtape I predicted 2011 to be the year i got into Hip Hop proper - while i listed to a bit more, i think most would say my interests still sit firmly inside of the whiteboy safety zone. Kanye, G-Side, Drake, Shabbaz Palaces etc. If i didn't properly get into hip this year, i can say that it was the year that i actively pursued music that wasn't quite as dark or sad bastardly and i have in the past. Maybe i'm getting old, but this year i needed things to pump me up a bit more than usual, give me bit of bravado, energy, swagger - something that goes well with sitting in my home office in flannel pajama's, a full carafe of incredible french press to drink, and a full day of work ahead of me. (video is Clams Casino's backing track to Lil' B's Motivation.)
#1 Album of the Year - Handsome Furs ~ Sound Kapital I wasn't expecting this to be on the top of my list when i started compiling my music favorites - M83 seemed to be the clear winner but when i looked my top # of listens in iTunes the truth was, this gem of electro-rock aggregated to the top. There's something about Sound Kapital that really captures that excitement of being a traveller, of walking around a city where the language and customs are alien to you. Where suddenly everything in life is so novel, and you wonder how you could ever go back to your old life. It's a very romantic album on one sense, very populist, angry, wide-eyed - i'd almost call it naive - except it seems to come as cathartic revelations from a world weary man who's perhaps lived a little more than your average guy. Maybe it's his voice, classic swagger a la Bowie, Springstein or *gulp* Neil Diamond (still here?) It sounds to me like a an album hard won from touring the more un-toured areas of the world, and because of the sites seen, the people met - an album for changing perspectives.
I’m a long time Pure Pop employee but these days i spent less time behind the counter at Pure Pop, and the majority of my time at my desk at home as freelance web designer / developer. This year’s be a great year for change, and i expect 2012 to be even more so.
John Maus- We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves by John Maus is a synthpop tour de force, and it sounds like a 2011 album recorded in 1984. Maus' deep vocals guide the great variety of synths seen here, creating a wonderful dark electronic sound. Hey Moon is the highlight of the album, with its hypnotic synth riff almost lulling one to sleep.
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Belong Many people accuse The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart of being unoriginal, ripping off the generic shoegazy sound. However, this album throws off this accusation, with the Pains bringing great variety to their sound, with what sounds like a subtle Smashing Pumpkins influence, especially on title track "Belong." If you're a fan of shoegaze, dream pop, etc. check out this album!
Radiohead - The King Of Limbs Let me start out by saying that this is no In Rainbows, by any means. If TKOL was anywhere close to In Rainbows it would top my list every time, but that's not to say it's bad. In all honesty I did not expect Radiohead to come close to their previous album to begin with. Here is a much more subdued effort by the British band, with almost trip-hoppy beats guiding the minimalist instrumentation, very reminiscent of Thom Yorke's solo album The Eraser. It may not be the best of what Radiohead has to offer, but it's still very very good. The highlight of the album is "Separator," a mix of their guitar driven In Rainbows sound and their new minimalist electronic sound.
Starf**er - Reptilians If you were to judge a band by its name, you might think Starf**er are an over the top, obscene band bent on offending people. However, their masterful sound is quite refined, at times moving between synthpop and electronica. I highly recommend this or any of their other records, unfortunately their name might prevent them from receiving the recognition they deserve from more mainstream sources. Highlights include "Julius" and "Slow Dance" (a bonus track featured on the deluxe edition).
WU LYF - Go Tell Fire To The Mountain For a band so shrouded in enigma (they rarely give interviews and release their albums on their own label), WU LYF's music has a pretty simple formula: post rock instrumentation over near shrieking vocals, with barely decipherable lyrics. However, for a reason I can't quite put my finger on, this works amazingly, and you'll find some of the most powerful and innovative songs that I've ever heard on this record. The album opener "LYF" and the closer "Heavy Pop" are the highlights of the record, the alpha and omega so to speak, with great music in between. WU LYF is definitely not for everybody, but what music is?
I’m a high school student with a great interest and wide taste in music, although my list this year is mostly focused on indie I listen to many different genres, and I enjoy any music with depth. Some other great albums that didn’t make this list include The Morning After Girls – Alone, Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Florence + The Machine – Ceremonials and Washed Out – Within And Without. To be totally honest, however, I wasn’t overly impressed with 2011 as a musical year, hopefully 2012 will be better, and with time I’ll be able to discover the many releases I probably missed.
Radiohead - The King of Limbs Though a considerably short album, I liked this one a lot. It was definitely a change from the more mellow and brisk "In Rainbows". The eight songs on this album are eerie - they creep like shadows, and Thom's voice definitely adds to that. This album definitely requires a conscious listener. Plus, Thom's dancing is spectacular in the video for 'Lotus Flower'.
Switchfoot - Vice Verses My Switchfoot fanatic friend was the one that really got me into the band. I had heard some of their earlier stuff, and I wasn't a big fan of the poppy feel of their first albums. But as I listened through "Hello Hurricane" (and saw a show at Higher Ground), I started to see the potential. I think with "Vice Verses" the band has really moved all over the map, a style that reminds me of Cage the Elephant's album "Thank You, Happy Birthday", my number one album of 2011.
Rise Against - Endgame I was very very fortunate to see Rise Against up in Montreal this past October, but what really got me pumped for the show was the release of their album "Endgame". I feel like they've really solidified their sound with this album, and I like that they've re-opened their harder side, as seen in the 2006 album "The Sufferer and the Witness".
The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar "The Big Roar" came out of nowhere and literally roared in my face. It seems like Joy has risen up from the depths of indie rock to the forefront with their debut album, and it certainly makes sense. It's a well rounded, well written album that still leaves room for experimentation when playing it live, which I think makes a true musical masterpiece. Plus, they're fantastic live. P.S. - I looked for this album in Pure Pop about a month ago and couldn't find it. I urge you to get it if you haven't already!
Cage the Elephant After falling in love with Cage the Elephant after the release of their first album and seeing them open for Silversun Pickups back in 2008, I was expecting another great album. And I got what I wanted. I wasn't surprised a bit at the diversity on the album and welcomed it heartily. It's a big step from their bluesy rock debut that might have previously defined them. It's abrasive, rowdy, pushy, and unstable, just like singer Matt Shultz's stage performance.
I’m a high school student from Colchester. I’m really into music – mostly listening and critiquing, though I do play a little guitar and have recently picked up the mandolin. I’m very critical of music and tend to have a more pessimistic view on pop culture and society, which is unusual for someone my age. It’s nice to know that as time goes on, I don’t have to completely lose faith in the current music scene. New bands like Cage the Elephant and the Joy Formidable are refreshing and reassure me that there is someone out there who’s still trying to make music for the sake of music.
Robert Plant/Band of Joy Even though this album was released in the latter part of 2010, the vinyl version did not come out until early 2011, I am including it on my list. I should add that David Letterman was holding up the vinyl version when Plan appeared on his show in February of this year. When I was in high school, I was more of a Beatles fan but the sound of Led Zeppelin was still around me. I remember when "Whole Lotta Love" came blasting out of a high school friend's speakers and of course, "Stairway to Heaven" was everyone's classic rock anthem in college. Several of the songs like Los Lobos' "Angel Dance" have the “bottom” of those earlier Led Zep albums and some have the feel of some of the band’s acoustic numbers too such as "Cindy, I"ll Marry You Some Day" where you hear a little of Plant's classic moaning towards the end. This album is wonderfully played throughout under Buddy Miller's production but and it is songs like "Silver Rider" with Patty Griffin and the gospel tune"Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down" that show how great a vocalist Plant is.
Ry Cooder/Pull Up Some Dust Ry is one of the first "roots" musicians I listened to with early albums of "Paradise Lunch" and "Chicken Skin Music". going back to This album covers many of the genres, blues, country, tex-mex that Ry has played in the past but reorients these to capture his views on the current state of affairs in the world which is summed up by such lines such as "the working man has been cast down, in "Want My Crown" This album is the most overtly political one on my list but while some artists can get overly didactic and musically uninteresting, Ry keeps things varied and entertaining while at the same time, railing against the social injustices in the world. There is the dark, heavy blues tone of “John Lee Hooker for President” and there is also the deceptively, jaunty “No Banker Left Behind” which is really a critique of the bailout of the banking industry. This is the kind of song that could be an an anthem for the Occupy Wall St. Movement
Gregg Allman/Low Country Blues You sometimes forget amidst the guitar prowess of the Allman Brothers, what a great singer Gregg Allman was and now still is, particularly with this album. Most of the songs on this album, produced by roots music producer extraordinaire, T. Bone Burnett. are traditional blues like Muddy Waters' I Can't Be Satisified", played with a backwoods feel by a skillful group of session musicians including Dr. John. Allman's voice is front and center throughout every song, bending notes like a real bluesman. It is remarkable how good his voice sounds at this point in his life. The most personal song on the album is “Just Another Rider” written by Allman and Warren Haynes with one of the lines being "Just another stranger trying to get somewhere but you're all alone” speaking to a life of many ups and downs.
Booker T. Jones/The Road From Memphis I love the idea of this album of having one of the best "house" bands currently out there in the Roots, backing up up the man who once led a legendary house band himself, creating the Stax/Memphis Soul sound, for people like Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. Booker T’s collaboration with the Roots seems to be a natural pairing, with the Roots setting a deep groove for Jones' organ to ride over the top of. I enjoyed the contributions of guest vocalists like Yim Yames, Sharon Jones, and Lou Reed but listening to Booker T. revisit his youth, singing about ,"learning how to walk the beat" in "Down in Memphis" is the real heart of the album.
Paul Simon/So Beautiful So What Living in New York City as a kid, I grew up on Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and Sounds of Silence. I then moved onto his early solo work, and then of course his mid- career masterpiece, Graceland. The uptempo numbers on this album have a driving rhythmic flow, utilizing some of the same African guitar and percussion sounds from albums like Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints. What I like most about it is the reflectiveness about life that comes through in many of the songs "You know life is what you make of it...so beautiful or so what" or from “Rewrite”, “I have been working on a rewrite, going to turn it into cash...” I’m sure we’ve wondered whether we could have done a “rewrite” of our lives.
My name is Pascal Cheng and have been living in the Burlington area for the past 30 years. I have gotten to hear a lot of great music over the years here, both live and through Pure Pop’s always varied selection of CD’s and lp’s. My top five for 2011 includes artists who I grew up listening to as a teen in New York City and now in their sixties and seventies are still producing vital music. In their 2011 albums, they have drawn on elements of their early work but have recast them to express their current views on life and world events. There are many contemporary musicians and bands like Tune-Yards, Feist, Wilco, Fleet Foxes, and the Decembrists, to name a few, whose albums could easily be in my top five but I have chosen to dedicate this list to these legends of pop music. I should also add that this list is vinyl centric as I have listened to all of these in the lp format.
Childish Gambino - Camp Donald Glover is best known for his work in the shows 30 Rock and Community as well as the internet group Derek Comedy, though he has flow and can rap. The album had a few instant gold moments but over a few listens it just keeps growing on me. He is no joke. His older albums are available for free online too. Who could want more!
Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn of Events With a new drummer this was a make or break album. They cranked it up and gave fans what they wanted to hear. Reminds me of a mix of all periods of Dream Theater while staying pretty modern. Mangini is a beast behind the kit. Live they sound the best they have in 5 years!
Beardfish - Mammoth Swedish prog rockers, Beardfish, bring it all on Mammoth. It has everything from classic prog tones to some more heavy prog metal riffs. They took their album Destined Solitaire and improved on it. "And the Stone Said: If I Could Speak" might be the best epic track from them to date. Can't wait for these guys to come back to North America and hear the new material they are already working on!
The Dear Hunter - The Complete Color Spectrum The Color Spectrum departs from storyline of other Dear Hunter releases, but is a great experiment I have never seen done. Each color has its own feelings and style, some sounding similar but different elements changing. Some music that I will listen to for years to come. There is something in the collection for everyone.
Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning Wilson's solo effort has brought forth was I consider the years best album. It's reminiscent of 70's prog, King Crimson especially, while having the sound that is expected from Wilson. The first disc, Deform to Form a Star, is much softer and ambient, while the second disc, Like Dust I Cleared From My Eye, seems darker and edgier. This by far blows away almost anything Steven has done in the past with Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, or any other solo projects.
I’m a film student at the New England Institute of Art and from Burlington, VT. I’m always looking for projects to work on.
Joe Matt - "Peep Show" Ok, you've probably noticed by now that this isn't an album. I've decided to opt out of doing a "Top 5 Albums" list for Pure Pop this year, because A) I've barely listened to five new albums this year and B) my top five have already been covered by other submitters (namely Josh LaClair & Will Ryan) and probably most importantly, C) I wanted to bring attention to the small yet wonderful collection of books that Pure Pop now carries in addition to their great music selection. Along with fiction, non-fiction, books about music (including the wonderful 33 1/3 series), they also have a great collection of graphic novels (aka "comic books"). I have to admit that, up until a couple of years ago, I thought the idea of grown adults reading comics was ridiculous and sad. However, I've come to learn the errors of my ignorant ways and have discovered that the graphic novel form has been used to great effect by some of the greatest living authors and artists of our time, whether creating fantastic superhero stories, surreal dream worlds, or humorous/frank/disturbing pictorial memoirs. In short, it's a diverse & wonderful medium. And all of the books I'm reviewing here are either available now at Pure Pop or can be special ordered for you -- buy local! My number 5 pick is Joe Matt's "Peep Show". Matt, an obvious disciple of the great R. Crumb, seems to use his deeply personal, autobiographical comics almost as a means of self-flagellation, repentance & catharsis. He exposes raw and naked (hence the title) his most embarrassing neuroses and obsessions, delving into great detail about his addiction to porn, his obsessive frugality & his failures with women. It can be almost painfully cringe-worthy to read sometimes, but you'll come out it with some type of sympathy and connection with Matt, while also feeling a lot better about the extent of your own personal hang-ups.
Daniel Clowes - "Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron" Many of you may recognize the name Daniel Clowes from his wildly popular comic-turned-film, "Ghost World". Well, "Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron" ain't nothin like "Ghost World".... Not that it doesn't deal with some of the same themes and methods, such as alienation and dark humor. But LAVGCII is much more surreal, dark and paranoid--it's like a David Lynch nightmare put onto paper. You'll enter a world filled with bizarre, deformed creatures, nymphomaniacs & BDSMists, murderous religious cults and more, all delivered in stark black-and-white. If you're into the bizarre and the absurd, this one's for you.
David B. - "Epileptic" While most of the graphic novels on this list fit easily in the category of "realist autobiography" and "surreal fantasy" (the previous two being perfect examples of the opposite camps), French artist David B.'s "Epileptic" isn't so easily pigeon-holed. On the surface, it's a heartbreaking story about his younger brother's struggles with epilepsy and the subsequent struggles that his family dealt with, uprooting their lives moving around the world to find the best treatment, On the other, it enters a surreal world of fantasy, where David B. goes in his mind to escape the pain and neglect he feels in the situation, as well as attempts to understand the grand-mal seizures imprisoning his brother. While it's typically the stories that draw me in most to graphic novels (and this one is no exception), the expressionist black-and-white imagery of "Epileptic" is some of the best I've seen in any graphic novel.
Julia Wertz - "Drinking at the Movies" One of my favorite new artistic discoveries of the past year has been the comics of NYC author and artist Julia Wertz. While I love great dramatic works, there has always been a special place in my heart for base, simple humor (it's the reason why Ingmar Bergman and Will Ferrell movies both show up on my top films list). Ms. Wertz' early books, the somewhat unfortunately titled "The Fart Party" volumes 1&2, were autobiographical comics dealing with her childhood and adult life living in San Francisco. They were smart, embarrassing & side-splittingly funny. And if you're the same age as Wertz, very unfortunately easy to relate to. Her latest book, "Drinking at the Movies", is a continuation of her comic character (a gothy, tomboyish elf, who Wertz doesn't really resemble at all in her author photo), but this time transitioning from life in a big city (San Fran) to THE big city, New York. DATM will hit close to home for anyone who has moved away from the comfortable bubble of their hometown to a new place--the emotions of simultaneous excitement, fear, loneliness and doubt are all there. It also chronicles the drinking problems that developed as a means of coping (hence the title) to both humorous and pitiable effect. Apparently Wertz' next book is supposed to deal with her subsequent rehab and sobriety, which magnifies both sides of the emotional coin. Crudely drawn and crudely narrated, this book may not strive at "great art" like some of the others on this list, but it was also one of the most touching, identifiable and non-pretentious books I've read in a while. And most importantly, it made me laugh so much I nearly peed myself.
Charles Burns - "Black Hole" Quite simply, Charles Burns' "Black Hole" is the graphic novel that made me a fan of graphic novels. A pulpy, b-movie type of book, drawn masterfully in stark black-and-white, Burns' masterpiece can best be described as "Dazed and Confused"-meets-David Cronenberg-meets-David Lynch. The main plot revolves around a group of high school students in the late 70's, getting high & drunk, riding around in cars, having sex....and giving each other a bizarre STD that turns them into mutants. As the disease spreads, so does the depravity, as they enter homeless encampments filled with other mutants, turned depraved and murderous as their diseases/deformities progress. A bizarre, touching book with a brilliant story and beautiful artwork, "Black Hole" is nearly impossible to put down & warrants year re-reading. P.S. - Music lovers may recognize Burns' artwork from the cover of Fever Ray's self-titled album.
My name is Jay Blanchard and I’m the founder of the now-defunct MARS PYRAMID record label, a former filmmaker and an all-around dilettante. I live in Burlington, enjoy French cuisine and I’m often stopped on the street by strangers to tell me that I’m “painfully handsome”.
Otep - Atavist Otep returned this year with an album full of rage against government and religious oppression as well as anti-bullying. Otep Shaymaya, the band's front woman screams at the top of her lungs on most of her songs on the album. Essential tracks on this album are "Atom to Adam", "We Dream Like Lions", "Fists Fall", "Bible Belt" and "Not to Touch the Earth (The Doors cover)".
Voivod - Warriors of Ice Voivod had put together their second live album in their entire career. This album was recorded live in Montreal, Quebec. The band returned with almost the entire original line up except the guitarist. They have a new guitarist who replaced Piggy and would do Piggy proud. Piggy wanted the band to live up to their name without him. This album contains the bands's classics such as "Voivod", "Ripping Headache", "Ravenous Medicine", "Panorama", "Tornado", "Nothingface" and "Astronomy Domine (Pink Floyd cover.) This is a must have for true Voivodians out there. R.I.P. Piggy!
Pearl Jam - Twenty (soundtrack) Pearl Jam is celebrating the 20th anniversary of their debut album entitled Ten. This album is a soundtrack to Cameron Crowe's film documentary spanning the band's entire career. Great film! The soundtrack contains a lot goodies which are some rare or never before released live and studio tracks as well as demos. There are two Temple of the Dog demos included on this soundtrack as well as a demo of "It Ain't Like That" which is an Alice in Chains cover. A must have for all Pearl Jam fans old and new.
Soundgarden - Live on I-5 Soundgarden have reunited. This past spring they finally released their only official live album which have been shelved since 1996. It was recorded during their final leg of their 1996 tour on the west coast of the United States. Soundgarden then went on a mini summer tour in support of this live album. Soundgarden is currently working on a brand new studio album due out in early to mid 2012. I am so looking forward to the new album and a tour. Essential live tracks on this album are "Searching with My Good Eye Closed", "Head Down", "Outshined", "Rusty Cage", "Slaves & Bulldozers", "Fell on Black Days", "Black Hole Sun" and Jesus Christ Pose". A must have for Soundgarden fans old and new.
Chris Cornell - Songbook In 2005, Chris Cornell did an acoustic show in Sweden and there is a bootleg floating on the internet called Unplugged in Sweden. Chris Cornell then became aware of the bootleg and found out the fan had demanded that he would do a solo acoustic tour. This past spring, Chris Cornell did the first leg of the Songbook tour and recorded songs from select venues. He then took a break from the Songbook tour and went on a mini summer tour with Soundgarden. After the Soundgarden tour, he returned to his Songbook tour and did the second leg. He toured in support of the Songbook album which was just released during Thanksgiving week. I have had the opportunity to see his Songbook show at Flynn Center. The show at Flynn Center was both, phenomenal and eerie. You can clearly hear his voice along with the acoustic guitar echoing throughout the venue which gave me goosebumps. If you listen to this album thoroughly, you will get goosebumps and if you are lying on your bed at night, it would sing you to sleep. Chris Cornell performed songs from his entire career including Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and Audioslave numbers as well as his solo songs and covers. Essential tracks on this album are: "As Hope and Promises Fade", "Scar on the Sky", I Am the Highway", "Thank You (Led Zeppelin cover)", "Cleaning My Gun (new track)", "Fell on Black Days", "All Night Thing", "Doesn't Remind Me", "Black Hole Sun", "Imagine (John Lennon cover), and "The Keeper (new studio track)". This is a must have for all Soundgarden, Audioslave and Pearl Jam fans old and new.
I’m Stan Payne. I’m 36 years old and live in Middlebury, VT. I do photography for a living. I grew up with punk, hardcore, grunge and metal music. This year have been a good year for old school punk, hardcore, grunge and metal because of new releases and reissues. I have an incredible music collection and I am still expanding my vinyl record collection as well as CD’s. Thanks to Pure Pop. I personally think that vinyls sound a whole lot better than CD’s and MP3′s. Vinyls are still recorded in audiophile. CD’s today are getting “too loud” due to the “loudness” war and MP3′s usually sound “lossy” and horrible. Vinyls are slowly making a comeback.
Winter: James Blake, s/t What I remember most vividly of last winter: turning 30, my father's unexpected bypass surgery, and my grandmother dying. Throughout, there was the James Blake full-length. I should say: the timeline for this whole list is gonna be out of whack. Seasonally-themed free association bends the very space-time continuum, mmmmkay? So, however difficult it is for me to sequence music in order of preference, I can easily list the discs I have the most enduring memories of listening to. And I listened to James Blake more than anything else (see: Adam's iTunes). "James Blake" became the soundtrack to the hospital waiting room, recovery visits, final good-byes, yada yada. It's minimal enough to co-exist with strong emotions. Plus, it sounds great bumpin' on the stereo. Achingly tender when I needed that sort of thing.
Spring: Kurt Vile, Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Panda Bear These all came out in that short window when the VT winter enters magic hour and spring teases the shit out of us. Good tunes for cracking the car window for the first warm-ish breeze of the year. "Smoke Ring for My Halo" is disarmingly innocuous - as are "Belong" and "Tomboy" I suppose too. But the slouchy Americana of the former hit my pleasure button as thoroughly as the recreated 90's guitar heaviness and tinny skank of the latter two.
Summer: ARAABMUSIK, Clams Casino, The Weeknd I spend (read: piss away) money via iTunes. There, I said it. If I didn't hit up Pure Pop with the other 99% of my disposable income, I'd feel even shittier. Worst confession: I will buy the CD of an album I've already downloaded if I like it enough. Kinda like a respect thing. In the case of these three summer jamz, I LOVE LOVE LOVED being able to download them for free - with only a quick google search beforehand to boot. Without launching further into a messy attempt to connect Capitalism, pop consumption and our capacity to engage with a piece of music, I'll just say that I'm a sucker for thick low-end, atmospherics, and mid-tempo BPMs. Especially in the Summer. When I finally got around to getting a new car this past July, these three got major air time. Seasonal update: windows fully down, still sweating, FUCK air conditioning.
Fall: Zola Jesus, M83, Fucked Up Ahhhhh, Fall. What a pleasant autumn we had, am I right?? Good temperatures and none of that insufferable pressure from Summer to go outside and do shit. Forget that "David Comes to Life" came out in the Summer. I didn't get around to appreciating the grandeur of its riffage until Fall. I almost made a mix CD of every track in a different order but it's too damn long! The M83 on the other hand could be cut in two and still deliver the synth-riffage. I get the hi-highs and lo-lows critique on this one. But for me the whole thing is above sea level - with upper atmospheric highs. Hi there. Last year enough of my music friends raised my awareness of Zola Jesus that I wish I could put her eps on this list. The full length really works for me too, but I prefer the production of the eps. She could sing over an outtake from a "Stomp" rehearsal and I'd still dig it. #dontputyourmoneywhereyourmouthis
Winter again: The War on Drugs, Drake, Jamie xx Remember, in some cases my picks have to do with the release date more so than the way the album speaks for the season. Happy coincidences - absolute contingency. In other cases, I didn't get around to the album for a while. "Slave Ambient" falls into this category. It finally clicked on my recent visit to see my parents in Florida. Perfect for a flat stretch of southern highway, traversing the sprawl en route to the next cultural oasis. In Floriduh, it's a good thing the speed limit is 75. I wanted to make a snarky but defensive comment about how maybesortakinda they sound like Tom Petty. Then I remembered he's from Florida and I like him no matter. Boom! Free association. I hope I've not led anyone to believe I resent Winter. If that's the case and you live here, you've just won the Why-don't-you-do-something-about-it-and-MOVE-? award. Congrats! ;) Winter is for whiskey and "Take Care" goes well with whiskey. Insert wordplay using "smooth" as an apt descriptor here: _____. Still true. Further, I got nothing but love for someone who can nail his delivery with a mostly live band (maybe 50/50) on SNL without sounding like a live hip-hop act/the Roots on SNL. I tend to finish weakly so here: Jamie xx does great remixes and his solo ep is agile as fuck. Really looking forward to a full length if that's in the cards.
Hey, the calendar year begins and ends in the Wintertime. Sue me if I went a bit overboard with the seasonal approach. I’m a “right music for the present situation” type of guy. I like to dj in the car on trips (who doesn’t?) and pass music to my parents I think/hope they’ll enjoy. I still make mix CDs for driving around. I ended up running the sound for my sister’s wedding this Fall and snuck a Kurt Vile song into the playlist. Subtle. And when my fiancee completed the entire marathon, it was with the playlist I made for her shuffle. Inspirational.
That said, this year marked an odd migration to Florida by most of my family. Visiting there, as a native Vermonter, tends to highlight how synced I feel with regular seasonal change – change with a 90 degree swing, not the trifling matter of 90 and sunny versus 70 and sunny (possible exception: hurricanes – oh wait…) So for my first ever YearEnder List I went concept-heavy. There were other songs and albums I would rate as more innovative, challenging and provocative. I make no claims of originality with these choices – especially for my demographic. Nor do I have the time/will to mine for the hidden gems not yet trumpeted by the cool-hunters. Quite simply: these were the ones I’ve timestamped 2011.
Raspberry Bulbs – Nature Tries Again (Hospital Productions) One half of the legendary Bone Awl. Primitive metal/thrash/punk geared for bumming out mellows on the car ride to church.
Nâ Hawa Doumbia - La Grande Cantatrice Malienne Vol 3 (Awesome Tapes from Africa) Awesome Tapes from Africa’s 1st official release presents the gut busting voice of Southern Mali’s Na Hawa Doumbia. Recorded in 1982 with simple compositions and vocals that would make Sister Rosetta Tharpe swoon.
Co La – Daydream Repeater (NNA Tapes) HXC champagne and pixi stix cocktail for the ears. It’s like an audible Ferran Adrià dish with splashes of Phil Spector, Jamaican rocksteady and vintage porn that hits the senses from all angles. Pleasure.
Stare Case – Lose Today (De Stijl) John Olson and Nate Young (Wolf Eye’s Duh) slowly creep their bass grooves and drugged primitive blues through your noodle like a water, maple syrup, cayenne pepper body cleanse. Somehow, I hear lots of reggae in these recordings. Young keeps it locked down/Olson keeps it subtly spastic. Long form and infinitely unfolding.
James Ferraro – Far Side Virtual (Hippos In Tanks) “If you really want to understand Far Side, first off, listen to [Claude] Debussy, and secondly, go into a frozen yogurt shop. Afterwards, go into an Apple store and just fool around, hang out in there. Afterwards, go to Starbucks and get a gift card. They have a book there on the history of Starbucks-- buy this book and go home. If you do all these things you’ll understand what Far Side Virtual is-- because people kind of live in it already.” –James Ferraro
The Real Tuesday Weld - The Last Werewolf I was excited to here that Stephen Coates's grand "antique-beat" experiment, his caberet inspired, cocktail slathered electro-jazz band was releasing a new album in 2011. When I had first listened to "The Last Werewolf," I could see a chaotic episodic tale playing out in my head. The work is a concept album based off of Coates's close friend Glen Duncan's book bearing the same title. I was most pleased with the variety on this album. Cheers to such an innovative group.
Washed Out - Within and Without It's beautiful, incantatory, sexy, and yielding. Yes to this album.
St. Vincent - Strange Mercy The third release from Annie Clark has proved itself as promising as the previous. Strange Mercy, while not as chilling as some of St. Vincent's other work, is a well produced, well thought out, and all around well written album. Each track is very cohesive with one another. Another great endeavor.
Thurston Moore - Demolished Thoughts I can not quite get over NPR's comment on this album, "[it] unfolds like a graceful prayer," only because it really does. While we can mourn the death of Sonic Youth, I can definitely celebrate Moore's latest work for its lush sounds and transcendent melodies.
Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver It's just a good album. Listen to it.
Honorable mentions for 2011 include:
Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital
John Maus – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
Future Islands – On the Water
M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
My Morning Jacket – Circuital
Miracle Fortress – Was I the Wave?
Wye Oak – Civilian
I am a history and secondary education major at St. Michael’s College and I love to get my music fix at Pure Pop. Thank you all for your magnificent service and for pumping out such great works to the public this year.