Thursday, December 22, 2011

My fave albums of 2011

Here's a paradox for you: The better an album is, the less I listen to it. In making a list of my favorite albums of 2011, I can easily identify the best records of the year by the one's I've listened to the least. They're the albums I most want to savor and so, to make each listen a special experience, I ration how often I listen rather than overdose on them. That's certainly true of my top 10 fave albums of the year, which I've listed below. (Only studio albums released in 2011 qualify for the list which is why great live albums such as Jeff Beck's Rock 'n' Roll Party and Gary Moore's Live at Montreux 2010 didn't make the cut.)

In compiling my wholly subjective list, I must stress that only the top 20 or so albums fit roughly into an order of preference. After that, the rest of the list is haphazardly arranged. After all, it's difficult to truly scale an order of ranking between albums of such disparate genres. Indeed, my list spans genres including indie rock, blues, world music, electronica, progressive rock, metal, folk, and Americana.

I'm sure my list of fave albums has gaps in it. because there are doubtless many great albums that I haven't heard. That's not for lack of trying. I'm constantly seeking out new music by listening to albums sent by publicists, reading music reviews by great music journalists—some of whom I am proud to call my friends—such as The Guardian's Alexis Petridis (@alexispetridis), The Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot (@gregkot), Rolling Stone's Simon Vozick-Levinson (@simonwilliam), Under the Radar's Laura Studarus (@laura_studarus), Laura Ferreiro (@Lauralista), The Wall Street Journal's Jim Fusilli (@wsjrock) and Innerviews' Anil Prasad (@innerviews). I also rely on the great counsel of my old friend and music guru, Simon Gort. (Follow Simon on Twitter at @sgort100.)

For Christmas, my friend Simon gave me Amplifier's rock epic The Octopus and it is a late entry into my list. He also sent me Apparat's The Devil's Walk after I expressed how much I loved a track on it called "Escape." I haven't had time to listen to it, yet, so it's not in my top 50 list. There are many albums released this year that I've only heard parts of, or given a cursory listen on Spotify, and wish I could delve into further, including:

tUnE-yArDs—whokill, Tom Waits—Bad as Me, Bass Communion—Cenotaph, Rival Sons—Pressure and Time, Ryan Adams—Ashes & Fire, Jimmie Vaughan—Plays More Blues, Ballads and Favorites, Ry Cooder—Pull Up Some Dust, Necro Deathmort—Music of Bleak Origin, Eddie Vedder—Ukelele Songs, Steve Cropper—Dedicated, Wye Oak—Civilian.

So much great music, so little time.

Ok, enough preamble.


1. Steven Wilson—Grace for Drowning

Though he is best known as the leader of the British band Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson’s extracurricular activities include the art-rock group No-Man, the pop-rock band Blackfield, the Krautrock of I.E.M., and the minimalist drone electronica of Bass Communion. On his second solo record, the prolific polymath combines his disparate music personalities to forge a sound uniquely his own. Over the course of the double album, Wilson draws on textural electronica, piano balladry, trip-hop, soundtrack-like soundscapes, doom rock, and eastern-tonality jazz to create eargasmic melodies. The subject matter of the songs ranges from the gravitational collapse of a relationship ("No Part of Me"), to the onset of paranoid depression ("Remainder the Black Dog"), to the story of a home invasion that doesn't end well for a family ("Raider II"). In short, it's an album so dark and ambitious it would give Trent Reznor whiplash. On Grace for Drowning, Wilson reaches musical and emotional planes most artists don't know exist.

2. PJ Harvey—Let England Shake
3. Fleet Foxes—Helplessness Blues
4. Opeth—Heritage
5. St. Vincent—Strange Mercy
6. Kate Bush—50 Words for Snow
7. King Creosote & Jon Hopkins—Diamond Mine
8. Paul Simon—So Beautiful or So What
9. Elbow—Build a Rocket Boys!
10. John Wesley—The Lilypad Suite
11. Radiohead—The King of Limbs
12. TV on the Radio—Nine Types of Light
13. Laura Marling—A Creature I Don't Know
12. Washed Out—Within and Without
13. The Waterboys—An Appointment with Mr. Yeats
14. Low—C'mon
15. Gregg Allman—Low Country Blues
16. The Black Keys—El Camino
17. Joe Bonamassa—Dust Bowl
18. I Break Horses—Hearts 
19. Kate Bush—Director's Cut 
20. Alison Krauss & Union Station—Paper Airplane
21. Tinariwen—Tasili
22. The Civil Wars—Barton Hollow 
23: The Horrors—Skying
24. Peter Gabriel—New Blood
25. Feist—Metals
26. Blackfield—Welcome to My DNA
27. Evanescence—Evanescence 
28. Pajama Club—Pajama Club
29. Lanterns on the Lake—Gracious Tide Take Me Home 
30. Robbie Robertson—How to Become Clairvoyant
31. Foo Fighters—Wasting Light
32. Amplifier—The Octopus 
33. Black Country Communion—Black Country Communion II
34. Liam Finn—FOMO
35. Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara—In Trance
36. R.E.M—Collapse Into Now 
37. Joy Formidable—The Big Roar
38. Eilen Jewell—Queen of the Minor Key
39. City and Color—Little Hell
40. Henrik Freischlader—Still Frame Replay 
41. M83—Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
42. Tim Hecker—Ravedeath 1972
43. Bon Iver—Bon Iver
44. Chickenfoot—Chickenfoot III
45: Joseph Arthur—Graduation Ceremony 
46. John Martyn—Heaven and Earth
47. Joe Bonamassa & Beth Hart—Don't Explain
48. Chris Isaak—Beyond the Sun
49. Iron & Wine—Kiss Each Other Clean
50. Yes—Fly from Here 

A few other thoughts and observations about the year in music...
It started horribly. On February 6, my all-time favorite guitarist Gary Moore died of natural causes in his sleep at the age of 58. I've expressed what a terrible loss this premature death was to the music world elsewhere in my blog. I don't anticipate too many posthumous Gary Moore releases from here on other than the re-releases of several old concert videos on DVD and Blu-Ray. Though Gary was working on a new blues album at the time of his death, he had only created a few demos. A concurrent project he was also demoing was a return to the celtic-rock style he first played on Thin Lizzy's Black Rose (which was re-released this year with a bonus disc of unheard material) and mastered on great albums such as 1987's Wild Frontier and 1989's After the War. Half a year before his passing, Gary played a European tour of music from those albums and the set included three new songs. Fortunately, an album and DVD of the tour, Live at Montreux 2010, captured those superb new songs for posterity and left us with a fitting reminder of Moore's unparalleled diversity of musical styles and his peerless emotional guitar playing.

    This past year, I found myself craving more roots and boogie music. I've been feeding this musical side of me by listening to the likes of Little Feat, Taj Mahal, John Hammond Jr., and Jimmie Vaughan. I've been getting my fill of that sort of music every week by my favorite DJ, Chris "Rock Professor" Prior in South Africa. Download the podcast of his weekly radio show at:

In all, a good year for music for my ears. I hope it's been a good music year for you, too.

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