2011: Favorites of the Year

This was going to be my top 10 favorite albums released in 2011, but it’s turned out to be 15.  And why not? Why does everybody always have to do top 10 lists? Top 15 lists are better. Really.

Here they are (in no particular order), with a sample track from each:

A Hidden Wholeness, by Luke Brindley
Technically, I think this album was released in 2010, but Brindley didn’t seem to do much promotion of it till 2011 and I didn’t discover it till then, so there you go. It’s interesting – I first heard of Luke Brindley about 10 years ago when his first 2 albums came out. I knew he was heavily influenced back then by Bruce Cockburn (and I first heard about him on a Cockburn discussion group).  I kind of forgot about him till a few months ago when I came across his name again and checked this new release out. I was surprised to hear how much he’s grown as a songwriter and he’s fully come into his own style and sound since those early albums.  This is a pretty excellent album, through and through.
“We Go Together”:

Impossible Spaces, by Sandro Perri
Coincidentally, this guy is a Toronto resident – which is a hop, skip and a jump through heavy traffic congestion and soul-less multi-lane expressways from me.  I haven’t seen him yet in concert, however.  His music is a genre-bending blend of electronica, soul, rock, and maybe even a little jazz here and there.  Some fresh sounds using familiar themes.
“How Will I”:

Arthur, by Daniel Tashian
The whole album is brilliant, as are his previous works- solo and with The Silver Seas- and his sideman work with Josh Rouse. I wish he’d do a concept album about the character in “Tigerlily”, with pirates, exotic lands, ocean voyages…

The Whole Love, by Wilco
The amazing Wilco just keeps putting out great albums, for over 15 years now. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a band that can walk the line between accessible and avant-garde so successfully – usually on the same album.  Adding Nels Cline on guitar a few years ago was the best thing that could have happened to Wilco. He gives their music a “mellifluous edge” that it benefits from so often. “Mellifluous edge”? Isn’t that the name of a Swedish diet drink?…
“Born Alone”:

The Ride of Our Lives EP, by Steve Robinson
I did a big post on 1980’s/1990’s Tampa Bay band The Headlights a few months ago.  Steve Robinson, of that great band, released a wistful poppy-folk/folky-pop EP in October.  Here’s some words on the EP from Steve’s blog: “Why record and release overly nostalgic songs addled with midlife rumination and introspection? Er, now I’m flummoxed…. well, I suppose because the alternative is to not do it, which is a rubbish alternative in my opinion. For men of a certain age it’s also cheaper and slightly less cheesy than buying a sports car.”  Not a bad overly nostalgic song in the batch, and the song “Riddles” is one that I keep returning to.

50 Words For Snow, by Kate Bush
This is very different than most of her past work to my ears in that it seems to be missing “sparks” and a certain wildness. I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way – it’s just a very calm, composed record. It sounds similar to the mood of “Director’s Cut” from earlier in the year. It’s interesting how her first couple of albums were very piano-based and now she’s come back to that very sparsely accompanied piano-based sound, with 30+ years of life experience behind her. As a result, it’s the work of a mature, focused, well-adjusted woman – as opposed to the hyper-kinetic acrobatics of her early albums.  I do really find her son’s voice on the song “Snowflake” quite irritating, however. But, I like the rest of the album a lot!
“Among Angels”:

Demolished Thoughts, by Thurston Moore
Sonic folk music, from the co-founder of Sonic Youth.  There’s a lot of songcraft here, and a lot of aching and longing in the lyrics and music – a definite vulnerability one might not expect from Moore.  In retrospect, a lot of the songs are probably directly or indirectly about his disintegrating relationship with Kim Gordon, which resulted in their separation not long after the album’s release.  Yet, it’s not a depressing album, though there’s some some darkness in it for sure.  The intricacies of the songs and the interplay between Moore’s acoustic guitar and Samara Lubelski’s violin make it much more adventurous than your stereotypical “folk” album.

Street of the Love of Days, by Amor De Dias
This is much more gentle folk-influenced music than Thurston Moore’s album.  However, it mixes elements of bossa nova and shimmering, hazy dream-pop into the rustic ruminations, and all the guitar parts are played on nylon string guitars (which is pretty unusual for any band, other than a flamenco one…).  Male and female vocals guide the songs on their journeys.  Ear candy mellowness.
“Street of the Love of Days”:

Keren Ann 101, by Keren Ann
A more “contemporary cosmopolitan” sound finds it’s way onto Keren Ann’s latest release.  Though, she’s been gradually moving away from her 1960’s-folk-influenced roots for the last few albums. Luckily, there’s still acoustic guitars and smoky mystery on some of the songs on “101” because she does that sound so well. Not sure what’s goin’ on with her hair – it’s short on the cover and on the song’s video. Yet, soon after, pictures showed her back to her luxurious long locks. Wig?
“My Name is Trouble”:

What’s It All About, by Pat Metheny
This is the third all-acoustic solo album Metheny’s given us in the past 10 or so years.  All are fairly zen-like, contemplative collections, and this one’s no different (which is a good thing!).  This one is different because it’s all covers of 1960’s and early 1970’s pop songs that made an impression on Metheny in his youth.  There are some brilliant interpretations on this record, though I’m not sure if his dark, brooding take on “Garota de Ipanema” (“The Girl From Ipanema”) works very well.  I had trouble choosing between “The Sound of Silence” and “Cherish” for inclusion here. So, here’s a Youtube link to the album version of “The Sound of Silence” (on the 42 string Pikasso guitar, no less!) and here’s-

Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, by Steve Hackett
I wavered between including it on my list or not, but decided to, even though it suffers from the same thing most of his albums do – it’s inconsistent.  There’s some great stuff and some mediocre stuff – and he’s repeating himself a bit. He’s done some of what’s on this new album in slightly different guises on past albums. However, I did find myself warming up to the album more and more and I like more than half of the songs on the 2 disc version – so, rearranged and edited, I could construct an album that would be perfect for my tastes!  Nice album art in this package, too. This is one of the instrumentals-
“She Said Maybe”:

Dive, by Tycho
Tycho (besides being a crater on the moon), is the alias for a San Francisco graphic artist and electronic musician named Scott Hansen.  “Dive” is awash with oceans of synthesizers, a sun-bleached neo-paradise of color.  A cocoon of sound to dive into (pun intended) and swim around in.
“Coastal Brake”:

Johnny Boy Would Love This: A Tribute to John Martyn, by Various Artists
The “big man” died a couple of years ago now, though with his lifestyle most were surprised he made it as far as he did. John Martyn’s music has had a big impact on me, and his wealth of material (especially his 1970’s releases) has enriched my life.  I know that sounds kind of grandiose, but it’s true.  So, even though his posthumously released final album was a disappointment for me, this 2 cd collection of cover songs recorded in tribute is not.  There’s some great stuff here, from Beck’s “Stormbringer” to Robert Smith of The Cure’s “Small Hours” to Vetiver, Beth Orton, etc.
David Gray’s cover of  the very early Martyn song “Let the Good Things Come” really takes the song to whole other level, with it’s eerie pagan-sounding wurlitzer and melodica making the song a bit darker than the original, but no less powerful.
“Let the Good Things Come”, covered by David Gray:

Trainsongs: Guitar Compositions 1967-2010, by Michael Chapman
For someone who just turned 70, guitarist/singer Chapman’s been more busy the last few years than many artists half his age.  In the last 2 years, he’s released two albums of all  new recordings (one an epic guitar improvisational LP on Thurston Moore’s record label), a collaboration with two other musicians called “Blue Season”, the here-noted “Trainsongs” which is a collection of some of his best instrumentals of the last 43 years (many re-recorded for this cd, as well as some new ones), and a re-release of his classic 1970 Lp “Fully Qualified Survivor”.  In the liner notes, Chapman says of the below track, “La Madrugada”: “This began in Trentino, Northern Italy, I took my guitar in to a 14th century church and was playing to the sound of the building. They threw me out. I said I was playing for God just in case there was one. I did some more in a church in Ronda, Southern Spain and finished it somewhere on the Mexican border in yet another church.”
“La Madrugada”:

Another Dead End EP, by Mark McGuire
(It’s kinda small to see, but that’s a dog rolling around in the grass…yeah, I don’t understand the album cover either…)  This was a late discovery for me, just a week or so ago.  I read a review of a compilation of his works called “The Young Person’s Guide to Mark McGuire” and came upon this free EP of his on Soundcloud.  He’s a 25 year old guitarist forging some new directions with tape loops and delay and other effects, yet he also has a gift for melody. Apparently, he also plays in band called Emeralds.  Between his solo releases and Emeralds, I’ve got some new explorations to make in 2012!
“The Body in Question”:


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