10 min read

Best music of 2011

This best of list has taken time to compile, all year I guess, and some of fallen off as the year has moved on, as it should be. I still need to put up slicks to look at and sample tracks to listen to, but I haven’t had the time or motivation, so until then Now that I’ve gotten the slicks and sample tracks all lined up, here are the ones that I think are the best from 2011. (and congrats to PJ on winning the Mercury prize…again)

Adele “21” This may feel a bit outside of most of my pics, but the best comment I’ve read about this is here, it says, “Many people will say “overplayed, mainstream schlock” when I list this album. Well, those people can eat it. Adele simply has an amazing voice and this album has two songs that slay me – Lovesong, one of the best Cure covers ever and Someone Like You, which almost always makes my heart hit the floor whenever I hear it. If you can’t get over yourself and appreciate a truly gifted singer, then you’re missing out.” So ya, you’ve heard her, you either like her or not, but you can’t deny her talent. I don’t think I would have completely fallen for her if not for Scott, so thanks again, you get credit bud, as usual!

Beastie Boys “Hot Sauce Committee Part 2” the long awaited return yeilds a come back of sorts, with a strong effort, wish they would tour more, but as long as they keep putting out stuff like this, I’m fine. A return to form that is still fun to hear after all these years. Listening to Listened to Ill all those years ago never prepared me for what they had in store all these years later (I can’t imagine they did either). 

BOAT “Dress Like Your Idols” this one is just plain fun, the low fi approach seems to be their tack, but here it’s more on style instead of sound. It works, and it’s fun, I like this. 

Boris “Heavy Rocks” yes, they do, and this mostly instrumental sludge rock from Japan is their best effort since their watermark “Pink”. They’ve had two other releases this year, both going in a more pop, less abrasive direction, will be interesting to see where it takes them. This is a band I would really love to see live one day. 

Jimmy Cliff “Sacred Fire EP” the quick back-story on this, reggae legend Jimmy Cliff (63 years young) recorded his new album with Tim Armstrong of Rancid producing, and that is due out March 2012. This EP was put out for the black Friday Record Store Day promotion as a teaser, but it contains b-sides including covers of The Clash’s “The Guns of Brixton” (a song where they namecheck Cliff’s’ role in the 70s movie, and subsequent album, The Harder They Come), Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and even a Rancid cover, the already reggae sounding “Rudy Soho”. In every case Cliff makes the song his own, with more successes than not on this short sampler. This really makes me excited for his new release, he seems to be ready to really take on anything, hopefully proper tour too! Here’s his Rancid cover, ‘Rudy Soho’, which is just so much fun! and his version of The Clash’s ‘Guns of Brixton’

PJ Harvey “Let England Shake” if you know me you know I love PJ, I have since her first release and first saw her live in Chicago in 1991. She’s a true artis who has changed direction and style over the years without caring for musical trends. This one had to grow on me, now I put it in with her top 4 best (with “Is This Desire?” still at #1). This release won her the Mercury Prize, which she won previously for 2001’s “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea”. She is the only person to ever win it twice. Awesome.

**Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit “Here We Rest” **some beautiful songs and tons of variety highlight this singer-songwriter’s latest effort. I’m lacking on any earlier stuff from him, but if this is any indication, I’m going to have to checkout more. He’s opening for Ryan Adams in January in St. Louis, and I’m still on the fence about going to that one…we’ll see. Of course I have to give credit to Amada Shires, who besides participating in his touring band, has tweeted about him so much that I had to give him some attention. 

Jeff The Brotherhood “We Are The Champions” this one snuck up on my while I browsed the racks at Euclid Records by my house. After 20 mins I had to ask who it was, and they told me it was a band from Nashville called Jeff The Brotherhood. Such fun stuff, sometimes grungy, sometimes with a Ramones streak, this album is a ton of fun. In this live clip I think you’ll agree, the fog machine is warranted!

Lykke Li “Wounded Ryhmes” a step up from her brilliant debut release, I suspect her voice is a barrier for some, but give her work a chance, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Most of her songs are this delicate, and build up slowly. She has an almost PJ quality if I do say so, and that’s always recommended. Looking forward to seeing how she changes in the future. 

Mogwai “Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will” not their strongest release, but like their previous release, “The Hawk is Howling”, this really grew on me. They take a side step using some different elements here, some electronics which worried me, but in the end** it’s still Mogwai, and I love it**. Also, this album has to be on of the best titles ever, it’s almost tattoo worthy :)

Radiohead “King of Limbs” / Radiohead “TKOL RMX 1234567” so another year, another amazing Radiohead release. I don’t know how they do it, but they do, I always fall for their stuff, regardless of the stylistic changes they force upon us. I put TKOL RMX in there too, because while it’s a double CD of remixes of all of the King of Limbs songs, I still listen to it almost as much as the proper album. That’s never happened with a remix CD, and it took me completely by surprise. They’re also releasing a DVD of their performance of this on From the Basement, so look for that, and I’ll be seeing them playing live again in March - cannot wait!

Chuck Ragan “Covering Ground” all I knew about Chuck Ragan before I saw him was that he was formerly of Hot Water Music and he was a singer-songwriter. That he was opening for Social Distortion gave me pause, but I assumed Mike Ness knew what he was doing when he picked him as an opener, and wow, did he ever. The three piece came on after a loud, poppy fun set from UK’s Sharks (see below) with acoustic guitar, standup bass and fiddle to floor us with songs that I loved on the first listen. The fact that the bassist and fiddler knew their craft helped too, sure, but his songs, his stories, are very strong. This live performance of ‘Nomad By Fate’ says it all, just killer.

Sharks “The Joys of Living 2008-2010” so, as I just mentioned, the UK band Sharks opened the Social Distortion show, and it was definitely more in line with what I was expecting, but much, much better too. Pop, punk, with newer sounding Clash style hooks were just perfect. I bought their CD and a t shirt from them, the CD turned out to be a collection of their EPs, but it stands as a solid disk and does not sound like a young band at all. By the way, this is by far the disk I listened to most last year. Their first full player will be out in March, I know they’ve been touring with SocD some more, but they aren’t hitting St. Louis on this leg. I’m looking for them to do a headlining stop here, here’s hoping! So here’s Sharks ‘The Light at the End of the Tunnel is Hell’

Social Distortion “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes” yes, yes, so here we are, SocialD, as mentioned a few times above now, put on a great show, as always, that was just a topper for a great night of music. I’ve dug SocialD back in the late 80s, and while their sound has… matured, they show live that they still have it. And by they I mean Mike Ness, really the only long time member, but the main writer the whole time, so that counts. I wouldn’t put this disc up there with oldies like “Prison Bounnd” or “Mommy’s Little Monster”, but it’s damn good, and their best effort in many years.

Amanda Shires “Carrying Lightning” I can’t remember where I came across Amanda Shires, but it was the video for ‘When You Need a Train It Never Comes’ that I saw first, and I was hooked right away. Her songs are so…sincere, and the stories and pictures they sketch0out are so…relate-able. I quickly got her CD after rolling through this video countless times, and I was really happy to see that this was it was equally as engaging. I love this song, and it’s just a great video.

Meanwhile she did a solo version of ‘Swimmer’, the track that kicks off the album, and it gives you a feel for her raw talent. So great, really hope she tours more and makes a St. Louis stop. Wonder if she’s playing with Jason Isbell in January?

Skrillex “More Monsters And Sprites” this kid can write some songs, it re-awakens my love of electronic music since Amon Tobin’s groundbreaking first few releases. That’s not to compare the styles; Skillex’s dubstep sound will never be seen as old genre, this feels cutting edge, and is as exciting and rush inducing as a heart attack (I imagine). My friend Scott commented that some of it sounded like the Transformers movie with the beasts walking down the street, and I see that - it fits. Also, I’m a big fan of tempo changes, and when this on this one changes, hold on!

Wild Flag “Wild Flag” yep, I miss Sleater-Kinney, and hope they reform sometime in the future, but for now 2/3 of them are doing this, and Carrie just seems so much more ‘out there’ and comfortable, it’s a joy. Most of the songs have a much more angluar, sharp feel to them, but the chorus still takes me back to S-K, so it feels new, but instantly familiar at the same time. I was jealous when they were playing live for SXSW this year, I missed out, and they made no St. Louis stop (BOOO!) but they sure looked like they were having fun. This video tells the story better than I do, they look like they’re having a blast, and just rawking out.

So what do you think? What did I miss that you couldn’t live without this year? Also, at this time I’d like to again shamelessly plug my favorite local record shop, Euclid Records in St. Louis, which is just a 5 minute walk from my house (coincidence? :)) Thanks to Joe and crew for being there, offering a sanctuary for us music freaks, and the perfect place for the annual Record Store Day holiday!