As records are released during the year my husband and I occasionally mention which ones will make our “year end lists.” I tend to choose those that spent the most time in my car cd player or clocked the most plays on my iPod (although if that were completely true “Yo Gabba Gabba Music is Awesome Volume 3” would be number one). Here are my ten favorites of the year. Records by Wild Flag, Eastern Conference Champions, Miranda Lambert, Klaxons and Jessica Lea Mayfield are honorable mentions and many on my list of local releases are right up there too. Of course, you’re always late to the party on some. I just got Lykke Li’s “Wounded Rhymes” and suspect, although we’ve only spun it twice, that it might become a fast favorite.
Lists are fun, but they’re subjective. Feel free to let us know what made your 2011 bests in the comments section.
Van Hunt “What Were You Hoping For” - An exciting marriage of funk, garage rock, and soul described to me rather fittingly by the soul singer-songwriter as “concrete steps that lead up to these atonal clouds and in those clouds there’s this metal spaceship that’s sticking out at certain points in the clouds” - this release was at once futuristic and retro like the merger of Sly Stone, Lenny Kravitz, and Prince back when his output was delightfully weird yet still big on the charts.
Lydia Loveless “Indestructible Machine” - This young sassy Ohio singer-songwriter vocally sounds like a twangier, more upbeat Neko Case. She writes funny, sometimes heart tugging songs about drinking and making the wrong decisions while struggling to improve. She’s back in Charlotte at the Double Door February 2 with Scott Biram.
Phantogram “Nightlife” - Electronic indie-rock that’s not the least bit cold. It’s dreamy and dark with interesting beats and the alternating male and female vocals as if the Cocteau Twins collaborated with M83 or Milemarker (if anyone remembers that band, who I also adored). This is one of those discs that sits in the car for days spinning over and over, but at six songs it’s just too short.
My Morning Jacket “Circuital” - Every once in a while an album captures a pocket of time. I first heard the songs from “Circuital” while trudging across the grass at Bonnaroo and listening to the album takes me back to our first post-second baby (working) vacation. I can imagine the blue lights from the stage and feel the air getting cool. Plus, it’s just a consistent album from a band I seem to like more and more with each record.
The Knux “Eraser” - Not since Outkast has a hip-hop duo blurred the lines between rap, punk, pop, soul, and garage rock we all as these New Orleans-raised brothers. With growling guitars and electronic beats, it reminds me of early `80s MTV when genres weren’t as defined yet remains a contemporary peer of acts like Kid Cudi (who guests on one song) and Lupe Fiasco.
Mates of State “Mountaintops” - Though I’ve followed this keyboard and drums duo for a decade and have always found plenty of songs I like on their releases, “Mountaintops” pushes what I liked about them a step further. The production softens all its sharp edges, which adds to the musical marrieds’ overall appeal. Not technically easy listening (it’s still rock), but it’s the easiest listen all year.
Dum Dum Girls “Only in Dreams” and “He Gets Me High” EP - I can’t choose between the EP released earlier this year and the full-length album released this fall. Knowing that band leader Dee Dee Penny lost her mother to cancer between writing these records gives the songs on “Dreams” added weight. But the hook-laden calm before the storm of “High” is delicious in its pop brilliance. Still, the full album’s deep, personal meaning is hard to match.
Foo Fighters “Wasting Light” - Seeing this band live reaffirms the strength of its albums and its show at Time Warner Cable Arena in November reminded me of how consistent “Wasting Light” is. I’m never longing to just hear the *old hits. It’s a consistent rock record from start to finish and I like that they do straight ahead guitar rock at a time when most everything is a conglomeration of styles.
Anthrax “Worship Music” - Joey Belladonna returned and the thrash veterans enjoyed a much heralded comeback, which included a killer performance at The Fillmore. The production (recorded partly in analog and not compressed to death) sets the bar high as Anthrax accomplishes the unthinkable by releasing a career defining album thirty years into its run. The group’s tour with Death Angel and Testament stops at The Orange Peel in Asheville January 30.
Coldplay “Mylo Xyloto” - Although I liked its first single “Yellow,” it took years and seeing them live for Coldplay to really grow on me (I especially like drummer Will Champion’s inventive playing and personality). I’ve enjoy each release better than the last and although this is a rather different album for the British rock giants, it’s oddly enough easily my favorite.