Sunday, December 18, 2011

All Around Sound's Favorite Albums of 2011

This year I got more in sync with music than I think I ever did, with follow ups from established acts like Blind Pilot, Bon Iver, and Feist, the majority of my favorite came from bands and artists I had little to no knowledge to in years prior (with some noteable exceptions). Below are some of my favorite releases of this year that I feel really took the concept of an album to heart.

Despite my fastidious allegiance to the format of an album as a means to tell a story, there comes a time when an album can just be a collection of songs and still be okay in my book. This works in the case of BELL’s debut album DIAMONITE based on the cohesive nature of the tracks. Each of Olga Bell’s tracks contain a similar quality that makes them fit together like perfect puzzle pieces and even when she goes off in zany unexpected directions, like the folksy interlude in “Charlie”, they manage to remain a part of the sound and feel of her other songs. Those random moments where she zigs instead of zags breathe life into the album and keep things from getting too stale (not that they were all that much of danger of that to begin with).

8) The Head and the HeartThe Head and the Heart
The Seattle sextet’s debut album has all the making of a great album, that I was kind of surprised not to find it on more best of lists. From the slowly unfurling intro of “Cats and Dogs” that incorporates each member of the ensemble before a heartwarmingly grand unified tutti moment, to how that track leads directly into “Coeur D’alene” there’s no shortage of great musical moments. There’s a wealth of talent contained within the band’s ranks and on the debut each member gets their moment- violinist Charity Rose Thielen often sneaking up on you with brazenly soulful solos that manages to surprise you no matter how much you listen, guitarists/vocalists Jonathan Russell and Josiah Johnson trading off seamlessly, and Kenny Hensley mind-bending piano chops. It all comes together into The Head and the Heart’s folk pop gumbo alongside a smorgasbord of resonating lyricism that doesn’t try too hard.
 The Head and the Heart - Lost In My Mind by subpop

7) North HighlandsWild One
There’s a major different between a lot of the albums on my list and North Highlands’. The wide majority of them made an impact due to stellar lyricism, North Highlands didn’t do and that’s fine. Wild One is an example of a more “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” approach that doesn’t get nearly enough love. Brenda Malvini’s delivery is part of what makes Wild One such a treat. Repeated lyrics empowered like a command or chant and no matter how many times she repeats a phrase or word – it doesn’t get old. But Malvini’s isn’t the band and it’s due to the effort of the whole that Wild One is the success it is. The group’s playing is tight and diverse, swaggering and bustling to create an enjoyable romp that lasts the whole album – even in downbeat numbers like “Fre$ca” and “Best Part”. North Highlands might keep you emotionally at arm’s length but in doing so they make sure you have plenty of space to listen and more importantly to dance.

6) Marissa NadlerMarissa Nadler
Considering how recently I got into Marissa Nadler’s latest album, her self-titled sixth, it’s kind of surprising that the album can be one of my favorites of the year and yet it is. Marissa Nadler has managed to positively consume my life from the first listen, no doubt due to Nadler’s crystalline vocals, delicate intricate arrangements resulting from Nadler’s arresting attention to detail, and poetic storytelling.

5) Laura MarlingA Creature I Don’t Know
While a bit of a far-cry from her sophomore I Speak Because I Can in terms of emotional intensity and rich moving narrative, Laura Marling continued with her more mature, less conventional songwriting style that revolved around a single driving theme. While I Speak focused on responsibility and womanly duty, A Creature I Don’t Know explored the intense dark emotions that her previous album mostly hinted at. And while album centerpiece “The Beast” falls a bit flat (or needs more time to properly digest), Marling still manages to put together a stunning batch of songs that work exceptionally well together. Marling’s most remarkable tracks are in fact the ones with seemingly the least amount to say “Don’t Ask Me Why”, “Salinas”, and “Sophia”. Rather than trying to drive home her themes like “The Beast” or “All My Rage”, the other songs are small peeks into the mind and psyche of Marling’s characters. While it’s never quite explained why they do what they do, that’s somehow okay. With the exception of “My Friends”, Marling doesn’t ever try to make them accountable for their actions merely to present them in a rich and engaging manner in which she earnestly succeeds.
 Laura Marling - Sophia by ListenBeforeYouBuy

4) Sondre LercheSondre Lerche
Every time Sondre Lerche reemerges from a recording-related hibernation I know the result is going to be something special and dear to my heart. Sondre Lerche’s eponymous sixth album was no different. While not quite as near or dear as Heartbeat Radio (most likely due to the time I’ve spent with the latter), Lerche certainly brings his a-game and manages to both Lerche’s jazzy-pop rock stylings and also tread new ground. It’s an album brimming with brilliant songcraft and arrangements but also Lerche’s exceptional lyricism. On his self-titled, Lerche combines elements from his previous albums like Phantom Punch’s hard rock fizz but takes things to riskier level when Lerche steps out of his comfort zone of singing pseudo-confessional type songs and embraces a broader songwriting style that still manages to sound personal and engaging.
 Go Right Ahead by sondrelerche

3) Anna Calvi Anna Calvi
Anna Calvi’s self-titled debut beginning strains transports you to a smoky, dark cabaret club and there you remain until “Love Won’t Be Leaving” fades out gingerly. Anna Calvi lays all the cards out on the table: ninety percent of the album’s songs are about sex or of a sexual nature (“No More Words”, “Desire”, “First We Kiss”) and yet Anna Calvi presents it in such a classy refined manner that you can both relate and appreciate and enthusiastically share with others. Her passion is felt more than stated, her vocals practically exploding from her at precise the perfect time to make its effects most immediate. While Calvi’s exploration of the primal is nothing new, both Wild Beasts and Laura Marling releasing albums doing that same thing this same year, what catches is Calvi’s total allegiance to the world she creates in her exploration of sounds and textures.
 Anna Calvi 'Anna Calvi' by Anna Calvi

2) Fleet FoxesHelplessness Blues
I could go on and on about how Fleet Foxes almost didn’t release this album and how we’re all lucky to be able to it and that’d be true. But Robin Pecknold’s neurotic perfectionism has resulted in one of the single most beautiful albums of the year. If an album has a weak track or two, that’s expected and not really cause for alarm but what do you do when an each and every track on an album is utter perfection? It’s something to be celebrated. That’s no easy feat and Fleet Foxes have managed to do this on their sophomore record and with an effortlessness that belies the frustration its member most likely felt making it.
 Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues by subpop

1) ARMSSummer Skills
In a year where I found several eagerly anticipated follow up albums to be flops, ARMS is one of the few bands that not only delivered but exceeded all my wildest expectations. Summer Skills, with its supernatural break up album concept, delivered not only a boldly innovative idea but presented it in a way that was exceptionally mindful of itself and charmingly catchy. Todd Goldstein achieves an elegant balance between grizzly detail and imagination-fuelling vagueness in his songwriting that only helps to enrich the album’s miscellaneous stories. Each song pits the two main characters in a new predicament which Todd Goldstein’s deft songwriting and the band’s startlingly precision underscore and navigate you through. Summer Skills is labyrinthine and yet wholly accessible, an album with nearly as many instantaneous rewards as its hidden treasures.

Honorable Mentions:
The Antlers - Burst Apart 
Caveman - CoCo Beware 
The Deloreans - "American Craze"
Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers - On Being
The Dodos - No Color 
Left With Pictures - In Time 
tUnE-yArDs - W H O K I L L

No comments:

Post a Comment