It is that time of year when Top 10 Album lists are starting to pop up, and, as I read them, I inevitably think about what were my top 10. These are my favorites of the year. The ones I listened to over and over and have made a lasting impact (so far, at least)
10) The Old Dudes
Okay, cheating a little here, right off the bat. But I love the following three albums and listened to them a ton since their release
- Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet On Sky
- Bob Mould – Silver Age
- Rush – Clockwork Angels
I wasn’t surprised that Rush or Dinosaur Jr. put out such great albums this year.
I’ve been a Rush fan since my early teens, and it is hard for me to be musically objective when it comes to them. Each new album is an event for me. As is each new tour. Since Rush returned from their five year hiatus with Vapor Trails in 2002, they’ve put out some of the strongest work of their career. CA may be the best of that bunch. If you hate Rush, you probably aren’t going to like it, but if you’ve been a fan of any era, give it a listen.
I loved Dinosaur Jr. front man J. Mascis’s Several Shades of Why solo album last year. Hearing him perform at Hopscotch in the fall of 2011 was one of my favorite musical moments of that year. So I wasn’t surprised that the return of Dinosaur Jr. would be anything less than great. In many ways I like this current stuff even better than the old stuff.
The big surprise for me was Mould’s Silver Age. I finally had lost interest in following Mould after 2002’s Modulate album, which I didn’t care for. But signing with Merge, re-releasing Sugar’s excellent Copper Blue (and performing it live for a time), and the release of Silver Age, all got me to start paying attention again. Silver Age really reminds me of that Copper Blue-era Mould that I loved so much. And it really makes me want to see him live (would love to see him make an appearance at Hopscotch in the future).
9) Sharon van Etten – Tramp
SVE’s first album, Epic, has been a favorite of mine for the last couple of years. As such, I was very much anticipating Tramp, especially given the strength of the “Serpents” track that was released before the album dropped. This album is nearly as strong as Epic, although it doesn’t break a lot of new ground. That isn’t a bad thing, but I’m reminded of similar great second albums that live in the shadow of the first. It sure beats the more typical sophomore slump.
8) Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits
Spoon has been one of my favorite bands of the last decade or so, so when I heard about Divine Fits, a supergroup led by Spoon’s Britt Daniel, I was curious. It is an interesting album, that I liked well enough to land in my top 10, but don’t like quite as much as most Spoon albums (which usually end up near the top of my lists).
7) Field Report – Field Report
Fans of Bon Iver and Megafaun know that there used to be this band called DeYarmond Edison in Wisconsin that had as members Megafaun’s Cook brothers and Joe Westerlund, Bon Iver’s genius Justin Vernon, and a guy named Chris Porterfield. All but Porterfield moved to the Triangle (here in North Carolina), eventually to break up and give us Megafaun and Bon Iver. Porterfield, meanwhile, eventually formed Field Report.
I only knew the history, not the music, when the band came to Raleigh for Hopscotch. I enjoyed what I saw of their set (which I managed to squeak in between heavy metal Pallbearer and a heavy metal covers show by Mountain Goats). When I finally heard the album after the festival, it quickly became one of my favorites of the year. Just beautiful. Check it out, it is one of those on my list that I think would have a widespread appeal.
6) Woods – Bend Beyond
Don’t really have that much to say about this one. I kept seeing stuff about Woods, but for some reason never explored their music. Finally decided to check them out and kept finding this one in regular rotation. Great harmonies, beautiful layered music. What is there not to like?
5) Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Probably the most fun album on the list. Just good, straightforward garage-y, noise-y, indie rock.
4) Jack White – Blunderbuss
As a White Stripes fan, I was a bit sad when Jack and Meg went their separate ways. I figured it was just a matter of time before we got a Jack White solo record. Blunderbuss should appeal to almost all Stripes fans, but it also is a step forward with a fuller sound than just Jack and Meg could create. A great start to a solo career.
3) Grizzly Bear – Shields
Some of my favorite songs of the year are on this album. Easy choice for the list. Picking between it and number 2 on the list is really a tossup and depends on the mood I’m in. This is one of those albums I think of when I hear someone my age lament that there isn’t any good music being made today. You know the type. The ones that got stuck in the music of their adolescence and early adult years. Clearly they haven’t heard this stuff, or maybe even anything on the list.
2) Thee Oh Sees – Putrifiers II
I discovered Thee Oh Sees a little late, but better late than never, I guess. With Putrifiers II, they really seem to have crafted the great album, not just a solid collection of songs. They’ve also grown as a band, I think. I suspect this will be an album I’ll come back to over the years.
1) Matthew E. White – Big Inner
I was really looking forward to this album after catching the tail end of White’s set at a day party at 2011’s Hopscotch and then hearing Hopscotch co-founder Grayson Currin rave about the album in advance. When I finally got it, I must have listened to it 10 times in a row. Each time, picking up some new nuance, some new influence in the beautifullycrafted compositions. It seems like a timeless album that will only get better with age. I felt very fortunate to catch performances from both the massive 30-some person band and the scaled down unit at Hopscotch.
Swans – The Seer, Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Hard to leave these off. When I’m in the right mood, these are as good as anything that came out all year. They do require the right mood and right setting, though. Not something I listen to every week like most of the others. That isn’t a bad thing, at all, really.
My Top Local Releases
One of the hardest things to do when making my list was figuring out what to do about all the great local releases. For 2011, I included some local albums that I honestly thoughtwere as good as *anything* that came out nationally. This year, there were also some local albums I loved. But in trying to be somewhat objective, I’m not sure they were quite as good as the ones that made the list. At the same time, I wanted to at least mention them.
1) The Old Ceremony – Fairytales and Other Forms of Suicide
This was the one that was really hard to leave off the main list. It really was good enough to have made the list. Haskins’ songs are stronger than ever, and the production is superb. I loved Tender Age (2010), and this one is even better. I only caught TOC once this year. They played before The Avett Brothers’ set at an amazing benefit show inside aquite small venue. The crowd had waited much of the day to get in and catch the Avetts in such an intimate setting. And make no mistake, it was a great set. But Django and company actually were the better band that night.
2) Midtown Dickens – Home
A few years back, a coworker introduced me to Midtown Dickens. He was a fan, and loaned me some music to check out. I thought it was interesting, but maybe not quite my thing. I caught them live soon after (at the very missed Troika festival in Durham) and was still kind of lukewarm to the band. But when Home came out earlier this year, I started hearing some really positive things about it and decided to give it a chance.
Home is a huge step forward for the band. All of the songs are really strong, but perhaps none are better than “Only Brother”. Even the live shows were more focused and full of energy the two times I caught them this year. Keep an eye on this band, folks.
3) Bowerbirds – The Clearing
“Tuck the Darkness In” is one of the best songs of the year. “This Year” is close behind. A great album.
A Few Random Music Notes
- Favorite Live Shows – Megafaun joined by The War On Drugs’ Adam Granduciel at a Hopscotch day party, Matthew E White’s “One Incantation Under God” extravaganza at Hopscotch, TOC/Avett Brothers back-to-back at Kings, Rush performing most of their new album live with the bulk of the rest of the show deep tracks from their catalog (one of the gutsiest setlists I’ve ever seen), Mountain Goats heavy metal covers on the piano.
- Favorite Photographer Moment – being pulled onstage by Dave Stewart at Walnut Creek as he performed an old Eurythmics number, then editing a photo with him on his laptop to post to his twitter feed after the set
- Other Favorite Photographer Moment – getting to shoot one of my favorite bands from my college years, Jane’s Addiction.
- Most Anticipated Albums for 2013 – A couple of my favorite local bands, The Love Language and Mount Moriah, both have new ones that I can’t wait for.