The end of the year brings us gift giving holidays, piles of baked goods (and subsequent carb-bloat), and a party or two. But what is any of that in comparison to the year-end “Best of” lists? I generally have my list of Best Albums and/or Tracks of the Year in mind by mid-December, then lollygag, dilly-dally, and loaf my way to mid-February before I post it.
Well, hold on to your hats, lovers, ‘cause it’s still 2011 and I’ve got my Best of 2011 post ready to go. The caveat is that I was completely unable to listen to music1 from May – November (give or take), so my list is short. On the bright side, this gives me more time to critique everyone else’s list, which is so much more fun that coming up with my own anyway.
My favorite lists are by Pitchfork, Other Music, and Urban Outfitters (they’re offering a free download of their Top 25 picks – it’s still up as of today). Flavorwire has a cute post called Stereotyping You By Your Favorite Album of 2011 – it’s good fun.
Unlike past years, I have no overwhelming favorite for 2011. If I were forced to pick one, I’d say The Weeknd and their album House of Balloons. The title track samples from Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Happy House,” so it’s kind of inevitable that I’d love it.
One huge standout for Best Live Show was LCD Soundsystem in March. I was sick with a sinus infection and running a fever, and still I danced for 3 hours straight. That is some serious live show mojo, and it put it on my Top 5 Shows of All Time list, hands down.
I was introduced to three bands as openers for a couple favorites that were very, very good: The Lonely Forest opening for The Joy Formidable, and White Fence and Widowspeak opening for Woods. Having an opening band blow your mind is like finding sexy 4” stilettos that are as comfortable as old slippers. You’re expecting to suffer a bit but instead you get double the pleasure.
I’m still finding dubstep and its many variations appealing, and 2011 provided a lot that captivated me. Bassnectar and Burial are two, with SBTRKT making me happiest of all. If I wasn’t so old and not-British-Club-Kid I’d totally be deep into the dubstep scene. Experiencing SBTRKT live surrounded by a mass of believers would be bliss.
EMA finally released her album, Past Life Martyred Saints. I went to her show hoping and praying she’d do something from her Gowns days, but the most we got was a decent live version of California. Looking forward to seeing where she takes her music and creative pursuits.
Can’t have a year without 4AD. This year I’m loving Tune-Yards’ new one, Whokill, and Gang Gang Dance’s Eye Contact. Gang Gang Dance sounds like Kate Bush in Bollywood, while Tune-Yards sounds like a yard sale full of wonderful, quirky treasures. I got to attend the listening party for the Tune-Yards album earlier this year (thanks, Other Music!) and discovered quickly that every song is good, a rare feat these days.
DJ Quik, Shabazz Palaces, and my old faves Kanye and JAY Z got me wiggling my lil booty this year. Highly recommend the 2011 releases by all three of these insanely talented hip-hop outfits (The Book of David, Black Up, and Watch the Throne respectively). If anyone can remember back to the early 90s, and loved as I did the unique hip-hop trio Digable Planets, you’ll be delighted to know that “Butterfly” is the creative force behind Shabazz Palaces. It is a stellar album. If you want to buy one hip hop album to represent the best of 2011, buy Black Up.
I’ve got a smattering of other alt/indie rock favorites in my Best of 2011: War on Drugs, The Joy Formidable (love you guys!!), Kurt Vile (another exceptionally good album – Smoke Ring for my Halo), Real Estate, and Thee Oh Sees. Notice two of my all time favorite bands who had new albums on 2011 are not on my Best of 2011 list: Radiohead and PJ Harvey. Radiohead’s King of Limbs is OK. PJ Harvey has lost me.
Every year I say this, and it’s true for 2011 as well: much great music is out there only slightly off the beaten path. If you do one thing for yourself in 2012, go see a band you’ve never heard of at a tiny little club in your town. Pick one based only on what its name evokes in you. I’ve chosen to listen to tracks from most of the bands I love based only on their names initially.2 Worst case is you get a night out and a story to tell; best case is you fall in love.
1 Don’t want to bring the party down, but suffice to say the death of my brother this year continues to affect me in strange ways.
2 I choose wine this way, too.