2011 Best of Redux – The Year of Living Musically

Another voyage on spaceship earth around the great orb in the sky is coming to an end and so it must be the time to reflect on things that have come and gone… in the realm of music.  (If you’d just prefer to listen rather than read click here for a link to a YouTube mix of the songs or check out the Spotify playlist.)  The common thread of the records that truly moved me this year was a tendency towards softer, lush and layered compositions with musical allusions to less-appreciated (or much derided) musical styles of the past.  Before turning to the recordings, a quick highlight of the year in live music… Of the nearly 50 shows I saw this year, the two finest where Bon Iver’s set at the Chicago Theatre and God Speed! You Black Emperor at the Vic Theatre.  The collective musicianship on stage for both these shows was awe-some.  Additional highlights included eighth Blackbird’s rendition of Steve Reich’s “Music for Eighteen Musicians” (one of the most brilliant and seminal 20th Century compositions) at the Pritzker Pavilion; James Blake’s intimate and haunting set at the Pitchfork Festival (the highlight was the moment I was positioned between James Blake playing “Limit to Your Love” and Neko Case on another stage singing “This Tornado Loves You”); Memory Tapes’ exquisite set at the Empty Bottle; Damian Abraham of F*cked Up wailing and hugging the crowd at Lincoln Hall; Andrew Bird’s outdoor performance for the Hideout Block Party with the Chicago skyline as backdrop; the ladies of Wild Flag rocking out at Subterranean (which featured a genius cover of the Stones’ “Beast of Burden”) and the Empty Bottle; The National along with the Local Natives and Wye Oak closing the night with a stirring a capella rendition of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”;  and Wilco along with Mavis Staples and Nick Lowe covering the Band’s “The Weight” at the Chicago Lyric Opera.  Oh yeah and the killer dance parties put on by Robyn, Lady Gaga, and Cut Copy.  Yes, lots of great moments.  And without further digression, the best of 2011 . . .

Albums of 2011

1)        Bon Iver  – Bon Iver
2)        James Blake –  s/t
3)        The Roots – Undun
4)        Wild Flag – s/t
5)        The Antlers – Burst Apart
6)        St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
7)        tUnE-yArDs  – whokill
8)        Sloan – The Double Cross
9)        M83 – Hurry Up, We Are Dreaming
10)       Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact
11)       Megafaun – s/t
12)       The Weeknd – House of Balloons
13)       Wilco – The Whole Love
14)       The Decemberists – The King is Dead
15)       The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow

Honorable Mentions (A couple of other phenomenal records that deserve (repeated) listens):

  • from the Punk Rock files:  F*cked Up – David Comes to Life and EMA – Past Life Martyred Saint
  • from the otherwordly files:  King Creosote and Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine
  • from the chill-wave file:  The Lower Dens – Twin Hand Movement; Youth Lagoon – the Year of Hibernation; Washed Out – Within and Without; and Panda Bear – Tomboy
  • from the folk and roots rock file:  Bright Eyes – The People’s Key
  • from the R&B/Hip-Hop file:  Drake – Take Care and Danny Brown and Black Milk – Black & Brown
  • from the baroque pop files:  Beirut – The Rip Tide; Destroyer – Kaputt;  and Cults – s/t
  • from the early 90s revival file:  Yuck – s/t
  • from the Radiohead file:  Radiohead – The King of Limbs
  • from the instrumental indie rock file:  Explosions In the Sky – Take Care, Take Care and Battles – Gloss Drop

Songs of 2011

1)      “Walking Far From Home” by Iron and Wine
2)      “Wilhelm Scream” by James Blake
3)      “Cruel” by St. Vincent
4)      “Need You Now” by Cut Copy
5)      “Calgary” by Bon Iver
6)      “Follow the Leader”/“The Answer Was You”/“Unkind” by Sloan
7)      “Glass Jar” by Gang Gang Dance
8)      “Putting the Dog to Sleep” by the Antlers
9)      “Glass Table Girls” by the Weeknd
10)   “My Country” by tUnE-yArDs
11)   “Electric Band” by Wild Flag
12)   “Midnight City” by M83
13)   “Shook Down” By Yuck
14)   “Video Games” by Lana Del Rey
15)   “Civilian” by Wye Oak
16)   “One Time” by the Roots
17)   “I Get Nervous” by the Lower Dens
18)   “Otis” by Jay-Z and Kanye
19)   “Queen of Hearts” by Fucked Up
20)   “Abducted” by Cults
21)   “Holocene” by Bon Iver
22)   “Don’t Say Oh Well” by Grouplove
23)   “Cannons” by Youth Lagoon
24)   “We Found Love in Hopeless Place” by Rihanna
25)   “Kaputt” by Destroyer
26)   “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele
27)   “Poison and Wine” by The Civil Wars
28)   “This is Why We Fight” by the Decemberists
29)   “Lotus Flower” by Radiohead
30)   “Art of Almost” by Wilco
31)   “Crew Love” by Drake w/the Weeknd
32)   “I’m Not Ready” by Surfer Blood
33)   “Santa Fe” by Beirut
34)   “Pyramid” by Four Tet
35)   “Make My” by the Roots
36)   “Amor Fati” by Washed Out
37)   “Fall Creek Boys Choir” by James Blake and Bon Iver
38)   “Today is Our Life” by Memory Tapes
39)   “Zap” by Danny Brown and Black Milk
40)   “Hope You Know” by Megafaun
41)   “Countdown” by Beyonce
42)   “Two Kinds of Happiness” by the Strokes
43)    “Shell Games” by Bright Eyes
44)   “Far Nearer” by Jamie XX/“Banana Ripple” by Junior Boys
45)   “Sway” by Mates of State
46)   “Lights” by Ellie Goulding
47)   “You and I” by Lady Gaga
48)   “Born Alone” by Wilco
49)   “Shake it Up” by Florence and the Machine
50)   “UBerlin” by R.E.M

Final thoughts composed on wormhole abbey, or a couple of things I learned, observed, and wondered this year:

  • Iron and Wine put out an album with more than a single sad, sultry song sung over and over.  Sam Beam enlisted a full band and found varying hues in his own brand of Walden-esque folk rock — and the album was gorgeous.
  • Adele and Florence (of the Machine) have ridiculously beautiful and powerful voices… what do they put in the water over in England?
  • The rise of a genre dubbed as “chill-wave”.  In reality this isn’t anything new.  In the past, it might have been called “shoegazer”, “dream pop”, downtempo, or (the least descriptive of all) electronica.  In a sense, chill-wave is really a blending of all of these different “sub-genres” used to describe atmospheric and lush, mellow rock music that incorporates electronic conventions and elements oft used in dance music.  Whatever the term, lots of bands employed this approach to great effect.
  • The electronic mixtape has eliminated the need for artists to release any tangible music media – both liberating for artists and an additional dagger in the record industry’s slow death.  (And, yet, vinyl releases and re-releases abound.  Long live the Luddites!)
  • I finally understand the appeal of the Fleet Foxes.  They are exquisite live musicians.  Their records still leave me sort of blah.  However, I still don’t get the appeal of the Black Keys.
  • Nevermind was released twenty years ago (!?!) and R.E.M. finally hung it up.
  • We’ve still got two Beatles, one Yoko, a couple of Dead, Keith Richards, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop (how the last three are still alive confounds me).  Biggie and Tupac didn’t release a new record (to my knowledge).
  • Clarence Clemons was an awesome musician, and, from what I’ve read, an even better person.
  • All’s right with the world, Bob Dylan is still touring.

Yours musically,


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