18 December 2011

Best of everything 2011

It's that time of year again. 11th list, too!


This was probably my favorite year for new music in quite some time. Much of it is because I discovered a lot of great bluegrass and alt-country music via Turntable.FM, but the reality, for me at least, is that there was just a mess of great music that came out this year. I made a Spotify playlist of my favorite songs of the year, if you're into that sort of thing, or you can sample the YouTube links provided.


1) Childish Gambino - Camp: I got into Childish Gambino not just because I've gotten into some rap music in the last year, but because I'm a big fan of Donald Glover, especially his work on Community. Even from his previous mixtapes and EPs, I didn't expect this - a great rap album that perfectly straddles the line between serious and fun, with references all over the place that you may not catch until your 10th listen. Really, really great. Highlights: "Bonfire," Heartbeat."

2) Chris Thile and Michael Daves - Sleep With One Eye Open: An album of traditional/classic bluegrass duets doesn't sound exciting on the surface, but there's an attitude to this, along with the stripped-down nature, that made me very addicted to this album very quickly. I picked this up on a whim from an Amazon mp3 daily deal and I'm really glad I did. Highlights: "My Little Girl in Tennessee," "Rabbit in the Log," "Sophronie."

3) David Wax Museum - Everything is Saved: I've been a casual fan of David Wax Museum for a couple years now - their albums never really resonated with me, but it was always one or two songs that stuck with me. This album still has a few songs that rise far above the rest ("Unfruitful" in particular is far and away the best song I've heard this year), but as a cohesive unit, Everything is Saved is a step ahead for a band that should be a lot more popular than they are. Highlights: "Unfruitful," "Born With a Broken Heart."

4) Laura Stevenson and the Cans - Sit Resist: Out of nowhere, this album just grabbed me and wouldn't let go. Pleasant, poppy indie rock from a songwriter with more of a ska background. Just listen to some of it and you'll be charmed. Highlights: "Master of Art," "The Healthy One."

5) The Decemberists - The King is Dead: The best R.E.M. album put out this year. It dawned on me while reading pre-release reviews that the last two Decemberists albums left me somewhat cold, that only the singles really hit me. "Down By the Water" was such a solid song, too, that I was worried that the album wouldn't hold up. I was thankfully wrong. Highlights: "Down By the Water," "Rox in the Box," "This is Why We Fight."

5) Fountains of Wayne - Sky Full of Holes: I felt that Traffic and Weather was a bit of a stumble overall, which meant that the last Fountains of Wayne album I truly loved was Welcome Interstate Managers, which was ages ago. Thankfully, this album is more of a return to form of sorts, very few flaws to speak of overall. Highlights: "The Summer Place," "A Road Song," "Richie and Ruben."

6) R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now: Not as solid as Accelerate, arguably better than most of what they've put out in the post-Bill Berry era. An album that ended up being a swan song was something that did more to remind me of what R.E.M. has been all these years than anything else as of late. Highlights: "Mine Smell Like Honey," "It Happened Today," "Discoverer."

7) Sarah Jarosz - Follow Me Down: Her first album, Song Up In My Head, was good, but not great. An interesting cover of the Decemberists' "Shankhill Butchers" was the highlight, but when this album came out, it definitely shifted things for me. A darker bluegrassy effort with a different tone than what I think most would expect, plus a great cover of Radiohead's "The Tourist," makes this an extremely solid, great effort. Highlights: "Come Around," "Annabelle Lee," "The Tourist."

8) Jessica Lea Mayfield - Tell Me: Late to the party on her, but she's a great folkish singer-songwriter doing some really interesting things, and this album offers something new every time. Highlights: "Blue Skies Again," "Our Hearts Are Wrong," "Grown Man."

9) Low - C'Mon: It's strange to say that a Low album sounds optimistic, and I may just be hearing it wrong, but this was not what I was expecting from Low after the brilliant and stark Drums and Guns. A number of really great sing-a-long style songs along with a lighter tone than I'm used to. Highlights: "Especially Me," Something's Turning Over."

10) The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow: A great folky duo that sounds really unassuming until you realize that you've been singing half the songs on the album to yourself on a regular basis. Highlights: "I've Got This Friend," The Girl With the Red Balloon," Barton Hollow."

Other highlights musically:

* Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside - Dirty Radio (Highlight: "Danger")
* Ellie Goulding - "Lights" (Bassnectar remix)
* Gillian Welch - The Harrow and the Harvest (Highlight: "Dark Turn of Mind")
* Fujiya & Miyagi - "Yoyo"
* Das Racist - Relax (Highlight: "Michael Jackson")
* The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow (Highlights: "I've Got This Friend," The Girl With the Red Balloon," Barton Hollow.")
* Yuck - Yuck (Highlights: "Get Away," The Wall.")
* The Roots - undun
* Hayes Carll and Cary Ann Hearst - "Another Like You"
* Alison Krauss and Union Station - Paper Airplane (Highlight: "Dust Bowl Children")
* Abigail Washburn - "Chains"
* Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys (Highlights: "Codes and Keys," "Underneath the Sycamore")
* Dum Dum Girls - Only in Dreams (Highlight: "Bedroom Eyes")
* Eilen Jewell - "Queen of the Minor Key"
* EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints (Highlight: "Milkman")
* The Vaccines - Whatever Happened to the Vaccines? (Highlight: "Post Break-Up Sex")
* Wild Flag - Wild Flag (Highlights: "Romance," "Electric Band," "Glass Tambourine.")
* The Black Keys - "Lonely Boy"
* The Sounds - Something to Die For (Highlight: "Something to Die For")


* Elbow - Build a Rocket, Boys!
* Fujiya & Miyagi - Ventriloquizzing
* Beady Eye - Different Gear, Still Speeding


I didn't get to the movies often this year. If I had to list what I really liked?

* Moneyball
* Bridesmaids
* Thor
* The Muppets

And what I hated?

* The Tree of Life
* The Tree of Life
* The Tree of Life
* The Tree of Life


Keeping in mind that I still haven't picked up Neal Stephenson's Reamde...

Top books:

* Pie - Sarah Weeks: A beautiful, gorgeous children's book about family, about expectations, and about following your own talents and desires.
* Ready Player One - Ernest Cline: Yes, it's a book full of fanservice, but it's SO GOOD at it.
* Robopocalypse - Daniel H. Wilson: As good as advertised, a fun robots-take-over read.
* Wonderstruck - Brian Selznick: Subtle, yet significant. So many surprises in a book of mostly illustrations.
* The Art of Fielding - Chad Harbach: A great literary title with a lot of nuance and an engaging plot.
* The Wise Man's Fear - Patrick Rothfuss: Best fantasy series running, possibly the best fantasy writer going given what we've seen so far.
* A Dance With Dragons - George R. R. Martin: Nothing else needs to be said.

Bottom books:

* The Omen Machine - Terry Goodkind: A nonsensical insult to his fans and readership.
* The Inquisitor's Apprentice - Chris Moriarty: A book for children that dragged in ways few adult books do.
* Happyface - Mark Emond: A graphic novel for teens that is way too dark and disturbing to be taken seriously.

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