These are the albums that most closely characterized my 2011. I was going to go through and write about an album for each month, but I fell behind and realized I just needed to post what I was able to write. Though I enjoyed all of these albums on some level—otherwise I wouldn’t have listened to them—please don’t use this as any sort of definitive “best of.”
January: Beach House Teen Dream: Last January, as I began to read all of the 2010 blog posts about the best albums of 2010, an album that I kept seeing over and over was Beach House’s, Teen Dream. And indeed, my first contact with the album took place sometime in 2010, but I didn’t really comb through it with my ears until January 2011. I most connected with the album flying out to Chicago for a cold and snowy weekend. The cold, yet dreamy sound of this album fit perfect with the barren expanse of an icy runway at O’Hare.
February: Bright Eyes The People’s Key: When I first heard Bright Eyes’ album, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning as a freshman in college in 2005, I was pulled in by their sound. However, subsequent albums released by Conor Oberst and his friends left me turned off to Obersts’ heavy-handed cynicism. However, when I saw The People’s Key on Amazon’s MP3 store, I thought I’d check back in with Mr. Oberst and company. Though in some ways there are still touches of cynicism here and there, I feel Oberst displays more sensitivity, open-mindedness, searching, and ultimately vulnerability throughout the album. Musically, the album covers a lot of ground, ranging from twangy backing-guitars to reggae breakdowns, and thematically, the album explores a lot of spiritual themes, including Rastifarianism, Buddhism, sci-fi spiritual conspiracy, and Christianity. In “Triple Spiral,” Oberst sings, “I loved you triple spiral/Father, Son, and Ghost/But you left me in my darkest hour when I needed you.” While he is honest in his disappointments with his experience with the Christian Godhead, the album concludes with the necessity of mercy in a world that is used to the symmetry of retaliation.
March: Radiohead The King of Limbs: Yes, I know this album came out in February, but it usually takes me a while to come to an appreciation for all the thought that this band puts into the work they release. Honestly, I was initially disappointed with the length of the album, with only 8 songs, at under 38 minutes, but they soon released two more singles, “Separator” and “The Butcher.” What the album may appear to lack in length of play, it makes up for in depth of sound and theme. Along with the release of the album, the band released free newspapers (what some would call an outdated form of communication) at select record stores around the world. A lot of the themes surrounding TKOL and its release seem to point to the ideas of preservation (of the environment, humanity, and music) in a modern, digital age. If we care about something, we preserve it, even if it only exists in “perishable” form.
April: Peter Bjorn and John Gimme Some: The energy of this album went a long way for me. For a three-piece band, they produce a powerful sound, while still remaining catchy and playful. With very simplistic instrumentation, they’ve managed create an aggressively nuanced soundscape. Leave it to the Swedes.
May: Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues: When I think of spring 2011, I think of this album. While I was out of the states for much of the initial Fleet Foxes craze that went along with the release of their first album, before this album came out, I still felt as though I had yet to connect with the band like everyone else around me. In so many ways, for me, Helplessness Blues is spring 2011. I picture driving up interstate 5 to Vancounver, BC on a sunny morning, with the cascades to my right, and the sound to my left. Or driving on the Alaskan Way Viaduct past the Seattle’s city center with Mt. Rainier on the horizon. For myself, it was easy to connect with the first lines of this album, as Robin Pecknold sings, “So now I am older than my mother and father when they had their daughter. Now what does that say about me?” The album as a whole chases to describe what so many in this generation are experiencing in longing to be apart of something greater than ourselves.
And I was going to finish off the rest of the year, but I’ve obviously been putting this off too long. 2011 was definitely a frontloaded year in terms of me being enraptured by music.
I will add these tidbits:
St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy: It was the album that surprised me the most in the last year. I know Annie Clark is all-around brilliant, but I didn’t expect to be quite so enveloped by such an pleasantly aggressive album. She had me at “Cruel.”
Also, the entirety of Bjork’s vision for the Biophilia project was nothing short of intellectual and artistic invigoration. A definite trip, as one would expect.
And of course, Wilco’s The Whole Love was great. Perfect for an early morning drive through Wyoming’s Bighorn National Forest, or an evening/night drive from Yellowstone to Bozeman, Montana.
I will post this without proof reading.