A MoreThanAFeeling Top 10 of 2011: Albums (LPs)

This is my favourite time of year. Christmas being right around the corner may have something to do with it, but the music geeks and snobs alike (myself included in both of those categories) are compiling, arguing and releasing to the world their favourite music from the past 365 days or so.  You’ll get a little bit of everything on these lists, such as Pitchfork Magazine‘s Top 100 Songs Nobody’s Heard Of Top 100 Songs of 2011 which included about 97 bands/artists nobody but the editors at Pitchfork have heard of [the 3 other artists were Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Britney Spears].

Apparently it’s ultra-hipster to sandwich Nicki Minaj somewhere between Bon Iver and Destroyer… Ok, now I’m just being a jerk.  And to be fair, P4K has always had a reputation of being a little “out there”.

So now it’s only fair to mock my “lists”.

Today, I’m presenting MoreThanAFeeling’s Top 10 Albums of 2011.  I want to make it clear though, that I’m not in the business of saying one album is “better” than another one.  I realize that arguing over what song/album/band is best is completely subjective and totally futile, so please accept this list as being my FAVOURITE albums from this year.

And yes, this list is indeed in a particular order; the number one spot reserved for the album I loved the most, etc. So, without further adieu:

MoreThanAFeeling Music’s Top 10 Albums of 2011

10. Fruit Bats – Tripper

The Fruit Bats—or basically “Eric Johnson’s Traveling Band”—have been around a while and have somehow managed to stay under most people’s radar.  In the past, I’ve been baffled by Johnson’s approach to writing über-catchy melodies and hooks carefully disguised in a folk medley that keeps it off commercial radio and away from the masses.  However, on Tripper, Johnson has let a few of his pop sensibilities shine through with tracks like the ’70s inspired You’re Too Weird and Tangie and Ray.  The band’s 2009 release Ruminant Band is still overall the best work they’ve done, in my opinion, but Tripper isn’t too far behind.

 

 

 

9. The Belle Brigade The Belle Brigade

Brother and sister Ethan and Barbara Gruska make up the song-writing core of The Belle Brigade. Truth be told, they make up most of the instrumentation on their debut, self-titled album, as well.  On this self-titled effort, the Gruskas have packed an album with lovely, country-western tinged harmonies, pounding acoustic guitars, xylophones, strings, and introspective lyrics that almost anyone can relate to (see Losers, Shirt, and Rusted Wheel).  In fact, the album is lyrically, one of my favourites on this Top 10 list.  Thankfully, the music is just as good—if not better—wrapping the whole album up with a neat little bow.  Give the album a listen and the lyrics a read. Do it.

 

 

 

8. Mother Mother – Eureka

Have you, like, heard of these guys?  Yep, Mother Mother aren’t fooling around anymore, and Eureka is proof.  Although the album been panned by some as being “too produced” and “lacking quirk”, I can’t help but say: wait, what?  Ryan Guldemond is one of the biggest names on the west coast—maybe in Canada—when it comes to producing records (Hannah Georgas, Rococode, Sidney York).  His production is clean and pleasant, but not so polished you feel like you’re listening to a Nickelback album (that’s the last Nickelback reference, promise).   If you’re wanting a little quirk, just have a listen to Problems or Aspiring Fires.  Maybe The Stand, even.  Although, the latter is indeed one of the more polarizing songs from this band out of Vancouver, according to CBC Radio 3.  All in all, Eureka is deliciously deviant and erupting with extravagance.  You’ve been warned.

 

 

7. Brett Dennen – Loverboy

I know, I know: “Brett Dennen?! Really?” You better frickin’ believe it.  This is a classic case of “don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it”.  I’ll be honest, my first impression of Mr. Dennen was rather sour.  It was his lead-off single, Sydney (I’ll Come Running) that at first made me convulse, but soon made me rattle and hum—in a good way!  The single alone was enough to pique my curiosity and I found myself eagerly sampling Loverboy on iTunes.  After some positive reviews and a blossoming infatuation with the infectiously grooved-up funk track Queen of the West Side, I knew the album was a “must purchase”.  Well, I wasn’t disappointed.  Standout tracks include the aforementioned Sydney and Queen of the West Side, as well as album opener Surprise, Surprise, the lovable Comeback Kid, and the effectively subdued collapsed romance of Walk Away, Watch Me Burn.  Even a little ode to Van Morrison—or so I think—with the tune Song for the Leaving.

 

6. The Dears – Degeneration Street

These indie darlings from Montréal have been around the block with four previous studio LPs dating back to 2000, as well as a few EPs.  I’m ashamed to admit I have only recently discovered the band.  When Degeneration Street hit the shelves some 10 months ago, and the local university stations were pumping the first single Omega Dog, I knew I had to hear more.  While Omega Dog may be the most unique tune on the album, the entire track list is dreary in lyric and atmosphere, for the most part.  But it’s the type of dreary where you know there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  Like when lead singer Murray Lightburn pays homage to Lady Marmalade with the chorus to the track Tiny Man.  Also, the intensity of tracks like Blood, 5 Chords and Stick w/ Me Kid is leveled out with the playful Yesteryear and the gentle Easy Suffering.

5. Feist – Metals

Well, Leslie Feist has seemingly done it again.  Her follow-up album to the smashingly popular The Reminder is in itself a reminder that when it comes to the singer-songwriter genre, nobody really does it quite like Feist.  But don’t run to this album for a pick-me-up.  If The Reminder was a friendly, warm snuggle, Metals is a cold, forlorn embrace.  Metals is perhaps at its most solemn and tragic with the track Graveyard: “Blood as ice is an empty crisis, lonely it lies“; but just as you’ve sunk as low as you can, the repetitive refrain/outro “Bring them all back to life” stirs life into the song, along with resounding piano and a chorus of vocals.  This is just one example of why this album has imprinted itself on me.  I’ve read and heard that Feist was grieving a personal loss while writing/recording this album, and it comes through in the album’s mood.  It isn’t all glib, however.  Bittersweet Melodies as well as The Circle Married the Line bring a playful melody or two and shine a little light on a foggy escape.  My advice: wrap yourself up in a warm blanket, lay by the fire, sip some hot cocoa and Baileys and let Metals be your soundtrack.

4. Sidney York – Apocalyptic Radio Cynic

Sidney York (aka Brandi Sidoryk) hails from Calgary, Alberta but has found her home in the hearts of many Vancouverites. She is my Unsung Musician of 2011 and her album Apocalyptic Radio Cynic is my most pleasant surprise of the year.  Her album is part glitzy pop (Mile High Love, Roll With Me), part avant-pop (Doctor Doctor, Cold In Here, Math + Fractions) and part fun (Dick and Jane, Go Home Atticus Jones).  If you haven’t snagged a copy of this album, I highly recommend you do so.  The album is partly produced by the aforementioned Ryan Guldemond (Mother Mother) and is packed with musical surprises such as ukuleles, bassoons, oboes, french horns (see beautiful intro to Math + Fractions) and a melodica which is an accordion-like instrument; the latter heard predominantly in Go Home, Atticus Jones and used so very effectively.  The dynamics in this album, combined with fantastic songwriting, crisp production and general playfulness makes it a pleasant surprise and one of my favourites of the year.  Thanks, Sidney!

3. My Morning Jacket – Circuital

Jim James is a bit of a mystery.  The enigmatic lead singer/guitarist for the indie rock band My Morning Jacket proves his unpredictability yet again with the band’s 6th studio album Circuital.  Listening to said album is like taking everything that MMJ has done to this point, shoving it in a filing cabinet and starting at the drawing board.  The result is odd, refreshing and misleading.  It may sound to this point that I don’t enjoy Circuital, but that’s not the case at all.  It took a while to grow on me, yes, but once it did—and once I saw these songs performed live—I developed a new perspective and even deeper respect for the Louisiana band and this album.  You see, his record swirls in just about every direction.  Intro tracks like Circuital and Victory Dance allude to the notion that this is going to be a progressive rock album, containing chapters instead of songs.  Just as that thought is realized, the all too brief The Day Is Coming kicks in and flashes out in a matter of just over 3 minutes; and in fact, the rest of the album cruises along at under 5 minutes per song, with exception to the last lonesome track Movin’ Away.  Holding On To Black Metal is arguably the most effective “weird” tune MMJ has done to date (every MMJ album tends to have a song that seems oddly out of place).  Outta My System is insight into doing just that and is about as classic MMJ as the album gets.  Slow Slow Tune may come off as a bit of a sleeper on the album, but I quite like it.  The dynamics in the song when performed live are astounding and terribly effective.  All in all, this concept of an album is diverse enough to keep you interested and gripping enough to keep it on repeat for the majority of 2011.

2. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

When you listen to the Decemberists, you hear the distinctive call of Colin Meloy.  When you listen to The King Is Dead, the Decemberists latest LP, you hear a catalogue of acoustic guitar splendor, euphoric harmonica and lyrical zest that Meloy—the bookworm—is well-known for.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that both The King Is Dead and 2011 were the most important in the band’s 10 year history; unfortunately, it came at a bit of a cost.  Band member Jenny Conlee was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier in the year.  Fortunately, as of October, her cancer was in remission and the band even released a follow-up EP to The King Is Dead called Long Live the King.  But back to the LP: the reason it’s number 2 on my list?  Simple.  Every time I listen to just one song on The King Is Dead, I have to listen to the whole album.  Don’t Carry It All, Down By the Water, Rise To Me, This Is Why We Fight and Dear Avery are all near-legendary and will be folk rock gems that will stand the test of time.  You can quote me on that.

 

1. Library Voices – Summer of Lust

Not sure how much of a surprise this is, particularly if you’ve either A) read my blog semi-regularly or, B) listened to this album.  Discovering the Library Voices in the spring of 2010 was, for me, like finding a $100 bill in an old jacket I haven’t worn in a few years.  Then, discovering this fantastic octet is coming out with another full length album only a year and change after the magnificent Denim On Denim was icing on the cake.  Summer of Lust was one of my most anticipated releases of the year and it’s sitting at number 1 on this list because it did not disappoint.  The album kicks off with the oh-so danceable If Raymond Carver Were Born in the ’90s and doesn’t miss a beat for the remaining 30 minutes of electroacoustic indie pop.  None of the tunes crack the 4:00 minute mark and effectively leave you wanting more.  This album is also lyrically my favourite of the year, especially once I deciphered exactly what singer Carl Johnson is going on about.  He sings of whisking away to Paris in 1949, Parliament hill, self-examination, drinking, Regina, and drunk texting.  And, of course, references of books and authors spread out nicely throughout.  What more could one ask for?  Maybe just a few more tunes?  Or another album in 2012? We’ll see!

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~ by whet_hopped on December 16, 2011.

One Response to “A MoreThanAFeeling Top 10 of 2011: Albums (LPs)”

  1. […] Our friend Dylan over at More Than a Feeling music blog’s countdown. […]

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