Monday, December 26, 2011

2011 Top Ten: Erin Wolf

Catacombz: Catacombz (Organalog)

Vast, spacey wonderfulness from a local band who brings an even heavier attack on their live shows. Innate rhythmically and full of soaring sounds to inspire, this one's super enjoyable for its elements of psych and krautrock that call to mind both CAN and Trans Am. A muscular masterpiece.

Delaney Davidson: Bad Luck Man (Voodoo Rhythm)

A friend first clued me into Davidson, a New Zealand musician who (with plenty of black humor) wilts together melting and sardonic blues and roots music that sounds if it came straight out of the swamps of the South and not from a native Kiwi. Davidson made an appearance in Milwaukee a couple years ago; here's hoping he comes back so I can meet him and shake his hand for being such a wonderful curmudgeonly and wistful lyricist. This album's one of those 'feels good to feel bad' deals.

Battles: Gloss Drop (Warp)

What happens to a band normally after their main vocalist quits (in this case Tyondai Braxton)? In Battles' case, it totally worked in their favor, for it directed them into new territory. Braxton's vocals almost took the band into true oddball territory, its cartoonish manipulations making it seem like the second coming of Fantasia or some weird, but brilliantly rhythmed, joke listeners weren't meant to get. Still oddball, but somehow more interesting and attainable, the math-rock and prog-rock elements are all present, but added with a bevy of guest vocalists (Gary Numan, Kazu Makino, Matias Aguayo). Each song shines a new light onto emerging sub-genres like tropical disco, trance and stoner rock.

Richard Buckner: Our Blood (Merge)

I'm gonna be honest. I'd never much listened to Richard Buckner before this album came out, and for whatever reason, I'm mad. But I can catch up, I suppose. Buckner's album was the one that was played probably the most. Not necessarily my favorite, but the most comforting thing to listen to, somehow; the most thought-provoking. His gentle and worn vocals remind me oddly of Willie Nelson (even though the two sound not very much alike) and his manner is that of a wise confidant. Buckner's performance at Linneman's this past summer was one of my absolute favorites that I saw, for he is as much as a storyteller as David Bazan (if you're familiar) in live performance, incredibly composed and compelling, and it was one of those where an hour easily passed as mere minutes.

PJ Harvey: Let England Shake (Vagrant)

Pretty sure that Let England Shake, to those who heard, spoke to the world as a whole, Harvey sending out an alarm call, pretty and twisted, to waken sleeping senses. This album thoroughly made me feel (and think) uneasy, containing a weird beauty that called desperate times of a storied country to rise and meet current conditions. Such a beautiful and haunting listen -- perhaps Harvey's ultimate masterpiece.

Colin Stetson: New History Warfare Vol. 2:Judges (Constellation)

This album, alone, pretty much blew my mind this past year. The musician, himself -- armed with a bass saxophone and some mighty, mighty circular breathing aligned with the composition of the entire album, is a stunner. With thoughtful spoken word woven through from the one and only Laurie Anderson and a version of Blind Willie Johnson's "Lord I Just Can't Keep From Crying" with My Brightest Diamonds' Shara Worden on vocals, it's an intense, but hopeful work from one of Montreal's brightest in experimental music. Yeah, it's a saxophone, but then again, no it's not. This one might change your attitude if it leans towards dislike of an amazing instrument that is capable of doing so much more than just being in E Street bands and the like.

Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring For My Halo (Matador)

If I hadn't heard Kurt Vile before the album, I would probably gush a whole bunch more, but since I have, I'll just say that this particular album from Vile was as lovely as usual and had plenty of 'dang' moments. He's an introspective lyricist, his face-to-the-window writings not so entirely devastating as much as they're encouraging, and whether he's stubbornly barking about being a "Puppet to the Man" or comforting himself with the rhythmic fingerpicking of "My Baby's Arms", his voice, its gravelly growl to sad dog howl, is amazingly the main contender, even with his fingers pulling heartbreaking notes on the strings of his guitar.

Canopies: Canopies EP (self-released)

The local group that seemed to surface from nowhere made me remember just why I loved New Order and new wave so damn much in high school and was so ready to turn to dreampoppers such as Galaxie 500, right after. Shimmering guitars crown steady synths and percussion and the effect couldn't be much more brilliant and promising, except that the boys manage to add pretty vocals on top of it all. Nice triple-threat.

Wye Oak: Civilian (Merge)

Wye Oak has always managed to floor me. I first saw them play live at the Highbury Pub (maybe three years ago?) and as a duo, they brought so much squalor and pretty anger to their music, that it was impossible to keep jaw from hitting floor. Arrestingly good vocalist/guitarist Jenn Wasner is magic (and very, very talented), and Civilian continues along the path that the band has been quietly/loudly traversing for years, waiting for folks to notice. They finally are.

Bill Callahan: Apocalypse (Drag City)

A lovely, lovely album. Even when Callahan's stories are so personal (as they often are) it's nearly impossible to tie anything of one's self to them as a listener. Yet, Callahan manages to be transfixing and all-involving as a writer, still. His albums are novels and if Callahan was an author he might be a running with the likes of Cormac McCarthy, John Steinbeck and J.D. Salinger, if that makes any sense.

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