Monday, December 26, 2011

Andy Nelson's Top 10 Albums of 2011

10) Daft Punk - "TRON Legacy Soundtrack"

"Change the scheme.  Alter the mood.  Electrify the boys and girls." - Castor to Daft Punk 

"The Grid. A digital frontier. I tried to picture clusters of information as they moved through the computer. What did they look like? Ships? Motorcycles? Were the circuits like freeways? I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see. And then, one day, I got in."  - Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges)

TRON: Legacy came out Christmas of last year.  Shortly after the first of the year I started to discover the pure heroin I had in my iTunes.  I was hooked.  I listened to this soundtrack non stop for months.  Corny?  Dorky?  Nerdy?  Maybe but I cannot deny how much I enjoy this Daft Punk collection of songs.  It finds itself at #10 because it's not smooth flowing or complete album by any means.  This is a collection of songs that might not hit as hard if not first seen on the big screen world created by Joseph Kosinski and Steven Lisberger (or Kevin Flynn depending how you look at it).  I'm a sucker for that "soundtrack sounding music"... music that when you put on your headphones and start walking around your city you immediately feel part of a greater storyline.  (m83 has always been a master at this)

My love for TRON started as a child.  I had the books, action figures and I still have the VHS tape near my bedside.  My love for Daft Punk started when I went to Germany for the first time as 17 year old.  I was buying CDs in bulk at an HMV (The Strokes, Saves The Day, Lil Kim, etc.).  I asked my friend Stephan to recommend one European album for me to purchase.  He handed me the 1997 debut album from Daft Punk, "Homework".    

Porn for my ears... 

9) Zola Jesus - "Conatus"

VESSEL (Official Video) 

If Gozer the Destructor from the final scene of Ghostbusters made a band it would be Zola Jesus.

Zola Jesus is my 2011 Beach House.  A master at creating a setting.  Atmospheric music for when it's bed time but I want epic dreams.

I recently discovered that Nika Danilova (Zola Jesus) was raised on a 100 acres in Merrill, WI.  I knew she was a Wisconsinite but not from Merrill.  Merrill is where I spent many weekends with my Grandfather when I was a kid.  My family has 40 acres in Merrill.  Population of 10,000 but in most areas you feel like you're the only person on earth.  It's the first place I saw the Northern Lights as a child.  It's the only place on earth where my Grandfather could "appropriately teach me about constellations" he used to say.  In the winter Merrill feels like an abandoned, haunting, white forrest.  That chilling but familiar feeling is what this album gives me.  Now learning of where she grew up, I am now facinated with the connection. 

Because of massive flooding in 2010 I didn't get to see Zola Jesus open up for The Faint at Turner Hall.  However, I have my ticket to see her on February 21st at Lincoln Hall.  I have a feeling she will throw some fantastic theatrics into her live show.  (i.e. i'm really hoping Zuul The Gatekeeper and The Keymaster show up.)

8) tUnE-yArDs - "w h o k i l l"
I was writing this on Christmas night and asked my parents to describe Tune Yards.  This is what they said...
My Dad: "Japanese Jumpshots" 
My Mom: "A computer giant from Africa.  I like it."

BIZNESS (Official Video)

I was lucky enough to stumble upon Merrill Garbus when seeing her open up for Dirty Projectors at the Bottom Lounge in 2009.  No one was there to see her.  Most people left to get drinks or eat food or turn to each other to talk when she took the stage.  Some weird looking girl and one other guy?  Bye.  About 3 songs in... the place was packed.  She had everyone's attention.  We all had this look on our faces like, "What the fuck is going on?  Do I like this?"

Unfortunately, like the t-shirt I bought that night I was slightly disappointed with the album "Bird brains".  Did not live up to the wild beauty of her live show.  To my delight, she found her unique genius on Who Kill.

7) A.A. Bondy - "Believers"


To my knowledge this is the only artist on my top ten that has a bio on the Country Music Television website. 

For this record, A.A. Bondy worked with producer, Rob Schnapf, who famously worked closely with Elliot Smith on a number of records.  After Elliot Smith's death it was Rob Schnapf that was recruited by Smith's family to complete Figure 8 and From a Basement on the Hill.  Schnapf knows how to work with artists that know how tear your heart apart.  

Little more electricity to this album.  A more grandiose build up to this album.  Not to say he's not going to be touring with Black Eyed Peas anytime soon...  This is more of a whiskey soaked, dark room, boot tapping, weird beard, sweaty plaid shirt kind of build up.

6) Wye Oak - "Civilian"

HOLY HOLY live at the Pabst in Milwaukee...

Can Jenn Wasner hold me and rock me to sleep every night? Dream pop.  I love it.  Bat For Lashes does this best.  But Wye Oak is something different.  There's a certain polarity to Wye Oak as this duo sucks you in with it's slow rhythmic beats but before you know it you're slamming your foot on the floor and your neck hurts.  As a friend of mine once poetically asked the interwebs, "Wait, there's only 2 of them?"  Yes, Jason, there are only two of them.  Now you know.  

Civilian is intoxicating.  I'm wasted at this point, totally shit faced.  I feel great though.  I definitely don't want to throw up.  I blame Paul Smaxwill for this strange state, he hipped me to this band when "The Knot" came out so they were on my radar in 2011.      

Wye Oak recently covered Brenda Lee, one of my favorite female voices of all time.  Jenn Wasner has her own classic voice.  A voice that I think any generation could be captivated by. 

The easy songs to fall in love with on this record are "Holy Holy" and "Civilian."  Well deserved but don't overlook the album as a whole.  For example, the groggy but emotive "Doubt" to close the album.  In which Jenn writes, 
"what i have learned
of you
does not assure
you bow before my will
but i believed it then
believe it still
oh, i believed it then
believed in still"   

5) m83 - "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming"

Midnight City - Official Video 

LIVE VIDEO from 2011 tour

"The biggest group of friends this world has ever seen.  Jumping and laughing forever.  It would be great.  Right?"

As I mentioned before, I get weak in the knees for albums that make you feel like you're part of a bigger storyline.  m83 has always been that band for me.  It all started with 2005's Before the Dawn Heals Us.  I remember a friend of mine asking, "What movie is this from?"  It wasn't from any movie it just had an immediate descriptive sound. m83 grabbed my attention again with Saturdays = Youth.  "Kim & Jessi" is one of my favorite songs of all time.  

With that said, NOTHING could've prepared me for what Anthony Gonzalez would do next.  He took the world by storm.  Thanks, in part, to a Victoria Secret commercial but this record would've reached that level of recognition eventually.  Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is expansive.  This is a double-album that I am still digging into.  But also just in sound.  I can't think of a bigger sound created this year. 

Finally saw m83 live this year down at Lincoln Hall.  I saw part of their opening slot before The Killers at the Rave back in 2008, but that doesn't really count.  All that I imagined.  I laughed, I cried, I sat silent, I danced.  m83 is life to me.  A whirlwind of sound and story.  What I didn't necessarily anticipate was how much of crowd pleaser Anthony Gonzalez would be.  He loves what he does and it shows on stage.  A french man filled with life and expressing that love and pain in the most vibrant way possible. 

4) Bon Iver - "Bon Iver"

At the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee...

I don't think I would handle fame well.  Every word is scrutinized and recorded.  People change their minds.  People say the wrong thing.  People say one thing and mean another.  You don't have that luxury with fame.  Somehow that gets taken from you.  You're the public's slave at some point.  In any case, Justin Verson is being judged more harshly these days.  But that's okay and I don't want to be overly dramatic.  I just hope people don't put up unnecessary fences between themselves and his music because I am big believer in this group of guys.  

Bon Iver has the most disarming music in the business and they're starting to realize the magic they have at their disposal.  I thought that might prove to be fatal on this sophomore attempt.  The exact opposite.  Justin Vernon and his crew have taken this "broken hearted boy in a cabin" schtick and gone somewhere otherworldly.  Their cohesiveness, their strong musicianship, and Vernon's soul are gaining steam and I think they'll age gracefully.  I am excited for the weird directions this band will most certainly go.  We won't like every direction, but in the end we'll all be better off for taking this journey with them.  There are better songs on this album, but I was a huge fan of "Beth / Rest".  Maybe I listened to too much V100 when I was in middle school but I love the saxophone.  Music needs more of it today.  Speaking of which... 

CLICK HERE FOR LIFE CHANGING VIDEO (Bon Iver's bass saxophonist)

3) Bright Eyes - "The Peoples Key"

At the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee...

This is the only album on this Top Ten list that I screamed at the top of my lungs.  Track 3 on this album, "Jejune Stars"...  "I'll die young at heart." 

"The People’s Key is a return to immediacy after the arguably overlong concept album Cassadaga. It’s been nearly four years, and in that time, Oberst put out a solo album and, along with Mogis, worked with M. Ward and My Morning Jacket’s Yim Yames on the indie all-star project Monsters of Folk. It sounds like Oberst, in particular, needed rejuvenation. His solo and Monsters of Folk tracks were all of high quality, but he failed to surprise, laying out a number of fairly traditional, folky tracks that didn’t embrace his trademark eclecticism." - Paste Magazine

Conor is back.  Many seem to disagree (i.e. Pitchfork giving this album a 5.0 and it being left off of most Albums of the Year lists) but this is the familiar spitting angst that I remember and helped me get through the valleys.  Yet, Conor has grown up a little.  Been through various projects.  Bad and good.  But this is the voice I want.  I haven't fell for a Conor Oberst album like this since 2005's Digital Ash in a Digital Urn.  There's elements of that album in The People's Key, especially on "Approximate Sunlight". 

I loved the addition of Denny Brewer on this record.  Created a great setting for the album and forces you out of your normal mind set and whether you think what he's saying is just ridiculous or sad or truthful, I think that's a powerful thing.  Here's how Rolling Stone described it, "Standout contributions came from El Paso musician Denny Brewer, a sixty­something biker and New Age shaman Oberst met while recording in Texas — and who adds mind-bending spoken-word passages. Brewer would pop by the studio and spend hours expounding on his ideas about human nature, alchemy and the Federal Reserve, and Oberst found himself rapt. 'A lot of people would write him off as a conspiracy-­theory crazy person," he says. "But then he'd turn a corner and hit on a point that was completely truthful.'"

2) Cliff Martinez, Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx, Desire, College, Riz Ortolani, The Cromatics - "DRIVE Soundtrack"


First of all, Drive was the best film I saw in 2011, so that obviously played heavily in this position on my list.  With that said, the music plays an enormous and integral part in the film.  The movie itself is almost one big music video.  Everything is to a certain beat and rhythm.  The opening track by Kavinsky, featuring vocals from CSS frontman, perfectly embodies the slow burning energy of the film.  Desire's "Under Your Spell" and College's "A Real Hero" provide the narrative for the love interest of the anti-hero played by Ryan Gosling.  Delicate but strong and an undeniable connection. 

If I ever calculatedly murder someone, it will be to "Oh My Love."

The rest of majority of the soundtrack is composed by Cliff Martinez.  His first job was composing for Pee Wee's Playhouse.  He also drummed for Captain Beefheart for a period of time.  Enough said. 

1) GIRLS - "Father, Son, Holy Ghost"

"And we're all gonna die.  All gonna die!  All gonna die!  All gonna die!"

Buddy Holly didn't die.  He was reincarnated as Christopher Owens.  But Christopher Owens grew up in the 90s and has a whole new host of angry and blunt influences.  How do GIRLS sound like 58 other old classic artists but yet sound like no one else in 2011?  Debut LP and follow up EP were fantastically fresh and exciting to me.  Nothing changed between those two releases.  Now everything has changed.  You can't fuck with GIRLS anymore.  Just listen to "Die".  They're finally coming together live as well.  Back in September, "Die" became a 9 minute jam out session when I saw them perform at the Majestic in Madison.  A jam session?  Like hair flying and necks bending?  Yea.  Christopher Owens might still look like Macaulay Culkin but he's moving with an odd confidence of a... well... adult Macaulay Culkin.  Owens is the heart of this band.  The voice, the lyrics.  Those come from him and his strange past and fantastically vibrant present.  With that said, you can't mention GIRLS and not mention Chet "JR" White.  It's because of Chet that the sound is now more cohesive.  It's his production on this album.  He brought the horns, keys, guitar, drums, backup vocals into one voice.  Owen's storytelling of young love just seems more honest than most.  It's also filled with cigarette butts, skinny jeans, unwashed hair, oversized sweaters, girl's underwear, used condoms, jangly guitar, weed, 5am parties, sitting in a field with the love of your life watching the sunrise, etc.  

"Jamie Marie" Straight up.  Boring video.  Just audio.  One of my favorites songs of the year.

Forget for a moment how much Pitchfork loves this band and just listen to this record.  This had to be my #1 because more so than any other 2011 album, I somehow know I'll still be listening to this record when I'm 63.

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