Friday, December 23, 2011

Annie Ruth’s Top 10 of 2011

10. Lonely Island – Turtleneck & Chain – I feel like I have to include a joke album on this list every year, but let’s be honest:  Samberg & Co can actually rap.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that they were able to round up big name guests including Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg, Beck, Rhianna, Akon, Michael Bolton, and Nikki Minaj to support their skills.   Although some of the new music that didn’t make it in my top 10 might be technically better, if I’m being completely honest, I listened to this way more than any of them.  Nothing brightens my mood after a crappy day than hearing Andy Samberg shout, “I threw it on the GROUND”.

9. Amanda Palmer – Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under – I suppose I’m stretching the rules on this since it is A.  (mostly) a live album and B. has a ton of covers (including an audience sing-along of the vegemite song), but I’m including it because Amanda did in fact include a number of brand new tunes on this recording of her concert in the Sydney Opera House, and they are simply delightful.  Few performers have such a natural give-and-take with both the audience and other performers onstage, and while this is due in large part to the diehard nature of Amanda’s fan base, the chitchat really adds to, rather than detracting from, the spirit of the album.  Spanning song topics from her hatred of Vegemite to her love of the muff, Amanda takes the audience from lulling Ukelele numbers to overly-dramatic, nearly operatic piano pieces, with the help of a number of her friends.  The only thing that would have taken this over the top for me would have been if she’d invited hubby Neil Gaiman onstage for a song, as she is prone to do at concerts…but ending things out with a Nick Cave cover was almost as good.
Also my pick for Best Video:  Map of Tasmania – If you like muffs, you’ll love this video.  Warning:  NSFW
8. Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys! – I was turned on to Elbow by a friend living in London and have been thoroughly enjoying delving into their catalogue.  Although this album is much more laid back than the others, they still exhibit the slow builds leading up to delightful crescendos that seem to be the trademark of this group.  If you enjoy Doves, this band is definitely for you (although I would advocate starting on “The Seldom Seen Kid” versus this album).  They have a great knack for unexpected humor in their lyrics as well – for example, on “The Night Will Always Win,” a song about missing an imperfect ex-lover: “I miss your stupid face, I miss your bad advice.”  Guy Garvey’s voice isn’t perfect and wavers at times, but that only adds to the genuineness of their sound. 
7. Danger Mouse & Daniel Luppi – Rome – This took me several listens to get into, but once I did it paid off fabulously.  It’s a soundtrack for a movie which doesn’t exist, and I think a lot of people were turned off because essentially it is background music, but if you truly give it a listen as just that and allow it to dictate your mood, it’s a lovely experience.  I enjoy playing this on long walks and allowing it to transform the gritty Chicago streets into Italian cobblestones while imagining vespas whizzing by.  Luppi and Danger mouse did a wonderful job “casting” the vocals on this album as well, as Jack White and Nora Jones’ voices lend a longing undercurrent which gives this soundtrack its storyline. 
6. Carloman – s/t – I will let Carloman’s own website sum up this album:  “An ancient story of bestiary, religious and political strife drowned in the deafening whispers of tortured souls tumbling through bile and chaos into the beautiful nausea that is the world of Carloman... “  Intrigued?  Carloman is essentially taking retro to its logical conclusion by going waaaay back to minstrel times.  History nerds rejoice!  Not only is this an intriguing experiment in bringing back medieval music (Lute, anyone?), but you get a little history lesson involving Charlemagne’s much-maligned little brother.  Despite the difference in centuries, many of us can relate to the themes of jealousy and overshadowing, attention-hogging siblings.  If this fabulously throw-way-back retro album is any indication of  things to come, then I plan to pack my Jacobean Ruff this Christmas in case the Tudor style comes back into fashion. 
5. Brent Hinds Presents – West End Motel:  Don’t Shiver, You’re a Winner / Fiend Without a Face – While I very much enjoy Mastadon, sometimes I feel that they take themselves a little too seriously.  Not so with Brent Hinds’ side projects.  This lovely bit of psychobilly on Fiend without a Face hands us some magnificent, often surfy guitar work, while West End Motel delivers more off-the-cuff gems, all without being hampered with the dramatic undertones of Mastadon. 
4. Jane’s Addiction – The Great Escape Artist – What a stimulating injection of new sound TVOTR’s Dave Sitek was for Jane’s.  It’s like they took the classic Jane’s sound and sling-shot it into the distant future.  Jane’s has been through the mill when it comes to bassists (don’t get me wrong, GREAT bassists, from Flea to Duff McKagan), and it was fascinating to see someone come into this mix and have a very definite impact on the overall Jane’s sound.  Versus their last outing (Strays) it was refreshing to hear this band evolve and not be content to rest on their laurels.  As a diehard Jane’s fan, it makes me extremely excited for their potential in the years to come. 
I also just love that they insisted on bringing their dancing bitches on Letterman.
3. Beats Antique – Elektrafone – Just stumbled onto these guys at Lolla after listening to their track on the sample, and boy was I glad I did.  Their mix of electronic and world music was unlike anything I have come across.  I know, “world music”…yawn.  But don’t let that fool you.  Their tracks are something more akin to a dance party in the middle east.  The live show involved a dizzying mixture of DJing, live instruments (Hammered Dulcimer and Oboe come to mind, but there were too many to count/identify), and belly dancing, which is an integral part of the show.  The album is splendid, but you will be treated to a completely exuberant experience if you can make it to one of their live shows.  Also, I should note that we ran into them at a pub after Lolla, and despite me acting like a dorky fan, they were very nice and gave me some free stickers.
2. Ida Maria – Katla – I have just been dying for more of Ida Maria ever since catching them at Lolla a few years ago and this album was worth the wait.  Whimsical with a distinct edge, Ida is like the girl who is nice until you cross her…then you had better clear out, fast.  It’s poppy with a distinctly sultry vibe at times, perfect tunes for a burlesque club.  This is an album for ladies who consider themselves Maneaters, yet it will suddenly change course and go from key-your-boyfriend’s-car harsh (Bad Karma) to sweet as sugar (Quite Nice People), and finally end on a bluesy note (Gallery).  It couldn’t be more fun to listen to, with a lovely sense of humor as well as both heart and grit.  I cannot get enough. 
1. The Kills – Blood Pressures – I’m not sure if it was Jack White’s influence or Kate Moss’s, but whatever Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart are doing in their time away from the Kills…it’s working.   This album sounded much more like actual music than two stoners in a room experimenting with weird noises.  Still true to the bare, minimalist sound of previous Kills albums, the Kills seemed to finally arrange everything in the magic combination they’ve been trying to unlock.  And it was worth the wait.  Not to mention that after seeing Alison Mosshart front both the Kills and Dead Weather, basically becoming the most intense stage presence in a group of otherwise male and extremely intense band members,  she is pretty much my personal rock-girl hero. 
Honorable Mentions:  Mute Math – The Odd Soul, Devotchka – 100 Lovers, Bad Meets Evil – Hell: The Sequel, TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light, Washed Out – Within & Without, The Black Keys – El Camino, Electric Six – Heartbeats and Brainwaves
Best Soundtrack:  Drive – They really allowed the music in this film to shine by jacking up the volume in certain moments so that you are enveloped in sound.  Not only is the selection awesome, but they paired it perfectly to set your mood in different scenes.  Well played, Nick Refn.

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