Wednesday, December 21, 2011
PAUL SMAXWILL's TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2011
"But if I could tear his throat/Spill his blood between my jaws/And erase his name for good; don't you know that I would?/Don't you realize, I wouldn't pause, that I would cut him down with my claws/If I could somehow never let that happen. --"Black" by Okkervil River
I feel like Will Sheff every time I hear Lykke Li sing. Each time I hear about her being hurt. (Who would hurt this woman?!?) But she indeed has been hurt, wronged and stunned by what a whirlwind life following a huge debut album will do to you. I want to save her form the hurt. As a listener I know, just as she does that there is no escsaping it. In "Sadness Is A Blessing" her voice raises slighltly when she is ranting and pleading and begging for her past/present/future pain to stay. He doesn't. She changes. She's a prostitute. It's meaningless. She needs it. It's an outcome. It's over. The production on "Silent My Song" was handled by Phil Spector's non-crazy, non-union Swedish counterpart. As much as Cults, Sleigh Bells and Best Coast (aka Beach-y Hole) have tried to mine the vaults for an authentic jumping off point into the realm of wall-of-sound, doo wop and dramatics, Lykke Li has the market cornered. Had she not been so thoroughly roughed up by all of her experiences. We wouldn't have what I think is the year's best record. Maybe I shouldn't go about finding this guy and slashing his tires and then yelling some shit at him in Swedish about how he sullied an indie goddess. I should probably give him a shout out on this list for (indirectly) helping her put together such an album. Whatever. I still hate him.
Thrilling to hear this record after a sort of down effort in 2008 from them. More along the lyrically simple, but often restlessly apocalyptic lines of 2006's Eric Bachmann solo record To The Races. "Bad Blood" chugs along and breaks your heart without you knowing it. The harmoies between Bachmann and Liz Durrett sing-song you into thinking that maybe a song titled "Bad Blood" really is as pretty and innocent as they make it out to be. By the time it's done you realize that Bachmann is never going to get over it. Or anything. "Typhoon" is also a stunner to open the disc. And if you're feeling sinister, "Your Apocalypse" flutters by and equates the draining of a great lake to the echo from the space a loved one left. The man has a beautiful, talented steady girlfriend (Liz Durrett) in his band, so I wouldn't worry too much about him, but like I said, he doesn't get over things. Anything. And we are reaping all the benefits.
Not much to say about this one except that I believe Bill Callahan sees things. Things others don't. Not everything, but he certainly knows what he's doing. But he nails it every time. "America!" offends my pride and applauds my guilt in nearly equal measure. A genius view of America, from start to finish. Start there and get engrossed in just how on the head he is with all points of his game. "Riding For The Feeling", "One Fine Morning","Drover" and "Baby's Breath". All hall of fame Bill Callahan work that likely won't get heard by many people in Milwaukee not reading this list.
Personal rule that any Wisconsin-affiliated artist is exempt from my comments and will automatically be given the #4 spot. Arbitrary I know, but there cannot be any more to say about this album that hasn't already. I will say that their success couldn't happen to nicer people and that perhaps a tear or several shot from my central face during the weekend they played the Riverside. I'm fine with it. "Holocene","Towers","Perth" and "Michicant". Those are my guys. Also, check out Polica. The Bon Iver affiliation is there. They'll be blowing up soon.
Another guy who just constantly impresses each time out. 2006's Destroyer's Rubies. 2008's very underrated Trouble In Dreams. That is three albums in my top ten list in six years. Nice percentage. The songs are all there. The fussy vocal syncopation. The sleepy, half-sung lit rock unfurling in new locales. Now we're with Dan Bejar and we're chasing coke and wait....weren't we only three years ago talking with Bejar about "Nicole, she blasted on ecstasy in some East Pender harbor circa 1993. It was a good year." If you've followed the guy and were watching closely you saw all of this coming. The neon lights appearing and the quiet storm rolling in. Fucking around in "Chinatown". Heading "Downtown". And writing a "Suicide Note For Kara Walker" on a rolled up $20 bill then getting ambitious for the song's second half and slipping into a daze. By the end of the funked out extended instrumental that rides the track home it isn't clear if Kara Walker ever existed or why she'd need a eulogy and Bejar is off to his next spot on the map. Also, "Poor In Love" is beautifully paced and unfolds masterfully.
Listen to this new Feist album a few times all the way through. It won't take long to realize that the subtlety and heat Feist employs in her compositions accomplishes as much or more than the boisterous, broadstrokes preferred by heavy-hitters like Florence and Adele. Leslie Feist tells every bit the stories that they do, better in fact. Also, she manages to not mangle her vocal chords in the process. The lilting beauty that is Feist's voice flutters when necessary, but also grounds these songs in a dense, specific atmosphere, less relatable to most than Adele's crowd pleasers may be, but certainly not the lesser for executing them with such effortless grace and pensiveness.
2006 had Return To Cookie Mountain, a forceful examination of the state of the nation after three years of tumult and war. Hands down best record of '06. 2008 had Dear Science, an apocalyptic electro-thriller simultaneously concerned with shimmying and strutting all funky-like while the country went to shit. Dance party for the apocalypse. Rapid fire reports of bleak outlooks in "DMZ" and elsewhere. But this thing here now, Nine Types Of Light. Kyp, Tunde and Sitek calmed down a little bit. It's still there on the horizon. The apocalypse looms. And that's cool. Because TV On The Radio put this record out so you can get your fuck on. Get your fuck on romantically to the opening bells and bass of "Will Do". Get your fuck on to the blasts of horns and danceable direction to shift your light into a new position during "Second Song". And majestically get your fuck on to the lie that you were the only one Tunde ever loved in the showstopper "You". Sad year for them though. Hope they stick it out and make new records for a while going forward. In any event the four ridiculously good albums they've released in their history as a band have all landed on those yearly top 10 lists. To me they are indie-rock hall of famers. Discuss.
"Midnight City" will be heard for the rest of out lives, frequently and out of context. You'll hear it in ads for Victoria's Secret. You'll hear it at stadiums between timeouts and between innings. You'll hear it at the better wedding receptions. You'll see the stink faces on the older crowds at those weddings. They didn't just sniff a bad wheel of cheese. No, they know that they don't like this song now and they will be hearing it for the rest of their lives, likely hating it more and more until they die. Apologies to them. I love the song from the first honk. One of those indelible opening runs of notes that will ingratiate itself into your brain and make you impulsively honk those opening notes somewhere down the line at a grocery store in, say 2044. It'll be cool again because right around this time JayZ and Beyonce's kid decides to sample "Midnight City" for a track on Weezy's Tha Carter XVI. Can't wait! Also, "Outro" is pretty epic. I hate the word epic, but if there is another way to describe the last :50 of that song then I just don't have the vocabulary.
Upon subsequent listens of their debut record and frequent spins of "I Don't Want Love", "Putting The Dog To Sleep", "Rolled Together" and "Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out" I have to say that to definitively say that this band has to it's credit two of the top thirty records released since the beginning of 2009. The well of pain runs deep in Peter Silberman and he's letting you know. Less of the build-to-shimmering-bombast than Hospice, but the earnest dirges take on a whole new level of frankness as a result of the restraint. It feels like Silberman is going to tell it like it is, his guileless approach allowing self-preservation as much as it disguises his pain. It's not confidence at play when he tells you he's figured out he doesn't want love or that you've been thinking about 86ing his dog. He's answering himself any questions he'd thought to ask because he's figured it out and love's not coming back.
The entire record couldn't be more slinky and sleazy and creepy and meandering--and all of those descriptors are meant in the best possible way. Sounds as though it is recorded remotely underwater or, better yet, in an underground bomb shelter where only enough sound gets in that they can hear David Lynch sitting above them on the surface, tapping his foot and playing freaky snippets of strange jazz records while teaching himself how to play Floyd Cramer's "Last Dance" on a fucked up piano. That muffled influence is what begat this record. It's not just a clever album title.
#11) Fading Parade by Papercuts
#12) I Want That You Are Always Happy by The Middle East
#13) Loud Planes Fly Low by The Rosebuds
#14) Tell Me by Jessica Lea Mayfield
#15) Believers by AA Bondy
Favorite Album Cover Of 2011:
Just something about it.
Top 10 Live Shows of 2011:
#1) 3/29/11 Destroyer w/ The War On Drugs
@ Lincoln Hall-Chicago
#2) 9/11/11 The National w/ Sharon Van Etten, Neko Case
@ Hollywood Bowl-LA
#3) 9/1/11 TV On The Radio w/ Seluah
@ Pabst Theater-Milwaukee
#4) 11/12/11 Crooked Fingers w/ Strand Of Oaks, Testa Rosa
@ Cactus Club-Milwaukee
#5) 7/22/11 Bon Iver w/ The Rosebuds
@ Riverside Theater-Milwaukee
#6) 4/26/11 The National w/ The Pains Of Being Pure at Heart, Twin Shadow
#7) 4/7/11 Sharon Van Etten w/ Little Scream, Juniper Tar
@ Pabst Theater-Milwaukee
#8) 6/30/11 Kanye West w/ Kid Cudi
@ Marcus Amphitheater-Milwaukee
#9) 10/3/11 St. Vincent w/ Cate Le Bon
@ Pabst Theater-Milwaukee
#10) 12/6/11 The National w/ Local Natives, Wye Oak
@ Aragon Ballroom-Chicago