Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Will Piper's Top Ten of 2011

Will's 2011 Year in Music:
I have to say that this year was a banner year in terms of quality releases from some of my current favorite artists and discovering some new gems.  We are really blessed as a city to have 88.9 Radio Milwaukee and the Pabst/Riverside/Turner Hall group that brings a lot of cool indie music to the city which you wouldn't necessarily hear other pl  I tried to page homage to both by embedding links to local performances to go along with my Top 10 (whenever possible).  Thanks for reading.  I am looking forward to sharing music stories at Club Garabaldi on the 27th.

10.  Beirut The Rip Tide
With catchy melodies and fantastic, poppy use of horns, Beirut finally cracked my top 10 with this break out record.  I will also admit this is the concert I regret attending the most this year- I heard it was outstanding.  This record has the indie pop quirkiness that I admire in The Shins music coupled with interesting songwriting making for a bright fun record.  I have to say I greatly missed seeing their signature hit, "Santa Fe" from their Tuner Hall show this fall.

9. Okkervil River I Am Very Far
Will Sheff is a dramatic vocalist and lyricist and he and Okkervil River once again release a quality album in 2011.  I Am Very Far is a well-polished record with tracks ranging from the anthem"Valley" to more jangly numbers like "Your Past Life As A Blast."  What I really like about this disc is the interesting musical arrangements that accompany Sheff's storytelling. The passion which these guys perform with live is second to none as well.  Here is a cool video of "Wake and Be Fine" from Okkervil River's session at the Pabst Pub in this fall.

8. TV on the Radio Nine Types of Light
Coming off of 2008's critically acclaimed Dear Science, I was curious to see where TV on the Radio would go from there.  Their release, Nine Types of Light, is by far their most accessible effort to date and it works well.  Again, I'm a sucker for interesting melodies and using instrumentation in different ways, and this album delivers as a diverse work.  "Second Song" is one of my favorite tracks of the year.  "Caffeinated Conscientious," "Will Do" and "You" are also stand out numbers.  While I can't say the Nine Types of Light tops Dear Science, it is certainly a noteworthy album by a band that I would expect to play the Riverside on its next time through the city.  Too bad I didn't catch these guys back when they were playing Onopa Brewing Company.  The video I chose was their live performance of "Second Song" from their Pabst Theater show this fall.

7. The Head and the Heart The Head and the Heart
There is not much not to like about this Seattle band.  They have a great indie folk sound, a passionate live performance, and a debut that has no true dud songs in my opinion.  I saw these guys open for Iron and Wine and was blown away.  Great harmonic vocals and instrumentation too.  I only hope that they don't burn out with their fast rise from unknown to indie household name. Below is a video of Down in the Valley from their June 7th performance at Turner Hall.

6.  tUnE yArDs Who Kill
I had never heard of Merrill Garbus prior to this year.  In fact, it was the east coast blogger known as "Chunky Glasses" who first made me take notice by praising  tUnE yArDs' performance as on of the best he'd seen all year.  The album is different- kind of Ani DiFranco, kind of Paul Simon, kind of Vampire Weekend, kind of trippy, kind of poppy, kind of primal and awfully catchy all at the same time.  Seeing tUnE yArDs live was a true treat.  The crowd was wild (most enthusiastic crowd since I saw Edward Sharpe and Magnetic Zeroes at the Pabst last summer) and seeing Merrill do the live loops of her music on stage was pretty neat.  I look forward to seeing what comes next for tUnE yArDs.  Below is a video of Gangsta from her 11/11/11 show at Turner Hall.

5.  City and Colour Little Hell
 This is the folksiest release and perhaps the most raw record on my top 10 list for the year.  Great songwriting and intense delivery make City and Colour the artist I'm looking most forward to catching in 2012 (thanks for booking this show at the Pabst :) ).  In many ways this record has a candidness and earnestness that drew me to the early work of Ryan Adams a decade prior.  Listening to Little Hell, you can almost envision Dallas Green, tattoos and all, sitting in your living room pouring out these tunes with his voice and guitar.  "Natural Disaster" and "The Grand Optimist" are two of my favorite tunes released all year, and the rest of the album doesn't fail to deliver with great indie folk jams and passionate vocals.  Here is a cool live version of "The Grand Optimist" from City and Colour's show in Brooklyn, NY.

4.  M83 Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
I'll be honest... I am not a huge fan of electronic music. The last two releases that I would classify as more electronic in nature to crack my top ten were Animal Collective's masterpiece, Merriweather Post Pavilion and The Postal Service's Give Up, both of which are widely considered premier albums of the last ten years, and albums I will continually revisit.  Whether or not Hurry Up, We're Dreaming will have that same lasting power remains to be seen.  What this album has, however, is an overwhelming triumphant feeling which makes a lot of its tracks stand up as anthems. "Intro," "Midnight City," "Reunion," "Claudia Lewis," "Ok Pal," "Steve McQueen..." any one of these tracks makes me bop my head and think "life is good."  It doesn't hurt that my 3 and a half year old daughters love this disc and clap their hands whenever its played... it's kind of hard not to in my opinion.  This is an album best appreciated when played loud, "cranked up to 11."  The double-album, almost takes on a concept album nature and harkens back to what I loved about the Flaming Lips The Soft Bulletin back in 1999.   I have embedded a video of "Intro (featuring Zola Jesus)" from their Lincoln Hall performance in Chicago which I wish I was at.  Please book these guys in Milwaukee... please!

3.  The Decemberists The King is Dead
Since this album dropped in January, it is hard to believe I have literally had it in heavy rotation for the entire year on my iPod, and guess what, it hasn't gotten old.  In any other year this would easily have taken the #1 spot on my list.  Colin Melloy and company are back acting like, well, Colin Melloy and company, but this time, experimenting less with "prog-folk-rock" and more with "alt-country."  The Decemberists take a very different musical direction- veering from the rock opera of The Hazards of Love, and instead producing a folksy jangle-pop record in a similar vain to 1980's REM releases (but with less cryptic lyrics and more vibrant word choice).  I second my friend Stephen Bloch's remarks that my vocabulary is richer thanks to Melloy.  Who else could pull off the line "And the Panamanian child, stands at the Dowager Empress's side" in their REM inspired "Calamity Song?" Melloy channels my English major nerdiness for allusion, simile and word choice. The King is Dead is a musical treat from start to finish.  Perhaps the highlight of the album for me is the beautifully penned, "June Hymn."  Great lyrical imagery and tidy songwriting makes this album one of their strongest to dateHere is a video Stephen Bloch took of them performing "June Hymn" at the Overature Center in Madison from this past spring.

2.  Bon Iver Bon Iver
One cannot think of Bon Iver as a simple singer-songwriter act any more these days.  And rightfully so.  While "For Emma" did not crack my top ten (despite its widespread critical praise), I give my #2 nod for my album of the year this year to Bon Iver, and for good reason.  I listened to this album the most out of any release this year, and this record challenged and interested me enough to keep listening again and again.  Using sonic qualities and dramatic sound-scapes, Justin Vernon pens a record that took elevated his career from playing small clubs to the UIC Pavilion in a matter of months.  For what it's worth, he shared the same venue that Phish and the Arcade Fire played this year.  So, what's so great about Bon Iver?  I think what draws me to this record is that it challenges me.  Granted, the lyrics are hard to decipher and even harder to sing along to.  Vernon's falsetto is undecipherable throughout most of the record, and that's ok.  It's all about the whole sound.  There is no "Skinny Love" on this disc that begs you to put your hand in the back pocket of your date's jeans (or not) like you had on "For Emma."  Instead, you have a series of tunes about places near and far that are strung together in a fashion that makes the album stand together as a whole work and allows the individual the songs stick out as separate works simultaneously.  "Perth," "Calgary," and "Towers" are three of my favorites, but close behind are "Holocene," "Michicant" and "Wash."  For those who do not care for this record, it is hard for me to put into words what makes it so great in my opinion, but it certainly has garnered more listens this year than any record to date.  Will it be the pinicle of Vernon's career in a similar fashion to Sufjan Steven's Come on Feel the Illinoise?  Only time will tell.  To be honest, I am most curious to see what lies next for Bon Iver (hopefully some much needed time off in the north woods Wisconsin cabin after his massive tour).  Below is the tour opener from "Bon Iver Day" at the Riverside Theater.  My apologies for yelling "I love this song" audibly enough to be heard on his video.

1. Wilco The Whole Love
I am a homer my by nature.  Every year I predict that the Milwaukee Brewers will win the World Series, despite their odds, because I want to root for the home team, and have genuine faith that they will exceed expectations.  As Wilco has been my favorite band for over a decade, I, admittedly have a harder time finding fault with their work than an objective critic formally writing for a music blog or magazine.  Objectively, I listened to Bon Iver more, so it should be my album of the year.  Therein lies the intangible bias of the listener... I like Wico better.  I like Jeff Tweedy's voice better.  I like the diversity of the album from the sonically challenging, "Art of Almost" to the quicky-campy "Capital City" to the Elvis Costello B-Side sounding "Standing O."  Sobriety has been a blessing and a half for Jeff Tweedy who has elevated the band's live shows to a level where "excellent" and "exceptional" have become the norm from night to night.  For that, I say bravo!  This is the most interesting Wilco record since A Ghost is Born.  The book-ends of the album glue it together as an exceptional work... from opening with "The Art of Almost" to closing with (in my opinion, Tweedy's opus) "One Sunday Morning."  Below is video I shot from the Riverside Theater of the "One Sunday Morning."

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