So many personal unwritten rules violated…
I don’t know if I’ve ever given the #1 rekkid of the year to the same artist two years in a row. I’m nearly positive that I’ve never given top honors to a rekkid released in December. Then this happened…
1. The Black Keys – El Camino (Nonesuch)
If last year’s glorious opus Brothers was the sound of a good band maturing into a truly great band, El Camino is the sound of that great band finally, truly having fun. Even in its darkest moments, El Camino seems somehow absolutely permeated with unbridled joy. Akron’s finest (sorry Lebron) moved down to Nashville (sorry Akron), brought in their pal Dangermouse as co-producer, co-writer, co-conspirator, and de facto third Black Key, and they have produced some of the most joyful noise of this young century. Standouts like “Lonely Boy”, “Run Right Back”, and “Stop Stop” are guaranteed to make you move. The extraordinary “Gold on the Ceiling” stands as a powerful, existential anthem for a band who, after years of paying dues, has suddenly become one of the great musical voices on the planet. There is nary a dud nor spit-back in this box of chocolates.
2. TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light (Interscope)
This rekkid jumped to the top of this list the moment it was released and sat there for most of the year. I was fully expecting to crown it best of 2011 right up until early December when, well, you know what happened. That said, Nine Types of Light is plenty worthy of being anyone’s best of the year. Following on its admittedly more energetic predecessor Dear Science, this album was greeted with an undue amount of indifference from the critics. Many of whom seem to have listened to it once, not been driven to the dance floor, and written it off as above average. While I admit Nine Types of Light is not going to force you to shake it (there is nothing so insistent as “Dancing Choose” here), it remains a magnificent rekkid. Infused with themes of love and loss, it is one of the most romantic art-rock albums I’ve ever heard. At its heart is the positively gorgeous sonic masterpiece “Killer Crane”, which is possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve heard all year.
3. Wild Flag (Merge)
“Don’t call me a supergroup.” Way back in the before time, Carrie Brownstein and Mary Timony collaborated on a side project EP under the name Spells. Revisiting that release will give you hints of what was to come, but won’t quite prepare you for the awesome power of Wild Flag. They don’t like to be called a supergroup, so let’s call it a high octane meeting of indie rock minds. Wild Flag is Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney/Portlandia) and Timony (Helium/M. Timony Band) on guitars and vocals, Rebecca Cole (the Minders) on keys and backing vocals, and the marvelous Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney/Quasi/Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks) on drums and backing vocals. Together they become greater than the sum of their parts. They become a force of nature. The more jagged edges of Brownstein’s flat out rawk are slightly softened by Timony’s psychy-proggy sensibilities and the result is one of the finest rock-and-roll oufits walking the planet. Check out the massive “Race Horse” and delight at Brownstein’s downright feral vocal as it leads you into perhaps the greatest indie guitar duel since Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. Delicious stuff.
4. Arctic Monkeys – Suck It and See (Domino)
The first time I heard this rekkid I feared that Arctic Monkeys may have lost the plot and gone the way of altogether too many good British rock bands; trying to turn themselves into U2. However, my early fears have since been allayed, and repeated listenings revealed this to be one of the finest albums of the year. Indeed, the snotty aggression of their first two albums and the desert sludge of their third have been tempered here, making it probably their most accessible outing yet. But this is no selling out to mainstream bombast and empty sound and fury. It is, in fact, a finely and subtly crafted, exceptional rock rekkid, powered by the songwriting prowess of Alex Turner, who may be the greatest pop music wordsmith of his generation. There are as many great turns of phrase on exhibit here as on any of Elvis Costello’s rekkids in his prime. Personal favorite examples from the title track: “That’s not a skirt girl that’s a sawn off shotgun/ and I can only hope you’ve got it aimed at me…” “Jigsaw women with horror movie shoes/ be cruel to me cos I’m a fool for you.” Ex-TRAW-dinry!
5. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic)
Don’t tell my wife (though I think she already suspects), but I am completely smitten with Lykke Li. It started innocently enough when my co-worker brought an advance copy of Wounded Rhymes in to work. I was immediately captivated by the sound. Sort of Phil Spector filtered through all that has followed in music since the wall-of-sound heyday, resulting in a sonic brew that is somehow old as the hills and brand spanking new, with Lykke herself as a Swedish mutant Ronnie Spector belting out slices of her soul atop a towering edifice of percussion and reverb. On stage she combines the most appealing aspects of Stevie Nicks, Patti Smith, and every Euro-girl pop singer of the 60’s. Listen to “Jerome” and try to not fall madly in love with Lykke Li. I double dog dare ya.
6. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD)
I must admit to having been ignorant of St. Vincent’s (Annie Clark’s) art-rock brilliance until this year. A back and forth interview between her and Patton Oswalt plus the cover article in successive issues of Under the Radar changed that. High art indie rock from one of the greatest pure composers in the business.. Think of a 21st century blend of Laurie Anderson and Kate Bush, with hints of Bjork and much better guitar chops. “Cheerleader” and the title track are worth the price of admission all by themselves.
7. Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (Capitol)
What can I say, it’s been a great year for new work by old guys. The best of which is this rekkid. After a couple of mostly forgettable outings (which, given the Boys’ tortoise-challenging pace of releases, means it’s been a while), Brooklyn’s most-illinest return to top form in a big way. Funky, crafty, and ridiculously funny (“make ya sick like a Kenny Rogers roaster”), this is one some of the most fun you’ll have listening to music.
8. Gruff Rhys – Hotel Shampoo (Ovni)
You knew this would be on this list. The truth is that I find Gruff to be one of the greatest artists of his generation. The Super Furry Animals front man acquits himself admirably on his third and most accessible solo effort, putting all of his Brian Wilson/Lennon-McCartney melodic talents and his unique turns of phrase to fine use.
9. The Horrors – Skying (XL)
It’s as if someone accidentally let a little sliver of sunshine hit these rail-thin, gothic, shoe-gazing hipsters and the results are fabulous. A shade of Echo and the Bunnymen style psychedelia has been added to their dark and trippy mix, making for their finest work to date.
10. Feist – Metals (Cherrytree)
Another rekkid that received undeserved critical indifference, perhaps due to the conspicuous lack of bouncy indie-pop tunes that marked her previous album. This is an artful, subtle, folk-inflected masterwork punctuated by ingenious uses of dynamics, subdued tempos, and orchestrations that manage to be impossibly lush despite their minimalism.
11.Dum Dum Girls – Only in Dreams (Sub Pop)
Imagine Chrissie Hynde fronting the Jesus and Mary Chain, singing songs that seem to be break-up songs but are actually about the death of a beloved parent. Got it? I’m guessing what you’ve imagined sounds remarkably like this remarkable rekkid.
12. Wire – Red Barked Tree (Pink Flag)
More great new work buy old guys. The original art-punks produce their finest work in decades.
13. Wye Oak – Civilian (Merge)
Hypnotic, alt-country tinged, gorgeous indie rock. Need I say more?
14. Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears – Scandalous (Lost Highway)
High energy, nasty, old-school rock-rhythm-and-blues. Joe Lewis’ guitar sound is positively filthy. This rekkid will take you to “Booty City”.
15. The Kills – Blood Pressures (Domino)
The best rekkid yet from this trans-Atlantic art-blues-punk duo.
16. Wagon Christ – Toomorrow (Ninja Tune)
I’m not a big techno/electronica fan, but everything Luke Vibert does slays me. This is no exception.
17. Tinariwen – Tassili (Anti)
The most intimate rekkid yet from these Saharan nomadic desert afro-blues legends, with delightful guest appearances by Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone of TVotR.
18. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Vagrant)
Perhaps the most socially and politically relevant rekkid of the year. It sits at or near the top of most British music press best of 2011 lists.
19. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – Mirror Traffic (Matador)
More intimate and less epic than its predecessor, a fine turn nonetheless from one of indie rock’s guitar gods.
20. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Soul Time! (Daptone)
This album contains previously released material, which would normally disqualify it from this list. But the rekkid is just too damned good to leave off.
And the rest… quality rekkids that missed the top 20 cut.
David Kilgour & the Heavy 8’s Left by Soft
The Bats Free All the Monsters
Dangermouse & Daniele Luppi present “Rome” starring Jack White & Norah Jones
Dennis Coffey s/t
Gang of Four Content
Mike Watt Hyphenated-Man
The War on Drugs Slave Ambient
S.C.U.M. Again into Eyes
M83 Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
Reissues oh the Year
The Kinks Kinda Kinks
The Kinks The Kink Kontroversy
Best shows of 2011
TV on the Radio at First Avenue
Gruff Rhys with Y Niwl at the Triple Rock Social Club
Lykke Li at First Avenue
Worst show of 2011
The Black Keys at Roy Wilkins Auditorium (for all I know they played a fabulous show, but the Twin Cities' crappiest venue made them inaudible. RWA needs to be swallowed up by the Earth so no one will ever play there again. Terrible.)