Wednesday, December 14th, 2011


Chromewaves’ favourite albums of 2011

2011Image by Frank YangFrank Yang

Okay, let’s get this over with. More than any year in recent memory, 2011 was tough to distill down to a top ten – not because there was a dearth of notable releases, but because there was a glut of them. Plenty of records this year were good to great – from those you’d expect as much from, those who surprised by upping their game and/or those who you’d simply never heard of before – but head-and-shoulders standouts? More of a chore than I expected.

But here are ten records which, as of this midway point of the final month of 2011, do a pretty good job of representing what I listened to and enjoyed the most in the past twelve. I like the mix of geography, genres, and genders and also of veterans and up-and-comers – I think most who’d know would agree this is a pretty, “me” list and consistent with past years. And if you can be bothered to read the past prefaces, you’ll see that those, too, are pretty consistent. Which is to say repetitive. So no more talking, yeah?

Yeah. And you like the philatelic angle for this year’s art? I do.

Beirut / The Rip Tide (Pompeii)

Always a casual fan of the Beirut but not what you’d call a believer, The Rip Tide won me over by concentrating less on sounding of a time and place and more on just writing great songs and melodies and letting the rest take care of itself. Because if you do that and bring them to a band like Zach Condon has assembled, there’s simply no way it’s not going to sound sun-kissed, sweeping, and beautiful. Putting this record on is like taking a 33-minute vacation.

Stream: Beirut – “Santa Fe”
Stream: Beirut – “East Harlem”
Video: Beirut – “Santa Fe”

Anna Calvi / Anna Calvi (Domino)

Anna Calvi’s debut reminds me not a little of Jeff Buckley’s first record, all of seventeen years ago, in hitting that sweet spot that pulls together pop and drama, virtuosity and songcraft, potential and accomplishment and makes it dark, seductive, sensual, and goddamn sexy. All that and jaw-dropping guitar playing – what’s not to like? A thing of mystery and beauty and hopefully just the beginning.

MP3: Anna Calvi – “Blackout”
Video: Anna Calvi – “Blackout”
Video: Anna Calvi – “Desire”
Video: Anna Calvi – “Suzanne & I”
Stream: Anna Calvi / Anna Calvi

Crooked Fingers / Breaks In The Armor (Merge)

I think this one slipped under the radars of most thanks to the hubbub around the return of Archers Of Loaf, but it deserves some attention. It doesn’t redefine Crooked Fingers, as Eric Bachmann has done numerous times in the past, but instead represents a summation of everything that he’s done in that guise, from the spare to the lush, the ruminant to the rocking. Sometimes the very best thing is one of your favourite artists reminding you of why that is.

MP3: Crooked Fingers – “Typhoon”
Stream: Crooked Fingers / Breaks In The Armor

Destroyer / Kaputt (Merge)

And other times, some wholesale reinvention is exactly what’s needed. Dan Bejar, having mastered the guitar-led free-form poetics of his last few records, decided to go all smooth jazz, lounge-rock and ambient-electro on his latest. That it would be polarizing was obvious; that it would be brilliant wasn’t, but it is and it’s a record that’s so unique and odd and compelling that the addition of an extra side of largely ambient compositions entitled “The Laziest River” on the vinyl edition somehow makes the record even better.

MP3: Destroyer – “Chinatown”
Video: Destroyer – “Savage Night At The Opera”
Video: Destroyer – “Kaputt”

Elbow / build a rocket boys! (Downtown)

Some will get on Elbow for being a bit dad-rock and sentimental, and yeah – it’s true that they’re not the edgiest band on the block. But with age and experience comes the ability to write about love – not just the romantic but all its myriad forms – with honesty, sensitivity, and beauty. No cynicism here, and some days you need that. Most days, really.

MP3: Elbow – “Open Arms”
Video: Elbow – “Open Arms”
Video: Elbow – “Neat Little Rows”

Emmy The Great / Virtue (Close Harbour)

It’s a shame for Emma-Lee Moss that the huge creative leap between her first and second albums had to come at the cost of such personal turmoil, but from great ordeal comes great art. Virtue has all the wit and wordplay of her debut, but adds rich and creative production as she tries to navigate deep emotional waters with story and allegory.

MP3: Emmy The Great – “A Woman, A Woman, A Century Of Sleep”
Video: Emmy The Great – “Paper Forest (In The Afterglow Of Rapture)”
Video: Emmy The Great – “Iris”
Stream: Emmy The Great / Virtue

Fucked Up / David Comes To Life (Matador)

Exhausting but also exhilarating, the main point of appeal for this audacious hardcore rock opera isn’t the ambitious narrative or Damian Abraham’s throat-shredding roar; it’s the incredible, stadium-sized guitar riffing of Mike Haliechuk and company. Utterly incendiary stuff, and oh yeah the rest of it’s pretty good too. It only took a couple of years to get me from “I don’t like these guys” to “one of my top albums of the year”; well done.

MP3: Fucked Up – “The Other Shoe”
MP3: Fucked Up – “Ship Of Fools”
MP3: Fucked Up – “A Little Death”
MP3: Fucked Up – “Queen Of Hearts”
Video: Fucked Up – “Turn The Season”
Video: Fucked Up – “The Other Shoe”
Video: Fucked Up – “Queen Of Hearts”

I Break Horses / Hearts (Bella Union)

I don’t rank albums – I let the alphabet do that for me – but I usually have a clear, single favourite album in a given year and for this year, it’s Hearts. So warm and immersive with its blankets of synths and Maria Linden’s gorgeous vocals, it’s a record that I was actually afraid to play over and over again lest its magic fade with familiarity. I eventually got over that and the magic hasn’t faded a bit. Inarticulatable beauty.

MP3: I Break Horses – “Winter Beats”
MP3: I Break Horses – “Hearts”
Video: I Break Horses – “Winter Beats”
Video: I Break Horses – “Hearts”
Stream: I Break Horses / Hearts

Loney Dear / Hall Music (Polyvinyl)

Every Loney Dear album has been a stylistic iteration of similar meditations on melancholy, but with Hall Music Emil Svanängen has made both his most intimate and expansive-sounding record and in doing so, struck a new chord that resonated perfectly with the cathedral-created reverberations he had to work with. And he closed it out with one of the very finest pop songs of the year in “What Have I Become”.

MP3: Loney Dear – “What Have I Become”
MP3: Loney Dear – “Calm Down”
MP3: Loney Dear – “My Heart”
Video: Loney Dear – “Young Hearts”

Sloan / The Double Cross (Outside)

If you told me at any point in the past decade or so that Sloan would make one of my year-end lists, I’d have asked you what you were on. After all, they’d long settled into a groove of releasing okay records but certainly nothing that would stop me in my tracks. But to mark their twentieth year as a band, they seemed to have decided that the best anniversary gift was an album that reaffirmed them as one of the country’s best power-pop bands and that would stand up amongst their very best.

MP3: Sloan – “Follow The Leader”
MP3: Sloan – “The Answer Was You”
MP3: Sloan – “Unkind”
Video: Sloan – “Unkind”

By : Frank Yang at 8:30 am
Category: Year-End List

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

RSS Feed for this post15 Responses.
  1. Scott says:

    Great, as always… (I’m sure my comments year to year may look a little redundant too)…

    That being said, you’ve commented on how great I Break Horses were in multiple posts, and somehow I just didn’t listen to them… I kept expecting folksy, harmonic, slightly country-tinged music… I finally, based on your ranking, threw your linked MP3s on… good LORD I can’t believe I missed this. So dumb on my part… thanks, as always, for pointing out some of the goodies I’ve managed to overlook.

  2. Frank Yang says:

    oh I’m glad you gave IBH a click; the name is from a Will Oldham song, so thinking “country” wasn’t off base, but no – they’re opening for M83 in the Spring and it’s a very logical fit. Except IBH is miles better, IMO – there’s magic in those songs.

  3. Martin says:

    What did you use to make the stamp artwork? Especially interested in creating some UK stamp designs.

  4. Frank Yang says:

    just photoshop; I found a clean, high-res image of a stamp and used that for the perforations (trying to fake it in PS was fiasco) and then edited the album artwork to fit. tried to find matching fonts and just went from there. The QEII silhouette was also taken from a high-res stamp scan and the colour changed with PS overlays. It was frustrating to get the necessary pieces in place but after that it was quite fun.

  5. Stu says:

    I concur on the I Break Horses – nice find! Also glad to see Elbow up there. Caught them for the first time this year after being a fan for some time. Incredible live show, and the new album has a gorgeous subtlety that keeps me coming back.
    Surprised not to see The War on Drugs up there.

  6. Bruce says:

    Yes, nice PS work there, especially on the main image. That there would make for some confused (but multi-lingual) postal workers! No huge surprises on your list, but would have thought the terrific record by the Dum Dum Girls would have made it into the top ten. But I get it, no doubt much agonizing led to your finalists. I also checked out I Break Horses after your recommendation, and I’m definitely intrigued enough to check them out further, so thanks!

  7. paul says:

    it probably won’t receive much mention on year end lists but i just have to plug Active Child’s, ‘you are all i see’…such an immersive and fwd thinking listening experience…

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  9. Lisa says:

    Nice list Frank, glad to see Sloan has made the cut. Loved what they did this year. I avoided listening to I Break Horses purely because the name is from a depressing Bonnie song that I can never listen to anymore, but obviously I missed out on something amazing.

  10. Chris says:

    Sorry to be a nerd, but ‘I Break Horses’ is actually a Smog song…

  11. Frank Yang says:

    and this is what I get for not double-checking. I’m neither a Smog nor Palace devotee so I wouldn’t have know. ANYWAYS.

    Smog. Bill Callahan. Ugh.

  12. Joe M says:

    not a fan of Bill Callahan? His Apocalypse album is actually one of the best this year for me.

  13. Frank Yang says:

    more like I’ve just never taken the time to explore his work.

    the “ugh” wasn’t in reference to him. just my fact-checking skills.

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