Disclaimer: I had yet another big year. I experienced my first relationship of sorts, my first messy break-up, unsatisfying and stressful jobs, failed interviews, the loss of friends through death and little communication, and a long, winding depression to go with it all. My relationship to music, which has always been the strongest aspect of my personal media consumption, took a backseat to self-reflective silence for the majority of it. It wasn’t until late September finally came around along with a new job that I was able to begin feeling like myself again. As such, I ended up playing “catch-up” near the year’s end.
SO, the following list is composed of what found me while all the rest of that was going on. Enjoy.
Timber Timbre’s Creep On Creepin’ On
This was my favorite of 2011. Haunting, melancholy folk music sung by one of the most unique voices I’ve heard in a long time. This album instantly made me feel like I’d been familiar with it all my life, as if it was a vintage, old-timey list of ghostly standards. Given the overwhelming feelings of loss that followed me throughout the year, the line “All I need is some sunshine” out of “Black Water” was a stark reminder that the feelings and year itself would pass with the aid of some vacation time and vitamin D. This album is essentially a stark comfort blanket, dealing with themes of growing older and losing youthful idealism, repetitious, often unhealthy thought patterns, and endless questioning of selfhood.
“Oh, hey Björk…what’s up? Oh, you recorded a new album that sounds like you again? That’s cool…haven’t heard one of those since Vespertine, ten years ago. Woah, I really like these singles. They’re catchy, and they’ve got some classy, dubstepy edge sometimes. Yeah, I don’t really like dubstep, either, but I think you did it really well because you made it short, sweet, and unexpected. Thank you for the harp fix, too, because I don’t think anyone else really utilized that this year. And the celestial theme-it’s perfect. Your new hairstyle, however…”
Son Lux’s We Are Rising
Admittedly, I found this album because its weird yet brilliant opening track, “Flickers,” appeared in the first episode of American Horror Story, and I’m nerdy enough to have looked at that TV show’s website more than a handful of times. I found out later that this whole album was written and recorded in February of 2011, and that the man behind it is a classically trained composer who attended IU in Bloomington. The album itself is a surprising mixture of sparse orchestral elements, haunting atmosphere, and catchy, primitive repetition. Despite the fact that it was conceptualized from start to finish within a month, it’s remarkably polished, and lyrically universal. Impressive.
Florence + The Machine’s Ceremonials
“How do you feel about Florence + The Machine?” I had asked my friend, Adam. Adam responded that all of her music may be set to the following image: a closeted gay man walks into an American Apparel and tries on a sweater that will certainly out him if he purchases it, but the sweater fits him more perfectly than any sweater before it. He then breaks down crying in the dressing room as he decides that he’s going to just do it. He’s going to make the purchase. That image and stigma aside, I generally really like Florence + The Machine, despite the fact that I’ve never been fully comfortable with the fact that she specializes in modern power ballads. I saw her perform in July and it was like watching a forest sprite prancing around while doubling as a mythical siren on an island. Oh, right, the album. It’s darker than the last, and simultaneously a tad grander. The opening track, “Only If For a Night,” produces some of the same feelings that “Cosmic Love” did, only with some kind of Victorian “I’m carrying a lantern down a hallway and following an apparition in slow motion while bellowing out this song” kind of a feel. While I love that, I will say that the album’s single “Shake It Off” feels like a patronizing effort to appease any and all inevitable future chick flick requests that Florence should get. Even when I needed to hear that message, I completely resented it. In general, this album is solidly good, in spite of my snarky comments about it.
Good Luck’s Without Hesitation
Bloomington greats, Good Luck, have experienced what feels like a meteoric, though still “underground,” rise in popularity and recognition over the past couple years. In reality, this is the result of extensive touring (in the US and UK) and charming personalities colliding with pop punk that makes you feel like it’s okay to forget any and all depressing thoughts you might have, at least for the duration of their albums or performances. Their songs are about enjoying your nerdiness, feeling alive, and getting locked in positive moments. While I haven’t quite connected to this album the way that I connected to 2008’s Into Lake Griffy (perhaps because I only recently got it), I know that I will. This album isn’t as Bloomington-centric, but it still makes me feel as oddly nostalgic for Bloomington as its predecessor.
Spank Rock’s Everything Is Boring and Everyone Is a Fucking Liar
I became aware of Spank Rock only recently because I decided that I really wanted stuff that was similar to the ATL RMX album that Adult Swim produced in 2009 (which stands as some of my most favorite danceable stuff ever). When looking into XXXChange, who was responsible for one of my favorite remixes on the album, I noticed that the link on the Wikipedia page for the album took me to Spank Rock instead of his page. Then I went to YouTube to investigate. That’s how my process works. Anyway, this album is bizarre, catchy and danceable. It’s bass-heavy with a kind of retro 80’s rap feel in his voice. There are elements of low production value, but they’re done well. Whenever something sounds cheap, it’s intentional, sometimes leading into Aphex Twin-like electronic distortion swoops. Lyrically, it’s a mixture of the usual rap subject matter with a kind of schizophrenic, unpredictable edge. Sometimes, it’s just ridiculous, but he’s aware of that. The whole thing wraps up in a funky track called “Energy” that completely breaks character from the rest of it and ends up feeling like the afterthought: “Oh, shit, we really need another single on this.” Maybe they did, but with or without that single, I enjoyed the album.
Little Scream’s The Golden Record
There are sometimes late nights where one may find oneself in a YouTube spiral, clicking through music videos of familiar bands only to potentially venture into unknown territories. That’s how I found Little Scream. Little Scream sounds like every alternative woman’s solo project on one album. Sometimes gritty, sometimes beautiful and delicate. She reminds me a lot of old Sheryl Crow with a taste of Kate Bush. Even if you don’t end up listening to this album, watch the live video of “The Heron And the Fox,” because it’s one of the best live recordings I’ve ever heard.
tUnE-yArDs’ w h o k I l l
I know, that was painful to read, but please realize that it was also painful to type. Even if it hurts to read the name, her music is fun to listen to. She works in layers and loops while using a variety of instruments and vocals, creating abstract tracks that might feel abrasive at first but work their way into your subconscious. “Bizness” is like nothing else I’ve heard, but it feels oddly familiar. Something about all of it makes me want to mention 90’s Nickelodeon, and that’s generally a really favorable association.
Battles’ Gloss Drop
Battles definitely hit the mark this time around. Percussively driven, disciplined, and tight regardless of what instrument is playing or what’s being said (which no one will ever really know, because it’s all either gibberish or muddled sufficiently enough to the point of being unrecognizable). Unpredictably spazzy and eclectic, Gloss Drop is what I want summer to sound like. It’s got that “let’s go, let’s do this, come on” feel all throughout. You could easily imagine being strung-out in the sunshine to the majority of the album. You could imagine yourself at a carnival at night throughout. It also features two of my favorite songs to have emerged from this year, being “Ice Cream” and “Sweetie & Shag.”
Chad VanGaalen’s Diaper Island
With a name like Diaper Island, you really don’t know what to expect. Thankfully, it’s not shitty. It’s primarily psychedelic lo-fi, reminding me of many of the best mellow Sonic Youth moments while showcasing a vocal effort that sometimes reminds me of Fleet Foxes if they were standing in a tunnel (especially on tracks like “Peace on the Rise” and “Sara”). It’s simple, straightforward, and really good.
Best Previously Unmentioned Songs (from albums I didn’t like in entirety or non-existent albums)
Andy D.’s “Angels On the Dance Floor”
Atlas Sound’s “Modern Aquatic Nightsongs”
Atmosphere’s “My Key”
Azealia Banks’ “212”
Duck Sauce’s “Big Bad Wolf”
Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks”
Gardens & Villa’s “Black Hills”
Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci”
Leslie Hall’s “Hydrate Jirate”
David Lynch’s “Good Day Today”
M83’s “Midnight City”
Nine Inch Nails’ “Immigrant Song (feat. Karen O)”
My Morning Jacket’s “Holding On to Black Metal”
Nurses’ “Fever Dreams”
Rasputina’s “I Go To Sleep”
Slothpop’s “Leaping Over Books”
Tammar’s “Heavy Tonight”
TV On the Radio’s “Will Do”
Eddie Vedder’s “Tonight You Belong to Me”