Archive for December, 2011

The Zimmermann Note’s 2011 Review in Music

December 9th, 2011 No comments

It is the end of the year which means that the world is putting together their “Best Of” lists. Often times, the case of putting together a ‘Best Of’ listing is a case of futility. How are we supposed to put a numerical value to your listening enjoyment? These lists often mention songs and albums over a limited listening window while, during this brief period of time we are expected to make a summation of the best albums over a government-sponsored Gregorian calendar and then write something slightly witty or asinine about the album while I fart onto my chair.

Over this period, a handful of idiots will expect us to make an objective review of the music, as if I am going to find Colin Meloy of the Decemberists somehow palatable or that R.E.M.’s latest would match the perfection of Murmur, that Jeff Tweedy would regain the magic he had with Wilco or that several of the senior circuit bands such as The Feelies and Wire would make records worthy of repeat listening. Will the bands trying to copy the retro sounds of the 80s live up to the scrutiny of that era and decide to put together something unique rather than just recycled.

I have focused in on about 60 albums or so, which would be about the limits for my attention in any given year because music is not just researching the present but the past as well.

I did not find the year to have one spectacular release that stood head and shoulders above the rest. As often is the case, these things take decades to realize that the album that saw minimal listens in 2011 becomes a desert island classic in 2031. In the meantime I wanted to break down the latest year into albums and bands that I thought that were movers and shakers and deserve a fans attention.

I broke the list into three categories:

The Greats – The albums which were head and toes above the others.

Extended Play – Albums that have showed promise and depending on your tastes might be worth your attention.

Deep Cuts – A land of misfit albums. There might be a compelling reason to listen or not to listen.

The Greats

Fleet Foxes –Helplessness Blues

I am not sure if this album is the best album of the year but the title song moved me enough to suggest there is a greater meaning to this album than maybe what I expected after first listens. I do know that the title track is the best song of the year, Simon and Garfunkelesque!; The song provides a socially active conscience that is sorely lacking in today’s music scene. For a sophomore effort they have shown the world they are for real.

Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

The growth of the indie rock community has created several bands that would sound good in an intimate setting of a small club. And while ‘Girls’ sounds like an amazing intimate experience, the latest album breaths life into the 70s Rock Albums where everything was larger than life, even the floating pigs. Girls is that 70’s band that you could only dream about. Their latest release captures that energy of that decade without sounding stale. There is an epic sound on songs like ‘Vomit’, and ‘Die’ relives all those great guitar albums but then it ends with the Randy Newman inspired Jamie Marie.

Panda Bear – Tomboy

A psychedelic beach-combing experiment with the Animal Collective drummer. Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox) follows up his highly acclaimed ‘Person Pitch’ with a much more organic record. With the help of Sonic Boom (aka Peter Kember) of Spacemen 3 fame, the album is much more intimate and personal and still worth the effort to engross yourself in it.

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

How often can you remember any bands putting together a solid double album that doesn’t have significant portions of the album, which are weak? ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ relives the 80’s but offers enough of the 21st century to not be put off as a cheap imitation. Check out simple but clever songs like ‘Midnight City’ that becomes total 80’s ear candy. And yet for every 80’s induced sound they turn the decade into progressive rock. This is not just a cheap imitation of the era and it is the only album that I have listed here where the Sax solo actually works.

The Bewitched Hands – Birds and Drums

This French band has a couple things in common with the band Arcade Fire, both in their music as well as their point of origin speaks quite a bit of French (Reims, France, for Bewitched Hands and Montreal, Canada for Arcade Fire). This act put together a fantastic pop album that’s infectious after the first listen. For some reason, the music media has largely ignored this gem of a record. Become the first person on your block to check these guys out!

Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi – Rome

If you were in the mood for a spaghetti western movie soundtrack, this would be your album. This album caught me by surprise but I have to admit to have been taken in with its charm. The unlikely successes of Norah Jones and Jack White (they would not normally be my favorite artists) pit their strengths alongside the spirit of the “Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”, in this winner.

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

PJ Harvey’s latest is a political statement/concept album/social commentary on Britain’s role in WWI and uses the themes of colonialism, war, .etc to ask questions as to their worth in the 21st century. Harvey might not be as in your face as he was in the past but her lyrics and pop sensibilities are clever enough to pull off this concept album.

Tuneyards – WHOKILL

Merrill Garbus. A name that should be remembered as her album WHOKILL was a definitive highlight for the year. What sets Garbus out is her ability to truly have a voice behind what she was saying. Dare I say feminist? Judging from the Pitchfork crowd this year that wore face paint in honor of her, it was obvious she is gaining a loyal following. I did miss her live set this year, for a couple reasons but from what I have seen online it would look like something that I would enjoy. At the same time, I do think that she needs a proper band so to put more attention on her soulful presence as a live singer. As impressive as it is to have a recorder and drums onstage while singing, it essentially cuts from her singing abilities when she is focusing on about three things at once.

Radiohead – King of Limbs

There were legions of fans that might have felt a bit shortchanged by Radiohead’s latest effort, an album that had to push it to bypass your typical EP Length record. That is also what happens when you are Radiohead, when you have taken your audience on wild trips with albums such as Ok Computer and Kid A, possibly the best albums of the 1990s and 2000’s respectively. ‘In Rainbows’, and the marketing genius behind that album was as solid musically and ‘King of Limbs’ expands in these directions. Oftentimes when you have a couple “Masterpieces” to your name, there is quite a bit to live up to.

Still, the release of ‘King of Limbs’ became an event like old school album buying. Fans and critics got their shot of the album at the same time which brings upon a unique dynamic where the fan becomes the critic while traditional journalism tried to catch up with the Radiohead dynamic. Very few bands could pull off what they did but it speaks to the quality of their work and also a reminder of being one of the few bands that truly matter in the music industry

‘King of Limbs’ sees the percussion play a more prominent role as sound is much more stripped down from the warmer ‘In Rainbows’. The single off the album ‘Lotus Flower’ made the biggest splash, as Thom’s dancing became an Internet meme with others editing songs on top of his work.

Cut Copy – Zonoscope

Maybe in a different world they would be the twins of M83. Their sound is very similar and at times it can be difficult to tell each band apart. In terms of Zonoscope it again crosses into the retro 80’s dance category with ‘Need You Now’ and ‘Where I’m Going’ but is not afraid to stretch into ambient region with the 15 minute Sun God.

Atlas Sound – Parallax

After listening to Bradford Cox lose it recently during an interview, this brilliant songwriter suffers from the fact of being a very depressed individual. And after having my wife telling me that she thought that this poppy record was anything but upbeat, I cleaned the potatoes out of my ears and gave it some more listens.

As the Deerhunter/Atlas Sound motif has evolved Cox has kept the psychedelic sounds but have added themes and ideas to his sounds which

Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi

Anna Calvi displayed a hefty amount of talent on her debut album, mixing the beauty of Julee Cruise but also the power of Patti Smith. Her flexibility in a song that showing the blue collar edge of a Bruce Springsteen vs. ‘First We Kiss’, which sounds like a title track to a 60s James Bond movie and other parts it feels like a David Lynch movie. But there is a little bit of Jeff Buckley in here as well. She is not just a beautiful singer but an accomplished guitarist.

Woods – Sun and Shade

Songs such as ‘Sol y Sombra’ and ‘Out of the Eye’ exhibit Woods strength of pushing trippy psychaedelic rock into epic proportions. Woods has expanded their lo-fi psych-folk sound into something much greater. Probably the best true “Psychaedelic” record of the year for me.

Worth an Extended Play

The Feelies – Here Before

The Feelies first album in about 20 years shows a band that has matured over this time. It’s not the ‘Crazy Rhythms’ of its youth but will still go down as a strong resurgence. They don’t remake the formula of the Feelies but rather rediscover it, with Glenn Mercer and Bill Million battling it out on the guitar.

Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde

This Chicago outfit has captured the spirit of John Lennon and the Smashing Pumpkins to update their sound and come out with a quality rock record. Their second record eclipses their debut record showing that the band can update their sound but also show they are not going to go away quietly.

James Blake – James Blake

I would imagine that seeing James Blake live has to be a rip-roaring experience filled with slam dancing, jumping from the stage, with plenty of broken bones and bruises. Ok, maybe in a different dimension. Blake delivers in trying to define the dubstep genre with an original recording that is both innovative and endearing. There are two songs here that stand out for me: ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ and ‘Limit To Your Love’ which become genre-defining songs. The album has holes at times but it should be understood that the good is much better than the bad and much too

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

It’s the type of album that you would expect to hear playing in Green Bay when the Packers lose in the playoffs this coming 2012. It bleeds Cheesehead land while Mister Meatpacker is contemplating about his sad and depressing life. Somehow, this album got some Grammy nods. Quite honestly, this is not the indie record that I would gather would get some type of following and it speaks maybe to the irrelevance of the Grammys in general.

Mike Watt – Hyphenated-Man

This album looks into the work of Hieronymous Bosch in this wonderful collection of songs that are reminiscent of his work with the Minutemen. Most of the songs do not stray beyond the 2 minute mark and offer a unique and often humerous response to the work of Bosch.

Dirty Beaches – Badlands

Alex Zhang Hungtai has created a landscape with his 60’s surfari-themed album. Where I would love to see an artist like this go is try to expand their sound beyond that of youtube clips and exhibit that same power on album as what would be expected live.

Le Butcherettes – Sin Sin Sin

Judging from the lead singers stage name Teri Gender Bender, there is plenty to be excited about in this band. This Mexican trio is not your mother’s band with the lead Ms. Gender Bender covered in blood onstage. This is in your face rock and roll!

Wire – Red Barked Tree

‘Red Barked Tree’ shows off a level of intelligence for Wire, a band that has been making music on and off for close to three decades. Over this time they have gone from Punk, Prog. Rock, dabbled in Electronica and we see them capturing all of those elements here.

TV On The Radio – Nine Types of Light

Part of me is still a bit torn up regarding the death of Gerard Smith this past year and it’s been trying to listen to this album. Say what you want, but TV on the Radio add some needed soul and funk to rock and roll and this world would be sorely lacking without their efforts. ‘Nine Types of Light’ is their most commercially accessible album but for newbie’s, I would still recommend Return to Cookie Mountain as possibly one of the best albums of the last decade. In terms of epic songs, nothing quite tops ‘Killer Crane’ which adds some organ reminiscent of early Zeppelin.

Cults – Cults

The Cults seems to offer a lo-fi sixties bubble-gum/psychaedelic pop combo meeting the “Wall of Sound”. As a debut album they offer plenty of hooks to please. The band is obviously looking to the direction of Animal Collective’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion” as an outside influence even if their tracks are relatively simplistic.

Wild Flag – Wild Flag

What gives bands like Wild Flag their edge is the fact they don’t play it safe. They are not selling their sexiness as much as their grittiness. In a year when many of the albums on this list were afraid to rock, preferring the sensibilities of synths, Wild Flag takes their supergroup status to provide a wholly enjoyable romp. Includes Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney, Mary Timony from Helium and Rebecca Cole from The Minders. What I am looking for in this album is something that blows me away and that seems to be the problem. The album is almost too perfect. I want a little bit more Patti Smith jumping off a cliff while grabbing her crotch.

Crystal Stilts – In Love with Oblivion

Like the Dirty Beaches, their sounds of 60s surf rock are more organic and feel a little less like pulling out an old 45 and dusting it off. They pull off plenty of psychedelic riffs with some catchy hooks to warrant a look in any stoner’s collection.

Deep Cuts

Wilco – The Whole Love

The Whole Love is Wilco’s best album since ‘A Ghost Is Born’. Jeff Tweedy went back to basics and actually wrote some rock and roll songs and then some. For every classic song like ‘Art of Almost’, the best song since take your pick of songs on YHF, there are clunkers like ‘Capitol City’ and ‘One Sunday Morning’. There is a solid EPs worth of material here and the rest is pretty disposable.

Fucked Up – David Comes to Life

Like some that appreciate the rock opera, its nuanced characters and crazy plotlines, ‘David Comes to Life’ becomes slightly trying for my ears for the fact of it’s length as well as it’s twisted plotlines. If you are interested in something where progressive rock meets punk, it might be your thing.

R.E.M. – Collapse into Now

The album becomes R.E.M.’s swan song and while it doesn’t push R.E.M. in any new dimensions, it merely looks back at R.E.M. over the past 30 years playing R.E.M. by numbers. While that might be nostalgic for some, it’s not a final product that sets the world on fire nor is it completely forgettable. But the problem with R.E.M. ultimately becomes that the album will not replace the memories of their earlier works.

Yuck – Yuck

This hit and miss effort offers a couple of indie rock classics such as ‘Georgia’, with it’s catchy Yo La Tengo tributary feel.

Destroyer – Kaputt

2011 has become the year for the sax solos. The forgotten instrument has been reinvented by the Lisa Simpson’s of the world all grown up and remembering the music of their youth. Dan Behar’s effort is a hit and miss record remembering both the good and bad from the 80s.

Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact

A mixture of 80’s pop, Indian, and oriental, I would imagine that they would be quite huge on the planet Tatooine. The album material is uneven however with standout tracks like Mindkilla and Adult Goth outpacing much of the other works.

The Braids – Native Speaker

Being the R.E.M. fan from the 80’s, after Murmur came out, all these bands wanted to start imitating their works and in the 21st Century, that band has become Animal Collective. Native Speaker, with it’s pop sensibilities and animal ‘yalps’ will remind you of Animal Collective, but do they break new ground?

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

I honestly think that St. Vincent goes off the theatrical deep end with this album and some of her pop sensibilities from her previous effort ‘Actor’ have been lost. Some have called this one of her best efforts but I have not really bought into it.

The Pains At Being At Heart – Belong

One of those albums that is not offensive nor stands out. They put together some nice pop songs and a bit cleaner production that would remind you of Jesus & Mary Chain/Shoegaze pop but it’s not something that you are going to want to pull out over and over again.

Lou Reed & Metallica – Lulu

I remember going to Blockbuster video, I would imagine that it was over 20 years ago and finding the movie, Ed Wood’s ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ and reading the cover and thinking “I need to see this!”. Plan 9 is considered by most accounts one of the worst movies of all time, and maybe the same can be said for this Lou Reed/Metallica collaboration. If you go into it with the though that this is going to be the worst album I have ever listened to and I am going to laugh and have a riot making fun of Lou, Lars, James, .etc., then you might actually enjoy yourself.

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