The Year in Review Pt. 1 (the top-10 for 2011), Lazy-i ‘Best of’ Sampler drawing; Back When CD release show tonight…
Music Year in Review 2011: Pt. 1
by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Two years ago for The Reader’s Year in Review wrap-up article, I said that it was the beginning of the end, that there had become a universal recognition that the best days for those who make a living making music were very likely behind them.
That was in the year 2009 B.S. – Before Spotify.
Now it’s 2011 and nothing has changed, not really. Except for one thing: There used to be a glimmer of hope that a talented band with good songs could maybe land a record deal with some small independent label. That glimmer of hope continues to fade, and not just for young bands like local heroes So-So Sailors, who in any other year would have had labels like Saddle Creek or Merge clamoring to release their debut album. No, even established acts like Morrissey have been left out in the cold. Last week, after a successful national tour that included a live performance on Conan, Morrissey announced, “I now no longer expect to live long enough to experience an offer to record for a grownup label….The world, I expect, will somehow endure, even as the follow-up to Years of Refusal grows less and less likely.”
Left with the choice of either going the self-release route (like So-So Sailors) or never getting his music heard, Morrissey, it seems, has chosen the latter. How many other bands or songwriters are choosing a similar path? Sure, online digital services like Spotify now give us access to all the music all the time, but with virtually no way to generate money, fewer labels are releasing fewer “albums.”
And yet… bands persevere. Music continues to be made. Live performances are only getting better (see my “best live shows” list, online here tomorrow) and fantastic albums continue to be released. And to prove it, here’s the list of my top-10 favorite albums in 2011 (in no particular order):
1. Eleanor Friedberger, Last Summer (Merge) — Friedberger has left the proggy chord/key changes of Fiery Furnaces behind for a collection of songs that are SONGS, complete with melodies and choruses and playful lyrics that bounce atop piano chords, hand claps and the occasional sax riff.
2. So-So Sailors, Young Hearts (self-release) — Despite its Ladyfinger progeny, there’s no screaming on this six-song’s worth of strong central melodies and sentimental showmanship. Young Hearts is more ’70s arena ballad than modern-day indie, and is better for it.
3. The Decemberists, The King Is Dead (Rough Trade) — They can no longer be marginalized as just another twangy indie band, now that they’ve broken through with a collection that defines modern-day, above-ground Americana. They’d be radio stars if radio hadn’t died a decade ago.
4. Destroyer, Kaputt (Merge) — The band hasn’t remade its sound (you heard this coming on Trouble in Dreams) as much as given into its influences. “Savage Night at the Opera” is the best clear-cut homage to New Order you’ll ever find, right down to the “Bizarre Love Triangle” guitar cues. Other, more disco-y moments will make you think you picked up a Pet Shop Boys album, while the dreamy stuff is pure Roxy Music.
5. The Beastie Boys, Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 (Parlophone/Capitol) — Worthy of the hype, they haven’t sounded this “fresh” since Paul’s Boutique, even though their bouncing style of hip-hop is destined to be classified as “old school” by today’s young gangstas.
6. Future Islands, On the Water (Thrill Jockey) — Like an homage to early Factory Records, Samuel T. Herring and Co.’s update of New Order is lush and elegant and dramatic and fun.
7. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Mirror Traffic (Matador) — Malkmus always came off (to me, anyway) as a more tuneful version of Lou Reed — deceptively simple melodies that belie some of the smartest (and this time, strangest) lyrics that cynically capture a life lived in America.
8. M83, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute) — Sprawling, ambitious to a fault at 74 minutes, Hurry Up takes M83′s penchant for dreamy, ghostly pop and blows it up to sonic mountains. It’s as if they’re trying to become this generation’s version of The Cure, but skipped over the Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me era and went straight for Disintegration.
9. EMA, Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions) — With the opening line of “California,” (Fuck California, you made me boring) Erika M. Anderson positions herself as this generation’s Chan Marshall (the Moon Pix one), Liz Phair (the good one) and PJ Harvey (the one that wants to bathe in milk).
10. Big Harp, White Hat (Saddle Creek) — Chris and Stefanie’s simple story ballads — sung with a smoky, throaty yowl similar to Mr. T. Waits or Mr. R. Newman or Mr. D. Berman or Mr. S. Merritt — may be born of LA but never seem to leave Nebraska.
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In this digital era that we live in, the year’s “best tracks” are as important as the year’s best albums. And it just so happens that I compile my favorite tracks every year in a CD I give to friends, family and other associates called the Lazy-i Best of 2011 sampler. The track listing is a collection of the best stuff I’ve come across (local or national) during my sojourns as a music critic for The Reader and Lazy-i.com. Check it out:
1. Eleanor Friedberger, “My Mistake”
2. Peace of Shit, “You Can’t Let Me In”
3. Lykke Li, “Youth Knows No Pain”
4. The Beastie Boys, “Nonstop Disco Powerpack”
5. tUnE-yArDs, “Gangsta”
6. It’s True, “I Don’t Want to Be the One”
7. The Decemberists, “Down By the Water”
8. Big Harp, “Goodbye Crazy City”
9. Kurt Vile, “Jesus Fever”
10. Low, “Try to Sleep”
11. So-So Sailors, “Young Hearts”
12. Destroyer, “Downtown”
13. St. Vincent, “Cruel”
14. Icky Blossoms, “Perfect Vision”
15. Gus & Call, “To the Other Side of Jordan”
16. Lana Del Rey, “Video Games”
17. Digital Leather, “Young Doctors in Love”
So you’re probably wondering, “How can I get my hands on a copy of this awesome CD?” The answer: Enter the drawing! Click on this e-mail link: firstname.lastname@example.org and compose a small message that includes your name and mailing address (so I know where to send it, duh). It’s pretty frickin’ easy, and it’s free. If you’re lucky enough to win, you’ll also get a limited edition Lazy-i Sticker to stick on something. Even though the deadline is Tuesday, Jan. 17, take a second and enter right now (before you forget).
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Tomorrow: Music Year in Review, Pt. 2 — The best live shows of 2011.
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Tonight at The Slowdown, grind masters Back When celebrates the release of their first full-length recording since 2005. Recorded and produced by Clark Baechle at Enamel, Champion Hologram is an hour-long behemoth that boasts 12 tracks and guest appearances by Ted Stevens (Cursive) and Laura Burhenn (The Mynabirds). Opening the show are Conduits, Noah’s Ark Was A Spaceship and Honey & Darling. This one will be huge. $7, 9 p.m.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.