December 31, 2011

Tapes on the Floor's Favorite Albums of 2011

In compiling my favorite albums this year, I tried to think back and include records that deserved to be heard in their entirety. It's been interesting to observe how the music business has slowly slipped back towards a single-driven mentality, precipitated by on-demand listening and fragmented purchasing options. Increasingly, there aren't a whole lot of reasons to put much thought into crafting a cohesive, long-playing listening experience. Which is why it's all the more impressive when a group is able to make their entire record mesh in the kind of way that almost forces you to take it all in at once. Assembled here are the albums of 2011 that pulled me in and didn't relinquish my attention until the conclusion of their running time.
Mind Bokeh - Bibio
He may not be a household name, but it was hard to go a week without hearing Bibio's particular brand of ear candy bouncing through the speakers at a bar or providing the backdrop to a commercial. The British producer's penchant for refined compositions brimming with hooks is second to none, and on his latest release he manages to toe the line between his pop-inclinations and experimental sensibilities. While a hazy, bokeh-inducing atmosphere surrounds subdued cuts such as "Excuses" and "Artist's Valley," it's the focused precision of tracks like "K For Kelson" and "Wake Up!" that cause ears to perk up. Wonderfully multifarious in its composition, Mind Bokeh is the product of a singular mind brimming with worthwhile ideas.

Deerhoof Vs. Evil - Deerhoof
As delightfully strange as they've always been, Deerhoof's latest takes on an imposing foe and defeats it with ample bursts of their often maniacal, but inherently good energy. You can hear it in the heroic cadence of "Super Duper Rescue Heads !" and the intrepid pulse of "Behold a Marvel in the Darkness." The almost adolescent vocals of Satomi Matsuzaki are overseen by the powerful melodies of guitarists Ed Rodriguez and John Dieterich, propelling tracks into spacey, unexpected tangents at a moment's notice. Deerhoof's unusual, fearless approach to music takes no prisoners and doesn't conform to expectations, which is just the way it should be.

Helplessness Blues - Fleet Foxes
While the debut record from this Seattle-based group was an undeniable folk rock revelation, it took a sophomore release to truly realize the depth and potential of their craft. Notorious for its tumultuous road to completion, Robin Pecknold and his cohorts deliver an album that unquestionably benefited from its volatile conception. Broad in scope and length, the earnest refrains of "Helplessness Blues" and "Grown Ocean" account for some of the more transcendent musical moments of the year. More than almost any other album on this list, it deserves to be heard in a single sitting. Set aside an hour to bask in this immaculate musical document of a joyous struggle— you won't be disappointed.

Giving and Receiving - LAKE
The latest album from LAKE was much like receiving a letter from the Olympia collective, gently reassuring me that they're still around. They're the sort of group that easily slips off the radar— releasing their music through K Records and sticking to small tours for promotion. But the music held within their latest record deserves to be heard, providing a worthy follow-up to 2009's Let's Build A Roof. Though losing the production assistance of Karl Blau, the band delivers songs like "Roger Miller" and "Within/Without," which are logical extensions of the sound he helped to nurture. Left-field experimentation in the form of "Mother Nature's Promise" proves equally endearing. I just hope they'll send along a postcard when they're ready to release their next album.

Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will - Mogwai
Handily gracing us with the year's best album title, the Scottish post-rockers also manage to deliver a record teeming with variations on the group's indelible sound. Under the watchful eyes and discerning ears of Paul Savage (who sat behind the boards on Young Team) Mogwai thrives on heavy riffs and generous amounts of distortion. Leading off with the grandiose chords of "White Noise," the band plunges head first into a group of tracks that loses very little momentum from start to finish. From the grinding march of "Rano Pano" to the persistent new wave synths of "George Square Thatcher Death Party," the record finds new ways to circumvent convenient classification at every turn. Familiar yet unpredictable, Mogwai's latest contains some of the most gracefully genre-defying music you're likely to hear.

Dancer Equired - Times New Viking
After years of recording albums using everything from four-tracks to VCRs, the lo-fi Columbus trio headed to a studio for their Merge Records debut. "It’s just funny to be in a band for seven years and you just start talking about recording in a studio like it’s this crazy thing," noted guitarist Jared Phillips in an interview I conducted shortly after the album's release. Regardless of their fidelity, the songs easily qualify as some of the best tracks TNV has ever penned. Wrapped in crunchy guitar and sludgy organs, songs like "Try Harder" and "Fuck Her Tears"derive their power from the dual vocal delvery of Adam Elliott and Beth Murphy. You have to come out of the basement at some point—these Ohioans accomplished that feat with panache and in their own time.

Goodbye Bread - Ty Segall
I've called Ty Segall many things since discovering his music through 2009 Goner Records release Lemons. The heir apparent to Jay Reatard's vacated garage rock throne. The new master of the boisterous, sub-three minute, hook-ridden rock song. However, I truly wasn't expecting to see Segall flexing his songwriting chops to such satisfying results on his inaugural Drag City release. Tracks like "You Make The Sun Fry" and "My Head Explodes" cover familiar territory, packing yelped lyrics and fuzzed-out guitars into succinct servings. But Segall's work is most intriguing when he lets a songs like "I Can't Feel It" run its course, giving every facet its chance to shine. It's his most refreshingly mature effort to date—growing up isn't the end of the world.

D - White Denim
One listen to the latest release from this genre-mashing quartet, and it's clear that they're doing their part to keep Austin weird. Fluctuating effortlessly from the bluesy prog-rock of "It's Him" and "Drug" to the soulful wail of "Street Joy," James Petralli and company constantly redefine listener expectations with their far-reaching palette. What's even more striking is the amount of sophisticated restraint shown when putting these ideas to tape. For a band dabbling in genres which lend themselves to extended experimentation, White Denim's entries are magnificently compact, dense with moments that lesser players would be inclined to spread out. Hats off to a group that can conceptualize a record so rife with varied strangeness, yet so easily accessible.

The Whole Love - Wilco
I never could bring myself to write a full-fledged review of this record, because at the time of its release I still didn't quite know what to say about it. Months later, I'm still not sure why it works so much better than the band's previous two releases. Perhaps the answer is hidden in the synth-fueled deviations of "Art of Almost," seamlessly melding Mikael Jorgensen's pulsing keyboards with a Nels Cline guitar freak out. Maybe the reason lies within the slightly askew pop sensibility of rockers like "I Might" and "Dawned On Me." It's also conceivable that the explanation is tucked in between the endlessly repetitious melodies of the slow-burning "One Sunday Morning." Then again, there's always the chance that this is just what happens when Jeff Tweedy gathers these gentleman in a Chicago loft and lets the tape roll. I can't explain it, I just know that there's a whole lot of things that I love about it.

Wild Flag - Wild Flag
It was love at first sight when I caught a set from this Portland four-piece at a street festival in Chicago, weeks before their debut record was released. Upon hearing Carrie Brownstein and Mary Timony shredding and singing in unison, it became abundantly clear that Wild Flag was something more than an all-female, indie rock supergroup. Their inaugural, self-titled album reaffirmed those feelings, unfurling itself with reckless abandon.  From the tightly-crafted pop of "Romance" to the more expansive, psych-inclined "Glass Tambourine," the quartet's varied delivery never ceases to impress. Given the combined experience of the players involved, Wild Flag's success should come as no surprise. However, considering just how delightful the results are, one can only hope they'll see fit to give it another shot somewhere down the line.

Looking forward to giving a damn about music in 2012. Happy New Year!

No comments: