Monday, December 12, 2011

The Year in Music: 6th and 7th Favorite Albums of 2011

#10 - Smith Westerns - Dye it Blonde
#9 - Peter Bjorn and John - Gimme Some
#8 - Eleanor Friedberger - Last Summer

#7 - Cults - Cults
In a year seemingly dominated by female vocaled '60s style retro pop (Dum Dum Girls, Tennis, Those Darlins, etc.), Brooklyn via San Diego, boyfriend and girlfriend duo Cults produced the retroist and poppyist of the bunch with their terrific self titled debut.  They hit the scene late last year with a sparse bandcamp site and an MP3 for standout track "Go Outside", and not much else.  The buzz grew over the course of the year, followed by a slew of live shows, and the June 7th release of their self titled debut.

They don't make you wait very long to figure out what they've got in store.  The album opens with "Abducted" arguably it's best and most catchy track (though on a number of listens, there are least five or six songs that I could have called my favorite at one point or another).  They bring the tempo down with "Go Outside" and "You Know What I Mean", before settling into a nice medium tempoed groove through most of the rest of the album.  It's pure sugar throughout, though the catchy melodies mask songs about longing, loneliness, bad choices, and ultimately determining that trying to change for others may not be worth it ("But I can never heal myself enough for you....But I can never be myself, so fuck you").  It all leads to the penultimate track "Bumper", which lets us in on a lovers' quarrel that ends when the two realize that they can't be apart.  They nail the '60s top 40 aesthetic perfectly on this record.  It's an easy to pick up at pretty much any time, regardless of your mood.


You Know What I Mean

#6 - tUnE-yArDs - W H O K I L L

A couple years ago I showed up a little early at the Bottom Lounge to see Dirty Projectors, who released my favorite album of 2009.  tUnE-yArDs, made up basically of Merril Garbus and her bass player, Nate Brenner, opened that show to a fairly decent sized crowd, most of who probably hadn't heard of her (I certainly hadn't).  She blew everyone away.  As you can see in the video below for "Powa", arguably the album's best track, she uses looping pedals to record the percussion and backing vocals, building the song from scratch right before your eyes.  As a non-musician, it's pretty impressive.  But it's all the more impressive because of her ability to back it up with her powerful voice and more than competent skill on the ukulele.

This is her second album, and she fulfilled the promise she showed on 2009's Bird-Brains.  She's backed off just a bit from the African rhythms that dominated her debut, added some horns (she toured with a pair of saxophone players all year), and the result is something that's probably a little more mainstream, but still not something you're going to hear on your local top 40 station.  It's not an easy album to have playing in the background while you're at work, because you'll find yourself getting off task so that you can pay more attention to the music.  It's tough not to be taken in.  And it's one where I simply can't separate the album from the live performances, which are simply engrossing.  This album really does a good job of triggering one's memories from her live shows. "Powa" Live at Lincoln Hall My Country

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