Mark’s Best of 2011

2011 was truly a blessed year for music. Many of my favorite groups released new records and, as always thanks to NME, I found some fab new ones to geek out over. Without further adieu, here are my Top Ten Albums and Top Ten Tracks of 2011 (Click on the album or track to purchase).

Albums

10. Unknown Mortal OrchestraUnknown Mortal Orchestra

This Portland, Oregon band have a a combo lo-fi, groovy throwback sound that makes me smile. “Thought Ballune” is a must download.

9. American RevivalThe Worst Is Over Now

My fave new local band by way of Pete getting me back into alt.country. Their debut is magnificent. Here is their first video which showcases one of the best local bars, Williams Pub.

8. ElbowBuild A Rocket Boys!

Yes, these Ramsbottom, Bury lads sound like Genesis avec Peter Gabriel but so what? Every new release sees treasure after treasure.

7. The VaccinesWhat Did You Expect From The Vaccines?

I can’t wait to see all the music this band is going to make over the years. Caught them live in a warm up for the Arctic Monkeys last spring. Bril!

6. Noel GallagherNoel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

It’s about time that Noel did his own thing. I say it all the time – he’s the better singer. This album has been like a comfy blanket to me of late.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZT1RZzuU4M

5. Beady EyeDifferent Gear, Still Speeding

I was pleasantly surprised to see Liam try on some different musical styles. The results speak for themselves.

4. The Arctic MonkeysSuck It And See

Another great fucking record from the Sheffield lads. I don’t think it’s possible for them to make a bad one.

3. The KooksJunk Of The Heart

Every three years The Kooks make an album that is seamless from the last one in its perfection. Just a joy to play over and over again…like this Simon and Garfunkel-esque gem..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXsMxP7shSE

2. The Original 7venCondensate

This barely missed being the album of the year. The only thing that honestly held it back was it came out later in the year (October) and I haven’t lived with like I did with my #1 pick. Morris, Jerome, Jimmy, Terry, Jesse, Monte, and Jellybean made the best Time album out of the five with this absolute corker of a record. Done without the help of that dude from Chanhassen, the greatest band in the history of funk delivered a stunner that has deepened my desire to be Morris Day.

1. Friendly FiresPala

The soundtrack to my summer and, indeed, the entire year. I think I have played this disc at least 200 times start to finish since it came out and I still find layers to it previously unheard. Pala sets a mood that is sorely lacking today, not just in music, but in our culture in general. I’m not entirely certain I can describe it in words but it’s reminiscent of what the most gorgeous flower would sound like as it blooms…in a club at 1:30am with piles of sweaty bodies writhing around to massive and thumping beats. And if it could tell Robert Browning-esque love stories. Like their self titled first release, Pala deserves to be forever enshrined in any Hall of Fame.

Lay back in the sun and listen to the title track…

Tracks

10. “Whirring” – The Joy Formidable

I imagine this song as being the soundtrack to an indie love story. A true gem from this North Wales group.

9. “Endless Blue” – The Horrors

It begins like a gentle kiss from a beautiful woman and switches mid way through into a full on frenetic, saliva-dripped shag…just like love making should be.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cjCPS-_eO0

8. “Boogabear” – American Revival

“I’m so tired of fighting the battle for who could care less…” singer Thomas Pendarvis croons in my fave from the Mpls alt. country outfit’s debut. This song is now officially the anthem of every bar in every small town for every person having a cold one. (No video here so go listen to the track by clicking on the song).

7. “Minnesota, WI” – Bon Iver

The Eau Claire, WI natives perfectly captured that autumnal shimmer that I write about constantly. A nice shout out to my neighborhood of the country.

6. “Wasted” – Glass Rock

I love the mood this song sets and the album cover art is the best of the year. It’s a photo I would take. And it came out on my birthday! (No video here so go listen to the track by clicking on the song).

5. “Shuffle” – Bombay Bicycle Club

This Crouch End, London group may become my new Brit Rock darlings. This track struck me as sounding very different from what I normally hear from across the pond. It’s free on Amazon!

4. “Days” – The Drums

This is my son’s best track of 2011. He wanted me to make note of it and it’s funny because it’s appropriate considering the video below. This Brooklyn based guitar pop outfit continues to make great music with their third release, Portamento.

3. “Post Break-Up Sex” – The Vaccines

If Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks is the best break up album of all time, this track holds the best break up song mantle. We’ve all been there, and it’s wonderful.

2. “Junk Of The Heart (Happy)” – The Kooks

A perfect pop song in just about every way. Luke does it again!

1. “Blue Cassette” – Friendly Fires

Not simply the best track of 2011, but one of the best of all time. Friendly Fires really outdid themselves with this stunning song that waxes nostalgic about cassette tapes and lost love. My heart melts every single time I listen to it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxHo7iS9WJQ

Those are my albums and tracks. What are yours?

The Friday Five: August 19, 2011

Friday Five

Friday Five : ‘frī-(,)dā,-dē ‘fīv : On the sixth day of every week, I hit the shuffle button on my iTunes, then share the first five tracks and thought for each track. Sometimes there is a playlist involved, occasionally we’ll have a guest, but most of the time it’s just me. The rest is up to you, our friends and readers! Fire up your media player of choice and share the first five random track of your shuffle in the comments.

The Five:

“Look Sharp!” by Joe Jackson (from Look Sharp!, 1979)

Why are you yelling at me, Joe Jackson?

“Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” by Bob Dylan (from MTV Unplugged, 1995)

Indeed.

“Wake Up Everybody (live in studio performance)” by John Legend & The Roots (from Wake Up!, 2010)

Why do these album titles keep yelling at me? Look Sharp! Wake Up!

“Team” by Bon Iver (from For Emma, Forever Ago, 2008)

I still fail to see what everyone loves about Bon Iver.

“Girl” by The Beatles (from Rubber Soul, 1965)

Sweet finish to summer’s penultimate Friday Five.

What’s on your shuffle today?

[Ick’s Pick] Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine

I discovered the treasure trove that is the music of John Prine back in the early 90’s, during my last year of college. The Missing Years about knocked me on my butt, with its witty wordplay, catchy cadences, and gorgeous melodies. The album led me directly to Great Days: The John Prine Anthology, which gave me a crash course in this American treasure, the postman turned folk singer from Maywood, Illinois.

In reading the liner notes of the new tribute album, Broken Hearts &Dirty Windows – Songs of John Prine, I found out that Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) had the same experience – growing up in Wisconsin and happening across the Anthology; getting to know John Prine through classics like “Sam Stone”, “Paradise”, “That’s The Way That The World Goes Round”, and “Hello In There.”

With the release of this fantastic new tribute album, it’s clear that Prine has had a similar impact on a host of younger artists – and it’s interesting that the artists on this record rank among some of my current favorites: Conor Oberst, My Morning Jacket, Old Crow Medicine Show, Deer Tick, Drive-By Truckers… it makes sense now: we’re all rooted in Prine’s music, and as they’ve matured and made music of their own, its these same roots that have pulled me into their music.

The common theme is humble, genuine, gritty, homegrown American music.

The standouts for me on this record include Deer Tick’s “Unwed Fathers”, featuring the sandpaper vocals of John McCauley and the sweet accompaniment of Liz Isenberg; Josh Ritter does “Mexican Home” from 1973’s Sweet Revenge. Ritter takes Prine’s uptempo version. and slows it way down – exposing the song’s melancholy core:

“My father died on the porch outside
On an August afternoon
I sipped bourbon and cried
With a friend by the light of the moon
So its hurry! hurry! Step right up
It’s a matter of life or death
The sun is going down
And the moon is just holding its breath.

Drive-By Truckers do their thing, taking The Missing Year‘s “Daddy’s Little Pumpkin” and shifting it into overdrive; My Morning Jacket also do a Missing Years tune, “All The Best”, which Jim James and Prine recently performed on Letterman (worth a look); the Avett Brothers pick what I think is the perfect song for them: “Spanish Pipedream”; and Old Crow Medicine Show take the beautiful “Angel from Montgomery” and add their old timey flavor to it.

The big surprise for me was the album’s finale – “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian” as performed by Those Darlins, a female trio from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. First off, it’s one of Prine’s most hilarious songs, the innuendos flying left & right. And then you add a sexy rhythm, an island feel, and the sensual and sassy singing of Those Darlins. Play this at a BBQ this summer, it’ll be a guaranteed hit. It’s such a fun ride, and a fitting finale to what amounts to a great tribute to good ol’ John Prine.