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Guest Column - The View from the Back, Ep. III

Posted by: Thomas Nassiff (12/15/11)
Today we have the third installment of Paul Shirley's guest column, "The View from the Back," to present to you all. Head to the replies to read Paul's recap about 2011, including a Top 10 list with discussion about each record. Remember you can talk to him on Twitter or send him an email if you want.
        
 
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11:34 AM on 12/15/11
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Thomas Nassiff
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The View from the Back - EOTY 2011With releases from Cut Copy, The Strokes, Radiohead, White Lies, Friendly Fires, The Drive-By Truckers, and TV On The Radio, 2011 looked to be a great year for whatever synapses govern my taste in music.

But none of those bands’ records made my list.

I don’t know why I didn’t connect with TVOTR’s Nine Types Of Light or with the Truckers’ Go-Go Boots, or with Cut Copy’s Zonoscope. (I do know why I didn’t connect with White Lies’s Ritual: because, aside from three songs that are better than almost anything else released this year, it wasn’t very good.) Maybe I had Radiohead fatigue, or maybe The King Of Limbs was beyond my understanding.

Whatever the reason, that I didn’t love the records I might usually love serves only to illustrate an important consideration about the top 10 list you’re about to read. It is a list of my favorite albums of 2011. It is not a list of The Best albums of 2011. I’m not interested in telling you which records from this year were technically the most sound, or which will stand the test of a decade’s worth of reflection. These are the albums that I liked the most; the ones that, for reasons I’ll never quite understand, connected with me.

These are the albums that meant the most to me this year.

(All song links will take you to the Spotify page for that song.)

10) Cold War Kids – Mine Is Yours
The fifth song on Mine Is Yours, the Cold War Kids’s third album, is called “Out Of The Wilderness.” That phrase would be an appropriate description of the state of the Cold War Kids’s career, if we substituted “The Depths Of Suckery” for “Wilderness.” I liked the debut from the CWK so much that it came in at number eight on my 2007 top 10 list. The follow-up, though, was a welcome addition to my life in the same way that a hatchet wound would be a welcome addition to my life.

I was thrilled, then, when I heard the first three songs from Mine Is Yours. Their all-around spectacularity led me into a fine album that shows that the Cold War Kids have shaken off their woodsman ways.

Cold War Kids - "Royal Blue"

9) Black Keys – El Camino (Provisional)
The Black Keys did not take top 10 lists into account when they picked December 6 as the release date for El Camino. Or maybe they did, because they knew that people like me, not wanting to miss out, would include the album without much thought.

As of this writing, I’ve listened to El Camino five times. Regular readers of my columns (hi Mom!) will recall that I believe it takes seven or eight listens before a human being can appropriately judge an album. Thus, by February 2012, I could regret this inclusion. But, based on the trunk funk that drops at the 2:05 mark on “Little Black Submarines,” I have a feeling I’ll be safe.

The Black Keys - "Little Black Submarines"

8) Foster The People – Torches
If you made it through 2011 without hearing Foster The People’s hit “Pumped Up Kicks,” hey, how was that coma?

Because I know a little about how the internet works, I suspect that there exists some significant backlash against the Peoples Foster; the band name must be a dirty word in Billyburg by now. But is it Foster’s fault that they just so happened to make a nearly-perfect song? I say no. I also say that I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the rest of Torches never drops the Pumped Up baton.

Foster The People - "Pumped Up Kicks"
(In case it was you who took the vicious January blow to the cranium.)

7) Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math
Manchester’s sophomore album, Mean Everything To Nothing, was my favorite album of 2009. It would thusly seem that, by my standards, Simple Math was a disappointment. And I suppose that that might be true, but to make that generalization would be to split, if not hairs, at least twine.

Simple Math
is less rawk than METN, which, for some, could be the epitome of the disappointment to which I refer. But Simple Math is no less heavy, where heavy is meant to imply emotional heaviness, if not guitar heaviness. And it functions as one work of art; more than any other album on this list, Simple Math tells a story from start to finish. It is an album that is significantly greater than the sum of its songs.

Manchester Orchestra - "Mighty"

6) Tune-Yards (or tUnE – yArDs, if you’re into accuracy) – WHOKILL (or maybe w h o k i l l)(I’m exhausted.)

There are albums on this list (Foster The People’s Torches, for example) that I can’t imagine the human ear rejecting. Tune-Yards, which is really Merrill Garbus, is not one of those albums. If you don’t like Tune-Yards music, I can’t really blame you.

In fact, you probably should have the same reaction I had when I first heard WHOKILL, which was “What in the kerblickityflickitybingbang is this?”

But then I saw Tune-Yards live (in Montreal, at POP Montreal, which is a story that deserves a 6,000-word essay*) and it all made sense.

It was like watching a musical magician. The album is magical, too. But probably not for everyone.

Tune-Yards – "Powa"
*At 3 a.m. on the Saturday night of the weekend in question, I called American Airlines from a Montreal bar to change what was supposed to be a Sunday flight at 8:30 a.m. to a Monday flight at 1:30 p.m. Has the outrageousness of my weekend contributed to my rosy opinion of Tune-Yards? Very possibly.

Intermission!

I can tell, as I look ahead at the rest of my list that, very soon, the hyperbole is going to become Thanksgiving Gravy: rich, thick, and everywhere. My apologies in advance. The problem is twofold. One, there are only so many ways to say that an album is, quote, great. And, two, as I listen to the albums to come, it hits me: I really, really love music.

5) M83 – Hurry Up We’re Dreaming
One reason for the above caveat was that, in order to “get in the mood” for writing about M83, I dialed up a song from Hurry Up We’re Dreaming.

For me, 2011 in music will be defined by many songs: The Joy Formidable’s "The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade", The White Lies’s "Bigger Than Us", Cut Copy’s "Take Me Over", Cloudkicker’s "You and yours" (more on that in a column to come) and The Beastie Boys’s, "Make Some Noise".

But it’s possible that the song I’ll remember most from 2011 isn’t even the best song from Hurry Up We’re Dreaming. The song to which I refer is barely a song at all; most of it is taken up by a little girl reciting a story about a frog.

It’s called “"Raconte-Moi Une Histoire". It’s fragile, uplifting, and beautiful**. A lot like the rest of Hurry Up We’re Dreaming.
**Warning: it may also make you cry. (See what I mean about the hyperbole?)

M83 - "Midnight City"

4) Tycho – Dive
I began splitting time between Kansas City and Los Angeles this year. The latter location choice has allowed me to watch more live stand-up comedy than I otherwise would have.

One universal truth about stand-up comedy is this one: no matter how good the act, everyone in the audience kinda, sorta thinks that he could also do stand-up comedy. This is fundamentally untrue, of course, but that doesn’t stop us from thinking it. We think this because the best stand-up comics make their job look easy.

Good electronic music is similar. As I considered Tycho’s inclusion on this list, I thought, at least once, “But it’s so simple and it seems so easy.”

Well, if it were simple and easy to make electronic music that is this majestic, more people would do it.

Tycho - "Daydream"

3) Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo
There is no musician not named Eddie Vedder who I’d like to watch play music in a tiny Toronto bar than Kurt Vile. (Why Toronto? 1. I’m really high on Canada at present. 2. Why not Toronto? It might be the best city in North America.)
Smoke Ring For My Halo is best described using the following five nouns:

1.
Bourbon
2. Short-haired girls with high cheekbones and tasteful tiny tattoos
3. On The Beach
4. Forty-watt light bulbs
5. Tim Riggins

Kurt Vile - "Baby’s Arms"

2) The Naked And Famous – Passive Me, Aggressive You
It was January when I was introduced to “Young Blood,” the first single from Passive Me, Aggressive You. I was in Kansas City, driving to the library to write on a Saturday morning. And I was listening to the radio. This fact is shocking on its own; there’s no good radio left in America, right?

Almost. One of the underrated aspects of Kansas City is our access to one of the four best radio stations in the United States: 96.5 The Buzz.

“Young Blood” was so good that it gave me chills. I believe I said, aloud, “Whoa.”

It was so good, in fact, that I thought it impossible that the rest of the band’s album, which was finally released in March, could live up to the expectations I’d built based on “Young Blood” and its sister song, “Punching In A Dream.” And anyway, I expected something Passion Pit-y from that album; more of the same Bubbiliciousness that, while pleasant the first few times, would quickly fade from my brain.

Imagine my surprise, then, when, after the pop starters that are “All Of This” and the aforementioned “Punching In A Dream,” PM, AY takes a turn toward Serioustown.

Passive Me, Aggressive You owes more to Nine Inch Nails than it does to Passion Pit. It’s a hodgepodge of styles – electronic, pop, rock, a dash of industrial. (Think Crystal Castles, if you must think of something.)

But it’s a hodgepodge that works.
The Naked And Famous - "A Wolf In Geek's Clothing"
(Why this song? Because you didn’t believe me when I wrote “industrial” above.)

1) J Roddy Walston & The Business – J Roddy Walston & The Business
I had two major revelations about J Roddy Walston & The Business this year. While watching the band crush its 12:30 set at Lollapalooza, I was compelled to learn more about the band. I started by looking up where they were from; I assumed, based on the Black Crowes-meets-Black Keys-meets-Jerry Lewis-meets-Lynyrd Skynyrd that I was watching, that I would find out that the band was from somewhere within a rhombus bounded by Sedalia, Missouri, Houston, Texas, Pensacola, Florida, and Richmond, Virginia.

J Roddy Walston & The Business are from Baltimore.

Huh.

The second revelation occurred when I scrolled through my iTunes the day I sat down to write this column, checking to make sure I hadn’t left out anything important. I’d decided in July that J Roddy Walston had the inside track on my, ahem, Album Of The Year.
I sorted my iTunes by year. Then I noticed something odd: J Roddy’s album was nowhere to be found.

That’s because it came out in 2010.

This provided me a quandary. Because if I allow that the list can include bands that I might only have discovered in 2011, or bands that I only figured out in 2011, all hell would break loose. After all, what is this, the Grammys?

But my cognitive dissonance was calmed when I played the album again. J Roddy Walston & The Business self-titled second record is just too good to leave out.

And anyway, it’s my list. Right?

J Roddy Walston And The Business - "Pigs & Pearls"
11:35 AM on 12/15/11
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Thomas Nassiff
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Damn good read. Long but good.
11:54 AM on 12/15/11
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Scott Weber
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I love seeing that Tycho album get so much EOTY love. Great record.
11:59 AM on 12/15/11
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Rob McWilliams
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Second installment?
11:59 AM on 12/15/11
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Holly HoX!
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Mad props for including Kurt Vile and Tycho's Dive - an album that made my top ten.

FTP and Tune Yards? Nahhhhhh.

And it's Beastie Boys'

Other than that nice list and okay read.
11:59 AM on 12/15/11
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Holly HoX!
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I love seeing that Tycho album get so much EOTY love. Great record.

Same. Made my list. It's awesome.
12:19 PM on 12/15/11
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Spenny
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Great list.

As much as I would want to include Passive Me, Aggressive You on my personal list, since I only discovered it in 2011, it was technically released in 2010. I hate it when stuff like that happens, when an album would've ranked high if only you discovered it in the year it was released.
04:20 PM on 12/15/11
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I disagree with the omission of Bon Iver. Also Shirley is still an ignorant doucher.
05:04 PM on 12/15/11
brook183
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I disagree with the omission of Bon Iver. Also Shirley is still an ignorant doucher.
Lol
06:25 PM on 12/15/11
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Awesome shout out to 96.5 The Buzz!
08:03 PM on 12/15/11
trojanick
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Great description of Simple Math - I think that sums up a lot of people's feelings. Naked & Famous had great singles but I thought the album was too long - too much filler.
08:07 PM on 12/15/11
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A lot of overhyped/boring/in one case annoying mainstream indie rock picks. I know taste is subjective and all but I juuuust don't get the appeal for stuff like Tune-Yards and the new M83. I'd put Radiohead wayyy above 9 of these albums, and Simple Math is at least a top 10 lock.
11:43 PM on 12/15/11
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Good read. I pretty much have the exact same sentiments regarding the Radiohead album.
05:33 AM on 12/16/11
StepsInADance
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His top 5 is really great. The bottom half... Not so much.
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