Best Music of 2011

“Because my opinion is important.”

When Saints Go Machine, Konkylie [!K7]

A sweet, sweet Danish act of synthetic daring and vocal experimentation, despite the stupid name.  It’s nice when a group knows how to slow things down while still perching on the razor’s edge of production and programming.






Obits, Moody, Standard, and Poor [Sub Pop Records]

Grizzled Brooklynites Obits, fronted by former Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes frontman Rick Froberg, deliver the workingman’s doom with beautifully articulated clean, clean Fender tone.  This is the blues for post-bubble America, the debt-slave cynic’s swing low, sweet chariot.  In the song “No Fly List” Froburg urges the listener, whose “daddy’s in hell” and whose “brother’s in jail” not to cry.  Why?  In these chill years when the threat of criminalization lurks as a consequence of everything you do, “These are the things you can’t control.”



Winged Victory for the Sullen, S/T [Kranky]

I heard “Steep Hills of Vicodin Tears” as a promo stream on some website this past summer before this record was released (probably directly via their European label, the excellent Erased Tapes Records), and I loved it.  To my ears, limited as they are by a lack of deep exposure to classical music, it sounds like these guys got up from a crying jag after their 300th time listening to Gorécki’s 3rd and decided to make Tortoise’s Millions Now Living Wlll Never Die.  The background electronics are almost invisible and on some tracks you can hear the piano’s innards creaking, so softly coaxed are the notes from its belly.  It’s chamber music meets ambient music, where the sounds of the real world interact directly with the orchestrated composition, and I can’t recommend it enough.



Bibio, Mind Bokeh [Warp Records]

I first heard Bibio in 2005, when he was being compared to Boards of Canada.  That’s why I got into him.  Six years on, the BoC seem to have stopped convening, and Bibio is thousands of conceptual miles from where early critics first tried to fix and liken him.  It’s equal parts weirdness and optimism.  Particularly amazing is the T.O.Y.S. EP, based around the single “Take Off Your Shirt.”






Junior Boys, It’s All True [Domino]

On this breathy, vocals-centered double-slab of hot wax the production is so subtle you might at first overlook the bed of amazingly restrained dance sequencing and beautifully plastic synthesizers all the resigned musings on love are floating over.  This whole record is a tribute to remixing George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex”, that really endearingly bad “Part 2” remix inseparable from “Part 1” on Faith.  It’s lovelorn realization of loss after the glitz of lust has blown over.  It’s that coming to terms with life, the “I Want Your Sex Part 3” that didn’t make its way onto George Michael’s record back in the day.





Destroyer, Kaputt [Merge]

A stream of consciousness ride over moonlit synthesizer pads with nods to New Order and Roberto Bolaño, this is the record that gave a home to the epic single “Bay of Pigs.”  A jaunt in your summer whites from nothing and back to nothing, a soundtrack to the discovery of the terrible secret youth keeps hidden in the open.






 Cut/Copy, Zonoscope [Modular]

I picked up Cut/Copy’s debut, Bright Like Neon Love back in 2004 when I had just moved to New York.  Their follow-up four years later, though it was capturing lots of attention and acclaim, felt like a retread, and I wrote them off.  They were a really great band that deserved the attention, but, I thought, it was a pity that they hadn’t gotten it with their superior first release.  That made this year’s outing that much more of a surprise.  This is the sound of a band pulling out all the stops and loving it, grabbing hooks from their influences and making them better (Paul Simon and Men at Work evident on “Take me over”), doing everything a pop act has in its power to make the listener dance without hesitation.



Atlas Sound, Parallax [4AD]

I am not so pretentious that I think anything I say will in any way add to the work of Bradford Cox. He’s better than the Beatles and he makes it look effortless.








True Widow, As High As the Highest Heavens and From the Center to the Circumference of the Earth [Kemado]

If Sonic Youth were to have been a murder ballad band played at half the speed.







College, The Northern Council [Valerie Collective]

College breaks out of the confining aesthetic of the idealized ’80s (a schtick they helped to define) and produces an unexpected masterpiece of eerie atmospheric instrumental dance music reminiscent of DMX Krew’s darker catalog.

Destroyer at the Crocodile Seattle, WA 3/18/2011

Coerceyou captures the all the glory the failing 2 megapixel sensor on a shitty cell-phone camera can- Now within actual discernable range!

A Page from Chris Onstad's Recent Chapbook #1, available at the Achewood Website. Click through and read his momentous news and access to lots of other new stuff in his Fanflow.

It is true.  On a day within the last range of days I attended the performance of Dan Bejar and his enormous band here in Seattle, in a club, and I was not sitting in an assigned seat.  This was one of the very few shows that I’ve seen since getting here that was actually in a club without seats, a show that had an actual crowd standing will-he-nil-he in a room in front of speakers (albeit one that concentrated shoulder to shoulder at lead-like densities waaaay out back on the way to the bathroom, completely confusing those of us up front who were swinging our arms around wildly in an expression of the modern angst of 21st century alienation in the hopes of making even superficial contact with another human being without the aid of ill-fitting prostheses like the email or the iPhone).

Dan Bejar is traveling with a large, talented, and dedicated retinue on this outing in support of his latest record, Kaputt.  The saxophonist/floutist alone worked hard enough to earn the ticket price back for the whole band.

One has to wonder, however, under what sort of fear the band works with Dan Bejar to execute live and on a small club stage the very complicated smooth jazz-meets-new-wave vibe of the new LP, as there were few smiles from the rest of the gang.

Perhaps that was just it- they were really trying hard to hit all the marks and put on a fucking amazing show.  Mission accomplished, and kudos if that’s all it was.  The idea that kept a smile on my face, though, was that Bejar might actually be the eccentric his lyrics portray, that the band may really be working strenuously aviod the oblivion inside the annoyance of Dan Bejar, the artiste.  Whatever it was, thanks for coming to town and playing flawlessly through Kaputt, and through a lot of Your Blues, to boot.  The show was excellent.

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Openers The War on Drugs brought some much-needed East Coast rock and reverb to the stage, doing that Philly new-psych thing they and all the acts that have split off from them the past few years do so well.  Good times all around.

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There is a Ridiculous Amount of Stuff Coming Down Out of the Hopper.

Portishead, after almost daily tripping over themselves with their surprise club sets here and there for the past year to tease us with the notion they might be half the way there with their new album, have made it official. Not only playing and curating this weekend’s Nightmare Before Christmas All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival, but their new album, first in ten years, is also releasing sometime in April.

Hot Water Music is reuniting at least long enough to wage a spate of shows, hitting NJ in late January and releasing a new record

Clark just came out with a pre-album EP called Throttle Promoter ahead of the planned-for-January Turning Dragon. Listen here:

The Breeders have a new album on the way, following up one of the most rewarding albums in semi-recent memory (It’s been over 5 years now, right?). News release here. Unfortunately, the teaser track they had up on their Myspace has already been taken down.

Destroyer, whose European Oils contains about the best ever use of the emphatic f-bomb, not to undermine singer Dan Bejar’s current ranking as next in line for the Leonard Cohen cup as far as lyrics are concerned, is coming out with a new one March 18.

The Silver Jews are doing it up in April, too.

Not to mention that there is a band in the very local vicinity currently writing and gaining momentum and likely to be out and about by February or April.

How is an enthusiast supposed to keep up?