RoundLetters’ Best of 2011: Top Albums

little dragon ritual union

Part Two in my Best of 2011 coverage: Top 10 albums!

Now, I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again: I did not really like 2011 for music. It was pretty bad. I waited and waited and waited multiple times this year for music to hit me in the face that I would love and it took forever. I don’t like what feels like all the indie artists who got really popular this year. I don’t like Top 40 either. It just happens. I can dance around to stuff but that doesn’t mean I’m going to sit and really give it my time and thoughts. Though I’m a total grump about this, the albums that did break through for me are pretty great. I can say that I’m in love with my top two or three, I think they’re amazing. It’s similar to what happened to me last year. (My top 3 were Foals, Junip and !!! – still three of my favourite bands, and still three albums that I listened to well into 2011.) My top 3 mean the most to me this year and they’re a mixture of a band someone got me into and I then became obsessed, a singer who I’ve been into since her first album came out a couple years ago and a new local band that shot to stardom as fast as you can say stardust.

So here goes:

10. Peter Elkas – Repeat Offender

I spent January dancing around to Repeat Offender, and I’ll always remember my mom dancing around to it too when I had it on one day while I was visiting home. Peter brought us simple yet hearty songs that were infectious in charm and easy to sing along to, and it was even more fun to see him play them at the Dakota Tavern.

9. Pat Jordache – Future Songs

Pat took me by surprise. At first I didn’t think I could get into his music, but it didn’t take me very long to fall right into it. He keeps you coming back, leading you by a hook on a string, to his carefully crafted quirkiness and dark, deep vocals. His bass playing drives every other little bit through and through all of that, the songs come out catchy.

8. Dog Day – Deformer

I cannot resist Seth Smith and Nancy Urich’s ways. Deformer saw the band’s first full-length release as just a duo of the married couple, and I found it to be their best work yet. Songs like “Part Girl” and “Scratches” are gems, and I still can’t help waiting for Seth’s high notes that work so perfectly. I was also really glad to be able to see them play again this year – if they ever come through your town, go.

7. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

This year, St. Vincent fully caught my attention, and not just for those big brown eyes. (Note: if you see her live, many a bro will yell things like ‘Annie, you’re so beautiful!’ ‘Annie, I LOVE YOU!’ which just feels hilarious, but there is more to this siren.) Her lyrics are amazingly well thought-out, you won’t find work like that very far in indie music these days. Strange Mercy puts a hold on you, but it doesn’t shake you or anything like that, it sits you down and explains things and maybe ruffles your hair up a bit. “Cheerleader” is one of my favourite songs of the year.

6. David Lynch – Crazy Clown Time

2011 was the year I was introduced to Twin Peaks and I’ve loved every minute of it. So when I found out the creator/director David Lynch had an album coming out, I was intrigued and excited, knowing my neck hairs would raise and be tingled in weird delight. David definitely has songs on here that sound just like you’re in that wooded town, and every time it comes on it feels like an adventure. “Pinky’s Dream” and “Good Day Today” are two of the coolest songs I’ve heard in a while, and they make me dreamy and optimistic, respectively. Try playing this album while driving along the highway at night, I have, and you’ll be captivated. Each song on this album brings up crazy imagery to me, which is another reason that made me love it. I’ve pictured a cyclops dragging his arms along his sides in woe and so much more. Now that’s how you do music.

5. Hooded Fang – Tosta Mista

I declared it then, Tosta Mista was my album of the summer. It’s full of fast jams and lyrics that somewhat mask the opposite feeling of what it’s showing in a sunny light. It’s a lot of fun, and that’s exactly what I needed when it came out. It’s impossible to resist bopping around to.  It’s over very quickly and so you just play it over again. A fine piece of work that came from a local band.

4. High Places – Original Colors

Though I have to keep stopping myself from writing ‘colours’ and they’re not as good live as they are on record, I still loved this. It brings me to a new level of mindset whenever I listen, like I’m in some hazy art gallery club where the walls are slanted and the lights are red and moving around and people are all dressed in glittery costumes. But they’re talking about reality, not dreams. It’s slow and fast at the same time. “Year Off” is compelling.

3. Austra – Feel it Break

Austra blew up in 2011. It was the craziest rocket to fame I’ve seen for a band since the emo days in high school with Cute is What We Aim For (heh). I remember Dorian, the bass player, talking about how he was in a new band with a bunch of girls after Spiral Beach ended, and they had to come up with a name before a show. They were Private Life, then back to the leader’s name Katie Stelmanis and then Austra. I interviewed Katie in the spring and I was stunned by the response to them then, but look at where they are by now, it’s incredible. And well-deserved. Feel it Break is a magical piece of work, like Katie and the gang struck gold while digging and digging and digging for years. Yes, they had to switch gears in the music they were normally working in, but as long as they love what they’re doing now, I’ll love it too. “The Beat and the Pulse” knocked me over and still does every time it comes on. I’ve seen them live a couple times and it’s dazzling, even though the Phoenix last month felt packed beyond capacity and I was all the way at the back. I’m really curious to see what’s in their future, and for god sakes I hope they get some rest soon. Poor guys, getting to go to Europe about a million times this year.

2. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

Dear Merrill Garbus, you are my hero. I dressed up as you for Halloween and won a costume contest. I wish I could dress that way every day. I can’t stop smiling whenever I see you play (twice this year, hell yes) and neither can anyone else. Your shows are my happy place. Your energy is extremely positive, whether you’re feeling that or not, which makes me think you’re a strong, in control woman who knows how to get things across, even though every time you play, you seem utterly surprised at the response you get from the crowd (not just the things people try to get your looping pedal to pick up). It’s just warm and fuzzy and it’s so great to see an entire venue dancing and smiling. So great. Especially in Toronto. I loved BiRd BrAiNs but w h o k i l l knocked it out of the park for me. I knew this kind of music was coming – more streamlined and focused, but put together much better and with you taking on drums – so I was prepared. This album is brilliance to me. I tear up to the “Bizness” video and I get my girl power on with “Killa.” I played “My Country” over and over when I was upset at the ugly response of Americans to the death of Osama Bin Laden (yes, it’s a good thing this is over, yada yada, but those people were ridiculous in the way they celebrated, and it made me ashamed to come from there). This album will stick with me for a long time.

1. Little Dragon – Ritual Union

My coworker introduced me to Little Dragon in the summer and my year was changed from that point on. I was obsessed with Ritual Union. “Nightlight” and “Brush the Heat” are mesmerizing and exciting. I saw them play in the fall and fell in love with the entire band. Each member has this way they move and it’s amazing to watch. They have their own charm that works together even though they all seem so different. I wasn’t too familiar with their other two albums at that point, but seeing those songs played live – especially the ones they let loose on – was so cool. From that point on, I wanted to hug myself whenever I played them but it wasn’t until I could not stop playing older songs “Place to Belong” and then the trio of “Looking Glass” “My Step” and “Feather” that I was really, really hooked. Ask any of my close friends and they will tell you. Those songs mean so much to me and the year I’ve had, and they bring this strange aura over me whenever I play them, especially “Place to Belong” and “Feather.” Ritual Union is my album of the year, but really it’s all three of their albums together in my mind. Plus, Little Dragon makes it very easy to be a fan, they’re all over the web from Twitter to Facebook to Instagram to YouTube. I’ve watched a ton of great things from them on YouTube that are quirky and cute or captivating and interesting. Everything about this band is so fascinating to me, and their blend of electro soul is so fresh and exactly what I needed.

 

Albums of note from 2011:

Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital
Rubik – Solar
Casiokids – Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen
Little Scream – The Golden Record
The Albertans – New Age
Young Galaxy – Shapeshifting
Sam Roberts – Collider
Feist – Metals
Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo

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RoundLetters’ Best of 2011: EPs and Shorter Albums

beth ditto EP
Here’s Part One of my Best of 2011 coverage — the best EPs and shorter albums I’ve had the pleasure of listening to this year.

1. Beth Ditto – self titled

Whenever I needed a dose of girl power this year that wasn’t more aggressive (at those times, I’d play Le Tigre), Beth Ditto was my girl. I adore this EP because not only did it get Beth Ditto back into a spotlight where she should be and pair her to really good dance music with Simian Mobile Disco, but her lyrics are inspiring and empowering. This was an EP that had me dancing while doing the dishes, walking to work and at parties. I only hope we hear from Beth or her band, Gossip, sometime soon.

2. Jeans Boots – txt msgs

Another empowering female, Jeans Boots took my breath away this year with txt msgs. I still remember her hair flying all over the Horseshoe’s stage and her shiny, sparkly dress from when she came many months ago with her other band Slow Down, Molasses. This lady’s got guts, a powerful voice and her mysterious air keeps you interested. And, random extra points, she’s an arts journalist for the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

3. Army Girls – Close to the Bone

This really was a year that ladies took over in music for me. (See my top 10 albums to come as well.) Carmen Elle’s voice is mesmerizing and even though it feels like she’s punching you in the gut, it’s the sweetest damn punches you’ll ever feel. Paired with Andy Smith, these two came up with a dynamic that’s really worked for them, and Close to the Bone was a beautiful release. I’m excited for more from them in the future.


4. We Are the City – High School

I spent a good amount of time at the beginning of the year getting to know We Are the City and their transformations for an article for Exclaim. I feel like I really got to see a lot of growth from them since their first album came out last year, and it made me proud. I think High School was a huge accomplishment for them as people and as a band, and they’ve still got so much more ahead of them if they keep on that path. The songs on High School are quite catchy and my favourite, “Dark/Warm Air” even got the drummer Andy onto main vocals.

5. Parks and Rec – Seeds Grown Here

Seeds Grown Here reflects on life and death with music that makes you feel like flying; it’s a heartbreakingly beautiful release. There’s a lot of love that pours to and from this band in the Toronto scene, which is also great to see.

6. Each Other – Taking Trips

I just can’t get enough of the weird music that comes out of this band (formerly part of Long Long Long). They’ve got this distant way of angling everything that turns the floors upside down and lets you figure out what to do. Taking Trips came out of nowhere to me when I realized Long Long Long broke up (and yes, I realized months later) so this was a pleasant surprise. “Goosing Statues” is a wicked song.

7. Heartbeat Hotel – Intae Woe

Their most cohesive album yet, Intae Woe gives Heartbeat Hotel more lasting power. It’s dreamy and chill with the best of em, but the hooks and melodies are ones that will stick around like wisps in the air.

8. Nightbox – self titled

A short dance soundtrack for me earlier this year, Nightbox came out with full force to Canada and now they’ve had a show on Much Music, toured with Lights and played with Death From Above 1979. Pretty good year for these lads!

9. Armen at the Bazaar – Noor

Armen is equally as interesting to hear as he is to watch. As a one man band electronic set-up with big goals, he’s got a lot to do, and pulls it off nicely. Noor is quirky, pretty and intriguing, and like I’ve said before, his rendition of “Over the Rainbow” is awesome. I’ve seen him live a couple times this year and I do hope that in the future I can see him play full rooms, but perhaps more in a DJ capacity, as he elongates some of his songs into full dance numbers that should be enjoyed like that.

10. Long Long Long – Who the Fuck Said Family Ain’t Family No More

As mentioned above, Long Long Long were what birthed Each Other. But they’ve put out numerous solid releases under this name, and this is just one of them I’ve really liked. (Last year’s Shorts should have made my lists.) One of my favourite things about this then-East Coast band are the guitars, that sound like confusion but in an exciting way that makes you want to push through your mental capacities or just lie there for a while in the reverberating lines.