It's that time of year again. The time of year in which we are inundated with year-end lists; bests, worsts, mosts, leasts, blah, and blahs. Honestly, I'm a bit tired of lists (maybe some of that has to do with the fact that I make one for this column every week), but there's something to to be said for tradition. I've been writing and publishing "Best/Favorite Records of ..." for several years, and while I realize that some of you couldn't possibly give less of a damn which records were my favorites of 2011, I'm about to drop them on you anyway. Suck it up and read on, or do something else.
Now, a few things before we get started.
These are not the "best" records. They are my "favorite" records. I really don't know what's "best." Neither do you. So save the "I can't believe (band name that probably has something to do with verbing a noun in it) isn't on your list" comments. This is my list. You're more than welcome make your own, and I'd encourage you to do so. I'm eager to read them in the comments. Let's get each other into some new bands.
The following twelve records (because I honestly couldn't narrow it down to nine like I did last year) are listed in order, but that order (especially at the back end) would probably change from week to week were someone to ask me to submit this list again. That order has also been determined by an admittedly unreliable way of assigning value to a record.
I checked out my total plays on Last.fm and iTunes, made a list, thought about potential replay value, took some notes, sat down and listened to all of the top records again to see what kind of staying power they had, flipped a coin, made a list of my top three tracks from each record and compared them to other top threes, put album covers on a dartboard, blindfolded myself, threw some darts in the direction of that dartboard, hit my dog with one, and realized that all of this is a horrible idea and why do I have so much fun driving myself nuts over something so inconsequential and unnecessary and oh yeah that's just because it's what I do with these list things.
Aaaaaaaand, deep breath. Note: Many of these records are heavy. 2011 was a heavy year for me personally, and I think my listening habits were shaped by that. There's really no pop on this list, and there's much less electronic and ambient stuff than I've ever had on a year-end list. I'm sure I missed a ton of great music on the mellower end of the spectrum, and would love some suggestions of which records to check out in the comments. (Read: HELP ME.)
Finally, I'll try to keep the capsules for each record as succinct and hyperbole-free as possible. Instead of using thesaurus-speak to try to describe how a record sounds, I'll try to explain how a record makes me feel. You have ears. If you're wondering how record sounds, listen to the damn thing. There will be no "a glorious swath of buttery delay-drenched mandolin arpeggios awash in a warm sea of cascading reverb soundscapes ridden deftly by post-neo-minimalist bongo virutoso, Delicate Rourke" sentences here.
So, without further bullshit disclaimers and excuses adieu, here's Volume 1 (of 4) of My Favorite 12 Records of 2011.
12) David Bazan - Strange Negotiations Favorite Track: "Wolves At The Door"
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I have to admit that this record might have snuck its way onto this year's list in an 11th hour decision made after I saw him play at The Constellation Room at The Galaxy Theater last Friday night. (The show was flawless, intimate, and incredibly moving.) To be honest, the record didn't grab me right away, but like most great (and timeless) records, it's a grower, and gets better and more infectious with every listen. It's deceptively heavy musically, and like most of Bazan's work, brutally honest and introspective, lyrically. Strange Negotiations is a welcome addition to a discography that has made Bazan my favorite singer/songwriter of this generation; my Johnny Cash.
Buy Strange Negotiations here.
I was unfamiliar with Tycho until I started correspondence with Ben Sharp (the man behind Cloudkicker, whose Beacons landed at #4 on last years list), and picked his brain about what he was listening to/being inspired by. As a huge fan of Sharp's work, I trusted his taste in music, and he certainly didn't let me down. Dive is fantastic. It's probably the most mellow inclusion to this year's list; a soothing blend of electronica, ambience, and delay-heavy synths and guitars. My lady and I got our first taste of the album in its entirety on an all-night drive from Sacramento back to Orange County after Thrice played up there on our last tour, and I can't think of a more perfect scenario to experience Dive. I'd highly recommend it for night drives, long flights, rainy days, or a post-work decompression session.
Buy Dive here.
10) Trap Them - Darker Handcraft Favorite Track: "Damage Prose"
With its twelve tracks of furious, pissed off grindcore/hardcore brutality, Darker Handcraft is about as extreme a record as I picked up this year. It's the kind of record that you throw on in the car as you're cruising down the 55, only to realize that thirty seconds into the album's opener, "Damage Prose," you're barreling down the highway at 90 MPH. It's riff-driven, spastic, discordant, brutally heavy, and guaranteed to get your heart racing (or your ears bleeding, if you're not particularly a fan of this style of music). I'd recommend it if you're a fan of Converge, Cursed, Hope Conspiracy, or if you feel like your resting heart rate needs a kick in the mouth.
Buy Darker Handcraft here.
Tune in next week for Volume 2 ...