Favorite Track: "Future Heart"
Old Wounds was one of my favorite records of 2008, and having to wait three years for its follow-up seemed like a freaking eternity. I spun the hell out of Old Wounds during those three years, and with every listen, I found myself getting more and more excited for what was next for Young Widows. I pictured something heavier, grittier, grimier and energetic. What I got was almost the complete opposite; something lighter, more atmospheric and more patient. You'd think I would have been disappointed. You know, the whole expectation v. reality thing. And I very well could have been, I've seen it happen to countless bands (my own included). "Bah. This isn't what I wanted it to be" as a disgruntled listener shoves a album deep into the dregs of his/her iTunes playlist.
I gave In and Out of Youth and Lightness a lot of time. It didn't click the first time. Or the second. Or the third. But something happened around the fourth or fifth listen that pushed aside my misguided expectations and made it my favorite thing Young Widows has ever done. There are few feelings as amazing as when a album just clicks, when you're sitting in your car or at your desk (or wherever you listen to music) and you just feel it wash over you, like "Fuuuuuu-this is incredible." And if there's a moral to this story, I guess it's that just because an album doesn't sound or feel just like you'd hoped it would, that doesn't mean it never will.
Buy it here.
2) Animals As Leaders - Weightless
Favorite Track: "Somnarium"
Animals As Leaders self-titled debut record was hands down the best record of 2009 that I didn't hear until 2010. And that such a mind-blowingly good record came out of nowhere to knock me on my ass (I didn't know a damn thing about AAL or guitar virtuoso Tosin Abasi and hadn't heard a single note of their work prior to pressing play on my iPod for the first time.), I didn't think it would be possible to make a follow-up that wasn't a huge disappointment. I had lofty expectations, but was ready to be let down.
Weightless didn't let me down. At all. It met my lofty expectations and it's only gotten better as I've continued to listen to it. There's so much going on (without there ever being "too much" going on) that it's almost impossible not to pick up on something new each time I listen to it, be it the other-worldly guitar shredding, syncopation, electronic programming, or ear candy and ambience. And with all that's going on, you'd probably figure that there's no way the trio can pull it off live, but they do. Flawlessly. I had a chance to see them play back in November and it was an absolute mind melter.
I'm not sure why, but it seems like a fair amount of uber-talented musicians/clinicians that can play the ever-loving shit out of their instrument usually fail in the context of a band. When they're playing a solo it's jaw-dropping, when they're running a clinic the audience is rapt with with wonder, but when it comes time to write music with a band their output comes across as a wank-a-thon of circus music used as a vehicle to carry a mess of solos. That is absolutely not the case with Weightless. It's so refreshing (and encouraging) to hear Abasi use his talents to create truly memorable songs and grooves, songs that take the listener on a journey dynamically and melodically, rather than just being linear exhibits of wankery. Weightless is incredible.
Buy it (for $5!) here.
1) O' Brother - Garden Window
Favorite Track: "Poison"
I saw O' Brother play a handful of songs from Garden Window almost every night when we toured them in the fall. When I got home from tour, I had Garden Window playing on a loop, all day, everyday, for weeks. When I get a chance to play drums, I play along to bit and pieces of Garden Window. When I sing in the shower or the car, I (try and fail to) sing the intro to "Poison". When I look at a sunrise or sunset, the break at 3:33 in "Poison" fills my head. When I watched this band play "Poison" live (roughly 35 times in six weeks) the song moved me to tears every single time. Garden Window is my favorite record of 2011 by a landslide.
Sometimes a band comes along that is everything you want and need musically. O' Brother became that band for me with Garden Window. It's beautifully melodic, borderline schizophrenic sonically (in the best ways possible), heavy as hell when it needs to be, captivatingly delicate and atmospheric at all the right moments, energetic and urgent at times, and (in one of the things I find most impressive about the album) perfectly patient. I'm blown away by how well they (especially as such a young band -- this is their first LP) utilize space and time to make shifts in dynamics have as much impact as they possibly can. In a musical climate that seems so fixated on immediacy and impatience, I can't express how refreshing it is to hear a band allow things to develop rather than forcing them to.
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And if you needed any more reason to buy this record, the O' Brother fellas are one of the most positive, uplifting, hard working and dedicated bands I've ever spent time with on the road. When you buy their record, know that you're supporting musicians making music for all the right reasons.
If you buy any album from this year's list. Make it this one.