Watch out for 3hree Things every Tuesday, where Riley Breckenridge, drummer of Orange County's favorite local alt-rock band Thrice, gives his take on life in Southern California as an OC native. Read the archives here.
Last week, I said I'd probably rearrange this list every time I took a look at it, and I was right. Here we are at Volume 2 of My Favorite Albums of 2011, and I'm not only flip-flopping and waffling on the the order of the albums you're about to read about, but I'm looking ahead and changing things up toward the top of the list. OCD, party of one, your table is ready.
Before we get started with Volume 2, I thought I'd mention a handful of albumss that just missed showing up on this year's list.
I'd read and heard a ton of wonderful things about The Joy Formidable's Big Roar record that was released back in January, but for whatever reason I never really got around to listening to it. Eleven months later, I own the album, love it, have no idea where it'd end up on this list, but I'm pretty sure if I'd spent more than a week and a half with it it'd be on here.
Tunnel Blanket by This Will Destroy You should probably be on this list as well. It's beautiful, and it was actually in the #9 slot until I revisited my total plays on iTunes and last.fm and realized that even though I love it, I didn't actually listen to it all that much. As a result, it got the boot when I snuck David Bazan's Strange Negotiations on the list at the last minute. The same goes for Explosions In The Sky's Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. The album is incredible, but the total plays just weren't there to justify inclusion.
Bon Iver's self-titled record might've made the list in a year in which I listened to more mellow music. I just didn't get into the album the way I thought I might when it was released because I was too busy listening to Battles' Gloss Drop (which just missed this year's list as well), and never really got around to doing due diligence on it, even after being blown away by his set at The Shrine Auditorium in September.
Other records I enjoyed but just missed making the cut this year were: Mastodon's The Hunter (in heavy rotation early, but didn't stick around like I'd hoped), both Loop and Let Yourself Be Huge by Cloudkicker (both very good, but I feel like I got them too late in the year to include on this list), Title Fight's Shed (high-energy punk rock that made me feel 19-years-old again, but didn't quite have the staying power to stick in heavy rotation throughout the year) and, in a shocking development, Radiohead's The King Of Limbs (marking the first time I haven't thought a new Radiohead album wasn't the “best thing ever”).
Enough about which albums didn't make the cut, let's look at the next 3hree….
9) KEN Mode – Venerable
Favorite Track: “Obeying The Iron Will”
I had the privilege of getting ahold of Venerable a little earlier than its March 15th release date (legally, mind you). and it dominated my playlist for a good portion of the beginning of 2011. KEN Mode is an absolutely massive sounding three-piece from Winnipeg, who are often classified as “noise rock” (whatever the hell that means), but they're so much more than “noise.” Venerable is highly energetic, skull-crushingly heavy and full of nasty, gritty guitar and bass tones. It's a record that just as likely to get your heart racing as it is to make bang your head until it falls off. If you're a fan of heavy music (a la Young Widows, Keelhaul, Jesuit, et al) and they're not a mainstay on your playlist, you're blowing it in a big way.
Buy Venerable here.
8) Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
Favorite Track: “San Pedro”
Hardcore Will Never, Die But You Will originally landed at No. 4 on this year's list, until I realized that my last.fm picks were skewed by an absentminded writer who accidentally left his iTunes open one afternoon, with “repeat all” selected. So no, I did not listen to the latest Mogwai album 231 times at my desktop this year, I do love it, and I did, in fact, listen to it a ton this year. I'm not sure I can give it a more glowing endorsement than admitting that I think it's largely responsible for keeping me from getting into Radiohead's The King of Limbs as much as I thought I might. Both albums came out within a week of each other, and despite Radiohead basically being my favorite band of all time and space, I just couldn't stop listening to Mogwai. Beyond its ability to force my favorite band's latest record to the back burner, it was also highly influential on my own music writing over the past year. The idea that ended up being the choruses of “Disarmed” from Thrice's Major/Minor was born out of a Mogwai-heavy February and March. What I'm saying (in the most roundabout and clumsy way possible clumsily) is that you need this album.
Buy Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will here.
7) Russian Circles – Empros
Favorite Track: “Mladek”
I've been a huge fan of Russian Circles since I first heard their debut LP Enter back in 2006, so naturally was one of my most anticipated albums heading into into 2011. It not only lived up to my lofty expectations, but exceeded them. Empros is just a beast of an album. It's everything they've always done well (the hypnotic guitar loops, the swirling ambience, the fantastic rhythm section, the cathartic crescendos, the patience, the variety of moods from part-to-part and song-to-song), the mastery of dynamics and their juxtaposition) kicked up several notches. As a drummer, the thing that really takes this album to the next level for me is the absolutely phenomenal playing of Dave Turncrantz. His work on Empros incredibly tasteful, detailed and complex without a hint of overplaying, and audibly fluid (meaning, you you can hear how effortless his playing is without actually having to see it).
If I'd had a bit more time with Empros (it was released on 10/25) I think it might have landed in my Top 3 for this year, as it's just getting better with every listen.
Buy Empros here.