Best Albums of 2011

Legitimately creepy, emotionally claustrophobic, uplifting.

Some people think anything in a minor key is ‘dark’ – Austra is peppy and upbeat, a bit dramatic, but fundamentally happy dance music.

Mangled slow jams remade into stately chamber music.

Looped and layered choral voice-scapes.  Cleaner production than her earlier stuff brings this into Brian Eno territory: background music you can also pay full attention to.

Exuberant, simple, frustrated bedroom punk.  Reminds me why I started writing songs and playing guitar.

Think early Weezer.  Smile.

Graham Smith’s songwriting is always top-notch, but this is the strongest set in years, with driving guitars and an urgent energy.  “Let’s put the ‘hot O my’ back in our dichotomy.”

  • Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica

Headphones, 3am, lights off.

  • Peaking Lights – 936

Hazy, mellow summertime beats.

Reverby lo-fi jam-band with folsky harmonies… is the Velvet Underground ever out of style?

Polmo Polpo producer takes on hi-fi space psych.  I can listen to “Wolfman” on repeat all day.

Another electronic act turned live, with mind-blowing results.  Best sound aesthetic of the year, hands down.

The converse of the Austra argument:  transcribe these songs and you’ll find cheerful major-key rock; listen and you’ll feel fuzzy & out of sorts, like fluorescent-lit shoe shopping with a hangover.


2010 Best Records

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – “Before Today”

So catchy, so weird…

Boston Spaceships – “Our Cubehouse Still Rocks”

I know I put a Bob Pollard project on every list, but this one is as good as 90s GBV!
Das Racist – “Sit Down, Man”

“These zooted brown weirdos is wildin’ but they can really rap”!

Lower Dens – “Twin-Hand Movement”

Instant classic <3 <3 <3

Midlake – “The Courage of Others”

Beautiful melodic psych

Nightlands – “Forget the Mantra”

Mind-blowing headphone psych

Owen Pallett – “Heartland”

Epic violin loops, rocks harder than described

Salem – “King Night”

OK OK witch house is pretty cool

The Tallest Man on Earth – “The Wild Hunt”

Early Dylan via Sweden?

Woods – “At Echo Lake”

Complex sad lo-fi weirdness

And a couple of great EPs:

  • The Ribbons – “Love is Mysterious”
  • Wildbirds & Peacedrums – “Iris”

Top 10 Records of 2009

Merriweather Post Pavilion
Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

What Will We Be
Devendra Banhart – What Will We Be
Undeniably legit, and I don’t usually like him

March of the Zapotec
Beirut – March of the Zapotec/Realpeople Holland
Realpeople Holland is the best electronic music I’ve heard in ages

Upper Air
Bowerbirds – Upper Air
Folk with a pop sensibility that doesn’t de-folk it

Love is Not Pop
El Perro Del Mar – Love is Not Pop
Cheesy but brilliant or brilliant but cheesy?

Fever Ray
Fever Ray – Fever Ray

Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
Instant classic

On the Knife
Little Gold – On the Knife
Sad hooky country-inflected lo-fi

Wind's Poem
Mt. Eerie – Wind’s Poem
Heavy and gentle

Gorgeous Johnny
Skygreen Leopards – Gorgeous Johnny
Meticulously lazy

Songs of Shame

Woods – Songs of Shame
Yay home recording


Top 10 Records of 2008

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

Quiet, catchy, sad, deeply confident.

Bonnie Prince Billy - Lie Down in the Light



Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut died Wednesday. His deep skepticism and moral realism — his perception of the backwards world that treats the trivial as serious and vice versa — made him a hero of mine. I think that for both of us, nothing rings truer than a bad joke.

I’m reminded of another great writer, Douglas Hofstadter. His new book I am a Strange Loop claims that souls are self-perceiving (or self-hallucinating) symbolic patterns — no extra essence required. When you know someone deeply, you can use your mental model of them to see what they would think of your situation. If souls are just patterns, then these “virtual” patterns are no less real — though less fully developed — than the original pattern in the brain of the person you know.

Coming back to Vonnegut, his perspective was so distinctive, lovable, and well transmitted that I know there are active Vonneguts in a lot of brains out there, including mine. Ho-ho.

BoingBoing links Vonnegut’s earliest reading from Breakfast of Champions. See also the NY Times obit and his Wikipedia entry.