Top 15 Albums of 2011: Jason P. Woodbury
Welcome to another installment of Up on the Sun's 2011 Review. Over the next week, we'll be counting down our favorite songs, shows, national and local releases of 2011. Enjoy!
Is it just me, or was 2011 weird? Like, really weird?
Lou Reed and Metallica made an album together. It was weird. Odd Future brought to the surface nagging questions about homophobia, race, and pop music ethics. That was weird, too. Lots of people hated on or loved Lana Del Ray and Kreashawn, but stranger still was the way the two vastly different sounding artists became symbols for some larger, weird trend. (Let's turn to the experts on that one -- Poptimist and the Village Voice).
So it was weird, and that's great. Thinking out loud about music has never been so easy -- type the name of any album you're curious about and you'll find thousands of thoughts for your perusal. You can listen to most stuff on Spotify for free, and not have to feel bad about ripping off the artists too much (they are still getting ripped off, but you don't have to feel as bad knowing that a fraction of a penny is doing something for someone).
The constant dearth of music presented makes lists like these feel impossible -- there are no doubt amazing, mind-blowing albums that I haven't heard (and potentially won't ever hear), but that's really part of the fun, isn't it? It's why we dig through these year-end lists, it's why we make them. Because weird is good, and weird is everywhere.
Fantastic for more than just its cover (one of my favorites of the year, featuring an awesome cut-out triangle and majestic nature scene). "Tony the Tripper" rambles and rolls; "Heart Like an Orange" funks and struts; and "Picture of a Bird" fully embraces the the off-kilter Americana spirit always bubbling underneath the clattering drums and Eric D. Johnson's pitched vocals.
14. Thee Oh Sees, Castlemania (In the Red)
Every year some band presses an LP at 45RPM. Such is the case with Castlemania, one of two records released by the excellent Thee Oh Sees this year. I was halfway through my first listen before I realized that I had the record playing at the wrong speed. The fact that I liked it even then probably says more about me than the band, but still -- accomplishment noted.
13. Tom Waits, Bad As Me (Anti)
My friend and co-worker Jay "Nothing Not New" Bennett described "Hell Broke Luce" as the best punk song he heard all year. I can't argue, but feel that Bad as Me had a quality not unlike Waits' earliest singer/songwriter records, only now performed by one of the most remarkably strange characters in music. The piano has kept drinking -- but at this point you have to wonder what exactly it's been downing.
In typical fashion, Lowe tackles treacherous love ("Til' The Real Thing Comes Along"), moving on ("House For Sale"), and death ("Checkout Time") with charm, wit, and a wry grin on his face. The bubbling guitars, peppy vocals, and jazzy shifts in mood often undercut the severe lessons at hand, a knowing, loving trick only this perfectly executed by old masters like Lowe.
One those albums that boldly announces that an artist has truly arrived, Strange Mercy is Annie Clark's finest moment for many reasons, but mostly because the over-riding sense of dread that strengthens the disc's malice and sensuality. "Oh America, can I owe you one?" she sings in "Year of the Tiger," and it's difficult to know exactly what she means -- but easy to let it mean everything.