December 23, 2011

guest music post: Matt Reece


NOTE: You can listen to Matt's play list on Spotify here.

Best Albums of 2011

2010 was a big year for music. Off the top of my head I could easily list half a dozen amazing albums… from the hardcore punk classicism of Off!, to the beautiful songs of Frightened Rabbit, the tension groove of Spoon, the strange beauty of Deerhunter, the noise pop of Sleigh Bells, and soul and hip hop by The Roots and Kanye.  This year… maybe it’s my mood, or maybe I wasn’t listening as well, but it was a little harder to choose.  Looking through my Itunes and Spootify playlists however, several stood out.  Here’s my top ten, in no particular order.

1. The Dodos- No Color
Just two guys, guitar/vocals and drums. Featuring tight junkyard African influenced rhythms.  And for guitar players, listen closer, there’s some good stuff going on.  The musical interplay between these two here blows me away… And all of this with (most importantly) great melodic indie/punk songs.  If my list were in order, this might be right where it is now, at the top.

2. David Bazan- Strange Negotiations
I’ve been a fan since the early Pedo the Lion days.  His last album was a ‘break up with God’ masterpiece.  This one is a bit rawer and more striped down, and a few songs remind me of Pedro.  Great lyrics paired with Neil Young meets Fugazi music.  Bazan playing with just an acoustic guitar, in front of a select few at The Habitat House, was one of the shows of the year for me.  True story: several years ago I had Thanksgiving dinner with David and his extended family… I remember talking about both of our favorite recent movies (Memento and Magnolia, so that will date me!).  

3. Radiohead- The King of Limbs
I’ve been a Radiohead fan from back in the day, and seen them live several times.  I have to admit, this is one of the first Radiohead albums that was a grower.  But King of Limbs has been slowly unraveling for me, revealing it’s dark slinky beats and even some left-of-center yet tuneful songs underneath (like ‘Little by Little,’ ‘Codex,’ and ‘Give Up the Ghost’).

4. Ry Cooder- Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down
Protest album of the year, including the protest song of the year, ‘No Banker Left Behind.’  Rootsy Americana spiced up with Vaudeville, and Tex-Mex flavors.  With great guitar (this is Ry Cooder, after all) and a soulful carnival barker voice, Cooder comments on the state of the nation in 2011.  From bank bailouts and economic disparity, to immigration and war, it’s all here.  But this is no mere political lecture… or if it is, it is the most passionate and fun I’ve heard in a long time.   

5. Thao & Mirah- s/t
Two solo artists come together, and it works surprisingly well.  Great grooves and I dig the vocal interplay.

6. Wilco- The Whole Love
It’s Wilco, what can I say?  Their albums usually end up in my top 10.  At this point, you either like ‘em or you don’t!  ‘The Whole Love’ seems like the distillation of their last several albums in one:  Folky, melodic, experimental rock.  Except this time I hear more of the Beatles influence coming out.  And if you haven’t caught them live yet, probably one of the best live bands in America, no joke.

7. F****d Up- David Comes to Life
In a year where I’m hard pressed to name many albums that really RAWKED me (and no kids, the Foo Fighters don’t count), the band with the name you can’t say on the radio did just that.  I thought their last album, ‘The Chemistry of Common Life,’ was a genre game changer.  Their latest has some story line that I can’t really follow, but it doesn’t matter.  These guys are post-hardcore punk geniuses; mixing buzzsaw-yet-often-layered-and-ethereal guitars, an amazing time signature bending drummer, with shards of glass shredded vocals by a shirtless angry bald guy.  In my alternate universe, this is what people would mean when they say ‘pop punk.’

8. Mariachi El Bronx- II
A hardcore band that plays Mariachi music?!  Way better than you think it would be.  This album was one of my top summer jams.  Saw them live, and they’re just as fun, dressed in legit Mariachi outfits!  If you like this, then check out their last one too.

9. Dead Rock West- Bright Morning Stars
Former San Diegan (Loam) Frank Lee Drennen and spouse Cindy Wasserman (yes, sister of renowned bassist Rob Wasserman) conger beautiful, sparse, Americana rock.  Most of these are old country gospel tunes and spirituals re-imagined by the band, with a few of their own, and even a Jesus and Mary Chain cover (‘God Help Me’) thrown in.  This was produced by Peter Case of The Plymsouls, features both John Doe and Exene from legendary punks X, and great vocals and harmonies from Frank and Cindy.  Full disclosure, my old band played a show with these guys, and Frank recorded some amazing harmonica on one of our songs… so I may be biased, but still, I dig this album.

10. Kurt Vile- Smoke Ring for my Halo
Smoke Ring for my Halo is a beautiful, strange haunting-yet-joyful (sorta) low-fi masterpiece.  This is great late night ‘chill’ music.  Maybe Kurt Vile’s most fully realized album yet.

Honorable Mention

The Roots- Undun
Just recently released, so haven’t really had time to hear all of it yet.  But the Roots are a consistently amazing band, they always deliver.

The Violet Burning- The Story of Our Lives
Over twenty years into his music career, Michael Pritzl comes out with an artistic-statement-making triple album!  Still doing what he does really well.

Action!- Friends Weakend
This is technically a 2010 release, but not enough people are into them yet, so I’ll include it here.  This husband-wife duo makes great dreamy, melodic, lo-fi indie-rock, with killer harmonies and creative arrangements.  One of their best songs, ‘Sandpiper,’ is free on bandcamp, but I love the whole thing, and even have it on vinyl.  Support (real) indie bands… go buy their music!

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