It’s time to close out another year at los grillos with a toast to the albums that most perked up our antennae. Using a selection process in which the main criteria was the number of repeat listens an album inspired, a large group of contenders was narrowed to a top 11. Although this list pays homage to Spinal Tap, it leaves out a number of great bands about which we had some nice things to say over the course of the year. At any rate, here’s to some of our favorite music from 2011 and the artists that created it. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have…
Girls’ second lp, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, delivers stadium-sized, laser-light-show-ready anthems filtered through an in-the-basement-style production that, rather than reducing the album’s ambition, amplifies it through the intimacy of the recording. The opposite of a sophomore slump, this is the sound of a band getting better by leaps and bounds.
With The World, The Flesh, The Devil, classic metal revivalists In Solitude invoke the spirit of Iron Maiden with dual guitar leads and galloping bass, and enigmatic singer Hornper’s cry-of-warning vocals, paired with the lean riffage of guitarists Niklas Lindström and Henrik Palm, brings to mind the best of eighties metal masters Riot.
The War On Drugs’ Slave Ambient offers narcotic yet propulsive tracks on an album that reaches beyond the melodic, folk-rock fuzz of the band’s earlier work toward something no less infectious but more epic in scope. Atmospheric and anthemic, songwriter/frontman Granduciel’s songs often feel quietly cinematic, like soft goodbyes and late-night drives.
On Peer Amid, Swedish experimental rockers The Skull Defekts hook up with legendary Lungfish singer Daniel Higgs, and together they grind out some seriously ominous grooves that will bore inside your head and take over, leaving you at the mercy of a dark, pounding album that is dense, menacing and heavy.
Centro-matic’s Candidate Waltz, an album of nine pop gems that are simultaneously pared down to their core melodies and filled out with subtle production layers, is the sound of a band that, after 15 years, continues to grow. Similar to a number of artists on this year’s list, Centro-matic has created another new career high by managing to remain true to their sound while exploring new ideas.
Like Will Johnson and Centro-matic, this year Eric Bachmann has, with Crooked Fingers’ Breaks In The Armor, put together a collection of impeccably crafted tunes that draw from the best of his talents. Built on evocative lyrical imagery and affecting arrangements delivered in a world-weary yet resolute voice, Bachmann’s latest is the beautifully rendered work of an immensely talented songwriter.
Richard Buckner emerged this year from a long absence to deliver Our Blood, an album that blends his country roots and pop sensibilities with his more experimental urges, providing a deeply layered musical foundation for his distinctive baritone and darkly poetic lyrics. Well worth the wait.
Relatively recent los grillos discovery Daniel Knox is a Chicago musician and composer of dark balladry whose latest album, Evryman For Himself, spins Waits-ian yarns of life’s outsiders, outcasts and would-be iconoclasts with a rich, resonant voice. The album manages to be both unsettling and affecting, humorous and harrowing, like a Bukowski poem or a Carver story adapted for the screen by David Lynch.
OBN III’s, a sort of Texas garage/punk supergroup led by Orville Bateman Neeley III of Denton’s Bad Sports, also includes folks from Austin’s A Giant Dog and The Strange Boys. And they live up to the supergroup notion with The One And Only, a no-holds-barred, relentless, rockin’ good time of an album. Take what you hear on this recording, throw in some reckless abandon, cheap beer and a sweat-soaked club, and crank it all into the red to get an idea of what these guys are like live. Not to be missed.
A scorching slab of doom metal, YOB’s Atma is built with thick, rumbling riffs and thunderous, deeply resonate percussion, and the songs are stretched to mind-absorbing lengths without sacrificing melody, creating an album that is earth-shakingly, soul-stirringly heavy.
The album of 2011 that I continue to play over and over is one that came as a complete surprise because I’d heard nothing of the band before first hitting play and had no expectations, but from its opening notes I was hooked by Um Futuro Inteiro, the second album from Brazilian musician Bonifrate. A folk/psych/pop treasure in any language, Um Futuro Inteiro recalls the best of the genre, from George Harrison to the bands that came out of the Elephant 6 Collective to like-minded contemporaries such as Dr. Dog. Ultimately, Bonifrate has created a masterful album that is quietly hopeful about what’s ahead yet reflective of what’s been left behind, like the slow burn of nostalgia tempered by the headrush that comes with sudden joy.
And that wraps it up for another los grillos year-end list. We’ll catch you on the other side of 2011 with some more words about music. Until then, rock it!