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the top ten musical long-playing recordings of 2011
nottodie
intrigero
A funny thing happened between last year's and this year's list : i moved out of the Philippines. in the age of that newfangled thing we call THE INTERNET this would have nothing to do with music list-making. Alas, my current displacement has everything to do with it. For one thing I live in the world of satellite radio and Spotify now, and would not have found out about many of the artists on this list had it not been for such music services. On the flipside I am no longer in touch with the Manila music scene, and unfortunately may have overlooked many a great local album. Most importantly, I've been exposed to a ton of live shows, and for better or worse I've allowed the experience of seeing a band live affect the way I judge their music. Hence, bands whose albums I enjoyed but were "just ok" live like Cults didn't make the list, while artists who blew me away with their performances such as Bon Iver toppled my decision in their direction.

Live music-- that was what my 2011 was all about. From the concerts we produced earlier this year to all the shows I was lucky enough to attend, the year in live music was infinitely more interesting to me than the year in recorded music. Albums-wise, we have the usual suspects, and I'm getting tired of waiting for that next big thing that will change the way we see music forever. Who knows, maybe the world WILL end next year, and this is all we'll have to show for it -- not with a bang, but with a whimper.


10. The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar
If there's anything I'm thankful for from the year in music, it's the return of the 90s. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart with their shoegaze, Atlas Sound with their proto-indie, Yuck with their Dinosaur Jr-esque guitar-rock. And then there is The Joy Formidable, whose sound evokes the radio-friendly alternative rock of 90s stalwarts like Placebo and The Smashing Pumpkins. This quality makes them the corniest of the 90s revival bands, but this is also what that makes them my favorite. The album's opening says it all -- the random sound effects, the guitar delay, the repetitive bass; the backmasky undertones abruptly cut by singer Ritzy Bryan's wispy Britpop vocals, escalating to her screaming the chorus of the very 90s titled The Everchanging Spectrum of A Lie: "NOTHING OUTSIDE". The rest of the album is wonderfully familiar-- crunchy riffs, vocal distortion, reverb, and that one very essential ingredient of 90s alternative rock: angst. I don't think I've ever used this adjective before to describe an album, but I can't think of anything else for The Big Roar: this album rocks.

9. Bon Iver - Bon Iver
God this album's depressing.

8. Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
This is the first time in 13 years that the Beastie Boys have made it to my list (1998's Hello Nasty was number two of that year), which is ok considering they've only done one other album since. In a strange way, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two is a return to form after two traumatic events in the Beasties' lives -- 9/11 and MCA's bout with throat cancer. 2004's To The Five Boroughs was a downer both lyrically and musically, but with this one the boys have literally gotten their groove back, mixing a very refined rapping style with live instrumentation and innovative sampling. They've also pulled out all stops with this one, reminding people of how seminal they are by making a sequel to their 1986 classic and getting all their famous fans to cameo in the video. The only downside to all this is in their journey from Beastie Boys to Beastie Old Men, the "cool young rebel" attitude no longer works, and you can feel the weariness in their voices. But hey, i'm happy enough to have them back.

7. Wild Flag - Wild Flag
Another album I learned to love because i saw them live. Wild Flag is an offshoot of one of my favorite bands of all time. It also had my biggest indierockstar crush on co-vocal duties, so there was no way it would stand up to the hype set by my damn self. Once I got over it, I learned to appreciate Wild Flag for what it was -- a straight up rock n' roll record. Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss take off from the punk-infused classic rock sound of the last Sleater-Kinney LP, and this time they do it without the complexity and maturity ex-bandmate Corin Tucker brought into The Woods (Corin Tucker actually released an album with her new band last year, and you can literally hear the "creative differences" between Corin and Carrie with these two albums). The result is spazz-worthy almost headbang-inducing words and guitar, and the minute Wild Flag grabs you on their opening salvo Romance, they never let go. The member who really shines in this album, however, is Mary Timony, whose career had increasingly gotten more staid since she left her band Helium. With Wild Flag Timony gets her groove back, and seems reinvigorated in finding her musical soulmates with the two best tracks on the record, Something Came Over Me and Electric Band. One of my favorite gig stories from the past year was being able to talk to the drunken Portlandia-star and guitar hero Brownstein, and telling her that I'd try to bring Wild Flag to the Philippines. She "tsss"es, and snarlingly tells me "fuck yeah i'd like to go to the Philippines!"

6. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
This is the first time in the history of this list that I'm including an album that isn't something I'd necessarily like to listen to all the time but is so powerful, stirring and unflinching that it must be recognized. And no, it's not Björk's Biophilia . PJ Harvey's Let England Shake is timeless, old and hopeful at the same time. It begins with standard PJ Harvey fare (which is great music nonetheless), but by the time you get to the third track, The Glorious Land, and a famous battle bugle call awkwardly shifts in and out between the song's opening rifts, PJ Harvey owns you. Enter The Words That Maketh Murder, the album's most ambitious track, something that feels like it belongs in the canon of wartime music soldiers sing on the road to death. This is Harvey's best album in 11 years, and if 2000's Stories from the City, Stories From The Sea was a love letter to New York City, this record shows a much more complicated relationship with her homeland. One of my favorite opening lines in this album is "goddamn Europeans, take me back to beautiful England", and just like a proper English lady, Polly Jean Harvey takes us back with her.

5. Feist - Metals
So let's say you made what many critics hail as the best album of 2007. Not only that, but a host of pop culture institutions, from Apple to Sesame Street, decide they want to champion your humble poppy single. As a result, the aforementioned single is sent to the top of the charts, becoming THE NAMEDROP HIT of 2008. Suddenly everyone's mentioning you to sound cool, and Shia LaBeouf almost gets into fistfights with Michael Bay over you. What should you do next? The one thing you shouldn't do, for sure, is wait four years to release a follow-up that repeats none of the things that made you successful in the first place. Metals has no 1,2,3,4, which is something I expected because everyone from Radiohead to Lykke Li tend to shun the singles that skyrocket their careers. But then it also doesn't have an I Feel It All, a My Moon, My Man, or a Mushaboom, three of my favorite songs of hers. Instead, Feist's fourth solo outing is more solemn and folky, with songs closer to less popular ditties such as The Water and Intuition. Just like those songs, Metals becomes rewarding in the long run, and is an understated achievement in songwriting.

4.Real Estate - Days
Real Estate's debut album, as critically lauded as it was, never really impressed me. It had that signature late-2000s delay-ey sound, was incomprehensible, and always seemed like more of a demo tape than a proper album. Days is sophomoric in all the best ways -- it's more mature and fleshed out, as if it were the record the first LP served as a study for it. The album works best when it brings you to a time and place that is familiar but unclear, with songs like It's Real and Easy. There are also moments of pure beauty, like the haunting and nostalgic Green Aisles or the four-minute repetitive instrumental that closes the album. If I have a problem with Days, it's that after a while all the songs start to sound the same, which isn't that big a problem in the age of shuffling and singles. Also, for some weird reason this album is a great soundtrack to North Koreans weeping over Kim Jong Il

3. Class Actress - Rapprocher
The ultimate pop album of the year, Rapprocher is so catchy that one might find him/herself singing along to the songs after only one listen. Producers Scott Rosenthal and Mark Richardson wisely recruited folk singer-songwriter Elizabeth Richardson to do vocal duties for this project, and she adds an element of authenticity and dreaminess to might what otherwise have been 90s R&B fodder. At its best, Rapprocher is teen anthemic music, like when Harper demands "Bring it on, bring on the weekend", or preciously exclaims that she will "Keep you in my heart" over and over and over again. This is an album that I might eventually tire of and forget about, but right now it's something I can't let go of.

2. Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys
After two albums that broke the trend (2006's Plans at number 1 and 2008's Narrow Stairs at number 7), Death Cab for Cutie return to their historical place at second for the year's best. In my review of Narrow Stairs I said that Death Cab was a band that no longer had anything to say, which is even more apparent in this album. Codes and Keys is an album that seems to have been made in the midst of domestic bliss, unapologetically happy and complacent. Case in point: in their greatest opus, 2001's The Photo Album, Gibbard laments a lover's move to Los Angeles, saying that he couldn't see why she'd want to live in "the belly of the beast that is Californ-i-a". Ten years later, in the closing track Stay Young, Go Dancing (I know, right), Gibbard extols that "Life is sweet, in the belly of the beast, and with her song in your heart, it can never bring you down". It's amazing how mellowed out one can actually get; but hey, if i was sleeping with Zooey Deschanel I'd probably be writing songs about sycamore trees, monday mornings and staying young as well. When twitter went all abuzz about Gibbard and Deschanel's separation a few months ago, the prevailing sentiment was that people were happy because Death Cab would start making sad bastard music again. I couldn't agree more.

1, Taken by Cars - Dualist
Maybe my displacement has caused me to give this record too much attention. Maybe I've projected my feelings for the Philippines with my feelings for this album. Maybe this is my choice for number one because I miss home so much. Maybe, but probably not. Taken by Cars has always been more than just a Filipino band to me, and they prove that they're not just one-trick ponies with Dualist, an album as intelligent, hip-shaking, and elegant as their debut Endings of a New Kind. The album still has potential dance classics like Unidentified and my personal favorite, Autopilot, but there is also an evident and welcome distancing from dancepunk, with tracks like the steady 34, the 80s throwback track Considerate, and the epically atmospheric Thrones: Equals . This album is all about growth, and this is most evident in how much Sarah Marco has gotten better at singing. Bryan Kong is a tighter drummer if that's even possible, and guitarists Bryce Zialcita and Siopao Chua have learned how to play off each other perfectly. I was afraid that the exit of bassist Benny Yap would be detrimental to the band's sound, but Issa Garcia not only makes up for his absence with skill and precision, but a whole plethora of rock moves that the former didn't have. As a result, the band is much more fun to watch live as well. Most of my conversations with music critics and musicians this year have had one central theme: Pinoy rock is dead. That may be the case, but if bands like Taken by Cars keep making music, the funeral won't be so bad.

HONORABLE MENTION: The omission of Rival Schools' Pedals from this list was a difficult decision to make. When they released their debut United by Fate in 2001 they were primed and ready to become the greatest emo band in America, except it took ten years to release a follow-up. Pedals is a celebration of what might have been, filled with brilliantly written pop gems that would have gone to the top had they been released 7 years ago. Cults is definitely one of the strongest debuts this year, and their self-titled album almost made it to this list, being a fun and genuine piece of rock-pop. Diego Mapa is one of my favorite Filipino songwriters of all time, and his solo project Tarsius is an atmospheric masterpiece that could rival the work of DJ Shadow and Cornelius. His final track From The Mountains, with its sampling of NU's last broadcast, holds a special place in my heart. Twin Sister is one of the best bands to debut this year, but their first album is all over the place and seems more like a series of demos than a proper record. Toro y Moi's second album Underneath the Pine shows us how great chillwave could really be, and is a MOMOL masterpiece. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's Belong is a grower, and is a nice mix of good ol' shoegaze mixed with Radio Dept.-style dreampop.Finally, we have REM's Collapse Into Now. I've long accepted that REM can never return to their Automatic for The People glory days, but this one is close enough, and REM will be sorely missed.

BEST EP:Moving Units' "Tension War".

BEST LIVE BAND: It's a tie. You have Atari Teenage Riot, who are pure primal energy and anger, with Alec Empire towering over his loyal subjects and Nic Endo going crazy screaming amidst the madding crowd. And then you have the Foo Fighters, a showstopper in all the best ways, with their tight jams, epic set pieces and hilarious encore antics. Runner ups are Deftones and Whitest Boy Alive, because they were awesome and you guys were awesomer for showing up at the concerts. Thank you.

SINGLES OF THE YEAR:I made a playlist. It is on Spotify. Highlights include Everything But The Girl's cover of the xx's night time, The Forms' collaboration with The National's Matt Berninger, Friends' I'm His Girl, and two tracks from the wonderful wonderful movie Drive.

DISAPPOINTMENTS OF THE YEAR: It's sad when a band that was truly great fades into mediocrity, and The Strokes, with two classics and two misses, seems to have solidified their place as this decade's Weezer thanks to the unimpressive Angles. Radiohead's The King of Limbs is actually pretty good, but for a band that has consistently been at the top of the list, to not even make it to the top ten is an utter disappointment. Once upon a time I was obsessed with Björk, and had high hopes for Biophilia. Those hopes were unfounded -- the album is an experimental mess that no longer seems to care about making truly touching, affecting music. The unkindest cut of all, however, comes from my favorite artist of all time, Juliana Hatfield. Her latest record, There's Always Another Girl was so bad I could only listen to it once. It's always heartbreaking to hear your heroes fall.

VIDEOS OF THE YEAR: This has actually been the saddest year for music videos. Ever. With falling record sales and diminishing promo budgets going elsewhere, I think it's safe to say that the golden age of Gondry, Jonze and Romanek will never happen again. Scrounging around, these are the few gems I could find:

A man falls down an escalator. Who would have thought math rock would be the best soundtrack? Battles' My Machines.

I have never smoked nor would I ever want to, but Tom Vek's Aroused video came the closest to ever making me want to do so.

sometimes things are so funny you actually forget how good they are. Lonely Island is the gift that keeps on giving, and Jack Sparrow is my pick for this year.

Is Tropical's "The Greeks". Megaforce, I knew you would pull through. This is what we always dreamed of when were kids, isn't it? ISN'T IT?!


2010
The 00s

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thanks for the recommends, quarkie poo. I listened to a lot of Cee Lo Green (despite Ladykiller coming out in '10), Childish Gambino and Roots' Undun this year. No Decemberists?

awww, thanks for being the only one to comment on LJ :p . remember when hundreds used to comment here? No Decemberists, i've gotten tired of them. and i didnt know the roots had a new album!!

Undun dropped on dec 6! coulda made your top ten! :D

yeah it's a sad world here in lj nowadays, but i'm still here.

if you like that real estate album

... i think you'll dig th new Feelies album, too

HNY aso don't stop posting don't stop th rock

Love always

--mza.

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