December 28, 2011

Clicky Clicky's Top Albums Of 2011: Jay Edition

Clicky Clicky's Top Albums Of 2011 -- Jay Edition
And here we are at the end of 2011. If you had told us a year ago that the things which transpired this year were coming, we would not have believed you. While for much of the year, and much to our frustration, music had to take a back seat to real life, that only increased its importance to this writer. Cross-country flights soundtracked by Broken Shoulder. Getting up to speed mornings listening to Rival Schools. Quiet weekends with J Mascis, summer vacation with Algernon Cadwallader and The War On Drugs, doing dishes with the The Henry Clay People. And when we could, we saw shows that kept us smiling long after they were over, not the least of which was the seismic bill we co-presented in late October featuring The Hush Now, Soccermom and Chandeliers. We even found time to draft major pieces on favorite acts Haywood (here) and Johnny Foreigner (here). But largely constraints on our time and tons of stress often meant quality over quantity when it came to the blogging life; fortunately in 2011 there was no shortage of exceptional music to keep us sane. Below are our favorite 10 records of the year. We are very excited for what 2012 will bring, even if it only brings a little more time to catch up on everything we didn't have time for in 2011. Thanks for reading. Stick with us, there's a lot more Clicky Clicky where this came from.
1. Johnny Foreigner -- Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything -- Alcopop!
Now that it's here, it's hard not to feel like everything was leading up to it, from the band's very first single in 2007 onward. Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything is a fully DIY proposition that is remarkable in its vivid realization -- especially considering the small amount of money involved in creating it. It's also a defiant statement from a band that has fought for everything it has got, including its continued existence. As fronter Alexei Berrow told us here in October, "It feels like there are a lot of people waiting to be like 'O Johnny Foreigner fucked up, inevitable, how predictable.' Vs. Everything is us making these possibly imaginary folks eat their stupid words." And, man, the record delivers the fire and hope, the desperate melodies and sublime sentiments. If you haven't already, make sure you hear the best record of 2011.
[review / buy / Spotify]

2. Benjamin Shaw -- There's Always Hope, There's Always Cabernet -- Audio Antihero
While this list of favorite records for the most part illustrates which albums we listened to most in the last 360 or so days, it also speaks loudly about what we value in the music we spend our time with. Benjamin Shaw's There's Always Hope, There's Always Cabernet is perhaps the best example of what we value most: an artist with a singular personality, a unique vision or world view that is ably and creatively captured in the stereo field. Mr. Shaw's chamber pop showcases a charming dourness and humor, cloaked within deftly arranged guitar, piano, strings and ambient curiosities. His vocal delivery is remarkably personal, and the resulting collection here is as cozy as it is ghostly. Each song presents soft and sharp elements, like a bag full of knitting, while making sure that there are as many melodic hooks as there are noisy cul-de-sacs. It's enchanting, and it is easily one of the best of the year.
[preview / buy / Spotify]

3. Age Rings -- Black Honey -- Midriff Records
The one that almost got away, Black Honey was shelved for more than a year during its difficult gestation. Somehow band fronter Ted Billings was able to gather up inspiration that had sifted through his fingers and complete the collection, some four years on from its inception. It's a marvelous, rootsy rock record with a vast arsenal of hooks supporting Mr. Billings' raw, heart-on-sleeve sentiments and wry sense of humor. Black Honey is a thrilling collection, from the bombastic openers "Rock and Roll Is Dead" and "Black Hole" to the haunting closer "Caught Up In The Sound." It was a real feather in local dynamo Midriff Records' cap to be able to put it out, and it feels like a gift every time we listen to it.
[review / buy / Spotify]

4. Destroyer -- Kaputt -- Merge Records
Oh, how we loved this one from the very first time we put it on, perhaps the most obvious sign that even before we climbed all the way up the umbilical noose of '80s MTV, we were immersed irretrievably in early '80s commercial radio. It bothers us that Kaputt is viewed by many as tongue-in-cheek (the video for the album's title track didn't help matters), as we genuinely love the recycled soft-rock sounds and "Miami Vice"-cool found on the record just about as much as all the "critically compliant" Brotherhood vibes. Of course, embossing Destroyer auteur Dan Bejar's characteristic witover top of Kaputt's confections makes it that much more irresistable. Every song on the record is a hit, and it is at the top of mind every time we sit down to put on a record. Another Bejar coup.
[buy / Spotify]

5. The War On Drugs -- Slave Ambient -- Secretly Canadian
We listened to this for hours and hours in the middle of a hot summer, and it reminded us of the boiling South Philadelphia summers of our mid-20s. The city's unbroken mesh of hot brick rowhouses, each one its own oven, windows thrown open to the constant street noise, noise that buzzes like the constant aural din that underpins Slave Ambient. A din, we'd argue, that is like a dialect unique to Philadelphians. We long for our days in that city often, and in a way Drugs fronter Adam Granduciel has given us the gift of hearing a piece of our history again amid his hypnotic, mesmerizing creation. Slave Ambient's icy coctail of Philly FM radio and motorik reverie gets better every time we indulge it. Each time we put the collection on we nudge the volume knob northward to sit back and bathe in a Bartowski-esque Intersect of musical data points, freejacking decades of Petty, U2, the Dead and on and on and on and on...
[review / buy / Spotify]

6. Algernon Cadwallader -- Parrot Flies -- Hot Green/BSM
More Philly, people. This time it's fist-banging anthems, lightning in a bottle, youthful vigor. Few things make us wish we were young again, but Parrot Flies is one of them. Somewhere in all the caterwauling and rocking out, there is a well-spring of positive vibes so potent that it not only has the ability to brighten our days now, but also to inspire in us the strange belief that we could go back and enjoy by-gone days more if only we had had Parrot Flies on one side of a C-90 stuffed in the dashboard tape player. Emo the way it was meant to be written and performed by dudes who do it themselves, from recording to touring to releasing their record. To steal a line from Stars, "when there's nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire." Algernon Cadwallader live it, and Parrot Flies is so much delicious proof.
[review / buy / Spotify]

7. The Hush Now -- Memos -- Self-Released
They did it. The Hush Now's third record is a triumph of melody, of songwriting, of will. For years the band has been slugging it out in Boston, turning in increasingly dominating live sets, and finally, with Memos, the band released a recording that matched in execution the passion and energy characteristic of their visceralperformances. And beyond Memos just sounding good and feeling good, it touts the best set of songs the quintet has turned out yet, from the jaw-dropping ballad "Sitting On A Slow Clock" (which featured on our year-end songs list here) to the scorching guitar pop anthems that the band has made its stock-in-trade, Memos delivers, and we can't imagine the overground won't come calling for these guys soon enough.
[review / buy / Spotify]

8. Ringo Deathstarr -- Colour Trip -- Sonic Unyon
It took four years to get it, but we can't say it wasn't worth the wait. On the tail of an increasingly convoluted string of singles and EPs (different collections in the USA, UK and Japan with different configurations of songs, something of a collector's nightmare), Austin-based noise pop behemoths Ringo Deathstarr finally issued a debut full-length. It's an arresting amalgamation of shoegaze, punk and even dance-pop, and it's awesome. The trio is having better luck in other markets (it just toured supporting Smashing Pumpkins abroad and had a few dates in Japan with Johnny Foreigner), but Colour Trip gained some significant traction for The Deathstarr here. And we ask you, what's not to like? The record is a perfect calling card for the band's power, style and attitude, and listeners that write the band off as a My Bloody Valentine clone are both missing the point and just not listening.
[review / buy / Spotify]

9. Soccer Mom -- You Are Not Going To Heaven -- 100m
...the power and the glory, forever and ever, amen. You Are Not Going To Heaven is an exhilarating collection, from the Sonic Youth-styled buzzsaw of "(A) Natural History" to the blackout bludgeoning of the final 30 seconds of "Southern Bells." All six songs here are dynamite. Perhaps the only thing more exhilarating is experiencing the quartet's firestorm live. We honestly feel bad for any band that has to follow these guys on a bill, because after The 'Mom levels the crowd with its blissful and desperate noise (via Dan Parlin's mad-dog death-grip head shake, the steady cool of guitarist Bill Scales and bassist Danielle Deveau, and drummer Justin Kehoe's octopus arms), that show's over, man. It's just over ("...grab your stuff and go and nobody goes to jail..."). This EP is huge, and we can't wait for the next batch of recordings. Boston's next big thing keeping getting better, if not nextier.
[preview / buy / Spotify]

10. Los Campesinos! -- Hello Sadness -- Arts & Crafts
In some way it is difficult to believe that the band that issued the scruffy Sticking Fingers Into Sockets EP in 2007 is the same act that crafted Hello Sadness. But there are a lot easy retorts to that sentiment, too, namely, well, it's just not the same band. The amount of living Tom, Gareth and the rest of Los Campesinos! have crammed into the last five years -- even if measured only by the 75 songs in our ITunes, you know, "band living" -- is quite astonishing. Hello Sadness is so emotionally broad and deep it is like the world's oceans, once you're in the water, it's just water going on forever, amazing songs like "To Tundra" and "Hate For The Island" so breath-taking there's no swimming across. There is a theoretic line between pop and art and this record is perhaps most remarkable for making that theoretic line so wide as one can not be pulled apart from the other at all. Amazing songs, amazing lyrics, so purposefully rendered.
[preview / buy / Spotify]

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