I will say, though, that if you pieced together a compilation of many of the year's big picks, it could very likely be used as a soft rock radio DJ's suit-selected playlist of light, accessible, non-threatening to the ears background noise sprinkled delicately between commercial spots and needless banter. Boris more or less infiltrated pop music this year with Attention Please which, to me, spoke of a need to become reacquainted with other music forms since the indie circuit has been relieved of its purpose to exist as the antithesis of pop. I don't really care if enthusiasts of James Blake or Bon Iver disagree. If this is as aggro as you're willing to allow your ears to experience, then I certainly can't help you. After all, I'm out of touch, right? I turned 35 six days ago, and as I've gotten older, I've found myself gravitating more and more towards buzzwords like "loud," "experimental" and "alienating." Granted, certain folk-based albums did get some nods from me this year, most especially from Six Organs of Admittance, Thurston Moore and J Mascis, (his Several Shades Of Why was unfortunately not reviewed). Yeah, older and better established musicians. I understand that my selections put me at odds with Justin Vernon and make my opinions seem consistently biased in favor of artists from years prior, but I heard Vernon's album and felt nothing. Just like I've heard Fleet Foxes and have felt nothing. Being sampled in an album by Kanye West did more for Vernon than expanding his band.
Anyway, tangents are tangents, opinions are opinions. Generalized lists always leave a lot to be desired. I will say, even though I'm not one to pat myself on the back, that 2011 allowed me to put together a pretty good compilation.
Mogwai – Get to France (Earth Division EP)
Wire – Two Minutes (Red Barked Tree)
Hella – Self Checkout (Tripper)
Battles (featuring Gary Numan – My Machines (Gloss Drop)
PJ Harvey – The Last Living Rose (Let England Shake)
Sic Alps – Zeppo Epp (Napa Asylum)
Locrian – Dort Ist Der Weg (Popol Vuh cover) ("Dort Ist Der Weg" b/w "Frozen In Ash" 7")
The Nighty Nite – In My Hospital Gown (Dimples EP)
Mastodon – Stargasm (The Hunter)
Empty Space Orchestra – Intergalactic Battle Cruiser (s/t)
Deerhoof – The Merry Barracks (Deerhoof vs. Evil)
Mike Watt – Hammering-Castle-Bird-Man (Hyphenated-Man)
Six Organs of Admittance – Light of the Light (Asleep on the Floodplain)
Grails – Deep Politics (Deep Politics)
The Horrors – Endless Blue (Skying)
Crystal Antlers – Always Afraid (Two-Way Mirror)
Tom Waits – Chicago (Bad As Me)
Noxious Foxes – A Real Leonardo DiCaprio Shit (Légs)
The Roots (featuring Bilal Oliver & Greg Porn) – The OtherSide (undun)
Boris – Hope (Attention Please)
Vivian Girls – Lake House (Share the Joy)
J Mascis – Several Shades of Why (Several Shades of Why)
Baptists – Life Poser (Baptists 7")
These songs didn't make the cut, but I'd like to offer honorable mentions at least. I'd also like it if CDs held more minutes.
Parts & Labor – "Bright White" (Constant Future)
One of the loudest songs in what came to be Parts & Labor's last album, (provided the finality of their "hiatus" is brought to fruition), "Bright White" is almost metal, the song's thunderous repetition beautifying what the ears might typically understand as assaulting.
I couldn't find a clip of this track online.
Yuck – "Operation" (s/t)
I enjoyed Yuck's self-titled LP for the most part, though the band were shameless in their nostalgia campaign. "Operation" nicely utilized much of what made Sonic Youth's early 90s attempted pop experiments engaging, the riffs and distorted blaze hitting gusto territory, a melody/feedback combo acting staple to the decade. And, yeah, The Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. can be heard as well.
Liturgy – "Returner" (Aesthethica)
I hate to say that song length is a factor when selecting songs for my end of year mixes, but I do like to fit in as much as possible. In Liturgy's case I selected a single, "Returner," which is not the strongest song on the album, but still does enough to put across what's going on. Their album, Aesthethica, is wonderfully constructed and composed, though I believe its crossover into the hipster bowels of Pitchfork-approved indie-litism left many black metal fans scratching their heads and wondering, "Where's their fucking make-up!?!" The band's lack of Satanic accessories and demonware did little to sway my opinion of the album, even if Liturgy do at times get a little too involved in time changes and come across incapable of expanding on a riff.
Gypsyblood – "In Our Blood" (Cold in the Guestway)
Two man Gypsyblood's "In Our Blood" is just a straightforward garage tune with Sonic Youth tendencies and sweet repetitious couple notes. A simple lack of polish and a heavy kick drum does wonders.
Death Grips – "Klink" (Ex-Military)
Dude, Black Flag got sampled in a hip-hop track! I need say nothing else, other than Death Grips is one of the most exciting and inventive things to happen in hip-hop for some time. Not to knock Odd Future, but Death Grips' music does enough without shock value, controversy and pop culture curiosity to energize a listener. Strong, aggressive and, at times, brutal. I sort of wish I'd tried a little harder to get this track on the compilation, but...
The Feelies – "Time Is Right" (Here Before)
The Feelies came back after years of silence in 2011 with Here Before, which was a good and competent addition to their canon. Jangly, poppy but not corny or pathetically attempting to pick up where the band left off, "Time Is Right" was one of the more directly "punk" tracks on the album, high tempo and serious in tone.
Magazine – "Hello Mr. Curtis (With Apologies)" (No Thyself)
Also in comeback mode were post-punk heroes Magazine, whose "Hello Mr. Curtis (With Apologies)" made interesting and humorous use of Joy Division's Ian Curtis and Nirvana's Kurt Cobain as acknowledgements of rock n' roll suicide. The song itself is a shit-eating grin.
Letters From A Tapehead