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Old 01-02-2012, 11:46 PM   #106
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The problem for me with the Radiohead thing is that about half of it is filler of the kind that might be forgiveable on a longer record, and the odds-n-ends songs put out since then (at least two of which are fantastic) wouldn't have belonged on the album so that discussion is kind of moot. So basically this year Radiohead have, one way or another, put out a number of songs that I really do like a lot - but not much of an album. And I'm not sure they even care.
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Old 01-02-2012, 11:52 PM   #107
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That's a pretty good paraphrase of how I'm feeling.

They probably don't care, and much of the music world seems to be heading in this direction. If the idea of an album is going to continue to exist, it's likely to be more common in shorter versions like this one.

I'm not crazy about it, especially from bands that are capable of grander statements.
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Old 01-03-2012, 12:00 AM   #108
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Honourable Mentions
Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones
Pavement – Crooked Rain
Okkervil River – The Stage Names

Friggin' Cobbler.
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Old 01-03-2012, 12:15 AM   #109
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All will rise with more listens... maybe not THE OKK!! though. Struggling to get into them.
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Old 01-03-2012, 12:52 AM   #110
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The problem for me with the Radiohead thing is that about half of it is filler of the kind that might be forgiveable on a longer record, and the odds-n-ends songs put out since then (at least two of which are fantastic) wouldn't have belonged on the album so that discussion is kind of moot.
I'm sorry, but I need to take issue with this. I don't know how you are defining "filler," but to me the term implies that they had no other ideas or somehow deliberately half-assed the album. The quality of the other tracks from the sessions is strong evidence against both of the those ideas. KoL was very carefully-crafted and shows tremendous nuance on almost every track. Not liking the songs is one thing, but calling half of it filler is incredibly unfair.
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Old 01-03-2012, 12:57 AM   #111
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but to me the term implies that they had no other ideas or somehow deliberately half-assed the album.
That's how it sounds like for the majority of the album (Lotus Flower and Codex are good however), in my opinion.
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Old 01-03-2012, 01:06 AM   #112
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I'm sorry, but I need to take issue with this. I don't know how you are defining "filler," but to me the term implies that they had no other ideas or somehow deliberately half-assed the album. The quality of the other tracks from the sessions is strong evidence against both of the those ideas. KoL was very carefully-crafted and shows tremendous nuance on almost every track. Not liking the songs is one thing, but calling half of it filler is incredibly unfair.
I understand: filler is usually used as a word for songs that pad longer albums, sort of just to fill them out when the strength is mainly just the singles. I wouldn't use the word filler for King of Limbs.

That said, the tracklisting could have been so much better. It's not one of my favorites this year, put it that way.
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Old 01-03-2012, 01:56 AM   #113
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For me, 'filler' (admittedly a very open-to-abuse term) is the description which comes to mind when I hear Feral, Little By Little, and sometimes Morning Mr Magpie. There just isn't much there.

Then there's Separator and Lotus Flower, neither of which are filler but both of which are slick in a way that probably prejudices me against a lot of the new music in general. That's my struggle.

But conversely, really really liked Staircase.
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Old 01-03-2012, 02:04 AM   #114
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I think people use the term "filler" more subjectively than you're giving it credit for, iYup. It's not a technical term. I would say theres a number of tracks on Amnesiac that could be considered filler. Others would strongly disagree.
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Old 01-03-2012, 02:33 AM   #115
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The current top three are separated by just four points. DRAMA.
I imagine it's Bon Iver, M83 and Destroyer.
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Old 01-03-2012, 04:25 AM   #116
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I've been putting off writing this post until I had enough material to draw from, but the other night I noticed I had already heard like 160 albums and decided I needed to get my ass in gear. Here's the list I settled on after a month of re-evaluation and last-minute listens, ranked 25-1 because I'm pretentious; 15-1 are assigned points.

25. The War On Drugs - Slave Ambient

Dream pop has been a fairly significant genre in the world of indie rock lately. In fact, folk rockers even implement it now, as best represented by this record right here. It's smooth and beautiful, with one of the loveliest guitar tones around on Brothers. But, right as you're about to let your guard down, a song like Baby Missles broadsides you with its brazen tempo and swaggering vocals. This contrast keeps the album entertaining and makes War On Drugs one of the most exciting new prospects in indie.

24. The Mountain Goats - All Eternals Deck

John Darnielle has been writing relaibly great tunes since the early 90s, pouring his heart out while charming us with his excellent wordplay and charisma behind the microphone, even as it gave off feedback. He has, however, recorded some weak records in the wake of The Sunset Tree, but this album turns the tide. He was supposed to collaborate with a metal producer on this record, and while the influence isn't entirely obvious, the degree of intensity and fire in this record far exceeds that of the past few, even in its quietest moments, and it exhibits great variety, which albums like Get Lonely could not say for itself. A great comeback.

23. Clams Casino - Instrumentals

Bad news first: this guy produces for Lil B. I like Lil B, but I realize that fact will make his beats a bit divisive from the start. That being said, this album is, as the title says, instrumental, so it's best to adjust your expectations accordingly. This is a very chill experience, and it's definitely not the best party music. But holy fuck is it ever engaging, sonically deep and wildly creative. It's free too, which explains the sort of quality samples he was able to clear.

22. Nicolas Jaar - Space Is Only Noise

Forget the title: this isn't a space rock album, and it doesn't even float around much. It's actually quite terrestrial, with lots of field recordings and other earthly sounds. The space being explored here is the inner space, and the small quantity of lyrics here are a testament to that. The truly impressive aspect of this album is Jaar's knack for encorporating lots of great sounds and genres into one set and making it cohere into something distinctive and memorable. It's jazzy, it's frightening, it's relaxing, and it's all very unique.

21. The Field - Looping State of Mind

If Nicolas Jaar specializes in genre-hopping under one moody umbrella, The Field is exceptional at sustaining a mood. The beats on this great ambient record are minimalistic and repetitive in nature, but the way these songs are built make the beats more beneficial than dull. Every song builds to an impressive crescendo that swallows you whole and doesn't let you out until the next track starts the cycle over again. And you never once complain, because the melodies here are beautiful. Then It's White is especially haunting and powerful.

20. Arctic Monkeys - Suck It And See

I'm a huge appreciator of good songcraft, and this album has it in spades. I didn't love Humbug; it was a little slow and sloppy and only occasionally delivered great melodies. This album is more lithe and sharply-written than any AM album to date, which is a surprise considering how sleek and exciting their debut felt way back when. Excepting Brick By Brick - which returns to Humbug's well of dunderheaded riffs and lame lyrics - remarkable, sparkling hooks and songcraft abound here. The slower tunes reveal this more than ever before, and I've never wanted to sing along more to songs I didn't know than I did when I first heard SIAS.

19. The Black Keys - El Camino

This album works for a lot of the same reasons as Suck It And See: Brothers was an undeniably great record, but the Black Keys must have realized their music had retained its soul but lost far too much speed to remain interesting forever. So they decided to name the album after a car and raced past the competition. The sleek, accessible production is a bit of a Achilles Heel for an otherwise superb collection of catchy songs that kick hard and will likely introduce a great number of potential fans to the Black Keys' intoxicating version of the blues.

18. Okkervil River - I Am Very Far

The OKK! has come a long way from that winding river of golden dreams, to lush pastures of sound that they have decided to build massive sonic labyrinths on. As time has progressed, their sound has gotten more dense and less reliant on the vocals and lyrics of Will Sheff. One could call this a mistake if not for the unmistakable quality of ther material here, which is so ambitious and unpredictable that it takes multitple listens to get anywhere with this. Does that matter to me? No, because Will Sheff's obtuse lyricism always gives me something to ponder as I wait to be hooked.

17. The Weeknd - House of Balloons

My 2011 listening has taken me down some dark, depressing avenues, but this thesis on drugs, fame and meaningless sex is among the most bleak. Like The-Dream on downers, the Weeknd pairs silky, soulful vocals with crawling R&B that works its way across your body with its beats and through your subconscious with its hopeless lyricism. Three mixtapes in and this one remains his best, the sort of benchmark that hipster R&B needs to get off the ground. Drake took the bait, and a few of their ideas to boot.

16. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - Belong

After releasing a fairly soft and twee debut a few years ago, they decided to fatten out their sound a bit and crank up the distortion, but without forgetting to write great tunes. The result is a remarkable sophomore record that contains a handful of excellent singles (generally stuffed into the first half) and greater consistency thanks to the maturation of their songwriting. This album is living proof that Smashing Pumpkins' influence on rock was better than that of most of their contemporaries.

15. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (1)

I could talk all day about how wonderful and refreshing Fleet Foxes' debut was while only spending a paragraph on this one, but the sheer artistry and craft of this record is astounding. The production is crisp and clear, and the band's performances benefit greatly from this. The arrangements have also grown more labyrinthine and complex, and while that does not necessarily result in great tunes, it does mean the record offers much on multiple listens. All in all, in spite of some trepidations I have toward it, Helplessness Blues accomplishes what I expect from a sophomore record: offer some great tunes, get creative in spots and ultimately don't alienate your audience. I am, if anything, more excited than ever to see what they can do next to challenge their established rustic appeal.

14. Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver (1)

This one was a tough sell at first for me, and it had a lot to do with expectations. For Emma remains one of the most intimate records I have ever heard, and strangely immediate also, boasting some amazing hooks that resulted in unlikely "hits" like the title track and Skinny Love. Its follow-up is nowhere near as immediate, lacking the standouts and establishing atmosphere (buckets of it) through synths (nearly as cold as that cabin must have been). It's a bit off-putting at the start, but the production is absolutely astounding, and it remains a sonic adventure after multiple listens. Also, the tunes begin to reveal themselves after a while, to the degree that I would now say that there is no weak track. Every track is good, has a purpose and sounds amazing, and that, to me, is the description of a skillfully crafted album.

13. Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin' (3)

Sharon Jones may sound a hair more authentic, but in the R&B revival, no one puts more grit in his funk than Raphael Saadiq. This album is jam-packed (that is, packed full of jams), and filled to the brim with punchy, lively dance songs that exhibit a strong hint of psychedelia on tracks like Go To Hell. This isn't a terribly focused recording, hopping from the aforementioned psychedelia to 50s style rug-cutters (Radio) and thick Isaac Hayes style funk (hidden track The Perfect Storm), but it is entirely focused on making you dance like a fool. Well done, sir.

12. Tom Waits - Bad As Me (3)

It's easy to complain when artists sound as if they're beginning to take their talents for granted and mail in the first songs that come to mind, and Tom Waits has indeed found a comfortable groove so often occupied by lesser artists his age. Thankfully, he's Tom fucking Waits and spends this entire album giddily jumping from one of his favorite topics to the next, occasionally scaring the shit out of you (Hell Broke Luce) or making you question how much fun it must be to be him (Last Leaf). The best part is that those two songs happen to be right next to each other, and that degree of schizophrenia, while usually tough to justify, winds up benefiting such a uniformly high-quality and fun record. He's earned the right to do what he does best.

11. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy (3)

Like Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Annie Clark chose to put emphasis on her chops as a guitarist and, once again, me likey. This is a scuzzy, feverish record full of compositions (generally not songs) that toe the line between awesome and pretentious successfully through their playfulness and that fucking sweet guitar tone. In short: she melted the twee right off of her music and walked the winding, unkempt path through abstraction that Joni Mitchell once walked in the late 70s. There isn't a lot of music out there like this.

10. Washed Out - Within And Without (4)

The chillwave graveyard coughed up one particularly skilled zombie over the summer. He released this hazy, critically-ignored record full of wonderful tunes and beats obfuscated just enough to leave you wondering if there's more behind the sonic veil. I'll admit to having a difficult time telling the songs apart, but I have a difficult time listening to anything else. A great summer in 45 minutes.

9. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming (5)

This is the sound of youthful exuberance and prodigious talent giving each other a warm hug. M83 has always been a ridiculous band, pretentious and entirely French, but this is the point at which they become completely childish and sentimental. This may result in that frog-licking song I like that pisses everyone off, but there is no shortage of strong and highly exciting numbers to go around if that one does not happen to be your thing. And if the album is a bit long, who doesn't sometimes wish that their childhood had gone on a little longer?

8. Wilco - The Whole Love (6)

After laming it up since the spotty but gutsy A Ghost Is Born, TWL shows Wilco getting their shit together, writing some great tunes and playing as if their reputation depended on it. Album opener Art of Almost may not be an all-time classic, but it does a better job than nearly any other opener this year at making you interested in what the band has to say over the course of the album. And it's not a front-loaded album; if anything, it hits its stride somewhere around Black Moon, which has to be one of their most wonderful acoustic tracks in years, lacking the saccharin of Sky Blue Sky ballads past. Stripping the sugar from their music and adding muscle has benefited their songs and performances, which recapture some of their live energy. It's also a great starting point for potential new fans, as it contains many of the sounds and styles that Wilco excels at.

7. Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2 (7)

After a couple of lukewarm records and a cancer diagnosis to one of the band's original members, you wouldn't expect them to pack it in, not to release a playful return to form. But, again, these guys have been surprising listeners since Paul's Boutique, and this reclaiming of their youth is shockingly not lame at all. In fact, it's their best and most vital record in many years; stripping the lyrics down to the brag-rap essentials and recording the music well into the red has revitalized their approach and overall sound. There are some great punk rock tracks here too, such as Lee Marvin Come Again, that recall their earliest days. Again, great stuff for curious listeners and it should bring back a number of fans to the fold. The critics certainly dug it.

6. The Dodos - No Color (8)

In yet another great example of a band getting better simply by picking up the tempo, the Dodos managed to make their best album this year by doing just that, as well as cranking up their glorious clattering percussion somewhere beyond 11. Whereas its pleasant but forgettable predecessor Time To Die floated gently, assuming it would find its way across some good songs eventually (maybe the listeners would mistake pleasantries for hooks), these are tightly-written songs that flow together brilliantly and feature raw yet melodic vocals. I'm only giving it the nod over 2008's Visiter because it doesn't need over an hour to offer 9 great songs. But, you know, this only has 9 songs on it to begin with.

5. White Denim - D (8)

I don't talk about it much, but I really respect progressive rock bands. Yeah, the music is bloated and ridiculous and no one needs THAT much skill, but occasionally those ridiculous jam band tendencies result in wacky albums like this one. I may not love every song on this fun, shapeshifting album (it's arguable that I even comprehend all of them), but there wasn't a more lithe, exciting record released this year. I swear, these guys will be on a nice groove and then all of a sudden pull into a nicer one. Drug has a chorus so good that it takes the rest of the song and runs it through a shredder. Maybe they're not the greatest songwriters, but I wish more bands could craft a 10-song experience this weird and awesome.

4. CunninLynguists - Oneirology (11)

The best hip-hop album of the year isn't particularly heavy or streetwise. No, it's actually a meditation on dreams. There are also saxophones. Still with me? The hip-hop community actually welcomed this record with open arms, which is great, because any genre could use this degree of creativity. I've already described the lyrical content in brief (this is great stuff for those making sweeping generalizations about hip-hop), but the production is beyond description. It's amazing stuff, with those drums booming as if they're weightless in some giant, empty room, and each song flows together as if they are collectively one stream of consciousness. Kno is a motherfucking bro.

3. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo (11)

As an ex-member of War On Drugs, Vile's drawling vocals have a clear genesis. However, his focus on scrappier (yet echo-soaked) folk rock makes his vocals less a curiosity and more an essential element of his sound. These songs are smooth, but his lyrics have bite, and for every long-winded epic, there's a gentle track like Baby's Arms that communicates much through very few words, in the mold of Paul McCartney's excellent solo debut. This album is also homemade, but except for the brief closing track, this is a tight, swaggering set of tracks founded upon inspired songwriting and steeped in a very cynical delivery. And oh yeah, some people think he sounds like Springsteen. I don't know about that.

2. Destroyer - Kaputt (14)

It's slick, it's calm, it's got saxophones; it's gonna bore some people. That's OK, because I haven't heard the sophisti-pop sound approximated with such joy and realism in, like, ever, and that alone makes this a very unique and exciting release for 2011. Include into that the fact that this is Bejar's most tuneful record and you've got an album you can play on almost any occasion and your mood will be elevated for it. But what really amazes me is that he somehow managed not to sacrifice the intriguing lyrical nuances that cause us to listen to Destroyer in the first place in the name of accessibility. For sheer craft alone, I deem this their best album, and I can't imagine how Bejar will write another album full of 100% quality material again, but he has, and that's why Destroyer got on the map this year.

1. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake (15)

Contrasting with all of indie rock bands growing a pair and getting more awesome for it, angry rocker badass PJ Harvey moved her voice up about three octaves and wrote songs with music box melodies and ended up making one of her best albums in forever. It's not easy to merge war time percussion and themes with humanistic beauty, but that balance is something only a great songwriter can strike, and considering how late this album came out in her career, it's like an artist throwing out their entire set of supplies and making a classic out of whatever was left. As an added bonus, that squeaky voice of hers makes her sound less like PJ Harvey and possibly more like one of the English villagers of the album screaming about soldiers falling like bags of meat. Maybe Bono should change his vocal approach.

And, because Cobbler does come up with an idea every once in a while that makes him worth keeping around, here are the top 10 albums I was introduced to this year NOT from 2011:

1. Dusty Springfield - Dusty In Memphis
2. Jackson C. Frank - Jackson C. Frank
3. The Ronettes - Presenting The Fabulous Ronettes
4. Dungen - Ta Det Lugnt
5. Mahavishnu Orchestra - The Inner Mounting Flame
6. The Sound - Jeopardy
7. Lucio Battisti - Anima Latina
8. Hoodoo Gurus - Stoneage Romeos
9. Prefab Sprout - Steve McQueen
10. Swans - White Light From The Mouth of Infinity
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Old 01-03-2012, 04:39 AM   #117
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I wrote all of that on my phone, so I would be impressed if 40% of that was spelled right.
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Old 01-03-2012, 04:59 AM   #118
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Wow, well done, esp. doing it on the phone.
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Old 01-03-2012, 05:01 AM   #119
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Maybe next year I'll type it out while driving.
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Old 01-03-2012, 06:32 AM   #120
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Great reading LM I have to say I'm surprised Bon Iver took so long to hit with you. It's not exactly an inaccessible record if I dug it pretty much straight away, though I will agree it's not until a few listens in that it really starts to reveal itself.

Anyone else miss shouter's end-of-year lists? COME ON MAN! Get off Thax Douglas' dick and give the people what they want.
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