Now that we are coming into the final stretches of 2012, you may think it is time to start considering the highlights of the year in music. And while that is certainly the case, I have yet to talk about my favorite albums of the past year. So, 10 months late, here are my favorite releases of 2011:
01. Micah Schnabel – I’m Dead, Serious
I have already spoken at length about the merits of “I’m Dead, Serious” on here before, and in the time since I put up that review, my fondness for the album has not diminished. The songs are upbeat and catchy, making the album easy to enjoy with even just a brief listen, but their true beauty only comes out when you devote your attention to them. The album is teeming with lyrical ingenuity that rewards the careful listener. Simply put, if you are not yet familiar with Micah and his musical output, you need to familiarize yourself right away. And if you are already a fan of his work with Two Cow Garage, and have not heard his solo material yet, you will undoubtedly be pleased.
02. Weedeater – Jason… The Dragon
Of all of the albums to be released in 2011, Weedeater’s “Jason… the Dragon” was probably my most anticipated. I had only become aware of the band towards the latter half of 2010, though I became very familiar with their back catalogue in short order thanks to my fondness for vocalist “Dixie” Dave Collin’s distinctive raspy bark. I had heard the genre tag “sludge metal” thrown around quite frequently before, but it was not until listening to Weedeater that I finally garnered a good understanding of what the style entailed: slow, plodding down-tuned guitar and bass lines, largely devoid of soloing, all complemented by the harshest of vocals. Based on the quality of their previous material, I was fairly certain that “Jason… the Dragon” was going to be a good album, but I was unsure whether the album would affect me as strongly as their others. With the genre’s penchant for slow and protracted song structures, songs can sometimes run together and not feel distinct. Much to my satisfaction, the album stays fresh and exciting, never falling into tedium. The first half of the record adheres largely to the tried and true Weedeater formula of crushing feedback-drenched riffage, before moving into the more adventurous second half, featuring the spaced-out bluegrass acoustic song “Palms and Opium” and perhaps their most accessible and infectious song to date, “Homecoming.” If you are a fan of heavy music, this is an album that should not be missed.
03. O’Death - Outside
Back when I first started to get interested in alternative country, I was turned onto the band O’Death by the prominent blog Nine Bullets (named after the classic Drive-by Trucker’s song). They sounded quite unlike anything that I had heard before, mixing the frenetic aggression of punk rock with folk and Americana, creating some fairly unhinged and exhilarating music. The band’s album “Broken Hymns, Limbs, and Skin” was one of the highlights of 2008, though shortly after that album’s release, the band went on hiatus due to drummer David Rogers-Berry’s diagnosis of bone cancer. Fortunately, David has recovered (after 10 months of chemotherapy and a shoulder replacement) and O’Death returned to the music scene with a fantastic album. The album is a considerable departure from their bombastic and aggressive style, while still maintaining a sound that is distinctly O’Death. The record adopts a more mature and solemn tone, undoubtedly influenced by David Rogers-Berry’s health ailments. Greg Jamie’s vocals sound slightly more restrained, not so much the whiny howl of past releases, but a reflective croon. They still have not passed up on the dark and death-focused imagery, but the album finds the band exploring these themes in a more introspective manner.
04. 40 Watt Sun – The Inside Room
I came upon 40 Watt Sun’s album “The Inside Room” while pursuing the new arrivals in the metal section of my favorite Pittsburgh record shop (the sadly no longer open Wicked Discs). I bought it on a whim, having recognized the cover from my online blog ramblings. Despite its categorization as metal, “The Inside Room” is probably the least metal “metal” album I listened to in all of 2011. Sure it has the long, drawn out guitar riffs of doom metal, but that is about where the comparisons end. The subject matter and atmosphere of the album is much at odds with that of doom metal. While most doom metal has a depressive and gloomy air to it, this is surprisingly hopeful. The songs are not about wizards, or paganistic rituals, rather they are about relationships and affection. Vocalist Patrick Walker’s emotive voice is the highlight of the album. In fact, “The Inside Room” is perhaps the most emotionally stirring and heartfelt album that I heard all of last year.
05. J Mascis – Several Shades of Why
When I heard that J Mascis, the frontman to the legendary alternative rock band Dinosaur Jr, was releasing his first solo acoustic album, I was intrigued. Dinosaur Jr’s music has always been characterized ear-bleeding forays in intense volume and guitar distortion, so I was excited to see what J would come up with without his trusty Fender Jazzmaster. While there is an instance or so that J brings out the electric guitar, the album is virtually entirely acoustic, J singly strumming and singing, devoid of any percussion. The reserved nature of the acoustic songs really helps to highlight J’s voice, something that is often overlooked due to his virtuosity with the guitar. “Several Shades of Why” is evidence that Masics’ music is not just an excuse for guitarshowmanship, and that quality songwriting is at the helm.
Please let me know what your favorite albums of the past year were in the comments section. Or if you can’t remember what came out last year, what have been some highpoints of 2012?