Monday, December 26, 2011

Dr. Spin's Top Ten Albums of 2011

Photo Credit: Kate Wurtzel
Here’s a recipe for misery: return to a fitness regimen with two days of intense workouts and then, on the third day, get the flu. The combination of muscle soreness and feverish aches is exquisite, to say the least. As soon as it became obvious that I was sick, my wife and I agreed that she and the Little One should go to the family’s house early for the holiday festivities to avoid contagion. They took off like a shot (not that I blame them), leaving me in the house alone for two days. Thank God for streaming Netflix.

Well, sort of. After a few movies, I thought a larger narrative arc might be in order.  Watching a series run would kill more time while my body fought off whatever it was I had.  I settled on the fantastically acted Breaking Bad, which, despite being excellent, might not have been the best way to combat the isolation of my pre-holiday quarantine. It’s dark premise (a chemistry teacher starts cooking meth to pay for his cancer treatments) wasn't particularly uplifting, especially in a single 48-hour marathon viewing. By season three, I was a probably a little depressed, and certainly drained of any potential holiday cheer. Physically, though, I felt much better by its end, and I eagerly anticipated the upcoming celebrations with my newly-expanded family for the holidays.

Now, the Little One is asleep, by belly's full of tamales, the Doctor is chillin' with baby Jesus, and I am finalizing the blog’s 2011”best-of” list with a good feeling. This is concluding last month’s post, where I also provided the parameters for selection. The list isn’t limited by style or label or release date – they merely need to be outstanding albums that I came to appreciate in 2011. Most of them have previous, more in-depth posts that are linked to the artist's names below. Have at thee…….

Two Weeks by Grizzly Bear on Grooveshark
10. Grizzly Bear Veckatimest: The clincher with Grizzly Bear was when I discovered that their psychedelic pop wasn’t just the product of studio manufacture. Their album actually captures the potential of their live persona quite well, especially in the vocal department.

The Hunter by Mastodon on Grooveshark
9. MastodonThe Hunter: Whatever it is that pushes Mastodon to work outside of the box, it’s got them on the right track. Despite my initial apprehensions, The Hunter re-lit my torch for deeply musical hard rock.

Wot's... Uh The Deal by Joanot Martorell on Grooveshark
8. Pink Floyd - Obscured by Clouds: The Pink Floyd train that I chased for the majority of the fall began with Obscured by Clouds. It’s an interesting, and possibly very good, glimpse of the band ironing out their last kinks before what would be their golden period.

Moanin' by Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers on Grooveshark
7. Art Blakey & the Jazz MessengersMoanin’: The tunes are excellent on Moanin’, but it’s the trumpet playing of Lee Morgan that commands my attention throughout the album. The other soloists, as incredible as they are in their own right, often play off of his bravado.

I Never Learnt To Share by James Blake on Grooveshark
6. James Blake - James Blake: As a listening experience, Blake’s full-length debut teeters on the thin border between serenity and distress. It’s a stirring 21st century head-trip that absolutely must be experienced in a quiet, hi-fi setting.

Uffe's Workshop by Tyondai Braxton on Grooveshark
5. Tyondai BraxtonCentral Market: The question still hangs in the air: “Who is Zappa’s logical successor?” This incredible album from the former Battles member is at least a part of the answer to that difficult and complex question.

Gangsta by tUnE-yArDs on Grooveshark
4. the tUnE yArDsW H O K I L L: Merrill Garbus’ sophomore full-length release is a triumph that, on paper, shouldn’t work. Regardless, it’s quirky, angular, and often dissonant world-funk is held together by a sly grin, some clever looping, and the strength of Garbus’ vision.

As I Lay My Head Down by Other Lives on Grooveshark
3. Other LivesTamer Animals: This unbelievable release came out of nowhere, and I am surprised that I have not seen it on more end-of-year lists. If you miss the neo-romanticism of the Moody Blues (without all of the excess and bombast), this should be in your playlists.

Codex by Radiohead on Grooveshark
2. RadioheadThe King of Limbs: What many critics have called their most challenging album in years is also, I think, one of their best. This textured and (dare I say) sexy album never fails to throw out new levels of depth.

Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes on Grooveshark
1. Fleet FoxesHelplessness Blues: For me, The Fleet Foxes seem to provide the soundtrack for major life changes. Helplessness Blues continued this tradition, grounding me during a year whose beginning bore very little resemblance to its end.

Thanks to everyone that has followed the blog this year, especially those who shared it or made listening recommendations.  I hope that I have had the good fortune to return the favor by introducing you to something new. 

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