Brad Roberts, Senior Editor
Favorite Albums of the Year
1. Rob Crow - He Thinks He's People
I know people will say, "Oh he's crazy about Pinback anyway..." and it will be of little surprise, but my favorite album of the year popped up unannounced and unexpectedly near the end of the year in October, and it caught me off guard. Rob Crow is such an amazing musician, but I wonder if his greatest talent is in songwriting. Virtuoso guitar and wonderful singing are to be expected, but this is such a varied collection of unforgettable, melodious and structurally complex compositions, subtitled 13 Depressing Pop Hits!, that I don't know where to begin. So I won't. Just go buy it, listen to it and be seduced by it. It hits so many sweet spots it's nearly orgasmic I long to see it in concert.
2. Okkervil River - I Am Very Far
This one came across like a ton of bricks from the first listen.
3. Blitzen Trapper - American Goldwing
Another no-brainer. I mean, I've included all three of their last releases as year's bests every time. Blitzen Trapper have an uncanny way of packaging their material for maximum commercial appeal without ever compromising the quirky, offbeat lyrics of Eric Earley, that are at once cryptic, purposely flirting with the pretentious, yet irreverant and often spin a damned good yarn. Once again the tunes are filled with impossible-to-resist hooks.
4. Low - C'mon
Released early in the year, I had seen the band perform the album in full in December 2010 at The Satellite and I knew how good it would be right then and there. The album, released in April was still a revelation and certainly among their best records. C'mon in nearly relentless in its assault on you senses and sensitivities with some of the songs so heartwrenching, with the intricate vocal patterns threaded through layer upon layer of instrumentation one can easily dissolve in tears. Lovingly produced as well, Low sets a standard few can approach.
5. Rademacher - Baby Hawk, Part I of III
My other favorite comes from a local band, well-beloved in the scene. Rademacher may have been around a while, but this album sounds so fresh and is so observant it seems to come from a special place of wisdom countered by the unbridled enthusiasm of a bunch of people doing what they love. There's no weariness in this band and their exuberant live shows demonstrate that. Sometimes brutally frank, this collection if tales of the trials and tribulations of a band's career arch is funny, ironic and occasionally moving.
Other albums I really liked (I also saw them all performed live which made them even better):
DeVotchKa - 100 Lovers
Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What
St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
Release the Sunbird - Come Back To Us
Chad VanGaalen - Diaper Island
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
I had mixed emotions about two highly anticipated releases.
Build A Rocket Boys was the new album from Elbow. They have been a favorite of mine, especially since their two last remarkable albums, but after the first song, "The Birds", which is easily one of the best songs they ever recorded, the album slumps and doesn't recover. Oddly enough, when I saw them at The Greek this summer the new songs sounded just as good as the older ones, so go figure. Maybe they're just better live. Still I would recommend the album for that song alone.
Beirut took a long time releasing a follow up to the extraordinary The Flying Club Cup, and for the first two songs, The Rip Tide stands up to the comparison. "A Candle's Fire" begins the CD with the familiar European street performer ambiance that first drew me to the band and Zach Condon's singing is as striking as ever. Followed by the rollicking and irresistible "Santa Fe", the one, two punch of these two songs makes you long for more in this vein, but the remainder of the album, with the exception of the title song, settles into a slow, almost routine set of similar sounding songs. Unfortunately Beirut's show at The Greek in October did little to dispel this impression.
Kathryn Pinto, Editor-in-Chief
Favorite Albums that weren't included on the Best Los Angeles Albums of 2011
Wilco – The Whole Love
Wilco at their best is hooky noise ("I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) but also their best is meandering little alt country songs that start with a simple melody and make complex orbits and suborbital pathways. On The Whole Love, Wilco delivers both, "Art of Almost" and "One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)" respectively. Tweedy's dream team band has now been playing and recording together long enough to be something greater that the sum of its parts. As the title asserts, these guys have imbued this music with it love and joy. It's an ambitious record that never lets the listener (or the band) off with just a good song. "One Sunday Morning" could be a good three- or four-minute track, but instead it takes a simple vulnerable line and trusts it with a little slack, taking it on these little subtle and varied jaunts that somehow twelve minutes into the song still keep you hoping you aren't quite at the end.
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
The songcraft on this record is pretty incredible. Just when a tune starts to come together, when you think you know where it's going or what it will do, it takes an unexpected turn and elaborates on some small theme, like a refrigerator hum you didn't notice until it stopped. The album rewards an attentive, curious listener. Right about the time this album was released Will Hermes wrote a feature about the Fleet Foxes. As the story goes when the band went to New York for what they thought would be the final mixes of the record, songwriter Robin Pecknold listened to the tapes and found that the songs needed to make some pretty substantial changes. The guys made a dispiriting trip back to Seattle to rework the tracks. And it sounds like a record that someone went the extra mile to get done right, taking a more time and attention to make it outstanding.
War On Drugs – Slave Ambient
This is the album that above all others I wanted to listen to the most this year, that I kept coming back to. It out Wilco'd Wilco for me on that count. I was trying to work out "Black Water Falls" in my mind and I kept getting parts of it stuck in my head in the middle of the afternoon, needing to come home later and hear the whole thing to let it play out.This record is all about forward velocity, momentum, rolling down the windows and putting your face into the wind.
Bill Callahan - Apocalypse
Apocalypse was the first time I spent a lot of time with Bill Callahan's music and it made for a several weeks of great listening, rediscovering Smog and digging into his back catalog.
The word understated comes to mind when trying to describe Callahan’s music; its minimal arrangements give way to a slow burn. Apocalypse is a spare album whose pastoral metaphors suggest the lyrics were written over several day stretches of talking to no one. Callahan uses the sonic version of negative space—in visual art the shape of the space in between solid objects—very effectively.
Youth Lagoon - The Year of Hibernation
This record came along at just the right time.You get the feeling that this is the music he has to make, like Trevor Powers is a shy and socially awkward guy but he has things to say and their expression is a subtly and offbeat kind of beautiful.