Here as elsewhere, 2011 finished with the customary best-of-year lists, inevitably confronting the dedicated music lover with large numbers of as yet unpurchased albums said to be the cream of the crop; catching up would cost a small fortune, even if 2012 held no new promises. Well, 2011 also saw the release of some excellent albums offered for free download, and a few of the Music is Good authors have put together a list of their favorites across several genres. All of the albums listed below can be downloaded either for free or on a “name your own price” basis (donations encouraged, but with no minimum) from the artists or labels or at bandcamp. You can also stream some of them below. Our thanks to these artists for making such good music freely available.
Every so often an area sees its scene explode not just locally, but nationally and internationally. This has happened before in the Twin Cities when the late ’70s funk scene exploded behind Prince and The Time, then in the early to mid ’80s the local rock scene had its turn led by Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, and the hip hop world of the early to mid 2000s was greatly influenced by Atmosphere and Brother Ali. Following developments in 2011 it is quite possible we are standing on the verge of the Twin Cities pop scene taking its place at the top of the heap.
The Twin Cities pop movement is led by three bands who started to break through last year, and now find themselves at the edge of stardom. All three are most certainly pop bands, but they come at the genre from very different perspectives. One is garage influenced guitar pop, another uses electronics to create a smooth dream pop, and the last features dark, smoldering synth pop. Each have an album due in 2012, though, and are set to make lots of noise locally and internationally.
This is a part of a series on music that has influenced contributors to Music is Good.
I truly believe that music discovery is a life long process and one that should cross all genre barriers. It is absolutely dumbfounding to me whenever I hear someone claim that “there isn’t any good music these days” or that a particular genre (usually hip hop or country) “is all crap”. I certainly realize, mostly because my wife loves to remind me, I’m not a ‘normal’ person when it comes to music, but it seems elementary to me that if anyone explores a genre a bit they will find something that speaks to them. Below are the 10 albums (in my personal chronological order) that have had the biggest impact on my life, and led me down my musical paths.
My compatriots have done an excellent job highlighting music that restores the seriousness of Christmas. As a Jew (a Reconstructionist, the lit-crit version of Judaism), I don’t feel like I have a stake in this game. Outside of a few songs, there aren’t any great Hanukkah albums. My holiday music tends be Klezmer, which can be played any time of the year.
There are a handful of Christmas songs I do enjoy. Wassails and winter songs aren’t necessarily Christmas songs: they are seasonal, coinciding with the Holidays. Indeed, “Jingle Bells” was written for Thanksgiving. There are carols that are based on excellent folk tunes that can get me moving (I will play “We Three Kings” and “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” as jigs). What tends to bother me about some Christmas songs is the repeated use of the same chord progressions, composed of I-ii-Vs and IV-iii-ii-I turnarounds (see “Jingle Bell Rock”, “Frosty the Snowman”, and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”). Popular Christmas tunes tend to sound alike, which in my opinion reflects the composers’ laziness.
Among my favorite Christmas songs is The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” which could either be seen as deep and dark or over-the-top, the alternative version of It’s a Wonderful Life or the Christmas version of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. From the production standpoint, the song is impeccable: soaring strings, perfectly timed transitions, even a big dropout to give power to “the bells were ringing out on Christmas day.” From a more cynical standpoint, the song is a crass attempt at a big commercial hit: the duet with Kirsty MacColl could be construed to be a gimmick, and the New York theme and the stadium sound are things a band might employ to try to crack the American market. It’s everything to be expected and dreaded from a Christmas song.
2011 has been another good year for music, with a deep list of very good albums released. This depth has allowed me to extend my usual Top Ten list to a Top Twenty that could easily have gone to 25 or 30 without me breaking a sweat. That said, ordering the below albums was a little harder than usual because for me there weren’t any truly mind blowing albums released this year. Ordinarily there is at least one album, if not two or three, that stand head and shoulders above the rest and demand the top spot(s), but that did not happen for me in 2011. In fact, had this year’s #1 album been released in 2010 it would have been at most #5 on that list (behind Titus Andronicus, Kanye West, Owen Pallett, and Dessa).
I think a big part of my not seeing a true #1 album this year is simply a matter of taste. A whole lot of lists are putting Bon Iver, Bon Iver at the top but that album simply does not work for me. While I loved For Emma, its follow-up feels like it is trying too hard (although it would appear successfully) to cross over into the pop realm and sanded off the rough edges that made For Emma so fantastic. I was even more disappointed in Watch the Throne, which comes off as nothing more than self-indulgent ego stroking. Add to these disappointments the fact that I’ve never been a fan of Fleet Foxes or My Morning Jacket and some of the years best reviewed albums are off the table for me.
Melissa Arpin and Scott Cortez of lovesliescrushing
For those of you with English degrees – and we all know there are more of you than you’d care to admit – the World Wide Web has proven to be a stubborn and resourceful enemy of grammatical correctness. It isn’t just that forum posters, news-site commenters, and bloggers (like me!) insist on ignoring virtually every rule of grammar, punctuation, and spelling consistency in the book; most of them refuse to admit the book even exists. “Let’s just crowdsource the rules of grammar,” they often say, as if this weren’t completely contrary to the whole purpose of language, or as if “crowdsource” were even a real word. And the web’s ubiquitous domain-naming system (DNS) merely adds fuel to the fire, with its uncaring approach to capitalization, and above all, its complete non-support of the space character.
If the phrase “avant-pop” wasn’t already claimed, it would need to be created to describe Micachu and the Shapes. On their 2009 debut, and thus far only studio full length, Mica Levi and her bandmates Marc Pell and Raisa Khan (who both joined Levi in the middle of recording Jewellery, hence the crediting of only some tracks to Micachu and the Shapes) create a sound that can only be described as a cacophony of sounds and genres. The noise made by the band can be harsh and dissonant, but somehow the songs still manage to have pop hooks and to be quite catchy.