2011.5 (mid) Year in Review

Who does 2011 think it is?  Is it a teenaged, skateboarding gang who wants to shock everyone with stories of murder and rape?  Is it a sensitive singer-songwriter trying to create something that can hold up under the weight of legendary stories concerning abandoned cabins and cancer wards?  Is it ‘transcendental black metal’ or does it rebel against the term and those who use it?  Will it be r&b’s savior?  Will it be the year that brings metal back to the masses?  Or is it a slacker student having too much fun to pick a major?  It is a year that prefers  to sleep around a bit before settling down?  Is it weighing the options?  Who will it be when it grows up?

To say this year has been mediocre compared to years past would just be my own opinion, but to say the people are torn more than years past would be a fact.  Usually there would be an identifiable front-runner this late in the game, but this year the votes have been spread across acts as diverse as Bon Iver, Fucked Up, Yuck, Liturgy, James Blake, Tyler The Creator and The Weeknd.  It seems every argument made for each of these artists is met with a strong, sometimes venomous response.  There have been times when I feel the music has been drown out by premature praise only to have that praise buried in blaring (blind) hatred.  Sure, this anonymous argument has been raging since messageboards were created, but it has risen to new levels this year.

In creating this list I have tried to block out the static and really pay attention to the music that has been released.  I don’t care if the lead singer of a metal band decided to write a manifesto, I just care if I like the music. I don’t care if I discovered an album/artist through a website/blog that has had its ‘hip’ badge removed by those that claim they have the right.  I don’t care if some of the albums I like this year were released by major labels.  All I care about is the music, and this is the music I care about in 2011….


The Antlers – Burst Apart

song of reconciliation; making peace with the events on Hospice

James Blake – James Blake

heart and soul into intelligent lyrics and somehow achieves what once seemed impossible…he gives dubstep a soul

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

don’t have to worry about hypothermia or dying of a broken heart

The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

extremely more accessible without losing their soul…this album rocks!

Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

manages to raise above the chaos and come through loud and clear…as strong as he’s never been


Chelsea Wolfe

The girl in the veil has graced these pages more than any other artist this year. The profileThe interviewThe showThe album.  Alas, her music does not fit the criteria for this list, but I assure you Apokalypsis will make the year-end.  Originally titled Ἀποκάλυψις and only available via her bandcamp page, the album will receive a physical release via Pendu Sound later this year.  The same label that released The Grime & The Glow just a few weeks too early to earn it a spot on this list.  Needless to say, get both albums no matter what their born-on date says!

The Weeknd

Taking r&b to the dark depths of hip-hop and beyond would only be interesting for a minute if the artist didn’t have a voice.  Abel Tesfaye has the voice.  He has the style.  And his mixtape is available for free download.  Another album that would have made the list if it were a proper release.  Looking forward to much more to come from this kid.

Julianna Barwick

You’re taking a walk in the woods behind your house in Louisiana, you lose track of time and as the sun starts to set you become disoriented, fumbling through the shadows of the trees.  You see a white light up ahead, it comes towards you and then surrounds you.  The light is speaking to you, but not in words.  One voice?  Two voices?  A thousand?  The sounds seem to be coming from nowhere, yet everywhere at the same time.  You should be frightened, but your mind is at ease.  You lay down on a pile of leaves and for next 45 minutes you are in The Magic Place, a place only Julianna Barwick can take you with her solitary choir of vocal loops.  (She released her first album a few years ago, but she’s new to me)

James Blake

Changing the face of dubstep is not what earned James Blake a spot on this list, in fact I couldn’t be more disinterested in the EPs that came before.  It was his eponymous debut that grabbed my attention and has yet to let go.  It was his live show that made me a verbal advocate of the British kid who gave electronic music a soul.  I still prefer when he just sits at his piano and sings, but count me in as a true believer that James Blake is the future.


Ben Chisholm allows you to converse with the dead, or rather allows the dead to speak to you.  His volumes of REVENANT GOSPELS have provided a soundtrack to many nights since I discovered them earlier this year.  Ben creates electronic music and uses clips from old  films, songs and radio broadcasts for his vocals.  I doubt the REVENANT GOSPELS, now on it’s third volume, are going to make WHITE HORSE a household name, but they do showcase a talent that is going to take Ben to other planes in the days to come.

TOP 30 TRACK.5 **

Codeiene by Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit (from Here We Rest)
Dolls by Michael Dean Damron (from Plea From a Ghost)
Lullaby by The Builders and the Butchers (from Dead Reckoning)
Mercy Buckets by Drive-By Truckers (from Go-Go Boots)
Pulaski by Drive-By Truckers (from Go-Go Boots)
Rise To Me by The Decemberists (from The King Is Dead)
Walking Far From Home by Iron & Wine (from Kiss Each Other Clean)
5th Avenue Bar by Dylan LeBlanc (from Paupers Field)

Blood by The Dears (from Degeneration Street)
California Sunrise by Dirty Gold (from Roar)
Corsicana by The Antlers (from Burst Apart)
Go Outside by Cults (from Cults)
A Heavy Abacus by The Joy Formidable (from The Big Roar)
Holoscene by Bon Iver (from Bon Iver)
How Can U Luv Me by Unknown Mortal Orchestra (from Unknown Mortal Orchestra)
Kick Me Where It Hurts by The Booze (from At Maximum Volume)
Love Out of Lust by Lykke Li (from Wounded Rhymes)
Rider by Okkervil River (from I Am Very Far)
Skip The Charades by Cold War Kids (from Mine Is Yours)
Think You Can Win by The National (from Win Win soundtrack)

Alien Observer by Grouper (from AIA: Alien Observer)
A Case Of You (Joni Mitchell cover) by James Blake
Codex by Radiohead (from The King of Limbs)
The Wilhelm Scream by James Blake (from James Blake)

Lord of the Game by Death Grips ft. Mexican Girl (from Ex Military)
Novacane by Frank Ocean (from Nostalgia/Ultra)
Penthouse Suites by Wise Blood (from These Wings)
Soldiers by The Streets (from Computers and Blues)
Swervin (Clams Casino Remix) by XV (from Zero Heroes)
Time Won’t Tell (Remix) by El-P ft. Nocando (from weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3)


Seeing two living legends for the first time:
Prince, Oracle Arena, 02-23
Peter Gabriel, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 06-13

Getting back to San Francisco for Noise Pop 2011:
How To Dress Well with Chelsea Wolfe, Cafe du Nord, 02-26

Back-to-Back Rock Shows!
Drive-By Truckers, Ogden Theater, 03-18
Drive-By Truckers, Ogden Theater, 03-19

Spending the last night on Earth in Portland
James Blake with Nite Jewel, Doug Fir Lounge, 05-20

Forgetting there was a headlining band (best opening act)
Wise Blood, Independent, 06-08

Three acts for the price of one
Okkervil River with Titus Andronicus & Julianna Barwick, Bluebird Theater, 06-15

Immortal, Weedeater, Amon Amarth, Acephalix


Belphegor Blood Magick Necromance
Deafheaven Roads to Judah
Amon AmarthSurtur Rising
Havok Time Is Up
Kvelertak Kvelertak

…for a more detailed list of extreme music, along with shows, etc visit Mile High Metal

* up until May 2011, haven’t listened to anything that came out in June
** could have been released in 2010, but gained popularity in 2011. limited to one track per album, with the exception of Go-Go Boots having one track each from Hood and Cooley.