Despite getting smacked down, pop-culturally speaking, with one of those life changing events last August, I still feel like I was able to listen to just about as much music as I always do. Where becoming a father to twins was cataclysmic in terms of seeing movies and keeping up with my programs on the TV, I still had to walk the dog and drive to work, so music remained a pleasant constant.
More than pleasant, because I tended to like almost everything I heard this year. That may make for a boring Platter Chatter, or at least a fairly non-discriminating one, but I just seemed predisposed to dole out the benefit of the doubt in almost all cases. You know how Roger Ebert seems to give nothing but good reviews now that he lost the bottom part of his face and is now infused with the joy of life? I feel the same way, but get to keep my lower mandible!
So here we go. Since I couldn’t really add much to the concert-going section of this thing, I added a few other categories:
Top Five Records:
1) Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues
Between this and the Decemberists record, it was a great year for music about orchards. As much as the first FF record was a wonderful winter album, this one seems to summon imagery about spring and summer. I give Helplessness Blues the edge over their first one, though, because the lyrical content seems to jibe more with where I am these days. The whole idea of becoming a “functioning cog in some great machine” was an extremely comforting thought in the latter half of the year, giving credence to my family’s new mission statement as well. As much as I love the title track, the one that has really been grabbing my ears lately is “Grown Ocean”. I expect this record to continue to pay dividends throughout 2012.
2) TV on the Radio- Nine Types of Light
This is the first TV on the Radio record that has blown me away from start to finish. There is a much warmer sound here than the guys have summoned before; where I always appreciated what they brought to the table, I now really and truly love it. The first song (called “Second Song”) is a fantastic entry point, sounding weirdly out of step vocally until catching a groove that I just can’t seem to get enough of. Another thing that struck me about this album (and something I hardly ever take note of) is the sequencing of the songs. The progression of the sounds here seems to make sense, and is a journey well worth taking.
3) Das Racist- Relax
Not a record I expected to keep coming back to, but it has hung in there and keeps making me laugh. Not that this is a jokey record at all; in fact, I love the way these guys wrap their tongues around some of the most clever, pop-culture infused lyrics since early Beasties. The beats are good (I am no expert on such matters), but for me, it is all about the chemistry of the MCs and the creation of such quotable sound bites.
4) Destroyer- Kaputt
My friend Danny described this initially as “mesmerizing.” I cede to him in this regard, as I cannot come up with a better adjective to describe this beautiful, weird, hypnotic set of songs. Bejar’s delivery is unique, but not inaccessible and works perfectly with the smooth stylings he gives his songs here. I feel like almost any of these songs could have been on the Romancing the Stone soundtrack, if that makes any sense. In any case, it all gels into a record that is challenging and comforting at the same time. Well done, Bejar!
5) The Decemberists- The King is Dead
One of the first albums I got into in 2011 and one that seems to keep working on me. They give the Fleet Foxes a run for their “summer imagery” money, especially on “June Hymn”, with lyrics about “training jasmine how to vine”. Yes, Colin Meloy’s wordsmithery at times make for a marble-mouthed delivery, but I think he’s getting better at it with every record. Of all the albums in this top five, this is the easiest to love and the most accessible. Almost any song would work well on a mix as well, something I have recently put to the test.
Close But No Guitar:
Wilco- The Whole Love
Radiohead- King of Limbs (Not their best, but still…)
Cut Copy- Zonoscope
Bon Iver- Bon Iver
Beastie Boys- Hot Sauce Committee Part 2
Panda Bear- Tomboy (Not Person Pitch, but what is, really?)
Justice- Audio, Video, Disco
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks- Mirror Traffic
Smith Westerns- Dye It Blonde
REM- Collapse Into Now (I was unreasonably bummed when they announced their break up, considering I hadn’t been listening to them for the last few years. Solid final record that can stand up with… uh, Accelerate?)
Top 10 songs for A Compilation (Without using any songs from my top list)
High Hawk Season (Mountain Goats), Non Stop Disco Power Pack (Beastie Boys), Love the Way You Walk Away (Blitzen Trapper), Queen of Hearts (Fucked Up), Rider (Okkervil River), Last Night at the Jetty (Panda Bear), The Last Living Rose (PJ Harvey), New Lands (Justice), Calgary (Bon Iver), Brothers (War on Drugs)
Top Live Show
OK, here is where my lifestyle change has stymied me a bit. I only saw one live show in 2011, and it was Ween. It was really good, but didn’t do anything Ween hasn’t done in concert for me at least 10 times before. So where I had a great time, I don’t feel like I can contribute to the “live experience” in Platter Chatter 2011.
I Don’t Get This Thing That People Love
Tuneyards. I actively hate (HATE) Tuneyards. It hits me so wrong that I really can’t rationalize or adequately explain why this record works on my raw nerve endings in the way it does. Rather than admit that the singer is probably talented in her own way, I will accept that it is OK that I despise this critically acclaimed piece of shit.
I Am So Embarrassed For…
Paul Simon and his new record. Again, this is an album that got quite a bit of critical acclaim. I listened, and man… that first song about Christmas? With all that random muttering in the background? Wow, that is terrible. Paul Simon is certainly a guy who has nothing to prove at this point, but his lyrics on this record are literal in such an obvious and boring way here that I wonder what happened to the guy who wrote Songs from the Capeman.
I bought the remastered Pink Floyd album Wish You Were Here recently. On vinyl, too, because I want to be viewed as an insufferable hipster who constantly reminds you of the existence of vinyl and to watch Portlandia. Anyway, it sounds great in and of itself, but also still works (to my ears) as the best front to back Pink Floyd album as well.
Thankfully I Did Not Give Up
Not that I could really ever give up on them, but the Beastie Boys delivered what I think is their best record since Check Your Head way back in 1993. I liked To The Five Boroughs, but it felt a bit pedantic and it hasn’t dated well, lyrically. This one doesn’t seem to be trying as hard and works so much better as a result. Granted, I have an unreasonable soft spot for them, probably derived from a heaping dollop of nostalgia, but Hot Sauce Committee stands on its own with absolutely zero reliance on nostalgia (which is weird, considering how the album traffics in non-stop old-school references).
Wilco is also a band I’m glad I didn’t give up on. I had pretty much settled on just enjoying them as a live band at this point, but The Whole Love is pretty great record that just happens to be sold at Starbucks.
To Do List (Need to give it more time or a real first try)
Beirut, The Rip Tide
Real Estate, Days
Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes
Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Wolfroy Goes To Town
Wild Flag, Wild Flag