While 2011 wasn't my favorite year ever, it had some good music to redeem it, at least from where I stood.
So here, in no particular order, are the albums that defined the past twelve months of my life along with my rationalizations for why they captured my head and heart.
Last winter, back when a musician friend first told me how much I'd like this album, I was unprepared for how quickly it would become a mainstay in my CD player. Whether I'm making my ears bleed with Yo la Tengo-like distortion and Dinosaur Jr.-like guitars or getting moony to some sweet slower lyrics, this collection of songs has something for every one of my moods.
Favorite track: "Shook Down" because Yuck isn't just a '90s noise copycat.
The show: October at the Black Cat, here
Washed Out: "Within and Without"
A chillwave artist named Ernest sounds like the set-up for a bad joke, but I've been a fan of his beautiful sounds since I got 2010's EP "Life of Leisure" and made it my beach record. The new full-length is even lusher and longer, meaning Ernest can take me further into his world of swirling sounds.
Favorite track: "Eyes Be Closed" because it sounds like the beginning of an evening with a lover.
Wye Oak: "Civilian"
Charm City never grabbed me like it has the past few years, first with Beach House and this year with Wye Oak. These two musicians can make a lot of noise and the resulting dream pop has enough full-on shoegaze to satisfy my needs while they can also do the earnest folk-based thing to balance it out.
Favorite track: "Holy, Holy" because girls and guitars are the root of all energy.
The show: September at the National, here.
Other Lives: "Tamer Animals"
Sometimes you hear a band and it just stirs your soul. That's how I felt about Other Lives, but the first time I heard them was live and their majestic folk pop made me wish I could make time stop. There is never a throwaway note or word sung with this band and I will sing their praises to the world.
Favorite track: "Dark Horse" because horns and folk music make me swoon.
The show: October at Black Iris Studio, here.
Bon Iver: "Bon Iver"
Believe me, I hate putting something so obvious on my list but even if no one else had, I would have had to. If "For Emma, Forever Ago" was the soundtrack to having your heart broken, this one is the sound of a man in love and so it's even more beautiful, if that's possible.
Favorite track; "Calgary" because his lyrics are poetry. "I was only for your very space." Sigh.
The show: July at the National, here
Raphael Saadiq: "Stone Rollin"
I'm happy to see how many performers are trying to keep R & B alive, or even resurrect it from what it has degenerated into. When I listen to this album, it sounds timeless to me, like it could have come from decades ago. Saadiq is mid-forties, so he may actually have memories of the music he is perpetuating. And thank god he is.
Favorite track: "Just Don't" because Stevie Wonder should always be an inspiration for the ages.
Sleepy Vikings:"They Will Find You Here"
I happened into these guys at a show and fell in love with their spacey guitars, chill drumming and overall jangly pop as they played their entire set seated. I won't deny their shoegaze influences but it's filtered through something simpler and more earnest.
Favorite track: "Calm" because it wears its emotion on its sleeve and that's a wondrous thing.
The show: June at Sprout, here.
Joy Formidable: "The Big Roar"
Last year's EP "A Balloon Called Moaning" made my best of list but I still had to put their first full length on this year's list. I worship at the altar of music from a cave and Ritzy and company deliver with an audio assault; her little girl voice and big fuzzy guitar (not to mention immense pedal board) are the stuff my late night dreams are made of.
Favorite track: "I Don't Want to See You Like This" because it charges ahead and leaves the weak behind.
The show: March at the Black Cat, here.
I know, I know. No one else could possibly have come up with this oddball assortment of favorites and call it their best of list except me.
But in my world, it's new music that makes the world go round. Well, among other things...