Tag Archive for '2011'

It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 10 Albums of 2011

Here we are in the final month of 2011 and it is time for the Top lists. I started this last year for the first time, and I think it was a pretty good exercise. 2011 for me personally was a time of change– I was laid off from a job I had for over 13 years and spent most of 2011 unemployed. As I write this, I’m happily employed, though I’m having to deal with the fallout of being unemployed for so long.

If it wasn’t for the friends and contacts I made through this blog, the time I spent unemployed would have been unbearable. As people found out about my family’s situation, they reached out with concern, help and well-wishes. Frankly, writing for this blog and the other places I sometimes contribute gave me a much-needed distraction as I experienced first-hand the employment conditions and lack of hiring in the U.S. It seems like things are turning around, but we are far from recovery, I’m afraid.

So, I look at this list of albums as being kind of a soundtrack for my unemployment– sometimes expressing hope, sometimes expressing despair, but 2011 was a good year for music. As 2012 brings new hope and opportunity for me, I look forward to bringing my music blog into its sixth year.

While there were a lot of notable releases in 2011, these are the ones that spent the most time in rotation for me– had more staying power.

1. Hiss Golden Messenger – Poor Moon – M.C. Taylor’s post Court & Spark band makes my list for the second year running– Poor Moon is a full-band companion-piece to last year’s Bad Debt in that they share a few songs. You can read my summary and review here. Mike’s in the running for 2012, too, as he has started work on his next album already!

2. Bon Iver – Bon Iver – Like last year’s The Suburbs from Arcade Fire, this is an album that will make a lot of 2011 “Top” lists. Already the album has been nominated for a few Grammys. I was not a fan of the first album from Justin Vernon, but this album quickly has found a seat in my regular rotation and gets played often at my house. The fact that it shares common DNA with the brilliant album from Eau Claire-Minneapolis supergroup GAYNGS helps, too.

3. Pieta Brown – Mercury – With a boost of moral support from her new label home Red House Records and continued support from her musical family and friends, Pieta Brown has created what is her best recorded statement to date. I wrote a review of Mercury for Little Village here.

4. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire – In some regards this album can be heralded as the triumphant return for Ryan Adams whose last new studio effort was 2008’s swansong for Lost Highway as a label and The Cardinals as a band, Cardinology. Life has changed pretty dramatically for Ryan who seems to have embraced his life and career with new perspective. Ashes & Fire is a return to the simpler sound of Easy Tiger— arguably a sound he has refined and polished. For a guy whose love of metal and punk are public record, he has the ability to make some of the most beautiful folk-rock-country songs this side of Neil Young. He is on a sold-out solo acoustic tour at the moment as he re-familiarizes himself with his legacy and live performing in general. I hope he gets the itch to bring a band on the road with him in the near future.

5. Dawes – Nothing Is WrongDawes is back and their sophomore release is even more confident than their first album, Taylor Goldsmith is embracing his role as lead guitarist and this album features some very polished guitarwork. In 2011 we saw more of the indie space contributing videos to VH1’s Top 20 and Dawes spent a week or two with “Time Spent in Los Angeles.” I think that the almost-universal embrace of Dawes’ own spin on 70’s singer-songwriter classic rock is showing that people are looking for strong melodies and honesty in the face of mostly manufactured pop music. The songs for Nothing Is Wrong got a lot of mileage on the road, many songs were familiar to dedicated fans like me, it will be interesting to see what the next songs will be like. I don’t expect any dramatic change in the band, but I would like to see some envelope pushing– maybe a change in production.

6. Kelly Pardekooper – YonderKelly cut his songwriting teeth here in Eastern Iowa writing and recording his first five albums while he lived here. A brief jump to Wisconsin and a permanent displacement to the yonder of L.A. seemed to silence the songwriter, but after some recognition by the new tastemakers that assemble soundtracks for TV shows he was kickstarted to record his most Iowa-sounding release to date with Bo Ramsey and a band of Backslider regulars. Relased in the fourth quarter of 2011, I’m hoping the album gets some legs in 2012 before returning to the lockers.

7. Canasta – The Fakeout The Tease and the Breather – Technically this release from Chicago band Canasta came out late in 2010, but I heard it in February when they made a stop in Iowa City.  This quote from my article for Little Village says it all, “There nestled in the extensive list of influences is what appears to be the nearly 30 years of my record collection. While this list seems impossibly diverse on paper, the thing that unifies all of these artists is a strong knack for melody and composition that Canasta brings in spades.” Watch their great video for “Mexico City” here.

8. Chicago Odense Ensemble – self-titled – This album– a meeting of members of Tortoise and Isotope 217 and Causa Sui– had been announced for months before it was eventually released this year by French label AdLuna. A sliced and diced approach to assembling a record from hours of improvisational recording by the group a la In A Silent Way resulted in a beautiful record with gorgeous packaging to match. You can read my article about the release here.

9. Kerosene Circuit – self titled EP – This was an EP that really reached out of the stereo and shook me. Rockin’, diesel-powered bar chords. You can read my review for Little Village here.

10. The 4onthefloor – 4×4 – Minneapolis stompin’ bar-blues band The 4onthefloor may seem on paper to be tied to a schtick with each member of the band playing a kickdrum on stage, but the formula of 4/4 time heavy blues is one that works. Lead singer Gabe Douglas transforms to the on-stage personae of the possessed while riding the chugging rhythm provided by the rest of the band. The album captures a lot of this live energy, but catch them live if you can.

Ryan Adams Emerges from Self-Imposed Exile, Looks Around Suspiciously, Announces Stuff

We’re just past the Ides of March and although he has historically exclaimed “Et Tu, Internets?” this month has brought us a bunch of new Ryan Adams news. The last time we heard from our hero, he had fired up his PaxAm imprint and released two albums that had been hiding in his archives– his Metal Space Opera Orion and Cardinals III/IV which was two albums worth of Easy Tiger-Era recordings with The Cardinals.

To accomplish his desired DIY apprach, he assembled a staff to handle the shipping and orders that were done via the PaxAm website. In the case of Orion things went pretty well, but apparently folks were having issues with delivery of the III/IV album that were placed on the PaxAm site and went to the internet boards to bitch about it. The fact of the matter is that there was an accident involving the guy who was handling the orders and things got delayed and people complained loudly and frequently as is the manner of some.

Fed up, Ryan responded on the boards:

All future Pax-Am releases are cancelled and I don’t have any plans to continue anymore merch. Maybe I will sell the rights to someone else and let them make this stuff. All I know is I am not going to do it. I don’t believe we did a bad job…. The truth is both releases cost a boat load to manufacture and so many good people who I enjoy working with are involved in a hands-on way, all the way down to the manufacturing, that I seriously doubt the vinyl made any money back. It was about the tunes and doing it right and making quality vinyl. We took time to do it right.
Clearly I was 100 percent wrong that this was a good idea and I am really glad I tried but am totally done. Sorry if that sounds passive aggressive or something but I am just being real. I over it and over blogging and I had to borrow this very computer to even write this crap. Blah.

And with that he went into radio silence, but clearly this wasn’t the end of the story as we have now heard about a Record Store Day 4-song, 2 colored vinyl 7″ single EP of Cardinology-era previously-unreleased tracks called Class Mythology that will be a limited edition of 2500 copies with a picture sleeve, poster and sticker and will be on PaxAm Records! It is confirmed from his Facebook page with a mock-up of a single. The distributor for this record is going to be Junketboy who has a history of doing small-run releases like this. So, it would appear that he is delivering on the idea of letting someone else press the records. Hopefully he is getting his say on the quality of the records as his desire to get the mastering right had delayed releases in the past. In the same post where he bows out of pressing records, he also comments on the Lost Highway vinyl and in particular the new 10th Anniversary clear vinyl releases:

I was simply signed to Universal/ Lost Highway as an artist and had no say in the quality of the product. I was appalled they ever released ANY of my albums on vinyl since NONE were mastered for vinyl including the clear GOLD thing. I still have the original ones and they sound like ass. THAT is my personal opinion and I don’t care. Sorry. I like mastered vinyl.

I picked up the 2 LP clear vinyl version of Gold recently, and I don’t think it sounds “like ass” but there are a couple of spots where there are some clicks present, so there is a bit of a QC problem. I was particularly interested in this release as it included the “Side 4” bonus tracks that were only available on the first 150,000 CD pressings of Gold. This release fixes that sin.

So, with this RSD release, there is some hope for the future of other archive releases– in particular, folks are really anxious to get to hear Blackhole, which is another release that apparently did not leak to bootlegging. There is photographic evidence around the time he was working on the III/IV ramp-up that it had been mastered to vinyl, so perhaps we are close to this actually coming out if he’s working with a distributor.

On top of this great news, it was announced in an e-mail from the PaxAm site that Ryan is working with legendary producer Glyn Johns on his first album of new material since 2008. Johns is credited with some of Rock’s great albums including Who’s Next, The Stones Sticky Fingers, and Clapton’s Slowhand.  Clearly keeping the trust in the family,  Johns’ son Ethan produced Heartbreaker, Gold and 24 for Adams.

The question would be how he’s going to release this album– he is not on a label at the moment other than PaxAm– and he used TVT/The Orchard to distribute III/IV to stores and online. So, potentially, the new album could still be on PaxAm. Really, the only issues were the orders placed on the PaxAm website, so that is probably solved by not doing preorders by himself.

While we ponder the always-unpredictable career of Ryan Adams, on Monday he announced a tour of Europe starting in June that will be just him with an acoustic guitar playing new songs he wrote over the winter. “I’d like to play them for whoever wants to hear them,” he posted to Facebook, “Please don’t yell at me,” These are the songs that evidently moved his wife Mandy Moore to tweet, “been listening to my hubby write insanely beautiful music over the past few weeks. blows my mind at how easy he makes it look. the nerve! :)”

This will be the first organized tour since Adams announced in early 2009 that he was leaving the Cardinals following a very extensive tour in support of Cardinology. This announcement was for a few reasons, but likely primarily related to his affliction with Ménière’s disease that caused severe vertigo among other afflictions. He’s clearly easing back into touring since this tour will be solo acoustic. I’m not alone in hoping that he brings this tour to the US.

Here are the European tour dates (from his Facebook post):

Friday, June 10, 2011 Stockholm, Sweden Cirkus
Saturday, June 11, 2011 Oslo, Norway Folketeatret
Monday, June 13, 2011 Malmö, Sweden The Consert House
Tuesday, June 14, 2011 Copenhagen, Denmark Koncerhauset
Thursday, June 16, 2011 Lisbon, Portugal Aula Magna
Friday, June 17, 2011 Porto, Portugal Teatro Sa Da Bandeira
Monday, June 20, 2011 London, UK Barbican
Wednesday, June 22, 2011 Brighton, UK Dome
Thursday, June 23, 2011 Manchester, UK Bridgewater Hall
Saturday, June 25, 2011 Glasgow, UK Academy
Sunday, June 26, 2011 Oxford, UK Oxford New Theatre
Tuesday, June 28, 2011 Amsterdam, Holland Concertgebouw
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