And now, the final five of the year.
5. Cloud Nothings – Cloud Nothings
Cloud Nothings – Should Have
Dylan Baldi totally delivered on the promise of earlier recordings with this, Cloud Nothings‘ first all-original album on Car Park Records. Even though the album is by no means hi-fi, that significant bump up in recording quality and production kick the album into the big(ger) leagues. It’s rare to hear albums as consistently catchy and lovable as this one, so much so that picking highlights would basically just be picking songs off it at random. Hopefully the less-than-amazing first tracks released off the next one are misleading.
4. Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Bon Iver – Calgary
The first version of this list didn’t even include this album, but then I listened to it again and, even though it’s an album I don’t listen to much, the thing is brilliant, there’s no denying it. Justin Vernon‘s songwriting is tight the whole way through, and the sounds! The sounds! It’s a production monster! Just listen to the drums/percussion! It’s insane – not because it’s fast and/or technically impressive, but just so creative and meticulous. And the lyrics – another “wow”. After For Emma, Forever Ago and this, I’ll be amazed if Vernon’s got any more genius in him – he’s spent more on those two albums than most do in a career.
3. Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital
Handsome Furs – Serve The People
Awesome album. Doesn’t have the genius of some other albums on this list, but makes up for it in its bad-assness and the political importance of its lyrics. Dan Boekner and wife Alexis Perry synth things up big time and write about the horror and decadence of some of the world’s darker corners. Most of this is expressed through suggestive imagery in songs like “Damage” and “Cheap Music” where they sing about “guns in the street fair” and “a thousand lonely kids making noise in the basement” because its illegal to play the music they do. Then there are the anthems. “Serve The People”, is, I would say, the best and most timely song of 2011. As dictatorships fall only to be replaced by new ones and free countries are declared battlefields, the prerogatives of the leaders of men have never in recent memory been as obvious and disgusting. “You don’t serve the people” could practically be the slogan of the year. “Repatriated”, another standout anthem, is fearful on one hand – “I see the future and it’s coming in low” – but on the other, invigorated – “Your little heart is gonna be sewn…I will never be repatriated”. It’s a song about freedom and escape, but it’s about escaping the mental prisons of North American consumerism and the ideology that what happens over there doesn’t have to matter to us over here.
While the rest of musical world obsesses over love, sex, and the self, with bands even as high brow as the Arcade Fire retreating to the suburbs to write about the desperation and despair in their own hearts (admittedly still a noble pursuit), Dan Boekner and his company from album to album appear to be the last bastion of rockers singing about the state of the world beyond the borders of our countries and ourselves. At the end of the album he sings, “gimme no no feeling” because it’s hard to keep caring about the rest of the world. The masses make the same mistakes over and over, and whether their rulers be elected or appointed, they never “serve the people”, but just make things worse and worse. But Boekner will likely keep singing his songs about the world and the people who inhabit it, because he cannot vanquish those feelings of disgust that have tormented him since he burst on the scene in 2004 with Wolf Parade‘s first album.
2. Destroyer – Kaputt
Destroyer – Kaputt
Dan Bejar already had a solid reputation as a great songwriter from his numerous solo releases as Destroyer, as well as from his work with the New Pornographers, but nobody was expecting this. On his ninth Destroyer album, Bejar has made what is easily the greatest album out of everything he’s ever had anything to do with. And it’s a total late 70s/80s soft-rock throwback. As if Bejar wasn’t already an inscrutable figure to begin with, all these points only add to that. In fact, they make the album’s amazingness downright ridiculous. But it is what it is. And it’s a total classic. It just feels like a classic. It smells like a classic. It tastes like a classic. I bought it on vinyl a couple months ago and already I can hum every saxophone melody, every bass lines, every guitar note. I get the same feeling listening to it that I get listening to Dark Side Of The Moon or Sgt. Peppers. Some albums are like that. The Arcade Fire made a great album with The Suburbs, but Bejar deserved that Polaris Prize for this masterpiece, the reputation of which, I believe, will continue to grow in time.
1. Fucked Up – David Comes Alive
Fucked Up – Ship Of Fools
So, it’s a hardcore rock opera double album about a kid named David who works in a lightbulb factory in a fiction UK town in the late 70s. There are also four 7″ singles with more songs relating to the story and an entire album of songs by fictional bands from this fictional UK town. That’s all well and good, glad to see some people getting a little interesting and ambitious. The amazing thing is that somehow Fucked Up managed to pull all of this off and make it perfectly. No, seriously. Perfectly. Most albums can’t even manage to make one single full-length album of decent music.
David Comes Alive takes about one song to get revved up, the instrumental intro “Let Her Rest”. As soon as “Queen Of Hearts” kicks in, the album doesn’t give an inch in quality or intensity until “The Truest Road” closes the album off. Somehow all the songs sound different and are powerful, catchy, and amazingly melodic. The entire thing bristles with this huge, beautiful, uplifting guitar sound reminiscent of golden era The Who – not surprising, considering those guys usually are the first that come to mind whenever anyone thinks ‘rock opera’. And the female vocals courtesy of Jennifer Castle and Cults‘ Madeline Follin are such a perfect cherry on top of everything. What is the whole thing about lyrically? Something about love and death. Not totally sure. But I’d still call it a tremendous achievement by almost any standard, and if Fucked Up do call it a day now, they’ll have checked out on a truly astounding (and very loud) note.
(Click here to see 10-6)