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Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Nicsperiment's Nine Best Albums of 2011

Well, it's that time again. The Nicsperiment's claim to miniscule fame, the Top Nine, is here again, celebrating its seven year anniversary (though no Top Nine was held in 2006-2007). I'm going to lay off the hipster bashing this year, simply because I am becoming so far removed from that scene, I am not even sure what music they are all up on this year. A singing goat in skinny jeans with ironic facial hair? Who knows, and who cares.
Of all the stuff I heard this year, here is my top nine:

9. Foo Fighters -- Wasting Light
The problem with Foo Fighters is they can kick out hit single after hit single, but making a full, enjoyable album has seemed out of their reach. The closest they've come is There is Nothing Left to Lose, but with Wasting Light, they've finally done it. Perhaps it's the determination to rock that drives the album, or maybe it's just that Dave Grohl is getting older and has more life experience to draw from. Whatever the case, legit, emotional songs like "These Days" are packed between the singles instead of filler this time. Nice job, dudes.

8. Blindside -- With Shivering Hearts We Wait
Six years is easily enough time to build up unreasonable expectations, but WSHWW is just different enough to completely subvert them. WSHWW features the cleanest production and most electronic and orchestral touches of any Blindside album to date, but the heart and soul of the band is still there beating away (and performing whatever onomatopoeia souls are capable of). On "Our Love Saves Us," particularly, Blindside don't sound like a new band, but one reinvigorated and hopefully ready to produce another ten year run of consistent releases.

7. M83 -- Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
HUWD features a great song, "Midnight City," which has been featured all over the place, and always mentioned as a highlight. Fortunately, there is more to this double-album than one song, and all 22 fit together for a highly rewarding listen. While overdriven keyboards are a key component of M83's sound, the 80's nostalgic instrumental work and vocals are good all around, especially the slap bass on the sublime "Claudia Lewis."

6. Eisley -- The Valley
Eisley have always projected talent, but their fairy-tale whimsy can be a little tough to take sometimes. Unfortunately, the band member's lives haven't exactly been Disney fables lately. Divorces, broken engagements, and other sad drama could have devastated Eisley, but instead they've used their heartache to create easily their best album to date. They have finally realized every Fleetwood Mac comparison made about them in the highest capacity possible. To make matters excellent, the band have all moved on to much greener personal pastures, while we still get awesome songs like "Smarter" (just as good as "Go Your Own Way") to listen to whenever we want.

5. The Weeknd -- House of Balloons/Thursday/Echoes of Silence
This dirty, druggy R & B trilogy is the closest trippy escapist music I guess we will get to Portishead, while Portishead Portisheads around. Of course, Portishead isn't this vulgar, but... House of Balloons is pretty much perfect, while the following two mixtapes make for a great middle and finale in this messed up tale. Thursday might have the best song of the year, "The Zone," or at least my favorite song in the last 12 months. Also, these are all free. Crazy how so much of the best music was free this year...

4. Josh Garrels -- Love and War and the Sea in Between
There really wasn't a precedent for Josh Garrel's new album this year. It came out of nowhere as a free download on his website. It's one of the most diverse things released this year with the power of Sufjan-like compositions, folk, some rapping, and just about everything else, and every single thing works. Love & War & the Sea In Between is stocked full of passion, honesty, and creativity. It amps up what is to be expected of a singer/songwriter, Christian or otherwise. You will like it, your girl/guy will like it, your dog will like it, your fish will like it, and I will like that you like it. It's still free, by the way, so DOWNLOAD IT NOW.< Also, "Ulysses" might be the most beautiful song of the year. Of course, there is a difference between "beautiful" and "favorite," but this one is up there.

3. Explosions in the Sky -- Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
I know it's wrong, but I've always considered Explosions in the Sky to be a sort of Godspeed You Black Emperor-lite, sort of in the same vein as Coldplay is to Radiohead. Not anymore. While Godspeed ended their run slipping deeper and deeper into stinky instrumental protest music, Explosions in the Sky have been consistently creating full canvas works of art, none more beautiful than their newest, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. Their previous album, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, had a title that alluded to Catcher in the Rye. With Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, Explosions in the Sky have proven themselves to be the purveyors of the novel without words, musical compositions divided into massively beautiful chapters, each one better than the last. "Let Me Back In," this album's denouement, is their most mysterious track yet, and its emotional aspirations are as brilliantly achieved as this album is as a whole.
A NOTE: EITS is also one of the few bands whose album artwork and packaging match the feel of their music. Buying a physical copy in this case (which literally contains a home for the album) is most definitely worth it.

2. Drive-By Truckers -- Go-Go Boots
Drive-By Truckers can rock out better than anybody, but they really stretch their storytelling abilities on Go-Go Boots. The result is the most endearing, entertaining old friend of an album this year. Some of these tracks sound like they could be sung on the front porch, but my favorite is a dark, fireside tale, "The Fireplace Poker."
This year, though, a new friend was the overall best...

1. Hands -- Give Me Rest
Some things are perfect, and imperfect people like me will falter in attempting to describe them. The lazy thing to do is just not try, but this album deserves at least some type of description. Anyway, life is hard, and sometimes it doesn't make sense. All of us who walk with the Lord have some pretty intense discussions with him, at times. This is one of those conversations. There is yelling and screaming. There is more than pleasant singing. There are moments of intense anger. There are moments of intense worship. There are some moments of absolute devastation. There are some moments of absolute beauty. Nice ambient touches are the cherry on top. Those are about enough words from me. Buy this now, or hear about it in their own words. Whatever. Just hear it.

Of Note: The Tenth Man!
10. Craig's Brother -- The Insidious Lie
Craig's Brother are finally back, and with a fine album in tow. Its only weakness is a slightly slack third quarter, but other than that, it is quite excellent to have this band back, and I hope they have even more in them for 2012. Some of the work on The Insidious Lie, particularly the heartingbreaking "Aaronic Blessing," is the best Craig's Brother have done.

Also of note:

Major/Minor -- Thrice
Major/Minor flows as one long, excellent song, hard to break into fragments. "Blinded" might be my favorite, but it's tough to call.
While AHATHHAFTCTTCOTE is a solid, albeit ridiculously named album, "Boaz," the sixth track, might be my favorite song of the year, battling The Weeknd's "The Zone" for ultimate domination of my ears.

The Appleseed Cast -- Middle States
Man, I wish this was a full length album. As it is, we just get four awesome songs, though none is better than the title track.

Coldplay -- Mylo Xyloto
What the heck is this? No, seriously, what is this? Rihanna duets? The vomitous rainbow cover of this album is appropriate. A bunch of pretty noises thrown on each other until they aren't all that pretty anymore. Well, some of them still are. I really like, "Charlie Brown," in particular. I can't even tell if Coldplay are trying to ditch their populist tendencies, or if they have amped them up so high they don't even sound like anything anymore.

A Plea for Purging -- The Life and Death of a Plea for Purging
This band refines their sound even more, and the result is some really awesome, really heavy songs, unfortunately broken up by some monotonous acoustic tracks that kill the momentum every time they roll around, which is too often. Culling those songs into one acoustic track would give the album back its flow, and would lend powerful tracks like "My Song," even more heft.

Embodyment -- Forgotten
Embodyment have been dead for eight years. Songs recorded right before the Texas rock band's demise have been floating around the Internet ever since. Finally, all of the songs tracked during the band's final session have been compiled in a goodbye EP, and their high quality makes Embodyment's long absence all the more distressing.
Here's the final track, "Hindsight." You can buy the EP for ridiculously cheap on Amazon. Have a happy New Year. And also, Embodyment, if Five Iron Frenzy, The OC Supertones, The Insyderz, Further Seems Forever, and EVERY SINGLE BAND THAT BROKE UP IN THE LAST DECADE can get back together, you guys better get on it...NOW!

Album That Should Have Been On My List Last Year:
Rosetta -- A Determinism of Morality
This album combines almost all of my musical interests: space, metal, ambiance, atmosphere, and raw, unbridled emotion. The growled vocals just sound like another instrument (I mean that as the highest compliment), but there is one, and only one sung line. It happens on "Release," in the direct middle of the album: The problem with now is no matter how much we want it to, it doesn't last forever. I wish this album could. Around the time that I first heard A Determinism of Morality, I was reading Edgar Allen Poe's masterpiece of an only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Track six, "Renew," soundtracks the final chapter of Poe's novel brilliantly.
Here's the illustration from the last page of an old edition of Poe's book, with a YouTube of the song underneath.

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