keep in contact with old friends
(enjoy a drink now and then)
will frequently check credit at (moral) bank (hole in wall)
favours for favours
fond but not in love
– excerpt from “Fitter Happier” by Radiohead, 1997
2011 was a very good year for music. I hope you enjoyed the Top Ten list of my favourites that I completed on New Year’s Eve. One cool side-effect of those posts is that I actually enjoy those albums more, now that I’ve had to take a step back to constructively describe what I liked about them.
There were a number of records that were in the running but just missed out making my list. Over the next few blog posts I’ll talk a little bit about the albums from 2011 that I liked a lot but just never quite grew to love. They are still really good albums, and I plan to enjoy them for years to come, but maybe one or two missing elements prevented them from being great.
Beirut – The Rip Tide
Beirut make interesting records that tend to start with an orchestral pop blueprint and then jump off on various tangents from there. For The Rip Tide, Beirut revisit some of their usual touchstones (Eastern European melodies, indie rock sensibilities) and toss in some new-found Mexican grooves for good measure. “Santa Fe” and “Port of Call” are wonderful singles, but more than a few tracks on this record failed to engage me. It’s an undeniably good record, but is missing something. It’s pretty without being sexy, if that makes any sense.
Blitzen Trapper – American Goldwing
On their new record, Blitzen Trapper consciously drift away from their woodsy, folksy alt-rock past and seem to be aiming for a more mainstream country-rock vibe. American Goldwing is a great road-trip record. Rocking songs like “Might Find It Cheap” and “Your Crying Eyes” are augmented with enjoyable Jayhawks-style mid-tempo country-soul tunes like “Love The Way You Walk Away” and “Taking It Easy Too Long”. “Astronaut” is a nice throwback to the sound Blitzen Trapper mastered on their breakout album Furr. All very enjoyable, but based on the band’s track record I expected something more from American Goldwing. Maybe it plays things a little too safe; a few diversions to the ditches would make it feel less middle-of-the-road.
The Boxer Rebellion – The Cold Still
The Boxer Rebellion make records that harken back to the glory days of Radiohead, with a similar moody atmosphere and melancholic undertow. Slow-burning songs like “No Harm” and “Locked In The Basement” will appeal to just about anyone who was engrossed by Radiohead songs like “Street Spirit” or “Let Down”. “Step Out Of The Car” and “Organ Song” are more upbeat, with memorable melodies. “The Runner” might be the best single that nobody heard in 2011, and the simply gorgeous “Both Sides Are Even” should be gracing the closing credits of a brilliant indie film any day now, if it hasn’t already. The Cold Still just missed out on my top ten by a whisker.
Cut Copy – Zonoscope
Aussie danceable-indie-rock group Cut Copy released a very fun record in 2011, infused with sunshine and optimism. Zonoscope features tunes and ear-candy rhythms galore, as evidenced by songs like “Need You Now”, “Pharaohs and Pyramids”, and the riotous fifteen-minute closer “Sun God”. “Take Me Over” even nods to the unmistakable “Down Under” rhythms and melodies of fellow countrymen Men at Work. Zonoscope is unmistakably front-loaded, and tends to linger in ‘Air-without-the-Parisian-mystique’ territory over its second half. An uneven record, but still enjoyable.
Death Cab for Cutie – Codes and Keys
The unfortunately-named Death Cab For Cutie were on a wonderful roll. Plans and Narrow Stairs built on the momentum generated by breakout album Transatlanticism, and the band carved out a niche for itself with catchy indie pop songs that weren’t quite as muscular as modern rock but not quite as treacly as emo. Codes and Keys features a few excellent songs, namely “Home Is A Fire”, “You Are A Tourist”, and “St. Peter’s Cathedral”. Bouncy single “Stay Young, Go Dancing” is also enjoyable in its own way. But overall, the album seems to be missing the sense of heartbroken misery and post-modern isolation that made previous Death Cab albums so compelling.