Category: reviews (Page 2 of 2)

summer of Miyazaki #3: Castle in the Sky (1986) – heart-achingly, heart-breakingly pure, beautiful, and fantastic.

summer of Miyazaki #2: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) – I’m sure we’ve seen this but barely remembered it – amazing & fantastic

started a summer of Miyazaki last night with his first feature, 1979’s Castle of Cagliostro. we hadn’t seen it before; really enjoyed it

Butterick’s Practical Typography

I just finished reading Butterick’s Practical Typography, an excellent online book that I found to be just the right depth. That is, it did more than just make fun of Comic Sans and Papyrus, but stayed well short of fancy stuff like setting margins based on the golden ratio. The word “practical” in the title isn’t misleading.

This book just scratches the surface of the huge subject of typefaces, and I doubt I’ll ever be able to tell Arial apart from Helvetica. But after reading it, I do feel like I have a slightly keener eye, and certainly more interest and appreciation for what makes fonts good or bad.

One of my favorite parts is the book’s advice about which standard, widely-available “system” fonts are better than others, as well as the lists of suggested alternatives, which are short and not overwhelming. Practical, you could say. In addition to his own custom-designed fonts, he also recommends some nice free ones, such as Charter (which you’re reading right now), Firefox’s Fira Sans, and Adobe’s Source Code Pro.

As the author says right up front, there’s a lot more to typography than fonts, and with confidence and casual style, he takes you through all of it. It’s a lot of information, but it’s engaging, interesting, and best of all, kept at the practical level. The book’s conciseness and organization also make it a valuable reference.

In fact I’ve already started using it as a reference, as it prompted me to make some typographic improvements to both this blog and the Unicks Bestiary. I almost hesitate to mention these “improvements”, as both sites would probably make a professional designer weep, but I do feel like they’re less bad than they were, at least. It’s fun stuff to tinker with, anyway.

The makeover he does on a sample résumé is a good glimpse at some of the book’s principles in action. And if you go on to read the rest of the book, be sure to pay for it. I did.

Best of My 2014 Music

Time again for my annual best-of music review! The process, as in years past, is to pick my ten favorite “new” albums of the year. “New” is in scare-quotes because I go by new-to-me, not by release date. If there are old albums that I get in the calendar year – as happened this year in spades with Wussy – then they’re eligible for the list, regardless of their oldness.

Here are my 2014 selections, in alphabetical order by artist (I pick the top 10, but I don’t order them further than that). The links are to Wikipedia, and a playlist of all these albums is on Spotify.

Event II, Deltron 3030 – “not a big rap fan, but: a sci-fi concept album + humor = yes please thank you” – me, when I first heard of this album. And that pretty well sums it up. The little interstitial skits are okay, though they can get a little old and they’re terrible when shuffling. But overall, this wide-ranging album has a lot of good songs.

Stay Gold, First Aid Kit – With this followup to 2012’s The Lion’s Roar, these Swedish sisters bring their beautiful voices to another set of beautiful songs. The folksy, simple lyrics aren’t afraid to have a little more edge than you might expect.

The Voyager, Jenny Lewis – This one’s not unlike the First Aid Kit album in some ways: sunny, warm, 70s-reminiscent pop music, also with an occasional pleasantly surprising lyrical barb. I’d listened to her some in the past, in Rilo Kiley and her album with the Watson Twins, but was never really impressed until this album, which is fantastic. I also saw her perform at ACL Festival in October, and it was the best show of the weekend for me.

Eight Houses, She Keeps Bees – I wish I remembered how I heard of this band. Also mellow, but darker and more electronic than the previous two, this collection of psychedelic songs is great stuff.

Major Arcana, Speedy Ortiz – A little uneven, but overall a nice little indie-rocker album. I saw them at a free Waterloo SXSW show, and they were superb. I even got my CD signed that day.

Warpaint, Warpaint – “Atmospheric, haunting, but with some edge & some texture to keep it from going down too easy” – me, when I recommended this excellent album earlier in the year. Clever, interesting music; I look forward to seeing what else they’ll do.

Deep Fantasy, White Lung – This makes two years running for this kick-ass punk band to get an album in my top 10. As with last year’s Sorry, it’s short (23 minutes), sharp, and to the point.

Attica!, Funeral Dress, and Strawberry, Wussy – So, there’s all those bands and albums above, and then there’s the band that overwhelmingly dominated my 2014 music: Wussy.

I’d never heard of them before the June 27 episode of Sound Opinions, which named their new album one of the “best of 2014… so far”. I checked it out, and was instantly hooked. I went on to buy all seven of their previous albums from their Bandcamp page, and didn’t find a bad one in the bunch.

I love this band. It’s partly the Ohio-ness of them and their lyrics (Pizza King, Little Miami, the corn-maze in Teenage Wasteland), it’s partly that critics adore them (Robert Christgau said they’re “the best band in America since they released the first of their five superb albums in 2005”), but in the end the main thing is, of course, the music. It’s not flashy or amazing or mind-blowing, it’s just thoroughly and solidly good. Really, really good.

I decided to pick three of their albums for this top 10, enough to show their influence but few enough to allow some other bands onto the list. The rest of Wussy’s fine albums had to settle for song selections on the “best of the rest” playlist, below.

So those are my ten favorite “new” albums of 2014.

And then there are all the rest of the albums. To complete my annual time capsule, I also make a playlist of favorite single tracks from all of the year’s albums that didn’t make the best-album cut, ordered not alphabetically, but in the best mixtape order I can manage with an assortment like this. This “Best of the Rest” is also a playlist on Spotify (minus the 50 Foot Wave tracks).

  1. Maglite (Remix) – Wussy, …Popular Favorites
  2. The Grand Destruction Game – Nina Persson, Animal Heart
  3. Too True To Be Good – Dum Dum Girls, Too True
  4. Antipatriarca – Ana Tijoux, Vengo
  5. La La La (Brazil 2014) – Shakira, 2014 Fifa World Cup: One Love, One Rhythm
  6. Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair – Arctic Monkeys, Suck It And See
  7. Night Mail – Public Service Broadcasting, Inform – Educate – Entertain
  8. Black Out Days – Phantogram, Voices
  9. Renaissance Girls – Oh Land, Wishbone
  10. Hard Out Here – Lily Allen, Sheezus
  11. Selling Rope (Swan Dive To Estuary) – Los Campesinos!, No Blues
  12. West Coast – Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence
  13. Jonah – Wussy, Left for Dead
  14. Fool’s Complaint – Suzanne Vega, Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles
  15. Muscle Cars – Wussy, Wussy
  16. Radiant Addict – 50 Foot Wave, With Love From The Men’s Room
  17. Fancy – Iggy Azalea, The New Classic
  18. R U Mine? – Arctic Monkeys, AM
  19. Clara Bow (live) – 50 Foot Wave, You’re Soaking In It
  20. Rigor Mortis (Live) – Wussy, Rigor Mortis EP
  21. Team – Lorde, Pure Heroine
  22. Young And Beautiful – Lana Del Rey, Music From The Great Gatsby
  23. Soak It Up – Wussy, Funeral Dress II – Acoustically

– saw band live this year

As in past years, there are some tracks here more for “time-capsule” value than because they’re really favorite songs: a World Cup theme song and I-G-G-Y, to name a couple.

Enjoy!

Past years’ bests: 2011, 2012, 2013

Soccer in Sun and Shadow

"Soccer in Sun and Shadow" by Eduardo GaleanoWe are now less than 50 days from the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and I just finished what might be the perfect book to get ready for the big event: Soccer in Sun and Shadow, by Eduardo Galeano (published as Football in Sun and Shadow in the UK).

The introduction includes a truly great line, one of my favorites, which I’ve seen reproduced in several other soccer books. After feeling guilty for wanting to cheer for the star players of Peñarol (Uruguayan arch-rivals of his own beloved Nacional), Galeano writes:

Years have gone by and I’ve finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good football. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: ‘A pretty move, for the love of God.’

And when good football happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it.

The whole book is similarly lyrical and charming. The structure is kind of unusual; it’s a chronological collection of short vignettes, many less than a page. Some are philosophical ruminations on the modern game vs the good old days, some vivid sketches of glorious individual goals and players, and others fascinating time capsules of current events surrounding every World Cup, from 1930 through 2002.

An example:

The Cicada and the Ant

In 1992, the singing cicada defeated the worker ant 2-0.

Germany and Denmark faced each other in the final of the European Championship. The German players were raised on fasting, abstinence and hard work, the Danes on beer, women and naps in the sun. Denmark had lost out in the qualifiers and the players were on holiday when war intervened and they were called urgently to take Yugoslavia’s place in the tournament. They had no time for training nor any interest in it, and had to make do without Michael Laudrup, a brilliant, happy and sure-footed player who had just won the European Cup wearing a Barcelona shirt. The German team, on the other hand, came to the final with Matthaus, Klinsmann and all the stars. Germany who ought to have won, was defeated by Denmark, who had nothing to prove and played as if the field were a continuation of the beach.

It’s great stuff; I highly recommend it. Get a copy from your local bookstore or Half.com, or get the ebook from Amazon or Apple.

And get ready for June, when we’ll see new stories of victory and loss, glory and defeat. And some pretty moves, too, for the love of God.

Best of My 2013 Music

Time again for my annual best-of music review! As in the past, here’s the introductory explanation from my 2011 post, copied & pasted for your convenience:

A couple years ago, I started doing my own personal “best of the year” selections in iTunes. It’s easy to make an iTunes smart playlist that includes all the tracks added during the calendar year. Just set “Date Added”, “is in the range”, and pick the dates (I also add rules to exclude some tracks, like audiobooks, podcasts, etc.).

I use “date added” rather than “year”, so my selections are based on music that I bought during the year, regardless of when it was originally released. If I discover an old artist or pick up an old album years later, then so be it. Also, I buy full albums only; I never buy just single tracks. And so that’s what I pick 10 favorites of: albums.

Here are my 2013 selections, in alphabetical order by artist. I’ll pick the top 10, but I won’t order them down to a number one, sorry. The links are to Wikipedia, and a playlist of these albums (minus Giant Drag) is on Spotify.

The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, Neko Case – Neko Case’s latest holds up every bit as well as 2009’s Middle Cyclone. It has a few less-great tracks, but is mostly solid, with some real standouts (“Man” and the seriously intense “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”). Her performance at the 2013 Austin City Limits Music Festival was great, even if Atoms For Peace were drowning out the quieter moments from across the park. If you have a chance to see her live, take it.

Waking Up Is Hard To Do, Giant Drag – The last album by this band, made up mostly (entirely?) of the very odd and very funny Annie Hardy, was 2005’s Hearts and Unicorns. This new release is more eclectic and less rockin’, but there’s hardly a bad song on it. Unfortunately, as of this writing, her indie label doesn’t seem to have a deal with Spotify or Rdio, so you won’t find it there.

There’s Always Another Girl, Juliana Hatfield – I’ve never been a big fan of Juliana Hatfield’s solo work, though I loved Blake Babies and Some Girls. I don’t remember how I came across this, but it’s similar to Some Girls’ music, and I really liked it. It even prompted me to back her followup this year on PledgeMusic. The result, Wild Animals, was unfortunately not nearly as good.


Wolf’s Law, The Joy Formidable – Man, do I love Joy Formidable. Their last CD, 2011’s The Big Roar, was on my top-10 list last year, and this new one is every bit as good. I had the good fortune to see them live three times in 2013: a free mini SXSW show at Waterloo Records, a headlining show at Emo’s (with IO Echo; see Best of the Rest, below), and a great festival set at ACLFest. They’re just fantastic live, and live up to both words in their name; I can’t recommend them highly enough.


Wed 21, Juana Molina – A late entry, which I didn’t pick up until the end of the year, but an easy choice for a favorite from this year. Unique, beautiful, haunting music, as her previous albums have all been, but with fewer slightly-too-weird-to-be-listenable tracks. Yes, the lyrics are mostly in Spanish, but it’s so ethereal you’ll hardly notice. The video for “Eras” is more toward the creepy end of the spectrum than most of these songs, but has a visual style that matches the eccentricity of the music really well.


Silence Yourself, Savages – The post-punk sound of this band manages to keep the power that sound had when it was new, without being diluted by seeming too throwback. It’s serious, darkly intense music, but I can still listen to the whole thing over and over again. I was able to see them at ACLFest, too. They’re not a band you’d expect to see on a hot, sunny stage at midday, but they more than held their own, black clothes from head to toe be damned.


Apocryphon, The Sword – I’d never heard of this Austin-area heavy metal band before I happened to buy a six-pack of Iron Swan Ale, their Real Ale tribute beer. I thought the prog-rock design and imagery were a hoot, and only later discovered there was an actual band that unapologetically and unironically rocks that same imagery in their music. I don’t have much metal in my library, but something about songs like “Eyes of the Stormwitch”, “The Chronomancer”, and “The Veils of Isis” works for me.


The Name of This Band is Talking Heads, Talking Heads – I’ve had just about every Talking Heads album for years, including the great live album Stop Making Sense, but somehow had never known about the existence of this one. It’s a double album, and it’s long (a little over 2.5 hours), so I admit that I don’t often listen to it from beginning to end. But nearly every one of these (33!) songs are really good versions; even titles I don’t care much for in their studio form are good here.


Sorry, White Lung – I think I heard about White Lung from the Sound Opinions podcast, but whoever tipped me off to them: thank you. Where Savages might be post-punk, White Lung is just plain punk-punk. A fast, angry, energetic ride, the album length stands in stark contrast to that huge Talking Heads entry above: 10 songs, 20 minutes, done. Great stuff; I’m looking forward to future releases.


Versions, Zola Jesus – When I first heard about this album, made up of previous songs arranged for string accompaniment, I was skeptical. I’m not usually a big fan of remixes and the like. But the source of most of these songs, 2011’s Conatus, was good enough to earn a spot on my top-10 last year, so I gave it a try. It’s fantastic. The orchestral sound transforms the songs entirely, in some cases possibly even making them (gasp!) better.


So those are my ten favorite “new” albums of 2013.

And then there are all the rest of the albums. Some are so good they were almost in the top ten (Janelle Monáe, Sleigh Bells), some are honestly barely worth saving from the delete key (Boss Hog, the aforementioned Wild Animals). But to complete my annual time capsule, I also make a playlist, ordered in painstaking mixtape order (not best-to-worst), of favorite single tracks from all of the year’s albums that didn’t make the best-album cut. This “Best of the Rest” is also a playlist on Spotify (minus the Juliana Hatfield track).

  1. The Bomb — Bitter:Sweet (Drama)
  2. Man Like That — Gin Wigmore (Man Like That EP)
  3. Born For This — Paramore (Riot!)
  4. Happy Now? — No Doubt (Tragic Kingdom)
  5. Satellite Mind — Metric (Fantasies)
  6. Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay) — Sky Ferreira (Night Time, My Time)
  7. Another Girl — Wild Belle (Isles)
  8. Lights — Ellie Goulding (Lights)
  9. Tiananmen Square — IO Echo (Ministry of Love)
  10. Los Adolescentes — Denver (Música, Gramática, Gimnasia)
  11. Parted Ways — Heartless Bastards (Arrow)
  12. Young Man In America — Anaïs Mitchell (Young Man In America)
  13. Tracks — Juliana Hatfield (Wild Animals)
  14. Vuelve — Julieta Venegas (Los Momentos)
  15. Coco — Astro (Nacional Records Amazon Sampler 2013)
  16. Aura — Lady Gaga (Artpop)
  17. Standing There — The Creatures (Boomerang)
  18. Q.U.E.E.N. [feat. Erykah Badu] — Janelle Monáe (The Electric Lady)
  19. Blackout — Anna Calvi (Anna Calvi)
  20. Get It While You Wait — Boss Hog (Whiteout)
  21. Price Tag — Jessie J (Who You Are)
  22. Happily — One Direction (Midnight Memories)
  23. What You Wanted — Seapony (Falling)
  24. Walk Or Ride — The Ditty Bops (The Ditty Bops)
  25. Wet Blanket — Metric (Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?)
  26. Proof — Paramore (Paramore)
  27. Mr. Freakshow — Gin Wigmore (Holy Smoke)
  28. Bitter Rivals — Sleigh Bells (Bitter Rivals)

As last year, there are some tracks on here that come to my iTunes library via my teenage daughter. I don’t have everything she bought (yes, bought; trying to raise decent, law-abiding citizens here), but I may as well try to keep up with kids these days. She and I did go to a Metric/Paramore concert together, and while Metric being the opener and not the headliner still seems crazy to me, it was great. In any case, let the record show that I would not have bought One Direction, for example, but that I can play them in the car with certain passengers and not be sick. So in the spirit of an annual time capsule, and of trying to not be too cool to have a guilty pleasure or two, those tracks are here, too.

Enjoy!

Best of My 2012 Music

Time again for my annual best-of music review! Okay, past time; sue me. Here’s the introductory explanation from last year’s post, copied & pasted for your convenience:

A couple years ago, I started doing my own personal “best of the year” selections in iTunes. It’s easy to make an iTunes smart playlist that includes all the tracks added during the calendar year. Just set “Date Added”, “is in the range”, and pick the dates (I also add rules to exclude some tracks, like audiobooks, podcasts, etc.).

I use “date added” rather than “year”, so my selections are based on music that I bought during the year, regardless of when it was originally released. If I discover an old artist or pick up an old album years later, then so be it. Also, I buy full albums only; I never buy just single tracks. And so that’s what I pick 10 favorites of: albums.

Here are my 2012 selections, in alphabetical order by artist. The links are to Wikipedia, and a playlist of these albums is here on Spotify.

  • Born To Die, Lana Del Rey – Leaving aside the controversy between whether this is Art or lowbrow misogynist trash, and just going along for the ride with her surreal and honestly kind of dorky persona, this album has a dark, smoothly consistent feel that I just found myself listening to over & over.
  • Hospitality, Hospitality – I saw this band do a free SXSW set at Waterloo Records (and got an autographed CD), and they were solid. So indie that there’s not even a Wikipedia page for their album, and a little twee, but I listened to this album a lot this year. Good stuff.
  • The Big Roar, The Joy Formidable – This album is just a solid rocker from start to finish, another with hardly a bad song on it. Volume dials don’t really go high enough for music like this. (No, not even Spinal Tap’s volume dials.)
  • Synthetica, Metric – Another band that’s been around for a long time that I hadn’t been into very much. This album, especially the track “Youth Without Youth” (with its fantastic video), plus a great set at ACLFest, converted me.
  • Bring It On Home, Joan Osborne – The singer who you think of as a 90s one-hit wonder has been putting out good albums ever since then. What a voice. This compilation of cover songs doesn’t have a bad track on it.
  • Theatre Is Evil, Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra – I’d heard a little Amanda Palmer here & there, and I’d seen her gigantic Kickstarter campaign to record this album, but never really been hooked. But between a couple of seriously intense videos (The Killing Type & Do It With a Rockstar, both more or less NSFW), and the ability to download this album for free (I’ve since paid for the “deluxe” version), I’m hooked now. It’s a little uneven, but overall pretty amazing.
  • Reign of Terror, Sleigh Bells – Sleigh Bells’ debut album made my best-of-year list in 2010, and they’re back, kicking as much ass as ever. If iTunes let me, I’d rate the track “Demons” six stars.
  • Close-Up, Vol. 3 – States of Being, Suzanne Vega – Is it bizarre to have an album of acoustic reissues by 53-year-old poet & guitar strummer Suzanne Vega on the list right after raving about noise-pop band Sleigh Bells? I’m a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and I love her voice as much as I did in 1985. Vega made four of these reissue albums, rerecording her own stripped-down (and copyrighted in her name) versions, and they’re all good, but this one is my favorite. Really good versions of really good songs.
  • Blunderbuss, Jack White – This album, like his set at ACLFest, and his hour on Austin City Limits are Jack White at his Jack-Whitest. There are a few tracks that aren’t my favorites, and I really wish he hadn’t said “noivous” on “I’m Shakin'” (that cost that song a star, Jack), but a rocker nonetheless.
  • Conatus, Zola Jesus – Laid back in more of a heavy shoe-gaze way, this is one of those that doesn’t have especially stand-out singles, but isn’t at all too monotonous to listen to all the way through. Over and over and over. Another ACLFest act; she performed early in the day, so I only caught the last couple songs of her set, but at least I got close enough to get a decent picture.

So those are my ten favorite “new” albums of 2012.

There are good albums among the rest of what I picked up in 2012, and good tracks even on the not-so-good albums. To keep them from getting lost in the iTunes library, I also made a playlist (ordered in mixtape order, not best-to-worst) of favorite single tracks from all of the year’s albums that didn’t make the best-album cut. This “Best of the Rest” is also a playlist on Spotify (minus the Giant Drag track).

  1. GO! — Santigold (Master of My Make-Believe)
  2. Gold On The Ceiling — The Black Keys (El Camino)
  3. Wanderluster — Band of Skulls (Sweet Sour)
  4. Lafaye — School of Seven Bells (Ghostory)
  5. Nothing To Remember — Neko Case (The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12 & Beyond)
  6. Mouthful of Diamonds — Phantogram (Eyelid Movies)
  7. Who’s That Boy — Demi Lovato (Unbroken)
  8. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together — Taylor Swift (Red)
  9. Want U Back — Cher Lloyd (Sticks & Stones)
  10. Major — The Asteroids Galaxy Tour (Out of Frequency)
  11. Guggenheim — The Ting Tings (Sounds From Nowheresville)
  12. I Am Not A Robot — Marina & The Diamonds (The Family Jewels)
  13. Suicide Pact — JJAMZ (Suicide Pact)
  14. Widow’s Walk — Suzanne Vega (Close-Up, Vol. 4 – Songs of Family)
  15. I Got Nothing — Dum Dum Girls (End of Daze)
  16. Call Me the Breeze — Beth Orton (Sugaring Season)
  17. Bird Song — Florence + The Machine (Lungs: The B-Sides)
  18. I Hate Love — Garbage (Not Your Kind Of People)
  19. Firestorm — Giant Drag (single)
  20. Teen Idle — Marina & the Diamonds (Electra Heart)
  21. Call Me Maybe — Carly Rae Jepsen (Kiss)
  22. What Makes You Beautiful — One Direction (Up All Night)
  23. Malo — Bebe (Pafuera Telarañas)
  24. My Country — Tune-Yards (W H O K I L L)
  25. Neskowin — The Corin Tucker Band (Kill My Blues)
  26. Babelonia — School Of Seven Bells (Disconnect From Desire)
  27. Rhapsody — Siouxsie & The Banshees (Peepshow)
  28. Ride — Lana Del Rey (Paradise)
  29. Emmylou — First Aid Kit (The Lion’s Roar)
  30. Tighten Up — The Black Keys (Brothers)
  31. Can You Believe It? — Martha Wainwright (Come Home to Mama)

A note about the teeny-bopper tracks on the list above: they’re in my iTunes library because my teenage daughter bought those albums on our iTunes Store account. And I listened to them. They’re mostly… not that good, in my opinion, and I haven’t listened to most of them more than once. But – there are singles that are good, and super catchy (as they were engineered to be), and sometimes even funny. Also, part of my purpose in making these lists is to have a time capsule of each year’s music. And whether the cool kids like it or not, Carly Rae Jepsen, One Direction, and Taylor Swift were all part of this year’s music. But I’m not apologizing. If I didn’t like these songs I wouldn’t have put them in the list. Haters gonna hate; I’ll be over here letting myself enjoy these occasional pop confections.

Anyway – enjoy!

Best of My 2011 Music

A couple years ago, I started doing my own personal “best of the year” selections in iTunes. It’s easy to make an iTunes smart playlist that includes all the tracks added during the calendar year. Just set “Date Added”, “is in the range”, and pick the dates (I also add rules to exclude some tracks, like audiobooks, podcasts, etc.).

I use “date added” rather than “year”, so my selections are based on music that I bought during the year, regardless of when it was originally released. If I discover an old artist or pick up an old album years later, then so be it.

I buy full albums only; I never buy just single tracks. And so that’s what I pick 10 favorites of: albums. Here are my 2011 selections, in alphabetical order (yes, really) by artist. The links are to Wikipedia, and a playlist of these albums (except Dum Dum Girls and Francisca Valenzuela, unfortunately) is here on Spotify.

  1. Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell – released in 2010, but I only heard about it in 2011. A “folk opera”, it’s one continuous story from start to finish. There are some tracks that I don’t love (the Justin Vernon ones, mostly), but others that are fantastic (“Why We Build the Wall” and “How Long?”, in particular – though they pack more punch if listened to as part of the whole work).
  2. A Bestiary Of, The Creatures – A much older one, released in 1983. I’ve been a Siouxsie and the Banshees fan forever, but somehow never checked out the Creatures side project until I came across this CD, at the library of all places. It’s a little uneven, honestly, but it earns a place here for helping me discover Siouxsie music I was missing out on.
  3. Only In Dreams, Dum Dum Girls – This one actually did come out in 2011. I discovered this band because they played a free set at Waterloo Records during SXSW. Good fuzz-guitar pop rock.
  4. The Valley, Eisley – Another 2011 release. This band is one that I’d seen a few videos of and heard here and there, but never really checked out. This album is solid all the way through.
  5. Ceremonials, Florence + the Machine – and:
  6. Lungs, Florence + the Machine – How on Earth I hadn’t already known about Florence + the Machine, I couldn’t tell you. I finally found them in November, including 2009’s Lungs, and dig both albums so much that they’re both on this list.
  7. Buen Soldado, Francisca Valenzuela – I’ve liked her since her first album, and her performance at Austin City Limits Music Festival was fantastic.
  8. Oh Land, Oh Land – Slightly odd Danish electro-pop. Another one I found because they played a free set at Waterloo Records for SXSW.
  9. Wild Flag, Wild Flag – While I also saw this band at Waterloo’s SXSW showcase, the chances of me not loving a band that includes two-thirds of Sleater-Kinney were always low. I subsequently saw a full concert at La Zona Rosa, which was awesome. . . right up to the point where they skipped the encore. This band is great, but I may hold a grudge about that forever.
  10. Civilian, Wye Oak – Yet another band I caught live at Waterloo during SXSW, and which I also saw later at The Parish. This album is good, but as Paul Krugman found during his appearance on Sound Opinions (yes, really), their live performance is an order of magnitude more awesome than their recorded material.

So those are my favorite “new” albums of 2011.

There are good albums among the rest of what I picked up in 2011, and good tracks even on the not-so-good albums. To keep them from getting lost in the iTunes library, I also made a playlist of favorite single tracks from all of the year’s albums that didn’t make the best-album cut. (Some albums were so close to best-of status that they get two tracks here.) This “Best of the Rest” is also a playlist on Spotify, minus, once again, the few tracks they don’t carry.

  1. About To Happen — Siouxsie (Mantaray)
  2. Romance Is Boring — Los Campesinos! (Romance Is Boring)
  3. Don’t Carry It All — The Decemberists (The King Is Dead)
  4. Bhang, Bhang, I’m a Burnout — Dum Dum Girls (I Will Be)
  5. Neighborhood Girls — Suzanne Vega (Suzanne Vega)
  6. Lero-Lero — Luisa Maita (Lero-Lero)
  7. Revel In Contempt — Buke And Gass (Riposte)
  8. (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville — R.E.M. (Reckoning)
  9. Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole — Martha Wainwright (Martha Wainwright)
  10. Oro Y Plata — Hello Seahorse! (Lejos. No Tan Lejos)
  11. Culture Of Fear — Thievery Corporation (Culture Of Fear)
  12. Nylons in a Rip — Nikka Costa (Pro*Whoa! EP)
  13. Cruel — St. Vincent (Strange Mercy)
  14. Americano — Lady Gaga (Born This Way)
  15. Nail In My Coffin — The Kills (Blood Pressures)
  16. You Won’t Let Me Down Again — Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan (Hawk)
  17. Down By The Water — The Decemberists (The King Is Dead)
  18. Smart — Girl In A Coma (Exits and all the Rest)
  19. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out — Dum Dum Girls (He Gets Me High)

I hope this helps someone who comes across it discover another band or two they like; let me know on Twitter if so.

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