This is a little bit different than last year – yeah, I can actually refer to “last year” this year! (Crate-Digging has endured, for better or worse.) Last year I checked off my favorite releases from 2010, even though I hadn’t (and still haven’t, in some cases) reviewed them for the site or given them more than the cursory pass they received during the calendar year. Turns out I’m only one man, and have the bandwidth to post two columns per week. If I had an army of writers to contribute every day… that’s a rant for another time.
I want to get away from the “cursory,” and only consider records that got the full Crate-Digging treatment. Instead of doing a top 10, I’ve identified a whole 18 (plus an honorable mention) that I’d like to list here, in three parts. The criteria for inclusion is that I had to have reviewed the release on this site, and that it had to be something I heard this year for the first time. So, for example, even though I reviewed Wolf Eyes’ Dead Hills this year, I’d already been familiar with it, so it doesn’t count. Surprisingly, The National’s High Violet does count.
Without further ado, here is Part 1 of Crate-Digging’s 2011 Year-End Spectacular.
This was undoubtedly one of the most interesting things I reviewed this year. I had such a good time doing it too. It’s not like this record is any good, in the sense that the music and/or performances are good (even though Nimoy’s talented and the backing musicians are fine, it’s still warmed-over schmaltz), but it brings to mind this weird trip where Star Trek meets the real world and neither of them interact as well as they maybe should. It’s one thing to know what you’re getting when Shat or Nimoy grace the screen, but when they’re out of their element, as it were, in a musical setting, all bets are off. And because the bets are so far off, the results, however embarrassing and laughable they may be, are still prime entertainment in and of themselves. In a vacuum, Spaced Out is merely dumb; as a cultural signpost for members of the crew of the starship Enterprise, it’s a wildly engaging affair. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)
This year, I got into a bit of weird, nostalgia-baiting hypno-pop, much of which sounded as if it were recorded to beat-up VHS tapes and left to bake in someone’s garage over the summer. (See also album #17 on this list.) Robert Anton Pizza, great name and all, dropped The Final Lap, and hooked me with his synth-age confections, conjuring, as you’ll no doubt remember from my review, memories of Thomas Dolby and Weird Science (helped, undoubtedly, by a track subconsciously or surreptitiously titled “Gay Science”). The album is fun, but not too fun – it’s not jokey or absurd, but instead is an homage to the retro-futuristic soundscapes bubbling across television programs during the 1980s, the decade in which I grew up. I even got a Pizza the Hutt joke in. And a comment from a dude named “Barf.” That made my day. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)
You might do a double take here, and wonder why I haven’t included (normally James, here Jim) Ferraro’s ode to / critical evaluation of (post-)consumer culture Far Side Virtual, released this year. Well, guys, I haven’t gotten around to it yet, OK? (See my list at the end of my 2011 review of the albums I immediately need to add to the rotation.) I did check out On Air though, and it was fascinating. It’s a spin through the radio and television dials of the 1980s, a hypnogogic, nostalgic haze in which “songs” appear and disappear at random, and abstract synthscapes replicate the channel-surfing experience in their short-attention-span noodlings. Part of the fun is figuring out what type of program the tracks would belong to – a hard-hitting news segment, a PBS science documentary, a sitcom (I keep picturing Full House for some reason), etc. In the end, it doesn’t matter – you have the clicker, you can put on whatever you want, and neither I nor Ferraro will probably care what it is. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)
Zach Hill will appear later on this list. Don’t worry. This man never slows down, and the fact that he’s appearing twice on this list is a special gift to him (and you, readers), as Face Tat was a 2010 release, and therefore won’t be making very many 2011 year-end lists. It’s my fault I didn’t listen to this until this year. But because of that, it’s going to be a very Zach Hill Christmas this year indeed.
Face Tat is fun, edgy, hard, experimental, accessible, and energetic. That’s a lot of broad descriptors, and they’re apt, because Hill is hard to pigeonhole. He’s all over the place. In fact, let me quote myself: “Face Tat finds an artist with his freak flag unfurled, an ADHD-addled kid in a strobe-lit candy store, Ritalin long spilled as an afterthought at the door. Hill moves from one idea to the next quickly and with a strange ease, hijacking any sort of groove that emerges with mathematical polyrhythms and demanding it veers in the opposite direction.” That sounds right up my alley. How about yours? (READ THE FULL REVIEW)
The Albertans were my pop find of 2011. During a year when I was enticed by all things non-indie, non-rock, and non-pop (although the rest of my list may fool you in that regard), this scrappy Ernest Jenning Recording Co. band dished an easy-to-digest and honest-to-God indie rock record amidst the synthwave and dronescape releases that littered countless blogs. I likened them to fellow Canadians Unicorns, Malajube, even a little Arcade Fire, and they certainly tread the same paths as Danish band Figurines. There are countless joyful, cathartic moments on New Age that warrant repeat listens. The hooks and harmonies are infectious, but not too sweet. And the fact that I randomly stumbled upon this band as I had my iPod on shuffle made it all the more sweet that something I hadn’t heard before jumped out and grabbed me, and forced me to pay attention. (It was the title track – so good.) Thus, here they are – number 15 on the year-end list. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)
Jean Jean will have new music out in 2012. That’s wonderful. They’ve told me as much, in a very kind comment under my review of their self-titled EP that they released this year. Like The Albertans’ New Age, Jean Jean came out of nowhere and floored me. Also like my need of a pop refresher was quenched by New Age, Jean Jean scratched the math-punk itch I didn’t know I had. I name-dropped Maserati, The Cancer Conspiracy, and Double Handsome Dragons – all awesome, and all instrumental like Jean Jean, but when I get serious I break out my Drive Like Jehu comparisons – then it gets real. Guitars slash and slice, and the dynamics shift on a dime, and in the right directions. It’s not post rock, but it’s gold for catharsis junkies like myself. What the band really does, though, is hit The Spot. You know the one I mean. Can’t wait for the new material. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)