I am utterly fascinated by our desire as culture junkies to list and categorize, especially at fortuitous occasions, such as the “end of the year,” or “death of so-and-so.” Most years, I find that my ability to stay firmly rooted in the past prevents me from cobbling together a workable, relevant list that isn’t made up of mega-reissues or musings on what’s been lost since the glory days of Shoegaze or the last time the Cure put out a coherent, listenable album. Thanks to my status as a music retail schlub, however, the last couple of years have yielded not just an expansion in my pile of vinyl, but in my ability to keep up with current bands, trends, and sounds.
So, to celebrate what I felt was a pretty damned good year for music in general — it really hasn’t been this consistent in a really long time — I’m undertaking a multi-faceted, look back at the year, which will (hopefully) culminate in that most typical output of the over-analytical music nerd with time on his hands: a Mix Tape.
While most of my contemporaries and colleagues will either forgo the process of compiling their list, I find that it may be the last gimmick left that makes this kind of narcissistic, navel gazing endeavour worth reading. That is not to say that I am criticizing others’ methods for putting forth what they deem “necessary listening,” as such. Everybody’s got their thing. This is mine. Besides, I need some motivation to write and start using that silkscreen kit I’ve got sitting in the basement.
Let’s get spinning, shall we?
Here’s how it’s gonna go: I have 30 “nominees” for my top 20 albums of the year. These are the albums I bought this year that were released this year. Sure, only shaving off ten from the list seems pretty petty, but I don’t think a top ten really captures the spectrum of sounds I latched onto in 2011. Like I said, it was a good year. Also, the end result, the Top Tracks Mix Tape would seem pretty anemic if it were only ten songs long.
So what I’m going to do is listen to each of the nominees (in no particular order) and review and score (out of 10) each title. Hopefully, I will be able to get through all 30 by the end of the year, but who knows…
As stated, 30 full lengths, 29 of which are vinyl releases. Only one, Blood Ceremony’s Living With the Ancients is on Compact Disc. Yes, I know it was pressed flat-black-circular, but it was out of my price range at the time. I ain’t no fancy music writer who gets free shit. I gotta do what I gotta do.
After assigning a score and a review, I will then toss the crap out of the running, and compile the final 20. While the scores may generally determine how an album stands up as a work or against other works, it may not determine placement in or on the list. If something is a “9” but I just plain love it, it may trump a “10.” Silly to be sure, but it’s my list and my project.
Nominee #1 – Wild Flag by Wild Flag, Merge Records
I can’t think of a better example of wasted hype. Does that give away my final opinion too quickly? After all the hype (this is a supergroup for heck’s sake) and the coverage that Wild Flag garnered (streamed live on NPR!) pre-release, the first track showed some promise, as did the limited 7″ that hit stores on Record Store Day in April, but.. Talk about petering out.
Yup, that’s Janet Weiss on the drums. And the Mary Timony tracks are solid. (I would make judgments on Rebecca Cole, but I know little about her, or the Minders, so I won’t.) But it feels that when Carrie Brownstein is in the forefront, there’s no control. It’s Carrie Brownstein aping Carrie Brownstein. Sure, she was the frenetic energy in Sleater-Kinney, lighting up the live shows with her windmill moves and airborne theatrics. But here it just feels… Forced. I want to like it, I should like it, but it leaves me feeling… Disappointed.
I guess in the end, I’ve found out that I’m a Corin Tucker fan when it comes to the S-K aesthetic. Her debut was more subdued, her approach more organic. While this is the party record that S-K never really made, Wild Flag really lacks the depth of The Woods or Timony’s Golden Dove. And to be sure, I’m not one who thinks that an artist necessarily has to change with every release or mood swing. We are who we are. But so much of this record smacks of the past glories of Brownstein, it’s hard to shake the feeling that – regardless of the pedigree of her colleagues — this is her band.
Perhaps I was too hopeful. I had actually purchased this when it came out, but it — for a number of reasons, I’m a busy guy — it never made it to the turntable. When I realized that it was on the shelf, I automatically assumed it would make the list. I was wrong. I’m hopeful that they’ll stick together, and try something a bit more… something. It has warmed a bit for me on re-listens, but unlike S-K records, or some of Mary Timony’s solo work (not to mention her time in the brilliant Autoclave) nothing sticks in my head. And the herky-jerky vocals are getting under my skin.
Score: 5 out of 10. Sure, it’s harsh. But it’s more a reflection of my disappointment and reaction to all the damned hype.