Editor's Note: As a special for the last week of 2011, BestNewBands.com is running lists of our writer's top-5 albums of 2011. Because it's the end of the year and because we want to find out what our writers really like, these albums are not restricted to "New" bands. Here are Katrina Nattress's top albums of the past year.
Compiling a Top Albums of the Year list has always been one of my most daunting times of the year. Narrowing down everything that was released in the past 365 days to my five best, I always feel like I need to re-listen to every acclaimed record to ensure my list comprises the elite. But recently, I realized this is my top list of the year. It doesn’t matter what albums were buzzworthy. For my list, what matters is that I actually listened to the records…on repeat…all year. So tmy top five albums are just that—mine. In no particular order, these are the LPs that made the most constant rotations in my car, iPod, record player, and anything else that emits music.
The Decemberists—The King is Dead
Hailing from Portland, Oregon, it is in my blood to love The Decemberists, and I have loved the quirky, storytelling nature of Colin Meloy and his crew of misfit folk rockers since the quintet released its brilliantly macabre debut, Castaways and Cutouts, back in 2002. But as time passed, the charismatic five-piece steered itself down the path of concept album, resulting in The Hazards of Love, a rock opera that, quite frankly, I wasn’t too fond of. Disappointed with the direction the band took, I was not anticipating its 2011 release, The King is Dead, but I listened to it anyway. And then I listened to it again…and again…and again. This record belongs with the earlier pieces of The Decemberists’ discography. The content is dark yet hopeful; Meloy’s colorful lyrics paint extravagant images in its listener’s mind, and the twangy folk structure of the tunes may be the band’s catchiest to date.
Fleet Foxes—Helplessness Blues
Riding on the coattails of an obscenely well-received debut record, Robin Pecknold and his Fleet Foxes had some pretty big shoes to fill for their sophomore effort—their own. Fortunately, Helplessness Blues delivers. The record showcases the elements that skyrocketed the 2008 debut to blogosphere stardom—breathtaking choral harmonies; narrative lyrical writing; sweeping woodsy guitar riffs and percussion—but with the addition of an Eastern influence (zithers, Tibetan singing bowls, marxophones). The foreign lilt creates a different atmosphere from the self-titled while maintaining that pristine Pacific Northwest folk sound that made me fall in love with Fleet Foxes in the first place.
Gauntlet Hair—Gauntlet Hair
I would have to say that the Denver-based duo, Gauntlet Hair, might be my favorite band of 2011. The twosome’s take on avant-pop is so raw and jabbing while maintaining melodic pop sensibility. This uncanny knack for making peculiar music accessible is evident in every track that comprises the two-piece’s debut self-titled record. Drummer, Craig Nice, names Beyonce as a musical influence, and his buoyant, dance-inducing percussion solidifies the statement. And although vocalist/guitarist Andy R. ‘s lyrics are reverb-damaged and difficult to understand, his sense of harmony allows you to at least hum along. Aside from releasing one of my favorite albums of the year, Gauntlet Hair also put on one of my favorite live performances. Accompanied by a second guitarist and bassist, the music sounded even fuller than on record, and Craig’s hybrid electric/standard drum set blew my mind. I am confident that the duo will receive the recognition it deserves in 2012.
Washed Out—Within and Without
I fell in love with Washed Out after listening to his 2009 EP, Life of Leisure. Ernest Greene, the mastermind behind the project, uses synthesizers and samplers to create fuzzy, hip hop, remix-influenced chillwave tunes. On his debut, Within and Without, the young musician expounded on this aesthetic genre by adding more layers to his wall of sound, producing a rich, full album. The warbling, reverb-drenched synthesizers, robust drum machine beats, hazy loops and hazier vocals that encompass each track on the record create a balmy atmosphere reminiscent of hot summer nights or long drives with the windows down and the wind in your hair.
I love pop music. If a song has a catchy melody, I’m hooked. And this year, I think Elizabeth Harper wins the crown for pop queen. Beginning her career as a singer/songwriter, the beautiful musician traded in her acoustic guitar for some synthesizers and drum machines, and with the help from producer Mark Richardson and engineer/multi-instrumentalist, Class Actress was born. Harper honed in on her inner pop goddess and pulled influences from Depeche Mode and early Madonna to create Rapprocher, a masterful Eighties resurgence pop record loaded with synthetic beats and sultry lyrics of love, woe, luxury and sex.