Monday, December 19, 2011

For Rob So Loved the World: Music Jerk Rob's Favorite Albums of 2011

A beautiful, elegant machine for making end-of-year best-of lists.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine confirms what my mother has been telling anyone who will listen--I, Rob Vera, am an excellent writer.  Gifted, talented, and strikingly handsome when it comes to writing, what I'm about to say will likely shock and possibly even sadden you: This year's 2011 favorite album list blog entry will be both economical and downright thin on the verbiage compared to last year.

Let's be honest.  You people don't read anymore.  I'd be shocked if you even made it as far as that last sentence.  And if you do read, it's Twilight or The Help or US Weekly or your Twitter feed.  You've barely got any "smart" headspace left and what you do have left, I'd rather make good use of while ensuring there's room for some essential music to feed your heart, your soul, and that big vacant space in your work day where "work" is supposed to be but where something called "Facebook" actually resides.  Also--thanks to Apple products--I'm nearly incapable of typing anything anymore without expecting my misspelled words to just "figure out" a way to correct themselves.  I mean, who has the time to type words into sentences and paragraphs correctly or is willing to go back and make edits?  "Correct spelling" and "editing" all sound like part of some high-minded liberal agenda that I frankly want no part of.

So let's do this.  A few changes from last year:

1.  Due to a music year far deeper in terms of quality albums than any in recent memory, I'm going with a nice round number of twenty-one selections.  Twenty-one isn't a round number?  Well, excuse me for living. 

2.  After a couple years of picking my favorite albums without ranking any of them (with the notable exception of naming a favorite), I've decided to bring back rankings.  I've done this in order to ensure the highest possible likelihood of pissing off my good friend and fellow music blogger Jake.  I mean, can our relationship survive Bon Iver not making this list???  Guess we're just gonna have to find out.

3.  In lieu of reviews I've included my favorite lyrical reference from each album which I will provide no context for.  What a fun bit, eh?

4.  One holdover from last year--I've included a Music Jerk Rob's Favorite Albums of 2011 Sampler playlist that includes one selection from each album that I haven't previously included on any previous blog playlist.  Merry Christmas.  And you're welcome.

In closing, all these albums are excellent and there are so many more I could include if I wanted this list to be ridiculously long.  But I don't have the time or brainpower or marginal work ethic for all that. However, I do look forward to discussing/fighting about this list and music, in general, for the foreseeable future with you.  That's how much I love you.

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "Life Is Simple in the Moonlight":

"It's addiction of routine as well
Making fools out of the best of us
Making robots of the rest of us
Innocence itself in America today
Is a crime just like Cornel West might say."

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "Please Ask for Help"

"You're like a puzzle that can't be solved,
Missing pieces never fill the gaps
You got the salt and I got the wound,
But, all you gotta do is ask."

19.  Father, Son, Holy Ghost by Girls (True Panther Sounds)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "Honey Bunny"

"I know you're somewhere
And nothing's ever gonna phase me
You'll look at me and know I'm the one
And you will love me
For all the reasons everyone hates me."

18.  The King of Limbs by Radiohead (Ticker Tape Ltd.)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "Separator"

"Just exactly as I remember
Every word
Every gesture
I've my heart in my mouth
Like I'm falling out of bed
From a long and vivid dream
Finally I'm free of all the weight I've been carrying."

17.  Ashes & Fire by Ryan Adams (Capitol)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "Lucky Now"

"And the lights will draw you in
And the dark will take you down
And the night will break your heart
But only if you’re lucky now."

16.  Save Your Season by Mint Julep (Village Green)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "No Letting Go"

"Please take me away from here
Barricaded in our bedroom
Put your hand in mine, my dear
As we watch the world disappear."

15.  Within and Without by Washed Out (Sub Pop)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "Eyes Be Closed"

"Rising up you float outside yourself
Find the source of light
You fly home, you go closer now
Rising towards the light..."

14.  Underneath the Pine by Toro Y Moi (Carpark)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "New Beat"

"Got left surrounded
By my old things
Thought I had moved on.
Tried to make ends meet
But picked up a new beat
And so I laid out
But even now when they fall into place
I think about 'em then."

13.  One Thousand Pictures by Pete and The Pirates (Stolen Recordings)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "Half Moon Street"

"My thoughts are tearing each other apart
In the back of the car
Conversations probably gone too far
You keep me guessing
Tongue tied and messy
Don't make me feel stupid
I'll do that on my own
Put the key in and just start believing
That you're going to hell if you have fun this evening
Come to me telling me all kinds of secrets
Promises promised I think I can keep it."

12.  Tamer Animals by Other Lives (TBD Records)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "Tamer Animals"

"Oh, living for the city and it's always troubling
To keep it in the hot lane, I don't care about no scenery
And you run from it then, now you can't escape, cause it's all you see
But we're all just an end to a simple thing, and it's all you see, and it's all you see."

11.  Nine Types of Light by TV On the Radio (DGC/Interscope)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "Will Do"

"Your love makes a fool of you, you can't seem to understand
Our heart doesn't play by rules and love has it's own demands
But I'll be there to take care of you if ever you should decide
But you don't want to waste your life in the middle of a lovesick lullaby."

10.  Departing by The Rural Alberta Advantage (Saddle Creek)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "Good Night"

"Plug the radiator in the car,
I can see the words you're screaming in the frost.
Rush into the woods where we first felt God,
It rippled through our veins from the moment when we touched
The city's love is cold and the city's love is hard,
It locks into our veins from the first September's frost,
And someday if you get it together in your heart,
Maybe we might get back together, but goodnight."

9.  Sound Kapital by Handsome Furs (Sub Pop)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "Memories of the Future"

"I threw my hands to the sky, I let my memories go
I threw my hands to the sky, I let my memories go
And I feel alone, I feel alone
I feel alone, I feel alone
I feel alone but it feels alright."

8.  Actor-Caster by Generationals (Park the Van)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "Dirty Mister Dirty"

"The rest won't take this riot lying down
How they do make that sound
You always said your friends can teach us how
Oh can they now?
Maybe then I'll fall in love with you."

7.  Dye It Blonde by Smith Westerns (Fat Possum)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "Imagine Pt. 3"

"In corners of your heart I tried to make love grow
Imagine all the windows if the walls are out of stone
Oh can't you see, what you're doing to me?
But you've always got me coming back for more."

6.  Kaputt by Destroyer (Merge)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "Chinatown"

"You can't believe,
Though I'm sure somebody's said it before:
I know you and I know the score...
I can't walk away, you can't walk away..."

5.  The English Riviera by Metronomy (Because Music)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "She Wants"

"Then twitching lips
And twitching arms
And there you're lying
Your make up on them
Oh, Girl if you're dreaming deep tonight
I'll lie with you by reading light
A glass of water by your side
I'm gone in hopes of getting tired."

4.  Megafaun by Megafaun (Hometapes)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "You Are the Light"

"Sin is insignificant
It anchors your fear
Pain is just a window
Through which you'll see clear
Hear my affirmation
I am the light
The light of the Lord
Join in our elation for we are the light
The same light inside
Inside of the Lord."

3.  In the Grace of Your Love by The Rapture (DFA)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "How Deep Is Your Love?"

"When it's dark choices are few
It's just me and you
Give me what I need to live
Help me come to you
Let me hear that song
On this journey you've given me
I'm walking off the time
Now you're walking right next to me
The mountains we will climb."

2.  Hurry Up, We're Dreaming by M83 (MUTE)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "Wait"

"Send your dreams
Where nobody hides
Give your tears
To the tide
No time
No time."

1.  Days by Real Estate (Domino)

Magical Lyrical Moment Comes From: "Younger Than Yesterday"

"If it takes all summer long
Just to write one simple song
There's too much to focus on
Clearly that is something wrong."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Music Jerk Rob's Favorite Songs of 2011

We all have our favorites.  And we all have our reasons.

One of the great music influences of my life was my ex-best friend/fiancee, Leslie (And just to clarify, that is NOT a photo of her above.  That's a famous actress in a famous role.) 

Even though we haven't seen or spoken to one another in six years, her presence looms large in my record collection and in my musical heart.  She introduced me to Morrissey, The Smiths, Juliana Hatfield, Evan Dando, Matthew Sweet and so much more.  Music meant something to us.  We prided ourselves on that fact.  And we bragged to one another about how much better our collective taste was than others in an arrogant but truly awesome manner.  And I loved this about us and I know she did, too.  After a rough period in our lives where we didn't speak for several months, it was her listening to Ryan Adams's Gold and breaking down in tears due to how much it reminded her of me, that ultimately prompted her to seek me out again (I'm sure there were other reasons, but this one is my favorite).  My first ever Wilco concert was with her.  One of our most legendary fights (of which there were many) took place right before seeing Old 97's perform at The Gypsy Tea Room in Dallas.  We saw Phantom Planet, Juliana Hatfield, The Decemberists, Okkervil River, Ben Kweller (and more that I'm sure I'm forgetting) in concert together.

No matter what difficulties we ultimately had (and there were many), I've always felt that she was my musical soul mate and I've often wondered if that was one of the reasons it was so hard to leave her behind after our break-up.  I mean, as I've detailed extensively before, music is one of the primary tools we use to "get over" the last person we're with.  And I'll be honest--like many men my age, Ryan Adams is a central component to any break-up therapy playlist and I must have listened to Heartbreaker about ten thousand times after we were finished.  Around 2005 when the relationship ended, I'd say that at least a quarter (if not more) of my music collection was connected to Leslie in some way in my mind.  Finding solace or an escape from the memory of Leslie in the form of music was a nearly impossible task.  The moral of the story?  Don't fall in love with women who have great taste in music.  Just kidding.  Sort of.

So why the sudden trip down bad memory lane?  Because Leslie taught me something about experiencing music that I'm sure she's probably forgotten by now but that really stuck with me.  Once, when presenting me with a gift of several Juliana Hatfield CDs, I asked her which one was the best.  She pointed to one and said that it was probably the best, but then pointed to another and said that it was her favorite.

My brain started to power down at that moment in utter confusion.  "What's the difference between the 'best' and your 'favorite'?", I protested.  And I'll never forget this part.  She looked me in that "this is so obvious and I don't get how YOU don't get this" way that only Leslie could and said (and I'm doing my best to get this right), "Well, this one is her best album, but this is the one I like the most.  It's my favorite."

After several more minutes of discussion on the subject, I left the booth at IHOP that evening no closer to comprehending what she truly meant and I'm quite sure she thought I was completely dense (though I suspect she thought that long before that moment).  Years later, however, I've started to understand.  In 2011, we live in a significantly more "connected" and opinion producing at the speed of light culture and list-making/ranking has become a sport.  You undoubtedly have seen a plethora of year-end best of lists that rank albums, songs, videos, books, movies, TV shows, etc.  Rarely, if ever anymore, do we consider how ludicrous it is to attempt to objectively quantify art in such a way.  I think Leslie always got this.  This album is probably the best in terms of technical proficiency or critical acclaim, but that album is my favorite for my own damn reasons that are mine.  In this way, Leslie was a rad chick and ahead of her time as far as I'm concerned.  At least she was way ahead of me and my overly cerebral approach to music evaluation.  Because ultimately, art, in general, and music, in particular, is all about what it does to your guts and your heart.  We can make it in to more, but we do so at the peril of its fundamental magic.

Picking my favorite songs in a given year is now all about favorite and nothing else.  Every one of these songs made me feel something that I could tell you about but won't.  Some reminded me of people I know, have known but don't anymore, or anticipation of situations and personalities I have yet to encounter.  And some make me just want to move, groove, bang my head, or air drum myself into oblivion.  This isn't to say that some of these songs aren't on some other person's ranked list who is attempting to assign a place for a given track in the schema of our pop culture age that they're trying to cleverly name and inform all of us lesser beings of.  I just don't have the stomach for over-thinking and analyzing each note and lyric anymore.  I just love these songs for my own damn reasons that are mine.  Enjoy.  Or don't.  It's really alright either way.


*Track 3, "I Knew It Was Over (Live at the Vatican)" is not available on Spotify but is heartbreakingly beautiful and you must hear it.  Use either of the other two playlist options including the embedded player to hear it.  You'll thank me later, I swear.