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Andrew Kessler, Membership Coordinator: The Handsome Furs “Sound Kapital” is my pick for album of the year. Electronic pop has been a growing trend in music lately, and the married couple behind the Handsome Furs havecreated an album full of great music. The opening track makes you want to kick off your shoes and dance and the party doesn’t stop until the last note on the final track. In an ITunes world it’s difficult to find an album that’s good from beginning to end, but fortunately we have artists like this who can create great albums and not just great singles.
Ella Zander, Creative Director: Tom Waits “Bad As Me”; I remember the first time I heard Tom Waits. I was in eighth grade, and my mom asked me to burn a mix CD for her. She handed me a stack of CDs (The Psychedelic Furs, Hot Tuna, The Doors, etc.) with a list of the songs she wanted from each album. “Tom Waits – Hold On.” I put in the CD and clicked on the track, and as soon as I heard that voice, something clicked. Maybe it’s what love at first sight feels like: your lungs contract, your heart slows, your skin crawls in the best possible way. Whatever you want to call it, I was hooked. Seven years later came “Bad As Me.” His voice still gives me shivers, and this album is, even with my sky-high expectations, one of his best. No songwriter alive can match his range, even over the course of thirteen tracks. He careens from the frenetic opener“Chicago” to the melancholy, surreal “Face To The Highway” and then to the sneering, sly “Bad As Me,” effortlessly pulling off everything from aging troubadour (“Last Leaf”) and hopeless romantic (“Kiss Me”) to swaggering rockabilly punk (“Get Lost”). And then there’s “Hell Broke Luce.” I had to listen to it three times in a row to process: that stomping beat, Keith Richards’ savage guitar riff, machine guns, seething lyrics about marching soldiers, and the voice. Hell really did break loose, and it’s coming out of your speakers in a rush of gravel, cigarette smoke, and indescribable ferocity. When it came time to pick my favorite album of 2011, nobody but Tom Waits even stood a chance.
Jon Davies, Live Mix Coordinator: Grouper “A I A”; With Grouper’s A I A, sole member Liz Harris shows us that the clarity of the acoustic-based, folk atmosphere of her 2008 release Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill was merely a fluke, an experiment in and of itself towards a more accessible production aesthetic. This year’s double album returns to the veiled, and sometimes almost completely destroyed, lo-fi haze of her younger days, shrouding Harris’s layered vocal loops and guitar drones with a sonic distance that may even exceed her earlier works. But the newfound confidence in songwriting that Harris showed with Dragging A Dead Deer is not only still present but now vastly polished, with a return to her lo-fi methods serving as a marriage between the aural obscurity of her early works and her matured melodic sensibilities. This amalgamation of the best qualities of all her works lends what is almost a symphonic quality throughout the album, with vocal counter-melodies and guitar textures slipping in and out of a bed of tape hiss and noise creating an emotional affect quite like none of her music has ever reached before.
Martin Grossinger, Assistant Program Director: Foo Fighters “Wasting Light”; Straight up, no BS, this album rocks. Loud guitars, big drums, screaming Dave Grohl;Wasting Light is a return to form for to the churning Back & Forth, to the riff-laden pop of Dear Rosemary (featuring Bob Mould of Husker Du singing the Foo Fighters. From the anthemic Bridge Burning and Alandria, backups) there isn’t a bad cut on the entire album. The Foos recorded the whole thing in Dave’s garage, and it sounds like it. When you get sick of crying along with Bon Iver, throw this one in the CD player (or hard drive) and rock out.
Courtney Carter, Weekend APD: Suck It And See from the Arctic Monkeys was the ultimate album of 2011. This was the fourth album from the foursome and made them only the second band to ever have four consecutive number one albums. They’ve currently been hard at work touring the world, and will be making their way back to Boston in March at the TD Garden with the Black Keys. Favourite tracks include Black Treacle and That’s Where You’re Wrong.
Johnny Quinones, Production Director: RHCP “I’m With You”; 2011 has been an eventful year for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Prior to being inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame on December 7, they had released their latest album Im with You at the end of August. This album is the first album of theirs to have guitarist Josh Klinghoffer serve as their lead guitarist in place of John Frusciante, who had been with the Chili Peppers since 1988 and recently left the band to pursue a solo career. Despite having a new guitarist, the Chili Peppers’ Im With You maintains the same funk rock style that the band has always had. Klinghoffer has played on tour with the band for years now, and was an easy transition for the band.
While the style is still the same, the music on Im With You is noticeably different in terms of guitar presence. While Klinghoffer remains loyal to the funky riffs and effects that Frusciante originated, he is not as busy on the guitar. Rather, in Im With You, we hear bassist Flea taking the lead on most of the songs, providing loud, vibrant, and uplifting bass lines that will keep your feet tapping and your head nodding. This change in arrangement is nothing to be unhappy about. It is only something different. The songs on Im With You draw inspiration from a variety of music styles, including East African Music, clearly inspiring the song “Ethiopia”, and eighties disco riffs, which clearly inspired the feel of “Monarchy of Roses” and parts of “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie.” All in all, Im With You is an adventure in itself to listen to. The album even starts out with the chaotic sounds of the band tuning up for a jam at the beginning of “Monarchy of Roses”, and takes you on a wild ride through a variety of funk styling. After 5 years of waiting on the next album to come out and one new guitarist, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Im With You met my anticipation with utter satisfaction, and has so far been my most prized album of 2011.
Kendall Stewart, Promotions Director: Butch Walker’s sixth studio album dropped on August 30th of this year. I had been waiting for this record for just over a year and a half and let me tell you, it was worth the wait. Butch and The Black Widows delivered everything that I could ask for, and what I asked for was nothing less than perfect. The record only has ten tracks, none lasting longer than four and a half minutes. Each of the tracks showcases the individual talent of each of the band members–unlike some of Butch’s other records where there are tracks highlighting just Butch himself. Not that I don’t like that, but over the years I’ve become a fan of each of the Widows individually. Chris Unck and Fran Capitanelli’s guitars are natural raw but not unpolished and Jake Sinclair (who also co-produced and engineered multiple tracks on the record) brings each track home on bass from start to finish. The lyrics are almost entirely about his early years as a musician in Georgia and later in LA, and might I say that it was a smart decision to release the record just two months before his memoir Drinking With Strangers. (Which everyone should read.) Highlight tracks include: “Bodegas and Blood”, “Synthesizers”, “and “Closest Thing To You I’m Gonna Find”.
Katie Dimartile, Program Director: My favorite album of this year goes to Gillian Welch for “The Harrow & The Harvest”. The combination of her voice and David Rawlings guitar playing is pure magic. It’s a fairly simple record, but that’s why it’s so beautiful. Us Gillian fans had to weight 8 years for this record and it was totally worth it. Songs like “Hard Times”, “Six White Horses” and “Down Along the Dixie Line” are just completely perfect. If you’re not a Gillian Welch fan this could be the record that turns you into a believer.
Sara Morgan, Marketing Director: My pick is Raphael Saadiq’s “Stone Rollin” which was a great follow-up to “The Way I See It” (2008). “Stone Rollin” is filled with bluesy, classic R&B sounding tracks that are a very different from his days with Tony! Toni! Tone! and Lucy Pearl. This album brings a different type of energy, one that makes you want to get up and dance. The album’s bluesy songs remind me of one of my favorite movies, Cadillac Records. The tracks almost transport you back in time to when musicianship was what is was all about, the days of Etta, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. My two favorite tracks are the title track “Stone Rollin” and “Movin’ Down the Line.” “Stone Rollin” tells the story of a beautiful woman he saw walking down the street as a youngster. The music video for the heart-felt track “Movin’ Down the Line” gives you an inside look at what a day in the life is like on the road for Saadiq. “Stone Rollin” was by far one of the best Soul/R&B albums of the year.
Mariel Wade, Music Director: Past Life Martyred Saints, the debut album from former-Gowns member, Erika M. Anderson, is her mission statement on life, death and everything in between. Over the course of the album’s nine tracks she shares her thoughts on love, loss, self-hurt, substance abuse, heartache and what it means to be a twenty-something woman with absolutely no clue about what she is supposed to be doing in her life.
While these themes are not uncommon for an album to deal with, what makes Past Life Martyred Saints so special is the raw and haunting way that Anderson delivers the lyrics. Even better is the high caliber of the songs found on Past Life Martyred Saints. Tracks like “California” and “Marked” are spine-tingling, slow burners that show off Anderson’s gorgeous and breathy voice. Another track, “Milkman”, is a stomping guitar anthem and easily a standout on the album.
Oddly enough, despite there being really no musical similarities, Past Life Martyred reminds me so much of some of the standout albums from the early-90s riot grrl movement. Anderson evokes so much of the sentiment that these albums championed – the realistic struggle of what it means to be a young woman. So is Anderson the Kathleen Hanna for a new generation? Not sure. What is certain, however, is that Past Life Martyred Saints is a stunning record and one that would be a shame to overlook.
Jake Sorgen, Web Editor: The Dharohar Project, the Indian folk group in collaboration with Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling put out a self-titled EP early this year that failed to be surpassed. The Dharohar Project complements Marling and Mumford’s songwriting styles, fetching lyrical complexity out of clean and straightforward melodies and chord progressions. After hearing the effortless way that Marling’s “Devil’s Spoke” weaves in, around, and through Dharohar’s “Sneh Ko Marg,” Marling’s original album version sounds somewhat incomplete. The noticeable dearth of Marcus Mumford’s commanding voice feels in many ways appropriate, giving space and time to showcase the compositions more than the performers. It’s a record that shouldn’t be duplicated, lengthened, of expanded upon. It exists as a quick and specific moment in the sure-to-be long career of Mumford and Sons, Laura Marling, and The Dharohar Project.