Of The Year – 2011

After a so so year for albums in 2010, this time around I actually have enough candidates for a proper top 10.

1. Pink Strat — Bahamas
This record came out in Canada in 2009, but just came out in the US in 2011. (Yay, time travel!)  Quietly snuck up on me as my go to album this year.  And I love that the band is named after a lyric in that old Wreckless Eric song.

2. Circuital — My Morning Jacket
Felt like a shoo-in for album of the year upon release and sustained that for most of the year. Majestic and fun rock songs that go really well together.

3. Fixin’ To Die — G. Love
G’s best work since The Hustle. Whenever I start to think he’s all washed up he goes and does something like this to win me back.

4. Kiss Each Other Clean — Iron & Wine
Iron & Wine & Electronica & Orchestration…and it works really well.

5. The Whole Love — Wilco
Some are calling this a comeback record or a return to form, but I don’t think Wilco ever really left.

5.5 An Argument With Myself (EP) – Jens Lekman
I have this weird and arbitrary rule that an EP doesn’t qualify for album of the year.  But if it did, this one would rank right around here.  Very excited for the new full length Jens to land sometime in 2012.

6. Rome — Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi
Super group alert! Danger Mouse continues his impressive run, while splitting vocal duties between Jack White & Nora Jones was just about perfect.

7. Yes and Also Yes — Mike Doughty
Not quite as good as Sad Man Happy Man, but Doughty is still the infallible band for me.

8. Celebration, Florida — The Felice Brothers
2011 will go down as the year I began to embrace the Felices on my own outside of them being my wife’s favorite band. This guy has a review that’s better than anything if have to say about this record, so I’ll let him speak on my behalf.

9. Rave on Buddy Holly — Various Artists
Heck of a compilation. Hearing Paul McCartney go crazy at the end of “It’s So Easy” might be my favorite individual moment in a song this year.

10. Minnesota — Mason Jennings
Had high hopes for this going in and initially felt a little disappointed, but warmed up to it more with each listen.  But just 9 songs?  More, Mason, more!

First Impressions on Wilco (The Album)

The new Wilco record is streaming for free at the band’s official site (www.wilcoworld.net), so I thought I’d blog my early impressions.  To be fair, “first” impressions in the title is a slight exaggeration; this is technically my third listen that I’m writing about.

(And in the interest of full disclosure: I’m notorious for disliking albums when I first hear them before later changing my mind and loving them, so this might be a fun post to revisit down the road.)

Track by track:

“Wilco (the song)”
I actually saw a video clip of them performing this on the Colbert Report a few weeks ago.  Loved it then and love it now.  Tongue in cheek love letter to fans, but a tune that’s cool, clever, and very singable.  Has a Summerteeth vibe to it, which makes it the perfect track to open Wilco (the album).  Plus you gotta love the parenthetical.

“Deeper Down”
One of those majestic numbers that I shrug off initially but know will enter “epic” status once I hear it live.  Judgment reserved, but I suspect I’ll learn to love this song.

“One Wing”
This one I dug right away (“One wing, will never ever fly…”), plus I know it’s gonna rule in concert based on the guitar parts.

“Bull Black Nova”
With a title like that it’s the song that tempts you to cheat and skip ahead to it after reading it on the sleeve (er, Quicktime playlist…).  Experimental, but very Wilco — which is what makes it cool.  Might be a touch too long though.

“You And I”
The rumors of a Wilco/Feist duet proved true, though it’s more Feist on backing vocals than a true collaboration per se.  Initially I was disappointed she wasn’t featured more heavily, but I’m already thinking the cameo was a better idea.  And now I’m curious as to how often their touring schedules will intersect enough for them to do this live.

“You Never Know”
Eh.  Nothing wrong with this song, but it just isn’t doing it for me.  Though I totally would have used the “C’mon kids, you’re acting like children” line in Timely Persuasion when the mom interrupts the cribbage game had it existed at the time.  (At least the slide guitar & piano part during the choruses sort of save it…)

“Country Disappeared”
Before hearing this I wonder if the title was a nod to Wilco’s early A.M. era sound.  Perhaps it’s a double entendre.  Song is okay albeit a little boring, though I do like the Tweedy falsetto bits in a guilty pleasure sort of way.

Lyrics that might suddenly strike me as deep one day when I’m not expecting it, but this is probably my least favorite song on the record capping off a disappointingly weak trifecta.

“I’ll Fight”
And we’re back!  My early pick for favorite track.  The repetitive pattern of the first verse hooked me right away, and the passion felt throughout helps carry it through.  This one will go down as a Wilco classic.

“Sonny Feeling”
Another fun one, with a “Hate It Here”/”Late Greats” style of loose vibe.  And you gotta love using the “Sonny” spelling in the title vs. “Sunny.”

“Everlasting Everything”
The final track is where you’re allowed/expected to go out on a different sort of note.  This tune is hard to classify, but I think it delivers the goods while taking the album closer torch from “On and On and On.”

Final verdict:  You can’t go wrong with new Wilco.  That said, I put it somewhere between Sky Blue Sky and A Ghost is Born in the rankings, but reserve the right to change my mind.