Here are 50 songs that defined 2011 for me. This year, I only included one song per band, as I wanted to feature as many bands as possible.
Listen. Enjoy. Tell me what you think.
And yep, that's my ugly mug on the cover.
Here's the playlist:
1. Wilco - One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)
2. City Reign - Anywhere Anyway
3. The Mountain Goats - Never Quite Free
4. Zaac Pick - Whitewater
5. Yuck - Holing Out
6. The Tallest Man on Earth - Weather of a Killing Kind
7. Ryan Adams - Dirty Rain
8. Laura Marling - My Friends
9. The War on Drugs - Best Night
10. Bright Eyes - Shell Games
11. Radical Face - Always Gold
12. Beirut - East Harlem
13. Carter Tanton - Murderous Joy
14. Air Review - America's Son
15. Michael McGraw - Poorboy
16. The Middle East - Land Of The Bloody Unknown
17. The Antlers - Putting The Dog To Sleep
18. Megafaun - State / Meant
19. Bon Iver - Holocene
20. Robbers On High Street - Monkey
21. The Whiskey Saints - Curtains
22. The Far West - Bound to Lose
23. Dan Mangan - Oh Fortune
24. James Vincent McMorrow - Sparrow and the Wolf
25. James Blake - The Wilhelm Scream
26. Siskiyou - Twigs And Stones
27. Foo Fighters - Walk
28. The Black Keys - Lonely Boy
29. Iron & Wine - Walking Far From Home
30. Joshua Hyslop - If I Was a Better Man
31. J Mascis - Is It Done
32. Kurt Vile - Baby's Arms
33. Girls - Die
34. R.E.M. - It Happened Today
35. Fruit Bats - WACS (ft. J Mascis)
36. the august arrival - Through it all
37. Young Liars - Colours
38. Sporting Life - Immigrant
39. Alela Diane - To Begin
40. The Rest - The Last Day
41. William Fitzsimmons - The Tide Pulls From The Moon
42. The Rural Alberta Advantage - Stamp
43. Wye Oak - Civilian
44. Jim Ivins - House Of Three
45. Real Estate - It's Real
46. Snowmine - Curfews
47. David Thomas Broughton - Apologies
48. Creepoid - Old Tree
49. Cut Off Your Hands - You Should Do Better
50. The Dodos - When Will You Go
Aside from all the great full-length albums released in 2011, Given and Taken in Ink also featured several noteworthy EPs. Because of their shorter length (and the overall brevity of this list), the list below is in no particular order. Still, I had a great time featuring each of the releases; clicking a title will bring you to GTI's review from earlier in the year.
Here are GTI's picks for the top EPs of 2011:
Right on cue (if you believe that culture repeats itself every 20 years), 2011 saw the emergence of several bands playing an updated version of 90s garage rock. Two British bands in particular caught my attention this year. The first was Yuck, drawing from the American indie rock scene of the 1990s - Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth, in particular. The other was City Reign. Combining the frantic energy of Idlewild with the arena-sized sound of Oasis, City Reign's influences are much more British in origin. Their guitar-driven rock songs are filled with big, melodic hooks and wistful vocals. "Making Plans," the band's fantastic single from 2010, makes a reappearance here, as do several songs from their previous singles. But despite the band's knack for writing catchy rock anthems, the real gem here is "Anywhere Anyway." With its shimmery acoustic guitars and pretty background vocals, the song is pure magic. As someone who grew up on 90s rock, I was excited for a band like City Reign and its focus on that sound; but "Anywhere Anyway" shows that this band has the potential for so very much more.
Joshua Hyslop is destined to be a tour-de-force in the realm of indie folk/pop. Combining his warm vocals with impressive songwriting depth and musicianship, Hyslop is poised to break out in the near future. He's got the tenderness of Damien Rice or Sam Beam (Iron and Wine) and the knack for throwing interesting, genre-defying curveballs, like the Spanish jazz of "If I Was a Better Man."
The title track of Zaac Pick's Whitewater was one of my favorite songs of the year. As I said in my review, "Whitewater shows off Pick's knack for melody, pairing his warm, expressive voice with layers of guitar, piano, strings, and percussion. Each of these four songs seem to revolve around central theme of time, either in adapting to its impermanence or in appreciating the things that endure in spite of it. The title track, a cautionary tale about the unpredictability of life, opens with just vocals and finger-picked guitar before slowly adding layers of percussion, mandolin, and violin. The video for 'Whitewater' is absolutely brilliant, too. With cardboard sailboats for characters, it's charming and heartbreaking in a way few music videos even attempt anymore." Whitewater was a wonderful little surprise to close out the year.
My review for Late Night Drive was probably my favorite write-up of the year. Jim let me pick his brain with a bunch of questions, something I normally don't do, and the result was a great insight into his mindset and writing process for this EP. As I said in my review, my favorite track from this release was "House of Three," a heartbreaking tribute to Ivins' mother, who passed away in 2010. The entire EP engages the listener in a very personal way as it progresses toward this final cathartic release of all the emotional tension built over the previous tracks.
I spend a lot of time goofing off on this blog, but my review for skyline goodbyes was probably the silliest of the year. Hopefully that didn't obscure the message, that skyline goodbyes was an extremely impressive debut for this emerging Canadian folk band. Lead singer Sara MacDonald's voice is absolutely haunting. The august arrival's future is very bright, and I look forward to hearing a lot more from them.
Late Night Drive is the second solo release from Jim Ivins, lead singer and songwriter for pop rock group the Jim Ivins Band. Drawing on more mellow singer/songwriter influences, the EP is a change in direction from Ivins' 2007 debut solo album, 99¢ Dreams, and his work with the Jim Ivins Band. I had the opportunity to pick Jim's brain about how the project came together.
"I just listen to a lot of really mellow singer/songwriter music," he explains. "A lot of my nights (and the drives back to my house at night that I take) are spent listening to this kind of music so it really is a big part of me and I always wanted to contribute to that kind of sound but never had the material for it."
This vibe is evident through the record. It opens with "Loves Like Snow," a sweet acoustic guitar-based love song, evoking images of wintery days spent huddled under the covers. "Riptides" recalls the solo side projects of Switchfoot lead singer Jon Foreman, and indeed Ivins cites Foreman's Winter EP as a major influence: "The rawness of it and the sparseness of the instrumentation was massively influential for this project."
The EP takes a darker, more serious and ultimately more personal tone on its latter half. "I feel like when you make the songs this raw and intimate, it lends itself to making the lyrical content more personal, and that's exactly what's happened here," Ivins relates. He originally envisioned "Late Night Drive" for the Jim Ivins Band, but was never satisfied with a full band arrangement. Instead, he stripped the song down to just acoustic guitar augmented by keyboards. As a result, and despite its reflective, almost regretful subject matter, it's the catchiest and most immediately accessible selection on the EP.
The themes of loss and regret snap into sharp focus on the piano ballad "Twilight" ("But the ghost still consumes me / I wish you would come back /And sit in a frame on my wall /Or live in the list of my most recent calls /But it’s over"). Gentle percussion accompanies Ivins' best vocal performance of the EP.
But, in my opinion, "House of Three" is the best song of this collection. A heartbreaking tribute to the 2010 death of Ivins' mother, anyone who has lost a parent, friend, or partner will be able to relate to its raw emotion. "I don't wanna have my memories," Ivins sings, "'Cause I don't need reminding that they're all that's left until eternity." After building the emotional tension over the rest of the EP, this final song acts as a cathartic release.
"These are very personal songs but the thing about it was that I didn't ever sit down and say "I need to write about this thing so I'm going to make myself write about it because I feel like I should," Ivins told me. "The lyrics for each song just kinda came out instantly."
"This was the kind of music that I had always wanted to write."
House of Three: