I’ve been a staunch supporter of Merrill Garbus’s experimental vocal project tUnE-yArDs since the group’s 2009 debut BiRd-BrAiNs. The band’s sophomore LP W H O K I L L earned a mention near the top of my “Best Albums” list from 2011. Yesterday, tUnE-yArDs released a limited edition 10″ featuring covers of Yoko Ono’s “We’re All Water” and “Warrior Woman.” The release is the second in a series of 10″ singles featuring covers of material from Ono’s back catalog. 100% of the proceeds from the vinyl and digital downloads will be donated to Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, which is working on relief efforts surrounding Hurricane Sandy’s devastating impact to the East Coast last year. The limited edition, etched vinyl is available for $20, and digital downloads of the track will run you $2. Listen to a snippet of “We’re All Water” below, and spread the word about a worthy cause.
A Note on The Rankings
I hate lists. I don’t understand the necessity of slapping a score on anything other than a sporting event. This is particularly true of art. Pitchfork’s rating system is the single element of that blog that I loathe the most. When Drake’s album Take Care recently earned an 8.6, I vomited a bit. However, I understand that it was an important release for a lot of listeners. An album that I consider the greatest of the year, could be the worst thing you’ve ever heard. Who the fuck am I to tell you otherwise? Art is subjective and should remain so. If you talk to me next week, my list of top albums will likely be different – or the rankings, at minimum, would be shuffled. That being said, here’s my Top 10:
10. The Bonesetters – SAVAGES!
This is an Indiana blog, and we spend the bulk of our time covering the Indianapolis music scene. With that in mind, I would have felt irresponsible for failing to include my favorite Hoosier release of the year. As I said in my review earlier this week, this is an album free of gimmicks. Just pure, unadulterated goodness. Go see The Bonesetters live. Buy the album. Thank me later.
9. Feist – Metals
Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist rose to prominence with her 2006 release The Reminder, featuring pop songs that immediately engrained themselves in the listener’s mind like “1234” and “Mushaboom.” Unfortunately, that album toed the line of tolerance for me, coming dangerously close to played out irrelevance. That’s part of the reason why I adored her 2011 release Metals. I found myself repeatedly reaching for these songs any time I was in the mood for easy listening. It has never failed me, and never gotten old.
8. The Coasts – The Coasts
This album means a lot to me. I was introduced to lead singer Ike Peters via Turntable.fm. I fell immediately in love with his self-titled release when it hit the interwebs in August. Peters and bandmate Eric Mount were kind enough to grant this blog its first band interview, despite the fact that we still had no clue what we were doing. Okay, maybe we still don’t, but that post legitimized this project for me. At the time, I didn’t realize that we were the first publication of any kind to interview The Coasts. A few months later, their song “RIOT!” had reached enough ears to be played during the credits of 90210. I feel like their band and our blog have grown up together, like neighborhood kids that played on the same soccer team. More important than any of this is the fact that this album kicks ass. I love these guys and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
7. Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What
Like the best movies, Paul Simon keeps getting better with age. His 2011 release is worth is right up there with Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints as one of his greatest releases to date. Refusing to rest on his laurels, Simon soaks in influences like a world weary sponge, spewing them forth to the masses in his own unique voice. And what a voice! I left his recent Bloomington performance convinced that it was the best retirement-age rock show I have ever been to. This revelation comes despite the fact that I have seen Dylan (multiple times), The Stones, The Beach Boys, Clapton and Elton John. He is the best. Period.
6. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
Indie superstar and renowned grower of beards, Sam Beam, has been wowing critics and audiences with his awe inspiring acoustic songwriting for years. One of the toughest decisions of my year was to skip out on his show at The Vogue for The Black Keys at The Lawn. I know, life is tough right? I knew Beam could write a song with the best of them. However, I was never convinced that his writing style could withstand the force of a full backing band. All concerns can safely be put to rest. I would argue, to the displeasure of his rabid fan base, that Kiss Each Other Clean is Beam’s greatest work to date. I’m still kind of pissed at myself for leaving “Big Burned Hand” off of my list for best songs of the year. Shame on you, Rob. Shame.
5. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Mirror Traffic
The first four tracks of Mirror Traffic may go down as my favorite sequence of songs of the year. I have, admittedly, never delved deep into the indie legend’s catalog. The massive amount of material from Pavement and his various side projects was always too intimidating from a size perspective for me to sift through. Fortunately, Mirror Traffic was too good to ignore, and I am now officially on the bandwagon. The second song, “No One Is (As I Are Be)” contains the best line of the year from this writer’s humble opinion: “I cannot even do one sit-up / Sit-ups are so bourgeoise” Only Malkmus could have written that line. His sold out show at Earth House was one of the year’s best, and so is this album.
4. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
This one took a while to grow on me. To be honest, I have a general disdain for artists that rely too heavily on vocal effects. I’m a non-violent person, but I wouldn’t hesitate to put a bullet between the eyes of whatever scum bag invented the insufferable auto-tune machine. Though I respected Justin Vernon’s 2008 debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, for its sincerity and emotional candor, the music itself left me less than enthused. It wasn’t until his performance at The Murat that I realized my feelings were misplaced. The depth of Vernon’s self-titled album was on full display that night. The songs are so deceptively simple, that I stood slack jawed as his nine-man band went to work. Congrats to Bloomington label Jagjaguwar on putting out some of the best shit this side of 2010.
3. Real Estate – Days
The album of the fall is also one of the best releases of the year. I’m a sucker for great singing, addictive choruses and easy listening. Days has it all. I don’t see this album leaving my rotation of weekly listens any time in the near future. It’s a go to for road trips, drinking outdoors and attempted make-out sessions. I can play this album for my parents or my peers and the response is the same: these kids rock.
2. tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L
To understand my love for Merrill Garbus, you need simply read my review of her Bloomington show at Rhino’s. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is no other artist like this. Garbus exists in a world of her own. Sure there are plenty of indie bands looping their voice and backbeats, but none of them have her voice. I remember sitting up late at night when NPR Music announced their stream of W H O K I L L via their First Listen series. I had been awaiting this release with baited breath, and Garbus delivered. Her style is not for everyone and if you don’t agree with my selection, there’s no hard feelings. tUnE-yArDs just happens to be a sound that gets my juices flowing.
1. The Beach Boys – Smile
They just don’t make them like this anymore. Period. Unlimited studio time with world class studio musicians is a thing of the past. You win Napster. Although the songs from Smile are undeniable winners, the real joy I derive from this album comes from listening to Brian Wilson nitpick musicians in the studio. Though he is a certifiable nutjob, the simple fact remains that his ears should be preserved in a museum for all eternity. The man is responsible for some of the greatest pop songs that have ever graced the airwaves, and the eccentricity that led to this greatness is on full display here. Thanks for finally allowing the masses to finally get a taste.
Written by Rob Peoni
10. The Roots ft. Big K.R.I.T. – “Make My”
I catch a lot of grief for my lack of hip-hop coverage on this blog. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the genre, I just don’t think I listen enough to justify writing. I won’t bother attempting to explain why “Make My” is a significant contribution to the genre. All I can say is that this is the best damn hip-hop song I have heard in quite some time. In fact, undun, is also on my short list for top albums of the year. So there.
9. The Strokes – “Machu Piccu”
The Strokes’ long-awaited, fourth full-length release, Angles, received mixed reviews from the indie scene at large. Particularly a pesky Chicago blog that I often find myself annoyed and disagreeable with. For years, crictics bitched and moaned about the fact that The Strokes were really just Julian Casablancas. So the boys finally put an album out that represented a team effort and everyone shrugs? I don’t get it. Though Angles failed to make my Top 10 albums of the year, “Machu Piccu” was the track that I found myself returning to most often. Play it loud. It’s better that way.
8. Real Estate – “Out of Tune”
Real Estates’ fall release Days has been slapped with a near universal stamp of approval. Though those types of mass agreement tend to send me running for cover. I have to say, I agree with the masses. This fall release is perfect for a long drive. Though Days tends to mesh together into a single thought for me, I’m particularly drawn to “Out of Tune”. The track is a sleepy, slow roll that requires no deep thinking. It’s just great music, and you know it from the first note.
7. White Denim – “Street Joy”
Austin, TX’s White Denim satisfied my desire for the type of guitar driven jams that I feel the indie scene is lacking with their 2011 release D. The band fits a more traditional rock band formula that falls neatly within my comfort zone. Ironically, “Street Joy” is the one track from the release that doesn’t fit that model. Here, the boys employ a simple recurring acoustic guitar over an ethereal synth line. The song plays like a dream, and what a sweet dream it is.
6. Surfer Blood – “Drinking Problem”
Surfer Blood’s Tarot Classics was another EP that narrowly missed my Top 5 list. For me, “Drinking Problem” was the strongest song on the release. The subject matter was relatable for me. John Paul Pitts sings of not giving a shit about the problems that arise from his substance dependent friends and their various vices, saying “At least I know who my friends are.” Amen brother.
5. Fleet Foxes – “Lorelai”
I missed out on Pitchfork Festival in Chicago this year. Instead, I spent the bulk of the weekend camped out in front of my computer, watching via the interwebs. I can honestly say that Fleet Foxes’ headlining performance was one of my favorite concerts of the year. Chills ran down my spine as Robin Pecknold conquered the Chicago indie scene with staggering renditions of songs from their 2011 release Helplessness Blues. Though my initial enthrallment with the album faded throughout the year, my love for “Lorelai” never left.
4. The Beach Boys – “Heroes and Villains”
The first time I heard this particular version of “Heroes and Villains” was in the opening scene of 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. Those of you that understand the love I feel deep down in my loins for this movie, know that an immediate musical bond was made. The song reappeared on the long anticipated release of The Beach Boys’ original Smile recordings this year. The album is a treat, and this track is a masterpiece.
3. Dirty Gold – “California Sunrise”
Very few songs have the ability to transplant a listener directly into beach front vacation mode. “California Sunrise” is certainly one of those songs. San Diego teens Dirty Gold’s debut ROAR just barely missed my list of Best EP’s from 2011. I don’t think I’ve ever played this song for a group without someone chiming in to ask, “Who the hell are these guys?”
2. Paul Simon – “Rewrite”
I like to consider myself a writer above all else. Good or bad is debatable, but when someone asks what I do, my response is inevitably: I write. I think that’s why I found this Paul Simon track so endearing. Complex, repeating tribal rhythms underscore flawless songwriting on this one. Here, Simon leads his listener on a meditative journey through the mind of an aging writer who has never found a draft he didn’t wish to change. Like the best poems, every one of “Rewrite”‘s words serves a purpose.
1. tUnE-yArDs – “Powa”
What to say about Merrill Garbus? She’s a tough cookie to put into words. To use a cop out, you really have to hear it. I would recommend you start with “Powa”, arguably her most accessible track. Garbus’ unfathomably wide vocal range is on full display, allowing the listener to nearly forget that she is singing, quite graphically, about a woman’s most primal sexual desires. Watch below:
Written by Rob Peoni