The KEXP DJs hear thousands of albums every year, but in 2011, which ten really stood out for them? Find out as KEXP looks at each DJ’s list through the month of December, leading up to our 2011 Top 90.3 Countdown, as voted on by YOU, the KEXP listener! Tune in RIGHT NOW Friday, December 30th to hear if your favorites made the list!
Janice Headley’s 2011 Top Ten Albums
So, as I explained last year, I’m not actually a DJ here at KEXP — I work behind-the-scenes in the Programming Department, but as such, I listen to a ton of music all year long, and thought I’d share my reflections. To paraphrase the great poet Robert Pollard, it was truly the year of the “soft-rock renegades” in my opinion. So, “give me time to light a sentimental torch tonight” with this list of my favorite albums of 2011:
11) eleventh dream day // riot now (thrill jockey)
Yeah, I’m cheating by allowing myself a #11, but c’mon! Eleventh Dream Day! At number eleven! GET IT? Yeah, I know. And this latest album from these veteran Chicago rockers certainly blows out the speakers and my earlier declaration of 2011 as the year of the “soft rockers”…
10) antietam // tenth life (carrot top)
…as does this release from another veteran band of the 90s, NYC’s Antietam. (Tenth Life at #10! GETTT IT???– Okay, I’ll stop.) These guys fly under the radar, but they’ll be forever in my sights ever since I saw them open for Tsunami and Versus back when I was in high school. (Yes, I am old.) Frontwoman Tara Key wrote a beautiful piece on her musical idol Patti Smith for Adequecy.net earlier this year, and her reaction to seeing Patti for the first time is pretty much how I felt seeing Tara play guitar for the first time, too: “I literally froze.” If you have a chance to see them live, please do. You will understand.
9) seapony // go with me (hardly art)
Look, I love this Seattle twee pop quartet, but I am deeply suspicious of them. WHO ARE THEY? They pretty much came out of nowhere, but they’re everything I’ve always loved. I feel like someone has been spying on me and they created Seapony based on their findings. “Psst, hey guys, let’s get some C86-style reverb-y guitars, catchy Razorcuts-y melodies, and let’s find a Melberg-esque-voiced girl to sing lead, and oh yeah, let’s make sure that girl has PERFECT BANGS– oh, crap, Janice is on to us, HIDE!” Yeah. That’s how I imagine the inception of Seapony.
8) big troubles // romantic comedy (slumberland)
I’ve been a devoted fan of Slumberland Records since their 90’s heyday, and they have been cranking out amazing record after amazing record all year long (Pains of Being Pure at Heart! Veronica Falls!) — but on THIS one, they paired a bunch of Jersey youngsters with noneother than legendary producer Mitch Easter, who’s worked with Pavement, Pylon, Game Theory… The guy produced R.E.M’s “Radio Free Europe,” for crying out loud! And his own band, Let’s Active, was wonderful as well. So, yeah, this album is super-awesome jangle-pop heaven in a shoegaze-y kinda way. So good.
7) jonny // jonny (merge)
How could I not love this album? Norman Blake teaming up with Euros Childs? That’s like peanut butter and… well, uh, peanut butter, as both artists have similar tastes in creamy, smooth retro-style pop, as they’ve previously served up with their other bands Teenage Fanclub and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. Lest you think I’m taking the “peanut butter” metaphor too far, on this album, they sing a lot about FOOD! Deliciously delightful!
6) kurt vile // smoke ring for my halo (matador)
Kurt, you are #6 on this list, but #1 for having the Best Hair in Rock 2011.
5) the sea & cake // the moonlight butterfly EP (thrill jockey)
I know it’s just an EP, but it’s SO GOOD it holds its own against full-length albums. Individually, each member of The Sea & Cake is a total powerhouse of musicianship, so when you put them all together, it’s really just not fair.
4) the feelies // here before (bar none)
2011 proved that dreams do come true, because I never imagined I’d see a new album from The Feelies, a band who broke up before I was even old enough to (legally) go to shows. It’s been twenty years, and it was well-worth the wait: this album is an absolute gem.
3) the bats // free all the monsters (flying nun import)
Yes, this one’s a cheat, because it’s not out in the USA yet, but it’s so good, it’s worth tracking down at your local independent record store! This influential New Zealand band delivers another perfect pop album — it’s like time stood still in Dunedin, but this doesn’t sound dated at all.
2) the ladybug transistor // clutching stems (merge)
For me, this album will always encapsulate 2011: songs about love and loss, but ultimately, hope — all sung beautifully in Gary Olson’s dreamy baritone. Above is a charming take on the title track from a Merge Takeaway show which I especially love for Kyle’s Lucksmiths t-shirt, Julia’s perfect summer sandals, and the Garfield pillow in the background.
1) real estate // days (domino)
I knew this album would be in my Top Ten list BEFORE IT EVEN CAME OUT. No, I am not psychic; I fell in love with the single “It’s Real” when it came out over the summer, and said to myself (actually, I probably said it to Sharlese), “If the rest of the album is even half as good as this song, it will be my Album of the Year.” And the entire album is (AM-radio) gold from start-to-finish. I was worried when I saw the band left Woodsist for Domino, but it all ended up okay. They even got to keep what I think of as their “trademark” instrumental. And, what’s this? The bassist takes the lead vocals for a track? As most people know, I have a strong affinity for bands from Jersey with singing bassists. And then Real Estate had to go and cinch their spot at the top with this awesome music video. Congratulations, guys.
[Did I really list three jangle-pop bands from Jersey on this list? Good grief, Janice.]
…Oh wait. Am I allowed to include reissues on this list?… SUPERCHUNK’S FOOLISH! #1 FOREVER!!!!!!!
Janice Headley is a Programming Assistant Extraordinaire at KEXP, and is a big fan of the pigpen.