You should get some sun.
Every one else already has one – the Radioheads, Interpols, and Arcade Fires of their hearts. It has been a long time coming, but I think I can now safely declare that my years-long search for the ultimate favourite band is finally over, and happily marked off the to-do list. Unfortunately, this immediately translates to not much musical education to be had this year as opposed to the previous years, though there are still a selected number of gems that I have thankfully discovered and would like to hear more of in the future.
So while 2011 saw the return of many of my favourite bands – with most of them coming out guns-ablazing with strong sophomore efforts that are rewarded with significantly more airplay than their debuts – my heart is already forever given to The National. Better luck next time, guys. (See lists for 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.)
I made my way back home.
Best Coast, Beach House, Local Natives, Real Estate. For the ill-informed, those names may sound like a potential purchase of a grossly overpriced seaside property – but delve deeper and be serenaded by breezy tunes accompanied by the warmest of seasons, and soaring vocal harmonies complemented with the loveliest of musical arrangements. And this year, the best memories of summer come in the form of Real Estate’s Days. The Brooklyn-based band’s second outing is indeed well-polished, refined and always pleasant to the ears, surpassing even that of their well-acclaimed 2009 self-titled debut. Days holds a couple of trump cards over the latter; the melodies here are infinitely happier, and album highlights such as the pensive “Green Aisles”, upbeat “Easy” and high-reaching “Municipality” can be determined with surprising immediacy. Even the four-minute instrumental “Kinder Blumen” makes you feel at home right away. However, the band’s consistency may also be its downfall – there is little to tell some of the lesser songs in Days apart, and sometimes they end up blending together and playing like a 40-minute power track. In any case, it is early days for the band still, and I look forward to more to come.
Favourite tracks: “Green Aisles”, “Easy”, “Kinder Blumen”, “Municipality”, “All the Same”
Home sweet booby trap.
Suck It and See #1, #2
The Arctic Monkeys are quite possibly the only musical research that I have managed to properly do this year, and I must admit that I eventually came away somewhat disappointed. I had had a go at their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not when it was first released five years ago, and back then, it was to me as forgettable as yesterday’s lunch, despite the many accolades and hype surrounding it. Their later follow-ups were recently accorded a similarly lukewarm treatment from me. But the turning point came in the form of the syrupy “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala” which, when coupled with blissfully lowered expectations, summer-friendly melodies, ferocious guitar riffs and perhaps even band frontman Alex Turner’s loopy wordplay (or maybe Turner himself – I refuse to choose which, ahem), ultimately turned me into a fan of their fourth album Suck It and See. Their piece of advice may just do you good as well.
Favourite tracks: “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala”, “She’s Thunderstorms”, “Black Treacle”, “Brick by Brick”, “That’s Where You’re Wrong”
We couldn’t stop the sparks.
Burst Apart #
Today, I still find it unbelievable that The Antlers are the very same band that did the bleak Hospice back in 2009. Burst Apart is a beautiful reinvention of sounds that redefines the band’s brand of music, and certainly marks a significant milestone in this Brooklyn-based band’s catalogue. It is a worthy follow-up filled with gorgeous melodies, ambient electronics, hypnotic tunes and heartbreaking falsettos that makes it a complete turnaround from the cold and dreary notes that had previously make up Hospice, and brilliantly showcases the band’s talent and versatility in describing the quiet triumphs and daily misery of our everyday lives. Also, the fact that frontman Peter Silberman is three years younger than me makes me feel uncompetent and like a failure already. Oh well, at least he has yet to pen a research paper that will explain why my nights are usually plagued with dreams of my teeth getting loose and falling out…
Favourite tracks: “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out”, “I Don’t Want Love”, “French Exit”, “Rolled Together”, “Corsicana”
Forwards, always onwards.
Wye Oak’s third album, Civilian, kicks off with a track that has a spot on my personal list of best album openers for the year. The muffled voices and ambient bar chatter in “Two Small Deaths” gradually give way to a beautiful marriage of Andy Stack’s staccato-ed drumbeats and Jenn Wasner’s dreamy vocals, and like the modest cili padi, actually packs quite a punch in setting a steady tempo and an ethereal, autumnal mood that is consistently maintained throughout the album. The tunes here may be sometimes jarring and other times subdued, but when pieced together here as a full album, actually flow like a rushing waterfall and excel as a musical play of contrasts: fierce but never angry, upbeat but never happy. Wye Oak does this so effortlessly, it is easy to forget that this Maryland indie folk/rock duo is precisely that – a band ever really made up of only two people, and not more. Civilian is fast becoming one of my best discoveries for 2011, and will surely impress even everyday people like you and picky me.
Favourite tracks: “Two Small Deaths”, “Civilian”, “Plains”, “Hot As Day”, “We Were Wealth”
Dawned on me.
The Whole Love
Wilco certainly has a knack for coming up with mindblowing album openers (think the heartbreaking lyrics that make up “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)) or the intense guitar/piano jamming midway “At Least That’s What You Said” (A Ghost is Born (2004))). In The Whole Love, the honour goes to “Art of Almost” – a seven-minute pulsating monster where the band freely pulls out all the stops – clever experimental noise, static beeps and boops, thumping bass lines and the like – complete with voluntary headbanging and all. The band also goes one up in crafting an equally epic but subdued closer in the form of the poignant “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)”, and when you have two such powerful tracks bookending the band’s eighth album, with a varied selection of songs that can easily fit into any of their backcatalogue (the bouncy “Dawned On Me” is easy to sing along to, while the comfortably catchy “Whole Love” is my favourite), there should not be much to complain about, really. The Whole Love sees a graceful return to form for Wilco after the relative disappointment that was their 2009 self-titled, and I feel pretty pumped up now that I have once again found some love for this band. And to Mr Tweedy: yes, welcome back.
Favourite tracks: “Whole Love”, “Art of Almost”, “Dawned on Me”, “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)”
I know a place called love.
Bradford Cox is never known to rest on his laurels. In between making regular appearances on the music circuit with or without his band Deerhunter, and occasionally putting up his bedroom databank recordings for free download from his personal website, Cox still manages to find time to release his third long play under his solo moniker Atlas Sound. And it seems that this man can do no wrong: Parallax is another strong album stamped with the trademark quirkiness and fantastical melodies that make Atlas Sound, at once impressing us with the fact that this is definitely not Deerhunter that we are listening to. It is an easy distinction made apparent right from the very start – highlights include the crescendos in the aptly-titled opener “The Shakes”, and the restrained fragility of “Terra Incognita”. However, “Praying Man” gets my vote for the whimsical blending of strings, harmonica and garbled vocals – it is pure fun achieved by sheer simplicity, and despite being one of the shortest tracks in the album, actually makes the most impact on me. All in all, Parallax is undoubtedly the result of a very commendable vision by one of the most hardworking musicians on the planet today.
Favourite tracks: “Praying Man”, “Terra Incognita”, “The Shakes”, “Amplifiers”, “Te Amo”
Tao of the Dead, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead #
The Rip Tide, Beirut #
Crazy for You, Best Coast (2010) #
Bon Iver, Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP, Deerhunter (2009)
Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes #
Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Girls
Slave Ambient, The War on Drugs
Yuck, Yuck #
Also listened to:
Ashes and Fire, Ryan Adams
Favourite Worst Nightmare, Arctic Monkeys (2007)
Humbug, Arctic Monkeys (2009)
Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel, Atlas Sound (2008)
Brothers, Black Keys (2010)
The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton, Clogs (2010)
Mylo Xyloto, Coldplay
Degeneration Street, The Dears #
Codes and Keys, Death Cab for Cutie
The King is Dead, The Decemberists
The Lincoln Shuffle, Bryce Dessner
Build a Rocket Boys!, Elbow #
Antidotes, Foals (2008)
Winter of Mixed Drinks, Frightened Rabbit (2010)
Euphoric /// Heartbreak \\\, Glasvegas
Sigh No More, Mumford and Sons (2010)
The King of Limbs, Radiohead
Fallen Empires, Snow Patrol
Wild Hunt, The Tallest Man on Earth (2010)
Epic, Sharon Van Etten (2010)
Lisbon, The Walkmen (2010)
Within and Without, Washed Out
Dark Was the Night, compilation
Band’s sole stop in Southeast Asia announced in December 2010. Near heart attack. Panicked. Drove like maniac down to town to get tickets. Impatience. Restlessness. Show in March 2011 postponed just three days before actual date due to Japan earthquake/tsunami. Devastated. Heartbroken. Sniffles. Band rescheduled new date months later. Tentative celebratory mood. Lower expectations. Higher anticipation. Longest wait ever. The National (finally!) in Singapore, November 2011. Awestruck. Exploded. Had fantasies for days. And still floating on air weeks after.
They finally wrapped up their High Violet tour just two weekends ago, after having been on the road for over a year-and-a-half in support of their 2010 album; had five new songs released this year alone (“Think You Can Wait”, “Exile Vilify”, “The American Teacher Song”, “Rylan”, “I Need My Girl”), with some from their current catalogue used in award-winning movies and documentaries; shared music production credits and participated in intriguing visual art and multimedia presentations with others in their circles; and welcomed two adorable babies into their families and humble little abodes.
That last bit in particular may either qualify as information overload or paint me as an obsessed fan or crazed stalker, but that aside – one wonders how they can do it all.
Truth is, I am quickly running out of words to write about The National. After countless dreamy and navel-gazing posts, a few undoubtedly biased reviews, and gleefully awarding them the top spot for my lists for 2008 and 2010 – perhaps there is nothing more left to be said. Any reasons or excuses that I have will be boldly self-explanatory and unabashedly cringeworthy.
However, it does not change the fact that The National has completely redefined my life.
My review of The National’s outing in Singapore’s Esplanade Theatre on 6th November 2011 can be accessed here.
Naturally, I make no apologies for that one band that has been settling down comfortably at the top spot of my last.fm charts for the past year: