With the calendar year fast approaching its end, we are happy to share a dozen of our favourite independent albums of the past year.
By Megan Platts and Michael Borrelli
Published December 22, 2011
It might feel like t-shirt weather outside, but we assure you, the calendar year is fast approaching its end. That means music-loving nerds like us are compelled by unknown natural forces to compile, list, and rank our favourites from this most recent swing around the sun, and then to proselytize these choices to our friends and families.
In that spirit, and also as a public service for those poor souls who are still looking for stocking stuffer ideas, we are happy to share with you, dear reader, a dozen of our favourite independent albums of the past year.
First stop on our tour of music-land is one very close to home, just up at Catherine North. No, not the street, but the Hamilton studio that recorded and mixed the debut, self-titled EP from local super-duo Whitehorse.
Local belle Melissa McLelland and her guitar virtuoso husband Luke Doucet are the couple behind Whitehorse, and you can hear a few songs off the EP and see some very pretty shots of the city in this promo video:
Next it's off to the West coast, where Dan Bejar puts out songs under the name Destroyer. You might recognize Bejar's voice from his work with the New Pornographers, but his output with Destroyer is unique, and explores the edges of pop.
Kaputt is a dazzling fusion of genres like jazz (?) and soft-rock(??) that might otherwise leave hipsters running for the doors, but in Bejar's capable hands, it leaves you bopping your head and praying for more.
Destroyer's ninth LP was long-listed for this year's Polaris Music Prize and will grow on you with each satisfying listen.
And we would be remiss if we didn't mention two other Canadian albums worth picking up this year: Timber Timbre's Creep On Creepin' On is a dark and bluesy collection of songs warmed by Taylor Kirk's unforgettable voice, and; Vancouver folkie Dan Mangan's Oh Fortune deserves the raves it's been getting on both sides of the pond.
Speaking of Europe, we can't let civic pride stand in the way of appreciating great music from other locales. This year was a bumper crop, but if we had to narrow it down to our favourite international albums, we couldn't ignore the catchy attempt to re-boot rock'n'roll led by the The Vaccines.
Borrowing some attitude and sneer from The Ramones, these boys from England keep the distortion pedal firmly pressed on their spectacular debut, What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, five-piece pop-rockers Real Estate followed up their excellent 2009 debut with an equally impressive ode to conurbation called Days. Simple and sharp songwriting and tight playing made this our favourite American disc of the year.
Of course, no 2011 list would be complete without referring to the consensus picks for best album of the year: PJ Harvey foretold the chaos we watched on the streets of Britain this year with her brilliant Mercury Prize-winning album, Let England Shake, and; France's M83 somehow keeps getting better and better with each release, which is why you need to listen to Hurry Up, We're Dreaming.
"What? That's it? Where are the ladies," you ask? Well don't fear, because the ladies stole the show this year, and we've saved the very best for last.
It was a revelation to hear Sweden's Lykke Li for the first time back in 2008, and her latest album, Wounded Rhymes, is likely to find a home close to a Canadian's heart.
Since winter in Stockholm sounds awfully familiar, this dark-ish blend of electronic, pop and indie-rock sounds speaks for itself (and is worth watching the inevitable World of Warcraft commercial to sample on YouTube):
Perennial favourite Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) followed up her wild, weird (and best of the year) 2009 disc with yet another amazing release. Strange Mercy is for those who like their coffee with a shot of something strong in it, and their indie rock to sound like cacophony rearranged and sung by a sweet-voiced angel.
Don't believe us? Listen and you'll understand:
Closer to home, No Joy is a wicked group of shoegazing gals who soak their dream-pop in distortion but know how to rock a good riff and follow a melody down the garden path.
Transplanted to Montreal, their 2011 release Ghost Blonde pricked a lot of ears, and hypnotized a lot of listeners with its fuzzy guitars and hair-raising harmonies.
And finally, arguably our favourite album of the year is from another lady nominally from Montreal, but who grew up south of the border. Little Scream (aka Laurel Sprengelmeyer) released The Golden Record this year with the help of Montreal's version of Broken Social Scene (including members of Arcade Fire and Stars, among others).
The Golden Record is a bombastic yet vulnerable piece of pop that stands out listen after listen. And even though its most energetic numbers have garnered the greatest attention, this beautiful little piece called "The Heron and the Fox", recorded in a station wagon in the cold, is jaw-dropping:
See also: 20 Solid Albums from 2010.
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