Best of 2011: Music mavens pick their albums of the year
Besides going to concerts, Gazette music writers Michael Hochanadel and Brian McElhiney spend a lot of time listening to music. Here are their choices for the top albums of the year, with Hochanadel picking among national releases and McElhiney weighing in with the top local albums.
Hochanadel’s Top Albums
“The Whole Love” by Wilco. From the first outrageous explosion in “Art of Almost” to the laid-back, pastoral bliss of “One Sunday Morning,” this may be the most accomplished unhyphenated rock album this year. There’s no category crossing here, no hybridization — though guitarist Nels Cline is truly a category all his own.
“Mission Bell” by Amos Lee. What tremendous folk-rock and country-rock songs these are, and what terrific performances — confident, musically commanding and open-hearted with emotional generosity. Lee’s smoky voice could carry his songs, but it doesn’t have to: the band and arrangements are terrific.
“Bon Iver” by Bon Iver. The name of both the band (singer-songwriter Justin Vernon and sonic enablers) and of its second album means “good winter.” This beautiful folk-pop is perfect for short days and deep, cold nights. Bigger in sound than the debut “For Emma, Forever Ago,” it’s still intimate and atmospheric, lovely and sincere.
“Weather” by Meshell Ndegeocello. The singer-songwriter-bassist shares this triumph with her producer Joe Henry. Sonically small-scale, this music invites you to listen to the words and feelings like someone who talks softly makes you lean in close. This music is emotionally close.
“Nine Types of Light” by TV on the Radio. Seriously beautiful, big-spirited rock by a band that lost bassist Gerard Smith this year, but not its mojo. Extra points for playing a titanic show here recently? No, no critical drift or discount necessary for this great band. Brooklyn rocks and rocks some more.
McElhiney’s Top Albums
“The Markets Never Sleep” by Immune Friction. OK, these guys are a bit out of left field — or rather, east. The Bennington, Vt., duo combines heavy, detuned guitars, angelic male-female vocal harmonies and an indie flair for cryptic lyrics on their Don Fury-produced debut.
“Another Lonely Road” by the Rob Jonas Band. This open-mic-night haunter really came into his own on this, his second full-length album and first with his live backing band of the past two years. Bluesy lead guitarist JV Abbey may be the best thing on six strings in the entire region, while bassist Mike Guzzo of C.R.U.M.B.S, fame and drummer Mark Adamo slam Jonas’ earnest country-rockers into submission. (Disclosure: I like Adamo so much that I snatched him for my own band, The Hearing Aides).
“Nightlife” by Phantogram. The Saratoga Springs darlings have done it again, in miniature form, on their six-song follow-up EP to the monstrous “Eyelid Movies.” These songs find the two continuing to expand on their adventurous trip-hop pop base: Check out single “Don’t Move,” with its sampled horn-section groove, and then try in vain to do what the title commands.
“Rebels Without Applause” by The Blisterz. Snotty pop-punkers, who are also dads, but don’t let that fool you. “Rebels,” the band’s second album, is snarky, fun and as energetic as the Descendents in their prime. Songs like “BOTB” and “Your Girlfriend Wants Me” keep the laughs coming — and the heads banging.
“Backs Against the Wall” by The Ameros. The Albany four-piece’s debut full-length features political rock ’n’ funk (and hip-hop, and soul, and punk, and metal) that delves deep, confronting the social and political questions that have come to the forefront in recent years. But it’s all toe-tapping and danceable — and in the case of “Name Your Price For Freedom” and others, a live show away from a rowdy sing-along.