Year-end top 10 list: Todd Martens
Throughout the week and holiday season, Pop & Hiss will be presenting various top 10 lists from its contributors. What follows are the favorite albums of the year from staffer Todd Martens.
On May 10, the No. 1 act on this list officially released its new album. Not a day has gone by since when I didn't listen to at least one song from that CD.That made picking a favorite release in 2011 a rather easy task, but what follows are 14 other albums I still can't wait to hear again. There will be no extended essay or grand cultural commentary here, just some artists I hope some may believe are worth exploring.
No. 1. Le Butcherettes, "Sin Sin Sin" (Sargent House): Everything about this album screams now. Based in Los Angeles and formed in Mexico, this band delivers current-events hard rock that defies genre borders, and it's led with fearless bravado by Teri "Gender Bender" Suarez. Whether it's dead authors, poverty or social injustice, Le Butcherettes vamp, rant and howl, a reminder that only rock 'n' roll can have this much fun tackling big ideas.
No. 2. Van Hunt, "What Were You Hoping For?" (Godless Hotspot/Thirty Tigers): To get inside the mind of Van Hunt is to embark on a musically strange trip. Melodies come with odd twists and turns, almost as if Hunt, a major-label survivor, is taking massive hooks and tossing them into a room full of carnival mirrors. Call it psychedelic soul or modern blues, these are recession-time tales of caution with gloriously short attention spans.
No. 3. F-ed Up, “David Comes to Life” (Matador Records): The growled lyrics make a forceful entrance, but once you adjust to the aggression, you'll find this to be one of the more textured hard rock albums in recent memory. Guitars layer melody upon melody, and these 18-tracks loosely stitch together a rock opera about lost love and triumph over tragedy. Don't be scared away by the word "opera." This most definitely is not ready for Broadway.
No. 4. The Roots, "Undun" (Island Def Jam): In a comfortably swift running time of less than 40 minutes, the Roots unravel a mix of gospel, jazz and hip-hop, melding late-career atmospheric ambitions with brevity. Every moment counts on these snapshots of hard living, which are graced with a remorseful undercurrent.
No. 5. Anna Calvi, "Anna Calvi" (Domino Records): With a flair for vocal dramatics and an approach to rock that puts the emphasis on building tension and mood, Anna Calvi touches upon gothicism, flamenco and the blues, all of it textures for her acerbic guitar work.
No. 6. Raphael Saadiq, “Stone Rollin’” (Columbia): A fast-moving, groove-filled stroll through R&B’s past and present in which Saadiq's stylish production aims for timelessness rather than retro. There are dusty, country-inspired numbers and more jubilant stabs at old-fashioned garage rock, but all belong to a sound that feels uniquely Saadiq's.
No. 7. Wilco, "The Whole Love" (dBm/Anti-). Wilco's first independent album opens with a scorcher, as "Art of Almost" is a riveting, 7½-minute melodic collage unlike anything else in the band's catalog, launching with a crush of digital thunder and ending in a torrent of guitars and rhythms. The rest of the album isn't as arresting, of course, but is instead a showcase for a veteran band that's still exploring the boundaries of its limitations.
No. 8. Wild Flag, "Wild Flag" (Merge Records): Veterans of Sleater-Kinney, Helium and the Minders find a way to make the scrappy, loud and loose feel assertive, focused and lean. These 10 tracks capture the unrestrained passion of the riot grrrl era but do so with a mix of grown-up levity and confidence. Even at its most choppy, the mission here is direct: capture the joy of making music.
No. 9. Bewitched Hands, "Birds and Drums" (Look Mum No Hands). Every song on this lovely 13-track effort seems the start of a brand new concept, be it the slow-building exploration of harmonies on "Hard to Cry," the rock 'n' piano jaunt of "Underwear" or the shout-along schizophrenic emotions of the communal anthem "Work." They're from France, but fans of lush, Beach Boys-inspired psychedelia will feel right at home.
No. 10. Lydia Loveless, "Indestructible Machine" (Bloodshot): She’s only been of drinking age for a few months, but rural Ohio’s Lydia Loveless has plenty of opinions on life, love and this here world we live in. Forgive her, however, if they’re cynical and contradictory. “I grew up on whiskey and God, so I’m a little bit confused,” she sings on “Do Right,” one of a handful of incendiary, shoot first and worry later takes on the midpoint between country and punk.
Just missed, but no less love:
No. 11. Tune-Yards, “Whokill” (4AD).
No. 12. Feist, "Metals" (Interscope).
No. 13. The Drive-By Truckers, "Go-Go Boots" (ATO)
No. 14. Shabazz Palaces, “Black Up” (Sub Pop)
No. 15. The Feelies, “Here Before” (Bar/None)
-- Todd Martens
Photo: Teri "Gender Bender" Suaréz at L.A.'s La Plaza de Cultura y Artes. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times