I'm 33. White. Dorky. And I love music.
But not in the way you probably love music. You see, from a technical standpoint, I know nothing about it. Literally. A decade ago, a respected musician I knew had to explain to my naive ears why they disliked Green Day so much. Apparently, it had something to do with these things called chords. I understand that now.
Nonetheless, whether you're putting three chords or an infinite amount of instruments together in a twenty second span, I am amazed at your ability to do so. I truly think musicians are wonderful souls, making our otherwise pedantic days filled with color. Music can make me glow, and I'm baffled and humbled by the presence of something that moves me to write.
In short, on the personal artist scale, musicians rank highest in my mind.
This may not make much sense, as clearly my own artistic ambitions reside in the world of films and writing. Which is probably the reason why I respect them so much; I simply feel my feeble work leaves me with no right to sit in their presence. I put words to paper. They inject emotions into your daily routine.
I'm fortunate to have a lot of musicians as friends, which always keeps me and my opinions on music sharp. Don't confuse this with taste or credibility. I'm just saying, in a room full of these guys, you better be prepared to defend your point of view. They may loathe what I say, but I can at least give solid reasons as to why I like something. On a positive note, they like a lot of interesting and diverse music. This is one of the gifts of their friendships, as I'm always open to new stuff, and they usually happily pass it along. I've listened to so much of it that their tastes do rub off on me, but after decades of consuming music, I find myself enjoying a particularly pedestrian type of melody that many of them consider boring.
I can't disagree, but it's not for lack of effort. I looked at Spin's Top 50 discs of 2011. Rolling Stone too. Even Pitchfork. And yet I can't help but be woefully aware that I am unhip and uncool when it comes to music. At least from their point of view.
So be it.
At this stage in my life, I don't really care if they think my tastes are vanilla. I love music, and think there's a place for all of it. Well, almost all of it.
Here then are my favorite 10 albums of 2011, and why. The first nine are in no particular order. The last one is by far the album I listened to most this year.
Let's start it off with an obvious one...
*Pearl Jam PJ20
Pearl Jam is my favorite band of all time. You know those dudes who worship Pearl Jam and everything Eddie Vedder does or says? That's me. Totally guilty. I've come to realize it has a lot to do with a specific moment in my life when music took over. Pearl Jam was just hitting, and it became the badge of my youth.
Hearing Ed sing the late Andy Wood's Crown of Thorns has always been touching, and this version roamed in my head for days after the movie.
*Amos Lee Mission Bell
Every now and then, the magic of one song hits me and my senses at the exact moment I'm feeling a certain emotion. It's a cathartic five minutes, and one that I openly seek in regards to music. You're feeling a certain way... a certain emotion... then, a song hits the airwaves at invades your ears with unwavering momentum. You lose track of the words tumbling in your mind, and there is only the song. This beautiful song you have never heard before, but know you'll hear again. When I saw Amos Lee on Letterman earlier this year, I had such a moment. I bought the CD the next day, and suddenly I was a fan. Angry I hadn't heard of him before, I now pass it along to you. What a voice. What a poet.
*Wilco The Whole Love
Wilco is one of those bands that people have been telling me to check out for a while. I had dabbled in their music before; much like I'm dabbling in My Morning Jacket now, but nothing had clicked. I liked them. But I didn't love them. My friend George gave me their new album, and I must say that I've finally seen what so many others have come to understand. It's a great, easy-going album that fits almost any mood, and I'm grateful to have it. For some reason, I really dig this long, rambling track near the end... simple, yet effective.
*Coldplay Mylo Xyloto
I've made my feelings on Coldplay fairly clear. I totally accept the mocking. I still love them, even if you can't really rock out to them. The new disc is cool, though not exactly groundbreaking. This is one of the tracks I dig most...
*Black Keys El Camino
I am terrified that the fans of the Black Keys are going to turn on them now that they've become a bigger name. They shouldn't, because as I've said over and over, we need more mainstream rock bands. The new album kicks ass, much as we expected. Kick it.
*The Soundtrack to Midnight in Paris
I went to Paris this year. What do you expect?
Explosions in the Sky Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
This is probably a surprise to most of my friends and colleagues. I am always bemoaning music that has no melody. More specifically, I'm a song guy. I like to mock my friends who like bands like The Mars Volta (you are aware of my hypocritical tendencies, right?), because to me, they aren't songs. I respect the musicianship and diversity. I just don't like it. I'll take Let It Be backwards over stuff like that.
But for some reason, I've gripped onto Explosions in the Sky with a sincere love. I first became aware of them through Friday Night Lights. It's wonderful writing music, and I highly recommend it.
City and Colour Little Hell
I'm not sure exactly the moment I first heard City and Colour, but I loved it instantaneously. Granted, the first album I discovered was the much darker Bring Me Your Love, but the new disc was like a sappy antidote to the morose and deathly themes on that first disc.
It's nostalgic for me, and for some reason I associate young college love with the music. That isn't a knock, as the sentiment of love is more than okay with me. The world isn't all that bad people.
Foster The People Torches
I should not like this album. It's totally against my innate personality. It's hyper. Sorta dance. Sorta-pop. Filled with electronic bells and whistles, a singer that has a voice I love to imitate, and a druggy-esque haze to the pseudo-happiness it seems to project.
I should not like this album.
But dammit, I do. It's way too infectious for me to deny. The hooks never stop, and I find myself bopping around like a moron trying to recapture his youth. Tell me you don't do the same?
Finally, my favorite album of the year.
It may not seem like a shock to you, but it is to me. The back-story of my interest in this band is different than most, and I never thought they'd put out my favorite album of the year. On any year. Let alone this one. But here it is...
Radiohead King of Limbs
Clocking in at just over 35 minutes, this disc represents everything I tend to not champion in music. The CD length is ridiculously small, so much so that by the time Separator finishes, you think you've just warmed up.
It's also Radiohead. And until last year, I struggled to get the fascination. I liked some tunes, but I did not see the brilliance that so many others did. It probably had a lot to do with the first Radiohead album I ever checked out, OK Computer. I remember buying it, eager to see what the fuss was all about, only to be perplexed. Quite honestly, I quietly wondered if I was an idiot, because I didn't get it. Paranoid Android? What was that?
And so, for years my friends would try and get me into Radiohead, imploring that I'd like it. Yes, they weren't the anthemic arena rock band that I had become so accustomed to, but they weren't so far off from U2 either. At least from a certain point of view.
The biggest stumbling block to my interest in Radiohead came from my natural archenemy, the hipster. You see, every hipster I ever accounted always had the same answer when I asked them who was the 'biggest' and 'most commercial' band they liked. I did this because the answer was always the same. It was always Radiohead.
I scoffed at this, because to me it showcased everything that angered me about hipsters.
And so my enjoyment of Radiohead ceased to exist. I didn't dislike them; I just didn't give them a chance.
But I became more open-minded, and chose to embrace hipsters for what they are, all while maintaining my right to shoot my Spidey web fluid of judgement at them in any given circumstance. Yes, I'm aware of the irony. Back to Radiohead and my ignorance to their greatness.
I relented when I heard "Reckoner", from In Rainbows.
Much as I stated earlier, sometimes all it takes is one song to change my mind. "Reckoner" did that for me. To this day, it remains my favorite Radiohead song.
Around that time, Rolling Stone listed Kid A as their best album of the 2000's. I was intrigued, and gave them another shot. I didn't find Paranoid Android, and instead found a mind-blowing album I was fascinated with.
I consumed more of Radiohead's back catalogue, and soon became a convert.
King of Limbs came out this year, and only served to advance my love of Radiohead's musical expression. It really is art, and the lush sounds that emanated from my headphones continue to haunt me now.
There aren't any sing alongs. There aren't any fist stomping choruses. And there certainly aren't any easy transitions.
In fact, there is only one word to describe this album to me.
My favorite album of the year. I get it now. I absolutely get it.
What about you? What albums turned you on this year? I'd love to hear...