Shit. So I keep a playlist on iTunes called ‘newstuff’, which is 7 or 8 of the last albums I bought, listed by the upload date. I have bought four albums this year. Four! That’s probably the smallest number of CDs I’ve bought in a year since I was 12 and my allowance didn’t stretch to buying tapes.
Not that it means nothing good came out, although it was a pretty bleak year as far as I’m concerned. It mostly means my list of ‘albums to buy’ is starting to get out of control.
Anyhoo, here’s the four.
Old 97’s- Grand Theatre Vol 2 : I think I summed up Vol.1 as “an Old 97’s record”. Nothing groundbreaking, but it certainly wasn’t bad. Vol.2 is what happens when the writing gets loosened up. There’s a better variety of tracks and tempos, a lot more lyrical play, a little less polish and a little more heart. Critically speaking, they could’ve released Vol.2 by itself and thrown the best 3 or 4 cuts from Vol.1 on a single, and it would’ve been fine.
They Might Be Giants- Join Us: When you’ve more or less grown up with a band, at some point they’ll start releasing things you’re just not into. It’s not that they’re bad necessarily, but they’ve drifted away from their old sound and you’ve drifted in a different direction entirely. This is the first full, non-kids album since 1998 that I’ve really dug all the way through. This is a major swing back to the upbeat music/downer lyrics thing that works so well. Musically, instead of a lot of annoyance (Wicked Little Critta, right?) and playing around with genre cliches, the Johns have gone back to a distinct sound. So yes, this is fucking good. Also there’s a song about everyone celebrating your death. 😀
Decemberists- The King is Dead: I’ve always been on the fence with this band. I know they’re good, but Meloy’s voice just brings up images of indie-hipster kids from a few years back. And Crane Wife was awesome, but also one of the most goddamn melancholy things I own. Not on this one though, this is a mostly ‘up’ kind of thing. My only complaint is “Rox in the Box”; when you bring that much lyrical sincerity to the table and then throw in some Dr. Suess shit, it just doesn’t work.
R.E.M.– Collapse Into Now: I promised myself that if this one didn’t pan out, it’d be the last R.E.M. album I’d get. Fucking irony. This is where they should have gone after New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Or even after Up. And, apparently, it’s a theme for old bands to put out better-than-the-previous records this year; just most of them didn’t split afterwards. Anyway, this is really close to Out of Time– there are some serious tracks, some “Michael Stipe is just a big child” tracks, but overall I don’t think any of them are going to age too poorly (Radio Song anyone?). There are definitely echoes of the last few albums- “Discoverer” is too lyrically abstract to mean much, and it doesn’t have enough punch to overcome that. Frankly though, if there were more than three songs that didn’t require the skip button, it’s a relative success. Admittedly, Stipe said they were quitting on a high note. And as disappointed as I am that they’re done, I have to agree.
As far as seeing live music I wasn’t involved in making, I can count the shows on one hand. I’m broke and busy and will probably be so until I graduate. Really though, most of the local scene is pretty meh, and nothing bigger’s come close enough to go out of my way (except the Pixies, but the fucking ticket site didn’t work for me). Hopefully I’ll catch a handful of good things this year.
And that’s it. I should be able to get a few more from 2011 off my list soon (Cake, Radiohead, Beastie Boys, Feist, and Tom Waits should be first. Sigh). I thought about making a Worst-Of list, but google gave me 30 pages of that. In one sense, top ten garbage isn’t really any worse than 10 years ago, or 20, or whatever- but fucked if it doesn’t seem to grate more and more the older I get.