My Favorite Albums Of 2011

Delicate Steve – Wondervisions

I accidentally introduced myself to Delicate Steve when I got to an Akron/Family show they opened in March just a little too early. Not that I’m the kind of guy who purposefully shows up late to evade the openers, but I can’t say I’m the kind of guy who makes it a point to be there a half an hour early as to not miss the sound check of an unknown act either. But regardless, I only got there in time to see a measly two songs from them. Let it be a testament to Steve himself that those ten minutes of circusy jamming (and his dancing in the after show impromptu dance party that went down – he was dancing like Steven Tyler doing a James Brown impression) left enough of a mark on me to seek out this album immediately and soak myself in it.

I feel like “instrumental” is verging on being a dirty word for describing bands because in most instances people would assume one of two things. “It’s boring.” or worse, “It’s like Explosions In The Sky, right?” To make that assumption for any band would be insulting but it would be especially insulting in this case. But this is an instrumental album from an instrumental band. Let me be clear. But more importantly, let me make it even more clear, that the absence of vocals is not the absence of a voice. This album has a voice that is loud and proud. It’s youthful, aspiring, and incredibly sure of itself.

There’s a lot packed into these songs; like an overstuffed suitcase. But unlike a hodge podgy shoving of wrinkled clothes, when opened, this suitcase displays everything precisely puzzled together. Packed, yes, but utilizing what space it has to hold everything it should. Each song battles the previous to call itself home to the most cosmic riff, leaving distorted echoes of The Allman Brothers, the weirdness of Talking Heads, and the groove of Stevie Wonder. A lot of how I react to albums has to do with what notions I have about them before I listen. Knowing truly nothing, I loved everything about it from first impression and this was one of the best discoveries of the year.

 The Antlers – Burst Apart

Completely shocking myself, I love this. I mean I really, reallllllly, thought Hospice was a major yawn. It’s praise had little or no merit and the album severely lacked ambition. Which makes me so happy to see that Burst Apart is spilling with ambition. It really feels like a whole new band. Bookending this album with it’s best songs (and the third best song right in the middle), it makes for a really pleasant listen. It’s somber, as I expected it to be, but it’s all carried on a dark wave that isn’t exempt from crashing at any moment. It also has a prickle to it that Hospice desperately needed. It’s important to keep a listener on their toes, even for an album that has a clear direction. The listener needs to be led, they’re asking to be led, and it’s the responsibility of every album to do that. This album has succeeded on all of those things, and I’m not sure I can think of a better example of an improvement in successive albums. I mean, wow.

Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

There is something so incredibly likable about Girls. Even on their last album, Album, which I didn’t love or hate, there were parts of it that I couldn’t help but applaud (“Oh I wish I had a suntan / I wish I had a pizza and a bottle of wine.”) With Father, Son, Holy Ghost, there is a notable improvement in song writing, a little more depth within the instrumentation, and a clearer focus of what they are doing. I was happily surprised with this album, and as time went on, it continued to grow on me in a way their last album didn’t.

Things get started with a surfy, rolling, bouncy ball of a track called Honey Bunny, in which Christopher Owens sings to a future girlfriend or wife, and to himself. Down on his luck from previous attempts with girls, yet still hopeful for the chance at something new, he admits with a level of playful self-deprecation “They don’t like my boney body, they don’t like my dirty hair.” It’s a self-realization paired with a self-confidence. At first, he seems to come off terribly ambivalent about it all. Girls don’t like him, he knows it, and he is moving on. It’s not deterring him from the fantasy of finding the perfect woman just for him. But what makes the song truly genius, is just when you think this guy has enough swagger to to actually find the woman he pines for, the song slows and he admits that he’ll never find a woman who loves him as much as his mother did. It’s incredibly honest, incredibly introspective, and pits hopefulness against reality, setting the tone for the whole record.

Vomit, the tragic epic that sits in the middle of the album is a telling of him anxiously driving around San Francisco looking for his girlfriend who was out drinking. Their relationship was on the decline and he wasn’t ready to let go and embark on a life without her, but she was already removed. Even though he knew he was doing the wrong thing in trying to hold on to her, he couldn’t stop doing it. While the message and the lyrics are rather simple, they are irrefutably poignant. This song really tears the house down as it takes off and it reminded me of some of the cacophonous moments in Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig In The Sky.

This record is as genuine as the man who wrote it and genuineness is never ever wasted in song writing. I couldn’t have been more impressed with this than I was/am.

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo

This was an album that I knew I was going to like just from hearing the first few seconds of the finger picked opening of the first track Baby’s Arms. It’s an undemanding and atmospheric love song with an open message. “I get sick of just about everyone and I hide in my baby’s arms.” And the interesting thing is that it’s not an “I love you” love song, but rather an “I’m loved by you” love song. When you look at Kurt Vile, or when you listen to him sing, he maintains a very cool attitude. He has long freakish hair, a solid and sure baritone voice, and he could easily and erroneously be pegged as a guy who is too cool for it all, but in listening to what he’s singing, you realize he’s sort of the opposite of that. There’s no doubt he’s cool, but it’s all from his honesty and ability to be comfortable with himself. He’s willing and ready to take any notion you might have about him and flip it on you to make it work for him, and not against. “I bet by now you probably think I’m a puppet to the man, well, I’ll tell you right now you best believe I am.” I think that this album’s refusal to let you completely figure it out right away is part of what makes it strong. There is a familiarity to the sound that allows for immediate attraction but there is also so much to it that is sort of waiting to reveal itself and change your interpretation. And the real beauty is that at some point, you sort of realize he’s right there with you trying to figure it out as it’s happening. “I don’t know if it’s real but it’s how I feel.”

I’ve described Kurt Vile as being a mix between Neil Young and Mick Jagger. But he’s also got a little Tom Petty in him too. And maybe a little Lou Reed. And maybe a little Roger McGuinn. And maybe a little Syd Barrett. However, despite drawing comparison and influence from the aforementioned, I still think that Kurt is able to have a very distinct and fresh voice to his songs, and nothing about this album feels recycled.

Givers – In Light

This is a very bright and shiny record. It’s loud, inventive, and the product of some kids who grew up in the Louisiana music scene tinkering with Cajun and zydeco bands. Knowing that much, it’s no surprise this record sounds the way it does. As with most bright and sunny records, the good ones at least, it’s not fifty minutes of high powered toasting, but rather, while the light never dims, you need to move around,  sun patch to sun patch, searching for the warmth as the afternoon sun shifts. This record is a constant moving of afternoon sun. In this regard In Light is a perfect title.

I’ve been a fan of them ever since seeing them open for Dirty Projectors in 2009, and while I had been playing and over playing their EP, this was a record I was desperately waiting for. The only complaint I would have (as an already familiar listener anticipating a full length) would be that they chose to include the four songs from the EP onto this record. They are new, better recordings, with better mixing and a better grasp on the structure of some of the songs, but still, I would have liked to hear ten new songs. Regardless, and I can’t use that against this album, this really works for me. Definitely some of the most impressive musicianship on any record I’ve heard this year. Lots of moments with sky high energy, and a constant emotive thread weaving it’s way from the first moments to the last.

Time spent as lead vocalist in divided between Taylor Guarisco and Tiffany Lamson, but songs are often most successful when they exist symbiotically. Lively passing lines back and forth, you can feel the joy they’re releasing to just be doing what they are doing.

With plenty of unsuspecting elements interjecting themselves so strangely perfectly (a totally unsyrupy jazz flute?) there’s a lot to like about this. It feels like a record that Vampire Weekend couldn’t make but really wish they could. It’s upbeat and encourages you to move. Even if it’s just a subtle rolling of the neck and shimmy of the arms, it’s hard to not want to groove to it. It’s entirely authentic and very happy, and I think most people would tell you the same. Whiny babies will complain about all the changes in key, tempo, and probably the mashing of many styles, but hey, there’s always Vampire Weekend for those of you still at the kids table.

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

This album rules and if you don’t see that, you’ve gotta be kidding yourself. Or not actually listening. Or you like The Deftones. Which in that case, you’ve gotta be kidding yourself. So let’s get real for a second. Bon Iver is more popular now than ever, and even at the release of this album I had to wonder if it was still cool to like Bon Iver. Stupid, I know, but if I had to see one more person quoting Skinny Love on Facebook YEARS after the fact, I was going to die. Or start listening to Kings Of Leon or something. But I did have to wonder if he had seen his day. And what I quickly found out from the first time I listened to this album, was that this was a ditching of all the gunk that accumulated from the last album. The story of a sad dude in a cabin. The Jools Holland performance. His working with Kanye West. His beard. This was the Bon Iver snake shedding the skin and slithering on. And with that understanding you’re allowed to listen to the album and realize, holy cow, this is really great.

Justin Vernon could have easily done the same exact thing as he did with For Emma, Forever Ago and few people would have complained. I mean, haters gonna hate (@Mike_FTW), but it would have been well received. But instead this record took some well calculated, bold and opportune steps and did something that was not only progressive but necessary. The biggest and most noticeable difference from the last full length to this one is the inclusion a band. And impressively it avoids sounding like he wrote ten new songs and then had his friends come in and throw their talents on top (which apparently to some extent, he did). Songs seem to be consciously crafted with the band in mind. In addition, there are also plenty of beautiful arrangements, string, horn, that carry this far beyond the traditional “backing band” concept. Much of it is really orchestral.

What made this record one of my favorites was that it took the idea of Bon Iver and made it better. It took the understanding of this project and unfurled the scroll a bit and encouraged me to explore a little more, and in doing that I was able to remember all the reason why I liked Bon Iver in the first place. The interesting and promising aspect of that, is that in that expansion, I still believe there is more rolled up and waiting to be spread out and unfolded on future albums.

Wye Oak – Civilian

Wye Oak is a duo. And not that their sound particularly highlights this, but it also doesn’t shy away from it. And I really appreciate that. It’s tasteful. And this tact is on display in their best work yet with Civilian. Up to this point I was still trying to figure Wye Oak out. I had plenty of friends who campaigned on their behalf (apparently being young and living in Baltimore means this is your jam) but for whatever reason I just wasn’t clicking with them. But when this came out, every thing fell into place and I fell in love. Shortly after, I saw them live and that pretty much cemented my relationship with the band, and specifically this album. Since then, I’ve gone back and obsessed over each of their other albums individually to make up for lost time, but I do credit that all to this album.

At it’s heart this album is pretty folky, you can imagine each track being stripped to an acoustic guitar and haunting vocals and being okay with it. But it’s dressed up pretty well. And I mean that in a really good way. It has an atmosphere to it that isn’t capable with something so bare, and I think the songs succeed because of it. Important to realize that’s not always the case. It’s easy to get carried away and start mucking things up just because you can. But that’s not what’s happening here. Again, everything is so tasteful.

I think what really makes this album work and why I love it so much is that it’s just really beautiful. Beautiful in the way you might call a photograph of a really dirty city beautiful. Meaningful, a little dark, and an ability to make you feel something. A.V. Club had a really interesting article about 2011 being a year of no important records, and many good ones. The argument is that it’s okay to be a good record, even if you don’t change music. In my opinion, this album is a reallllly good record. A.V. Club thinks so too and ranked this as their number one of the year.

tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L

This album came as a storm of a surprise to me. I really did not care for their previous Bird-Brains album whatsoever, and because of that, I really hadn’t even planned on listening to this at all. Until sometime in mid-August when I received a tip from Ryan Maffei basically telling me I’d be crazy to not listen to this. In turn, I feel like it’s my duty to pass that conviction along, yes, anyone not listening to this is crazy.

This is probably the most colorful, powerful, brightest record I’ve heard this year. It’s a really excellent blending of the weird with the listenable. Nothing is pushed too far for the sake of pushing, and yet this is definitely an experimental record. It’s records like this, where a powerful, opinionated woman is doing everything right, that ensures my belief that Lady Gaga is doing everything wrong.

There are many ways to judge why something is your favorite, and in making a list like this, you really need to examine why it is that you like something, or what makes it good. For this album, I went through a time where I would just play it over and over and over, as soon as it finishes just going back to the first song and starting it up again. That alone doesn’t make a record good or bad, but it is a pretty good indicator of how something resonates with you. In the truest sense of the phrase, I could not get enough of it. And since then, it’s been a record I’ve regularly returned to and have enjoyed every time. Even if you don’t like this record, and I’m really trying to be forgiving at the thought of someone who wouldn’t like this, this is a record that will stick with you. It’s got such an interesting sound that it’s hard to forget about it. However, playing up the memorability of it kind of feels like I’m selling the rest of it short. And I don’t mean to do that. This is a good memorable. Something you want to be remembering not something you have to be remembering.

In what is probably the track of the year, Bizness is the track that I want to listen to again literally every time I hear it. I’m a believer in an album being played in it’s entirety from start to finish. It’s how the artist intended it to be heard and who am I to mess with that? But man, I break that rule far too often in thanks to this song. From the opening flutters you sort of know the song is going to be special but I don’t think anyone could have predicted it was going to be this explosion of excitement in the way that it is. You have to force yourself to stay motionless, otherwise you’ll be giving in and throwing yourself around every time you hear, which is where I am.

Not to trash Lady Gaga, (but yea, sort of to trash her) but she makes a big stink about herself and her music and how weird she is and then immediately throws up her hand like a traffic cop and says, wait a minute, stop it right there, you’re not allowed to judge me, I was born this way mister. Sure. Let’s just for a minute assume that that’s true, (it’s not) that attitude suuucks! It only brings on unnecessary hate and stirs people up for no reason other than her own enjoyment of being capable of doing so. This record doesn’t preach a message so different from Lady Gaga’s and not even in an entirely different way, but instead of being all ughhhh about it, this record says, this is me, here are my real thoughts and concerns. And it leaves it at that. Any opinions you have beyond that are your own, not some projection on you that you’re expected to have only to be later used against you. And that resonates SO much better.

Youth Lagoon – The Year Of Hibernation

So I’ve been singing the praises of this record for a little bit now and I guess it’s time for me to get the choir going. I love this record! I know that really goes without saying as it’s ranked so highly on this list, but I do just love it. It’s a dreamy, often warbled, electric piano played by a wild ghost of a record. Now, I’m not much of a lo-fi man, it’s a kind of weird world that I don’t find myself in often. Not for much other reason than the fact that I usually like my songs to have a little more production in them. However, I totally appreciate lo-fi music because there’s almost always an unparalleled level of earnestness and when something is raw in sound it tends to be raw in content. There are of course exceptions, but I think the success of lo-fi bands is usually because the two go hand in hand. This record is not the lowest of lo-fi recordings, but it has that edge. And I was a little hesitant about it for that reason but as soon as I really started getting into it, I found myself in this whirlwind of these dirty unpolished gems. With little sifting I was being rewarded with some heavy stuff, it kind of hits like a slow motion tornado. Much of the content are these wise-beyond-his-years lyrics set to electric piano pop jams with minimal electric percussion and sparse but pertinent guitar lines. “When I was seventeen my mother said to me ‘Don’t stop imagining, the day that you do is the day that you die.'” That’s a great, befitting lyric! And it’s got surprising depth to it too. The whole record actually sounds like it was written with that bit of advice in mind.

When you discover this kid is 22, whether that’s before you’ve heard anything or after you’ve listened to the album twenty times, something happens there, a little something goes off. Age is a funny thing when it comes to song writers because I think we’re just a little skeptical to put our trust into anyone who’s younger than we are at the fear that they might know more than us, as silly as it is. But the important thing to keep in mind is the deliverance of his message, and again, it’s very earnest and it’s very kind. What he’s bringing to the table is a batch of songs appealing to us through shared experiences. Things he’s done, feelings he’s felt, which in turn, triggers those thoughts for us. It’s very nostalgic sounding and that’s something I think most people can easily latch on to. I’ve heard critics say that while the nostalgia aspect is there, they found a hard time connecting with the specific experiential stories being told. And I’m not sure I get that argument. If he’s singing about the lake he swam in when he was kid, maybe you never swam in a lake and you don’t have that same story to look back on, but you can easily identify with being a kid and doing things in the summer. I think the ability to have something be heard and have it provoke personal emotion is a major part of the potency of this album.

This record got a lot of play and I never tired of it. Take that for whatever you want, but some records, even good ones, are hard to listen to a lot. But there is something about this album that has yet to go stale for me. Every song is great.

Real Estate – Days

Some albums need to tell you what they’re all about by bashing you over the head. While that can be a terrible thing, it’s not inherently bad. I think an album like Dye It Blonde by Smith Westerns did that really well. It’s a punchy album with lots of screeching guitar that demands attention and respect. It was hardly a subtle record by any means, but I loved it for what it was and was happy with their approach. But for a record like Days, Real Estate finds a way to make that sort of impact without being overly aggressive. This is an album that consumes you; and quite effortlessly. Which to me, is a lot of its appeal. It’s sort of like the feeling of lowering yourself into a hot bath. Totally non-threatening and blissful. And awesome.

One thing I love about this album that I think deserves some pointing out is the guitar work. It’s really not overly “anything” in particular; simple lines often reflecting the melodies, usually harping on a few chords while everything simmers. The rambling and reoccurring quality of it just really really works and makes for some moody playing. It is a bit jangly, and it’s reminiscent of bands like The Feelies or The Smiths, but never too much where you feel like it’s a rip off or even a reimagination of those bands, it’s just natural evolution of that kind of music and it feels incredibly real.

With much of this record, and Real Estate’s sound in general, it’s based around the familiar. And it’s usually approached with a simple psychology. But what this record suggests is that when done right, simple isn’t bad, and in fact, it might be downright good. Paired with preciseness, as it is on Days, simple transforms into something pretty powerful and washes away any allegations of banality.

With fashion, the best advice you can give someone trying to build a wardrobe would be to collect classic pieces that aren’t going to go out of style and leave you rebuilding every few years. There are certain things that, for the most part, look good on almost anyone (providing the fit is correct), they are basic and clean and will serve you well for years and years to come. Of course things come along and they are great for seasons and perhaps even years, but as we look back, it’s clear that something like acid washed jeans are very indicative of a time, and no matter how cool they were in 1989, you’d be hard pressed to find someone wearing a pair unironically now. While something like My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy is a great album, it’s so clearly 2010 and I fear it may one day be looked back on as the acid washed jeans of music. Not to say Days will go down in history as being one of the greatest albums ever, but for 2011, it’s definitely the pair of Levi’s I refused to take off.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Another really great album from Fleet Foxes. Totally into it, totally loved it. However, this was sort of exactly the second record I would have expected from Fleet Foxes. And that’s fine, it really is, I definitely enjoyed it and still enjoy it, but when you look at what Bon Iver did for their second record, I mean, that’s how you do it. This left me sort of wishing for just a little more. It was a very safe continuation of the band, and again, they did it perfectly, but for what had the potential to blow everything out of the water, wound up just sort of floating around with the rest of ‘em.

David Bazan – Strange Negotiations

I love David Bazan and I love this record. Every Pedro The Lion album was progressing more and more into something I liked, and while earlier albums had moments to shine, Achilles Heel really reached the point of him getting it exactly right. So when he started recording under his own name, it kind of picked up right where Pedro left off, and I was very into it. With this year’s Strange Negotiations it’s more of what we’ve been hearing and I embraced it with open arms. Definitely nothing earth shattering here, but for fans of his, it doesn’t get much better.

Vetiver – The Errant Charm

It’s a Vetiver album, so that alone, you know you’re in for a treat. I’m extremely happy with the direction this band has been going. Each album seems to be taking on a little more as it goes. Kind of like a camel adding a new pack each time it goes from town to town. Under all of it the camel is still there, but this time it’s got an awesome new blanket, and this time it’s got a basket of fruit, and next time it will have something else. I definitely feel like this band is very under appreciated and flying under a lot of radars, and I can’t really explain why. Great groovy songs, great song writing, and one of the most unassuming attitudes of any band out there right now.

The Black Keys – El Camino

It’s good. You really can’t deny that. I think for a lot of fans of theirs who’ve been around since the beginning they will either love it because they love everything, or will kind of stray away from it because the Black Keys glory days are definitely over. This is undeniably an album that was consciously made in the wake of a very successful Brothers. And I really don’t mind that, I think El Camino is oozing with really sweet riffing and catchy grooves. I happened to love the poppier fuller tracks on Brothers, so a lot of this is right up my alley. I’ve already been hearing this on a few commercials and in the background of network programming, and that’s to be expected, again, it was sort of specifically crafted because how well the last album did, they needed to deliver something comparable again. I’m totally fine with all of that because when it comes down to it, I like the songs. I don’t, however, like that they chose to exclude this album from Spotify and other music streaming services. That felt like a band who was totally out of touch with their fans.

Foster The People – Torches

This was almost not worth mentioning but just in the past week I was brought to a new level of annoyance with these three fratty dudes trying to fit themselves in an “indie” box, and I don’t know if I can help myself. I could really say a lot about my disdain for this band, but let me start with the quote on the bass player’s bass:
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” – Plato

Cool man. Let me guess, you LOVE music right?! I thought so. Cause of your bass.

I’m just sort of sick of bands who are purposefully trying to sound one way or another, and it’s somehow hardest to swallow when it’s a band who’s clearly trying to pump out radio ready rock and pass it off as “indie” because you know, that’s cool music. Being able to tell that a band has no sense of identity is just depressing. I commend LMFAO for their track Party Rock Anthem. That’s a band and a song that knows exactly what it is. Love it, or hate it (I love it) , it fully accepts and embraces what it is. I mean, the name of the song is Party Rock Anthem, it’s a party rock anthem, no one is listening to that song for any other reason. They just get it. Foster The People doesn’t get anything. At all. I don’t even hate Pumped Up Kicks (though I prefer every remix I’ve heard of it) but I do hate that they took what could have been a really serious and meaningful song and set it to a video of them surfing and playing pool. Idiots.

It’s sort of like my feelings on Mumford And Sons all over again. Gah, thinking of either of them is giving me a headache.

Lady Gaga – Born This Way

Just… come on already with this…

Tyler, The Creator – Goblin

Alright. Yes, I liked Yonkers. A lot. And I sort of still do, I don’t really know. And if this whole album sounded like Yonkers I would have no problem with it or him. But it doesn’t. Boy, it reallllly doesn’t. I have no issues with what he’s trying to do and how he’s trying to do it. In my mind, at worst, he’s annoying. BUT, if you’re gonna be that way, you need an album that’s going to justify everything you do. And this was an enormous failure. Just, nothing about it worked. Yonkers stood out like a sore thumb as “the one” and everything else fell flat. And not even like a forgivable, let-it-grow-on-you-flat, but a tragic, uninteresting, unimportant, change-the-track-actually-change-the-album-flat. So, do your inverted crosses thing, do your menace to society thing, I’m not really gonna be paying attention to you, but do it. Not sure what the odd future (do you get it?) holds for him, but until I see something of content I just feel like he’s uninteresting. Which, for someone like him, that’s the last thing he’d want.

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

Is something wrong with me? Everyone else seems to love this record, but I just can’t get into it. I don’t even really have a convincing reason as to why this doesn’t sit well with me, but it just doesn’t do a single thing for me. When I’m listening to St. Vincent I’m wishing I wasn’t. Maybe one day. I like her music videos. Maybe I’ll put them on mute and listen to something else.

Drake – Take Care

Nope. Pass.

The Weeknd – House Of Balloons, Thursday, & Echoes of Silence

Yeahhhh, sorry, another one the people seem to love and I’m just completely missing. He’s indie! He’s R&B! I don’t know, if that’s supposed to be reason for me to like this, I don’t know what to say… I don’t. Appreciate the effort, but not for me.

James Blake – James Blake

For the most part, I feel the same way I do about the The Weeknd. I saw a few interviews with this guy and he seemed a little too pretentious for his own good. So that sucks.

Nirvana

For whatever inexcusable reason, I never listened to Nirvana until early this year. I don’t even want to try to explain why, I’m not fully sure myself. I certainly knew about Nirvana, certainly had heard individual songs, but I wasn’t listening to albums of theirs, and I definitely wasn’t able to call myself a fan of theirs. But this year I watch Six Feet Under and there is an episode where it flashes back to Nate hearing of the news of Kurt Cobain’s death and he’s in his room, crying, listening to All Apologies. Strangley, it was that clip that flicked the light switch on for me. I started familiarizing myself with their songs and their albums and obsessed over Kurt Cobain for a few months. All of my friends had done this in 8th grade, so no one really had the tolerance for me, but I just was enamored. I still am. I’m somewhat thankful it’s taken this long to listen to them, I think I can appreciate them in a way I would not have been capable of had I been listening in 8th grade.

Bruce Springsteen

Totally didn’t get the Bruce hype unit this year. Shame on me. I got a copy of Born To Run on vinyl last Christmas and that started a very steep and spiraling ride that landed me in Asbury Park, NJ. I immediately loved some of his older albums, but promised myself I wasn’t going to get into anything too schmaltzy, specifically citing pre-Born In The U.S.A. as a cut off point. Well, at some point that broke and I wound up really getting into Born In The U.S.A. as well. It’s weird how things click, especially when it’s with an artist that’s been around so long, like, longer than you’ve been alive, but for whatever reason it happens, if you find it happening to you, don’t fight it. Whatever you felt about the artist is probably ripe for a reassessment anyway.

River City Extension at The Stone Pony 2011 poster

I was fortunate enough to have another to opportunity to make a poster for one of my favorite bands, River City Extension. They’ve sort of made it annual thing to come home and play a show at The Stone pony once a year and it’s been falling on the eve of Thanksgiving, and it’s become something that a lot of people, myself included, look forward to. Joe had shared with me his vision of making this show something people would dress up really nicely for .”Something like a wedding invitation” he told me. Not that this is like a typical wedding invitation, but that was the jumping point.

I started by sketching out a few quick ideas, and when I found the one I wanted to run with, I went into illustrator and started making it happen. I don’t normally post the beginnings of things, but I’d like to start, and no better example than this one.

Definitely proof that knowing what you want to do before you start doing it ALWAYS helps. And it’s sort of funny that things really didn’t end up too far from the original sketch.

Hope to see some of you at the show, wearing something sharp, of course. Get your tickets early, these guys have a bad habit of selling out. Also, rumor has it there will be a few of these posters at the show if you’re looking to pick one up.

Live Free Or Die

Happy 4th of July weekend everyone! I’ve been feeling very inspired by hand painted signage and all things Americana lately, and this weekend was a perfect time to try to incorporate both of those things into something. I’m definitely not the type of person who believes that just because we live in America we are inherently better than anyone else or worth anything more. I’ve come to look at the phrase “God Bless America” with disdain because there’s a whole rest of the world that needs a blessing as well. Sometimes this kind of patriotism just rubs me the wrong way.
However, I do recognize that America is a great country where you are (for the most part) free to be who you are and do what you like. The areas where I feel we are behind are constantly moving forward, and that stuff makes me proud. New Hampshire’s “Live Free Or Die” is my favorite state motto because of it’s simplicity, directness, and truth. Living free is the only way to live. Now go shoot off a few fire crackers before the weekend is done. But be safe, it’s live free OR die, not live free AND die.

Music Monday 5.16.11 U.S. Royalty

I discovered U.S. Royalty a few months ago and have been listening to them pretty steadily since. Their album Mirrors is a very impressive debut from these D.C. dudes, and I would certainly recommend checking it out. They also have served as the soundtrack to a few of the Gant Rugger seasonal look book videos, which are amazing in their own right. Check out the summer one here. Really great examples of how music and imagery can make a product exciting. You don’t know that you want the clothes as much as you want to be those people. I guess they are doing a perfect job at advertising in that sense. Anyway, I think U.S. Royalty was a perfect choice for the videos.

Music Monday 4.18.11 Wye Oak

I finally got the chance to see Wye Oak this weekend when they played in Philly with my friends in Secret Mountains. They’ve been a band that’s been continuously growing on me, to the point now where I’m pretty obsessed. Jenn not only has an incredible voice, but also shreds on guitar. Seriously, they rocked and if you get the chance to see them, do it, one of the best shows I’ve seen in a while. They’re really putting a lot of two pieces to shame, not that they’re trying; everything seems extremely effortless.
Their new album Civilian is a an absolute must have for 2011. Possibly my favorite record of the year so far. So take that as you will.

The idea for this poster was entirely influenced by Kirby’s obsessions with finger spelling and sign language.

Music Monday 1.3.11 The Tallest Man On Earth

Still very obsessed with The Tallest Man On Earth and so I made a companion piece to the poster I made last week. It’s like a night and day thing. A land and sea thing. You can see that though, I mean, obviously. But yea, this guy is incredible, every song is incredible, and I’m just wrapped up in all of it.

Listened to Real Estate for the first time in a while this past week. That was a huge album for me in 2010, which I would have easily put on the best of the year list, but it actually came out in 2009. Still, a really fantastic album that is surprisingly appropriate for every season of the year.

I wonder if next week will be a 3rd poster for TTMON…. do people abbreviate it like that? Sorry, I’m tired.