November 2011

The Best Albums of 2011

Wild Flag, Mirah & Thao, Beirut.

2011 wasn’t necessarily a year for splashy debuts in music, but instead turned out to be a year of solid records by already-established artists. Many of the artists who made records this year decided to forgo flashy editing software or crazy and experimental exploits, instead choosing to return to their stripped-down roots.

Here are my choices for the best albums of 2011:

Cameron Crowe's Pearl Jam 20 Documentary

It made me pine for the days of grunge music, and feel bad for calling them "the days of grunge music".

Pearl Jam is one of the quintessential nineties bands, the ones that put alternative rock on the pop verbiage map to begin with. The band has weathered the evolution of the music industry well, the skyrocketing success of early innovation, the publishing industry's prostitution and "branding", fighting said establishment, and staying vibrant despite popular music moving on (as it tends to do). Pearl Jam still tours and releases albums, maintains a central core of musicality, and its members bear the wisdom and grace of people that have managed to outlive the industry. It's fitting then that film director Cameron Crowe, who got his start in the mid-80's as a rock journalist, and was very much a part of the Seattle music scene at its inception, would pair with the band to create a documentary that attempts to define a decade through the lens of one pivotal group of people.

The Top 5 Car Radio Jams

The best tunes that only sound great on the open road


I'd like to consider myself an environmentalist, but I've got to say, I enjoy driving far too much to give up the gas nozzle completely. There's nothing like the freedom of wheels, the power of an engine, the feel of a highway rolling under you while your music blasts. And then there's the radio. The only radio I own lives inside my old Honda, and somehow the car feels like the only appropriate place to tune in to my local FM stations. Anywhere else, I have the freedom to play whatever I please on my iPod, but there's something about the camaraderie of radio while driving. There's something about knowing that someone else chose to play a song, that you're enjoying it along with hundreds of other people all driving around and rocking out at the same time as you. It's a different mode of listening and it's one that I wouldn't give up for all the FM transmitters in the world, despite the routinely synchronized commercial breaks between stations.

There are songs that sound the best within that mode, blasted through the tinny FM compression, smeared by static, leaking out through the windows. There are some songs that really only sound good that way--that lose all of their oomph and awesomeness when played through headphones on a laptop. These are those songs--my top 5 jams that really only can be fully appreciated on the road, turned up way too loud and sung along to unabashedly.