State of Mind Staff Picks for Best of 2011
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Ryan Lowell

1. Handsome Furs - Sound Kapital
2. Fucked Up - David Comes To Life
3. Brown Bird - Salt For Salt
4. Yuck - Yuck
5. Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2
In 2011‚ I crossed a lot of requirements off my quarter life crisis checklist. I bought a new (to me) car‚ I went back to school to switch my career path‚ broke up with my girlfriend of 3 + years‚ and slept on a lot of different couches. As I was getting introspective and trying to redefine myself‚ it seemed my favorite groups were making albums that redefined their importance‚ and reminded me why I have loved them for so many years. Artists like Malkmus‚ Wilco and the Beastie Boys released their most essential listening in recent years‚ albums that reaffirmed their greatness long after they had nothing left to prove.
In contrast‚ the Handsome Furs had a lot to prove this year. In the wake of Wolf Parade's indefinite hiatus‚ Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry created their most fully fleshed‚ danceable album yet. By ditching sparse guitar riffs for lush keyboard loops‚ the Furs escaped "side project" relegation and surpassed the recent redundancies of Boeckner's dormant super group.
I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the hard stuff‚ and David Comes To Life by Fucked Up is as hard as it gets before listening stops being enjoyable. Sure‚ the group is fronted by a man who calls himself Pink Eyes and has been known to smash beer cans against his forehead until it bleeds‚ but David Comes To Life compliments this aggressive buffoonery with well-crafted melodies and an ambitious rock opera plot. Some days I feel like hearing a story rife with love‚ death and meta-narration‚ and other days I feel like swilling cheap beer on the porch and yelling obscenities at helpless passersby. This year‚ Fucked Up made a record for both of those days.
Brown Bird's newest album grew on me over the year. I liked it on listen one‚ but as months passed and I continued to return to it‚ I came to the gradual realization that I didn't just like Salt For Salt I loved it. The stripped down duo version of Brown Bird initially sounds modest in comparison to the lush arrangements of The Devil Dancing‚ but everything essential to Brown Bird's identity is still there in one focused‚ concentrated package. At live shows songwriter David Lamb now keeps the beat with a kick drum while singing and strumming on a banjo or guitar‚ and MorganEve Swain adds melody with gorgeous backing vocals and a cello or upright bass. Watching the duo onstage this fall made me realize that Brown Bird's abridged lineup hasn't left any holes in their sound. It has instead given Lamb and Swain more control and interaction with the music they love.
An entire decade has passed in between now and the 90s‚ so the music Yuck makes is seen as retro. A lot of bands borrow from (or rip off) bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement‚ but Yuck sounds more like a lost gem from that era than shameless nostalgia peddlers. What's most exciting about Yuck is that even though their influences are growing older‚ they're just getting started.
Speaking of influence‚ the Beastie Boys came back this year and reminded everybody why they are the coolest motherfuckers of all time. Three white dudes in their mid 40s making a hip hop record that dabbles in funk‚ reggae and hardcore punk isn't the standard format for rap success‚ but it's exactly why the Beastie Boys still sound better than almost every other MC after all these years. Past the days of political statements and full on instrumental albums‚ Mike D‚ MCA and Ad Rock used Hot Sauce Committee Part Two as a vehicle for highlighting the many styles they've mastered in nearly three decades as a group.
My favorite live show easily went to the Pixies this year‚ no contest. I didn't think it was possible to love Dolittle more than I already did‚ and then I got to see Black Francis bark like a dog and witness the group vocal swapping of "La La Love You." My favorite movies this year also both had killer soundtracks -- Basement Jaxx gave the South London bruvs of Attack The Block a badass backbeat to protect their hood to‚ and Drive's soundtrack had me dreaming of midnight street races around Portland with my Ryan Gosling doppelganger friend. I may have faced a lot of challenges this year‚ but finding great music was never one of them.
Adam King

Top 10 of 2011
1. DALE EARNHARDT JR. JR. - It's a Corporate World
2. YUCK - Yuck
3. STEPHEN MALKMUS - Mirror Traffic
4. RADIOHEAD - The King of Limbs
5. DUCKTAILS - Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics
6. CAGE THE ELEPHANT - Thank You‚ Happy Birthday
7. THURSTON MOORE - Demolished Thoughts
8. WASHED OUT - Within and Without
9. ATLAS SOUND - Parallax
10. M83 - Hurry Up‚ We're Dreaming
For me‚ 2011 seemed liked one of those landmark years for the equilateralization of flat-out "fucking good music." There have always been bands that have been hard to categorize‚ but this seemed like the time when the widening public ear truly reached a plateau of common understanding. The bombastic and the tranquil have become indistinguishable‚ and the vastness of modern sound is allowing today's composers the space and inspiration for a newly self-expansive and equally unified plane of creation. In other words‚ shit is totally radical right now. April's LCD Soundsystem farewell show at Madison Square Garden not only was one of the Top 5 concerts of my life‚ but the recording of the show has completely dominated the surrounding stereos of my reality the past year. The Flaming Lips doing The Soft Bulletin in Montreal was an epic bucket-list check-off for me. Thurston's serene acoustic album seemed to premeditate his divorce from Kim Gordon‚ and probably the end of Sonic Youth as well. Bummer level: massively huge. Malkmus sounded more Pavement-y than ever‚ but not as much as the young‚ English kid in Yuck. Everybody loved the Real Estate album‚ but I thought Matthew Mondanile's solo release in Ducktails was way more transcendent. Washed Out figured out how to take dream-pop past its 3-year expiration date‚ Cage the Elephant rocked like it's 1994‚ and M83 may be the most relieving glimpse of the future we've got. 2012 = The time to stop worrying what time it is.