For the end of the year, I decided to compile a series of "Best of 2011" lists, which will be posted over the course of the next few days here at MFT. Tomorrow, I will begin posting lists from some of my favorite musicians / critics / promoters / business owners etc., but today, our year-end celebration kicks off with a few lists that I created to highlight some of my personal favorite things this year. Enjoy!
(Me, seeking out new bands)
Top 10 Indiana Albums
My favorite albums released this year by Indiana-based musical acts this year, in no specific order:
Apache Dropout - S/T (Family Vineyard)
This is the only exception I will make to my “no specific order” claim, and with good reason. Apache Dropout are, hands down, my favorite band right now from Indiana or anywhere else. They are an absolute explosion of rock and roll at shows and on their recordings, channeling the anxiety-ridden protopunk of an earlier generation with an added coating of tripped-out psych-rock dust. Some would say they are little more than a wide-eyed tribute to their influences; I disagree, but I would say that even if they are, in this case, that’s not a bad thing. No need for me to take up more space geeking out here; check out this profile of the band for MFT.
Sleeping Bag - S/T (Joyful Noise)
Sleeping Bag’s debut full-length is a refreshingly simple pop record that revives some of the best tricks formerly associated with the Malkmus / Barlow / Bazan canon perfected in the mid-nineties. But every moment on Sleeping Bag’s LP sounds new and exciting, like the guys in the band are ecstatic to be making such a sound, and, as a result, they created an instant classic that features several of the best songs I heard all year. (More here)
Oreo Jones & Action Jackson - Black Fabio (Rad Summer)
Summer jams, fresh beats, great samples, amazing raps - Indianapolis underground hip-hop saw a much-needed uprising in 2011, and nobody brought it with more flair than MC Oreo Jones and DJ Action Jackson on their collaborative Black Fabio mixtape. These two gentlemen are leading a new pack of talented rappers, musicians, and DJs who have a glowing future in this city, a few of whom have guest spots on Black Fabio . This playful, clever collection of tunes features some of the best Indiana hip-hop I’ve heard in quite some time, and it makes me want to seek out more. (Read more here)
Tammar - Visits (Suicide Squeeze)
Making dark, undulating, kraut-rock and new-wave inspired experimental music for the last few years, Tammar finally fulfilled their potential and got a lot of attention in 2011 with the release of their debut full-length on Suicide Squeeze. Visits is a spaced-out, shimmering masterpiece of epic rock, crafted by a powerful group of artists who deftly prove their knack for building giant monoliths of sound on top of brilliant, minimal hooks. Every minute of this album is worth exploring, dwelling in, and returning to, and I have a feeling that we can only expect more great things from Tammar in the future. (More here)
Jookabox - The Eyes of the Fly (Asthmatic Kitty)
On which, in a final burst of bizarre creativity, Dave “Moose” Adamson led the now-full-band version of Jookabox through a trippy, insect-infested inferno of hazy beats, freaky vocal loops, and some really compelling warped-pop moments. This may have ended up as my personal favorite Jookabox album, and I’m glad they got it released even though they called it quits this year to make way for Adamson’s transformation into DMA. Jookabox’s final show solidified their legendary status, and this odd little gem of damaged art-pop will stand as the final funky testament to the power of one of Indy’s most interesting and unique bands. Listen or purchase here.
Jorma and Movie Bare - Lollipop Gold (St. Ives)
Dark and gruesome, unpolished and unconcerned with perfection, Lollipop Gold is the product of one of Indiana music’s most brilliant and mysterious musical minds, Jorma Whittaker (also known for his work with Marmoset and a solo record on Secretly Canadian). Jorma’s Movie Bare were an interesting set of collaborators (disbanding after - and almost during - the recording of this LP) who seemed more concerned with atmosphere than melody, relishing awkward moments and forcing listeners out of their comfort zone with synthy gurgles, unhinged screams, pounding beats, and a variety of sensory sharp edges. There are even a few moments that resemble pop music (albeit from another dimension). Lollipop Gold feels like the kind of timeless record you could find stashed away in a weird uncle’s closet, play on repeat for hours, and end up unwittingly burning your brain on in some unimaginable way.
DMA - Drem Beb (Joyful Noise)
Although this year’s sudden Jookabox split was unfortunate, the mourning was cut short by a fully-formed, monstrous, dubtastic new solo project from Moose, known as DMA. The Drem Beb cassette was a fun, versatile, nightmarish introduction to one of the best Indiana artists in a new incarnation. From a feature I wrote about DMA for MFT: “As in his previous work, Adamson retains an obsession with making lively, damaged fuzz-funk. DMA mostly still focuses on making dance-worthy tunes, but his newest batch are crustier, fractured, and less pop-oriented [...] easily one of the most inventive and enjoyable experimental albums of the last few years.”
Bronze Float - Meridian (RC Legacy)
This is an album that I have only recently heard and really need to spend some more time with, but I could tell as soon as I heard “Walking to the Store” that this was bound to be one of the finest and most understated records of the year. I’ve heard Bronze Float in the past, even seen them live, but am only now realizing what a great songwriter David Brant is. And of course Bloomington’s Justin and Nathan Vollmar make valuable contributions as well. There’s really nothing else I can say except that you should go hear it now.
Bears of Blue River - Dames (Self-Released)
I’ve known some of these guys since my Muncie years and always appreciated their talent and enthusiasm for indie-pop with folky leanings. I feel like this year’s full-length, Dames, is their moment to prove themselves, and I think so far they’ve done a damn good job of it. Although the record dabbles in melodrama at times, its gently baroque arrangements, soaring emotional highs, and Paul Simon-esque chillness set it apart for me. Bears of Blue River are now located in Chicago, touring quite often, and very worthy of your attention. (More here)
Mike Adams at his Honest Weight - Oscillate Wisely (Flannelgraph Records)
This 90s-influenced dream pop album has sounded perfect all year, but I really got into it right as the weather turned cold and I’m still really enjoying it. Bloomington’s Mike Adams (also of Husband and Wife and Crossroads of America Records) has made a special record with Oscillate Wisely. It’s big, beautiful, and heartfelt, packed with catchy melodies and delivered in a way that seems to encompass a complex range of human emotions. A little bit of Pet Sounds, some Starflyer 59, plenty of reverb, and some really great songwriting. (More here)
Top 10 Best “New” Indiana Bands
So I know that most of these bands didn’t even form this year, and some of them didn’t even release an album (although a few did put out 7”s). And of course I could have included Apache Dropout again, but why bother, you already know how much I like them. I wanted to make this list in order to shed some light on a few of the most promising Indiana-related acts I got to see and listen to in 2011, even if they haven’t recorded much or I didn’t get to know their albums as well as I should have. There were some I just couldn’t figure out where else to list, but I feel strongly that they all deserve more recognition. Here are ten bands that grabbed my attention this year, and they will likely grab yours as well if you give them a chance - so go see them live or buy their records, or even just give them a listen here MFT! In no particular order:
Top 10 Most Memorable Indiana Shows
Again, In no order - heck, I cant even remember when most of these happened, and I may have screwed up some of the line-ups as well. In any case, this was a great year for live music in Indianapolis, and I feel like I didn’t even go out that much! Here are ten reasons I’m glad I didn’t stay home when you felt like you just had to:
Marmoset play Record in Red @ Radio Radio
An absolute dream come true. Marmoset have always been worth seeing live for me, but to those in the know, Record In Red is a stunning highlight of their career, and the chance to see it performed live was not to be missed. This show was a celebration of Joyful Noise's Marmoset boxset that includes every LP of their career. Such an awesome piece of Indiana musical history was bound to sell out quick, and both the boxset and the show were everything a dedicated fan could have hoped for.
Grey Granite w. Freddie Bunz / Oreo Jones / Vacation Club / The Kemps @ Helter Shelter
Excellent house show with all the necessary thrills. Alternating underground hip-hop with underground garage rock was a bit jarring, but this was a PARTY in full effect. Reminded me of the basement show free-for-all fiascoes I found myself at quite frequently in college. Good times.
Organizer/musician Jacob Gardner went all out in the creation of this psych/punk/garage rock extravaganza, involving his entire community on Fountain Square’s Morris Street. Four houses became venues, slinging beers, art, t-shirts, and good vibes for an entire late-summer day and night. It was a great day to be a fan of weird music, and I saw some of my favorite performances of the entire year at this festival, including Apache Dropout, Learner Dancer, Open Sex, John Rambo and the Vietnam Wars, Vacation Club, Charlie and the Skunks, Crys, DMA, Chicago’s Big Color and many more. A great way to spend time with some of my favorite people and learn about some awesome homegrown musical acts.
Can O Worms
Another incredible music festival (and I only made it for one of the two nights), this one was held in Bloomington, spanning several venues and a few blocks. The night I was lucky enough to attend featured alternating performances at Russian Recording and Magnetic South, two of Bloomington’s most renowned studios. Just like every time I saw them this year, Apache Dropout blew me away, and I thought Open Sex, who closed out the night with their set of drugged out drone-pop, were even more impressive than they were at Cataracts. Tammar was also incredible, and they packed out Russian Recording for their climactic performance. New discoveries at this festival for me included Knoxville gods of heavy-riffage, 3 Man Band, and Laffayette female duo, Cro Magnon, who had apparently reunited for their performance at Magnetic South.
Alabama Shakes / The Kemps @ Radio Radio
This show happened about a week ago, and I’m still pretty amazed by how good it was. Alabama Shakes are young, southern soul/rock band from Athens, Alabama who seem to be likely candidates for being hyped into an early grave, but a least some of the hype is justified in their case. Frontwoman Brittney Howard’s voice is unbelievable, a raw and competent combination of the best elements of Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding. And she can shred on guitar. The rest of the band is also impressive and talented, and I can only imagine how far they will all go if they play their cards right (meaning keep with the MG’s impersonation, and steer clear of those Skynyrd-y moments, boys). The Kemps opened in their typical, swaggering, full-rock mode, made more powerful and immediate in their new line-up as trio.
Junior Boys / Miracle Fortress @ White Rabbit
This was a very chill night of minimal, dark, electronic pop, but it was a great reminder for me that I can really enjoy myself if I will but get up off of my ass and go to a local event. A bit of a re-introduction to the Junior Boys for me, whose music I really found myself enjoying in a way I hadn’t appreciated when they first blew up a few years ago. Opener Miracle Fortress was also impressive in a more-dancy Tears for Fears kind of way, although his incredible light show may have outdone his music a bit too much.
Broad Ripple Music Fest
Spent most of my day at Luna Music for the Crossroads of America Records showcase and at Connor’s mega-tent for the Commodore Von Keepsie’s Magic Playhouse, a joint effort by Indie Volumes, Joyful Noise, and Standard Recording. Highlights from the Luna showcase included Doug, an excellent two piece I hadn’t previously seen or heard, and the always-entertaining DMA. Commodore show highlights (the ones I got to see anyway) included Pravada, America Owns the Moon, Thunders, and spazz-rockers Child Bite.
In the Face of War final show @ Earth House
This was a totally unreal experience because it involved a lot of old faces that I hadn’t seen in years, most of them from the period when I first moved to Indiana. The bands were all top-notch, including one of We Are Hex’s last performances (unbeknown to anyone at the time), an Away With Vega reunion, and several line-ups of In the Face of War, one of Indiana’s most seminal hardcore/punk/good vibes bands of the last decade. It was a fun night to see a lot of great people and to say goodbye to a respected and important band that was crucial to the development of a much-needed scene for an entire generation of young Indiana music fans.
Jookabox final show @ Earth House
Another bittersweet night at Earth House followed in the summer, this time bidding adieu to the fabulous Jookabox, about whom I have probably already said more than enough. In any case, it was an excellent party and a night I won’t soon forget.
Charlie and the Skunks / Sir Deja Doog & the Wasted Knights @ Vollrath
This show is very hazy in my mind, so it must have been a while back, but I’m fairly certain it happened this year and it featured both of these killer Bloomington bands (and a few others, sorry for missing details - nights at the now-extinct Vollrath had a tendency to blur together). Charlie and the Skunks consistently impressed me all year with their uber-catchy punk/powerpop live performances, and this show was no exception. Sir Deja Doog & the Wasted Knights were a dynamic and unique project featuring Eric Alexander (AKA Doog) with an all-star line-up playing a self-described “all frat rock covers set,” which included such garage rock classics as “Louie, Louie” “Wooly Bully,” and “Gloria.” Even with the static that ensued when the venue told the band they were not alowed to play any covers (“We’re a cover band!”) for licensing reasons, it was an awesome show filled with raw talent and a rare type of electricity in the air.
Top 10 Favorite Albums from 2011 (Non-Indiana)
This is always tough because usually, by the end of the year, I’m listening to some very different stuff than what I listened to in the warmest months. If I made this list at the end of the summer, it probably would have included Cut/Copy, Baths, Cults, or tUnE-yArDs, but over time those albums have just kind of slipped from my rotation. Who knows if they’ll return. And there are a ton of more-critically-acclaimed albums I didn’t get the chance to hear or didn’t spend enough time with (and plenty more I just wasnt into at all no matter how hyped they got). Of course The Smile Sessions should have a presence as well, but, considering the enormity of Smile in relation to the development of music over the last 40-something years, declaring it one of 2011’s best albums feels to me on par with declaring the Bible as one of the year’s best books. Anyway, 2011 marks the first year in quite a while where I actually sought out new music instead of just digging through the past. And I think these are the new albums I will still be into a year from now, or two, or more (in no order):
Atlas Sound - Parallax
Peaking Lights - 936
Bill Callahan - Apocalypse
Tom Waits - Bad As Me
Sun Araw - Ancient Romans
Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972
Panda Bear - Tomboy
Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - S/T
Toro y Moi - Underneath the Pine
- Lindsey Buckingham was actually a pretty amazing songwriter
Go ahead and laugh if you must, or try to deny it. But unless you’ve fully digested his songs on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk or his 1981 solo debut Law And Order, your argument is completely meaningless to me. Discovering these two albums this year made me revisit the other Buckingham-era Fleetwood Mac albums I had only casually listened to in the past (while trying to ignore the nagging feeling that I kind of liked them), and like almost everyone else who is around age 30 and unafraid of being labeled “tasteless”, realized that those albums are incredible, largely due to Buckingham’s songs. In any case, I still hate the theme song to National Lampoon’s Vacation, but I plan to seek out whatever else I can find.
- Got my first iPod and actually liked it
That’s right, my first iPod. In 2011. I suppose it should be embarrassing, but I really don’t care. For several years, I’ve been mostly a vinyl collector and before that I was pretty into CDs, as crazy as that sounds now. But I’m finally ready to admit that the free-floating world of digital downloading, making playlists, and listening to music in headphones at almost any time or place (like I wanted to do when I was twelve, but was told it was anti-social) can be somewhat worthwhile. Even if I do still mostly listen to LPs in the comfort of my own home, I’ve been happy to possess and explore the possibilities of the iPod.
- Deerhunter / Atlas Sound / Bradford Cox
Everything that needs to be said about this guy has been said by people who know way more than me, but let it be known that this was the year I finally stopped being so stubborn and heeded the praise heaped on Deerhunter and Atlas Sound by the indie rock buzz-blog world and many of my most knowledgeable friends. I don’t even mind finding out how brilliant he is so late in the game; I’m just glad I didn’t miss out completely. Keep in mind this was the first year I got an iPod, so there is still hope that I won’t miss every important trend in the future.
- R. Stevie Moore
A totally underrated genius of home-recording whose prolific career spans back to at least the 70s. Everything I’ve heard has been super awesome, witty and very influential in ways I had never understood before I heard R. Stevie.
Honestly, I don’t even care what you think about this one. ABBA were pop geniuses and it is likely to be a long time before I feel otherwise. Again, if you’ve never given them a fair shot, start in the $1 vinyl bin and keep an open mind, but don’t blame me if your friends start calling you “that guy who listens to that cheesy Swedish band.” It’s worth it anyway - who needs friends when you’ve got powerpop perfection?
Growing up in Athens, Georgia, I should have no excuse for not getting into the B-52’s sooner, and I suppose any reason I could give would be insufficient. Suffice it to say that these guys made some really kick-ass party music like no one else on God’s green Earth could have made it. I guess I’d heard a lot of B-52’s music my whole life, but had just never fully grasped its power until this year when a friend played their debut self-titled LP at a party.
- Bloomington punk rock heroes, the Gizmos
Again, I definitely feel late to the party on these guys, but great music will always need a new and willing audience. I think I aptly described my thoughts and feelings about The Gizmos in this blog post from earlier this year.
- GloryHole Records
Releasing 7”s by some of the best working bands and musicians in Indiana today, GloryHole Records exploded onto the scene this year, offering stellar recordings by Christian Taylor & Homeschool, Adam Kuhn, The Kemps, Vacation Club, and Learner Dancer. Proprietor Jimmy Peoni is obviously a man of discerning taste and a much-needed support for Indianapolis’s underground scene. Very excited to see more releases from this label.
- Fountain Square’s music/art/community scene
One could easily look at this year’s massive influx of people and businesses in Fountain Square as mere gentrification, but I firmly believe that a closer look will reveal that there is a thriving, creative, authentic community forming around certain bands, venues, and events. An entire underground scene of excellent musicians, artists, and writers has surfaced thanks to the Shared Heritage space in the Murphy Building, the Cataracts music festival, and dozens of events at nearby galleries and rock venues. At a time when a lot of communities are struggling to get by, Fountain Square appears to be growing by the day and pulling together at the same time. Here’s hoping the changes in the area will continue to be for the better.
- “Love what you have”
Without getting too sentimental or nonsensical, I wanted to conclude my lists by expressing my overall gratitude to all of the people I have known and have gotten to know more recently. More than any other lesson, this year I learned that I have to appreciate the things life has given me, and my fellow artists, musicians, and friends of all kinds have become more important to me than ever. For years now, I have gotten to know some amazing people with whom I hope to remain friends for a long time, and it was only recently that I truly started understanding how much that matters to me. Receiving the opportunity to write about music for MFT has already helped fulfill some of my most seemingly-unreachable goals in life, and, in the next year, I look forward to continuing my personal growth and to doing my part in documenting the incredible music of this state and region.
- Jon Rogers, 2011
Click here to see more of my blog posts for MFT.