As someone who tends to buy a lot of music each year, I have to attest that this year was no different. However, I am starting to notice that, more than ever, physical product is becoming harder and harder to find in a box store. Thankfully, there’s still some great record stores in my area. Sadly, they don’t always carry the exact title I’m after and I’m forced to just find it online via Amazon. Either way, I have decided upon a few titles which rank high among the totem pole of all I bought in 2011. I wouldn't say this list is in any particular order or rank, however. Just the five titles released this year I've gotten the most enjoyment out of.
The Bangles – Sweetheart of The Sun
Model Music Group/Fontana/Down Kiddie Records
As a big Bangles fan, any new music from them is welcome. That’s why it was so exciting to hear that they decided to release a completely new album in 2011. While original bassist Michael Steele has not been involved with the band since the early 2000s thus rendering the group a trio, their well-developed sound is still the familiar mix of pretty harmonies over a bed of rocking 12-string guitars. Susanna Hoffs brought in her Sid ‘N’ Susie partner Matthew Sweet to co-produce and engineer most of the album. While the album is not without it’s weak moments, it’s a fine addition to the group’s catalog. It instantly reminded me of their first album for Columbia Records, All Over The Place. Key tracks include “Mesmerized”, the torchy “I’ll Never Be Through With You” and the in-your-face psychedelic dreamscape of “Sweet and Tender Romance”. Seek it out if you haven’t already.
Dr. Pants – The Trip: Side One/Side Two
While this is technically two separate releases (the band is releasing their double album as a set of four EPs), they are attributed to the same artist (and album). So really, this is half of an entire album (which we will hopefully hear the conclusion of in 2012). It’s no secret how much I like this group and their quirk-filled, hook-driven brand of “nerd-power groove-rock”. Leader David Broyles went a few extra miles to ensure this release would stand out from their sometimes lo-fi rootsy (and ever charming) previous work by enlisting the help of ‘little weasels’ everywhere. Thanks to donations from friends and fans alike, they were able to up their usual budget and create a more textured and cohesive effort that was sure to please the masses while still remaining true to their loyal fan base. I can’t argue with the results; Broyles’ well-honed songwriting skills coupled with some of the tightest instrumental work the band has ever captured onto digital tape make for a consistently strong album (well, half-album anyway). Instant favorites include “Bowling With A Genius”, “Hipster Kid/Sexy Beards” and “Calling Chewbacca”. If this is a sign of things to come, 2012 should be a good year.
Wilco – The Whole Love
This is the group’s first release on their own record label. While I’ve never been the biggest fan of Wilco (always have been hit or miss with me), I picked up this album after hearing a few tracks on SiriusXM that I liked. Well, they’ve made a believer out of me. This is a fine album and definitely deserves the Grammy nom it picked up a few weeks ago. A few editions come with some great bonus tracks including a stellar cover of Nick Lowe’s “I Love My Label” (way to be tongue-in-cheek, Wilco).
The Mamas & The Papas – If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears [MONO]
For the first time in digital form, this classic album is able to be heard the way it was meant to be heard. As someone who loved the music but thought the stereo mixes left a lot to be desired, this release was a more than welcome addition to the Mamas & Papas slot in my music collection. Sundazed Records was able to come across a long lost tape copy of the highly regarded mono mixes for the group’s first album. Being able to hear “Monday Monday” and “California Dreamin’” in the mixes that were played on the radio back in the day (i.e. the “hit” mixes) is a real ear-opener. Music and vocals that once seemed naked and isolated are finally married together in a extraordinary cacophony that envelopes the listener. Here’s hoping the folks at Sundazed are able to find more mono Mamas and Papas tapes!
The Beach Boys -The SMiLE Sessions Box Set
Capitol/EMI /Brother Records
A no-brainer. My favorite group finally releases an official box set of their most famous unreleased album. This is the music that I devoured for years on crappy bootleg tapes, vinyl, CD-Rs and mp3s. Longtime Beach Boys/Brian Wilson camp members Mark Linnett and Alan Boyd compiled an assembly of an as-close-to-finished-as-possible SMiLE album using Wilson’s completed 2004 solo version as a guide. While it’s great to hear the songs assembled in such a fashion, I found myself getting lost in the other discs witin the set. Having jumped at the (more expensive) 5 disc CD with bonus vinyl box set, I spent a lot of time enjoying the fascinating sessions in the highest quality I’d ever heard. The packaging, complete with a huge book of photos, essays, interviews and other SMiLE paraphernalia is everything I could have hoped for in an official release of this life changing music. It never ceases to give me chills down the spine. That’s the sign of a great work.