Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Chris Sisson's Best of 2011

Happy holidays from Team Sisson, and congratulations on receiving Chris Schuck's 10th Annual Surprise Birthday Bash for Jesus.  As always, we've selected 18 tracks from our 18 favorite albums of 2011 for your listening pleasure.  We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

1.  Wye OakCivillian
Album: Civillian
I can’t remember if I bought (yes bought) this on a whim or if I’d heard some of it before, but either way, Civillian was one of my best finds this year. Another boy/girl duo, this one from Baltimore, that makes up for their small lineup with killer songs and slick production. Recently Jim & Greg from Sound Opinions suggested Paul Krugman (I know right?) try them out in one of their “Rock Doctor” sessions. There were several great tracks to choose from, but you get "Civillian" because it starts out awesome, then gets super awesome at 2:38.  Also check out “Holy Holy” (also goes from awesome to super awesome in the middle)

Album: The King Is Dead
We started to hear some buzz about King back while putting together the 2010 Bash.  Fortunatley we were not disappointed.  Cory, Jack and I attended the Decemberists/Mountain Man show at the Uptown Theater back in January and a good time was had by all, despite being a bit confused by Mountain Man's performance (we had expected burly bearded dudes to rock us out, not 4 women singing acapella).  Sadly, in May it was announced that accordian/keyboard player Jenny Conlee had developed breast cancer.   Then in October it was announced that it was already in remission.  Here's hoping she sticks around for a very long time.  There are a slew of worthy tracks to pick from here, but after a whole year of music, nothing tops “Down By the Water.”  Also check out "Calamity Song" and "This Is Why We Fight"

Album: Wasting Light.
This marks the Foo Fighters first appearance on The Birthday Bash which is actually quite surprising considering the impact Dave Grohl has had on my life.  I remember listening to the original Foo Fighters record on my Sony Walkman on the bus headed to basketball games back in high school.  At the time I couldn't believe that a guy who was the drummer in my favorite band, could then play guitar and sing in another band.  What a talent!  Since then the Foos have put out a bunch of records and had a ton of hits.  I actually saw them open up for the Red Hot Chili Peppers at Hearnes Center in college.  What caught my attention about Wasing Light was the documentary, Back and Forth that came along with it.  Really interesting look into a real live arena rock band.  Then Cory and I saw them blow the roof off Sprint Center.  As if that wasn't enough, before the Sprint Center show they did this in response to the Westboro Baptist Church members who were protesting for some reason.  Apparently our friends Blondie and Beardo were out there when it happened and are somewhere over there in the vicinity of Pat Smear.  There were many fine candidates, but you get "I Should Have Known" because it's the first song Dave and Krist Novoselic have played on together since Nirvana (Krist provides the gnarly bass that kicks in at 2:56).  Also check out "Alandria," "Bridge Burning," and "Rope."

Album: Nine Types Of Light
Ever since we heard "Staring at the Sun" way back when, Team Sisson have been big fans of these Brooklynites.  We saw them at VooDoo Lounge in KC when they were touring on Return To Cookie Mountain, and it is still on of the best shows we've seen together (Leanna preferred the Roots show we saw in the same room just 3 days later....that was some week!).   It didn't get the ususal critical love they've received in the past, but I personally think Nine Types of Light is on par with, if not better than anything they’ve ever done.  Also check out "Second Song"

5.  Rockwell Knuckles “Silly Human”
Album: I’m Fucking In, You’re Fucking Out
Do you really wanna live forever?  I’m Fucking In, You’re Fucking Out (a variation on the title of Kenny Powers’ excellent self-help book) comes to you thanks to one of my many song of the day podcasts.  This is a concept record about a robot factory or something.  Y'all know I'm a sucker for a good concept record, especially a good hip-hop concept record.  This will also be the closest thing to a local artist we bring you this year as it turns out Mr. Knuckles is based just across the state in Cardinal country. As for my friends who like to memorize choruses this one will challenge, yet reward!  The best part? You can download the whole record for free here.

6.  Iron & Wine “Rabbit Will Run”
Album: Kiss Each Other Clean
2011 was jam packed with challenges, none more vexing than choosing which song from Kiss Each Other Clean made it onto the Birthday Bash.  Iron & Wine, aka Sam Beam makes his first appearance on the Bash since sharing the spotlight with Calexico back in 2005.   He is known for essentially whispering over lightly played acoustic guitars and huge beards.  We here at Team Sisson are fans of both (well at least one of us likes huge beards), but Sam gets a little more adventurous with each new release.  Also check out "Tree By The River".

7.  BeirutSanta Fe
Album: The Rip Tide
Beirut is back baby! After penning perhaps my favorite song of the birthday bash era (“Elephant Gun”), Beirut has been long on hipster indie credibility and short on delivering the goods.  Flying Club Cup was enjoyable, while March of the Zapotec was pretty forgettable.  The Rip Tide gets back to the sound that we loved on the Lon Gisland EP.  Horns, horns, and more horns.  Santa Fe is actually Zach Condon’s hometown, a fact that would surprise me if I didn’t already know it.  I've always been impressed that a kid (well, I guess he's not a kid anymore) from New Mexico can make this kind of music.  Here they are doing "Santa Fe" on Fallon.

8.  Delay TreesGold
Album:  Delay Trees
This was a late entrant, only getting a listen after hearing it on one of the early December year in review shows.  Delay Trees, a Finnish band, was billed as Sigur Ros-lite, meaning it takes them 4 minutes rather than 9 to build to a crescendo.  I guess you could say that about "Gold", but the rest of the record is nice, poppy, hummable tunes.  We here at Team Sisson have long had a fondness for Scandanavian acts (the aforementioned Sigur Ros, Kashmir, Blackstrap, Soudtrack of Our Lives, The Hives, etc.) so Delay Trees are a natural fit.  Also check out "Cassette 2012" and "About Brothers."

9.  WilcoDawned On Me
Album: The Whole Love
Loyal Birthday Bash listeners will not be surprised by this selection.  You may know that I recently graduated from pharmacy school, and as a result received several graduation gifts.  By far the best gift was the personalized, autographed picture of Wilco Leanna managed to wrangle out of the band.  Actually maybe the autographed picture is tied with the beautiful sounding Marantz 2275 Leanna's dad found for me.  Anyway, the point is we love this band.  Since A Ghost is Born though, their output has been good, not great.  The Whole Love gets them back to greatness.  It opens with the craziest, most "experimental" track they've made since YHF, then follows with a bunch of textbook Jeff Tweedy ballads and bangers.   Unfortunately we missed them in KC earlier in December as I was in New Orleans at the time, but here's the review.  Also, here's a neat video for the opener, "The Art of Almost,"

10.  AdeleSomeone Like You
Album: 21
Loyal Birthday Bash listeners WILL be surprised by this selection.  We here at Team Sisson can’t deny good music when we hear it, even if it's considered "Top 40."  Please watch her Tiny Desk Concert.  It's funny that a woman with such a beautiful singing voice has such an annoying cackle.  21 is littered with hits.  I'm sure you've all heard Rolling in the Deep” 1000 times this year as it was played on every radio station in the country, so instead you get the beautiful “Someone Like You” which you may have only heard 500 times!  “Someone Like You” was actually written and co-produced by Dan Wilson who formerly fronted Team Sisson favorite, Semisonic.

11.  Gillian Welch “The Way It Goes”
Album: The Harrow & The Harvest
Over the summer I was making a Zee Avi inspired ladies only mixtape for Leanna when I happened upon “The Way It Goes.”  That refrain stuck with me for days so I bought the record.  There's nothing else as catchy as "The Way It Goes," but it is a solid effort overall.  I'll bet the day after you listen to the Bash, this song is the one you'll be humming.  Also check out "Hard Times."

12.  The Black Keys “Little Black Submarines”
Album: El Camino
Last one in! I didn’t really know what to expect out of this one.  I did however know the ad they made for it (if you only click one of my links, click this one...seriously!) was hysterical. After a few years of putting out solid to excellent records that were mostly ignored by the public, last year’s Brothers struck a chord, mostly because of the super catchy “Tighten Up.”  Thankfully, instead of chasing further mass adoration they got back to being gnarly.  Dangermouse came back to produce this one (he also produced Attack & Release) making this the 6th  year in a row we’ve included a Dangermouse production.  Also check out the first single, "Lonely Boy."

Album: Departing
I had Hometowns in my emusic que the majority of last year but didn’t get around to downloading it until January of this year.  Holy smokes, is it good.  Luckily for you they put out Departing this year which is also quite excellent.  I love rhythm section of this band.  Earlier in the year my co-worker Elhadji was trying to convince me that African music is better than the music Americans listen to because our drummers play way too fast ("It's just noise"), and used this song in particular to make his case.  So I guess if you hate "Stamp" you might want to try  some Ali Farka ToureAlso check out "Muscle Relaxants."

14.  Radiohead “Little By Little”
Album: The King of Limbs
As James Murphy once said, I’m losing my edge.   Radiohead announces 10 US dates and Kansas City gets one of them! I’m jacked! Say what you will about Sprint Center and P&L. We never would have gotten this show without a state of the art arena. Then, in classic Sisson fashion I completely forget to buy tickets. Anyway, The King of Limbs didn’t seem to get the end of the year love a normal Radiohead record should receive, but it is still very solid. Maybe it didn’t get to as many ears because they didn’t give this one away for free? 
Check out the video for "Lotus Flower" featuring the fancy footwork of Thom Yorke.  Also, here's a bunch of videos from their week of Colbert appearances.

15.  Tune-YardsGansta
Album: W H O K I L L
I first heard W H O K I L L on the NPR first listen (download that app…lots of cool stuff) while I was killing time during my last ever day of official pharmacy schooling.  Conceivably I would have loved anything I heard that day, but this has stuck with me.  Her (Merrel Garbis) first record, Bird Brains, got a lot of buzz back in 2009, but all I heard was noise.  This one passed my test though.  Interestingly, I probably listened to this record 10 times before she started getting interviewed on all the shows I listen to.  Only then did I find out she makes all these crazy sounds with a ukulele and a looping pedal (and a bass and a couple of brass players).  Now I will say I found the gushing over her use of the looping pedal to be a bit ridiculous since this thing has been around forever, but I’m still impressed by the sounds she can make.  I mean seriously, you tell me where the ukulele is in this song.  Also check out "Bizness," and "Powa."

16.  SimsBurn It Down
Album: Bad Time Zoo
This is the 3rd year in a row we’ve included a member of the Minnesota hip-hop collective, Doomtree (P.O.S. in 2009, Dessa in 2010).  For me, you can not go wrong with rhyming over horns.  Interestingly, of these three artists, Sims is the first I've discovered by listening to the Current on Minnesota Public Radio, even though it has been my go-to internet staion for years now.  If you like what you’ve heard from Birthday Bash approved Doomtree releases, you may want to check out their recently released mixtape, No Kings.   Also check out "LMG" (Love My Girl)

17.  St. VincentCruel
Album: Strange Mercy
Yet another female artist!   You finally got your wish Caryn with a K!   Maybe I'm becoming less misogynistic in my advancing age.  I really liked her previous record, Actor, so I thought Strange Mercy would be a slam dunk. Maybe it didn't blow me away at first, but it certainly has grown on me. St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) has had a pretty interesting career so far, including a stint as a member of Polyphonic Spree. She's developing a reputation as an outstanding guitar player, and it doesn't hurt that she's pretty good looking too!  Oops, guess there's still some misogyny left in there.  Also check out the humorous video for "Laughing With A Mouthful of Blood" from Actor featuring pre-Portlandia Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein.

Album: Go-Go Boots
Making a triumphant return after a year off the list, Team Sisson favorites bring you another textbook DBT's record with expertly told darkside-of-the-South stories told over greasy guitars and steady rock & roll beats.  If I'm ranking my favorite DBT records, this one doesn't crack the top 3, but probably comes in around #4-5, which is still merits inclusion in the 2011 Bash.  I have always wondered why I love this band of southerners so much.  Now that I'm a graduate of an SEC school, it's starting to make sense.  In other news for DBT die hards, Shonna Tucker has left the band and will be replaced by David Barbe.  Shonna has been with the Truckers since 2003 and has written some of the songs (luckily none the good ones) on the past three records.  She was a fan favorite and will be missed.  Also check out "Used To Be A Cop"

Others in consideration:
Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo
Le Butcherettes - Sin Sin Sin
Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Pt. II
Fucked Up - David Comes To Life
Bright Eyes - The People's Key
The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar
The Antlers - Burst Apart
Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
Eddie Vedder - Ukelele Songs
Death Set - Michel Poiccard

Finally, it's time for the Third Annual Birthday Bash Trivia Contest. 

To be eligible to participate:
-You must have yourself received or had an immediate family member receive the Birthday Bash.
-You must not be a current student or alumnus of the "University" of Kansas.  Exceptions may be made on a case by case basis.

Here's the question.
One artist pulls double duty by actually appearing twice on this year’s Bash.  Who is it? 

The first three people to correcty identify the artist and the two places he or she appears will win an as yet to be determined prize. To give you an idea of how awesome your prize might be, last year's winners received prize packs containing Birthday Bash band merch, including t-shirts and a Spoon prayer candle!  Our first winner received a wallet that said "Bad Motherfucker" carrying a value of: priceless! Please e-mail your responses with "birthday bash contest" in the subject line to Good luck and have a great 2012!

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