Albums from 2011 that I downloaded (and paid for)

Judging from my downloads, I seem to like two kinds of music. My favourite music comes from rock bands, usually punk pop or indie rock or anything similar to that. But sometimes I like big, shiny, beautiful production, as long as there are good songs underneath it.

I also broke out of my eMusic-only mode. I wanted some new material that wasn't on eMusic. But it was on 7digital, so there I went. I think I've grabbed what I want of 2011 releases, but as you'll notice at the end, there can always be new discoveries.

Beyond categories and best of all:

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
PJ Harvey never stops challenging herself and challenging us. Like Neil Young, Harvey can go acoustic, electric, electronic, or something you just didn't expect. That last one would be Let England Shake. Primarily acoustic, with Polly Jean often playing an autoharp, the album is unlike anything I've heard her do before. But then, there really is no musician like PJ Harvey, and I mean that in the best possible way. This album haunts, challenges, and wraps you up in its naked honesty, not about love this time but about her native land.

Small and crunchy

Veronica Falls - Veronica Falls
I can't get enough of this album! Call it twee, call it C-86, but I just call it great songs sung brilliantly. I love the girl-boy harmonies and the flashes of surf guitar. I love how the album feels like a whole—like they had something to say. Can't wait for more from these guys! I so wish I'd been able to see them play live when they came around a few months ago.

The Pack a.d. - Unpersons
The Pack a.d.'s previous album, We Kill Computers, was so good that I was afraid that any follow-up wouldn't be able to match it. I'm glad to say my fears were unfounded. The band keep writing great songs and singing and playing them ferociously. They also keep getting better without losing their crunch. Becky Black's voice is an amazingly versatile instrument. Songs like "Pieces" push into new territory.

Vivian Girls - Share the Joy
Still marginal, still fun, with the nerve to start the album with a track ("The Other Girls") that runs 6:28 and close it with a track ("Light in Your Eyes") that runs 6:07—and both work. There's also quite a bit of variation within the lo-fi punk format. "Take It As It Comes" is great girl-group parody.

Dum Dum Girls - Only in Dreams
I know I kind of dissed this album in not just one but two posts, but I have to admit, it has grown on me. I still don't think it's at the same level as I Will Be or He Gets Me High, but several songs stick in my head—in a good way. I still think they've gone more pop/girl group than Kristen Gundred's songwriting is up to, but since the last record was only an EP, we'll call this a decent sophomore effort. And they really were very good live.

Brilliant Colors - Again and Again
Like the Dum Dum Girls before they went pop. These women write catchy songs and play them deep in a well of reverb. The result makes me happy!

Wild Flag - Wild Flag
I was none too kind to this album in an earlier review, but it has grown on me—somewhat. Especially since seeing Wild Flag live, I really appreciate that they are a band playing rock and roll and having fun. There is far too little of that right now! I just wish their collective songwriting was as good as their sound. I wish their vocals were stronger too. I love "Short Version," where everything seems to come together. I like "Something Came Over Me," "Future Crimes," and "Black Tiles." "Romance" has a killer chorus. But there are so many embarrassing lyrics, too many songs that are really riffs strung together, and too much musical self-indulgence. I hope the band is successful and keeps going, but I also hope the next album has better songs.

Wire - Red Barked Tree
The late 1970s and early 1980s were one of my formative periods, not just musically but personally. So I have to admit that I love that young bands are evoking what was then called New Wave and now tends to be called Post-Punk. And sometimes the originals still deliver. On Red Barked Tree, the now three-piece Wire, who have been around since back then, deliver an intriguing blend of slick new wave (really should be on the shiny list) and edgy post-punk.

Crystal Stilts - In Love with Oblivion
As a fan of lo-fi, I'm supposed to like Crystal Stilts. And I do like this album, sort of. I like some of it. They engage me most with the lo-fi pop songs. But eventually I get tired of the drone of the singer's tiny vocal range. And a song like "Alien Rivers" at 7:17 is just a psychedelic indulgence. I'm not going to do drugs just to make this kind of thing palatable!

Big and shiny

Feist - Metals
From the haunting opening strains of "The Bad in Each Other," you know you're in for a treat. Leslie Feist has written great songs, sung powerfully, and performed with amazing assurance. We're a long way from "1234" here. The production is gorgeous but complements rather than overpowers the songs. I have clicked "love" on Last.fm for many of these songs, but I can't think of a single one that I didn't at least like. Where her previous album was a collection of disparate songs, this album contains variety but feels like a wonderful whole.

Kathryn Calder - Bright and Vivid
As I noted last year, New Pornographers' records are becoming a bit hit-or-miss for me. Together has far too much Dan Bejar! But this record is all Kathryn Calder, and it's all good. The power and grandure sometimes remind me of Florence + The Machine. Perhaps it's the record Florence Welch should have made! Calder's beautiful voice soars, and her songwriting keeps me engaged all the way through. I adore "Walking in My Sleep," but there are many other gems here.

Florence + The Machine - Ceremonials
I love Florence Welch's voice. I love her presence. I love her fashion sense! I put my indie/alt cred in jeopardy by liking Florence + The Machine, but so what. Good music is good music, and cool people I know are going gaga over Adele (not to mention Lady G). I'm glad that pop music has improved with the injection of these truly talented people. But you know what? It's still pop music, and I'm still pretty indie/alt. Who knew? "Shake It Out" absolutely explodes. I get a serious thrill listening to that song. "No Light, No Light" and "Heartlines" catch my ear. But many others on Ceremonies? Not so much. Still great singing, still great (big) production, but not great songs.

The Jezabels - Prisoner
This year's Australian entry. I really like Hayley Mary's voice—power, range, delivery. This album (and band really) is on the "big" side of indie, as opposed to a band like, say, Brilliant Colors. They don't shy away from a big sound. But they also have good songs behind the production.

Cymbals Eat Guitars - Lenses Alien
I'm sometimes a fan of quirky pop. I'm not sure what makes me like one kind but not another. I wasn't familiar with Cymbals Eat Guitars, but I like this album. The only problem for me is that it's one of those bands in which the singer's voice is the focal point. And it's not a voice I like for 10 songs in a row.

Albums released in 2010 that might have made last year's list

If I had discovered them soon enough

Juliana Hatfield - Peace and Love
I used to love Juliana Hatfield. Her recent work has been hit-or-miss for me, but this one is definitely a hit. She goes mostly acoustic and bares her soul in a series of beautiful, heartfeld songs like she has never done before. And yes, finally confesses her love for Evan Dando of the Lemonheads.

Reading Rainbow - Prism Eyes
Information on this band is hard to come by (and hard to search for, as you might imagine). They have a blog and a page they call "band camp," as well as a Facebook page. Apparently, they are a duo from Philadelpha, with Sarah on drums, Robbie on guitar, and great harmonies. Their chosen labels are "punk, pop, psychedelic, shoegaze." This album (their second) is a bit harder in a punk/New Wave vein than some of the lo-fi music that I've found. The energy is great and so are the songs. And of course so is the reverb.

Corin Tucker Band - 1,000 Years
It's not Sleater-Kinney, but then it shouldn't be (neither is Wild Flag). Tucker even said she was going to make a "middle-aged mom record." But it's a good one.

The Abramson Singers - The Abramson Singers
OK, so Leah Abramson is a friend. But really, this album is so beautiful! You really should buy it and listen to it. Leah is a wonderful singer and songwriter both. "Trucker's Prayer" is a gem, and there's plenty more where that came from. I also love the cover of Bob Wiseman's "You Don't Love Me."

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