My year in music – 2011

Music is something I greatly enjoy, yet it is something I rarely get to talk about.  I have a few friends on Twitter that have similar tastes but the subject just does not come up that often.  So, in order to share a little bit about what I like and have been listening to this year, I thought I’d share a smattering of music I purchased and enjoyed in 2011.  No human alive, save for those for whom it is their job, can listen to everything that comes out.  So if you by chance see my selections and think there’s another artist I might like, don’t hesitate to comment or speak up!

In no particular order, here are a few albums I bought this year, along with links to Amazon and, if I could find one, a YouTube video.

1. Wye Oak – Civilian

This is a fantastic album.  The title track, “Civilian”, was one of my most listened-to tracks of the year.   Wye Oak creates a sound that is complex and somewhat haunting, with interesting religious overtones and just enough of a rock edge.  Listen to the track below… it is awesome.

2. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

As a massive fan of Fleet Foxes’ first offering, this one had high expectations from me, and did not disappoint in the least.  This is one of those albums that gets better with each listen as you discover new levels.  Expertly crafted songs.  My favorite track is hard to pick, but I’ll go with the title track, “Helplessness Blues.”

3. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

Now this one was a bit of a departure for me.  I’ve never been a fan of music with a lot of electronic sounds.  But this one quickly won me over.  It is a complex, interesting collection of songs that is simply a great listen.  Tracks I particularly liked include “Cruel” and “Cheerleader”.

4. Pistol Annies – Hell on Heels

I don’t buy a lot of country music (maybe one or two albums a year).  A lot of it, quite frankly, sucks.  But the Pistol Annies go back to classic country goodness to produce a very enjoyable record.  Favorite tracks include “Lemon Drop” and “Bad Example”.  Below is the only one officially on YouTube, the title track.

5. The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow

This is just a fantastic debut by two musicians who have amazing chemistry and produce some of the most pleasant music I’ve heard this year.  Pretty much every track is a nice listen.  One of my favorites is “Girl With The Red Balloon”.

6. The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart

I’ve heard this band compared to Mumford & Sons, another one of my favorite groups.  But I found this ensemble to be somewhat lower-energy, a little more laid-back.  There are some great tunes here though, I’d suggest “Lost in my Mind,” “Ghosts,” and “Down in the Valley” to start.

7. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

This one I just discovered about a week ago so it just made it under the wire.  Really good music, with a harrowing theme about England in turmoil.  Worth a purchase for both reasons.

8. Belle and Sebastian – If You’re Feeling Sinister

Yes, first of all I do realize this album came out in 1996.  So I’m a little behind here – give me a break, I wasn’t always a big music fan.  But if you’re someone who has not heard this, or even more so if you’ve never heard Belle and Sebastian, this is pretty much the most perfect indie pop I’ve heard.  Every song’s a winner.  I’m so glad I decided to dig into B & S this year – better late than never.

So there you go.  As promised, a sampling of what I was buying and listening to in 2011.  I bought plenty of other stuff too (through eMusic and Amazon) but I either haven’t had the chance to fully take it in, or it just simply did not stick with me.  I might add one or two if I discover a glaring hole.  But for now, I’d invite you to enjoy the videos I posted and perhaps discover some wonderful new music!

My brief personal Christopher Hitchens story

I first got involved in politics around my junior year in college when I decided to join the Conservatives Club on campus.  In the fall of 2004, the club invited Christopher Hitchens to speak on campus and give his rebuttal to the film Fahrenheit 9/11 by Micheal Moore.  As a new member, I was fortunate enough to be invited to eat dinner with Mr. Hitchens at a local restaurant (which, we had to ensure in advance, served Johnny Walker Black).  In attendance were about 20-25 club members.

At the time I had just heard of Hitchens and was not familiar with his work.  Purely by chance, my seat at dinner was right next to him.  As he consumed his glasses of whiskey, I remember briefly engaging him in conversation about some trivial topic… I believe it was something like how technology was changing the world and how today’s children would never know a time without computers.  Silly, I now know in retrospect, but nonetheless he was perfectly engaging to a young 21-year-old computer science major.

I don’t recall much about the speech itself.  And looking back, I’m not sure why he spoke on such a trivial topic.  I highly doubt Hitchens himself remembered much about his brief visit to Lewisburg, PA, especially considering his likely blood alcohol content during the presentation.  As I recall this brief encounter I feel like, though I did not appreciate it fully at the time, he was certainly an interesting person to meet.

Hitchens was a remarkable fellow, as I’m sure will be communicated by the numerous obituaries popping up from nearly every major news site.  He pissed off almost everyone at some point.  I don’t think anyone ever shared, or will share, his particular blend of opinions.  But they were all unified by his absolute persistence in stating his opinion, no matter what it might be.  Let us all take that from him and learn to stick up for our beliefs, even when they may offend.