YHT Top 10 Albums of 2011, Part 2

(click here if you missed Part 1)

Welcome to Part 2 of YHT’s Top 10 Albums of 2011, also known (as of this very moment) as the High Five! Before continuing, I highly recommend high-fiving the first person you can find, or if no one’s around, simply accept the internet high five above. Yay! OK, let’s finish 2011 off in style…

5. James Blake — James BlakeJames Blake

Dubstep not your cup of tea? Mine neither! But so much of what James Blake does well has nothing to do with wobbly bass or sub-bass or wobbly sub-bass. Take his minimalism, for example. A track like “Lindesfarne” builds so much tension via empty sonic space that by the time the track is in full-swing, it feels like your heart is going to explode, even though his version of “full-swing” is still relatively sparse. He’s also capable of making songs feel emotional, regardless of what’s going on lyrically. In some ways, James Blake is like the musical equivalent of the plastic bag from American Beauty — an object of creation that seems simple on the surface, but as you continue to fill it with your own emotions its meaning becomes almost overwhelming. Then, like I said, your heart explodes. Boom. Just like that. Listen to “Lindesfarne” below, read more here and here, and buy here.

James Blake — “Lindesfarne

4. Fleet Foxes — Helplessness BluesHelplessness Blues

I don’t know if I would have made it through this past year without Helplessness Blues. 2011 was a time of exciting change for me (this blog being one big development), and the Fleet Foxes’ latest effort resonated deeply, touching heavily on themes of transformation and self-determination. I fell in love with the album’s exhilarating title track, which manipulates momentum so brilliantly, but our affair was sidetracked abruptly when I heard “Someone You’d Admire,” a hymn-like song with lyrics that offer both an admission of personal defeat and a reaffirmation of the ongoing inner-struggles that push us to get out of bed in the morning and keep fighting. Wow. This blurb certainly got serious. Here’s a video of a monkey riding a dog! Better? Great! See what I mean about “Someone You’d Admire” below, read more here, and buy here.

Fleet Foxes — “Someone You’d Admire


Wait for it…



Alright, now that that guy is gone we can have a rational conversation about Bon Iver, one of the most ambitious albums I’ve heard in a long time. In my mind, making this album was an act of extreme musical courage. It would have been easy for Justin Vernon to dust off the For Emma, Forever Ago recipe and make another batch of the same bittersweet-yet-delicious confections, but he went so much further with his second full-length, thickening the batter with diverse instrumentation and bold stylistic leaps. Out of the oven came songs that feel radically different, even though they bear the same yearning falsetto that so many people have grown to love since 2008. So why do I have it ranked at number #3? Um… I dunno it just kinda felt like the right place. Listen to “Holocene” below, read more here, here and here, and buy here.

Bon Iver — “Holocene

2. Alabama Shakes — Alabama Shakes EPAlabama Shakes EP

Why is this one’s album art smaller? Is it because it’s just an EP, and it’s size is being represented in correlation with its running length? Actually no. For some mysterious reason I couldn’t resize the image. Oops. Besides, if I had to represent how impactful this album has been, I would need a shit-ton more pixels. Probably more pixels than any other album on this list. The Alabama Shakes have landed on so many year-end “Best New Artist” lists with just these four soulful rock songs and some YouTube videos, making this album the pound-for-pound, hardest-hitting release of the year. I’m still recovering from being slugged by their early-December show at the Jefferson in Charlottesville, VA, and I’m beside myself with anticipation for the next time they’re anywhere near Richmond. Listen below to “You Ain’t Alone,” which is just a scary-good song in my opinion, read more here and here, and buy here.

Alabama Shakes — “You Ain’t Alone

1. Gillian Welch — The Harrow & The HarvestThe Harrow and the Harvest

The top spot goes to the album I played more times from start to finish than any other this year. When The Harrow & the Harvest came out, a big deal was made about how long it had been in the making — 8 years had passed since Welch’s last release — but this is no Chinese Democracy. Many of these tracks were captured on the first take, giving the album a natural, lighting-in-a-bottle feel that stands in stark contrast to their remarkable quality. I read that she and David Rawlings started a few recording projects in the years between this album and her last, but they abandoned each one because they weren’t convinced that the material up to snuff. These songs sure as hell are, and though nothing’s perfect, “Hard Times” is as close to a perfect song as I heard in 2011, offering a pure, heart-wrenching, two-by-two pairing of verse and chorus, guitar and banjo, her voice and his. Take a listen below, read more here, and buy here.

Gillian Welch — “Hard Times

Before you go, I just wanted to say thank you so much for reading You Hear That in 2011. It means so much to me that you’re reading this here blog, and I’m beyond excited for what’s in store in the future. I hope you have a wonderful New Year’s Eve, and that your 2012 is 1000% better than the Mayans said it would be. Now let’s all go get hammered, call cabs and get home safe and sound!

YHT Top 10 Albums of 2011, Part 1

Aren’t top 10 music lists funny? They’re arbitrary, for one thing. Unless you’re quantitatively ranking performances (American Idol and X-Factor, I’m not going to call on you so please put your hands down), the order of your top 10 is usually based on gut feelings and random associations. Plus, they’re a dime a dozen — any yahoo, including this one, that listened to at least 10 albums in a calendar year can make one. Yet for some reason, people love to create them and debate them… and then debate them some more. And as annoying as it is to see people arguing about top 10 lists on the internet, therein lies their beauty. There may be no clearer testament to the fact that every human being experiences music differently, and that’s a good thing. Lists like these are a great way to discover bands that other people are crazy about that you might not even know existed. And someone’s conviction about an album you dismissed out of hand may finally convince you to give it a shot. I hope this list does one of those things for you, and if not, feel free join the ranks of these people and lash out about what’s ranked too high or how Bon Iver sucks.

10. Battles — Gloss DropGloss Drop

[Cue Most Interesting Man in the World music] I don’t always listen to math-rocky type stuff. But when I do… I listen to Battles. Their previous album Mirrored drew me in, even though proggy math rock isn’t really my thang, and Gloss Drop picked up right where its predecessor left off. Given that they lost a key band member in between that album and this one, I was impressed right away by how the group’s sense of intensity and adventure had endured, and had maybe even grown. “Ice Cream” became one of my favorite upbeat songs of the year, and I still can’t get enough of it. Listen below, read more about Battles here, here and here, and buy here.

Battles — “Ice Cream

9. Youth Lagoon — The Year of HibernationThe Year of Hibernation

Trevor Powers seemed to come out of nowhere, garnering lots of attention all at once thanks to a May Pitchfork article that linked to a few self-released songs, including the wonderfully haunting “July.” But his instant notoriety was no fluke, as his debut full-length The Year of Hibernation illustrates so convincingly. Powers is just 22, but his old-soul dexterity with themes of nostalgia and the fragility of youth is remarkable, and his album leaves you with the odd sensation that he’s older than he really is. Kind of like how it’s easy to forget that the basketball players you bet on each March in your office pool are really 18-year-olds who only recently learned how to drive. Now if only they’d learn how to hit their goddamn free throws. Listen to “July” below, read more here and here, and buy here.

Youth Lagoon — “July

8. tUnE-yArDs — w h o k i l lw h o k i l l

w h o k i l l is one of the most refreshing albums I’ve heard in a long time, absolutely bursting at the seams with creativity. Merrill Garbus is one of those rare artists who is capable of committing great leaps of the imagination to tape without drifting off into the obscure or unlistenable. Watching her loop-happy live performances online is a special treat, as her execution is flawless despite the fact that she employs so many off-kilter, rhythmically complex and densely layered elements. My favorite of these videos came in August, when she played “Gangsta” on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon with members of the Roots. I’d give you a link, but none of the embedded videos are currently working because NBC is comprised of a-holes who don’t understand the internet. Listen to the studio version of “Gangsta” below, read more here, and buy here.

tUnE-yArDs –“Gangsta

7. Delicate Steve — Wondervisions

Delicate Steve was the source of equal parts laughter, enjoyment and regret during the course of 2011. Laughter because of Chuck Klosterman’s hilarious fake press release; enjoyment because his album Wondervisions is a twisting, turning and totally addictive monument to the endless possibilities of melody; and regret because I wish so badly I could have seen him perform on the tour he did with Ra Ra Riot, as my mother- and father-in-law did in Harrisburg, PA at Appalachian Brewing Company. Hearing my father-in-law talk about how much he enjoyed seeing Delicate Steve helped the bitterness pass though, as it filled me with excitement for whenever I finally make it to one of his shows. Listen to his song “Butterfly” below, read more here, and buy here.

Delicate Steve — “Butterfly

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr — It’s A Corporate World It's A Corporate World

I wrote about Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr incessantly this past year (please don’t do a search for the band’s name in the search bar to the right, my obsession is slightly embarrassing), and much of that writing was about the Detroit duo’s clever marketing and knack for PR. But when you look past their masterfully constructed image, you find sturdy electro-pop tunes that exhibit real heart and soul, as well as a clear gift for arrangement and instrumentation. It’s A Corporate World is an excellent listen from its first notes to its last, and I felt extremely lucky to have seen the album come alive in September at the Southern in Charlottesville, VA (complete with black lights and matching Tigers jackets, of course). Listen to their song “Nothing But Our Love” below, read more here, here and here, and buy here.

Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr — “Nothing But Our Love

Check back tomorrow for Part 2!


Just a quick post to: A. Let you know I’m still alive (been working on some fun future bloggishness) B. Pimp my two-part “YHT Top Ten Albums Extravaganza,” which starts tomorrow, and C. Pass along a link to iTunes, where you can pre-order Passenger’s soon-to-be-released album, All The Little Lights. I learned about Passenger — real name Michael Rosenberg — this summer, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed 2010’s Flight of the Crow, but shit got real when I saw a video of Rosenberg performing his song “I Hate” at a venue called The Borderline in London. “I Hate” is such an elegantly written, funny and hope-in-humanity-reaffirming piece of social commentary, setting its sights on talkative concertgoers, fake Facebook friendships and, in a verse that makes me want to stand up and applaud, The X-Factor. I wanted to stand up and applaud again when I scanned the track list for his upcoming album and saw that the same live version of “I Hate” that I love so much would be included as the finale. Check out the video above, listen below and click here to pre-order All The Little Lights. And don’t forget, when you pre-order something, you usually forget that you paid for it by the time it comes out, so it’s pretty much free! (Editor’s Note: You Hear That Accounting Services L.L.C. is not legally certified to provide financial advice.)

Passenger — “I Hate

The Lagomorph

Did everyone have a wonderful Christmas weekend? Did you get enough holiday cheer? Get that new iPhone you asked for? If not, I hope you handled it better than these people. In any case, as you dig yourself out from the daze of the holi… days, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to look back at the year in music via the latest edition of The Lagomorph, which just went live today! It’s the fourth edition of this “periodic document of musical experiences from the past year,” and I’m very excited to have been included alongside some truly talented Richmond writers, photographers and musicians. Click here to check out interesting pieces by folks like Andrew Cothern of Richmond Playlist, PJ Sykes and more. After all, as Ferris Bueller once said so astutely, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

B. B. King

[Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes to you via my good friend Brian Gorman, who works for an accounting firm, but is also one of my favorite writers on the entire planet (his letters to customer service are the stuff of legend). I hope you enjoy his heartwarming story as you finish up the work week and get ready for the holiday weekend.]  


Ok bear with me YHT readers, like the opening to a Rush song I’m afraid this post requires a rambling introduction before it gets to the point and rocks out.

If you’ve seen Gorman in the last five weeks or so you may have noticed a pathetic and (and yes occasionally comical) limp- I have a busted knee. The origins of this are mysterious and painful so let’s skip that and flash forward to yesterday when I pulled into the parking lot of a VCU Medical Center lab for my scheduled MRI, wincing every time I applied the clutch with my left foot. I was late of course, and in an ironic twist I was so focused on keeping this knee locked and angled correctly while climbing out of the car that I slammed the other one squarely into the door panel and thus ended up shuffling my way into Radiology on two throbbing joints by making little kicks with straightened legs and swinging my arms like a middle-aged power walker. The lady behind the desk watched me come in and blinked wordlessly at me about seven or eight times before handing me the clipboard.

Twenty minutes later I was allowed to limp into the magnetic MRI room. For anyone that has never been in an MRI machine, it’s basically the lamest, most annoying roller coaster ride ever. They lay you down on a little plastic platform and slowly ramp you into this huge machine with a narrow tunnel that makes you feel like Spock’s corpse being rolled through the torpedo bay at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. These things cost like three million dollars each and take high-tech pictures of your flesh using of all things sound waves; as a result the most remarkable thing about them is the horrific noise they surround you with during the 35 minutes or so the imaging takes. Allow me to briefly describe this noise- it’s sort of a turbulent whir accompanied by an uneven ear-splitting clacking sound so it kind of sounds like an amped up combination of a vacuum cleaner on its last legs and a careless garbage truck crew, all of this interrupted intermittently by terrible sounds I can only describe as “screech- beeps.”

Or so I’ve been told. In actuality I only got a faint taste of all this because, as luck would have it, I was busy listening to something else.

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YHT Holiday Gift Guide

[Spoiler Alert: If we’re related, please wait till December 26 to read this post. The gift I’m getting you may be listed below. For realsies.]

Hey there, blog reader! You look tense… Do you still have some last-minute Chrismukkah shopping to do? I knew it! Well… does your friend/family member/coworker like music? They do?!? Well hot damn, this is the holiday gift guide for you. Here are three YHT-approved gift ideas that are sure to delight the music-loving friend/family member/coworker that you totally planned to get something for sooner.

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A. A. Bondy

When The Devil's Loose

Biggie said it, and time and time again we see how right he was: “The more money you make, the more problems you get.” Take Canadian rapper/singer/serial blog muse Drake, for example. The man has “Trust Issues,” an emotional hangup that would seem to fall squarely within the subset of problems about which Biggie waxed philosophical. It’s a shame, because trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship, and even famous people deserve love. And while I don’t have millions of dollars and can’t exactly relate to Drake’s worries that bitches are going to slip something in his drinks, trust does figure prominently when I’m thinking about how to dole out my dozens of dollars when I’m at the record store, as I was this past Saturday.

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Jonathan Vassar & The Speckled Bird

So often in music, the string-snapping, cymbal-smashing and tonsil-tearing performances are the ones that are deemed “passionate.” However, there was a most intense stillness to the back room of Balliceaux this past Sunday evening as Jonathan Vassar & The Speckled Bird performed their brand of eclectic and, yes, passionate folk music for a raptly attentive audience that filled every available booth, chair and coach seat (as well as the spaces in between).

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Nelly Kate

Ish Ish

On Tuesday, I praised 2011’s wave of remix EPs for two main reasons,  the first being that these companion albums provide a fresh perspective on familiar songs, which, for me, raises the value of the original compositions. But then again, I’m a sucker for intertextuality. The second reason I like these remix albums is that they put the artist in driver’s seat of something that is typically out of their hands — secondary consumption. Whether you’re dealing with remixes, live covers, or illegal downloads, songs take on a life of their own once they’ve been released, and their writers rarely benefit. Remix EPs provide a way for musicians to have some agency in a distribution paradigm that’s stacked against them. Lemons, meet lemonade. There’s another phenomenon happening right now that has that same lemonade-y feel to it, as Staunton-based musician Nelly Kate can attest: Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a service that lets you solicit funds online so you can turn your creative vision — be that a documentary, music recording, or modular and expandable crop production unit (I did not make, and could not have made, that last one up) — into a reality. After all, in the age of the interweb, why should anyone with a great idea sit around waiting for a big company to swoop in and save the day? As the not-so-great Bill O’Reilly once said, “Fuck it! We’ll do it live!” A few days ago, I found the Kickstarter page for Nelly Kate’s album Ish Ish as a result of an RVA Magazine article, and I quickly fell in love with her story. In the video on her page, Kate describes so eloquently her inspiration and goals for her album, which she recorded via reel-to-reel and will have pressed to vinyl to complete the analog process. As she mentions in the video “It takes a true sense of commitment to press a record onto vinyl,” and that’s the beauty of her project, and why it’s so perfect for Kickstarter — Kate’s passion shines through, making it impossible not to root for her. Listen below to the beautifully written and layered song from Ish Ish that she’s provided to whet our appetites, “Blue Badges,” and if you enjoy it, please head to her Kickstarter and contribute. Even though it appears that she’s reached her goal, you can still contribute at different levels and receive various gifts in return, from a digital download of the album, to a vinyl copy, to a limited edition 50-page book that features Kate’s line drawings, lyrics and inside secrets, complete with an autographed and a personal message.

Nelly Kate — “Blue Badges