The Head and the Heart

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It’s been pretty quiet around here for awhile (so quiet that we’re pretty sure just our mom’s are checking this thing at this point) (hi moms!), but even though we haven’t been writing all that much, we promise we’ve still been listening to loads of good music. So putting this list together has been a good chance for us to finally put down how we feel about some of the great stuff we’ve heard this year. We just hope it’s as fun for you to browse through as it was for us to pull together!

Before reading on, just a quick note about a record that’s not on this list: The Head & The Heart’s debut record saw a major label release this year (on Sub Pop), and although we’ve probably listened to that absolute gem of a record more than just about any other this year, we didn’t include it on account of it being on our year-end list for 2010, since they self-released it that year. But just know this: under different circumstances, The Head & The Heart would most certainly top this list. So if you haven’t heard them yet, let that be your invitation! Because they are so great!

So with that out of the way, we’re ready to unveil our Top 21 Albums of 2011. Just remember that this list represents our favorite albums of the year, and not necessarily the best albums of the year. If we had to pick what we thought were the very best albums critically, this list might look a little different. But we’re not critics, so we’re not going to worry about who made the greatest artistic strides or whatever this year. These are simply our very favorite albums of the year: the ones that made us laugh, cry, dance, smile, press repeat, wet our pants, etc. Basically, this is what we’ll remember when we look back on 2011.

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Last Saturday night we had the great pleasure of finally seeing The Head & the Heart perform live at the Madison Theater in Covington, KY. I say “great pleasure” because there’s really no better two words to describe it than GREAT (def: remarkable in magnitude, degree, or effectiveness) and PLEASURE (def: a source of delight or joy). We drove all the way down to Covington to see them open for Iron & Wine, since the show here in Indianapolis sold out quicker than I’d anticipated, and we weren’t about to let these guys make it through the Midwest without a visit from us…

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Last week (AKA: The Best Week Ever!), Kristin and I got ourselves a new little kitten, and per Logan’s suggestion, I’ve put together a short playlist to celebrate.

It’s made up of a songs about cats, some explicitly, and others not so much. Like the Mountain Goats song, for example, is pretty impressionistic in its suggestion of a feline, with lines like “in your arms, I am a wild creature” and “white carpet thick with pet hair”; while both The Weakerthans tracks actually follow the heartbreaking story of Virtute the cat, one of the single saddest tales ever told in song. Jason Collett’s “Little Tiger” is pretty specific for our little runt (see picture above), while Karen O’s song from Where the Wild Things Are is pretty universal in its evocation of kittens playing. And I couldn’t not include a Best Coast song (duh), much less the one with the infamous line, “I wish my cat could talk.” The other songs are just great and happen to have “cat” or “tiger” in the title. Enjoy!

mp3: The Head And The Heart – Cats and Dogs

mp3: The Weakerthans – Plea From A Cat Named Virtute

mp3: Jason Collett – Little Tiger

mp3: Rogue Wave – Catform

mp3: Karen O and the Kids – Rumpus

mp3: ARMS – Tiger Tamer

mp3: Best Coast – Goodbye

mp3: The Cure – The Lovecats

mp3: The Mountain Goats – Broom People

mp3: The Weakerthans – Virtute The Cat Explains Her Departure

[BONUS] And since we’re about 99.99% sure we’re naming the little guy “Elliot”, here’s a bonus track of Elliott Smith covering a Cat Stevens song:

mp3: Elliott Smith – Trouble (Cat Stevens cover)

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Top 21? But weren’t there 25 last year? Well yes. And it was only 15 the year before that. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re not that rigid around here – all we really care about is letting you know what we’re loving right now and that’s about it. If we only fall for one record next year then you can probably expect “WiAC’s Top 1 Album of 2011”. It’ll be a good one, though. We promise.

That said, this year was a great year for music. But it was great in a different way than the last couple years. In 2008 and 2009 we fell hard for debut records by new bands (Grand Archives and Harlem Shakes, respectively), but this year our top 5 went to nearly all familiar faces. In fact, I think when we look back on 2010 what we’ll remember most was how artist after artist that released an anticipated album just seemed to deliver – and not just by making good records, but often by making the record of their career. In a year where we listened to more music than ever, we just couldn’t deny that these were the albums we enjoyed the most. Period.

Finally, remember that this list represents our favorite albums of the year, and not necessarily the best albums of the year. If we had to pick what we thought were the very best albums critically, this list would probably look a little different. But we’re not critics, so we’re going to skip all the posturing and taste-making mumbo-jumbo. These are simply our very favorite albums of the year – the ones that made us laugh, cry, dance, smile, press repeat, wet our pants, etc. Basically, this is what we’ll remember when we look back on 2010…

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During the short time we spent in Seattle last week we not only got to attend a great local show, but I got schooled in a bunch of fantastic local music by Kristin’s uncle (thanks Chris!). I’ve been enjoying a bunch of it, but one group has stuck out especially – Seattle’s own The Head and the Heart. The group apparently got together after meeting at a local tavern, and you can tell – their bouncy songs are rooted in barroom piano, floorboard-stomping rhythms, and the kind of vocal harmonies that sing-a-long redemption is made of – in short, this folksy quintet’s got just about everything I love.

Every last song on their debut album is catchy and infectious, with a keen instrumental edge that makes me think they’d be one fun band to play in. Take “Coeur d’Alene” for instance – what starts out as a fairly straight-forward folk-pop song ends up as a boozy piano romp near its end, or “Ghosts”, which begins as a morose piano number, but as soon as those harmonies swoop in with their “doo-doo-doo’s”, the thing becomes a whole other animal.  Other fantastic songs include the stomping “Lost In My Mind” and the chimes-laden “Sounds Like Hallelujah”. But my absolute favorite song so far is “Down in the Valley” – a throbbing slow-burner that builds from its acoustic intro to a resounding finish – piano and harmonies swirling together in some kind of beautiful splendor.

You should be listening to this.

mp3: The Head and the Heart – Lost In My Mind
from the album The Head and the Heart (buy it here)

mp3: The Head and the Heart – Down In the Valley
from the album The Head and the Heart (buy it here)

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