Drew Harkins’ Top Albums of 2011

Posted December 29th, 2011 by eric

Andrew S. Harkins is way too smart to be a redneck, and just slightly too redneck to let your daughter escort her to the … oh, wait, who am I kidding? Don’t let your daughter near this guy.

1. Black Lips, Arabia Mountain (Vice)
The worst part about living in Atlanta is that sometimes it feels like you just can’t get the fuck out of town. Now that’s not to say ATL isn’t cool. I mean, Sid Mashburn reps that Southern steez, there’s always hot shit on exhibit at the High, good-looking girls are everywhere, and, OH, even if you’re a hipster, there’s this whole thing called professional baseball that you might think about looking into. But, man, sometimes you just need to get away from the city and do things Dickey-style. Yep. I’m totally talking about going on Lewis-worthy Deliverance missions. (Minus the whole sodomy thing, obvy.)

What sucks is when you find friends who have the same idea in mind, but then spend the crux of your Friday afternoon following some dumb, ass-around-elbow DeKalb shortcut they *think* will properly get you in the woods after business hours.

Hmmm … welp, Big Gulps, ehhh … Anyway, like it or not, as I mentioned, unless you’re Ted Turner, there simply ain’t no easy way out of Atlanta. And why? Because the city that’s “Too Busy To Hate” was apparently too preoccupied growing Delta and Home Depot to consider how its denizens could get the hell out of town. So basically, no matter which direction you strike, it’s guaranteed that you’ll spend at least an hour on the road before you’re finally, truly done with Atlanta.

[Aside — Now, to be fair, simply joking about being some suburban Snake Plissken does presuppose two things — first, you have to consider Georgia suburbia to be some ‘seminal’ part of the proper Atlanta experience, and second, you’re invariably going to be slammed by traffic at some point during your escape (Which, I promise, you will be. At least 38 out of 40 times. If you’re lucky.).]

Once you come to grips with these caveats, you’ll still realize that no matter how you choose to head out of town, you’ll invariably find yourself somewhere smack in the middle of some fucking phalanx of soulless developments, SHAWTY. And naturally, they all have names like ‘Dove Tree’ and ‘Quail Manor’ and whatnot. Well, hell. So many neighborhoods were constructed, I doubt there’s one single quail or deer left in either Gwinnett or Cobb counties. (I know I frolic and detour, but somebody please prove me wrong.)

Again, why? Because they bulldozed all the rolling hills at the tip of the Blue Ridge to house a shit ton of septic tanks that, every day, suck the waste from six million or so shiny, happy, Georgians holding hands. So to get to the point, thanks, Atlanta. Not only for being the ‘Capital of The South’, but also for your soulless, tacky, exurban splendor, and for serving as a role model for the rest of the region — bequeathing your jealous little sister Charlotte and squatting out such gems as Greenville, Chattanooga, Birmingham, Knoxville, and the rest of the proper/modern South we’ve so learned to love.

Anyway, this whole thing is about music, isn’t it? Basically what I gather of the Black Lips is that in some strange way, suburban Atlanta actually directs their verve. Yep. Not Downtown. Not Little Five. Not EAV. Hell, not even Buckhead, Bankhead (AW SNAP) or Brookhaven. It’s kind of cool but also kind of funny when I hear Cole from the band say he’s from “Dunwoody, Georgia” in an interview. Because if you didn’t know better — and especially if he had more of a Southern accent — you’d think Dunwoody is the quail hunting reserve in a Tom Wolfe novel instead of another faceless, affluent suburb of Atlanta.

Apparently the Black Lips dudes live in town now. And you’ve probably read that Vice Magazine ‘Guide To ATL’ which conveniently coincided with the release of “Arabia Mountain.” It’s definitely recommended, but unfortunately, the Vice map basically just keeps you around downtown. Insofar as an easy intro to ITP hipster life, it is good. But it doesn’t mention The Pink Pony. Or Chambodia. Or All Or Nothing in Vinings. Or the King and Queen Buildings in Dunwoody. Or any of the OTP weirdness that basically makes Atlanta, well, Atlanta.

And lastly, it doesn’t mention Arabia Mountain in the least. Which is kind of curious, because not only is it the name of the album the piece was ostensibly created to promote, but is also the namesake of an area hike skool, but also, more importantly, is more or less the only easily-accessible and outdoorsy-type place within the Atlanta metro area whereby you can escape the abscess of shit-poor city planning and find some sort of semblance of ‘solace’.

So, if you wanted to get all aspirational / sophomore English class and “come full circle,” you could say that Arabia Mountain, as a physical landmark, draws some pretty close parallels to its eponymous album — a monadnock, an outlier, a high point, and a benchmark that rises above one of America’s largest swathes of monotony and mediocrity.

But personally, I recommend that you don’t do that. Because, Jesus Christ, that would be cliched as shit.

(P.S. — Mark Ronson just got you with “Deez Nutz.”)

2. Bass Drum of Death, GB City (Fat Possum)
These guys kept popping up on my friend’s Twitter feed and I finally checked them out. I then downloaded their album. And it’s really fucking good.

In South Carolina, we too often say, “Thank God for Mississippi.” Because, comparatively, as states, S.C. and Miss. are basically both the two most pre-eminent and pathetic bottom-feeders in educational, economic and obesity-related categories. Occasionally S.C. will score higher than Mississippi in some or another ranking of note or measure. And how cute is it that we’ve found a scapegoat for our rejoicing?

With this one, our friends from Oxford basically said, “Thank God For South Carolina.” And the only thing you really need to know about this album is that it is a no-frills and near pitch-perfect rock record.

Also, they’re fun to party with. (See how cool name-dropping is? I’m going to try to do it as much as possible throughout this list. Feel free to buy me a beer next time we hang out, John.)

3. Death, … For The Whole World To See (Drag City)
This is MY list, son. And I’m totally cheating the hell out of this one. Just because I can. Apparently this record was technically released in 2009 on Drag City, but all you beanie-wearing motherfuckers slept on it until this year.

Sucks for you. Death would’ve been not only a Hipster Runoff curiosity/fameball (does anybody still use that term?), but also one of the few acts to put out a record in 2011 that would still be talked about for decades to come.

Anyhow, here goes the totally obligatory and pedantic music journalist backstory!!!!! YES!: Three black dudes grow up playing rhythm and blues in 60’s Detroit, dig on Iggy & The Stooges, MC5, etc., and in the latter part of the decade, begin work on a proto-punk album that predates the Sex Pistols and The Ramones by about five years and, personally, still blows my mind nearly 40 years later. Anyway, as the story goes, Clive Davis apparently wanted to sign the band. On one condition: they would change their name to something less morose. “SUCK MY JOHNSON, CLIVE DAVIS,” they said. (I mean, more or less. They probably were just like “hell naw” or whatever. It wasn’t that big a deal.)

But seriously? Who tells Clive Davis that? It’s the equivalent of your schmuck friend going up to Tom Brady and saying, “Your gay.” (Sic intended.) Ummmm, “naw dog.” Sorry. He’s knocking up supermodels while you’re lamenting his Sunday performances on the Internet. Tom Brady wins. So does Death.

4. Megafaun, Megafun (Hometapes)
You thought they nailed the ultra-smooth folk jam vibe on “The Fade”? These dudes stepped up their game even further. I had sinus surgery in October and was on painkillers for over a week. Until I got tired of the whole “not feeling feelings” thing, pretty much all I did was listen to “Get Right” on repeat.

5. Des Ark, Don’t Rock The Boat, Sink The Fucker (Lovitt)
Dear Aimee Argote, I’m sorry I said on Twitter that your music was akin to “Feist Meets Tool”. Really and truly, I’m just one single bro in a huge cadre of bros who sometimes try to say funny things on the Internet. (Don’t mind me, bro, but thanks for the RT!)

I’ve really wanted to make it up to you, so I’m hoping that this decidedly sentimental and fawning compliment might do the trick. The beauty of your songwriting comes when you wrench every last drop of anxiety, danger and uncertainty out of any riff or half-spoken sentiment.

This year, simply listening to “Ashley’s Song” did the trick.

6. Girls, Father, Son, Holy Ghost (True Panther Sounds)
Remember that meme “Spiderman Made Me Gay”?




7. Toro y Moi, Underneath the Pine (Carpark)
I’m getting tired of writing about my friends in Toro Y Moi. But I guess the world should know that I danced like a total fruitcake to “How I Know” for months.

8. Richard Buckner, Our Blood (Merge)
For such an effusive guy, I could never figure out how Buckner writes such downtrodden records. On the phone, in person, whenever I talk to him, he’s always been affable as all get out. Well, whatever his problem is, it’s apparently as melancholy as you can get. When he releases it in song, it’s really, really, really goddamned good.

9. Cults, Cults (Columbia)
It tore me apart, but I never loved her. She let it go away so I let it bleed out.

10. Wugazi, Wugazi (Self-released)
Typically, it takes a lot for me to give credence to *self-promoting* DJ’s or “mix artists.” (Feel free to deride my perfunctory guitar skills right back. My name ain’t Karen.) I really appreciate when I’m out and a DJ caters perfectly to the vibe of a crowd. When it happens, all is well. And so that goes. But when you have to endure a shitty DJ, it makes you think about their task in another way: Their job is basically just to pick up on vibes and non-verbal clues, and to simply keep heads bobbing.

Now, believe it or not, the profession does require an innate sense of interpersonal skill. And just like in regular life, some folks are amazing at pleasing others, some are overbearing salesmen, and some are just downright shitty.

But in the most literal sense, a lot of professional DJ’s are still just that — disc jockeys. They’re riding someone else’s blood, sweat and tears to glory, not to mention forgoing the whole “personal achievement in adroitly wielding an instrument in concert” thing … you know, if such a thing even exists anymore.

Anyway, the obfuscating part is that it all can still be construed under that vague umbrella known as “ART.”

As your shitty, corporate Kool-Aid-drinking middle manger would say, “At the end of the day, Kemosabe, the problem still exists.” Now, I’ll make this easy: After this album, I no longer care. I’m over hating DJ’s and deriding mash-up artists. Ohhhhh kaaaaaayyyyy, so nobody here is an auteur, and nobody can claim musicianship, except for non-representative clans Wu-Tang and Fugazi. Yeah, basically this record is a piece of collage art. And sure, music comprises the result, but the act itself isn’t music. If I cut out the Mona Lisa and slapped her fat ass onto Guernica, I could call that concept art. But that sure as shit don’t make me a painter.

Do I still seem bitter? Even I’m not sure. But basically, having spent how many grafs on this, who the fuck cares? Because this record is SO TIGHT.


Honorable Mention Handjobs:

*Miranda Lambert, Four The Record — Don’t you think for one second that I don’t still have a kick in the nuts waiting for Blake Shelton.

*Smith Westerns, Dye It Blonde – This album is catchy and has nice guitar licks. That’s all I can really say about it.

*Ray LaMontagne, God Willin’ And The Creek Don’t Rise — Yes. Okay. The attractive, bearded guy is actually a popular musical artist. Believe it or not, some people achieve fame for having talent. Making good music is a pretty surefire way of displaying your talent.

*Drive-By Truckers, Go-Go Boots – It took me a long time to get into this one. But to be honest with myself, hell, DBT could do everything short of shit on a microphone and I’d probably, eventually come around to it.

*Mastodon, The Hunter – Slay. Slay. Slay. My friends say that Brent from the band is a total weirdo (Do you see how I’m name-dropping YET AGAIN? I DON’T EVEN PERSONALLY KNOW THIS GUY.). Let’s party together, dude. That El Myr commercial you did was hysterical.

*Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring For My Halo – It’s kind of a bummer, but also kind of great. Whatever.

*Wanda Jackson, The Party Ain’t Over – Basically the next best national treasure we have to Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.

Tags: lists