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Island in the Stream…that is what I am.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that for my wife Katie and me, the Kenny & Dolly duet is “our song”. So, before you even skim my list of 2011 music that I deem excellent, I’ve already destroyed any smidge of credibility you might have assumed that I had. You must understand that sometimes lovebirds don’t choose their song; rather, their song chooses them. Such is the anomaly Katie and I shared during our third date. It’s an anomaly that we both now own, and proudly. But, that’s another story for another time.

Don't judge me, not yet at least.

Let me explain why I’m an island in the stream. I’m in the Stream because I no longer consume music from files that I store on a hard drive. Instead of a carefully researched and price-shopped collection of music that I assembled, I depend on the cloud (and Spotify’s label affiliations) to hear anything in their catalog of more than 15 million songs. I can’t imagine returning to music, and life, as it was with an 50 GB iTunes library.

I’m an island because I have few friends using Spotify. I jumped into a premium Spotify subscription in mid-July, soon after they launched service in the U.S., and I haven’t looked back since. If only the 10 or 12 people whose taste in music I really value would do the same, the Spotify experience would be further enhanced. Maybe I’ll ramp up my recruitment efforts in 2012.

Spotify is not without flaws. Most importantly, artists get a miniscule revenues from streamed music. This seems fair for the albums I wouldn’t have purchases outright, and grossly unfair for the albums I would have bought. Katie has reminded me that I don’t make the stuff I like as available as I did with iTunes. That’s because I only sync playlists with my phone, and not with the family mp3 players we use around the house and on the go.

There are some new releases (maybe about 5% in my brief experience) that I can’t find when I look for them. Interestingly, two of my favorite albums from this year (by The Weeknd and A$AP Rocky) were mixtapes available on the web for free download. To hear them in Spotify, I have to import them from a local directory. I also miss all the metadata tied to albums in iTunes (e.g. BPM, year, etc.).

Overall, I love Spotify. It’s cut my annual music budget by more than half, and I have access to almost anything at almost any time. Before this post turns into a full-blown Spotify review (too late?), I’ll get to the point of all this.

Albums

In sharp contrast to the iTunes years, using a subscription service has resulted in listening more to full albums and EPs. When I relied on hard-drive storage for music files, individual mp3s were the basic units in my collection.

I would pick and choose songs and avoid purchasing LPs to save money. Now that I no long have a discrete collection, and unlimited access to (most) albums, I’m back to consuming long-form recordings. And to think, I used to the album as a genre was dead!

Also, I’ll go on record as saying that I think three of the best-received albums of 2011 according to Metacritic’s aggregation are overrated (PJ Harvey, Bon Iver, and The Horrors). My daughter would agree — when I played Bon Iver soon after it came out, Jackie gave me a bored look and pleaded, “let’s play some JAMS Daddy.”

These are my 20 favorites of the past year, classified in four tiers below:

Tier One

Days – Real Estate
House of Balloons* – The Weeknd
SUBTRKT – Sbtrkt
The English Riviera – Metronomy
Black Up – Shabazz Palaces

Tier Two

Lenses Alien – Cymbals Eat Guitars
Electronic Dream – araabMUZIK
Wounded Rhymes – Lykke Li
Sepalcure — Sepalcure
Parallax – Atlas Sound

Tier Three

Looping State of Mind – The Field
Mirror Traffic – Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
A$AP Rocky — LiveLoveA$AP
Tomboy – Panda Bear
No Color – The Dodos

Tier Four

Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes
Hurry Up We’re Dreaming – M83
Smother – Wild Beasts
Carrion Crawler/The Dream – Thee Oh Sees
It’s All True – Junior Boys

Songs

My 60 favorite songs of 2011 are listed below, and here’s the link to the Spotify playlist.

  1. It’s Real – Real Estate
  2. An echo from the hosts that profess infinitum — Shabazz Palaces
  3. The Bay – Metronomy
  4. Wildfire (feat. Little Dragon) – Sbtrkt
  5. Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name) – Cymbals Eat Guitar
  6. I’ll Take Care Of U – Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx
  7. The Morning* – The Weeknd
  8. Black Night – The Dodos
  9. Street Joy – White Denim
  10. Video Games – Lana Del Rey
  11. Nasty – Nas
  12. Gorilla* – Clams Casino
  13. Stick Figures In Love – Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks
  14. Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out – The Antlers
  15. Streetz Tonight – araabMUSIK
  16. Still Sound – Toro Y Moi
  17. Reach A Bit Further – Wild Beasts
  18. Love Out Of Lust – Lykke Li
  19. Pencil Pimp – Sepalcure
  20. Ungirthed* – Purity Ring
  21. Is This Power – The Field
  22. New Map – M83
  23. Come To The City – The War On Drugs
  24. Street Halo – Burial
  25. Alsatian Darn – Panda Bear
  26. Lotus Flower – Radiohead
  27. Need You Now – Cut Copy
  28. Ritual Union – Little Dragon
  29. Top Bunk – Gauntlet Hair
  30. Brand New Guy (feat. ScHoolboy Q) (prod. Lyle) – ASAP Rocky
  31. Edge of Extremes – Clubfeet
  32. Make My – The Roots
  33. All The Same – Real Estate
  34. What You Need* – The Weeknd
  35. Santa Fe – Beirut
  36. If I Had A Boat – James Vincent McMorrow
  37. Other Side – Family Portrait
  38. My Mistakes – Eleanor Friedberger
  39. Shut Up, Man (feat. El-P) – Das Racist
  40. Songs 4 Women* – Frank Ocean
  41. I Follow Rivers – Lykke Li
  42. Grown Ocean – Fleet Foxes
  43. Woods – The Rosebuds
  44. Falls (Violet) – Van Hunt
  45. Angel Is Broken – Atlas Sound
  46. Every Night – James Pants
  47. Don’t Move – Phantogram
  48. Under Cover Of Darkness – The Strokes
  49. Like Gentle Giants – Corduroi
  50. Something Goes Right – Sbtrkt
  51. Banana Ripple – Junior Boys
  52. Something Came Over Me – WILD FLAG
  53. Wait In The Dark – Memory Tapes
  54. Get Right – Megafaun
  55. Hey Sparrow – Peaking Lights
  56. Gangsta – Tune-Yards
  57. Weekend – Smith Westerns
  58. Get Away – Yuck
  59. Make Me Proud – Drake
  60. Holocene – Bon Iver
* denotes a track that can’t be found on Spotify, but can easily be found on the web.
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Image from Raleigh

Urban dirt-biking

I took this post-apocalyptic picture outside Jones Barber Shop in Raleigh last year.

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