Best music of 2011 | Arts + Culture | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Best music of 2011

Our critics pick the best of the year, leaving no stone unturned. Online only, vinyl singles, the expected full-lengths: All’s fair in love and playlists.

Alison Lang
Coast writer since 2007

Bad Vibrations, Black Train (Brotherhood)
Bad Vibrations has what businesspeople would call a "consistency of vision." With Black Train, these straight shooters will take you on a ride that is continually ghostly, tenebrous and spaced-out---brain food for headbangers.

Bike Rodeo, Oh Bla Duh (Independent)
Some bands out there raise their quirks aloft like a giant "hey, look at me!" banner. Meanwhile, Halifax's most underrated and possibly perfect rock 'n' roll outfit has quietly settled into its idiosyncrasies and delivered this little jewel of a record---bedecked with jams.

Dirty Beaches, Badlands (Zoo)
Beneath a layer of carefully crafted lo-fi grime, the voice of Alex Zhang Hungtai, AKA Dirty Beaches, rises towards you---equal parts croon and yowl. This is the music of scratched Victrolas, hands greasy with flop sweat, and fearful prom-night kisses from smokey mouths.

Dog Day, Deformer (Fundog)
Seth and Nancy, drums and guitar, dogs and chickens, strum und drang, wilderness and fear, wildness and comfort, retreat and solitude, dreamscapes and anxieties, records and money, beauty and drone, grit and heart. What else can be said? Deformer is magic.

Jeff the Brotherhood, We Are The Champions (Infinity Cat)

Jon McKiel, Tonka War Cloud (Youth Club/Saved By Vinyl) LOCAL

One Hundred Dollars, Songs of Man (Outside)

Rural Alberta Advantage, Departing (Saddle Creek/Paper Bag)

Shotgun Jimmie, Transistor Sister (You've Changed)

Wild Flag, Wild Flag (Merge)

Alison can play one song on bass: "Genie in a Bottle." Eats sour candy compulsively. Hopes to one day own a fox as a pet.

Tara Thorne
Coast writer since 1999

Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjagwuar)
Its cryptic lyrics make its densely layered vocals and thundering drums even more beautiful somehow, as if Justin Vernon is daring you to come back over and over, try to figure him out.

Bright Eyes, The People's Key (Saddle Creek)
Conor Oberst is thinking out these days: "You and me, that's an awful lot. It's I and I." Indie rock's most navel-gazing troubadour has grown up.

Florence + The Machine, Ceremonials (Universal)
After working her late-blooming debut for three years, Florence Welch returns with a textured, expansive treatise on spirituality that would make Kate Bush proud (and probably nervous).

Jenn Grant, Honeymoon Punch (Six Shooter)
Halifax's best voice goes pop with a packet of upbeat danceables that doesn't lose an ounce of emotion in the transition.

Wild Flag, Wild Flag (Merge)
Dear Wild Flag, here is a line from your own "Romance" that describes how I feel: "Hey you've got me crawlin', you've got me spinnin', shake shim-my shake." Marry me Wild Flag.

Death Cab for Cutie, Codes and Keys (Atlantic)

The Horrible Crowes, Elsie (SideOneDummy)

Dan Mangan, Oh Fortune (Arts & Crafts)

Rural Alberta Advantage, Departing (Saddle Creek/Paper Bag)

St. Vincent, Strange Mercy (4AD)

Chad VanGaalen, Diaper Island (Flemish Eye)

Tara grew up with dogs and boomboxes but loves cats and hates cassettes. The first time her byline appeared in The Coast was in 1998 as a letter-writer about Juliana Hatfield's show at the Marquee, for which she won letter of the week, which was a thing back then, but is not now.

Dave Hayden
Coast writer since 1994

13 & God, Own Your Ghost (Anticon/Alien Transistor)
Underground hip-hop got a dose of self-reflection when 13 & God returned this year. The collective of Dose One, Jel and Notwist demonstrated a versatility that even seasoned jazz aficionados would shake their heads in disbelief at.

Handsome Furs, Sound Kapital (Sub Pop)
With '80s new wave, rocksteady disco beats and propulsive energy, Sound Kapital is a pulsing, sweaty box of crack-covered chocolates. Put in on, turn up your furnace and dance until you bleed tears of ecstasy.

Thurston Moore, Demolished Thoughts (Matador)
I await every Sonic Youth related output with trepidation, it never fails to shock. And so did the second solo LP from Thurston Moore, not because of distortion and mayhem but because of its beautiful juxtapositions and lush soundscapes. If SY is truly dead---then long live whatever comes next.

Frederick Squire, Sings Shenandoah and Other Popular Hits (Blue Fog)
Two albums in a year, and this was the finer of the two if only for the live-from-the-floor takes and close micing that captured every detail. Accomplished and patient storytelling. There wasn't a finer indie-folk album this year.

Gillian Welch, The Harrow & The Harvest (Acony)
How this went under most radars, I have no idea. It is by far her best collection in recent memory---the voice is exquisite, the songs and arrangements more confident. It should have been huge.

Ryan Adams, Ashes & Fire (PAX AM/Capitol)

Bad Vibrations, Black Train (Brotherhood) LOCAL

Dog Day, Deformer (Fundog) LOCAL

tUnE-yArDs, w h o k i l l (4AD)

Tom Waits, Bad as Me (ANTI-)

Wild Flag, Wild Flag (Merge)

Year end lists tend to focus on the handheld product, but more and more great stuff can be found with just a few keystrokes. Here are a few of my favourite not too far off the beaten path limited edition or online only music picks from 2011. by Dave Hayden.

Sloan, "Is That All I Get" (
The official bootleg from 1993 finds the band at their slap-happy and energetic best, shining its way through this less-than-perfect audio capture. Honourable mentions: *Sing For Your Meat: A Tribute to Guided By Voices* mp3 download (No More Fake Labels) and *Iron And Wine/The Low Anthem: Daytrotter Session* limited edition vinyl (Daytrotter).

Noyes Records 7" vinyl subscription (
Do we want more local vinyl? Of course we do. Along with Joel Plaskett's dedication to the format, I really have to tip my hat to Chad Peck and the Noyes crew for stepping it up a notch with limited edition 7inches (coloured vinyl at that!) featuring local bands and fantastic artwork tying the series together. Order online now for a glorious 10 months of vinyl delivered right to you.

Fugazi Live concert series (
Dischord once again leads the way with this massive new archive which will supposedly top 800+ shows available for download. Like their infamous fair ticket price legacy, each show can be downloaded for $5 (or whatever you think is fair). You can search by song and/or city to see what was recorded (yes, the Halifax show has been recorded).
Would you have given your left arm to attend the Yo La Tengo Hanukkah shows? or maybe the seven night Pavement stint in Central Park? This site is for you---be there without leaving the comfort of your own bed. My week was not complete without checking out what show they had recently captured.

The Strombo Show iPhone app
The Strombo Show is simply great radio. Period. Where else can you hear such a wide array of hip-hop, punk, indie, new wave and electronica all seamlessly woven together by a host who not only has the knowledge but a passion for music not heard since the glory days of *Brave New Waves*? With this app, you can stream any show that has ever aired at any time in the car, in the kitchen (or as I do) in the operating room. Need to hear the amazing covers episode again? You got it. This app alone makes my iPhone worth every penny.

Dave is always searching for the next great love-gone-wrong song. Moved to Halifax to be closer to Eric's Trip and Hardship Post. Performs surgery in his other job.

Stephanie Johns
Coast writer since 2005

Bloodhouse, Please Don't Meet Me/Cool Intentions (Caesar Cuts)
Oh god, I'm scared. Bloodhouse blends dark and riffy, heavy and strangely ethereal while exploding brains with great melody lines. Please write and record more songs, please.

Hunx and his Punx, Too Young to be in Love (Hardly Art)
Lusty '60s bubblegum featuring a surprisingly cohesive mix of bratty and big vocals. Seth Bogart (AKA Hunx) has made his most stylish recording to date. And that's saying something.

Thee Oh Sees, Castlemania (In The Red)
A wacky collection of B-side-feel material odds, Castlemania puts the cap on years of John Dwyer's artistic experimentation at his San Francisco home. It's like an ode to late night parties that turn into creative epiphanies.

Tongan Death Grip, Chula Vista (P-Trash)
So incredibly fast it gives you a pain in that secret place in your heart where you hold all your dreams of shredding on guitar. Perfect punk morsels, coated in sweet, sweet harmony.

Weekend Dads, Weekend Dads (It's Alive)
They may not be breaking the mould, but they are pouring something really awesome into that mould, patiently letting it set and then displaying it proudly as a solid, strong punk seven-inch.

Bad Vibrations, Black Train (Brotherhood) LOCAL

Deerhoof, Deerhoof vs. Evil (Polyvinyl)

Dog Day, Deformer (Fundog) LOCAL

Fat Stupids, EP (Independent) LOCAL

Outtacontroller, Power Out (Independent) LOCAL

Thee Oh Sees, Carrion Crawler/The Dream (In The Red)

Steph has never broken a bone. Arts editor for The Coast. As a child, starred in a commercial for bread. Turned out to be a metaphor for her life.

TOP 11 of 2011 comedy albums, podcasts and more
I love laughing. Especially all the way to the bank. But if I don’t have to go to the bank, I also like laughing at home with these things. Here are the top 11 things of 2011 that made me do that. Stephanie Johns (with brainstorming help via text with Greg Boone)

Donald Glover, Weirdo (Comedy Central)
Glover’s Comedy Central special is guaranteed to make you think of your best and worst childhood moments.

Patton Oswalt, Finest Hour (Comedy Central)
Gaining weight, dressing poorly, struggling between accepting people and shouting at their stupidity---all wrapped up in a little comedy album with some truly amazing artwork.

Picnicface TV series (Comedy Network)
Visually over the top, supremely uncomfortable and a great weird show to unwind with on a weekly basis.

Nick Flanagan, I’m Here All Weak (Talent Moat)
Sounds like bombing, but it’s not. Promise.

Michael Ian Black, Very Famous (Comedy Central)
So we all have crushes on Michael Ian Black by now, right? There’s some airline humour, but it’s good. Grab an Ambien dipped in Cool Whip and settle in.

Julie Klausner’s How Was Your Week? podcast (
The first 15 or so minutes are always my favourite, when Klausner discusses the highs and lows of her week, before getting into honest sounding interviews with such guests like Jackée, Mink Stole and Kristen Schaal to name a few.

Mary Charlene’s Twitter (@IAmEnidColeslaw)
Very inappropriate and very funny jokes that are just safe enough to read at work. Actually, they aren’t work safe at all. Scratch that.

Kate Beaton, HarkI A Vagrant (Drawn and Quarterly)
I have some friends in the US and whenever I need help explaining cultural differences, I forward them a *Hark! A Vagrant*. Now in book form!

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Two (Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate)
It’s itsy bitsy time! Cutest jokester on the list, for sure.

Louis CK: Live at the Beacon Theatre (
Reward Louis for circumventing labels and overpriced albums and tickets by sending him a mere $5 via PayPal for his latest. In return you get slightly meta jokes that stick with you.

Any joke Greg Boone has made this year.
Especially that one about me being like a centaur but without all the man parts.

Mark Black
Coast writer since 2005

The Graboids, Aftershocks (Independent)
Songs about skateboarding, smoking, punk rock shows, Myles Deck, goofing off and dealing with jerks and an excellent Hanson Brothers cover. This is the soundtrack to some delinquent's hard-drinking good time.

Jerk Damaged, Bored of Death (Independent)
A morose sound bite kicks this off. Seemingly upbeat pop-punk with an obvious current of depression. A cover of GI's youth anthem, "Bored to Death" does nothing to dispel that.

Negative Circles, Six Songs (Independent)
Sound bites, dresses, raw production and minute-long songs---could there be any better combination? You can see the breakdowns coming from a mile away. That's a good thing.

NOFX, HARDCORE (Fat Wreck Chords)
Nine '80s hardcore covers by an aging NOFX, ranging from the well known (DOA) to the lesser known (Rebel Truth, Stretch Marks), this is the perfect record for aging punks.

Outtacontroller, Power Out (Independent)
A perfect three-song power-pop offering from these locals that calls to mind a union of the Clorox Girls and the Marked Men without sounding derivative of either band.

Childish Gambino, EP (Independent)

The Creeps, Lakeside Cabin (It's Alive) Dog Day, Deformer (Fun Dog) LOCAL

Pusrad, Smarttrams EP (Just 4 Fun)

OFF!, First Four EPs (Vice)

Tongan Death Grip, Chula Vista (P. Trash) LOCAL

Mark's proudest moment was receiving a free subscription to Reader's Digest closely followed by making a television debut on Mass for Shut-Ins at the age of eight. Best record store find of 2011: Never Mind the Molluscs comp for one dollar in Osaka, Japan.

Matthew Ritchie
Coast writer since 2010

Bombay Bicycle Club, A Different Kind of Fix (Island)
British 20-something shoegazers make ambient dance album with rock instrumentation. This is probably the best album you haven't heard of. Expect big things from this young band.

Friendly Fires, Pala (XL)
Friendly Fires are kind of like LCD Soundsystem, except they're young and handsome. Pala has a tropical flair and pop sheen similar to early Duran Duran, but maintains enough subtle nuances to interest even the most stringent audiophile.

Iceage, New Brigade (What's Your Rupture?)
A pretty unlistenable album made by a bunch of jerks from Denmark. Their music has glimmers of early Joy Division incarnation Warsaw, but more abrasive. I like it!

Radiohead, The King of Limbs (XL)
When Kid A came out in 2000, critics labelled it Radiohead's most challenging album. The same can be said of The King of Limbs. This album is good, even though most Radiohead fans don't like it.

Yuck, (Yuck) Instrumentals (Fat Possum)
Last year I saw Pavement play in New York City. Pavement is one of my favourite bands, but given that it's no longer a band, it's good to know someone else is ready to carry the guitar-rock torch.

Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto (Parlophone)

Cut Copy, Zonoscope (Modular)

Drake, Take Care (Young Money)

Fucked Up, David Comes to Life (Matador)

Panda Bear, Tomboy (Paw Tracks)

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Mirror Traffic (Matador)

Matt's favourite album is Point by Japanese art-rockers Cornelius. Because of this, his favourite instrument is an electric guitar, plugged into a Kaoss Pad, run through a Fender Deluxe that his Dad made him. He wishes GoodLife would stop playing dubstep on repeat while he works out.

Adrian Lee
Coast writer since 2011

9th Wonder, The Wonder Years (It's a Wonderful World)
No producer is doing better work right now than 9th Wonder. An all-star cast of emcees cedes to the North Carolina beatsmith's judgment, who flips an R&B approach into a banging treatise on love---of lovers, and of hip-hop culture.

The Arctic Monkeys, Suck It and See (Domino)
The Arctic Monkeys remind that a heart still burns and beats inside them with a carefully curated selection of tongue-twisting, cleverly crafted love songs. It's poetry without pretense over contagious riff work.

Blu, NoYork! (Warner)
Blu has always been leagues smarter than your average rapper. With NoYork!, a lush tribute to an avant-garde West Coast, he gets a whole lot wiser. Get wise to this album, which was just one of the three he released this year.

Drake, Take Care (Young Money)
Subtract five songs, and this would have qualified as the album of the year. The early-to-middle tracks have the same raw emotional heft and full-album unity that made Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy so good.

The Roots, undun (Def Jam)
They finally do it---undun has every hallmark of a hip-hop classic. The band's elegiac yet unflinching look at the passion of life and the wantonness of death on Philadelphia's poorest streets makes this every bit a Philly Illmatic.

Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar) Childish Gambino, Camp (Glassnote)

Laura Marling, A Creature I Don't Know (Virgin)

Phonte, Charity Starts At Home (Foreign Exchange)

TV On The Radio, Nine Types of Light (Interscope)

The Weeknd, House of Balloons (XO)

All-time favourite album: A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory. First album ever bought: SoulDecision's No One Does It Better. Lost virginity to: MGMT's Oracular Spectacular followed, because of alphabetical iTunes playlisting, by Missy Elliot's Under Construction.

Ryan McNutt
Coast writer since 2010

Rich Aucoin, We're All Dying to Live (Sonic)
The master of ceremonies for Halifax's best confetti-filled dance parties finally reveals the soul behind his show---and it's every bit as magnificent as we could have hoped.

Austra, Feel it Break (Paper Bag)
Like fire and ice, Feel it Break's tightly wound electro shouldn't mix nearly so well with Katie Stelmanis' scale-climbing vocals, but somehow the gothic fusion works.

Kathryn Calder, Bright and Vivid (File Under: Music)
If there's any justice, Calder's clever, creative and ambitious second album will finally get listeners to see her as more than just "the other girl in The New Pornographers." 

Fucked Up, David Comes to Life (Matador)
The band whose very name sends profanity-sensitive Haligonians into a tizzy delivers a punk rock opus so deliriously catchy that even your mom would like it. Maybe.

Colin Stetson, New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges (Constellation)
In a year when every pop starlet and indie rocker was wielding a killer sax solo, the virtuosic Colin Stetson used the same weapon to create unsettling apocalyptic soundscapes of dread.

Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)

destroyer, Kaputt (Merge)

EMA, Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues (Sub pop)

PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (Universal)

Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring for my Halo (Matador)

Ryan took the REM breakup way harder than was remotely reasonable. In a bewildered haze, asked Jeff Mangum for an autograph earlier this year. It was awkward for everyone involved. Still doesn't get the appeal of Braids...why would anyone want to listen to Broken Social Scene minus everything fun?

Andrew Patterson
Coast writer since 2010

Julianna Barwick, The Magic Place (Asthmatic Kitty)
A world unto itself, The Magic Place is the year's most evocative and outright gorgeous album. Built almost entirely from Barwick's hushed vocals, her wordless sound sculptures are entirely transcendent.

Destroyer, Kaputt (Merge)
Fifteen years on, one of Canada's greatest current songwriters is still surprising his audience. Delivering detached self-reference and pop pastiche over revisionist soft-rock, Dan Bejar has never sounded so calm and approachable.

Panda Bear, Tomboy (Paw Tracks)
Equal parts majesty and mystery, Tomboy is a triumph of sonic adventurousness and a record ripe with introspective tendencies. It is an earnest record from an artist whose unique vision is always striking.

Shabazz Palaces, Black Up (Sub Pop)
Bizarro hip-hop with otherworldly production and lyrics from the outer limits of the psyche. With subtle wordplay, killer instincts and sheer inventiveness, Shabazz hit all the pleasure centres on this weeded-out, madcap masterpiece.

tUnE-yArDs, w h o k i l l (4AD)
Conviction is the major attraction with Merrill Garbus' tUnE-yArDs project. Complex, funky, schizophrenic, excitable, revelatory, obnoxious, provocative; w h o k i l l is impossibly inventive, bursting with powerful personality and daring creativity.

James Blake, James Blake (A&M)

Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)

Bill Callahan, Apocalypse (Drag City)

Nicolas Jaar, Space Is Only Noise (Circus Company)

John Maus, We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves (Ribbon)

Real Estate, Days (Domino)

At least twice a week, is told by a stranger he resembles Clark Kent. Because it got stuck in his VCR when he was 17, can now recite the entirety of That Thing You Do! from memory. According to iTunes, has listened to Dinah Washington's "What A Diff'rence A Day Makes" 63 times in the last 12 months.

Trevor Savory
Coast writer since 2000

Childish Gambino, Camp (Glassnote)
Hands down this is one of the best debut albums in hip-hop, period. Honest and unpretentious, Camp simply hones the raw intensity of Gambino's EP without losing a thing.

Childish Gambino, EP (Independent)
Five free ferocious tracks from an Emmy-winner was all it took to put the hip-hop scene on notice, this untitled EP was easily the hardest hitting hip-hop album of 2011.

Classified, Handshakes and Middle Fingers (Sony/halflife)
Enfield's own Classified put together an instantly accessible record with such catchy hits that the folks at EA Sports came knocking and "That Ain't Classy" now appears on the Madden 12 soundtrack.

Manchester Orchestra, Simple Math (Columbia)
An ambitious concept record that is far from being an easily accessible pop album. That being said, it is easily one of the most interesting records of 2011.

Quake, The Myth (IV League) LOCAL
The Fairview MC recently dropped his debut album The Myth, a gritty slice of hard-hitting hip-hop showcasing an MC who is imminently poised to blow up.   

Arkells, Michigan Left (Universal)

AWOLNATION, Megalithic Symphony (Red Bull)

City and Colour, Little Hell (Dine Alone)

Matthew Good, Lights of Endangered Species (Universal)

Radiohead, King of Limbs (XL)

Red Hot Chili Peppers, I'm With You (Warner)

Trevor is a self-proclaimed pop culture junkie, constantly over-caffeinated.

Doug Taylor
Coast writer since 1999

Adele, 21 (XL)
How does such a gifted performer rule the charts when popularity and quality seem so at odds? Adele's electrifying clarity was a gift to anyone trapped near the Auto-Tune swamp of hit radio.

Charles Bradley, No Time for Dreaming (Daptone)
If Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye had lived, they could hardly be more relevant than this senior soul man, whose time has come. The title describes America today. The voice embodies struggle and survival.

Ry Cooder, Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down (Nonesuch)
The Great Depression energized roots music. This observation and recent events are not lost on the master guitarist/storyteller. Jesse James and John Lee Hooker weigh in from heaven, credibly and copasetically.

Morgan Davis, Drive My Blues Away (Electro-fi) LOCAL
Nova Scotia's favourite blues transplant shares a glimpse of his early promise, pays tribute to Jimmy Reed and Robert Johnson, and keeps up the fine songwriting. "Anticipation" sparks more insight into human nature than a stack of psych papers.

Laura Marling, A Creature I Don't Know (Ribbon)
With her third album, the youthful Brit folkie's vision is so resolved, precocious understates it. An eight-syllable "wounded" in "Sophia" launches the year's most thrilling vocal flourish.

Marcia Ball, Roadside Attractions (Alligator)

Steve Cropper, Dedicated (429)

JJ Ipsen and the Paper Crowns, Entertainment Ordinaire (Label Fantastic!)

Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What (Hear Music)

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Mirror Traffic (Matador/Domino)

Gillian Welch, The Harrow and the Harvest (Acony)

Favourite album: Aretha Franklin, Lady Soul. Favourite city: Rome. Top moment in 2011: In September, yelling, "this is fun!" after making a decent running catch at a crucial point in the final game of Propeller's undefeated softball season. Athlete whose fortunes he follows most closely: Former Expo (and current Oriole) Vladimir Guerrero.

DJ James Reid

Cher boy DJ James Reid offers up five mixtapes with which to get trippy, mane.

Big K.R.I.T., Return of 4EVA

The Weeknd, House Of Balloons

Juicy J and Lex Luger, Rubba Band Business 2

Gucci Mane, Writing’s on the Wall 2

Spaceghostpurrp, Blvcklvnd Rvdix 66.6 (1991)

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