2011 was a weird year for me. It was odd in general but it was especially strange when it came to music. If you’d have asked me eleven months ago what I thought my favorite records of the year would be, I would answer you with the utmost confidence, rattling off a list of records in what I assumed would be the order I would eventually rate them. Out of those ten albums, however, only four made my final list. This year was full of surprises, both good (Hey, O’Death! Pleased to make your acquaintance!) and not so good (I really did expect that Okkervil River disc to be the best thing I’d ever heard…) and above all else, it was certainly not what I thought it’d be.
1. Chris Bathgate – Salt Year
The moment I heard Salt Year, the latest album by Michigan native Chris Bathgate, I knew it was my favorite album of the year. Granted, that isn’t a huge compliment because I said the same thing about three other records (all of which appear on this list!) but when it came down to the wire, Bathgate’s won the battle royale for the affections of Amber Valentine. Why? Because Salt Year is a masterpiece, from the opening distorted notes of “Eliza (Hue)” to the fiddle that marks the close of “Everything (Overture)”. Salt Year is harsh. It’s brutal and cathartic and it perfectly encapsulates the misery of lost love years later, but don’t think that the album’s a downer. Everything on Salt Year is deliberately crafted, from the gentle horns on the heartbreakingly perfect title track to the washboard backbone of “No Silver.” The best part? I’m not the only one who has deemed Salt Year a masterpiece! Everyone from NPR to Paste has been raving about Bathgate which means that one of the best kept secrets in folk music won’t stay that way for long.
2. Timber Timbre – Creep On Creepin’ On
The moment I found out that Timber Timbre, my favorite exports from the north, were releasing their fourth album this year, I was obsessed. From the instantly quotable refrain of first single “Black Water” (All I need is some sunshine too, you guys!) to the tongue-in-cheek humor of title track “Creep On Creepin’ On,” Timber Timbre’s latest is everything you’d expect from the creepy Canadians, and so much more. Without turning a cold shoulder on their minimalist macabre past, Creep On Creepin’ On plays out deftly and seductively. Think Leonard Cohen sings Sam Cooke songs on Halloween … Only better.