August’s Albums/Songs/Books of the Year

Can we all agree that 2011 kicked ass for local music? Just roll through our articles on the bottom of the right-side toolbar to see some of the incredibly cool things we covered throughout the year. Choosing my favorite albums of 2011 was incredibly difficult, but below are my best approximations. I can almost guarantee that I’m forgetting so many great releases and I’ll be bounding back to this article within a few days to add more works that need recognition. Barring that, here are my favorite releases of 2011 (and don’t forget to read Steven’s favorite releases).

Favorite Albums (in no particular order)

Prussia- Poor English
Prussia’s Poor English was released in three parts over the span of three autumn months, which could be one reason why the album dominated a large portion of my music listening over the past half a year. But that reasoning might belie the true excellence of this album. I’ve already said a lot about it on this blog, but I still can’t seem to shut up about it, so just go listen to it already, why don’t you?

Chris Bathgate- Salt Year
With this album, Chris Bathgate concentrated his distinctive sound into chronicling the woes and emotions of a single year, and his songwriting benefitted from the thematic focus. I had the pleasure of seeing Chris Bathgate live a bunch of times this year, and each show improved upon the last in some way. With Bathgate also releasing the Onerio EP, completing his extensive Kickstarter, playing on NPR and Daytrotter (among other blogs and events), and touring all over the US, 2011 was a big year for Bathgate. I can’t wait to see what he does in 2012.

Frontier Ruckus- Way Upstate and the Crippled Summer, pt. 2
Frontier Ruckus supplemented their first album with this EP released this year. The horns, the harmonies, the country twang of each song- this EP is pure sunshine, endlessly replayable even in the dead of winter (when us Michiganders need sunshine most).

This album has been stuck in my brain since August, and I haven’t had a chance to post about it until now. Since 2009, Detroit producer Coyote Clean-Up has been dropping albums and mixtapes that skillfully recall the neon-glow nostalgia and lava lamps of the 90s, sexified and twisted with fragmented voice samples and a plethora of weird sounds. Trip-hop, chillwave, lounge jams? I don’t know what to call it, but it’s catchy, sexy, and relaxing all at the same time.

Man Man- Life Fantastic
Thought I would give a non-Midwestern album a spot on my list, as Man Man’s latest conquered my car stereos in 2011. The Philadelphia experimental band take equal cues from Zappa and Gogol Bordello, and listening to them makes you feel like you’re getting the shit kicked out of you at a carnival. This album tunes down their past cartoonish-wackiness while maintaining their weird blend of styles and instruments. If you’ve heard of Man Man but haven’t delved into their discography yet, this might be the place to start.

Favorite Songs

Below are some of my favorite songs that weren’t included in the above albums. Mix CD fodder? Under-appreciated singles of brilliance? You be the judge.

Zoos of Berlin- “Haven’t Eyes”

Detroit art-rockers Zoos of Berlin released a fantastic EP, and this track epitomizes what they’re all about. Listen to it at their bandcamp here.

Gitis Baggs- “The Gitis Baggs Game”

The title track from Gitis Baggs album is a weird whirlwind of elements that shouldn’t work together, but somehow do. You can listen to the song on our Double Phelix Double Feature article here!


Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.- “Morning Thought”

Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr’s debut album was great, but this track distills everything I love about them into one song: insidiously catchy melody, tight harmonies, interesting electronic textures, and a pop music sensibility that makes you want to share this song with people you don’t even know.

Lasso- “Creep St.”

Lasso’s ragtime instrumental works hard to pull you into the atmospheric realm of Lasso, and it succeeds at being one of the best songs off Lasso’d. I frequently find myself humming that damn bouncy melody. Get it stuck in your head, too.


Favorite Books

I never get a chance to talk about my favorite books, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share three of my favorite publications from this year. I’d like to turn this into a regular occurrence on Mostly Midwest, but only if our readers are interested, so let me know if you’d like to see more!

I Am A Very Productive Entrepreneur by Mathias Svalina

Published by the up-and-coming independent publisher Mud Luscious Press, this book is one of my favorite things I have read this year. I don’t know whether to call it fiction, or poetry, or prose poetry (and Mud Luscious would revel in this confusion; they love to publish work that blurs the boundaries between verse and prose, fiction and poetry), but this creative, weird little book touts itself as a novella. Each piece opens with the line “I started this one business” and goes on to describe an abstract and metaphysical company, constructed by Svalina’s silly and sardonic prose. Example:

I started this one business that sold parts of me to the highest bidders. The obvious items went first: Kidneys, lungs, heart, skin. But the business was more profitable once the tangibles were gone. I sold my name for $50,000 after everything but my appendix & tonsils had been purchased. I sold the good side of my personality for $130,000. I sold my lack of faith to a young boy who’d been locked up by his religiously devoted father […]

Intrigued? It’s worth the purchase. It’s one of those books that you like to show people so you can watch their face and their reaction as they get a grip on one of the poems. You can pick it up here as well as a bunch of other great books.

This Is Not Your City by Caitlin Horrocks

I purchased this short story collection because the author, Grand Rapids’ Caitlin Horrocks, was going to be doing a reading at the Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo. Unfortunately, due to class conflicts, I couldn’t attend the reading, but the purchase was not for naught. This Is Not Your City, published by Sarabande Books, contains eleven literary-fiction stories that get under your skin, sometimes in uncomfortable ways. The characters are all fighting against their life situations, often taking self-destructive or willfully malicious actions for reasons the reader can’t quite come to grips with. Horrocks’ prose is the stuff of a professional: darkly comical but shimmering with beautiful phrases and a controlled sense of storytelling. I left my copy in Kalamazoo and am currently in Iron Mountain, so this short review will have to go without an excpert, but if it at all helps, I still remember the opening line to the story “Zolaria”: “It is July and we are a miraculous age.”

Use those Christmas Amazon giftcards for some literature and order it here.

How the Days of Love and Diphtheria by Robert Kloss

I won a signed copy of this chapbook off a Facebook contest (tip: “like” Mud Luscious Press on Facebook if only for their free book giveaways), but I can not recommend it enough and would drop ten dollars for a copy in a heartbeat. Published by Mud Luscious’s Nephew imprint, How the Days of Love and Diphtheria also dances the border between fiction and poetry. In an interview, Kloss talked about how freeing it is for him to not choose between fiction and poetry, how he realized he can just write the way he wants to write without those distinctions. This book exemplifies that. There is a narrative arc to the whole thing (I think), but the dense paragraphs that build this arc are full of poetic obfuscations and jarring, violent, apocalyptic imagery. Without trying to spoil much, here is a bit of the opening paragraph:

Few stories as old as the story of the boy whose family you killed. What authors of ruin, you with your black masks, your knives. Few stories so sorrowful as mother and father and how you left them strewn, cut apart and opened, how the birds and barn cats crawled within and slept, how they seemed under the wide light of the house you set ablaze. How your horses thundered the hillsides, clouds of dust and soot, the long green grasses gone black in your wake.

This is writing that keeps you up at night. And a reader has to respect that, I think. Order the book here. And don’t forget that Kloss’s debut novel is going to be published by Mud Luscious in 2012!

What to look forward to in 2012…

New Chris Bathgate EP! Stepdad’s debut album! New Graham Parsons solo album! Phantasmagoria’s debut album! Pat Carroll’s new album! Pioneer Parade album maybe? I don’t know! Do you have something you’re looking forward to? Post a comment. And have an excellent new year!