Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best Albums of 2011 - Four Albums That are Cold Rocking It Without Prior Prejudice

Blessed are the noise makers, the chord crunchers, those that take it to 11; for they shall inherit the earth.

Well, Jesus might have said it had he been into crunchy guitars and big noise.

Despite dupstep, chillwave and whatever else, several bands churned out remarkable guitar driven, fuzz laden, noise pumping rock albums worthy of your time, money and future investments in hearing aids. They must all be played loud.

Times New Viking's brought a shambly, disorderly vibe to their album Dancer Equired , propelled by the profane and quick paced "Fuck Her Tears." But tracks like "Try Harder" and "Don't Go To Liverpool" aren't as tight but just as enjoyable.

It's clear that Yuck mined their Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth records for their self titled debut , but you beneath all the fuzz you get some beautiful love songs like "Georgia," "Shook Down," and "Sunday." But they still go hard, with a seven minute album closer built off ever increasing buzz.

The master class in cold rocking it can be taught by Wild Flag, with the singular text being this year's smashing debut . Though not really a debut, since the members are veterans of seminal 90s bands (Sleater-Kinney and Helium). But the opening song sets the tone and it keeps going and going. Try not dancing to "Romance" or bopping to "Future Crimes." Break out your air guitar... it's encouraged.

But for pure sex and rock n roll, there's Hanni El Khatib's Will the Guns Come Out. .A mix of blues, Stax soul, and garage rock, it's potent. Often just stripped down, vocals distorted, it's refreshing and fierce. But the stand out is You Rascal You, as Khatib sounds like he's struggling to to hold his guitar from taking over, and each bridge break he let's go a bit. It caterwauls and wails.. You haven't heard it this lustful in awhile.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Best Albums of 2011 - Something About Hip Hop and R&B

I don't get a lot of music, but I really don't get much of modern hip hop. I thought Lil Wayne's effort this year was garbage, I find Drake to be boring, and Rick Ross to be less than engaging. That said, I listened to some pretty amazing hip hop and R&B this year. So maybe I shouldn't complain too much.

There was the outsized egos of Jay Z and Kanye pairing up for Watch the Throne , and album so conspicuous in its excess and grandeur it was almost impossible to see this album for what it was: two guys having a ton of fun. It wasn't the most brilliant album this year, but by forgoing any restraint, Kanye bookended last year's MBDTF with a masterpiece that had Jay around for polish.

On the flip side was The Roots with Undun , proof that ?uestlove is the hardest working man out there right now. A perfectionist to the utmost limit, he and the Roots have used their time as Jimmy Fallon's house band to make sure every note and every tap is in its right place. He's evoking pure 70s Philly era soul on this album, and it works. every track feels labored over; you just want to roll around in it for awhile.

And between those two you have two remarkable, must owns from the next generation. First is Frank Ocean's Nostalgia/ULTRA, and album that I simply ADORE. Here we have someone nimbly fusing real love problems over A+ major producer beats with an astonishing voice, to incredible effect. From enhancing Coldplay's Strawberry Swing to reinventing The Eagles' Hotel California as some sort of young urban love and divorce story, Frank Ocean is want you want playing when you're solo or lounging with company.

The second is Childish Gambino's Camp . Here we have a guy rapping about getting laid, getting drunk, and getting paid. But he's also speaking about the duality that millions of middle and upper middle class black kids are growing up with. It's a universal them of non-inclusion to be sure, but that double consciousness speaks more potently to them. And it's that awareness that elevates Donald Glover from just another rapper to the big leagues.

Best Albums of 2011 - Three Sophomore Releases I Loved

Sophomore releases are notorious stumbling blocks. You want to branch out, but you don't want to be too different. It's tough to balance all that. There were three sophomore albums from three bands that I absolutely loved this year. I wore digital grooves on my digital files I played them so much.

First you have Pains of Being Pure at Heart's Belong, a magnificent tribute to 90s Smashing Pumpkins excess rock. It still feels like their self titled debut, but fuller, richer. They've grown into this sound and they relish it.

Next is Telekinesis' 12 Desperate Straight Lines . Here we have Michael Benjamin Lerner going a bit harder than his self titled debut. It's not all sweet lyrics about being in love anymore. "I never loved you, I never loved any one." Yeah, he's a hurt dude. But this is a guy who knows how to craft a perfect pop song, and makes you hit repeat again and again.

Finally, one of my must own albums of the year, Rural Alberta Advantage's Departing . This album is stark and melodic, like the Alberta province where the band is from and takes their name. But where their debut Hometowns spoke of that isolation, Departing is about the world outside and leaving your love and family. All the tracks are phenomenal, but standouts include the driving drum of Stamp, the beauty of North Star, the powerful opener of Two Lovers and the equally poignant and bare closer Good Night. I saw the band close out their show with this number and they brought the house down.

Best Albums of 2011 - Anything Merge Records Put Out this Year

So I started working on my various lists and realized that a lot of my favorite albums in 2011 seemed to come from Merge Records, that powerhouse label down in North Carolina. They remain one of my favorite labels because they consistently put out good music, take care of their artists and after almost 23 years doing it still has a ton of energy and drive.

There's something here for everyone. Bitter love gone wrong lyrics? Try Telekinesis 12 Desperate Straight Lines. Shoegaze-y beautiful rock? Wye Oak's Civilian. Winking 70s style smooth rock? Destroyer's Kaputt. Sonic Youth noise rock (with this year's best profanity laced single)? Times New Viking's Dancer Equired. The list goes on and on and on.

Here's a short list of some of my faves that I couldn't stop listening to.

Telekinesis - 12 Desperate Straight Lines
Wild Flag - s/t
Apex Manor - The Year of Magical Drinking
Destroyer - Kaputt
Times New Viking - Dancer Equired
Wye Oak - Civilian
Amor de Dias - Street of the Love of Days
The Rosebuds - Loud Planes Fly Low

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Best of 2011 - A Preface

I've been mulling my EoY list for awhile, and I feel a bit out of sorts.

Most of the music people who professionally listen to music said you should like I didn't like.

And listening to this past year in music made me not want to rate any of them. I have favorites above others for sure, but I honestly felt like ranking them would just be a kind of waste.

So here's my idea. I'm just going to group them together in odd categories of my liking. They will all be albums I think you should own (though some more than others).

Anyway, that'll be over the next few days... so stay tuned or something.