Sunday, February 19, 2012

Friday, December 30, 2011

Best Albums Of 2011: 5-1

30-26 | 25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11 | 10-6 | 5-1

#5 Cut Copy - Zonoscope

One of the true breakthroughs in 2011 was the joyful dance pop of Cut Copy and their third album Zonoscope. From their relentless tour schedule, their spot-on live shows and their infectious single "Where I'm Going", these Australians have gone from a hidden gem to a marquis talent that everyone knows. This is definitely more than a one hit band as each track is a crowd pleaser from the Chariots Of Fire inspired intro to the Madchester 15 minute rave finale. Expect Cut Copy to be around long after the party is over.

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Cut Copy - Zonoscope

#4 Yuck - Yuck

Where the new-wave 80's seemed to dominate the best of 2011, the punky, yet melodic alt-rock of the 90's get a high five from these kids from the UK. Soundchecking every big artist on the college radio charts from 1988-1994, they have resurrected a sound that was long pronounced dead over a decade ago. When you listen to "Get Away", "The Wall", "Suicide Policeman" and "Holing Out", I hear Dinosaur Jr., Yo La Tengo, The Lemonheads and Superchunk. When I think of all of these old bands cashing in on reunion tours, they are catering to people wanting jump in a time machine and relive their childhood, at least for an evening. Yuck does that without the hefty price tag and they still have many albums and high points ahead of them.

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Yuck - Various Tracks

#3 The Horrors - Skying

The Britpop-goth sound of The Horrors has become more genteel since they burst onto the overhyped UK scene five years ago. Now on their third LP Skying The Horrors have an equilibrium between the dry ice cloud of their tenebrous past and their accessible present sound. The shoegazing is like a blanket of haze setting over this album, but the pop nuggets shine through like diamonds. Each song has an individuality and value, whether they make your head bob or make your hair stand up on end. Whether is it the loving single of "Still Life", the teasingly explosive "Endless Blue" or the stretched out mileage that burns on "Moving Further Away", The Horrors have made an album that acts as a reminder of the greatness and as the savior of UK music.

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The Horrors - Still Life

#2 Fucked Up - David Comes To Life

Homer could not have conceived of an epic presented quite like this. The story that connect the songs in David Comes To Life are the stuff of The Who's rock operas: love, death, rebellion and mysticism. However, the whole sprawl is draped in punk rock tempo, layers upon layers of power chords and the universal screams of a lead singer who goes by Pink Eyes. When you consider the modest and anti-establishment beginnings of Fucked Up (for example, the band name is Fucked Up), to create a double album that borrows so much from mainstream music is incredulous. Still, this band who seems to be leading the charge against the homogenizing of punk has riffs that could be found in any classic rock album. Although the band is on infinite hiatus right now, their next move after this sprawling effort could be equally unpopular and exciting.

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Fucked Up - A Little Death

#1 Wye Oak - Civilian

Sometimes an artist finds that perfect balance between the maturing and honing of their technique and the palpable, raw excitement of being great musicians. Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack of Wye Oak found this in Civilian where the inviting warmth of Wasner's vocals and simple chords teases and manipulates the listener as each song gets read like a new chapter. The openers "Two Small Deaths" and "The Alter" are moody yet enveloping, then "Holy Holy" and "Dog's Eyes" blow through you like a hurricane. It is this astonishing tension, the thoughtful ebb and flow that runs through Civilian while framed by earnest guitar work and emotive vocals that keeps this album always in the front of my mind and the top of my list.

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Wye Oak - Civilian

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best Albums Of 2011: 10-6

30-26 | 25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11 | 10-6 | 5-1

#10: The Weeknd - House Of Balloons

Let me make something clear. I do not consider myself a fan of hip-hop, rap or R&B. I don't hate it or even dislike most of it. It is just not one of my first listening choices. That is, until I heard The Weeknd. To say the feel of House Of Balloons is beyond R&B would belittle the genre. This album sounds like music from another century, another planet, another plane of existence. The topics addressed, however, are graphically present and real. The obsession with women, parties, sex and drugs is a well trod road. However, the lost, distant cries of how everything goes horribly wrong is an intriguing mystery. If any album this year indicates the future of music, House Of Balloons is it.

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The Weeknd - House Of Balloons Mixtape

#9 Neon Indian - Era Extrana

Chillwave's greatest achievement in 2011 is from one of its founders in Alan Palomo. The lush and accessible grooves on Era Extrana are the next progression for this often indiscernible genre. Here, Neon Indian borrows heavily from shoegaze purposeful blurs and new wave pop beats to cobble together moments that are equally exciting and soothing. From the simplicity of his most accessible tracks "Polish Girl" and "Fallout" to the cacophony that blankets "Hex Girlfriend" and "Halogen (I Could Be A Shadow)", this is the less popular, yet much cooler version of M83's Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. Hopefully, the rest of the world will catch on to this better made and edited effort.

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Neon Indian - Fallout

#8 - Radiohead - The King Of Limbs

The most hyped album of the year was a disappointment before anyone had heard it. Maybe it was the fact that it was preceded by arguably their best album, but Radiohead's The King Of Limbs by comparison to all of the fanfare (which was not self-marketed) was uneventful. People even invented stories about a second half to the album thinking that there had to be MORE. Alas, this album was a retreat by comparison, an anti-album from the World's Greatest Band. Ignoring the blather, this is simply a collection of eight loosely connected songs addressing the themes of loss and disconnection. Even a middle-of-the-road Radiohead album is better than most in my mind. I guess others feel differently. Or maybe they just did not want to pay for it this time around.

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Radiohead - Lotus Flower

#7 TV On The Radio - Nine Types Of Light

Watching an avant-garde band like TV On The Radio move closer to the mainstream in sound and popularity brings mixed emotions. As you hear each musician become more refined and focused on Nine Types Of Light, you realize that those tightrope moments will be fewer and less likely. Still, on tracks like the slow dance of "Will Do", the doo-wop intensity of "Repetition" and lamenting soul of "Forgotten", they are pushing the establishment into the future, rather than succumbing to those dated and stagnant rules.

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TV On The Radio - Will Do

#6 St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

When I first started making my end of the year list, Annie Clark's latest as St. Vincent started as a mere consideration. After each listen, the quirky, experimental sounds and words that tumble from Strange Mercy kept winning me over. This album is a collection of awkward stories and confrontational confessions that simply fascinate. The dichotomy of tempo and theme on "Cruel", for example, takes beautiful sweeping synths and her angelic voice and stabs it playfully with that artfully maddening guitar. Look to the creepy "Cheerleader", the seductive "Surgeon" and the boiling intensity of  "Hysterical Strength" to hear the full range of this amazing effort.

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St. Vincent - Cruel

Monday, December 26, 2011

Best Albums Of 2011: 15-11

30-26 | 25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11 | 10-6 | 5-1

#15: Toro Y Moi - Underneath The Pine

The soulful and space-age bachelor pad grooves found on Underneath The Pine make for an assured good time this holiday season. However, the real story is progression of Chaz Bundick, the man behind the sounds, from holding the title as the Godfather of Chillwave to new funk upstart. Those buried, gauzy effects are restrained or altogether left behind like training wheels. No longer recording in the bedroom or basement, this self-made indie star bounces between genre and influences and finds out what he can do from the Prince flavor on "New Beat", the delicate Franco-tinged "Before I'm Done" and the Stereolab homage "How I Know". Just when you have forgotten this is a Toro Y Moi album, he throws in a chillwave stunner on "Light Black", just to keep you guessing.

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Toro Y Moi - New Beat

#14 Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde

This one took a while to grow on me. Everything from the obvious derivatives on Dye It Blonde to the stories and rumors of bad behavior in concert and interviews had tempered my view. Once I had the right frame of mind, Smith Westerns finally won me over with this flowering garden of glam rock and retro-pop in full bloom. The guitar chorus on "Still New", the tongue-in-cheek Beatles reference on "Imagine, Pt. 3" and the T.Rex sleaze on "End Of The Night" are all places to before you even need to hear the Tommy Hilfiger sales pitch on "Weekend" one more time.

Stream the full album here.

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Smith Westerns - Still New

#13 Bon Iver - Bon Iver

This people's champion of 2011 is the self-titled sophomore effort for Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver. Who wouldn't love this story going from obscurity and isolation for the recording of an album to guest starring in Kanye West's cirque de grandeur. For the follow up, Vernon aims high by adding strings, percussion and woodwind and reaches those perfectly fragile moments when expressions of emotion meets tempered subtlety. Bon Iver is such a beautifully captured work until it reaches the horrendously ill-advised finale "Beth/Rest" that reminds of the worst ballads found in the annals of music history. Either the listening public is tremendously forgiving or frighteningly irresponsible.

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Bon Iver - Two Tracks

#12 Low - C'mon

Being known for making the saddest music in the world is a heavy moniker to carry. With a new band member on board for their ninth effort, the Duluth MN trio chose to travel an unfamiliar, yet sanguine, road. The result is an album full of hushed moments, leaving behind the emotive clatter on the past two Low LPs. C'mon has an earnest nature on "You See Everything" and "Witches" that sets up for the eventual weight "Especially Me" and "Nothing But Heart". Despite being ready to try a more positive approach, Low never seems to lose that element of beauty in their music.

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Low - Try To Sleep

#11 Washed Out - Within and Without

Chillwave took some interesting turns this year with some artists' latest efforts fumbling in quality or even abandoning the genre altogether. A couple of these soldiers stayed the course and in the case of Earnest Greene, made a lovingly brisk and freeing album of smooth and coolly effortless synth grooves. Most of the tracks on Within And Without are distant yet enticing with a glacial beat creating an atmosphere with all of the striking beauty of a early evening snowfall.

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Washed Out - Amor Fati