Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2011 (30-21)
Clever and convincing artistry often takes year and years of practice to develop. Then there's Archy Marshall, the 17-year-old Ginger who recently changed his stage name from Zoo Kid to King Krule, the shift accompanied by this brief but brilliant EP. Don't mistake Marshall's wily, devil-may-care singing style for laziness: King Krule EP is defined by one brilliant production choice after another, each vocal track backed by something hazy, bright, and perfectly recorded. It's old-school, lo-fi pop, which might sound strange coming from such a young artist, but his youth only ensures that there'll be a lot more to come.
29. Within and Without---Washed Out
More so than just about any other artist on this list, Washed Out is project that lives up to its name. Ernest Greene's debut release under the moniker, 2010's Life of Leisure EP, set the bar awfully high, a fact that this LP deals with by defying expectations. Unlike LoL, Within and Without leans heavily on Greene's ever-echoing voice, buried under layers upon layers of Chillwave haze and fuzz. Each of the tracks is allowed to breath, only one of the nine numbers wrapping up before the four-minute mark, the rest floating along and evolving with the aid of their more extended runtimes. A dreamy, warm mist of pop.
28. Parallax---Atlas Sound
Brandford Cox knows that recording something epic and grandstanding is not the same as recording something good, and he knows a lot about recording something good. In only his third solo release under the name Atlas Sound, Cox his crafted just under an hour of winning guitar pop without hardly ever raising his voice. Amplifiers is practically whispered, the eager falsetto of Te Amo probably the loudest that the man ever sings. As much as this subtlety might cloud the greatness of the album on first listen, repeated rotations show Parallax to have a under-played beauty, filled with one simple gem after another, none glimmering more brightly that Mona Lisa.
27. The English Riviera---Metronomy
These Brit-Pop-Rockers just can't seem to see the bright side in things. Sure, The English Riviera is filled with jaunty melodies, and even occasionally peppy lyrics, but there's an undeniable atmosphere of dread and distrust that colors everything on hand. Everything Goes My Way might tell the story of a returning lover with words of utmost joy, but there's no lying about just how the mini, bummed-out guitar line makes you feel. Same goes for the weight-filled Organ chords that plod along in the background of the, 'romantic,' Loving Arm, or vocalist Joseph Mount's uncertain turn on The Look. It's music with a healthy helping of unease, all attached to some of the most painfully catchy, brilliantly constructed pop numbers of 2011.
26. Tarot Classics EP (Deluxe Edition)---Surfer Blood
As much as this band already had my number with their 2010 debut LP, Astrocoast, this bite-sized four song EP (Deluxe edition complete with a couple of remixes), proves that the band is headed in the right direction. Where Astro drew easy comparisons to Weezer's Blue Album, Tarot adds the further weapon of a much more confident, expressive lead singer. John Paul Pitts' voice, formerly drowned in college rock ecstasy, is far more prone to take center stage this time around, especially on the EP's last two tracks, which seem to knowingly clear out space so that the man can do his best Morrissey impression. But that doesn't mean that these guys have forgotten how to rock, as the steady pound of Miranda can readily attest. I've already made a paper chain counting down to these guys' next release.
25. Past Life Martyred Saints---EMA
The second member of my proposed, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," four-pack from the year 2011, Erika M. Anderson's break-through 2011 release is all catharsis, all the time. Don't trust the lazy chords and whispering voice of opener The Grey Ship; The very next track, California, is clear and direct, Anderson shouting revelations that she's made about her past ("Screw California/You Made Me Boring"), bellowing so that all around can hear. This transition from whispery-calm to impassioned, unsung proclamations exemplifies the, 'all over the place,' vibe that defines PLMS, from hard-rocker, Milkman, to Marked, a perfectly scaled exercise in how tension and hurt lead to something peaceful and elating upon their release. Anderson might be crazy, and she's certainly wounded, but her music is in fine, fine fashion.
24. Space is Only Noise---Nicolas Jaar
Trying to wedge Space is Only Noise into the conventions of one particular genre of music is like trying to put tooth paste back inside of its tube. Sure, its use of samples and specific rhythms would seem to liken it to dance music, but if your body moves freely to this stuff, you might be from outer-space. The album contains such out-there moments as opener Etre's menagerie of clicks and odd-ball vocal samples, Specters of the Future's warped plethora of sounds, and Keep Me There, a mad-man's jam, complete with Jaar's personal take on the brass solo insanity at the end of Radiohead's The National Anthem. This isn't exactly background music; As a matter of fact, there are times when SiON tempts you to think that's it's not even music at all. But there are strange, subtle, and singular treasures in it, waiting patiently to be discovered by by anyone who will give this maniac a chance.
23. Instrumental Mixtape---Clams Casino
There's a reason that the hip-hop beats featured in Clams Casino's 2011 mixtape don't have anyone rapping over them; They simply don't need it. The tracks here are full-bodied and fully-realalized, lacking nothing for having skipped out on MC contributions. Each seems to have the weight of the world on its shoulders, the Dub-Step ripple of All I Need, along with the deep, dark bass of Brainwash by London, making it perfectly clear that this guy isn't messing around. There's a real, palpable sense of artistry at work here, each new tune intended to tell a story or express an emotion, not simply set bodies in motion on a dance floor. As ASAP Rocky's 2011 mixtape, LiveLoveA$AP, declared in bold letters, Clams Casino's beats do just fine while being flowed over, but with ideas this bright, and sounds this crisp, there's no need to add to what is already complete.
22. Nostalgia, Ultra.---Frank Ocean
While Tyler, The Creator was soaking up all of the publicity directed towards Los Angeles Hip-Hop collective Odd Future, R&B-skewing member Frank Ocean launched his own mixtape, and the results were nothing short of wonderful. Ocean's voice is just so charming and smooth, whether belting over a Coldplay sample (Strawberry Swing), or detailing his music-centered game plan for seducing ladies (Songs for Women). He doesn't exactly have R. Kelly-type range, but he makes up for it by knowing his strengths, and picking sultry backing beats that perfectly befit his style. If something silkier that Lovecrimes (inexplicably unavailable in its original form on Youtube) was released in 2011, I have yet to hear it, and lead single Novacane, with its bouncing, sliding beat, is no slouch either. Nostalgia, Ultra. is one winner after another, boldly introducing Ocean is one of his genre's brightest young talents.
21. Watch the Throne (Deluxe Edition)---JAY Z & Kanye West
Watch the Throne, in all honesty, is kind of lacking in substance, but that's just the point. Like a dunder-headed Blockbuster from the Summer (see Transformers), the JAY Z/Kanye team-up is all about being big, exciting, fun, badass, and as over-indulgent as possible. Check, check, check, check, and check. This one is all about swagger, West once again performing a clinic on how to make killer beats, No Church in the Wild, Ni**as in Paris, and That's My B**** all working overtime to let you know that the man hasn't lost a single step. Like a big bowl of ice cream, or a sizable helping of potato chips, Watch the Throne might be low on nutritional value, but its tasty as hell, and you're probably going to be craving more the moment your massive helping is gone. Bonus points for the Deluxe Edition, which includes early single H.A.M., as well as unheralded gem The Joy.