Thursday, January 12, 2012
Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2011 (20-11)
In a year defined by Dub-Step, Auto-Tune, and all other manner of digital manipulation, Bill Callahan's latest almost feels like an offering from a forgotten era. Though only 45-years-old, Callahan's signature sing-talk makes the man sound like father time himself, rattling off simple observations, and sullen self-reflections with an air of pure wisdom. Then there's his flair for instrumentation, playing within the limited confines of his interpretation of Country music, somehow discovering one way after another to surprise and delight. Opener Drover is powered by a steady guitar-led chug, America! leaning even further over into rock 'n' roll territory, before the staggering, beautiful Riding for the Feeling brings us back to our western plains setting. This is the perfect album to give anyone who thinks there's no such thing as, 'Good Country.'
19. Slave Ambient---The War on Drugs
If you've ever loved Tom Petty, oh boy, are you going to love The War on Drugs. Frontman Adam Granduciel's voice is an easy enough comparison, but the way that his band rumbles and rolls along behind him only further the likening. But no amount of simple imitation could lead to an album this rich and sonically robust, opener Best Night peeling off layer upon layer as it slowly unfolds, I Was There and Baby Missiles both wedging delightful little harmonica solos right at the end of their runtime. Best of all, this attention to deal never stops the band from just rocking, such as on Brothers, Your Love is Calling My Name, and, most of all, the arena-ready epic Come to the City. Guitar, Drums, Bass, and Keyboards: An age-old formula, tried and true, and one that The War on Drugs can turn into something foot-stomping and awesome with staggering consistency.
18. Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I'd Hoped---Moonface
Let's cut to the chase: Spencer Krug is one weird dude. A man of many musical outlets (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Frog Eyes), Krug has a variety of tricks up his sleeve that he's employed over the years, none of them ever clouding his pronounced sense of individualism as an artist. Here recording solo under the name Moonface, Krug has devised of his craziest project yet: An album consisting entirely of organ sounds, looped on top of each other into eternity. It sounds like a gimmick, and in a sense, it is. But what makes Organ music so special is that nothing has ever really sounded like it, given its unique ingredients. Through 37 minutes and only five tracks, the album takes us on a swirling, enveloping, psychedelic journey, locating places and sounds dark (Whale Song (Song Instead of a Kiss)), light (Fast Peter), and inexplicably danceable (Shit-Hawk in the Snow). It's one odd duck of an album, but that's exactly why this trance-inducing entry stands tall above so many others.
17. Gloss Drop---Battles
While we're on the subject of oddity, how completely nuts are New York experimental rockers Battles? The band may have slimmed a member with the departure of Tyondai Braxton, but their zest for making hyper-active, gonzo-crazy rock hasn't diminished in the least. Who else could dream of making Ice Cream, a lead single that begins with samples of grunting, before morphing into Magic Carpet Ride in a blender. All this insanity would be worth nothing if it weren't for the group's collective good taste, always aware of when to pull back if things are getting too zany. In fact, some of Gloss Drop's finest moments are its most straight forward, such as the militant groove of Futura, powered by the sticks of world-class drummer John Stanier. If losing your mind was worth having a party over, Battles would be just the band for the gig.
16. Burst Apart---The Antlers
Despite the fact that releases by The Antlers date back to 2006, Burst Apart still stands as something of a coming out party for the band. Frontman Peter Silberman recorded under the name by himself until 2009, when he brought on Michael Lerner and Darby Cicci to record a number of tracks that he had previously written, a collection that eventually became the masterpiece Hospice. So, five years after hearing The Antlers' debut LP, Uprooted, we finally get to hear what a full album by the full band would sound like, and the results are often wonderful. The band maintains a sense of chill, but they've lightened up quite a bit since Hospice, a fact that is never more evident than on the closing breakdown of French Exit, gleefully rearing its head again on Rolled Together. Still, lovely doom remains ever-present, as on lead single Parentheses, a dark, brooding track with the unthinkable advantage of containing one of Silberman's finest vocal performances to date. Silberman has left the attic, the band has left the hospice, and The Antlers have arrived as a three-piece to reckon with.
15. No Color---The Dodos
You know it the second you hear it, the absolutely pounding kick drum, pummeled in furious fashion: The Dodos are back! I was never as down on band's 2009 release, Time to Die, as a lot of people were, but there's next to no denying that this is the band in their finer form, evident from the moment that you hear Logan Kroeber's aforementioned percussion assault at the very start of the very first track, Black Night. The chemistry between Kroeber's hurling rhythms and frontman Meric Long's keen sense for mad-cap melody has always been the band's selling point, and where TtD dressed it nicely at the expense of cluttering it up, No Color just puts the two of them front and center, and lets them do their thing. At times swoon-worthy (When Will You Go), and at others bombastic (Going Under), the album has a real sense of scope in its modest nine-track runtime, another blissfully received effort from one of my absolute favorite bands working today.
14. Wounded Rhymes---Lykke Li
There she is, the third member of the, 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,' 2011 four-pack. Wounded Rhymes is an undeniably broken piece of sing-a-long pop music, a truly rare and tricky pairing that Li seems to have down pat. There's real power behind her songs, a dark kinetic current of frustration running through Youth Knows No Pain and Get Some. But Li also gets in a few jabs as more of a pure pop player, such as on Love Out of Lust and Sadness is a Blessing, even laying on a little bit of weirdo flair with Jerome. Wounded Rhymes is a ten-track exposure to one hell of a song writer, one who can capture pop and fury in the same glorious moment (I Follow Rivers), and then turn around and lay down an emotional powerhouse ballad (I Know Places).
13. House of Balloons---The Weeknd
R&B, at its heart, is kind of a dirty genre, so it really only makes sense that the dirtiest would be among the best. Emerging out of no where with a fully formed aesthetic, musical and otherwise, vocalist Abel Tesfaye, with the help of some sordidly brilliant production, released one of the most thematically pure and compulsively-listenable albums of 2011. Songs here are about money, drugs, sex, and shame, themes that popular music has been simultaneously glorifying and celebrating for years now. Tesfaye is only the logical next step in this process, his explicit, graphic lyrics warning against his life-style while expressing an unshakable addiction. The title track gets more literal in its analogy of debauchery as a haunted house than I've ever heard R&B go, and even brighter-sounding cuts like The Party & the After Party and Loft Music (both built on savvy samples of Beach House tracks) make no effort to hide the devastation at the center of it all. But as exciting and discussion-worthy as theme and craft are here, its Tesfaye's voice that's the real draw. Powerful, passionate, and blessed with head-spinning vocal range, his croon was one of 2011's most unforgettable, and I don't see it going anywhere anytime soon.
12. The Year of Hibernation---Youth Lagoon
Trevor Powers knows what needs to be done. There are a million different reasons why The Year of Hibernation could have been derided by just about everyone in the music industry, from the hazy bedroom-pop style that's, 'so in right now,' right down to his potentially too cute moniker. But the album fell victim to none of this backlash, and that's because, as previously stated, Powers is pretty damn good at what he's doing. Each song on this disc goes for the broke; They're all constructed to elicit maximum emotion, all eight building and building through-out their runtime, each finally exploding into kaleidoscope wonderment. It should be too much, but it never, ever is. Cannons and Montana serve as particular highlights, but TYoH isn't about individual tracks. It's about a complete, cohesive, heart-string-tugging whole, a whole that is complete in just over a half hour, confidently waiting for you to press play again.
Going retro isn't exactly an unheard of thing in the world of music (or the world of anything, really). From The Strokes to LCD Soundsystem, to whoever else you want to name, genres of yesteryear are often revisited, but seldom are they ever given the a treatment as fully realized as Cults gives to 1960's era of girl-group pop. Rather than simply reference it, vocalist Madeline Follin and multi-instrumentalist Brian Oblivion revitalize the style, concocting something bright, light, catchy, and endlessly fun with only the faintest wiff of irony. On paper, a song like Go Outside, with its words of youthful rebellion, all sung in high falsetto, shouldn't work. In the hands of these two up-and-comers, however, its one of the perfectly formed morsels of pure pop to reach ears during 2011. Listing the best songs is a largely trivial practice; Everything here works, and it'll all be stuck in your head for weeks, so you'd better just get a start on it already.