Once every three months I list the best of what I heard in albums/songs/remixes for the quarter. I do this to personally keep up with all the awesome music I hear, as it ultimately helps me at the end of the year when I do my overall listing for the previous twelve months. I also do it to introduce you cool cats to tunes you may have missed independently.
10. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l
Merrill Garbus has always been known for oddball melodies and quirky arrangements, but the growth shown on this spectacular album is spellbinding. Memorable, inviting, disarming, and purely inventive, this standout is unlike anything anyone in music is doing right now, and is an un-arguable example of the unique power of the musicality of tUnE-yArDs.
9. The Weeknd – House of Balloons
The addiction to partying, to tripping, to rolling, to getting wasted and blackout obliterated has never been so perfectly soundtracked than in this promising debut. The hollow feelings, the numbed experiences, and the utter craving to do it all again to forget about the last time is captured here. Dark, demented, honest, and with the worst intentions.
8. Araabmuzik – Electronic Dream
The title of this introductory mixtape is certainly appropriate – like the blurred drive home after a night of partying, the triple-time drum machines, 90’s era female vocals, and repeated reminders that “you are now listening to Araabmuzik” blend together like the final dance at the club, or the final steps to the bed.
7. Terius Nash – 1977
He’s proclaimed himself the Love King, but for his free mixtape, The-Dream chose not only to name it after the year of his birth, but opted to use his real name as the moniker of choice. Why? Because the Love King isn’t bragging much this time around. Lamenting on heartbreak, personal turmoil, and soulful anguish, this is the most introspective effort from Nash to date.
6. Jay Z/Kanye West – Watch the Throne
A collaboration of this magnitude certainly wasn’t going to meet the overhyped expectations it was given. With that out of the way, while nothing revolutionary, Watch the Throne is certainly memorable. It’s not even a collaboration, but a competition. Who can out-rap the other? It’s a battle of braggadocio rhymes and quick wit, and it’s entertaining all the way through.
5. Born Gold – Bodysongs
Freak pop might fit, but that’s more akin to the psychedelic work of Flaming Lips. No, Born Gold (formerly Gobble Gobble) is more futuristic ADHD pop. Chaotic electronic noise and stuttered, effected vocals surround the magnificent melodies of this group’s surprisingly strong debut. A joyous proclamation of computer-glitching defiance throughout, it might give you a fabulous headache.
4. Drake – Take Care
What a short, strange trip it’s been for Drake, who has evolved from a hashtag-rapping former actor to the most interesting, downbeat, and flat-out real rapper in the game right now. Take Care is the best rap album of the year because its mixed-emotion honesty is overwhelming, its beats are curiously addicting, and its mood is so powerfully smooth. Pristine production amongst contradictory, conflicting verses, this album is simply sublime.
3. Hooray For Earth – True Loves
Quite possibly the most overlooked album of 2011, Hooray For Earth are delivering subtle, yet undeniable unforgettable electronic jams for the undeserving masses. Everything here, from the hooks of the title track, to the gradual grandiosity of “Sails,” to the fist-pumping madness of “No Love,” is a winner.
2. Primus – Green Naugahyde
Since frontman Les Claypool has remained active, it’s hard to believe it’s been twelve years since Antipop, but our favorite alt-funk oddballs pick up right where they left off, bringing instant career highlights reminiscent of all the brightest spots of their catalog. It’s not exactly forward-thinking, but when the funk is this solid, who cares?
1. M83 – Hurry Up We’re Dreaming
While not as completely cohesive as the shorter Saturdays=Youth, Anthony Gonzalez managed to out-epic that album, a feat many surmised would be impossible. Then again, what’s more epic than a dream-pop double album exploring the concept of childhood slumber? And with that concept comes feelings of excitement, innocence, comfort, and imagination. There’s a lot to take in, but repeated listens will deliver the ultimate reveal: Gonzalez is brilliant, and this album is remarkable. Near flawless, completely enjoyable.
Delivering sing-song verses, that trademark stoner laugh, and a chorus you’ve memorized by the second time you’ve heard it, Wiz Khalifa might be one of the laziest rappers on Top 40 radio. But that’s exactly the point. He’s not some uptight, eccentric, crazy ambitious, domineering figure. He’s that pot-smoking friend who’s down for whatever, and if your down, he’s down. The most casual summer jam of the year.
To whet our appetite in between LPs, Surfer Blood released a rocking little EP featuring this excellent little tune.
Another band I know little about, but this played nonstop in my car last spring. A great ode to the unrequited and the ones that got away.
Another catchy lo-fi power pop rocker from this group’s self-titled debut. Enjoy it while you can, because the follow-up promises to be darker and more ambitious.
This Internet sensation crept onto FM radio with this undeniable, absolutely fun track. Bonus points for rhyming “over me” with “ovaries.”
My first introduction to the newly named Born Gold, and I was immediately hooked. There is a remarkable gift here in making the unorganized sound so irresistible.
When the band sticks to what they know, they sound great. Angles is a hot-and-cold album, but this is the first of two tracks that showcases the former.
Originally released as former project Gobble Gobble, nothing has been done to this track in terms or re-mixing or mastering, but it just sounds better in context within the new album Bodysongs.
Another highlight from Strange Mercy – here Annie Clark shows off her knack for start-stop surprises around what sounds conventional at first, then grows to be beautifully unusual.
The snare hits, the booming bass, the background vocals, that “Just Blaze!” intro, the use of the phrase “Murdercedez Benz.” What’s not to love here?
One of the more down-tempo tracks on the fun Rolling Papers, Wiz drops a chill-out anthem for the end of the night when you just wanna light one up and take it easy.
This is the first of many times for both these artists on the list. Here the Weeknd provides his eerie tortured-party R&B before the beat drops and Drake laments.
McCombs brings another signature somber note in his trademark melancholy falsetto. One of my favorites from Wit’s End.
The first verse of this track more or less describes my life right now – realizing we are not unique snowflakes but small cogs in a machine we don’t know about yet. Simple, yet poignant.
From the maniacal laughter to the thumping stomp of that chorus to those wailing guitars, Joy Formidable claim the throne as the loudest new band of 2011.
146. YACHT – Dystopia
A play on an old R-rated cheerleader chant becomes a boogie-worthy ode to the end of the world. In typical Yacht fashion, it makes you wanna dance around the flames.
For those who truly choose to recognize it, three major shifts happened in 2011. The first, as is apparent during this year’s Listmas (and will be apparent on my year-end lists as well) is the resurgence of irreverent, smart hip-hop and what is half-mockingly referred to as PBR&B. The introspection of 2010’s hottest rappers (you know, when Eminem got all mature and serious and junk) has caused a shift in the landscape. As rap has been semi-tossed aside in the pop world in favor of the Eurodance craze, rappers have become more….sad. And real. And risk-taking. And progressive. And brilliant. Drake crooned, the Weeknd swooned, Big K.R.I.T., Danny Brown, Kendrick Lamar, and A$AP Rocky all impressed.
The second one is more important to the industry as a whole: Spotify. Its launch in the US has caused nothing short of a revolution: millions have signed up for the service, initiating a preference for a streaming-based distribution model over downloading iTunes files. Spotify isn’t the first of its kind, but certainly its connections and marketing have made it the poster-child for what many are calling the next pivotal shift in how we listen to music. A vibrant, passionate discussion has formed from the company’s popularity; the service has caused its share of controversy and criticism regarding royalties and high-profile artists like Coldplay and the Black Keys opting out. Certainly the model isn’t perfect, but could it be the new blueprint? One thing is for sure: the business of digital music is crazy exciting right now.
The final shift in 2011 happened to me personally, it really wasn’t an event, more of a realization. I became aware of my adulthood, I suppose, probably for the first time ever, and it has affected my listening habits and preferences. Not that I’m listening to “mature” music now….quite the opposite, in fact. I guess I just finally decided life is too fucking short to be pretentious, and that we should just listen to whatever we want. Though I suppose I’ll always have these so-called “hipster tendencies,” I’ve begun to embrace my love of escapist music, of pop, of rap, of dance, of strong melody, of hooks. Because, to me, music is probably the most important thing in my life, and it is meant to be stimulating, challenging, but also, prominently, and this is the part we forget in college, kids, it is meant to be enjoyed. And if I sit around listening to shit I don’t like all the time because I was told it was awesome or groundbreaking, I will die a sad, pompous, stuck-up old man. So live your life, and stick to your guns. And dance if you want to, damnit. And listen to music that makes you feel good. Because this is your life, and you only get one.
One other thing I would like to mention that 2011 will likely be remembered for, but is of no consequence to me: this is the year Adele took over. And so emerges another AC-friendly artist that the world adores, but I am left all by my lonesome to proclaim: “Meh.” And look at that: I’m bored already just talking about her. Damn, there I go again! Hipster tendencies…..baby steps.
So here is the blog schedule for the remainder of 2011. Stick around and be prepared to disagree! Should be a grand old time.
December 15: My Year In Live Music
December 16: Most Overrated Albums of 2011
December 17: Most Disappointing Albums of 2011
December 18: Top Music Videos of 2011
December 19-23: Top 200 Songs of 2011
December 24: Top 20 Remixes of 2011
December 25: Honorable Mention Albums of 2011
December 26-30: Top 50 Albums of 2011
December 31: Top TV Shows of 2011
January 1, 2012: Quarterly Review
Thank Me Later was a blast from beginning to end, but if that was the introduction, we can now safely assume Drake is just getting started. Take Care is long enough you can’t burn it on a blank CD, and the results are more moody and introspective than ever before.
Rap music nowadays usually divides the line between personal and decadent, tortured and boastful, and Drake’s got plenty of the former and very little of the latter. Don’t get me wrong, he’s bragging about his new fortunes, how he’s the hottest rapper in the game right now, etc. But his insecurities are laid bare for all to see; there’s no “Fancy” here to distract you from the sheer reality of how human this superstar is. On “Headlines” he laments how critics motivate him to progress musically, while boasting “the real is on the rise.”
Musically, the album is even more of a low-key affair than “Marvin’s Room” hinted a few months ago. With the exception of leaked tracks featuring Nicki Minaj and Rick Ross, Drake does a substantial amount of crooning; the Weeknd shows up more than once here to provide an ominous tone to Drake’s songs of self-questioning and heartbreak. Overall, Take Care is as bipolar and human as the human that made it. And in the 21st century making-it-rain/getting-personal hybrid of rap, this is probably the best it that it gets….and that’s pretty damn good.
Take Care, the new album from Drake (cover art above), drops November 15th, and by the amount of leaked tracks you would think half the album’s already been heard by the masses. Not even close. Today, to add to “Marvin’s Room,” “Make Me Proud,” and “Headlines,” we have three new leaks.
Rap Up’s got the first, a collaboration with the much-blogged-about Weeknd called “Crew Love.” The Source hooks you up with the Rick Ross-guesting “Lord Knows,” and Pretty Much Amazing has the title track featuring Rihanna and sampling Jamie xx. What do all these leaks have in common? They’re all awesome. And they all hint at Drake’s sophomore effort being one of the finest rap albums of 2011.