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Album Review: Grimes - Visions

2012; Arbutus / 4AD

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Could there ever be such a well-polished, Asian influenced record to come out of Canada? Probably not - that seems like a pretty well defined niche. Grimes is the project of Claire Boucher, a Vancouver native thoroughly invested in world music, mostly Eastern. Her voice is a beautiful wisp of air, floating in the ethereal waves of lush synth. Boucher’s voice is very much the focal point of Visions, leaving a lot of the synth textures to inhabit your subconscious. She described the release as “Post-Internet,” which sums up the release pretty well; a lot of the drum tracks sound like keystrokes or error notifications. The Japanese influence is stark, although progressive; each track seems to start off with a simple idea and blossom until there is a landscape of sound for Boucher to rule with her classically trained pipes. Visions certainly is not for everyone, while still grasping on to mass appeal through its synth-pop structure. Boucher offers a mature, refined release for her “Post-Internet” music, allowing all to indulge in her blissful deconstruction. 

Verdict: Recommended 

Listen: “Oblivion”

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Radiohead - Kid A
2000 (1280 x 800)

Radiohead - Kid A

2000 (1280 x 800)

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M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
2011 (1280 x 800)

M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

2011 (1280 x 800)

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Flying Lotus is going to reinvent everything you ever thought you might have known about him, again?

Flying Lotus is going to reinvent everything you ever thought you might have known about him, again?

(Source: pitchfork)

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The Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and Infinite Sadness
1995 (1280 x 800)
Inspired by M83’s Anthony Gonzalez and his recent interview with the AV Club.

The Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and Infinite Sadness

1995 (1280 x 800)

Inspired by M83’s Anthony Gonzalez and his recent interview with the AV Club.

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Album Review: Darkside - Darkside EP

2011; [Clown & Sunset] 

Darkside is a collaborative effort between Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington. The former is an electronic composer that released one of last year’s best albums, Space Is Only Noise, and the latter, an accomplished guitar player. The end result of this collaboration is extremely progressive. Jaar plays his usual in-the-ether self, while Harrington’s guitar accomplishes most of the melodies and notable hooks; he also did the drums, bass, and shared electronic programming duties. Jaar’s voice is showcased in its reverberated, ghostly effect, and although Harrington’s guitar work is the featured aspect of this release, it’s Jaar’s laid back, progressive production work that shines. If you are a fan of Nicolas Jaar, this is a must listen. Even though this is a very specific electronic style (sub 100 BPM, minimalist), it seems to be where James Blake left off before his eponymous debut. Could Jaar be what’s next and new in electronic music? With his own label and such ambitious musical pursuits, he very well could be. 

Verdict: Recommended

Listen: “A2”

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Four Tet - Rounds
2003 (1280 x 800)

Four Tet - Rounds

2003 (1280 x 800)

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Who wants to buy me tickets to this?

Who wants to buy me tickets to this?

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Top 50 Albums of 2011: 25-1

25. The War on Drugs - Slave Ambient

Sputnik called this album “America, broken into a hundred tiny pieces.” I can’t think of a better phrase to sum up this album so perfectly. It’s easy to get lost in the layers of sound. At the center of the music, lay vocals shrouded in reverb. If you were to pay attention to the lyrics, Slave Ambient tells the story of a man struggling to find his place in the world. This is the band’s most focused release to date and the effort certainly shines true.

 

24. Actress - Splazsh

An enigma wrapped in an overused idiom, Actress lays somewhere between Fly Lo and the static in between radio frequencies. It’s a confounding record, not in a negative way though. Splazsh is at its best when you have no idea what’s going on around you and you don’t seem to care.


23. Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes

“Youth Knows No Pain” is the perfect opener to Wounded Rhymes. An album that feels reckless and free, Li crafts an organic dance album that uses unique instrumentation and clever, stark lyrics. This release will have you humming its melodies all day, in want of more and more. 

22. Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde

It’s impossible to listen to Smith Western’s sophomore effort without being instilled with a sense of adolescence. Every song reminds you of the time you first fell head over heels or videotaped stupid shit with your friends. The band is only 19-20 years old, but they have crafted a mature sounding record that never feels age exclusive or juvenile.

21. Thurston Moore - Demolished Thoughts

Accompanied by only light strings, Beck production, and a harp, Thurston Moore continues to put out excellent music. Despite being mostly an acoustic record, Moore does reveal his noise roots on tracks like “Circulation” and “Orchard Street”, only taking a more classical approach. The album is nine tracks long, keeping every song over four minutes long. It’s a testament to just how talented Moore is and his ever-present growth as a songwriter. 

20. M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

Anthony Gonzalez has a knack for making epic music. On M83’s sixth effort, the band ascertains that epic feeling throughout the double album. Never feeling overwrought or sloppy, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming reminds us of the wonder of being a child and all the joys that come along with being so you and innocent.

 

19. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Continuing Broken Dreams Club’s up-tempo rock, Girls’ third record is a throwback to hotrod rock. Diverging from their normally friendly sound, “Die”, sounds like a deep cut from Black Sabbath’s discography, showing a band that has the ability to expand outward. It’s safe to say Girls will only release material they feel confident in, and with Owens and White knowing exactly what sounds right, it’s safe to assume Girls’ next release will be just as solid as the trilogy before it.


18. Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972

The year’s best ambient release, Ravedeath, 1972, offers beautifully caliginous soundscapes that were handcrafted from an organ recorded in an Icelandic church. The album artwork shows the annual event at MIT where students drop a broken piano off the roof. This is exactly what the album sounds like – a classical instrument tumbling to its impending doom. Ravedeath, 1972 is one of the year’s best headphone listens too. 


17. tUnE-yArDs - W H O K I L L

Sounding like a children’s book on some kind of drugs, Merrill Garbus continues her project that is good as it is annoying to spell out. W H O K I L L is the most fun listen I had all year. Using sparse instrumentation and unique vocal loops, Garbus sings clever lyrics in her interesting delivery. This is certainly an idiosyncratic release. 


16. EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints

Opening with “The Grey Ship”, a seven-minute, two-movement, personal epic, EMA lays the groundwork for a catharsis so personal, yet somehow not tied down by its specificity. Anderson clearly has problems, but they don’t come off as stale or boring. It’s a dark, winding path; nonetheless, it provides an alternative view of the world’s injustices.

15. Iceage - New Brigade

Garnering a lot of attention from their live shows that leave kids bloody and battered, Iceage accomplish a lot on their debut. Channeling a Wire-esque post-punk, the young band from Copenhagen give us twenty-six minutes of pure attack. Although it may be impossible to capture their live shows in a recording, New Brigade certainly does its best.


14. Wild Flag - Wild Flag

Formed by former members of Quasi, Sleter-Kinney, and Helium, Wild Flag produce the best straight rock and roll album of the year. Each song is a study in melodic attack. Sounding a lot like a continuation of Sgt. Pepper, Wild Flag accomplishes pushing psychedelic rock further into the harder spectrum with ease. 


13. Bon Iver - Bon Iver

The album that launched a thousand hate posts, Bon Iver is an excellent exercise in musical compostion. Difficult to pin down to just one genre, Justin Vernon creates a sweeping album that wrestles with sense of place. Although it is plagues with a godawful closing track, “Beth / Rest”, the record should not be judged solely on its ability to close. Vernon has put together something really special and it should be seen as such. 


12. Destroyer - Kaputt

Coined “Cocaine rock” by a close friend of mine, Dan Bejar creates a portrait of America from behind the curtains. It feels sleazy at times, despite having crystal clear, clean production. This is America in the 80s, but not the one they would ever teach you about in school. 


11. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

I stand by my statement that if Annie Clark hadn’t toured with The Age of ADZ, Strange Mercy would have come out much different. Clark has always ventured into expressing the relationship between the reserved and the chaotic, but this release sees her leaning towards the chaotic. Using more cutting guitars and vocal effects, Strange Mercy will leave you dancing around your kitchen like an idiot.


10. Real Estate - Days

Real Estate’s self-titled debut is one of my favorite albums of the 2000s. Moving past the lo-fi production of its predecessor, Days still elicits the same groggy feeling as Real Estate, despite being much clearer. It just goes to show that it was the message and not the media. There are still plenty of cloudy day jams, but the band doesn’t dawdle on the way there. This is a very focused release from a still growing band. 


9. Zomby - Dedication

His first release on 4AD, Dedication accomplishes so much, despite feeling unfinished. It’s a complex, dark album that offers not one low point. The record bookends its longer songs and keeps most of the shorter songs in the middle. It’s a record that never really finds itself, but it’s the feeling of being lost that elicits more and more listens. Zomby is an interesting character. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him scrap everything here and reinvent himself again next year. 


8. The Weeknd - House of Balloons

Although often credited to being a mixtape, the only thing aligning it to that nomenclature is its free price tag. Expanding leaps and bounds upon the 808 formula, The Weeknd accomplish something really special on their debut and also on their two follow ups, Thursday and Echoes Of Silence. This is a dark party to attend, often ending up exactly how the host intended. Implementing sub-bass, Abel Tesfaye sings beautifully over beats that usually contain two movements, spanning a dark, vast soundscapes. 

7. Clams Casino - Instrumentals

When I first learned of Clams Casino, I only knew he produced for Lil B. After that, it was difficult to see him in a different light, until I heard “Motivation”. This song paves the way for an album that’s as hazy as it is clear. Sounding like a James Bond movie set in the future and played in slow motion, Instrumentals details just how this guy established a whole new sound in indie rap production – based.


6. Fucked Up - David Comes to Life

A colossal concept album, Fucked Up reimagines what hardcore music can do. The band creates an entire town and cast of characters to live out their story. Using melodic guitar melodies, crushing drums, and dual male/female vocals, Fucked Up produce an immense record. Spanning eighteen tracks over an hour length, David Comes to Live does just what the title sets out to accomplish, creating a life from music. 


5. Nicolas Jaar - Space Is Only Noise

Warranting about a dozen listens in order to allow the listener full comprehension of its material, Jaar creates a vast soundscape covered in layers of confusion and dust. At first listen, I was confused as to what all the talk was about, but around the sixth listen, to which I couldn’t understand why I was drawn back, it all came together. Even though it was recorded over the span of about three years, Space Is Only Noise feels like one solid effort. It’s scary this dude is only 21 years old. 


4. Shabazz Palaces - Black Up

Part rap, part afrocentricism, part bass music, and part ghost, Black Up is one of the best rap albums to come out in recent years. The beats sound like they come from a dark, future dystopia. Each song is broken into two movements, providing two different interpretations of the same musical seed. The lyrics are clever, the beats are advanced, and the whole album coalesces into one of the best records from 2011.


3. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo

Album opener, “Baby’s Arms”, floats from ear to ear using reverberated acoustic guitar and electronic pitches. This is pretty much the whole album: simplicity wrapped in layers and layers of carefully placed noise. After leaving The War On Drugs, Vile was rewarded with more time to focus on his solo effort. The time was obviously well spent, as Vile releases one of the most captivating records of the year.  


2. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake


Tackling larger issues such as war and nationalism, Harvey’s tenth studio effort is continental in size. Harvey took over two years to write Let England Shake, most of which was recorded live in St. Peter’s Church, located in England. Harvey commands chaotic highs and haunting lows, all the while creating one of the most politically aware and challenging albums to come from England. 


1. James Blake - James Blake

After Kalvierwerke EP, it was clear to see that Blake would take more of a songwriter’s approach to his full-length debut, featuring more of his own voice, still embedded in his dynamic production. James Blake does not let either side down, finding a balance between club bangers and bedrooms. The end result is an album making its own path.


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Top 11 Tracks of 2011

(Every title has a link to the song)

11. The Rural Alberta Advantage - "Two Lovers" (Departing)

Using tricky, deceptive rhymes, The Rural Aberta Advantage struck gold with the first track off of Departing. A song from an acoustic guitar to marching drums with sleigh bells, “Two Lovers” is a sweet, sad song. You’ll find yourself crooning along to the lyrics, after just one listen. 

10. Jamie XX - "Far Nearer" (Far Nearer / Beat For)

The xx finally announced a follow up to 2009’s excellent xx, but what about Jamie’s solo effort? Well, we have two songs so far. Both are excellent and noteworthy, but “Far Nearer” stands out slightly, next to “Beat For”. Using a Burial-esque, pitch-shifted vocal loop and a steel drum sample, the song weaves in and out. I don’t know anything about a proper release from Jamie XX, but I’m certainly looking forward to whatever it may be.

9. Panda Bear - “Afterburner” (Tomboy)

Although Tomboy was never certainly never going to live up to Person Pitch, Panda Bear was still going to face some high expectations. This song proves the growth of an artists. Most of Tomboy is dark and bare, but “Afterburner” is large and rolling. The song seems like a constant buildup, just after the sound of a plane taking off; all six minutes and fifty seconds of the song seem to fly by, all puns intended. 

8. M83 - "Midnight City" (Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming)

Pretty much everyone has heard this song. Topping a few best tracks of the years, M83 hit big with this massive song. It starts off with a weird, distorted vocal sample and eventually moves to a gigantic sax solo that will make jaws drop. It’s an interesting arrangement on this one. And thanks to a plug by Victoria’s Secret, this song has really picked up some mainstream recognition. Thank god for indie music in commercials. 

7. Yuck - "Get Away" (Yuck)

(I know this has a singles art, but it was only 300 x 300)

Yuck are indie revivalists. This song is catchier than syphilis at Rutgers. Implementing a crushing wall of beautiful distorted guitars and a tambourine, “Get Away“‘s chorus is simple, but it doesn’t want to be complicated; this song is pretty much perfect the way it is. It’s difficult to escape listening to this song three times in a row and wanting a fourth.

6. The Weeknd - "What You Need" (House Of Balloons)

I remember the first time I heard The Weeknd, back in March, I thought, “This is going to be fucking huge.” The Weeknd did not disappoint me at all. House Of Balloons sounds like the kind of parties hoodrats dream of someday having. “What You Need” really captivated me. The way the snare drags its fingernails across the beat elicits a real uneasy feeling that is instantly calmed halfheartedly by Abel’s smooth voice. “What You Need” may make you feel dirty, but you know it’s what you like. 

5. Bon Iver - "Perth" (Bon Iver)

Easily one of the most disputed records of the year, Bon Iver's opener is undoubtedly one of the year's bests, both at opening an expanse record and as a separate entity itself. Vernon originally described it as a “Civil War-sounding heavy metal song,” which even though sounds epic enough, fails to do the song justice. Built off a brittle guitar harmony, “Perth” shuffles around double bass with pouding snares that give the drums a thunderous place in the mix. Coupled with Vernon's cries, “Perth” seems like a nearly impossible song to follow on any album. 

4. SebastiAn - "Embody" (Total)

When my friend, Ryan Walker, first showed me the video for “Embody”, I was taken back by how well the video and song were married. Both are testaments to their respective arts, but the song itself stood out more. The highly distorted vocal track danced in between frantic keys and a synth told everyone, “Chill the fuck out. I got this.” The way the song peters out at the end into the back off your head and will probably stay there, until you blow it out the back.  

3. Real Estate - "Out Of Tune" (Days)

Although many people will argue “It’s Real” and “Green Aisles” are the standout tracks from Days, “Out Of Tune” is the song that resonated with me most. I fell in love with the eponymous debut from this band. It had everything I wanted in a record, but with something slightly off. I feel it was the way the instruments sounded. “Out Of Tune” reminds me of when I heard “Beach Comber” the first time, despite the higher production value and cleaned up instruments. The song also offers a little keyboard toward the end that really ups the over aesthetic into something that sounds almost palpable. Real Estate proves again why they’re the kings of summer music, even though they have released their past two albums closer to the colder months.

2. The Throne - "Gotta Have It" (Watch The Throne)

Everyone seems to dwell on everything else from this album. “Gotta Have It” sounds the most like a collaboration with Kanye and Jay-Z. This song epitomizes the album. The militant high-hat, the humming bassline, and the James Brown soul sample all coalesce into 2:20 of pure gold, not unlike the album cover. The lack of a true hook makes the track stronger. Too many times does Watch The Throne get caught up in the hooks. Let them have fun. I want an “Uzi Ring” type song, containing strictly verses and woven together bars. This is the type of song I wanted from the album, not huge songs about “Niggas in Paris” or any made up words (Cray). Like when Madlib and MF DOOM teamed up, I wanted a short but simple album PACKED full of hits. This is the guideline Jay and Ye should have followed.

1. Tyler, The Creator - "Yonkers" (Goblin)

The song/video that launched a thousand remixes/mixtapes. “Yonkers” is a study in 2011, detailing explicit language, bashing pop music and blogging hipsters (LOL). There’s something about a sample that sounds like a car struggling to start and a panned-left snare that created just enough edge to tip into mass appeal, yet stay faithful to the tumbling rap collective’s rough and raw fashion. Every time I put the cans on and bump this track, I’m brought back to the day I rushed to youtube and pulled up this shocking video. “Yonkers” has somewhat become sort of a lightening strike for the OF crew, but it has been less than a year into their reign as indie rap’s biggest stars. Who knows what more we can expect from Tyler, except I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the best thing he ever does, but being the best track of 2011, that wouldn’t be such a bad climax. 

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Zomby - Equinox 

Nothing (2011)

This has been quite a year for Zomby. He released his 4AD debut, Dedication, and almost out of nowhere, he released this EP. Since releasing Where Were You In ‘92?, Zomby has been trying to find his musical voice, with a few EPs exploring different approaches to electronic music. I really enjoyed Dedication. It was a sort of electronic sampler from the future, with plenty of allusions to Burial and garage. Nothing is an expansion of Dedication and it doesn’t disappoint. This song instantly stood out. It’s trippy, startling, and fearless. This EP solidifies that I’ll continue to look forward to what Zomby has in store for future projects. 

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what-is-this-i-dont-even:

Baths - Aminals (Live)

“This is a song about animals, because animals are dope”

I’ve always wanted to see what this song was like live. 

(via leahshiloh)

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James Blake - Curbside

Off of the upcoming Love What Happened Here EP. 

This is now on tumblr, for all your reblogging pleasure. 

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