What you want to see from a band is growth. Last year’s self-titled debut full-length from this extremely young band saw a lot of maturing, with songs like “Forget You All The Time” and “Not Important”; these songs moved away from the traditional pop-punk/powerpop sound. Now, we have Attack on Memory - something completely separate from any of the earlier releases. It has a glacial, creeping opening track, an almost nine minute song, and is much more caliginous than Cloud Nothings. The Smashing Pumpkins play a huge influence on the release and is evident on songs like “No Sentiment”. The prolific Steve Albini produces, and Baldi talked about the experience with Pitchfork. Attack on Memory shows enormous growth by a band that has been almost confined within a tired genre. Cloud Nothings have been garnering a lot of attention form last year’s excellent full-length and having the first two singles, album opener, “No Future / No Past”, and “Stay Useless” declared “Best New Tracks.” What you are left with, at the end of thirty-three and a half minutes, is an expression of growing pains that transcends sounding incipient of the final product; the album depicts something greater to come, but is self-contained and very rewarding. Needless to say, Cloud Nothings have plenty in store, despite already having two excellent full-lengths releases. And it looks like we will get a lot more material from a band just starting to get serious.
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.
5. Zomby - Nothing
Zomby had two pretty big releases this year, on his new label 4AD: Dedication and Nothing. The two came out of the darker side of the producer’s mind. It’s funny to put the two almost polar titles next to each other, stating they came from the same person within a few months of each other. Nothing has a lot of Dedication in it, but it also shares some of the rave feelings from Where Were U In ‘92? EP highlight, “Equinox”, shifts tempos so freely that you don’t feel the change at all. The EP seems effortless and it wouldn’t be foolish to expect something from Zomby, early into 2012.
4. Fresh & Onlys - Secret Walls
The Fresh & Onlys write love songs, but they feel more fitted for ghosts. I had the pleasure of meeting these guys and actually booking them last year; they’re a bunch of great guys doing what they love most. The EP feels a lot like an extension of the love ballads from Play It Strange. Found within the layered, garage pop guitars, lay dreamy lyrics about secret forces you can’t see and their effects on you. It’s easy to space out to this album, but it’s more rewarding when you pay close attention to the evolution of each instrument throughout the tracks. This band continues to build up one the most solid, little-known discographies.
3. Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate) - Home After Three Months Away
"Will all my twenties find me so guarded?" questions this little band from Michigan who channel the emo from their region during the mid-nineties. This release probably didn’t show up on too many major year-end lists, but it certainly deserves recognition, even if it is only some twenty-something year-old’s tumblr. What can be described as "Posty," a word my good friend of mine calls bands akin to a Kinsella approach to emo, Empire! Empire! is the little band that could. Emotionally felt lyrics, rich guitars, and beautiful drums write this record as the perfect testament to on of the golden ages of emo. Expect this band to put out about ten 7"s next year or something. They move fast.
2. Trash Talk - Awake
For a blistering eight and a half minutes, Trash Talk barrage your ears with hardcore punk. This isn’t just a great EP on the surface, some of the guitar melodies read much deeper. Even if you don’t feel like reading too much into this one, it’s easy to shake your brain up bouncing around to this. The drums are obviously perfect and dynamic enough to keep the rhythm bouncing along, like most great hardcore punk. I felt that Eyes & Nines was a little too long and it works out that this band fits perfectly into the EP format. What you have here is eight and a half minutes of great hardcore punk and is there anything else you wanted more from 2011 to drunkenly scream in the back of your friend’s car?
1. Burial - Street Halo
I don’t think Burial will ever stop being the best producer in bass music, until the genre self-destructs. He just is. Street Halo is three tracks long, but still clocks in around twenty minutes. What you can find here is Burial’s signature pitch-shifted vocals, 2-Step, dark garage beats, and plenty of fulfilling sub-bass. Each song winds in and out of the listener’s head and everything feels meticulously placed in the mix, even the vinyl crackles. It’s not a surprise that this guy is still putting out amazing music, whether it be working with Four Tet and Thom Yorke or solo. What is really exciting about Street Halo is that it reveals a progression from Untrue and Burial plans to release another EP early next year. I don’t think the enigmatic producer will ever stop growing, nevertheless he continues to be the best producer in bass music, no matter which part of the mainframe the genre moves to.
(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.
Indie rap blew up this year. It might have been the influx of great indie producers, but it’s probably more closely related to Odd Future’s rise to fame. Thanks to “Yonkers”, everyone knew OF and GOLF WANG. But with two disappointing proper releases, Odd Future sort of failed to live up to the hype. Out of this disappoint sprang forth a huge positive result: independent rap was garnering more attention. So cue 2011’s stellar lineup of mixtapes. The year’s roster ranged everywhere from midwest gangsters to toothless, skinny-jean-wearing hipsters. I was originally only going to write up five mixtapes, but as I started to list the tapes I enjoyed this year, I realized five wouldn’t do justice to all of this year’s amazing releases. With Drake reaching critical fame, I wouldn’t doubt seeing any of these artists blow up huge soon; maybe all they need is a shocking music video.
(All of the mixtapes can be downloaded by following the hyperlinks in their name)
10. Main Attrakionz - 808s & Dark Grapes II
With probably the best album cover from this year’s crop of mixtapes, 808s & Dark Grapes II does not disappoint people who read books because of the cover; you know you’re in for an interesting ride when the opening track samples a Glasser song. The mixtape turns into a hazy, codeine induced trip, thanks to the help of over ten different producers. Clams Casino and A$AP Rocky provide their services on “Take 1”, an indie rap manifesto and one of the best tracks on any mixtape this year.
9. DaVinci - Feast Or Famine
This Bay Area rapper features a smokey flow that sounds more refined than store bought sugar; it’s just as sweet to the ears too. Avoiding the hazy sound that every indie rapper’s production seemed to favor, Feast Or Famine has airtight beats ranging from soul sampling (D.R.E.A.M.) to a g-funk (Smoke The Night Away). This EP is a meticulously produced and performed testament to indie rap’s potential mainstream appeal.
8. Lil B - Im Gay (Im Happy)
Featuring an ode to Camp Lo’s Uptown Saturday Night gracing the cover, Im Gay does not disappoint. Most people can’t stand this guy. To be honest, I NEVER thought I would ever give the Lil Boss a chance, but then a producer by the name of Clams Casino came out with an outstanding instrumentals album. I noticed a lot of the tracks were produced for this Lil Boss. Why not try him out? I was blown away by how well Clammy Clams’ beats matched up with Lil B’s style. I was really shocked by “I Hate Myself”, a track moving away from Lil B’s normal positivity. And the fact that Lil B is the most inspiring person on twitter who gave out this album for free is heartwarming. I would love to see Lil B become more famous, not for an “I’m ____ ____” song, but for his hard work and positive energy.
7. Big K.R.I.T. - Return Of 4Eva
The King Remembered In Time (K.R.I.T.) does not fail in following up to last year’s K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. I find myself bobbing my head a lot and swaying to K.R.I.T.’s music. He has an excellent southern flow and his soulful beats accompany it perfectly. If OutKast eventually releases a new album, they would be foolish not to feature this guy on a few tracks. The tape has one of the funniest features of the year, Chamillionaire. The aptly named, “Time Machine”, is a song about cruising around in an older car…riding dirty, no doubt; Chamillionaire absolutely kills it. K.R.I.T. shows up on the new Roots album and has done work with Curren$y before. It’s easy to expect something big from an artist who stays as busy as The King does.
6. Araabmuzik - Electronic Dream
Now before you discredit this as a mixtape because it saw such a proper release, consider that this is basically a remix album. I know it even has a deluxe edition coming out too, but let’s put aside semantics and move on to why this is so darn good. This is some good ass EDM. The album flows like one long DJ set, but the tracks can be picked apart and survive independently from the mix. “Streetz Tonight” is a beautiful mixup of Kaskade’s “4 am” that builds and drops effortlessly, offering a completely different listening experience from the original. This guy has some pretty dextrous fingers working that MPC, allowing him to manipulate the featured stems into something completely unlike the originals.
5. A$AP Rocky - LiveLoveA$AP
Easily the most hyped mixtape of the year, A$AP pleases those in wait with a cohesive, blunted tape. This guy would have had a solid year, had he just released this tape, but I guess a $3 Million record deal with Sony/RCA may have improved things a little bit for A$AP in 2011. Clams Casino heads a line of producers following his dark, rolling beats. A$AP isn’t the best rapper, but his music is more about the whole, not the parts. The album breathes a cogent aesthetic into the listener that makes you feel almost as blunted as the rapper himself. With his huge record deal, I would be sorely let down if this guy doesn’t do something huge next year.
4. Black Hippy - Black Hippy
It should come as no surprise that a rap collective featuring Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, and ScHoolboy Q came out with an eye-opening mixtape — Compton rap collective sound familiar doesn’t it? This tape kills it. Every song seems like it took them one take to spit. This guys know exactly what they’re doing and how to do it. Ranging from Lamar’s nasally delivered intelligent lyrics to Jay Rock’s hardcore growl, this mixtape epitomizes rap and everything hip-hop. These guys clearly have the game figured out; maybe some lightening strike will switch them places with Odd Future…
3. Freddie Gibbs - Cold Day In Hell
It’s impossible to talk about the independent rap scene without mentioning Freddie Gibbs. This guy consistently puts out great music. Coming from Gary, Indiana, Gibbs offers a midwestern gangster rap that seems unrivaled by anyone else right now. Not to say there are a thousand gangster rappers rapping about the midwest, but the overall scene of gangster rap this day seems to relate more to horror rap and not the roots. “Rob Me a Nigga” is the perfect song to represent this tape; the hook is a repetition of “Rob me a nigga.” This mixtape is hard as anything, but with an endorsement from LRG.
2. Danny Brown - XXX
Danny Brown is something else. His voice first comes off as agitating, but that only makes you pay closer attention to what he has to say. The tape starts a fucked up party and ends with a fucked up life. I couldn’t believe my ears the fist time I heard “I Will”, an explicit song about eating pussy. This album has no boundaries and that’s what makes it so prolific: there is nothing Brown won’t touch. So far, XXX feels like a magnum opus, but I don’t want it to be; I want more songs like “Adderall Admirable” and the self-aware “Radio Song”.
1. Kendrick Lamar - Section.80
This tape blew me away. Album opener, “Fuck Your Ethnicity”, sets the whole album up as a study in intelligence, afrocentrism, post-crack influences, wordplay, cleverness, and everything else I love in rap. There are a multitude of styles found in the production; everything from Kanye soul sampling to blunted bass music. Section.80 offers an epochal look at the current state of hip-hop. I would even consider this a classic rap album of the internet age. It’s hard to tell where the members of Black Hippy will end up, but it’s almost certain K Dot will continue to be the most talented. It’s only a matter of time before the Black Hippy crew blew up; make sure you don’t miss the ride.
Thrice - Major/Minor
I was never the biggest fan of Thrice growing up. They always had one part in each song that really turned me off, but ever since 2009’s Beggars, I have really enjoyed their new matured sound. This record continues refining that sound into one of the cleanest records I have heard in a while. An album that’s as brutal as it is big, Major/Minor is certainly worth your listen.
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Mirror Traffic
Pavement is certainly an institution of indie music. The album sounds like a cleaned up Pavement record with a serious attitude problem. The spitting “Senator” is one of the funniest tracks of the year, along with one of the best; it doesn’t hurt that the hilarious music video has Jack Black, Gary Cole, and April O’Neil (NSFW) having a blast in it. Also, does it sound like he gives a fuck on this record? Probably not…or something.
Sepalcure - Sepalcure
This album certainly does nothing new; Burial popularized this sound by himself, not needing a partner, but doing something new isn’t what this record is about: it freshens up the garage 2-step dub sound to the current state of bass music (I guess that’s what we’re calling it now to avoid the “dubstep” tag). Adding in some wobbly synths, Sepalcure brings me back to the day I first listened to Burial, captivated at everything caught in simplicity.
Rival Schools - Pedals
Post-hardcore is easily one of my favorite genres of music, not that shitty From First To Last that got mislabeled but the Bear vs. Sharks and Gallows of the world. Fully emotional and lifting, Pedals offers the attack of hardcore with a surprising amount of singalongs — I find myself humming “Wring It Out” at least once a week. The guitars are perfect in this album. Definitely a prolific record for the early, befuddled twenty year-olds in the world, Pedals gets more and more enjoyable with each spin.
Mister Heavenly - Out Of Love
"Bronx Sniper" opens a record full of jagged edges and built up release. One of the best Rock and Roll records since Is This It and last year’s Play It Strange, the albums seems to contain its deception within a leaky frame. The melodies of each song seem to struggle within the confines they are placed in — you can actually hear the evolution of Rock music in this record, but it somehow sounds fresh and new.
Peaking Lights - 936
This album took my lo-fi psychedelic vote of the year, sorry Era Extraña. It was everything I wanted to hear on an acid trip. I remember putting my headphones on and losing myself in the noise. “Key Sparrow” floats around somewhere just above your head and rocks back and forth, teasing you in a playful way. This album is an experience you must use headphones for. Have fun floating slightly above your body!
Wild Beasts - Smother
One of the most beautiful records of the year, Smother plays out sort of like an electronic drama. Hayden Thrope’s beautiful voice is obviously the center piece, as it is with almost all of Wild Beasts’ material. He effortlessly glides in and out of his falsetto; songs like “Invisible” showcase Thorpe’s voice accompanied only by light piano. This is definitely a dark, emotional trip, not unlike 2009’s excellent Hospice, sans the concept treatment but not without its appeal.
Yuck - Yuck
This record of indie revival did what Sepalcure did with garage 2-step: it didn’t reinvent the wheel, but it did contextualize it in the current age. With the best opening 1-2 punch this year with “Get Away” followed by “The Wall”, Yuck built a rock solid record around crunchy guitars from the 90’s alternative scene. There is a drop off of catchy energy after the first two punches, but “Operation” picks it back up with agression. An album that recollects fuzzy VHS footage of you and your friends goofing off, Yuck is a can’t miss record for classic indie rock enthusiasts.
WU LYF - Go Tell Fire To The Mountain
WU LYF finally released their full length, after years of not knowing what the hell they were going to do. The band doesn’t have a public face. They like to be mysteries though. I consider this a cult of a record, with barely understandable singalong vocals, light instrumentation, and pulsing drums. Go Tell Fire is a unique listen, if not anything else. They describe themselves as “Heavy Pop”. And it’s easy to see why when you find yourself screaming babbles at the top of your lungs.
Cults - Cults
It wasn’t that I was disappointed with this record, but it definitely suffered from Treats disorder, containing only a handful of new material and the same songs that had been floating around the interwebs for some time. “Abducted” was a breath of fresh air and a great way to start the album off. I only spun the record a few times, just to hear the new material and I know that took a lot from the listening experience. Maybe in a few years I can come back to this album and have a totally “new” experience.
I will be posting my honorable mentions for albums of the year today.
Next week’s schedule is as follows:
Monday - Top 10 Mixtapes
Tuesday - Top 5 EPs
Wednesday - Top 11 Songs
Thursday - Top 50 Albums of the Year: Part One (50-26)
Friday - Top 50 Albums of the Year: Part Two (25-1)
Saturday - Straight Dick Picks (not really)
You can also sneak peek my list on air today at WQAQ from 3-5!