Friday, December 16, 2011

2011 Albums of the Year: Honorable Mentions and #21-25

It's time for the moment you've all been waiting for.  I have a lot of honorable mentions, because I got tired of assigning numbers and ordering them.  So here those are, in alphabetical order, followed by numbers 25 to 21 of my list.

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order by artist)

Burst Apart - The Antlers

I was sitting here for a long time trying to figure out what exactly Burst Apart sounds like to me.  I knew I'd thought about it before, but I couldn't remember until about a minute before I wrote this.  The Antlers' spaced out rock and Peter Silberman's falsetto vocals are reminiscent of their fellow Brooklynites, Grizzly Bear.  But whereas Grizzly Bear use more guitar effects to achieve their great alternative sound, The Antlers use mainly synths, from what I can tell, and that's what sets them apart.  Burst Apart is a good album to put on and relax to.  It's that kind of music that really evokes a certain mood.  The next album on this list is similar.

Native Speaker - Braids

I saw Toro Y Moi last spring, and this band was one of the openers.  Somehow they managed to fill the Bishop Bar with more sound than the headliner.  Native Speaker sounds like a Japanese water garden.  The sound is lush, with many layers, but it's still comforting.   Raphaelle Standell-Preston's vocals hang in the background and pierce through at the same time.  It's a beautiful mix of different sounds, textures, and atmospheres.  They couldn't have picked a better album cover.

XXX - Danny Brown

Please don't listen to Danny Brown if you're only looking for serious musical efforts to listen to.  The Detroit rapper is outlandish and ridiculous.  I sat down and listened to his whole album, and when I was done, I couldn't believe I'd made it through the entire thing.  I think it was because it took me a full 45 minutes or so to figure out what it was I was actually listening to.  Brown has a signature yelp (you will know what I'm talking about if you dare listen), but he changes his voice, and it's slightly different for every song.  XXX is quite an experience, and that's all I will say about that.  Also, the album's title is quite astute;  Brown holds nothing back.

Portamento - The Drums

Back around 2009-2010, The Drums had released an EP, and I was hearing a lot about them from the internet and friends and stuff.  But then it seemed to me like the band dropped off the face of the earth.  I think what happened was they released an album and people liked it, but didn't love it.  Anyway, flash forward 2ish years and they've released their sophomore album.  I like it, but don't love it.  The band's post punk-influenced surf-rock is refreshing (singer Jonathan Pierce sounds a lot like Ian Curtis at times), and "Money" is great.

Hello Sadness - Los Campesinos!

When I hear the term "indie rock," I think of bands like Los Campesinos!.  The basic guitar-bass-drums sound that evolved out of alternative rock from the late 80s and through the 90s.  What's interesting to me about the Wales rockers is the juxtaposition of their upbeat, energetic sound with their lyrical themes of melancholia (no, the concept, not the highly acclaimed Lars von Trier film).  Previous releases feature titles like Romance is Boring, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, and All's Well That Ends.  For me, I'll focus on the happy parts.  Also, please do not watch the video for "Hello Sadness."  It's really weird and I don't like it and ugh.

Black Up - Shabazz Palaces

This is one of the most divisive albums I've listened to this year.  I know that it sounds really different from all the other rap out there, and I know that leader Ishmael Butler is a really good rapper, but it's just not all that interesting to me.  I could never really get Black Up that much.  I still recognize that it should be included as a part of this list, so that's why I bumped it down to Honorable Mention.  I could see myself getting really into this a year from now, though.  We will see.

So Beautiful or So What - Paul Simon

Courtesy of the Rowland family, I was able to attend the Paul Simon concert at the IU Auditorium a few weeks ago.  It was stunningly good.  Simon did lots of songs from So Beautiful or So What, but he played for two and a half hours, so he also did basically his entire greatest hits collection.  So Beautiful or So What is different from the folk-pop Paul Simon that I really love, but I still like it.  I can tell that he really still wants his music to sound like the world-funk of Graceland, but he doesn't want to try as hard, so he just gets like ten session musicians to come in and do their best world-music impression.  It's still got that classic Paul Simon charm, though.  At the concert, I noticed that the 70-year-old hasn't aged a bit.  He still sounds like the guy who was singing on the soundtrack to The Graduate.

Angles - The Strokes

Oh, the Strokes.  What to do with you?  Angles was an album I really loved at first, but only at first.  It just didn't grow on me at all.  The only songs I still listen to from the album are the ones that sound like the classic Strokes of Is This It and Room On Fire, i.e. "Under Cover of Darkness" and "Taken For A Fool."  I still listen to the rest of the album occasionally, but I've found that the faux-80s Cars-esque pop of Angles just doesn't work for me as well as the vintage Strokes from ten years works wonders.  I still have to include it because it's probably one of the albums I listened to the most from this year from those few weeks where I was playing it on repeat.

25.  Bon Iver - Bon Iver

I just don't love this album as much as everyone else does.  I still prefer For Emma, Forever Ago to this.  For me, it doesn't have the emotional qualities that I loved from For Emma.  There was a review that I read somewhere of this album, and it described Bon Iver of having everything that For Emma had, but it's just bigger on every level.  This particular review said that like it was a good thing, but that's exactly why I'm not totally in love with Bon Iver, as it seems the rest of the indie music world is.  The beautiful simplicity Justin Vernon demonstrated on For Emma is lost here.  On that album, Vernon did almost everything except for horns and drums on a few tracks.  On Bon Iver, the total number of musicians who recorded with Vernon is in the double digits.  So much for the whole cabin-in-the-woods aesthetic.  Nevertheless, there's still some really great music here.  "Towers" is by far my favorite.  It has the kind of country-folk with horns that reminds me of the title track from For Emma, which is my favorite one from that record.  The haunting riff and crunchy guitar work in the chorus of "Perth" gives me chills.  Vernon's high falsetto is still one of the coolest and freshest sounds on the scene.  I recognize that Bon Iver works as an extension/progression from For Emma really well, and that's probably why most people like it so much.  Also, we haven't had a winter since this album came out.  I fell in love with the first album during the snowy months, so maybe come February I'll discover that I really actually love this album.  But until then, number 25 it is.

24.  CAMP - Childish Gambino

Yesterday I ranted about one of the harshest reviews I've ever read on, and that review was for this album.  I didn't really expect much out of CAMP.  I didn't like "Bonfire" much when it came out, and I really wasn't a fan of Glover's other stuff except for "Freaks and Geeks."  But when I heard the opening hums and chords of "Outside," I was pleasantly surprised, and that feeling continued through the rest of the album.  The production, which from what I can tell was mostly done by Glover himself, is really unlike anything else in hip-hop today.  I suppose you could describe the music as indie-hop, and I think Glover's really going for the indie audience more than he is the hip-hop crowd.  The beats are heavy and layered and sound cool.  Lots of choirs and pianos.  "Freaks and Geeks" featured a bell sound, and Glover uses that same sound a lot on this.  But then there's change-up songs like "Heartbeat," which sounds like Justice produced it.  When I first started hearing Childish Gambino a year ago or so, I couldn't get past his voice, which was really just a yell.  But for most of CAMP, he's toned it down a bit, and it's a lot more listenable.  As far as the rapping goes, sometimes his lines don't work out, but Glover isn't Nas, and he's not trying to be.  The jokes work for him at this point, but I'm sure his flow will continue to evolve.  I don't really understand why Pitchfork thinks CAMP is such a crime against the music world.  It sounds good.  That's all I need.

23.  Metals - Feist

I feel the need to mention my friend Ellis again.  He's the one who first showed me "The Bad In Each Other," which had me hooked on this album from the beginning.  This album is full of arrangements which are huge.  The opening track features a big horn section including trombones and bass clarinets.  "Graveyard" has a big choir for background vocals, in addition to the aforementioned horn section.  Feist plays guitar and piano and a slew of other instruments.  She experiments with guitar effects and synths and production, as well.  It's a grandiose album, but through the thick of it all, Feist retains her sense of indie singer-songwriter.  Her vocals are quiet and subdued.  My favorite part is when she channels Spoon in "A Commotion."

22.  Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Unknown Mortal Orchestra

When I saw Toro Y Moi a second time at the Bishop Bar in September of this year, this band was one of the openers.  UMO has a really different sound.  The album just kind of always sounds like it's coming out of a laptop.  It has that distant, sounds-like-it's-in-the-other room quality to it.  I had heard their studio recordings a little before I saw the show, and I was shocked at how different they sounded live.  The live outfit is singer-guitarist Ruban Nielson, plus an adequate bassist and drummer, the names of whom I cannot find.  Nielson is an excellent guitar player, and I wish that showed more on the studio album.  At the Bishop, the band opened with "Nerve Damage!" and jammed out on it for about five extra minutes, in which Nielson played several blistering guitar solos.  It was really fun.  Nevertheless, the studio album is filled with really catchy singles like "FFunny FFriends" and "How Can You Luv Me" that make the debut really worthwhile.  If you like what you hear, I strongly suggest trying to see them in concert.

21.  GOBLIN - Tyler, The Creator

I must say, I fell victim to the OFWGKTA overnight, viral craze.  It seems like the day after they went on Jimmy Fallon's show, everyone knew about the strange LA rap collective.  I really thought GOBLIN was going to be a masterpiece, basically on the strength of Tyler's abnormal delivery.  It just turned out to be pretty good.  The production is really interesting, containing no samples.  Tyler is influenced by jazz and producers like the Neptunes, which really drew me in at first.  But at over seventy minutes, I could only take the acid-mouthed rapper in moderation.  "Yonkers" is really fantastic, and I still really enjoy that track, but the rest of GOBLIN just never lived up to the standards set by its lead single.  I don't really know if this album is something I'll listen to much ever again, but we had a good run.  Thanks, OFWGKTA.


Stay tuned for more lists, including my Songs of the Year as well as the rest of my top albums.  As always, thanks for reading, and feel free to leave an angry comment about me placing Tyler, The Creator ahead of Bon Iver.

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