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Category: albums of 2011

Best EPs/Mixtapes of 2011 Round-up

Along with my decision to put an end to the Albums of the bygone year, EPs of worthy mention must, too, be dispatched with. A number of 2011 EPs offered the most replay value in my library. Contending with full-fledged albums of the year in quality, they only lack in the LP-unique categories of greatness like storytelling structure and conceptual cohesion. Anyway, their individual songwriting deserves recognition, so here they are:

The Peach Kings – The Pits

Thieves and Kings is the badass track of the bunch, sportin’ a Black Keysish guitar riff and down south vocals. Wooden Heart offers the irresistably seductive croon of frontwoman Paige McClain Wood. The duo’s sense of humor shines through on Digs lightening the mood a bit as harmonics add some subtle zest to a relatively soft-spoken song.

Tim Fitz – Beforetime EP

Tim Fitz (to my knowledge, no relation to The Fitz and the Tantrums’) self-released two EP’s for free on Bandcamp this year – Beforetime being the more intriguing of the two for me. On both, though, he cuts up and rearranges percussion and guitar for you to both rock and shoegaze to, depending on the track. Keep on the watch for Fitz, if this is what he’s releasing for free I wanna know what he’s gonna be charging people for in the near future.

Dirty Gold – Roar EP

Beachy guitars and caribbean percussion back Dirty Gold’s nostalgic, summery vocals throughout this shimmering EP. If the tracks comprised a full album, it would certainly have been one of the best of the year, so it definitely deserves a moment in the sun here.

Joywaves – 77777

On 77777, Joywaves have covered or sampled from eleven recognizable songs from our not-too-distant past in an awesome manner, infusing chillwave, electro-pop, and shoegaze. Hitting Beach House, The Flaming Lips, Miike Snow, and even Limp Bizkit, the outfit transforms these into entirely new songs with a range of emotion, not necessarily parallel to that of the original. Going through a slew of moods, the mixtape of sorts moves in and out of space travel-tinged themes.

Made in Heights – Aporia: In These Streets

First off, props for an awesome band name. Love it. Producer, Sabzi, mixes influences from hip-hop and electronic instrumentals with singer, ‘kellzbellz’s, airy vocals to create eerie nighttime soundscapes to chill in…maybe don’t listen alone in the dark, though. I count this twelve-song release as an EP because it includes only six original songs accompanied by six instrumental versions sans ‘kellzbellz’. Although Sabzi does have the heaviest hand in the production, without the cut and looped vocals working as another instrument, the beats seem a tad lacking.

We Are Trees – Girlfriend EP

This EP is full of catchy, angsty melodies and a backbone of sounds that cross-pollinate these relatively lo-fi indie songs.

Amerigo Gazaway of Gummy Soul – Fela Soul

In this mashup, the smooth rhymes and beats of De La Soul are met with the wealth of instruments and style of the king of afrofunk, Fela Kuti. Need I say more? I think not.

Best Albums of 2011 Finale Flurry

First and foremost, SORRY I have left this herbacious space out to dry for so long! Travels and their resulting ruminations have overrun my rhyming reason, leaving discipline to the birds, and believe me, those bastards are gettin’ plump. On a similar note in the vein of lacking discipline, I’ve decided that it’s time to bring an end to the Best Albums of 2011 posts because, honestly, I could be on about it for the rest of the existence of this space. I’d rather look to the future and start living this 2012 before I realize I’m still writing Best of 2012’s halfway through 2013. BUT, there’s still an electronic barrel full of albums I planned on making posts for, so the least I can do is tell you what they are. So, it’s goodbye for good, 2011.

Gil Scott-Heron and Jaime XX – We’re New Here

Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here is divulged by a man who’s seen and done it all, reflecting on his past for all to draw from. It’s an entirely vulnerable endeavor. Jaime XX translates that timeless human quality of vulnerability into a sonic language that the post-dubtep generation shares de facto proprietary rights over…that is, until the S*PA redux’s get passed into law. With the title of the album, ‘We’re’ as opposed to ‘I’m’, Jaime XX is saying, ‘look, I’m as new to this language as we all are.’ The musicscape at the moment is as expansive as it is creative; it’s easy to get lost in it, and when you’re lost in a deep unknown territory, you begin creating organically original sounds and compositions that have a remnant of the past that you’ve lived imprinted on it.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues 

Ok, the reason I didn’t review this obvious candidate sooner was the fact that I don’t think I’ve seen a ‘best of’ list without it. Why squander my time? Alright, I’ll exhaust just a few fumes on it: This is storytelling at its epic best backed by a suspensefully-designed score. It demands your attention – not only your attention to listen, but also your cognitive attention, as they take you to another place. The storyteller delivers his lines with impeccable timing that makes it sound so easy to be unpredictably profound.

Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

Kick back, unwind, and be prepared to say, ‘I’m not high enough for this shit,’ in the best possible way. You’ll wanna get there because there’s something so alluring about the dark and complex jazzy beats that Shabazz talk-raps spacey mantras over. In his own words, ‘catchy but not trendy’ – you’ll have his bizarrely original slogans flowin’ through your head for days. If you’re more into his rappin’ than his spacin’, listen to the track swerve…the reeping of all that is worthwhile (noir not withstanding).

Little Dragon – Ritual Union

An amazing blend of synth, live instruments, and the one-of-a-kind voice of Swedish-Japanese vocalist Yukimi Nagano offers an original sound that could easily be the spawn from 30 years ago or 30 years from now. I generally have a disgust for 80s synth sounds, but the group is one of the first to use them tastefully and with an ear towards the future rather than the past.  Every song on the album has something special to offer, either through instrumentals or through Nagano’s increasingly addictive voice. Better still, the album is perfect for any mood. Need to stay in for some solitary contemplation? Little Dragon. Wanna dance the night away? Little Dragon.

WU LYF  Go Tell Fire to the Mountain

Mysterious Manchester collective, WU LYF, have debuted with a sound that coincides perfectly with the strife and struggle of man seen across the globe in this past year of revolution, from those in Egypt and Syria to race riots in London and the Occupy movements worldwide.  Their blunt, crooning sound is one of rebellion, but also brotherhood. Coining that sound as ‘Heavy Pop’, it is indeed heavy. The frontman shouts rally cry-esque lyrics that are often indecipherable – not because he is a brutish idiot incapable of clear speech, but because the conceptual design of the band.  Their release was partnered with a video for each of the songs on the album including the one below, so be sure to check those out.

M83  – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

M83’s newest release has filled the airwaves across a bevy of media in large part to the distinct synth strikes of ubiquitous hit single Midnight City. But what most don’t know is that this French band has been releasing albums for years now, finally getting their due time in the light. Their double album is an epic, full of a variety of song types that all come down to the same thematic sounds that have made their hit so popular. If you’ve only heard Midnight City, give the rest of the double album a listen…it doesn’t disappoint.

Charles Bradley – No Time for Dreaming 

The amount of soul and love and pain and truth that this man radiates is second to none. The band backing him up knows their way around their respective instruments, too. For your old-school blues fix, look no further.

The Roots – Undun

I’ve already posted about The Roots a few times (see live concert review here, and Roots’ Day Tuesday’s), so I’ll let this video do the talking for this hip-hop outfit that grows wiser, as they should, with age.

Radiohead – King of Limbs

And I near-r-ly forgot these guys. Many passed over their newest outing, a bit let down. It’s difficult to follow the near-flawless In Rainbows, especially as it was probably their most appealing effort to the masses due to its warm, light melodies. But King of Limbs steps into new territory as well as returning to the band’s dark, complex arrangements that test the barriers of instrumentation. If you haven’t already, watch the group’s From the Basement videos to see the depth of each song performed live. Don’t let this great album be overshadowed by the past; time will show its subtled brilliance.

If I missed your favorite album, leave a comment about it! There are a few that I decided just missed the list, due to either lack of time to cover them, they have been covered to death already, or I am soon to cover them in another article with broader implications than a best-of list. Cheers.

Albums of 2011 – Crystal Fighters’ Star of Love (Deluxe Edition, to be specific)

 

Ok, technically this album was released late 2010 by the world-travelling, genre-bending, Basque Spaniards, but the deluxe edition that I obtained was dated 2011, and frankly, the deluxe part was the deciding factor in determining album of the year status. Plus, I’ve been listening to it throughout the year, so it’s permanently become a part of my 2011. What made it deluxe, you ask? That version of the album included five of the best tunes performed in enlightening acoustic renditions. How were they enlightening, you say? I’ll get to that in a bit.

Solar System is the opening track and the group’s statement of intent in a bunch of aspects. First off, it hits us with a powerful thudding bass drum that evolves into a more full-fledged digitized percussion beat much like many of their dub-step-inspired drum and bass foundations. It then comes down to offer us a peace offering, an acoustic guitar and vocals delivered with a worldly swagger, “Pais Vasco to San Francisco/all the girls my Casio-tone/Daddy-o, Mammy-o/I went to England and tried to find my soul.” Proud of their Basque country heritage they are, and with a smooth confidence they embrace it. Follow has a sweet Spanish guitar riff that gets you moving, while Xstatic Truth offers a harsh truth of life backed by another Spanish-twinged guitar riff – the acoustic version of which is spoken in their native Spanish tongue. Champion Sound isn’t just a rehash of a traditional Basque dance number, it’s an all or nothing declaration. Two options: end up in rehab, or go back to Argentina, to, “play my concertina/to an arena full of people/or dream my life away/dreaming of the day I would.” The ironically titled At Home makes me feel like hopping in a car and booking it for the coast, whichever coast is farther away from home. Certainly road trip material. Also, the most indie sounding track on the album, if that’s something you might be interested in (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBh0SpDoVZw&feature=related).

The deluxe edition acoustic tracks show select tunes sans dubstep-inspired womp womps and other electronic adaptations. Now, I wouldn’t say that those electronically advanced sound profiles detract from the music, in fact, they are one of the first things that pique a new listeners interest. However, after multiple listens, you can see how those additions may be a tad trendy – as if they are pandering towards that fad-chasing audience (no offence dubsteppers). But after hearing the acoustic tracks, rife with organic hand-drumming percussion, woody pipes, and traditional txalaparta of Basque country in Spain, you can rest assured that these guys (and gals) have roots in an authentic and unique musicianship – something that I highly respect. And you should, too.

EP’s of 2011 – Kae Sun’s Outside the Barcode

Ok folks, in compiling my Albums of 2011, I have realized that 2011 was the year of the EP. So much brilliant music was released, but only three to six songs at a time by way of EP’s. It would be a damn dirty shame if all of this quality material were overlooked on end of year lists, however, an EP is an entirely different animal to an album. Albums are, and should be, judged by their cohesiveness as a whole. Their songs are assembled by the artist on purpose, for a reason. Sometimes the songs all have a backbone of common musical themes or styles, sometimes the album is lyrically tied together with storytelling qualities. No matter the case, an album has that extra criteria of judgment that a short EP just can’t compete with. So as not to discard great music just because it is not part of  a full album, I will be sprinkling in EP’s of the Year with my Albums of the Year. And here is the first:

Kae Sun – Outside the Barcode

Kae Sun’s Outside the Barcode is soulful, organic, beautifully simple African acoustic guitar and vocals music, with the help of a handclap or two. It feels good. You can sense that the lyrics and occasional vocal mannerisms have a familial resemblance to that of Bob Marley. Kae Sun’s energy is so fresh, yet he brings this timeless quality into his folkloric storytelling that makes it appear to outdate even Marley’s monumental rising up from oppression. Kae Sun’s voice and word go back to the beginning; his burden would seem to be that of all mankind.

Download the EP for FREE on his website: http://www.kaesunmusic.com/

Best Albums of 2011 – tUnE-yArDs’ W H O K I L L

 

Musically, this album rocks in a super unique manner of rocking. It takes energetic music in a new direction that refuses to be held back by convention – which is difficult to do when your band consists of two saxophonists and an upright bass player. But those instruments are the last remnants of convention in the lineup. The band leader, Merril Garbus, plays ukulele, sings with a powerful passion, and joins in on the impromptu percussion. The twist is, she records little chunks of her vocals and drumming on the fly and loops them to create a rich construction to be the basis of her live singing and ukulele playing. To hear it is exciting, to watch it is poetry in motion, and then in sound. She really has an incredible talent.

On the hit, Bizness, the signature vocal and drum looping is at its finest. Garbus’ voice takes over with a passion that few possess, and still fewer can effectively radiate. On Gangsta, a sweet bass line gets surrounded by loops and loops of belted yelps and popping sax. The two saxes of the group play off of each other entertainingly throughout the album, most notably on Gangsta, Bizness, and My Country, as they duel in free form. There’s a mysterious tone in the vocals and spaced-out bass of Riotriot. The ukulele and drums keep real cool before they all step out of the dark along with some saxiness at the whim of the lyrics. The thematic lyrics are what command the song’s energy, and keep the whole album connected.

On Wooly Wolly Gong, desolate and detached ukulele picking is joined with a softly sung lullaby that attempts to offer comforting protection. However, the lullaby is sung tearfully, as though the mother knows that even with her wholehearted sacrifice, she is unable to protect her baby from what threatens. On the relatively sparse Doorstep, her voice echoes behind itself which brings home the feeling of betrayal by the powers that be, because a “policeman shot my baby as he crossed over my doorstep”. These tracks give examples of the circumstances that have led to suspicion and mistrust spoken about on My Country. Here, she offers a poignant dialogue between the haves and the have-nots: “And you cannot have it/Well then why did you say so/With my eyes open, how can I be happy?” See, the whole album has a consistent story of events that subscribe to the sentiment of the vocals. And her lines are delivered dead-pan style most of the time, not following the rhyme scheme she sets out with. Sometimes this comes off abrasively, but it makes each lyric hit home harder…and some are really worthy of hearing, and demand to be heard, not as a pretty little rhyme, but as a blunt truth.

Killa seems to be the public declaration, in accordance with the whole of W H O K I L L, acknowledging and advocating that a new generation is here – the solution to all of the problems of disparity brought forth in the album. A new generation of a new kind of woman (and man, for that matter) – one that does things differently, tries new things, refuses to conform, and perhaps, most importantly, treats fellow human beings with a familial compassion. It feels like she’s trying to combat the negativism towards a style many would downplay as hipster. Now, I don’t think she’s defending the extreme end of the hipster spectrum, of course, they’re assholes. But many people are slighted with that epithet who are genuinely quirky people with a style or interest that is unique to most others (and more often than not, going against the grain of the powers that be). And that is ok. Moreover, that is becoming the norm, the new generation. And hey, if it sounds like this, that’s cool with me. Where do I sign up?