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.