Monday, January 2, 2012

Top 10 Albums of 2011

Don't spoil it...
30-11 HERE!
READ ON. You know you want to.
#10. Mind Bokeh 
by Bibio

 Unlike some other album's slow rise to 2011 prominence, Bibio has hovered around the 10 spot for most of the year since its March release. While not as brilliant or cohesive as previous effort Ambivalence Avenue, it does house some of the most deliciously produced beat driven nuggets you're likely to hear.  Unfortunately, an occasional awkward misstep or two disrupts the flow and keeps the album from reaching the top. The guitar driven "Take Off Your Shirt," for example, isn't exactly terrible, but it has absolutely no logical reason to be here. Good thing tunes like "Wake Up!" and "Artists' Valley" help you forgive and mostly forget. The kind of genre-mash grooves your headphones will love you for.

#9. Era Extraña
by Neon Indian 

Though I was a big fan of the first album (especially after seeing their lusciously psychedelic live show), I was initially lukewarm on this sophomore effort. It wasn't until I saw the movie Drive and subsequently became obsessed with the film's nostalgic cool and hazy melancholy that I noticed a strikingly similar emotion coming from Era Extrana. The more I explored this realization, the more I came to absolutely love this album's heart thumping, mind numbing, electro-shoegaze. Its exceptionally pleasurable on "Fallout," as Alan Palomo repeatedly laments "Please let me fall out of love with you..." until the song fades out slowly like a boom box being dropped into the ocean. At least it sounds like that's what he's saying. Not being able to clearly make out the words is part of the appeal.

#8. Stone Rollin'
by Raphael Saadiq

Ah, how sweet it is. I sure do love that Motown sound. This is the kind of R&B flavor I prefer these days. While a few artists (particularly The Weeknd) are doing wonders with modern twists on the genre, they're still a bit too "bitches n' hoes" for me to fully digest. But Raph brings the throwback so gloriously once again with this album, and I really do appreciate it. The party going down on the cover is perfect. They look old school, but the comfortable racial mix of folks including the hip Nicki Minaj-ish chick up front seem to throw it back into 2011. (Not to mentoin Rajon Rondo behind her.) There's a moment on standout track "Radio," at about the 2:34 mark, where Raph belts out an epic James Brown yelp that sends my mind into euphoric bliss. In fact, that moment alone might be enough to solidify it comfortably in the top ten. That and a cameo by Yukimi Nakano ("Movin' Down the Line") will always get you far. Speaking of Yukimi...

 #7. Soita Mulle
by Regina 

I can't even remember how I came to know of this group now. They just sort of appeared. And the next thing I knew, this Finnish dream pop album was gracing my top ten with it's beautifully melodic sweet nothings bouncing about. I'm pretty sure this is the highest ranking foreign language album (excluding Sigur Ros and a handful of Japanese albums) that I've ever had. There's a distinct mood of nostalgia in tunes like "Päivät Valuvat" that make my emotions remember something my mind can't. The audio equivalent of a fuzzy but happy childhood memory. It is a shame the cover has such misplaced and wretchedly orange typography displaying the album title. Not shameful enough to keep me from loving the hell out of this thing though.

I think it was Matt Lorke that showed them to me. Thanks, Matt.

 #6. Ritual Union
by Little Dragon 
Like many, I didn't know of this group until Yukimi's two euphoric appearances on my favorite album of last year, Gorillaz's Plastic Beach. Her voice is a magnet to my soul. Naturally, an entire album of such heaven can't be bad, right? RIGHT. With a slightly less straight forward approach than previous album Machine Dreams, Yukimi kicks it up a notch in the vocals department while the band dub-steps alongside her ever so slightly. Yukimi has an amazing ability to roll around tracks like "Please Turn" with a subtle yet soulful ride on the offbeat. Elsewhere, cuts like "Shuffle A Dream" and "Crystalfilm" perfectly display the range of emotions on hand with the synthy romp of the former and spacey minimalism of the latter. The album is a smooth Swedish karate chop to the groove gland. And I very much enjoy it.

#5. Within and Without
by Washed Out
Boy am I glad Washed Out dropped on my head this year. I happened upon this album's fantastic lead single "Eyes Be Closed" and was immediately intrigued. Seeing that an official album was still a month or so away, I searched out Ernest Green's previous work and like a punch in the face, "Feel It All Around" from Life of Leisure became the most played song on my iPod this year. I had no clue who this guy was, and almost overnight his first full length was my most anticipated album of the summer. Upon arrival, I was slightly disappointed at the album's easy going smoothness. But then I realized it wasn't simply was SMOOVENESS. That's right, this album is SMOOVE. Persistent beats with a hypnotic delicacy highlighted by Greene's subtle melodic whispers. Its a direct link to whatever it is that produces endorphins. To put it simply, it sounds exactly like the cover looks.  

#4. Yuck
by Yuck

While a couple groups hinted at 90's revival this year, Yuck decided to smack you right in the face with a 90's tennis racket. Luckily for them, I happened to really enjoy this era of rock, and thus really...REALLY...enjoyed this album. And judging by the attention they got in 2011, I wasn't the only one. Gritty, fuzzy guitars chug along as if they didn't even know the last 10 years of laptop rock ever happened. My Bloody Valentine ("Rubber"), Pavement ("Get Away"), a hint of old school Smashing Pumpkins ("Operation")...these are all groups that could be credited with influencing Yuck. Still, they do bring a slight modern flare to it all. In fact, the group I first attached to wasn't a 90's band, or even a real band at all: Sex Bob-Ombs anyone? When I saw Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and soaked in its monstrously enjoyable soundtrack (which cracked into my top 20 last year), I couldn't help but think "Man, when are bands gonna start sounding like again?" Right now, it turns out.

#3. Dreams Come True
For whatever reason, my love for Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest has dwindled slightly since it sat pretty at #2 on my '09 list. I think its Daniel Rossen's voice. Good thing this side project by that band's bassist/all-star producer (with help from Twin Shadow) is nothing like it. In fact, though it is more of an experiment in the electronic side of things, it has more in common with Yellow House which, on the other hand, has aged magnificently since '06. Similarities lie in the understated melodies, subtle shifts in form, and a dream-like atmosphere. While opener "Too Late, Too Far" has a Prince-meets-Grizzly Bear vibe, songs like "Believe" let Neon Indian take a stab at chamber pop with extremely pleasing results. But the album truly soars on "She Found A Way Out," which starts out quiet enough focussing on acoustic guitar and Taylor's incredible voice (eat it Rossen). But it soon crescendo's into a wall of sound and Taylor capping a doomed relationship (his own?); "She finally found a way out."A beautifully sad, wonderfully produced album of experimental pop. 

#2. The King of Limbs
by Radiohead
 Dangit...I sure do hate admitting Radiohead didn't have the greatest album of the year. Even if it was close. Like everyone else, I was let down by the King of Limbs at first. But like all of their albums, after a little marination in my skull the rewards have been plentiful. Yes, Radiohead is my favorite band of all time, and I have a slight bias. People tell me, "You wouldn't like it as much if it wasn't Radiohead." On the contrary, I think we all would like this album much more if it WASN'T.  This album's reception has suffered because of the name it's attached to and the back catalog its up against. No, its not even close to the caliber of In Rainbows. In fact, as far as Radiohead goes, it is sort of "just ok." But the fact is (and I'll argue this until I die), a mediocre Radiohead album is still better than almost everything else. In my opinion, it's better than all but one album! As always, the production is amazing, the tunes are intricately layered, the overall flow is impeccable, and Thom's voice is as good as ever. Listen to "Bloom" and "Morning Mr. Magpie" loudly in great headphones. Hell, listen to the whole thing loudly in good headphones. And be sure and watch the From the Basement live special. The bonus tunes added, and the live versions of the songs I though were boring at first ("Little By Little", "Codex") are incredible. Speaking of the b-sides, every time I hear the gems that didn't make an album, I'm reminded that Radiohead are amazing editors of their material. Radiohead still have yet to make a song I dislike since their debut. 

#1. Rolling Blackouts
by The Go! Team
This will surprise many. It sure has surprised me. And like I said, it was close. It wasn't until I started doing my "math" and looking at all the pro's and cons and analyzing my inner soul that I let myself admit that this album completely kicked my trash from start to finish, the entire year. In fact, I first heard it at the end of 2010 (thanks again Matt), so one might say it's had the advantage of time. Then again that could be a disadvantage if the album isn't solid. There aren't many surprises here if you've heard the band before. But while they don't change the formula too much from album to album, there isn't another band like them that I know of. This album is a front to back compilation of nearly perfect pop. "Secretary Song" throws me back into the streets of Tokyo (and I thought that before I saw the video), while "Ready To Go Steady" and "Buy Nothing Day" makes me wish Cults would've tried just a little harder to make their own punk-meets-Motown formula this addicting. About five songs in you start waiting for the next track to be a dud. But it simply never happens. Just as you wind down from the previous track, the next socks you right in the gut yet again. Though I loved the first, I didn't hear their second album. And I wonder if that "rest" from their barrage has given Rolling Blackouts more pack to its punch. Perhaps it's because it sounds like cities in Japan look, perhaps it's the fact that it sounds like it could be a greatest hits of my favorite Saturday Morning Cartoons themes... not sure. Whatever it is, I can't get enough.

Well, there you have it. If'n yer lucky, I just may make my songs and movies list as well.

Smother by Wild Beasts
Tom Boy by Panda Bear
Wasting Light by Foo Fighters
Fluorescence by Asobi Seksu
Kiss Each Other Clean by Iron & Wine
WHOKILL by Tune-Yards
Passive Me, Aggressive You by The Naked & the Famous
Port Entropy by Shugo Tokumaru
Odd Soul by Mutemath
Audio, Visual, Disco by Justice

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