Tuesday, January 3, 2012

more of the best of 2011

40. AraabMuzik
Electronic Dream
One of the predominant themes in the electronic music of 2011 was the incorporation of previously unfashionable, even unthinkable elements and styles into existent genres. But no one took a more literal stab at it than Dipset-affiliated producer AraabMuzik and his album Electronic Dream, which throws his memorable MPC antics right on top of entire trance songs. Kaskade, Jam & Spoon, Ian van Dahl: this is the real stuff, not just slyly winking hints.
There was a precedent for this, particularly the Dipset Trance Party mixtapes, but Electronic Dream exhibits a new level of directness, calling modern hip-hop's dance-obsessed bluff. The effect of Araab's MPC demolition is more hazy than rousing, the anxious, palpitating heartbeat at the center of it all, manipulating trance's preoccupation with ecstasy and pitching songs down wholesale. Kaskade's "Streetz Tonight" is rendered a burnt-out lullaby, and the jittery coke high of "Lift Off" is the farthest thing from trance's usual warm and fuzzy embrace. A lot of artists tried to make cotton-candy riffs and fist-pumping melodies acceptable in 2011, and AraabMuzik did it transparently enough to make even the staunchest of snobs reconsider aversions to the big and obvious stuff. --Andrew Ryce
AraabMuzik: "I Remember":

39. The War on Drugs
Slave Ambient
[Secretly Canadian]
Slave Ambient is both an organic, flowing record born from experimentation and an album where individual tunes can stand alone as anthems. So atmospheric interludes like "Original Slave" and "The Animator" bump against songs like "Brothers" and "Baby Missiles", which have more structured melodies and well-defined verses. The result is a big album that's lined with subtle tinges of percussion and noise that give it shape. And then there are the expansive tracks that grow and bleed into each other until they reach moments like the "Come to the City" suite, where War on Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel drawls out the album's thesis statement: "I've been ramblin'." --Evan Minsker
MP3: The War on Drugs: "Baby Missiles"

38. Sandro Perri
Impossible Spaces
Toronto-based Sandro Perri has been following his whims for a decade now, from the addled drones of Polmo Polpo to the hairy disco of Glissandro 70. He once released an album as a tribute to an Arthur Russell side project (Dinosaur L), while a solo EP, Plays Polmo Polpo, re-imagined his own work. Perri, it seems, is an artist for whom identity is a state of flux, not a resting place. Impossible Spaces teases out the whimsy, contentment, and anxiety of that instability. He prods with buzzing, precise orchestration, and a guitar that sounds cleansed by a Brita filter. Honey-voiced like the Sea and Cake's Sam Prekop, nervously poetic like Russell, Perri is a sober, Sunday crooner. He spends a 10-minute song empathizing with a "wolfman," which is perfect: Perri is constantly on the verge of crisis, an experience he is likely to find pleasantly challenging. Near the end of the ascendant "How Will I?" he centers himself: "Ah, I get closer to the flame/ And panning out in all directions I seem to want to come back to a simple refrain... How will I give?" The message, from an artist as open and warm as Perri, stings: Plausible spaces can be just as taxing as the impossible ones. --Andrew Gaerig
Sandro Perry: "Changes":

37. Iceage
New Brigade
[What's Your Rupture?]
The early buzz around Iceage focused on the age of the band members, the lack of information about the group, and the fact that folks tend to leave their shows with bloody noses. These Danes are teenagers, sure, but anyone who went to high school after the guitar was invented shouldn't be surprised to learn that 18- and 19-year-olds are making dark, nihilistic music. The blood? That's what happens at punk shows. And there was a time, not long ago, when you didn't know everything about a band before they'd even released a 7".
The most important thing to know about Iceage is that they gave us this near-perfect, 12-song, 24-minute debut LP, a collection that nails the blasted, chaotic energy of UK post-punk and the midnight ambiance of 1980s goth and California death rock and adds no-wave wrapped hooks delivered by baby-faced, vacant-eyed frontman Elias R√łnnenfelt, a guy who basically wandered out of some early Dennis Cooper novel. Rather than telling us about Iceage, the talk surrounding the band only highlighted what had been missing in underground music as of late, and New Brigade helped fill that void. --Brandon Stosuy
MP3: Iceage: "New Brigade"

36. Kate Bush
50 Words For Snow
[Anti-/Fish People]
50 Words for Snow begins with a thirty-five minute triptych of never-quite-resolving piano figures, barely-there percussion, and Kate Bush's warm, generous middle-register vocals disappearing into the landscape that provides this album's thematic and sonic framework. She communes with a snowflake, watches a ghost in Lake Tahoe, and makes love to a snowman, but the oddity of these scenarios recedes before the sensuousness of the performances, less like the falling of snow than the slow undulation of water. Compared to these mysterious pinnacles, Bush seems less comfortable in the once familiar terrain of relationship melodrama or the delight of language. It's as if, having now crossed over into the world of nature that she began to explore on her previous album, Aerial, the human has become a foreign country. But if she never comes back, then this self-loss is our gain: The further Kate Bush drifts into pared-back, elemental simplicity, the clearer it becomes that there is no one else in popular music like her. --Tim Finney

35. Frank Ocean
Nostalgia, Ultra.
Chris Breaux, who goes by Frank Ocean, is a male R&B singer with male R&B contradictions: As much as he wants to listen to his heart, he can't completely ignore his dick. He covers a Coldplay ballad about childhood with absolute dedication but ends it with the rude sound of an alarm clock: The dream is over. A minute later, he's back in a mutually destructive relationship, and has the guts to remind himself that he got what he wanted. The cover of the album features a striking orange 1980s BMW, but on "Swim Good", he's stuck driving a Lincoln Town Car over a cliff. In a skit called "Bitches Talkin'", the ladies tell him to cut it out with the damn Radiohead; in "Songs For Women", he obliges-- he's an indie kid when it comes to alienation but a pragmatist when it comes to sex. The boy in him wails, the adult wins out. The victory-- if you can call it that-- is bittersweet. --Mike Powell
MP3: Frank Ocean: "Songs For Women"

34. Katy B
On a Mission
The club has been the preferred setting of pop for a while now. Not any specific club, you understand: "the club" in the abstract-- a virtual territory where almost-real avatars of our stars can pose, brag, flirt, and fuck. So the first reason to love Katy B is that she makes clubbing suddenly real again, writing songs like "Katy on a Mission" and "Lights On" that are warmly observed miniatures of how wonderful, funny, and occasionally sad going out can be. Their easy candor carries over into her songs about relationships. She is fascinated by liminal moments-- the anticipation at the start of a night; the points where attraction and danger meet-- and has a light, lilting voice far better suited to nuance than grandstanding. And she's a tour guide for London nightlife, from the bubblegum dubstep of "Perfect Stranger" to the brisk UK funky of "Why You Always Here" and the jazzy soul of closer "Hard To Get". Katy B went to the same stage school as Adele, and like her 21, On a Mission mixes the artful and the personal-- but it's as proudly modernist as Adele is soaked in tradition. --Tom Ewing

33. Fucked Up
David Comes to Life
You can think of Canadian bomb squad Fucked Up as legal masterminds, finding one loophole after another in the draconian protocols of hardcore punk: You never said we couldn't write a metafictional rock opera. You never said we couldn't overdub Rubber Soul-type twelve-string lead guitar. You never said we couldn't use extra voices that sing harmonies instead of screaming. You never said... Or you can just give yourself over to the riffs of this massive project, and the way they send maniacal singer Pink Eyes hurtling toward its involuted plot like a huge, bald Angry Bird. Named after a song that's been in their repertoire for years, David's conceptual hyper-abundance spills over beyond the album itself to the delightful David's Town LP (a compilation of "early-80s British D.I.Y. bands" in various modes, all of whom are Fucked Up themselves) and a string of related singles (in the course of which they smash David's fourth wall). And anyway, they seem to like their draconian protocols just fine: Note that every song on David has a three-word title. You never said the old rules had to be the only ones. --Douglas Wolk
MP3: Fucked Up: "The Other Shoe"

32. Panda Bear
[Paw Tracks]
Hymns are designed to unite a crowd of people in praise, aiming for a communal religious trance through the power of group vocalization. On Tomboy, Noah Lennox tests whether a congregational spirit can still be achieved by a single voice slathered with enough multi-tracked harmonies and reverb, a chorus of one worshipping secular matters.
Reviving the compact confessions of Young Prayer and filtering-- and filtering, and filtering-- them through the textures of Person Pitch, Lennox limits his psychedelic excursions to the borders of the home this time around. Overlapping layers of voices and hand-claps try to drown out the dark burbles and rhythmic undercurrents that nibble at each song's foundation. Instead of the pagan freak-out of his other band, Tomboy is a humanist hymnal, full of self-motivating mantras and introspection about growing old and distant from the world. Taking direct instructions for life-- "you can count on me," "got to do what you've got to do"-- and magnifying them with cathedral acoustics gives them a secular spirituality, finding God in the details of everyday life, leaning on echo to feel less alone. --Rob Mitchum
Panda Bear: "Afterburner":

31. Ty Segall
Goodbye Bread
[Drag City]
Volume has long been Ty Segall's thing, but craftsmanship? Eh, not so much. But on his Drag City debut, Goodbye Bread, the San Francisco-based garage rocker dials back his pop-destructive impulses and shows off his softer side. As singer-songwriters go, Segall is closer to Alex Chilton than Bob Dylan. These are lurching and cacophonous tunes that place a premium on psychedelic gristle, but Goodbye Bread's best moments are possessed of an emotional breadth that has, up until now, been lacking in Segall's oeuvre. The falsetto-driven title track drips with the sweetness of a faded T. Rex record, while the record's heavier excursions, like "The Floor", could have slipped onto the B-side of Nirvana's Bleach. Goodbye Bread is where we learned that, in addition to being a cathartic rocker, Segall is a skilled purveyor of sludgy grooves and stoner romance. --Aaron Leitko
Ty Segall: "Goodbye Bread":

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