Thursday, December 15, 2011

10 Best Albums of 2011

I've assembled a Grooveshark playlist that contains the "Favorite tracks" from each album on this list.  Hope you enjoy listening along! 

10. Zonoscope - Cut Copy
Men at Work and Fleetwood Mac comparisons be damned; Cut Copy has written some of the catchiest music of 2011.  And the catchiness found on Zonoscope turns out to be its biggest proponent – punchy bass, bright guitars, and sharp synthesizers aid songwriting borrowed almost entirely from 80’s pop, but that’s no criticism from me. Ranging from pure, unadulterated pop to trippy, extended electronic compositions, Cut Copy has forged an album that feels truly timeless.  Favorite tracks: Where I’m Going, Corner Of The Sky

9. New Brigade - Iceage
New Brigade was released in the US to much anticipation garnered from rigorous touring in Europe.  Iceage is a group of teens that play anxious, raw post-punk with a throwback vibe that far predates the members of the band.  Seriously, if you played this album for me without telling me it was from 2011, I’d have no idea and that's a good thing.  The songwriting and raw emotion combine to make a very authentic experience with a lot of replay value.  Favorite tracks: Broken Bone, Eyes 

8. Arabia Mountain - Black Lips
Black Lips is rather infamous for absurd stage antics, but band image aside, Arabia Mountain contains some of the loosest, catchiest garage rock from 2011.  Jangly guitars and group vocals dominate all sixteen tracks, but the influences vary widely.  Some songs have a distinctive 70’s punk vibe where others take cues from 90’s alternative.  All in all, Arabia Mountain is irreverent, fun, and restless garage rock that manages to stick to its roots without ripping them off.  Favorite tracks: Family Tree, Raw Meat, New Direction

7. Path of Totality - Tombs
It kind of blows my mind how the heaviness and thick atmosphere on this album are forged by only three members.  Path of Totality pulls absolutely no punches – thunderous drums, distorted bass, and downtuned guitars build upon each other, forming a wall of smoky, blackened sludge metal.  The speed picking, blast beats, and overall harshness of black metal are all present, but with an added element of sludgy heaviness that makes this album a unique listen.  Favorite tracks: Black Hole Of Summer, To Cross The Land

6. Change is Gradual - Processory
Change is Gradual is nineteen tracks of icy, atmospheric electronica taking its cues from 80’s pop while maintaining a futuristic mood that sets it apart.  There aren’t many surprises on this album, but it’s still a fantastic listen.  The drums are soft and distant, as if hung from the rafters; the synthesizers and vocals are equally cold and ethereal, and nearly everything is wrapped in soft, smoky reverb.  The entire album slips by despite its daunting runtime of nearly 78 minutes – almost as if it were a dream, I wonder where the time went as the album reaches its concluding tracks.  Favorite tracks: All Good Things, Take Me To Your Leader (Note: Unfortunately, the majority of Change is Gradual is absent from Grooveshark and had to be omitted from the playlist.)

5. We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves - John Maus
John Maus is unique.  And by "unique," I really mean "weird."  We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves is a short LP of pure synth-pop reminiscent of Ariel Pink (logically so, as he and Maus have been colleagues and collaborators for years).   In spite of the weirdness – perhaps even aided by it – John Maus is a fantastic songwriter, and his ability is what keeps me coming back to this album.  His distinctive low-register voice also coats what would be typical 80’s-flavored pop with a gothic vibe that is both unique and fascinating.  Favorite tracks: …And the Rain, Cop Killer, Believer

4. Aesthethica - Liturgy
My first positive experience with black metal.  Scoff all you want; I love this album.  Sure, the core elements of black metal are here – tremolo picking, blast beats, wretched vocals, laughable ideology – but it’s the math rock influence, triumphant chord progressions, and the band’s overall cohesive sound (dubbed "transcendental black metal" by the band) that makes Aesthethica a cut above the rest. Where "typical" black metal acts are depressive and claustrophobic, Liturgy's music is luminous, expansive and boundless. Favorite tracks: Returner, Tragic Laurel, Glory Bronze

3. Space Is Only Noise - Nicolas Jaar
Nico’s full-length debut took me a while to wrap my head around, but I assure you it was worth it.  Space Is Only Noise covers a lot of ground, touching jazz and minimalist techno while implementing swelling synthesizers and thick basslines to maintain an overall dancey vibe.  I don’t know who exactly would dance to this album, but that’s alright.  If Space Is Only Noise is an indication of Jaar's future work, I can't wait to see what 2012 brings.  Favorite tracks: Colomb, Keep Me There, Space Is Only Noise If You Can See

2. Towards The Megalith - Disma
This is the album responsible for renewing my interest in heavy music.  Somehow, the riffing on this album is at once catchy and repulsive, complemented by jagged, crusty guitar tone and reverberating drums.  Towards The Megalith is full of filthy, sludgy hooks that morph into pounding d-beat segments  some of which are the most memorable portions of the album.  And Craig Pillard’s vocal performance is nothing short of gruesome.    Disma’s brand of death metal doesn’t bring much new to the table, but who cares?  You can’t deny the groove, heaviness and all-around putrid tonality captured on Towards the Megalith.  Favorite tracks: Chasm of Oceanus, Spectral Domination, Lost in the Burial Fog

1. James Blake - James Blake
This album changed the way I listen to electronic music.  Blake utilizes synthesizers, piano, and pitch-bent vocals together with a minimalist presentation to explore unlikely territory where dubstep and soul intersect.  Those familiar with Blake’s previous work will recognize the unique timbre and warmth of the synthesizers and drums – something I’ve come to appreciate and look for in other music as well as my own.  But the instrumentation isn’t the only attractive thing about this album; Blake’s vocals are soulful, beautiful, and incredibly mature, falling somewhere between Justin Vernon and Antony Hegarty.  In a year full of albums paying homage to the 70's and 80's, this effort is powerfully forward-looking.  To some extent, words can’t describe what this LP brings to the table – it’s that impressive.    Also, subwoofers are mandatory. Favorite tracks: Unluck, The Wilhelm Scream, To Care (Like You)

Runners Up (no particular order):
Channel Pressure - Ford & Lopatin
Leave Home - The Men
Kaputt - Destroyer
Rapprocher - Class Actress
Digital Lows - Cities Aviv
Parasignosis - Mitochondrion
The Destroyers Of All - Ulcerate
For The Glory - Nacho Picasso
Badlands - Dirty Beaches
Exmilitary - Death Grips
XXX - Danny Brown
Through The Cervix Of Hawaah - Antediluvian
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Cherish The Light Years - Cold Cave
Belong -  The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
Isolation - Harm's Way
Celestial Lineage - Wolves In The Throne Room
The Golden Age Of Apocalypse - Thundercat
Cursed - Rotten Sound
Forward Into Regression - Maruta
Ravedeath, 1972 - Tim Hecker
Darker Handcraft - Trap Them
Time Is Up - Havok