My Top 20 of 2011

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4 déc. 2011, 3h10m

I have begun compiling My Top 20 Albums/EPs as well as My Top 20 Songs/Singles of 2011. The release date cut-off is Dec 6th 2011, so look out for the full list and reviews sometime next week.

20. Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know
Laura Marling captured me with her voice on last year’s I Speak Because I Can. She can, with immense ease, intertwine between full blown belting, raspy whispers and folk talk-singing on an album (sometimes within a song). This year she delivered A Creature, a very introspective look at relationships and young love, and how bestial those concepts can leave you. Although introspective, there is still an air of universality. I didn’t feel as if I was pulled into Marling’s world of relationships, but more-so that she looked in on mine and offered musical remedies. I have always commended her for her lyrics which shine through very well on her first two albums, but this time I feel Marling focused more on her vocal delivery and musical creativity (and I have no dispute with that). Her lyrical prose still shines on My Friends, Night After Night, and Sophia (which has stellar production as well). But I love her voice on album standouts such as The Beast, Rest In The Bed, Salinas and Night After Night.

19. Idle Warship – Habits Of The Heart
One of the year’s most explosive albums sonically, Habits of the Heart never stalls, not even on its stand out balladry track Beautifully Bad. Unlike other albums with this much Pump and Electrastance, Idle Warship doesn’t leave you with a headache or stranded on the dance floor by the set’s end. Res’ sultry (Kelis-esque) vocals invite you into their mixed bag of high intense electro-funk; The Floor, Caribbean influenced soul; God Bless My Soul, and Rock & Blues; Are You In, while Talib Kweli brings a new spin to this style of music with fresh and potent rhymes especially on Beautifully Bad, Laser Beams and Rat Race. But behind the beautiful production and intenseness, is a lyrical gold mine most dance music lacks. The heart that Res and Kweli bring on Habits make it a stand out of 2011 whether they are defining the turmoil of bad relationships on Enemy or helping you make your own rules to get over the Rat Race of life.

18. Goapele – Break Of Dawn
Break of Dawn is a smooth and sexy compilation of R&B tunes. It is short and simple and moves you swiftly, yet effortlessly, between the intense sensuality of the album’s opener Play and heartbreak on Tears On My Pillow. Goapele shines vocally on the album’s highlight cuts Undertow and Break of Dawn, while realizing and overcoming love’s trifles lyrically. I was mistaken to refer to this as a compilation of tunes earlier, Dawn flows more consistently than most modern music projects, because artists are more focused on promoting genre diversity than they are with creating a masterpiece with exceptional flow. I love that I can play this from start to finish, without any hiccups or interruptions from rickety songs that don’t fit. I feel as if every song was specifically recorded for this mood, and not just songs compiled together. Other highlights of the album are the Prince-esque Money, Pieces and Right Here.

17. Oliver Tank – Dreams - EP
It’s no secret that down tempo, chillwave, electronic is my new favorite genre of music and if Oliver Tank is what I can expect from its future, then I’m beyond excited! Perhaps the first time an Extended Play has captured my attention so much to be included on a Best of list, but that just shows you how amazing Tank is. Oliver Tank fuses spacey productions (including synthesized violins and organs) with milky smooth and sweet vocals for some of the most relaxing music ever on his Dreams-EP. Yet, he is still able to keep you from falling into the void of your dreams with his percussive loops which keep you just tinkering upon the edge of consciousness as in I Love You and The Last Time. Last Night I Heard Everything in Slow Motion lives up to its marvelous title and is a highlight of Oliver Tank’s lyrical, vocal and production talents. Every one of the six songs is absolutely perfect, I wish there were more. I can’t wait for a full length LP in 2012.

16. The Roots – Undun
The Roots, the ultimate super band, has been bringing us good to honest hop-hip backed by live instruments since time’s beginning. This year they bring us the story (or story in reverse) of Redford Stevens, a street hustler (drug dealer) on Undun. The album and its concept flow perfectly and I view this as one of the best produced albums of the year. The concept compositions Dun, Redford, Possibility, Will to Power and Finality add beauty and musical genius that lacks from most modern hip hop. Although I love UnDun’s production a lot, that doesn’t mean I feel it lacks as a poetic masterpiece. Black Thought and the album’s features shine on Make My, One Time and Lighthouse as story tellers for Stevens’ doomed tale.

15. Active Child – You Are All I See
60 seconds into Active Child’s (aka Par Grossi) full length debut and you are enchanted with Grossi’s choir boy meets Rhythm & Tune vocals and mesmerizing harp playing on the title track which sets you up for what you are to expect from the other 44 minutes of the album. You Are All I See thrust you into the deepest trenches of the ocean in Hanging On before the tinkering xylophone-eque interlude Ivy briskly lifts you back up and prepares you for the climactic Shield & Sword which then leave you on the airiest of clouds in Johnny Belinda (The Gregorian chants help you get there). This album is a beautiful cross between choir music, R&B, pop and chillwave and Grossi’s vocals (somewhere between Bon Iver, David Bowie and The Hallelujah Choir) add to his fluid production and the overall luring and airy quality of the album. Other highlights are the extremely sensual Playing House and High Priestess (which I don’t believe was the intent with the latter).

14. Little Dragon – Ritual Union
Electronic collective Little Dragon blessed us with a delectable set of pop and R&B influenced electro tracks. Using some of the most elemental ingredients (vocals, keyboard, drums and bass) Dragon creates some of the most fun and danceable music. The band invites you to shuffle through the minimal jungle influenced When We Go Out and winds you around the 80’s dance influenced production of Shuffle A Dream. The lyrical highlight of the album is its opener Ritual Unions, showcasing the complex ideals of matrimony over a very poppy and fun beat – one of my favorites off the album. Precious is a funky-psychedelic rollercoaster that shudders along (even stalling halfway through) proving that even as elementally basic as Little Dragon is, they can still surprise and keep your attention. The album’s closer, Seconds, is another great highlight, its dripping water effect draws you into its charming atmosphere and Nagano’s vocals capture you and force you to submit underwater.

13. Oh Land – Oh Land
Oh Land builds compositions and pop tunes like an artist paints or playwright pens acts. She has an overall idea in mind that is greater than any of the individual parts. Combining a stadium foot stomp -hand clap, orchestral composition, and self obsession with being perfect (think Black Swan) for Perfection creates something magical that doesn’t seem like it should be this great, but is in fact quite pleasing. Listening to Oh Land, is not like listening to any other pop singer, she brings something else to the table with her music and her voice and it doesn’t involve outlandish attire (Lady Gaga, Kesha), an oversized ego (Beyonce, Rihanna) or just plain ol’ boring-ness (Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue these past few years). She has a unique quirkiness that doesn’t take away or outshine her talent and it shows in songs like Voodoo and Rainbow. Not only can Oh Land get you hype for a night on the town via We Turn It Up, she can also woo you with the charming and spellbinding Wolf & I.

12. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
How did Bon Iver know that military marching drums were my weakness? With an opening like Perth, there was no way I could resist the charm of this album. Bon (H)iver (good winter) is known for their earthy tones and productions reminiscent of winters in the cabin – hence the name – and never has anything ever provoked me to move to a snowy mountain before, as does this set of songs. It seems quite hard to love an album where one can’t make out most of what the artist is singing, and the song titles give you no clue as to what the song will be about, but for some reason that is the beauty of this album and Bon Iver. Calgary, a standout track (also featuring a military drum vibe), unlike most other songs on the album where Justin Vernon is singing either under or over the production, sees Vernon singing in almost unison with the beat. This creates a great effect that brings the album from under the blanket of snow and down from the mountain’s peak that the other tracks found themselves. Holocene (one of those blanket of snow songs), Wash. (a dream like ballad-interlude), and Hinnom, TX (one of the mountain peak songs) are other highlights.

11. Drake – Take Care
Drake has definitely improved on the art form of effortless fusing hip hop and R&B. Unlike his debut, Take Care sees Drake even more lyrically honest and his production less scattered and more uniformed. The album intro Over My Dead Body, possibly the year’s best overture, more than sets the tone for what is to follow on the album, and is one of the smoothest “fuck you all” tracks ever. Besides it’s intermingling of rapping and singing, Take Care also sets itself apart from most modern hip hop projects in that Drake doesn’t just flaunt his ego, jewels and money; instead he dabbles into how those things change you and the relationships you have, proving he is a songwriter that needs to not be over looked. Whether you are bouncing along with Drake and Nicki Minaj on the hard hitting Make Me Proud, or reminiscing on a past lover with Rihanna via Take Care or drunk dialing on Marvin’s Room, this album definitely has the thematic flow and lyrical consistency that is lacking from hip hop and R&B while Drake still hits hard able to hold his own on the mic on album cuts Lord Knows and Under Ground Kings.

10. Florence + The Machine - Ceremonials
Florence Welch pounded on the scene two years ago with her thunderous and heavy hitting debut, Lungs. Her second go round she has a better refined and produced set of songs for Ceremonials. What she doesn’t change is her intricate use of analogies relating death and religion to broken hearts and unrequited love. Although at first I found myself preferring the natural and animalistic thudding of Lungs, the sound of Ceremonials moves her from just another indie-pop misfit to the levels of Kate Bush, Bonnie Tyler, Sarah McLachlan and Tori Amos (yes I went there!). Album opener Only If For A Night and the single Shake It Out show you that Welch hasn’t completely abandoned the sound of her debut but that she has improved her Machine’s inner workings. What The Water Gave Me and Never Let Me Go arguably two of the year’s best songs show why she can garner comparisons to Tyler, Amos and McLachlan. Don’t let the comparison’s fool you, because Welch and her Machine can stand on their own with her unique vocals and writing ability. The album doesn’t just began on a good note it ends on one as well as Florence moves you through the soulful Lover to Lover, hauntingly spooky Seven Devils and the album’s heavy hitting closing anthem Leave My Body (where she is backed by a choir – another highlight of her new refinement).

09. Björk – Biophilia
I don’t know where to begin with reviewing a Björk album. Her creativity and voice is unmatched and I don’t know if I have a wide enough vocabulary to transcribe how I feel about this album, nonetheless, je vais essayer. The overarching theme of Biophilia is science and nature and how those themes affect our emotions and relationships. The tinkering melody of the gameleste (an instrument created by Björk) on standout song Virus coupled with the coos of the Icelandic singer reduce you to microscopic levels, while at the same time multiplying you chromosome by chromosome. Not only are you haunted by the lyrics of Virus (comparing the relationship between two lovers to that of a virus and host) you are also moved by its intricate, yet simplistic production. The beauty of Biophilia is its ability to continue the theme, without becoming fifth period science 101. Highlights like Crystalline and Mutual Core, with their juxtaposed minimalist and high intense productions within the same song keep you from losing interest. While the trio of Cosmogony (Bjork’s view on the creation of the world and heavens), Dark Matter and Hollow send you on a journey into space and the depths of the earth’s core.

8. Rebecca Ferguson – Heaven
Heaven is simply the best title for this album. Rebecca Ferguson from X-Factor UK fame blesses us with what may be one of the most beautiful debuts in pop music since Whitney Houston. A voice that carries with it snaps as soulful as Nina Simone, tone as clear as Leona Lewis and fierceness as jazzy as Amy Winehouse. Ferguson serenades us with love dripped ballads and mid-tempos for the most enchanting 35 minutes of your life. Not only does she have the chops, she has the writing ability (writing/co-writing all the songs) to go along with her powerhouse vocals and they both work well on the excellent Shoulder to Shoulder, Teach Me How To Be Loved and the “heal the world with love” single Nothing’s Real But Love. In a cloud of pop vocalists that are considered “boring” (Adele, Celine, Leona Lewis), I feel that Rebecca takes us back to when pop could be fun and vocally satisfying (think Whitney “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” or Mariah Carey “Dreamlover”). Rebecca gives you doses of that pop heaven on album uptempo highlights Run Free, Too Good To Lose, Fairytale and Mr. Bright Eyes.

7. Adele – 21
On 19 Mademoiselle Adkins was but a wee bit broken hearted girl in lyrics and in sound, but mama’s back and she has a brand new bag for 21. And that bag is loaded with vengeance and a bigger and rougher sound; more soulful than jazz, more bluesy than pop folksy, more Tennessee outhouse than London jazzclub. 21 opens with a couple of hard hitting bluesy, back country, gospel inspired tracks; the immensely popular Rolling In The Deep and Rumour Has It, showcasing Adele’s powerhouse vocals and the album’s amazing producers. This opening duo of songs fire you up and get you revved for all out war with any lover who has ever crossed you. But what is an Adele album without an earful of tears? The beautiful and flowing Turning Tables, One & Only and stripped down, yet still feisty Someone Like You will definitely bring you close to tears (if not full out boo-hooing). It is the album’s stand out track, her rendition of The Cure’s Lovesong, that completes and makes 21 a truly emotional and moving piece. Adele transforms you from thinking you have conquered love’s problems, to realizing that those problems have conquered you.

6. Wild Beasts – Smother
Whether he is sensually tantalizing you on Plaything, evoking Freddie Mercury in Lion’s Share or smoothly cooing over End Come Too Soon, Wild Bests’ lead singer Hayden Thorpe definitely has one of the most versatile voices in rock music and it shows on Smother. Listening to Smother, you discover that Wild Beasts conform not (as if they ever have), balancing perfectly between the haunting Lion’s Share and the surprisingly groovy Loop The Loop. Deeper provides a shining example of the overall theme and feel of Smother, with its dark tones and eerie vibes playing half seducer and half tormentor. The lyrically potent and emotionally raw Invisible with its dreamlike feel and drums reminiscent of the Congo, pull you into the undefined world of Wild Beasts. This LP doesn’t beg you to come in, it lures you in and you beg it to not let you go.

5. Destroyer - Kaputt
Was it the two flute solos on Kaputt’s star child Suicide Demo for Kara Walker that made me instantly intrigued with it? Or was it the saxophone, hotel lounge vibes, and sleepy vocals of Blue Eyes? I’m not exactly sure but whatever it was, it sure made me fall deeply in love with this album. Whether you are cruising around town, heading toward a Savage Night At The Opera (note the lovely guitar solo) or enjoying a highly relaxing night at home with Kaputt, Destroyer definitely helps you find your mood. Fusing elements of funk, folk, jazz, electronic and spoken word, Kaputt never bores or fails to inspire you as you try to decipher its idiosyncratic lyrics (I interpret them how I feel, I won’t begin to explain them here). The album’s closer, an 11 minute escapade, Bay of Pigs (Detail), takes you on a trip through most of the aforementioned elements as Destroyer half speaks, half sings over the evolving beat. Other highlights include the painstakingly beautiful Poor In Love and the extremely irresistible Song For America.

4. James Blake – James Blake
James Blake is probably the most inventive thing to happen to R&B since Love Hate (2007), and yet I feel as if it is an insult to confine it to just that one genre (it’s more dub step with a purpose). I’m not a fan of repetitive choruses, so how in the hell did I fall head over heels for Blake’s standout track I Never Learnt to Share, which repeats the same 14 words the entire song (“My brother and my sister don’t speak to me, but I don’t blame them”)? It’s all in the magic of James Blake to take that minimal set of (almost childish) words and mix them with a synthesized organ to create 5 minutes of introspection (something tells me this song is less about sharing toys with siblings and more about being a loner, minus all the angsty teenage bullcrap). Other highly intimate and personal tracks from the album include the futuristic To Care (Like You) and Unluck. James Blake also shines on the gospel influenced Measurements that hints at a Boyz II Men vibe (with the synthesized harmony of Blake’s voice) and the atmospheric midnight lounge-esque I Mind. Overall James Blake is a huge debut in sound and influence, and Blake himself has a lot to live up to in the future.

3. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
“No kisses, no real need” sings Anne Clark (St. Vincent) as she plays sexy dominatrix (I’m assuming whose name is Chloe) in the Strange Mercy opener Chloe In The Afternoon. The laid back feel and subdued electric guitar are juxtaposed against the sexual lyrics of two lover’s affair halted mid escapade, creating the overarching vibe of the album. Strange Mercy is more personal than Annie Clark’s two previous albums, where you find her at the center giving you little anecdotes from her life. Whether balancing social constructs of womanhood in Cruel, awkward love triangles via Cheerleader, or sexual affection (?) on Surgeon, Clark bears it all. Even though the production is far from minimal, actually it’s quite layered and genius, you are still very much aware of St. Vincent, her voice and message. The gem of Strange Mercy for me was the moody, life’s lessons teller, Champagne Year, which can’t help but transform you into a philosopher as it takes you on ride on the clouds. Other highlights include the title track, Dilettante and Year of The Tiger.

2. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
Li’s second effort accurately conveys the awkwardness of early adulthood. The age when one can no longer rely on the fault of being young and childish (17-22), but not quite mature enough to grasp society, love and heartbreak as a 30 something-er could (as if anyone ever truly comes to terms with these concepts). A personal favorite of mine because of those reasons (hint its extremely high position), Wounded Rhymes, takes jabs at love, where Li plays half wounded teenage girl, and half strong willed and mature woman. You can hear these opposing sounds whether on the high energy Rich Kid’s Blues and Jerome or on the dark and raw Silent My Song. On the teenage tingled album opener, Youth Knows No Pain, Li preaches about seizing life while you’re young and pain free. The follow, the irresistibly charming I Follow Rivers, follows in the meme, carrying the same dark drums as its predecessor, but with more fine arts class and less gymnasium pep rally – still nonetheless evoking that teenage mentality. It’s the standout third track Love Out Of Lust that sees Li begin to clash with the dualities of teenage-dom and maturity as she sings about settling down with that special love in somber tone, that is more “this is how it is” and less “please stay and love me” (although both elements seem to be present). Further into the album you see these themes again, on Get Some, the tongue-in-cheek jab at men’s power and female sexual freedom, is empowering in lyrics, but the production is reminiscent of the youth filled tracks from the album’s start. The bold Sadness is a Blessing and equally bold, but stripped down, I Know Places show Lykke at her most mature moments and hint at what we could possibly expect from her on her third album as she continues to grow as an artist and young woman.

1. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l
Merrill Garbus (aka tUnE-yArDs) offers an extraordinarily revealing look into American culture on her sophomore album w h o k i l l. Looping fresh drum kicks, horns and strategically placed sound effects to bring light to pressing social issues such as freedom (or lack there-of), eating disorders, violence, suburbia, police brutality, women’s quality and sexual expression. Not only will the array of important topics keep you hooked on tUnE-yArDs, but her extensive genre hopping will also; featuring everything from reggae, pop, doo-wop soul, hip hop and Prince-esque funk. On RiotRiot, three-fourths through the song she screams, “There is a freedom in violence that I don't understand” as she switches the tempo and composition of the song from simple conversational with the listener about the calm before the storm, into frantic chaos as horns whirl you up into a hurricane. My Country finds Garbus going toe to toe with societal injustices addressing divorce, equality for all, politics and individuality on this tone setting anthem. The highly catchy stab at hipsters and that sect of white American youth who seek out to be “gangstas” and “rastas” finds Garbus more-so rapping than using her finely tuned vocals (and I’m not complaining about that) on Gangsta. You can also catch Garbus’ fresh MCing skills on album closer Killa as well. But it is standout tracks like Powa and Doorstep that make this album a masterpiece. The former finds Merrill belting out about the dichotomies of power and submissiveness in relationships (and sex) over a seductive guitar and minimal percussion (reminiscent of Prince). Powa isn’t just another sex song though, it’s a message and it leaves its full interpretation up to each individual listener. The latter, the doo-wop soul ballad Doorstep, which feels like Motown meets island breeze, finds the songbird cooing along about an incident between a wounded lover and policemen, almost as if it were an ode to the social conscious music of the 50s and 60s. tUnE-yArDs shows that she doesn’t have to be backed by sound effects and expansive loops or high energy anthems, as she shines vocally on the beautiful lullaby Wooly Wolly Gong, proving she can tackle just about anything.


Honorable Mentions: Yelle - Safari Disco Club / Young Man - Ideas of Distance / Southern Ghosts - The Great Depression Pt. 1(EP) / Jill Scott - The Light Of The Sun / Feist - Metals / Tycho - Dive / Tori Amos - Night of Hunters / Beyoncé - 4

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~Top 20 Songs & Singles of The Year~


20. 'Bounce' - Calvin Harris
19. 'End of Time' - Beyoncé
18. 'Sophia' - Laura Marling
17. 'Last Night I Heard Everything In Slow Motion' - Oliver Tank
16. 'Good Man' - Raphael Saadiq
15. 'Suicide Demo for Kara Walker' - Destroyer
14. 'Studio Backpack Rap' - Speech Debelle
13. 'What the Water Gave Me' - Florence + The Machine
12. 'Charlie Brown' - Coldplay
11. 'Video Games' - Lana Del Rey
10. 'Blue Sky' - Common
9. 'Take Care' - Drake
8. 'Children' - V V Brown
7. 'Bizzness' - tUnE-yArDs
6. 'Blue Jeans' - Lana Del Rey
5. 'Virus' - Björk
4. 'Love Out of Lust' - Lykke Li
3. 'Fall Creek Boys Choir' - James Blake & Bon Iver
2. 'Born to Die' - Lana Del Rey
1. 'No Room For Doubt' - Lianne La Havas

Commentaires

  • Sir_LePaul

    Yeah I heard about James' EP, I need to go get it. He is my new obsession!!! Have you ever seen him live? I understand about St. Vincent, it took me a while to get into her, but when I did, I was swept away! Thanks for the compliments. I will ignore the comments about Adele and FloWel -____-. And you should check out 'Suicide Demo for Kara Walker' by Destroyer and 'End Come Too Soon' by Wild Beasts I think you will love the former, you may like the latter, but then again I think you will think WB's voice is weird (it kind of is) lol. Thanks for all your help and your comment!!! I appreciate it. Can't wait to see your Best of 11 list. :)

    14 déc. 2011, 7h32m
  • Sir_LePaul

    I am going to kill myself if I don't listen to Blake's new EP before Christmas, it is on my to-do list! I'm so saddened you feel that way about tune-yards of any artist/album featured here I wanted you to like her, at least, a bit. Born To Die was a pleasant surprise to close off the year, and I'm even ashamed of myself for liking it more than Blue Jeans/Video Games, but it is just terribly ingrained in my mind and the stellar video did not help in trying to change or undo the overwhelming lust I have for that song. As for Adele, I figured you would have those sentiments, and I feel because of your dear love for me you are holding back a lot of "comments" about Adele because you know how much I adore her. For that, I thank you. Ahh Ceremonials, as I mentioned in the review at first listen I did not take a strong liking to it, I honestly wanted a Lungs part two (as far as production wise), and Ceremonials was originally out of the top 10. But, after more listens it grew on me and I learned to appreciate the contrast in style and production. I feel if I had more time with the album before I published this, it would have room to move up in rank. Beaucoup d'amour mon ami!

    23 déc. 2011, 10h49m
  • teesquared_

    good stuff!!! i'd like to recommend Emily King's EP "SEVEN"...eargasmic!

    6 jan. 2012, 16h59m
  • jlegend369

    AMAZING TOP 20! Been so busy, so I am just seeing this! Very nice!

    24 mars 2012, 16h00m
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