Thursday, December 29, 2011

Best Albums of 2011

Well, its that time of year again where vinyl and out-of print rarities are pushed to the bottom of the listening stack to make way for albums released in 2011.  Initially, I set out to start this project in the first part of December so I wasn't rushing frantically to beat the clock on New Year's Eve. However, those of you who have a predilection for collecting and listening to music know that this is quite an unrealistic expectation to set for myself. This quest for creating the perfect list of albums that caters to every taste out there is practically impossible since list-making is completely subjective.

Albums from artists like Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, PJ Harvey, Kurt Vile, Wilco, Adele, St Vincent, Lykke Li, Feist and The War On Drugs were featured on virtually every top 10 list. Whether or not these albums are deserving of this seems to be irrelevant to the fact that most people found these records to be the most important records of the year. Personally, I listened to each one of these records, and aside from Kurt Vile and Wilco they really didin't inspire repeated listens.

During my endless searching through the lists posted on Large Hearted Boy, I came across some music trends in 2011 that were commonplace pretty much across the board.  Lo-fi bands such as Crystal Stilts, Smith Westerns and Times New Viking stopped hiding their melodies behind thick sheets of reverb and jangly guitar noise, in turn revealing an impeccable knack for crafting irresistible pop melodies. San Francisco garage rock stalwarts Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall  continued to crank out music at the rate of a jackrabbit on speed with their special brand of manic, fuzzed-out garage rock that you can't take home to mama.

Another trend that was undeniable this year was the resurgence in underground misogynistic hip-hop from artists such as A$AP ROCKY, Big Krit, Danny Brown, Tyler the Creator and Spaceghost Purrp. While I was into the production and samples on these records, I was not able to get past the gangsta mentality and the lack of respect that the artists have for the female gender. On the flipside, there were a few artists that breathed new life into hip-hop this year such as Blu, Count Bass D and Insight, Pharaohe Monche and Shabazz Palaces. These artists managed to remain true to the essence of hip-hop while still pushing the genre forward into uncharted territory with inventive samples and thought provoking subject matter.  Last, alternative folkies like Alela Diane, Marissa Nadler and Kurt Vile considerably cleaned up the production on their albums to focus more on their vocals than ever before, thus showing that they have the presence of mind to try new things with their sound without alienating their core audience.

In closing, 2011 has been such a great year for music that it was a struggle to keep this list at just fifty albums, but in the end I managed to accomplish this feat.   This year, I will only be featuring a short-take 1-2 sentence description of each record to keep things palatable for all the people with short attention spans.  My hope is that some of you find this list to be useful in peaking your interest in all types of music including garage rock, international, soul, experimental, jazz, hip-hop and folk.

Without further ado, I bring you the Best Albums of 2011 list:

1) Thee Oh Sees- Carrion Crawler/The Dream- What more needs to be said about Thee Oh Sees that hasn't already been said?  This album is the closest that anyone has ever come to capturing the unbridled energy of Dwyer and his merry band of psychedelic pranksters, and it is sure to get your blood boiling!

Carrion Crawler and Chem-Farmer

2) Unknown Mortal Orchestra- S-T- Surprise hit of the year! Sounds like an alien transmission from a sixties AM radio station complete with hip-hop break beats, soulful rave-ups, lo-fi punk and woozy 60's psychedelia. Utterly addictive and mind melting!

Biocycle and Nerve Damage

3) Seun Kuti and The Egypt 80- From Africa With Fury Rise- On his latest record, Seun Kuti manages to channel the sound and energy of classic Fela Kuti records such as Open-Close and Zombie with song lengths topping out at just over seven minutes.  Complex polyrhythms interweave with uplifting call-and response vocals and horn charts that reach the heavens.

Mr. Big Thief and Slave Masters

4) Blu- No York!- Hip-hop with blood pumping through it's veins and no unnecessary posturing like the overrated "Watch the Throne". Rips a page out of the Madlib production playbook and makes the rules up as he goes- splicing old soul samples, video game sounds, skittery drums and space age synths creating a futuristic rap record for the ages.

Down to Earth and Ronald Morgan

5) The People's Temple- Sons of Stone- Hazy garage rock that is heavy on the reverb and fuzzed-out guitars with a not-so-subtle nod to the Haight Ashbury psychedelic scene.

Sons of Stone and Stick Around

6) Brazilian Money- This Is Not a Dream- Funky, wildly eclectic experimental rock with a penchant for insanely catchy ear worms that you won't be able to to shake for days.

Then You'll Know and Party Till I'm Dead

7) A Hawk and A Hacksaw- Cervantine- More of the same adrenaline-fueled Eastern European folk music brought to you from the wacky mind of Jeremy Koster and Heather Trost.

Espanola Kolo and At the Vultural Negru

8) Ty Segall- Goodbye Bread- This album reminds me of a great classic rock record that you can spin over and over. Infectious pop melodies clash with a full-on assault of fuzz guitars.

You Make the Sun Fry and My Head Explodes

9) Tom Waits- Bad as Me- It sounds like Tom Waits decided to make a retrospective of all of his material to date, and he came up with this eclectic batch of irresistible tracks.

Talking at the Same Time and Bad as Me

10) Peaking Lights- 936- Mellow, trance-inducing electro-dub with spaced-out female vocals

All the Sun That Shines and Birds of Paradise (Dub Version)

11) Beastie Boys- Hot Sauce Commitee Part II- While not quite reaching the levels of Check Your Head or Paul's Boutique, the Beastie Boys managed to release a dope hip-hop record with very few samples and even fewer guest stars in a day and age where this is practically a requirement for the genre.

Too Many Rappers and Tadlock's Glasses

12) Fungi Girls- Some Easy Magic- On their 2nd outing, Fungi Girls shed their Jesus and Mary Chain and shoegaze influence to make room for a decidedly lo-fi surf-garage sound.

Honey Face and Doldrums
13) Swedish Azz- Azz Appeal- More totally zonked out free jazz from Mats Gustaffson featuring ambient interludes sandwiched between fiery improvisation

Full Opus 3 and 4 and  Lidingц airport + Visa Frеn Utanmyra

14) Tune Yards- whokill-  This record is on many year-end lists, and with good reason as it's one of the most intensely cerebral records of the year. Upping the production from her self-titled debut to feature swirling free jazz horns, rumbling African percussion, multi-layered vocals and totally blotto production, Tune Yards has crafted a true masterpiece.

Gangsta and Powa

15) The Psychic Paramount- S-T- Successfully blends stoner-rock, post-rock, drone, noise and metal to equal one hell of a psychedelic ride.

DDB and N5

16) Fergus and Geronimo- Unlearn- A short, sharp record that is lyrically and musically all over the map with subtle sonic details in just the right place.

Wanna Know What I Would Do and The World Never Stops

17) Booker T Jones- The Road From Memphis- A return to the Booker T sound from the 70's with swirling organ lines, kickin' drum breaks and funky wah-wah. If you dig the Meters, JB's and soul jazz in general, you owe it to yourself to give this record a listen

Walking Papers and Harlem House

18) Eleven Twenty Nine- S/T- Masterful blend of 12 string folk guitar, drone, ambient and noise rock. Meant for listening while driving through the desert at night with the lights off and the tumbleweed whistlin' in the wind.

Eyes of Jewels, Mirrored Bodies and Eyes on a Cabbage Head

19) Chad VanGaalen- Diaper Island- Encapsulates the best of 90's indie rock while still keeping his own musical identity

Peace on the Rise and Blonde Hash

20) Dirty Beaches- Badlands- David Lynch proclaims this as one of his favorite bands with good reason as these muddy lo-fi soundscapes conjure up images of a latter day film-noir such as Blue Velvet.

Horses and Black Nylon

21) Colin Stetson- New History Warfare Vol.2 Judges- Fantastic
experimental electro-free jazz from the bass saxophonist who has performed with acts as diverse as Tom Waits, Bon Iver and TV on the Radio.

Judges and Clothed in the Skin of the Dead

22) Sic Alps- Napa Asylum- This time around Sic Alps has shed some of the extraneous noise that dominated previous efforts, and tightened up their brand of psychedelic garage rock to let the melodies shine through.

Cement Surfboard and Low Kid

23) Arrington De Dionysos- Suara Naga-  It is no surprise that this album made the list as I am a huge fan of all of Arrington's projects, especially the solo records and Old Time Relijun. Most of this record is sung in Indonesian, and it is dominated by skronky free jazz, throat singing and disjointed Beefeartian rhythms that will make the hair on your neck stand up.

Bianglala Batin and Kerasukan

24) Faust- Something Dirty- Most of the bands who released records in the 60's and then decided to make a comeback record in the past decade have unfortunately come up short. While this is no Faust Tapes or So Far, this album runs the gamut from experimental noise and sprawling psychedelia to ambient soundscapes and primitive electronic.

Lost the Signal and Dampfauslass1

25) Gillian Welch- The Harrow and the Harvest- It's been practically seven years since Gillian has released an album, so I would have been happy with just about anything she released. Thankfully, what Gillian and partner David Rawlings have created here is nothing short of a masterpiece in contemporary folk storytelling.

Scarlet Town and Tennessee

26) Bloodshot Bill- Thunder and Lightning- Contemporary rockabilly that is the sonic equivalent to Charlie Feathers and Hasil Adkins drinking from the bottom of a pitcher of beer with bloodshot eyes at 4 a.m in the morning.

Crazy About a Girl and Thunder and Lightning

27) Pharoahe Monch- W.A.R (We Are Renegades)- Mind-melting verbal linguistics from the former Organized Confusion member. Pharoah's complex rhymes slide in between the grooves like silk, and his vocal cadence is as commanding as Chuck D in his prime.

Evolve and Assasins

28)Times New Viking- Dancer Equired- When I first heard this, I couldn't believe it was the same band. The melodies used to be buried underneath thick layers of amp buzz on previous records, but they finally get their day in the sun on this magnificent summer record.

It's a Culture and Don't Go To Liverpool

29) Fire with Jim O'Rourke- Unreleased-  Cacophonous saxophone laid over a bed of slow, slinky grooves that seem to keep building until the songs make their way to the exit. An exercise in both restraint and total chaos that will practically peel the paint off your walls.

Are you Both Still Unreleased? and Please, I Am Released

30) D. Charles Speer- Arghiledes- Former No Neck Blues Band member does a primarily instrumental record focusing on traditional Greek songs with elements of psychedelia and drone. Mesmerizing instrumentation featuring bouzouki, baglamas, organ, percussion and electric guitar.

O Sinachis and The Heavy Heart of Ando-Yeap

31) Charles Bradley- No Time For Dreaming- In a year where there was barely anybody releasing anything worthy of calling soul, Charles Bradley released this fantastic slice of classic soul in the vein of Al Green or Otis Redding. This album is dripping so much soul from its pores that you might need to replace the record sleeve!

The World is Going Up in Flames and How Long

32) The Shaolin Afronauts- Flight of the Ancients- shredding guitar solos bathed in wah-wah, Ethiopian style slow jams and jazzy horns all combine for one amazing record

Rise With the Blind and Shira

33)  Jerusalem and the Starbaskets- S-T-  Rootsy record that is so loaded to the gills with reverb and noise that the vocals become practically insignificant. One of the best discoveries of the year.

Pretty Patty and First Cigarette in the Rain

34) Thee Oh Sees- Castlemania- This is the first time that I have ever featured two albums from the same band on my year-end lists, but Thee Oh Sees are deserving of this honor. This is a more diverse, experimental record with swirling flutes, blaring saxophones, acoustic guitars, bells and synthesizers all combining for a psychedelic pop album that encourages repeated listens.

Corrupted Coffin and If I Stay Too Long

35) Count Bass D and Insight- The Risktakers- Otherworldly hodgepodge of samples and innovative rhyming styles that raises the bar for the rest of the underground hip-hop scene.

Which One Remix and Risk Taker

36) Las Kellies- Kellies- simplistic but brilliant post-rock with dubbed-out rhythms that hark back to the classic sound of Slits and Gang of Four

Adwenture and Bife Dos

37) Led Bib-Bring Your Own-  experimental jazz fusion that mostly sounds like it's teetering on the brink of insanity, but occasionally locks into a seamless groove that will have you snapping your fingers.

Little X and Power Walking

38)  Cave- Neverendless- Despite the title, many of these songs seem like they are endless. Repetitive metronomic grooves set the stage for the onslaught of blistering guitar on a few of these tracks, and the other ones are filled with aural delights to tickle your brain.

WUJ and On the Rise

39) Total Control- Henge Beat-  I saw these guys twice when they opened up for Thee Oh Sees on their last tour, and they were pretty good. Nothing can prepare you for what you hear on Henge Beat, as primal drumming and slash-and-burn guitars trade barbs with new wave synthesizers and punk rock yelping.

Retiree and Carpet Rash

40) Atlas Sound- Parallax- Bradford Cox's latest is a fascinating listen from beginning to end, taking you into adventurous sound worlds that range from experimental pop structures to spacey ambient tracks that float into the ether.

Te Amo and Angel is Broken

41) Blu and Exile- Give Me My Flowers While I Can Smell Them- It's hard for me to say which of Blu's albums I like better, but his flow is in full force on tracks such as the mind blowing "More Out of Life" and the positively jazzy "She Said It's Ok". He manages to spit 24 bars without so much as one curse word- a major feat in the current state of hip-hop.

More Out of Life and She Said It's Ok

42) Marisa Anderson- The Golden Hour- Marisa is the former guitar player for Portland's The Evolutionary Jass Band, and this album couldn't be further away from the sound of this band. These are desert-scorched guitar instrumentals for those long hours behind the wheel of a car driving through the southwest as the curtains of the day are closed.

In the Valley of the Sun and A Dream of Willie Mctell

43) Guadalupe Plata- S-T- This is rollicking raunch-n-roll from a quartet who sounds like a spanish Black Keys with a lot more grit in their teeth.

Estoy Roto and Como Una Serpiente

44) Shabazz Palaces- Black Up- It took me multiple listens to fully appreciate the breadth of this record, but now I realize the error of my ways. Ishmael Butler (Butterfly from Digable Planets) has released a game changer in a genre that has largely become stagnant. Forward thinking futuristic avant-garde rap with floor-shaking bass and stream of consciousness rhymes.

An Echo From the Hosts that Process Infinitum and The Reeping of All That is Worthwhile

45) White Fence- Is Growing Faith- This album is the result of an acid-soaked brain tinkering in his basement with vintage recording equipment while listening to a steady diet of Syd Barrett and Skip Spence records.

Growing Faith and When There is a No Crowd

46) Night Beats- S/T- This is whacked out psychedelia of the highest order that is bound to tickle the pleasure centers of your brain.

The Other Side and Little War in the Midwest

47) Mike Watt- Hyphenated Man- In the true spirit of The Minutemen, this album has 30 songs and still clocks in at just over 47 minutes. Short, sharp bursts of unbridled enthusiasm and impressive musicianship all around.

Belled-Stabbed Man and Boot-Wearing-Fish-Man

48)Pure X- Pleasure- Listening to this album is like being on a slow drugged-out psychedelic trip while being showered with shards of sonic shrapnel.

Heavy Air and Easy

49) Wanda Jackson- This Party Ain't Over- She might not have as much spunk now as she used to have on her early records, but this record really packs a visceral punch with mournful country ballads, foot-tapping rockabilly numbers and even a spirited yodeling track to close out this surprisingly great record.

Rip It Up and Blue Yodel #6

50) Tinariwen- Tassili- With guest stars like TV and the Radio and Dirty Dozen Brass Band, I wasn't quite sure what to expect with this album. What I got was a pristine recording of acoustic-based desert rock with the rare flourish of electric guitar from Nels Cline on the opening track "Imidiwan Ma Tennam", and a flurry of dixieland style horns on "Ya Messinagh". All in all, this album is absolutely sublime.

Ya Messinagh and  Tenidagh Hegh Djeredjere

Well, that's the end of the list, but when you listen to this much music in one year there is bound to be some great things that were eliminated at the last minute.

The following is a list of honorable mentions for 2011 that just missed the cut:

1) Cass McCombs- Humor Risk
2) Moon Duo- Mazes
3) Sonic Youth - Simon Werner a Disparu
4) Crystal Stilts- In Love With Oblivion
5) Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter- Marble Son
6) The Paperhead- S-T
7) Sex Church-Growing Over
8) Gold Bears- Are you Falling in Love
9) ELZHI- El-Matic
10) UV Race- Homo
11) Charlambides- Exile
12) Dick Diver- New Start Again
13) Mikal Cronin- S-T
14) The Skull Defekts- Peer Amid
15) Thurston Moore- Demolished Thoughts
16) Radiohead- The King of Limbs
17) Eternal Tapestry and Sun Araw- Night Gallery
18) Spits- Kill the Kool
19) Quilts-S-T
20) Mogwai- Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

Hope that you find some things on this list that interest you. Have a Happy New Year!

If any of you have Best Albums of 2011 lists that you would like to share, please do so in the comments.