Where does the time go, 2011? One moment, it is February and you are recapping episodes of Pretty Little Liars and then, what do you know, it is December and you maybe did not blog that much because you started a soul-crushing fulltime job under the impression that this would motivate you to get a better job when in reality it has left you a tired shell of a man. That is just an example year and not a year that happened to anyone here.
But we are not here to talk about jobs; we are here to talk about music!
2011 had lots of great free music. Maybe I just dove deeper into mixtapes this year or maybe I was confused about what was really free, but there were so many great mixtapes and free albums. Clams Casino, Terius “The-Dream” Nash, A$AP Rocky, and Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire released killer mixtapes, just to name a few. To make a wild, unsubstantiated claim, maybe this is a reflection of political ideologies in America and abroad. The political unrest of the Arab Spring and the economic motivations of the Occupy movement could have quickly spread to popular music and compelled artists to make these releases.
Admittedly, that is naive and far too clean. I mean, A$AP Rocky does have a million dollar deal. Christopher Nolan is channeling economic unrest into fight scenes for Warner Bros. movie. Popular culture is never as pure as we want it to be, but through the lens of year-end lists, we can shape how a year looks.
Anyway! to the music!
25. Belong by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
TPoBPaH excel at emulating sounds they admire. They did this with a particular sound on their first album, but really open up their influences on Belong. The title track sounds like the Smashing Pumpkins fronted by a power-pop band. The shoegaze and 1980’s influences are still used to great effect, as well, and Belong comes across as a more complete album than their self-titled effort.
24. The Mistress by Yellow Ostrich
So, hypothetically, this might have come out in 2010? But Barsuk definitely re-released it this year, so it counts. Just let it count. Yellow Ostrich use vocal loops, enthusiasm, and a great pop sensibility to turn a low fidelity sound into some of the more enchanting pop music of the year. They also released an EP about Morgan Freeman. So there is that.
23. Watch the Throne by Kanye West/ Jay-Z
First, this is a killer album, but, real talk, wouldn’t it be more killer if the second track and second to last track weren’t on it? I am just saying, Jay and Ye can do better. I’m no label executive guy, but I think we need more going gorillas and less “Made in America.”
Secondly, didn’t Jay-Z retire? Wasn’t that an event? I am not saying Jay-Z should not make music. I am just saying that Jay-Z should not have to say he is “retiring” if he just wants to go on vacation for a while.
22). Paradise by Slow Club
Not putting too much into interviews with bands, but in watching Slow Club interviews, you see instances where Rebecca has to explain popular culture things to Charles. In a way, Charles’ ignorance and Rebecca’s expertise play off each other to make pop songs that can sound familiar, inventive, in-touch, and unique all at once.
21). 21 by Adele
See what I did here?
20). XXX by Danny Brown
This might be as much an endorsement of Danny Brown’s guest appearances as it is of his album. Seriously though, have you heard his verses on other people’s tracks this year? Gosh darn. He. Goes. Wild. On XXX, Danny tries different things with his delivery, inflection, and flow. Incredibly, it all works out wonderfully. Sidenote: Danny Brown says a lot of stuff if you catch my drift and my drift is Danny Brown talks about sex stuff.
19). You Are All I See by Active Child
It’s still weird to me that non-emo bands put things out on Vagrant. The expansive songs of Active Child (not to mention the heavy use of HARP) go from tender to sultry to somber in a a very un-Vagrant way. That is what you get for making assumptions. You get surprised by good music! What a world.
18). W H O K I L L by Tune-Yards
This is just a fun record to hear.
17). Underneath the Pine by Toro Y Moi
If you buy into the whole chillwave descriptions of this band (false and also your choice), the funkiness of this album comes a pleasant shock. You will stand down the street saying, “Look at how funky this record is. I will never be hip.”
16). James Blake by James Blake
Do you guys feel bad for the James Blake of tennis? I mean, as bad as you can feel for a young professional athlete? Sure, the combination of James and Blake is probably common enough, but to have a pop wunderkind come in, and now everyone is saying “dubstep” and you just want to play tennis, and everyone is asking if your brother and sister don’t speak to you, and you are super confused by that question and just want to get back to training. That is probably what James Blake the tennis’s life is like now. Thanks for nothing, James Blake the music.
15). RUIN by elite gymnastics
elite gymnastics introduced me to k-pop through a mixtape. In some ways, the MPLS production duo sound like one big gateway drug. Their Ruin EPs strike me as – okay, bear with me – like, if you hadn’t heard any electronic music, but you heard electronic music was great and interesting, so you imagined what electronic music was, and your brain just fucking nailed it. Also, it is 1997. That is Ruin 1 Then, the reworked the tracks into spacey, atmospheric jams. That is Ruin 2.
14). Zonoscope by Cut Copy
The best thought I had about this fun, dancey record was the idea of creating an alternate version of Zonoscope called Bronoscope where I just add the word “bro” to the titles and then overdub me singing “bro” onto some tracks. Results would include, “Take Me Over, Bro” and “Phar-bros & Pyramids.” Bronoscope is scheduled for a Q3 release in 2012.
13). Days by Real Estate
This album is perfect for all seasons. Any quiet or down time you have in any season, just play this. It will make sense of everything and your life will be beautiful and soft sounds will float around you and things will be okay for a little bit. You will feel like you are fourteen years old again, but the fourteen years old where the air in your lungs is so fresh and you so strong and fast, not the fourteen years old where you are weird and creepy and doing stuff that you don’t want to talk about in polite company.
12). 808’s & Dark Grapes II by Main Attrakionz
Lots of news in 2011 about a certain young rap collective from California, but everybody got it wrong. We all should have been talking about Main Attrakionz (some people were, thankfully). It’s hazy rap, it’s carefree rap, it’s thoughtful rap. The beats are interesting and varied, so Main Attrakionz never fall into a lull or pattern. In a year where lots of hip-hop sounded different from everything else, this album sounded the most different (ugh, I know. Just go with it).
11). Father, Son, Holy Ghost by Girls
I thought I had Girls figured out. I thought I got their aesthetic (flowers and guitars in four panels with the same type under it all). I thought I knew their sound (jangly and referential, with varying levels of production). Father, Son, Holy Ghost changed that, though. Sure, it’s the same type on the cover, but words replaced pictures. The styles that Girls are referencing have expanded (the straightforward Girls-pop of “Honey Bunny” to the indie rock of “Alex” to the hard rock of “Die” and the Jackson Browne/ Tom Petty-ness of “Magic” are just some of the easily accessed examples). For how much I loved their first album, I might have subconsciously dismissed Girls as gimmicky. However, Father, Son, Holy Ghost made me realize that this band has much more going on than two records and one EP can show.
Next! Top Ten!