The Best Music of 2011 [#30-#21]
December 21, 2011 2 Comments
OK. Now we’re getting into the REALLY good stuff.
Our Spotify playlist has been updated with choice selections from the next ten records in our countdown, and I’ve also embedded video selections to give you a sense of what to expect from each record. Because I love you.
30. Mr. President, Number One
CALLING THE SOUL PATROL! This record is shrouded in mystery, but when GoGoMrPoPo gives an album his blessing, ROTI is obligated to check it out. And what I found was a magnificent tower of funk power.
From what I can gather, Mr. President, also known as Patchworks, is a musician and producer possibly operating in France. He’s put together a record of titanic grooves that might be all freshly recorded, all remixes, or just stuff he found while digging through crates. I honestly don’t know and his label’s website is pretty obscure on the subject!
But who gives a whit when this record packs such a tremendous punch. It’s jammed full of stone stompers that will turn your dial to full-funky. Dank horns and tight rhythm sections, sometimes paired with sweet vocals, make Number One an outstanding selection for your next dance party (or headphone party).
29. Smith Westerns, Dye it Blonde
Okay…whew…breathe with me here, Generation Catalano. After watching the video below, I just sprouted a few gray hairs; these fresh-faced rockers are clearly way younger than the ROTI team. But like our musical wisdom, great rock and roll never ages. Even if the guys from Smith Westerns may not have been ALIVE in Teenage Fanclub’s heyday.
Smith Westerns’ sophomore disc landed the Chicago trio an opening spot on Arctic Monkeys’ ongoing tour. Funnily enough, though, I think this record is even better than Suck It and See!
Nils Coq au Vin put this one forth for consideration, dubbing it one of the year’s very best. It’s hard not agree with him when you hear Dye it Blonde‘s hooky blend. I especially enjoy “Only One,” a great and tuneful track that segues effortlessly from lite guitar riffs to beauteous chorus. I’m smitten with Smith Westerns and look forward to finding out what the future holds for this up-and-coming trio.
28. Real Estate, Days
The pride of Ridgewood, New Jersey — as certified by ROTI’s Jersey expert, Schmentz. Real Estate has been rising fast in the NY-area indie scene, and Days justifies the hype. If you like tasty indie tuneage, this record is for you. This band has a refreshingly laid-back attitude that’s all too rare in today’s posturing music scene. Check out the charming video for their track, “It’s Real”:
Dogs, board games and birthday cake. How can you not get behind that?
“Younger than Yesterday” is a particularly awesome cut that amazes in its subtle gentleness. A western-surf-type riff fits neatly into its hazy atmos, and cues one of the best, yet tenderest, “Whoas” of 2011. Ever been to the shore in the offseason, when its beauty is little diminished but the crowds have melted away, leaving you with solitude and peacefulness? It’s like that.
Days doesn’t aim to blow your doors off — just to seduce you into its foggy realm. Mission accomplished.
27. Washed Out, Within and Without
High priest of chillwave Ernest Greene dropped his debut album in 2011, and the results were magnificent. Within and Without features a hot cover, a cohesive aesthetic, and one of the best songs of the year in “Amor Fati.”
Greene, a failed librarian (I’m serious) has used his synthesizer and homegrown production skills to create a surprisingly full and rich sound. He deftly balances driving beats against shimmering vocals, crafting a record that’s equally perfect for a drive in the country, a brisk walk to work, or a tender love sesh. Other highlights of this excellent album include the soaring, harmonic “Eyes Be Closed” and the beat-packed “Soft.” I’m not sure where chillwave is going to go from this first, uh, wave of albums, but I have a feeling Greene will be the one to take us there.
26. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake
Polly Jean Harvey emits one of the most aggrieved howls against British ways gone astray since William Blake penned “Jerusalem”! It’s not exactly a revolutionary statement to curse Anglo-American warlike adventures in the new millennium, but Harvey’s execution is so impressive that this record makes you want to march in the streets. I dare you to withstand the interpolation of “Summertime Blues” in the video below (around the 3 minute mark) while keeping your domepiece glued down.
I mentioned yesterday that this list is packed with Mercury Prize nominees. Well, this record won the whole damn competish, the second time PJ has brought home the trophy.
Harvey really pushed herself on this record and created some unique and super-interesting sounds. Her lyrics are unflinching and bold, calling her countrymen to account for the blood on their hands. Collaborators John Parish and Mick Harvey back her on a variety of instruments; this record contains everything from autoharp to zither. While it’s not always an easy listen, you have to give a serious hat tip to the accomplishment that is Let England Shake.
25. The War on Drugs, Slave Ambient
Epic jams that build their power on grooves, not hooks. Slave Ambient is a really kick ass piece of work. Nils Coq au Vin put me onto this, and I thank him. Check out this monster cut, “Baby Missiles.”
Slave Ambient features a totally rebuilt War on Drugs lineup, after guitarist Kurt Vile and others exited the band in 2010. Frontman Adam Granduciel doesn’t really miss a beat, creating a delicious blend on the band’s second full-length. The War on Drugs filter their songs through a thick shoegaze glaze, and the result is a mesmerizing album.
“Something weird is going on in Philly, is all I know,” wrote NCaV in a note accompanying his ballot. Amen, brother.
24. Wye Oak, Civilian
Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner named their band Wye Oak after the late state tree of Maryland, a 460-year-old specimen tragically destroyed by storm in 2002. Civilian may not have that kind of longevity, but I feel pretty confident that we’ll be rocking this record for many years to come.
The band packs a dense sound, wrapping vocals in odd doublings, gently strumming one moment and laying down fat riffs over thrashing drums the next — check out “Dogs Eyes,” equal parts twee and fierce. The production on this record is especially well done. “Hot as Day” thrums with rad harmonies and jumping beats:
This album was highly recommended by Serious Nihilism and backed by Secret M, who pointed out that Wye Oak also did a pretty mean cover of the Kinks’ “Strangers” on a separate single release. That’s awaiting you on our Spotify playlist!
23. Jessica Lea Mayfield, Tell Me
I don’t listen to a lot of country music, but when I do, I prefer country music that is awesome. Jessica Lea Mayfield’s origin story is one of those only-in-country tales — a young girl on tour with her family band asks her older bro to teach her a few chords, and after many months of practicing, songwriting and striving, finally connects with a Svengali who catapults her to fame.
In this case, the mentor is the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who produced both Mayfield’s debut and this second effort. He does a really tremendous job setting the tone for Mayfield’s wonderfully sad and poignant songs, and she just destroys throughout the length of the album. Believe me when I say that Jessica Lea Mayfield rules.
Mad, MAD props to DBuu for turning this record up. Easily the best country album I’ve heard in many moons. The elegiac, stately “Run Myself Into the Ground” is one of the prettiest tracks of the year…with some of the dankest backing vocals you’ll find anywhere.
22. Nurses, Dracula
Our man in Portland, DJ Walls of Sound, sent a message in a bottle and the message read, “Check out Nurses.” He added, “It’s less and less often that you can describe new ‘hip’ music as catchy, but I think this band definitely has got that.” As always, he tells it true, and this trio of Idahoans based in PDX don’t disappoint on their latest album.
Not only is the video above pretty B.A., Dracula is a tight and mighty record. It’s sort of reminiscent of last year’s Local Natives album — jumping up with verve and Byrne-ian caucasian funk — and equally righteous. “Trying to Reach You” is a killer song that bops your soul. I’m also addicted to “You Lookin’ Twice,” a tight, crafty jam built around a masterful bassline and a variety of odd sounds and beats. This album will drink your blood.
21. tUnE-yArDs, W H O K I L L
Before I say anything here, WATCH this video.
AWESOME, right? Tuneyards (I refuse to write it that stupid way a second time) is the brainchild of the insanely creative Merrill Garbus, and with WHOKILL, she’s firing on all cylinders. Nate Brenner adds some mighty bass, which is pretty key, because this record puts the funk into your face.
Noish called this his favorite of the year, and added that he caught Garbus live and was floored. I also saw a commenter on Slate’s annual The Worst Music Review Series In Human History (my name, not theirs) call Tuneyards something created by a computer to impress music critics. Well, if so, it’s a helluva piece of software.
Garbus works her voice into every nook and cranny of your mind — her music is assertive, weird, yet gorgeous. Brilliant is the word that comes to mind. Also, genius. Take “Powa” — it pivots from pretty, soaring melodies to raw sex lyrics to funky howls in mere seconds. Powa indeed!
For more great music, check out the articles below or fire up this Spotify playlist.
|THE BEST MUSIC OF 2011
Introduction, Hon Mentions,
Rap Hits and Pop Songs