Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Best Music of 2011

Albums and Songs I actually listened to and liked a lot that came out in 2011, and other musical things.

This is not an unnecessarily comprehensive list, it is an honest sampling of the music I liked and played most often. Writing about music when you know as little as I do is a stupid, stupid thing. This is merely a means of sharing stuff I like. So. Yeah.

1. Holy Ghost! - Holy Ghost!

My favorite album of the year is one that seems to have been largely overlooked. It's a great record indebted to the past (70s underground disco, 80s commercial pop music), but it doesn't sound, like so many bands mired in trendy synth revivalism, like an approximation of something better. It sounds like itself, which is an accomplishment. This is, essentially, dance music, but it's dance music written written in a pop structure that doesn't sacrifice any of the organic, analog sounds that make other DFA acts (LCD Soundsystem, The Juan Maclean) so distinctive. The album's centerpiece, "Jam For Jerry," is a beautiful tribute to their friend, the late drummer Jerry Fuchs. Lyrically it's sad and confused and full of regret, but musically it's almost joyous. It's just about as thoughtful and personal as a pop song can be. It's the high point of an album which is wall to wall with great music.

Holy Ghost! - Jam for Jerry

2. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

This is The Great American Folk album I didn't know I wanted. Building on the harmonizing heavy first album, this one relies more on Pecknold's great lyric-writing. It's as soul searching a record as came out this year, and one that also completely owns up to its own self-obsession, naivete, and youth. It's gorgeous, constantly shifting folk music.

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

3 & 4. Toro y Moi - Underneath the Pine/Freaking Out

Last year I wrote about Toro y Moi's first album that he's likely to "get better as he gets older." This was not entirely correct, because his first album is very good, but since that album he's put out a full length and an EP, along with a number of singles, and he's gotten better. Underneath the Pine is a stellar, cohesive album that builds on the sound he created on the first one by adding more live instrumentation. Freaking Out is a brilliant sampling of a completely different style of songs, executed masterfully.

Video Spotlight!
Toro y Moi - Still Sound

Toro y Moi - I Can Get Love

5. Twin Sister - In Heaven

In Heaven is clearly not the record that a lot of people (at least those who review music of this kind) wanted it to be. Unlike their two fantastic EPs, it's not full of diversions and sudden genre changes. It is, however, thoroughly singular. It's filled with Twin Sister songs, and really, really good ones at that. They're one of the most exciting bands to emerge in the past few years and I think they're one that will be around for some time.

Twin Sister - Bad Street

6. Memoryhouse - The Years

The re-recorded EP maintains the mood of the original records, while pushing the haziness even further. You'd be hard pressed to recognize the Jon Brion sample in "Lately" now as quickly, as Abeele has added layers to the more stripped down songs, while simultaneously bringing forth Denise Nouvion's voice. A great, promising major label debut.

Memoryhouse - Lately

7. Zola Jesus - Conatus

Perhaps less sonically diverse as her previous EPs, Conatus is still an incredibly strong work. As dark as some of the music can be, Danilova's voice is always a strong presence and its strength provides the record with uplift.

Zola Jesus - Seekir

8. Tennis - Cape Dory

A solid debut record that does away with much of the fashionable lo-fi sound of their EP, filled with good songs. There's something that's easy to ignore about musicians playing in sturdy structures, but when it's done this well it's bliss.

Tennis - Pigeon

9. Yacht - Shangri-La

Yacht's fourth record (its second as a duo) is a great, often beautiful, often very danceable concept record. Focusing (like some of their last record) on the idea of an afterlife, they seem to come to conclusion that they'd rather make a paradise here on earth. The record culminates with the gorgeous title track, containing probably my favorite sentiment in a song all year: "When the rapture comes/If you don't mind/I'll be waiting down here and sweating."

Yacht - Utopia

10. The Rapture - In The Grace of Your Love

Speaking of The Rapture, their third record is a complicated, sometimes jumbled mess, but more often than not its a return to form, and an expansion of their sound. It's a devotional record (when I saw them live they played with a Bible on one of the amps), but because though the devotional aspect is so specific, the record is really about love in all forms. Dance music is frequently about love, and some of the best disco records have had a spiritual bend to them. Even if I don't share their devotion, I can't help but be caught up in the spirit of their love.

The Rapture - How Deep Is Your Love?

Other albums I enjoyed, listed alphabetically by artist:

Asobi Seksu - Fluorescence

Song: Asobi Seksu - Trails

Childish Gambino - EP/Camp

Song: Childish Gambino - Not Going Back

Song: Childish Gambino - Bonfire

The Drums - Portamento

Song: The Drums - Money

Eleanor Friedberger - Last Summer
Video Spotlight!
Song: Eleanor Friedberger - Roosevelt Island

Jay-Z and Kanye West - Watch the Throne

Video Spotlight! Song: Jay-Z and Kanye West - Otis

The Lonely Island - Turtleneck & Chain
Video Spotlight! Song: The Lonely Island - Shy Ronnie 2: Ronnie & Clyde

M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming

Song: M83 - Raconte-Moi Une Histoire

John Maus - We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves

Song: John Maus - Believer

Radiohead - The King of Limbs

Video Spotlight! Song: Radiohead - Lotus Flower

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
Video Spotlight! Song: St. Vincent - Cruel

Tom Waits - Bad as Me

Song: Tom Waits - Chicago

The Weeknd - House of Balloons/Thursday

Song: The Weeknd - House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls

Song: The Weeknd - Rolling Stone

Other songs I enjoyed, listed alphabetically by artist:

Adele - Rolling in the Deep (Jamie XX Shuffle)

Video Spotlight!
Azealia Banks (ft. Lazy Jay) - 212

Beyonce - Love on Top

The Chemical Brothers - Hanna's Theme (Vocal Version)

The Crystal Ark - Touch

Cults - Go Outside

Factory Floor - Two Different Ways

Gem Club - Twins

Gunnar Bjerk - Back Then

Holy Ghost! - I Wanted To Tell Her (Ministry Cover)

Video Spotlight! James Blake - The Wilhem Scream

The Juan Maclean - Everybody Get Close

Video Spotlight!King Krule (née Zoo Kid) - Out Getting Ribs
Video Spotlight! Lana Del Rey - Videogames

LCD Soundsystem - Live Alone (Franz Ferdinand Cover)

The Strokes - Under Cover of Darkness

Toro y Moi - I Will Talk To You
Video Spotlight! Tyler the Creator - Yonkers

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Ffunny Ffrends

To see live videos from many artists on this list, you can go here, live photos will be up there later.

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