40. Girls – “Father, Son, Holy Ghost”
Lykke Li’s debut record never caught my interest. I always felt she had potential, but I was often bored with her production and inability to take control of tracks with worthwhile climaxes. Then this record hit me like Denzel Washington at the end of Training Day. Gone was the innocence of her first record and arriving was a woman with something to prove. Her voice is full, her production never tighter, her emotions on full display. On the one hand, she’s telling you about her sexual desires (“Get Some”), the other is embracing her own emotions (“Sadness is a Blessing.”) Rather than display sadness, her emotions evoke confidence and it results in her best set of songs to date.
38. Wild Beasts – “Smother”
This was my introduction to the Wild Beasts and I wasn’t disappointed. These guys do a lot of things I love–multi-layered harmonies, catchy melodies and beautiful lyrics. In a perfect world, this would compete for my top record of the year. They have some fantastic ideas, but they just don’t execute them as well as I’d like. There’s a stark contrast in quality with songs like “Reach A Bit Further,” or “Loop The Loop,” in comparison to the downers on this record. Until these guys give some form of consistency, I can’t endorse this record as much as I’d like to.
37. The Weeknd – “Echoes of Silence”
When “House Of Balloons,” came out I was impressed. Not head over heels obsessed like everyone else in R&B land, but impressed enough to study the record like an organic chemistry final. Three mixtapes later, he is the savior of R&B. The production is nearly as tight as “Thursday,” and it’s coupled with the dark affair-driven lyrics of “House of Balloons.” I won’t call this The Weeknd’s best effort, but it contains some of his best songs to date. Considering his discography that spans less than 12 months, that is quite the accomplishment.
36. White Fence – “Is Growing Faith”
White Fence is a kick back psychedelic folk band. They sound very 60’s and in this case that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Truth be told, I hate bands that sound like carbon copies of bands from years ago. Yuck pisses me off. Sleepy Sun, for the most part, pisses me off. I like White Fence because they’re able to take an old style and bring it to a new generation while still sounding like their own band. These guys are smart and really growing into their own. It’s what makes them stand out. It’s also what makes the name of this album so ironic.
35. Battles – “Gloss Drop”
Am I the only one that still enjoys these guys? Sure, they lost their vocalist, but their music was never entrenched in vocals. Not to mention math rock (well, if you’re considering them that) usually doesn’t have vocalists. I came into this album on a whim. What I received was something much better than anyone is giving it credit for. Considering what made these guys great on Mirrored (fantastic drumming, incredible instrumentation) there isn’t much missing from this record in comparison. The record isn’t as dark as the previous one, but I welcome happy records. The guest vocalists never dissappoint and the songs without vocalists often hold their own. Do songs ever get as awesome or epic as “Atlas.” Well, no. But asking for 11 or 12 “Atlas” type songs would be asking for a lot of any band.
34. Nat Baldwin – “People Changes”
When I first saw this album I thought “attractive cover art.” Now all I think about is how different this record is than probably everything in this list. You usually don’t find one-man band’s fronted by a bass player. You usually don’t find such ****ty cover arts either. For a bass player, Baldwin sure does employ quite the imagination. Some real unique sounds as well. “Weights,” is an interestingly tense track with that tiger-before-he-pounces-on-the-gazelle sound. In fact, a lot of songs follow this tense & silent educated chaos formula. Like watching settlers take out Native American tribes one by one over seven songs. And every time the story ends, the resolution is clear: something terrible just happened and our narrator hurts.
33. Julian Lynch – “Terra”
“Terra” is the grounded follow-up to last year’s remarkable “Mare.” The album title is true to the sound. It feels like earth. Like constant nomadic trucking. If there was music to walk to, or music to trek to an unknown town this would be that music. That’s not to say this music tends to have a goal–walking doesn’t have to have a destination, it just means you’re walking. It’s the uncertainty of where you’re going that’s so damn charming.
Lynch prides himself on atmospheric backyard music to listen to on a Sunday afternoon. While laying in your backyard on a Sunday afternoon may sound completely contradictory towards my ‘nomadic trucking’ statement earlier it really isn’t. They both take heed to this level of uncertainty–this lack of a true goal, a message that Lynch creates so well on so many of his records. As if there is no music–just exactly what you’d expect to play at this point in the journey.
32. Clams Casino – Instrumental Mixtape
Clams Casino is cloud rap producer extraordinaire for Lil’ B and co. and I say that with the utmost respect for both Casino and Lil’ B. Casino has really made a nice wedge in the music scene for him. His cloud rap style has every hip hop head looking for his production and he’s really made a name for himself by recently branching away from solely producing for Lil’ B. His undying alliance for Lil’ B is admirable (I personally love Lil’ B) but it goes without saying that the biggest and most well respected producers often branch out. I just wonder if he becomes hip hop production superstar or underground producer that works with only a handful of artists. I suppose time will tell.
31. James Blake – James Blake
I continue going back and forth with this album. Every time I look at it in my iTunes I think to myself ‘I have no idea why it’s so high in my rankings.’ Then I listen to it. Position justified. 12 plays or more on each song, I still feel like this record deserves more of my time. Inevitably, here it is on my end of the year list. I never thought I could like a dubstep-soul fusion record. While I enjoyed the dubstep portions I recall this record severely lacking on the soul portion. As if it would have sounded much better if Blake wasn’t a soul singer. Then I re-listen to gems like “Wilhelm’s Scream,” and wonder just how dubstep-soul fusions aren’t commonplace.
30. Weekend – “Red EP”
Weekend is a nice little band a member of Footballsfuture put me on to last year. Their debut LP, “Sports,” received a considerable amount of play in the earlier part of 2011 making their “Red EP,” a must for my collection. The EP doesn’t disappoint. It works on, mostly, the same formula the original LP did. That is, a lot of reverb, noise, psychedelia in the form of shoegaze and a bit of 90’s revival for good measure. Songs are a bit catchier on the EP, but Weekend work best with catchier records (see: “Veil” or “End Times” from their LP.) There’s no clear progression or change in direction on this record, but why fuck with a style that works?
29. Beach Fossils – What A Pleasure EP
The latest Beach Fossils record is exactly the improvement I hoped to hear from these guys. Let’s be honest–that debut record was overrated horse poop. For all the good ideas it had, there was some pretty poor execution. Summer pop music had never sounded so off the mark. Here, that ‘by the beach’ sound they were going for hits. It hits hard too. Not in a ‘let’s go down to the beach and party!’ feel, but more of a late night beach rendezvous. You and a few buddies at the end of the night with a beer. You and your girl sipping vodka. You by yourself thinking about your girl. It’s a record you can fool around with you girl to, but also a record you can lust over her about. All with the sand between your toes.
28. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra.
For a band so intent on being as obscene and ridiculous as possible, it’s nice to know there’s still grounded musicians in OFWGKTA. Ocean’s debut record has received critical acclaim, and national attention. Superstars have taken notice, featuring him on multi-platnium records this year. It’s safe to say Frank Ocean is one of the next big things, not just for his work in Odd Future, but for his work as a solo artist as well. Hats off to him. Seriously. Oh, and did I mention, he’s pretty damn talented too? He’s not The Weeknd when it comes to R&B. His production isn’t astronomically out of this world. His lyrics aren’t mind-blowing. Looking back I really don’t know what drives me to this record. Ocean just knows how to put a good tune together…and then some.
27. Washed Out – “Within & Without”
What I hate most about this album is its inconsistency. What I love, is when this album gets sexy. I love songs like “Echoes,” because it reminds me of hitting the venues with my friends and dancing. I really feel songs like “Far Away.” It feels intimate, seductive and lustful. The beautiful woman across the bar with the black dress. The girlfriend whom you’re making love to. Or not making love to. This is lust, but this is mature and for me this is interesting. The highs on this album are really high, amongst my favorite of the year. The filler isn’t bad…it’s just not good, either.
26. Fabolous – “The SOUL Tape”
I have consistently underrated Fabolous. Since his debut record, he’s been hit or miss with singles and sometimes I live and die by what you’re showcasing as the theme of your album. This thought process works for some singles (She & Him’s “Thieves”) and doesn’t for others (Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “By The Way.”) In recent years, Fabolous has really caught my attention. “Loso’s Way,” was one of my favorite records of 2009 and his mixtapes have been nonstop heat ever since. Production always on point. Lyrics and delivery as sharp as ever. Flow as effortless as it’s ever been. This was always his selling point, but he’s really perfected that nonchalant attitude on his most recent releases. “The SOUL Tape,” is more of the same with an emphasis on *surprise, surprise* soul heavy samples in the production. It’s a great listen too, by the way.
25. Cut Copy – “Zonoscope”
Let’s get one thing straight. “Zonoscope” is NOT “In Ghost Colours.” That’s the first mistake I made with this record. That’s the mistake most people make with this record.
Going back to Cut Copy’s first record, they’ve always tried to do something new and different and have often succeeded. “In Ghost Colours,” was a masterpiece–amongst the best albums of the last decade. The perfect happy-go-lucky dance record. “Zonoscope,” is a bit of a darker record. There’s definitely a bit of funk here. A little mystery even. Songs are driven by some really heavy drum/bass combinations that really adds to this dark, funky sound. I find myself often reminded of those old Donkey Kong Country games when listening to this, but that’s not a bad thing (I actually really love those old soundtracks.)
Those signature Cut Copy synthesizers are still intact which makes it all the more easier to find some connection between their previous LP. This isn’t that instantly satisfying record, but those that stick with it should be more than pleased.
24. Austra – “Feel It Break”
How was I supposed to know this was the year of the dark, enchanting female vocal? Austra is a dark wave/electronic/gothic band with a really killer female vocal and some really moody themes. The band is pretty formulaic in hindsight–let lead singer take over with that enchanting vibrato and throw some synths and keyboards in each song. It’s a damn good formula though, mainly because lead singer Katie Stelmans is just so damn good. Stelmans gets really, really loud and sounds frightening sometimes, as if to throw you right in the middle of your favorite horror movie. She’s never overpowering, but just enough to let that angelic voice fly. Definitely a band I look forward to hearing more from.
23. Mouse On Tha Track – “Swagga Fresh Freddie”
Trill ENT is shaped a lot like the old Cash Money. A small clique that often raps together, produces a few albums a year and has one major in-house producer. Two differences: Trill ENT has never been as big as Cash Money & in-house producer Mouse is FAR AND AWAY a better rapper than Mannie Fresh.
Mouse’s debut mixtape is about as good as it gets. This record is incredibly consistent and stays true to the Trill ENT name. There’s some of that incredible bounce beat production you’ve come to expect and an all-star list of Trill ENT guest verses. Mouse doesn’t disappoint either. He’s engaging and witty. He’s really funny at times. He’s oozing with charisma. My only real gripe is having the original “Turn Da Beat Up” on here instead of the remixed version with Trill ENT All-Stars.
22. True Widow – “As High As The Highest Heavens & From The Center To The Circumference Of The Earth”
True Widow has this really heavy, slowcore sound to them that reminds me a lot of Low (that first sentence may completely engage you to read more, or make you skip over the entirety of this blurb.) They’re built a lot like Low and they do a lot of things I like–play slow, utilize female vocals, an ability to get excruciatingly loud. The songs are long and drawn out and the vocals are oft drowned in a heavy amount of distortion and noise. Occasional inconsistencies (and a lack of utilizing the female bass player as a vocalist more!) pisses me off but for noise rock (or shoegaze, or whatever they’re calling this record–I’m calling it loud) you can’t go wrong here.
21. TV On The Radio – “Nine Types Of Light”
I’m a huge TV On The Radio stan, I must admit. I love just about everything that these guys do, and their criticisms from more objective listeners often are seen as minuscule blabbering in my eyes.
That being said, I love this new TV On The Radio record. A lot of people complain about a lack of cohesiveness, but I’ve always found this criticism ridiculous. A cohesive record can be just as lame as a non-cohesive one. Think about it. How many ‘cohesive’ records end up sounding the same on every song. How many ‘cohesive’ records follow one or two formulas and stick with them? A non-cohesive record could still have a great collection of songs even if they don’t ‘fit’ together. So yes, this record isn’t cohesive. There’s a good portion of slow songs and a good portion of quicker, funkier songs. I think Anthony Fontano of the Needle Drop compared it to heavy metal being played at fancy restaurant with your girlfriend (or something to that extent.) He’s right. There’s a lot of different stuff going on in this record. I like all of it…still. It shows what TV On The Radio are…what they have been…and naturally what they’ve become.