Monday, December 26, 2011

My favourite albums of 2011

2011 was a pretty damn good year for new music, if you looked hard enough. Pop still rules the roost, but time is ticking on the Gaga, Perry and Bieber’s of the world as you generally get 3 albums as a pop star and then the world moves on. Rock is still struggling, but some good things are slowly happening. We did see high profile albums from Pearl Jam, the Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Pearl Jam release was a soundtrack/compilation album of rarities and the Foo and Chili efforts were decent enough, but just didn’t stick with me.

I did however, manage to find some great new albums this year. A few from some old friends and a few from some brand new ones. Things started promising when I heard Tyler the Creator’s “Yonkers” in late 2010 but the album wasn’t coming out until the spring of 2011. I pre-ordered a copy and had to wait 3 months for it to show up. Then I heard Adele, went out and bought "21" and thought, “Cool, my first 2011 album, I wonder how many more I’ll find”. Turns out, it was 5 more, 7 in all. I’ve put them in order of when I discovered them, 7 albums over 12 months, not a bad year indeed. I highly recommend any and all of these albums and if you’re wondering, I have them all on vinyl. It’s how everyone should listen to music! 

Tyler the Creator – Goblin
It’s everything a good hip-hop album should be, catchy, confusing, offensive, different and new. It’s also not bling, phat beats, silly skits, cristal or gansta in any way. Rap is a genre that definitely needs a new guard and the cool kids are starting to take over again. Representing the new breed of hip-hop, Tyler is part of the Wolf Gang/Odd Future crew and their biggest name so far. It is a good double album, but would be a great single record. They could’ve taken taken off 3 or 4 songs to make it more cohesive, but that’s probably the point to begin with. As Tyler would likely say, “Fuck cohesive”. The song “Yonkers” is as good as it gets and the video is an exclamation point on “This is what the fuck is going on right now!”

Adele – 21
There’s no way to deny a great song and there’s no denying “Rolling In The Deep” is a great song. With just that song, “21” is a good album, but there are several good songs. Admittedly, there are a couple of slow moments, the cover of the Cure’s, “Love Song” comes to mind. But, there are plenty of awesome moments too. It’s not all retro soul sounding either, “Don’t You Remember” sounds like it would fit right in on a Dixie Chicks album. Not the whiny, George Bush bashing Dixie Chicks either, the cool red dress wearing, “Cold Day In July” Dixie Chicks.

Gorillaz – The Fall
Technically this album was released in 2010, but that was on December 25th and only as a free download to members of their Sub-Division fan club. The physical release was on April 18th, 2011 and I came across it at a record store in Paris in late June. At the time I didn’t even know it existed, or whether  it was a new album, or outtakes or remixes or what. The sticker on the front was in French so I couldn’t understand it. But I could tell that it was a Gorillaz album on vinyl, I didn’t recognize any of the songs and that was good enough for me. Turns out, the album was written and recorded by Damon Albarn during the Gorillaz Oct-Nov 2010 North American tour. Like really, he did the whole thing on his Ipad in hotels rooms while on tour in the fall, hence the album’s title. It’s definitely a road album and a fantastic portrait of travelling through the country. Being only a single record, it’s shorter and more introspective than the previous 3 albums. Also, there’s no real upbeat songs to give it that radio single, which is the best part. It’s experimental, flows together seamlessly and gives you a feeling of being on the bus, staring out the window as the world rolls by. And at times, stuck in a station waitng for the train. A definite highlight is the love letter to Arizona’s biggest city, “Bobby In Pheonix” featuring Bobby Womack. He dropped by Damon’s hotel room before the show that night, played him a song on his guitar and they put it on the record.

The Kills – Blood Pressures
Much like their duo brethren the Black Keys, the Kills keep getting better with every album. Unlike the Keys, they remain a duo and have subscribed to the quality over quantity approach, with only 4 albums in 8 years and each one an improvemement on the last. Their sound is established but the song writing is getting better and even bordering on anthemic at times.  Without adding to the band, they add to the music while maintaining their minimalistic cool. Plus, “Pots and Pans” is one of the best album closers you’re going to hear.

Rival Sons – Pressure and Time
I can’t say enough about these guys and this record and how awesome it is. Whether or not they save rock and roll remains to be seen. But, they did save me with a great rock and roll album. Do yourself a favour and buy this album, either on itunes, at the CD store or (what I did) vinyl from ebay. Best rock album in years!

Black Keys – El Camino
It’s safe to say that the Black Keys have hit their stride. Putting together a full band (plus growing musical mileage) has opened up a bottomless pit of great songs, killer riffs, vicious hooks and stellar performances. “Brothers” is a really good album, but “El Camino” is shorter, faster and even better.

Mayer Hawthorne – How Do You Do
Actually bought this album without hearing any of it before hand, but I did read about this dude in Spin magazine just a few days before. He sounded like a cool cat and I decided to check out some of his stuff on youtube when I got a chance. I never did do that, but I did find myself in a record store with a 20 dollar gift certificate and came across the record. A total score! Great collection of way cool, white boy, groove soul tracks. It sounds like music you’ve heard before, but feels brand new. The album doesn't neccessarily remind you of the good old days, but confirms these are the good new days! It is a little tongue in cheek, which adds to the appeal, it's music that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Even the name, Mayer Hawthorne is a pseudonym for the all around DJ, producer, multi-instrumentalist guy named Andrew Cohen who put this together. He’s clearly having fun with it. But it’s fun without being ridiculous, aside from the picture inside the gatefold that is. Bonus, Snoop Dog appears on one song but doesn’t rap and it sounds a lot better than you would think a song with Snoop not rapping would sound like.

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