To conclude my year end countdown of 2011, I've asked some of my closest audiophiles for their favorites from the past 12 months. Thank you all for the continuous support and here is to a fantastic 2012.
St. Lucia at Tameney Hall
The Strokes at Madison Square Garden
TV on the Radio at Williamsburg Waterfront
!!! at 285 Kent
Godspeed You! Black Emperor at Terminal 5
01 M83 | Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
02 Jay-Z & Kanye West | Watch the Throne
03 Weekend | Sports
04 The Rapture | In the Grace of Your Love
05 Radiohead | King of Limbs
01 Holy Ghost | "Some Children"
02 Tyler, the Creator | "Yonkers"
03 TV on the Radio | "Repetition"
04 Metronomy | "The Look"
05 Battles | "Ice Cream"
A perfect wake-up jam must be neither too fast nor too slow. This is why it's generally best to go epic. Pop-music affords that quite easily. When getting up in the morning, a favorite strategy of mine is to pretend I'm in a music video (Britney Spears' Lucky is the VERY BEST for this but this ain't an All Time list so). Start off lip syncing and end dancing. Trust me you won't miss whatever lame default beep you were using.
10. Drake | Headlines"
Sometimes it's nice to remind yourself first thing in the morning that it's compliments you may be too strung out on.
09. Jay-Z & Kanye West | "No Church in the Wild"
08. The Book of Mormon Soundtrack | "I Believe"
This. Shit. Is. FUNNY.
07. Taylor Swift | "Better Than Revenge"
06. Fleet Foxes | Battery Kinzie"
Every once in a while Marc can convince me to appreciate a song that wasn't entirely made up by robots. Thanks Marc!
05. Britney Spears | "How I Roll"
Best song off of Femme Fatale which is difficult. Have all your fantasies about a conversation with Miss Spears 9000 come true!
04. The Strokes | "Under the Cover of Darkness"
03. Rihanna | "You Da One"
Dis bish does it again. I only chose this over We Found Love because it's easier to do tha dougie to.
02. Katy Perry | "E. T."
01. Beyonce | "Countdown"
Choosing a favorite song off of Four is damn near impossible. Best Thing I Never Had, Party, I Was Here and of course Love on Top are all flaw-free. But I had to ultimately go with Countdown because that first verse is just DAMNtastic. Also you know who this song is about, which makes it almost TOO awesome. Get outta bed girl! Go find yourself a Hov before the world ends!
Alex Turner | "Piledriver Waltz"
The songs he did for the film Submarine are my favorites from him since the first Arctic Monkeys album.
The songs he did for the film Submarine are my favorites from him since the first Arctic Monkeys album.
James Blake | "The Wilhelm Scream"
I don't think he's that consistent, but everything he's put out has some brilliant moments.
Panda Bear | "Last Night at the Jetty"
Can't decide whether this, "You Can Count On Me", or "Surfer's Hymn" is my favorite from Tomboy.
Real Estate | "Green Aisles"
Favorite song of the year.
The-Dream | "Nothing But Love (Demo)"
He gave this song to Beyonce, but I really like Dream singing it with that new jack drum machine.
Tyler, the Creator | "Yonkers"
Watching him blow up instantly when this hit YouTube was really cool.
The Weeknd | "The Morning"
Great hangover music.
Wilco | "One Sunday Morning"
One of Wilco's best songs in the last ten years. Jeff Tweedy at his best can just bowl you over.
Yuck | "Get Away"
I really don't care if these guys ever evolve as a band. I need this kind of rock and roll in my life.
Zomby | "Natalia's Song"
Helped tide me over while waiting for Burial to put out more stuff.
Bon Iver | Bon Iver
I bet a shitload of high school kids lost their virginity to this.
Panda Bear | Tomboy
Real Estate | Days
Instant slack classic.
Shabazz Palaces | Black Up
Sounds like it's from a different planet...so fresh.
Yuck | Yuck
The Dismemberment Plan at Paradise Rock Club (1/28)
I could not believe how tight and energetic these guys were. Best crowd energy I've ever seen at the Paradise...and it was for a reunion show. People rushing the stage for "Ice of Boston" was rad.
The Olivia Tremor Control at Brighton Music Hall (9/19)
Their attention to re-creating all the sounds their songs was incredible. A few of them were playing 3-4 instruments on certain songs.
TV on the Radio at Pitchfork Music Festival (7/17)
So soulful. Perfect end to a long day in the sun.
The National at Bank of America Pavilion (9/9)
Got to see one of my favorite bands (and a hell of a live band) on the waterfront on my birthday...can't ask for more than that.
OFWGKTA at Paradise Rock Club (5/12)
Their energy was off the charts. Rap shows generally are pretty predictable but OF keeps you on your toes.
Byrds of Paradise | Teenage Symphonies
P.S. Eliot | Sadie
The Men | Leave Home
Big Eyes | Hard Life
The Creamers | Slow Burn
Julianna Barwick | The Magic Place
Heavy Times | Jacker
Night Manager | Ghost
Scapegoat | S/T
Tycho | Dive
I should preface this by saying that I love pop music and electronic music. I also love good music. These are some of my favorite collections of music from this past year. Hopefully you'll find something you've never heard of. Or maybe you'll give another listen to something you have heard before, or at least heard of. Or don't! It's whatever!
10 Icona Pop | Nights Like This
For those of us already pining for the follow-up to Robyn's amazing Body Talk albums, Icona Pop is here to whet our appetites with some of the finest Swedish pop tracks released this year. Patrick Berger (the man behind Robyn's massive "Dancing On My own") produces "Manners", the breakout single. The tracks are brash and pulsating, and vocally the girls evoke the anthemic tones of fellow female duo Tegan & Sara, but you'll swear that they brought Karin Andersson in to sing back-up here and there. I'm eager for a proper LP from them.
09. Labyrinth Ear | Oak
Labyrinth Ear is a London-based duo making atmospheric, sparkly, sinister synthpop. If this sounds like your thing, download the Oak EP for free on their website and give it a whirl. All of the songs are great, but I have a personal affinity towards "Snow White", a warbling and haunting take on the title character's song “I’m Wishing” in the classic Disney film. It's not nearly as corny as it sounds, I promise.
08. Sky Ferreira | As If!
This EP is all over the place, but so is Sky Ferreira. She's a 19 year old Calvin Klein model that has producers like Bloodshy & Avant and Greg Kurstin churning out amazing pop music for her. Bloodshy & Avant, said to be responsible for her discovery on MySpace a few years back, are a tough production duo to beat. However, it's Kurstin who produces the stand-out track here with "99 Tears", which is easily one of my favorite songs of the year.
07. Austra | Feel It Break
I don't want to compare Austra to the myriad of other artists that I consider sonically similar because it would undermine the creativity in this album, which is distinctly different from those other efforts. Katie Stelmanis perches her operatic voice in the front and center of each track, which allows the nuances of the crisp and understated electronic production behind her to really expand without becoming too brooding. This album is masterfully done and wonderfully evocative.
06. The Weeknd | House Of Balloon
You've heard it by now, so I won't go into detail about it, but this is just a great debut effort. I will say that Abel Tesfaye has, to me, one of the most iconic new voices this side of the aughts, and his brutally honest depiction of a lifestyle that isn't always as glamorous as it seems has an undeniably sharp edge, yet remains refreshingly heartfelt. I felt like a total bad-ass The first time I heard the transition from the title track into the menacing "Glass Table Girls", and I am definitely not a total bad-ass. So. There’s that.
05. Twin Sister | In Heaven
There is something really magical to me about the charm and warmth that these tracks possess. The production is fun and intricate, while the compositions are nostalgic and earnest. I love that this group was brave enough (not to mention patient enough) to take the time to make the music they wanted to make instead of riding the "buzz wave". The result is divine.
04. GusGus | Arabian Horse
If you like GusGus already, you know that this is their best album in a long time, if not ever. If you don't like GusGus already, or if you don't know them, this is a great introduction. Imagine what a spooky, emotive dance album that was recorded in a cottage in Iceland might sound like. Got it? This is that album, and it is amazing. Was that an accordion? Is that an accordion tugging at my heart strings in a house song right now? Yes, it is. And it is amazing. AMAZING.
03. Will Young | Echoes
This is one of the most straight-forward, cohesive, dreamy adult pop albums since Kylie Minogue's Aphrodite was released last year. Minogue’s collection was the dance party, whereas Echoes is the lonely drive home afterwards. Richard X reigns in his visionary production skills to create a subtle and sophisticated synthesized soundscape for Will to croon and belt over. This is easily Will's most focused and personal album, and therefore his best.
02. Britney Spears | Femme Fatale
I love Britney Spears. There, I said it. But I'm not putting this year's Femme Fatale on my list for that reason alone. I also love Björk, but this year's Biophilia is not on this list (bu that's another story for another time). On her newest effort, Britney and her team show a real hunger to push the boundaries of mainstream pop music yet again (Spears did it once before back in 2007 when the critically praised but poorly promoted electropop masterpiece Blackout changed the entire landscape of the genre), and most of the time they succeed.
The big difference between this project and Blackout is the cohesion you'll find here, which can be credited to the the involvement of hit makers Dr. Luke and Max Martin. Of course, it wouldn’t be a (good) Britney album without a Bloodshy & Avant appearance ("Toxic", "Radar"). The result of their efforts on this go-around is the groundbreaking “How I Roll”, which was recently named Rolling Stone's favorite song of the year.
I can't say yet whether I think this album will age as well as the aforementioned Blackout has, but time will tell (and I do think that it will at least come very close). Is Britney a particularly good singer (or dancer [anymore], at that)? When the music is this good, it really doesn't matter.
01. Azari & III | Azari & III
Okay guys, this is an important record. I think what I like most about this album is that it reminds me of what it was like to discover electronic music in the first place. It revisits a time when techno and house music were just emerging from the underground to find their place in the mainstream world, but also finds moments to infuse updated and innovative production into the mix. Sonically the group travels from spaced-out synth instrumentals reminiscent of some of the earliest electronic music, to eclectic echoes and growls over house beats that call to mind the white label records of the early 1990s, and even into a modern big beat frenzy on the wonderful "Undecided". The album sprawls out like a map of Electronica, and these guys have evidently seen every corner of it. But don't call it retro. This music has modern ideas for the modern music listener.
Vocalists Starving Yet Full and Fritz Helder share duties wailing, warbling, crooning and sassing their way around Dinamo Azari and Alexander III's productions, which are so masterful that I would not be surprised if we see them start churning out tracks for the likes of Britney and Rihanna in a few years. For now, though, we are lucky enough to be treated to a lush and expansive homage to the music they love, which in the process has yielded new music that I love.
Some of electronic music’s opponents have argued for decades now that it universally lacks a human element. A soul, even. And yes, listening to the ongoing bastardization of electronic music by way of major labels and the general masses’ relentlessly bad taste in "popular" music, one might be lead to believe that any soul the genre may have had has since been zapped out of it. But Azari & III have successfully enforced an organic approach to making music that is, by definition, manufactured. Perhaps the most important aspect of this record for me, then, is that it proves not only that electronic music has had soul all along, but also that it is not going anywhere.