Martine Balcaen’s Top 25 Releases of 2011
Ah, year-end lists. In appropriate words, they are to music writing what Mr. Sketch scented markers are to stationary. Easy and fun. A way of objectively ranking shit that is not meant to be objective and being a cold machine with no appreciation for nuance. A smug attack on everyone else’s year-end list, because all of those aren’t as good as yours, amirite?
That and half of us put Kanye West’s album high on our lists last year and regretted it two months later. The other half intentionally did not put him on their lists for that reason.
Anyway, lists suck and here’s mine.
Cheers and Happy New Year.
#25. The Mountain Goats - All Eternals Deck
-John Darnielle’s vivid, storytelling lyrics hits the top notch again on YET ANOTHER Mountain Goats release. Not exactly what sure to write here. Can the Mountain Goats release anything genuinely bad? It echoes all the blithe (and the morose) qualities I always look for in warm folk albums.
#24. CityCop - Seasons EP
-My second favorite emo release of the year is this short and candid EP that caught me by surprise in the last week. As nostalgically enchanting as CityCop’s overall sound is, I can’t help to commend their ingenious use of a classical guitar to bring latin vibes to genre that has either been dead or beaten to a pulp by imitators.
#23. Destroyer - Kaputt
- Jazzy indie pop, suitable to both romantic dinners and tea with your grandparents. Dan Bejar creates a smooth and sultry atmosphere greasy 80s Casanovas in white suits would be jealous. This album is the equivalent of swifting seducing a lady to bed on your 5th glass of scotch while Sinatra is playing. It’s still a one-night stand, but damn! You are one slick motherfucker.
#22. The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - From The Stairwell
-Something I reviewed this year (here: http://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/42712/The-Kilimanjaro-Darkjazz-Ensemble-From-the-Stairwell/) and didn’t quit my nights with it for quite some time. From the Stairwell is a winding passageway led by delicate reserve. If I ever wanted to know what it would feel like to visit the dark beatniq at the bottom of an endless staircase, filled with characters both untrustworthy and full of tempting bad ideas, here it is.
#21. Noisear - Subvert the Dominant Paradigm
- Disfiguring grindcore, the kind that fucking dares you to keep up with all the sounds you love as they destroy them in a whiplash sequence of fury incomparable to any grindcore album I’ve lost face to this year.
#20. The Weeknd - Thursday
- Dare I say Abel Tesfaye has made it cool to like R&B? and did it with a ridiculously disciplined work ethic Having dropped a trilogy of (free!) mixtapes in the last 9 months? …And nary a bad track on any them, it’s not surprising at least one of them has been finding its way onto everyone’s year-end lists. Sexiness and production mastery aside, this guy’s vocal ability could qualify him to be one of the Jackson 5…
#19. Thundercat - The Golden Age of Apocalypse
- Psychedelic jazz fusion made by some dude who has worked in a myriad of unlikely genres. For that reason, I’d put this up there with most inspired albums of 2011. There are few things I have listened to lately that have been as funky as well as soulful as this number. Perhaps if it were longer…
#18. Boris with Merzbow - Klatter
- Two Japanese acts with A LOT to offer collaborate for the ???th time. If you miss the days when Boris was droning your brains out, this is reprieve. Merzbow’s techno-static shows surprisingly calming results when aligned with along a crunchy guitar tone and rugged percussion, you’d almost think they were on the verge of making a punk album.
#17. Thursday - No Devolucion
- OF COURSE an iconic band would break up the year they release an album I could really get into. It might just be that Geoff Rickly’s vocals finally seemed to have settled on NOT whiny for this release. No Devolucion has a monolithic feel of solidarity, launching out dark, pounding anthemic tunes with post-rock influences as well as the quieter, gloom of An Empty Glass, right after a love song told in terms of electromagnetism.
#16. The Weeknd - House of Balloons
- I’m a dick but here’s two albums by The Weeknd in the same list. All sexiness still applies, only House of Balloons cranks up the sleek factor and shows off the writing of a dude you’d mistake for a shallow douchebag in any other context that didn’t involve exposing his weaknesses and reflections on club life as if it was some sort of spiritual retreat.
#15. Deafheaven - Roads to Judah
- Black metal for people who don’t really like black metal, hence being touted as a post-black metal release. 4 tracks span the length of about 40 minutes in this dizzying landscape filled with walls of sound cut up by timely, solemn guitar interludes.
#14. Crash of Rhinos - Distal
- My favorite emo (the Cap’n Jazz brand of emo, mind you) album of the year, not lacking in the splashy cymbal crash department, American Football noodlery, and chockfull of gang vocals to remind you that it is totally okay to be reckless for the sake of fucking great times. Altogether, a catharsis worthy of considering the line “I HAVE A FUTURE IN FAILING!”
#13. Tartar Lamb - Polyimage of Known Exits
- The second album of duo Toby Driver/Mia Matsumiya (Kayo Dot) exploring exactly how queasy you can make someone feel with only violin and an electric guitar. Totally formless in its inception, the follow-up to Sixty Metonymies is as convoluted as they come and becomes increasingly sinister over the 40 minutes it takes for this avant-garde jazz album to crawl around inside your home like the spiders you never see.
#12. Jacaszek - Glimmer
-Jazz-tinted minimalism from a polish composer. Accessible for anyone curious about the genre, wide enough to swallow the most leery. Often lead as if improvised, Glimmer is the album an old unsettled house would make if it had its own private ominous orchestra.
#11. Kendrick Lamar - Section.80
-Uses racial slurs to discourage racial archetypes. Nah but for real, hip hop with atypical hooks that infect your brain when they finally click. Intellectual musings in hip hop never feel this genuine and they especially never sound this well-produced.
#10. As So I Watch You From Afar - Gangs
-Math Rock. Balls out. I could leave it at that, but I like to write a ton of shit with weird descriptors. Zealous. Frenetic. Guitars more fun than they should be. Total fuckery. Frenzied. The Energizer Bunny. Shit dude, this is on everyone’s list. Do I have to go on?
#09. Cunninlynguists - Oneirology
- The first hip hop album I latched onto this year for same reasons I latched onto Kno’s solo record last year. Flawless lyricism , a mix of flows that would impress (or top?) the greats of the genre, the smoothest of beats and something rather dreamy, though I’m not really sure how it got there. You know, I think even the anti-hip hop could find solace in this release.
#08. Born Gold - Bodysongs
-Is it possible to understand Born Gold without having danced topless and recklessly on the day of the rapture at one of their live shows with all of your best friends? Probably. It doesn’t matter though, because if you have the slightest understanding on how to dance topless and recklessly on any given day, you will understand why Bodysongs is on this list.
#07. Psychic Babble - My Brother’s Ears/My Sister’s Eyes
-In brief, Colin Frangicetto has dug himself a cubby hole and named it shrug rock. I’d say this is the product of being inspired by being quite uninspired, in an endearing sense that suggests placid resignation. That was a lot of words, in Layman’s terms, Psychic Babbles make me feel like my capacity to suspend belief is the real enlightenment here.
#06. Olafur Arnalds - Living Room Songs EP
- One song a day, recorded in one take in the contemporary composer’s living room in his Reykjavik apartment. Far too affective to have been shared with anyone but those present in the room when it was recorded. Didn’t think it was possible that I could feel undeserving to hear music, but here Arnalds humbles me.
#05. Swarms - Old Raves End
-One of the only reasons I haven’t completely written dubstep off as the cancer of electronic music. Full-on immersive into all things both warped and conventionally beautiful, which I didn’t think was possible until I heard Old Raves End. I can’t say I’ve had an easy time finding many albums this refreshing… swimming-alone-in-the-Adirondacks refreshing. Damn, I just got reminded why I spend far too much time looking for new music.
#04. SORNE - House of Stone
- A brilliantly executed tribal folk album following a poignant story of strain put on 5 siblings whose indigenous heritage is being threatened after the murder of their father. All unorthodox instruments, except one classical guitar, lined up with Morgan Sorne’s shrill vocals make for one of the most distinctive albums of the year.
#03. Giles Corey - Giles Corey
Considerations of death, brought to you by the guy from Have a Nice Life, accompanied by a book that takes as long to read as it does to get through the album. If endless tribulation is serenity, this is the most relaxing album you have ever heard. Not quite one for a light-hearted day.
#02. Kaizers Orchestra - Violeta Violeta, Volume 1
- Reviewed this LP earlier in the year (here: http://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/43942/Kaizers-Orchestra-Violeta-Violeta%2C-Volume-I/) and didn’t up about it for a few months. Think gypsy-tinted The Dear Hunter à la Tom Waits. Oh and they sing entirely in some obscure Norwegian dialect. I swear this is awesome.
#01. Trophy Scars - Never Born. Never Dead. EP
I don’t feel as if I could write something to do justice to how much this release has meant to me this year. I would probably just sound like a weepy granola pregnant woman. Another reflection on time, death and love. I wouldn’t ask trophy scars for anything else but they gave me more anyway. My favorite post-hardcore band goes half-psychedelic blues and demonstrates a grandiose orchestration accompanied by a full narrative of stories nothing more but human.
Cheers and Happy New Year.