Best of 2011: Music
2011: the first year of a new musical decade. Guitar music began to free itself from the shackles of formulaic indie-pop, slowly rising from the ashes by delving into broader retro influences; punk brashness replaced by Fleetwood Mac intelligence. Elsewhere, dubstep continued its mainstream dilution process whilst house and other shades of electronica stormed ahead in the creativity stakes. Here are the YKTS picks of the year.
Girls: Father, Son, Holy Ghost
The second full length effort from Girls smothers the edgiest aspects of Paul Simon in a delicacy most recently comparable to the XX. Fortunately, the band remembers to bring the shots of adrenaline. This means the lo-fi sound is continually assaulted: fuzzy distorted riffs, gospel choirs – it’s all there. Combine this with Christopher Owen’s honest lyricism, detailing a wide spectrum of relationships and emotions, (unsurprising given his back story) and the effect is outstanding. On first listen things can sound loose, but soon enough you realise the album is simply biding its time; assured in its ability to reach maximal climax. As if to prove this point, album closer ‘Forgiveness’ evolves into an 8 minute epic.
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Tyler, the Creator: Goblin
Goblin is not the most complete rap album of the year, heck even the past six months. It is disgusting, littered with metaphors and language that makes early Eminem look like a timid choir boy. However, even if at points Tyler seems too dependent on introspection and personal anecdotes, his Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All collective (OFWGKTA for short) owe a great deal to the Eminem school of shock, awe and split personality. For instance, don’t put this track on that mixtape for the girl of your dreams. Indeed, Tyler’s alter-ego Wolf Hayley is the Slim Shady of the digitalised 21st century: twisted, insatiably uncontrollable and deeper than meets the eye.
NOTE: Before playing ‘Yonkers’ (below), understand that it is a battle between 3 entities, hence the contradictions. These are Tyler, Dr T.C. (his conscience) and Wolf Hayley (his alter ego).
Bombay Bicycle Club: A Different Kind of Fix
‘For a genre so stagnant in its identity perception, this is exactly the kind of fix required, from a different kind of band.’ Steadman and co. go from strength to strength, experimenting with expansive rock, folk and electronica. Read the full YKTS review here.
The Weeknd: House of Balloons
Back in April, the then anonymous Abel Tesfaye, 21, released House of Balloons, the first instalment in a trilogy of free mixtapes released this year. Mystery surrounded ‘The Weeknd’, everything about the project screamed intrigue, from the name to the artwork. Crucially, the music lived up to the billing; darkening the atmospheric sound to RnB demonstrated by Frank Ocean and Drake. Outrageously versatile beats were outdone only by the variety in Abel’s voice, swooning in falsetto one minute before rapping with seduction the next. It is the project that single handedly made RnB exciting again, dragging the genre into the 21st century. Everything about House of Balloons is cutting edge, from the production, to the refreshing outlook on love, life and excess. The mixtape was also progressive in another sense, given away free, driven purely by the online hype machine/word of mouth. Support the XO gang, they are the creative future.
Download all three mixtapes here. Read the YKTS verdict on the final mixtape ‘Echoes of Silence’ over the coming days.
Tom Waits: Bad As Me
‘Waits remains a curiosity, a professional showman with the ability to delight, move and stir his audience at will, leaving them with little idea of what the “real” Waits is like, but wanting more and more of the Waits they don’t know.’ Waits best record yet, old school rhythm and blues at its finest. Read the full YKTS review here.
Scroobius Pip: Distraction Pieces
‘…propelled by its own sense of necessity, a full blooded firestorm of uncensored wit, opinion and meaning.’ The wordsmith continues his poetic insight in this first solo effort, evidencing a punkier, belligerent side than previously seen during work with Dan Le Sac. Not as good as ‘Angles’ but still undeniably brilliant. Read the full YKTS review here.
We Are Augustines: Rise Ye Sunken Ships
Rise Ye Sunken Ships is heavily influenced by lead singer Billy McCarthy’s morbidly eventful life. In bleak summary, his father left at birth whilst his mother developed schizophrenia, ultimately committing suicide in a homeless shelter. This meant Billy taking responsibility for his younger brother, Jim, through childhood, adolescence and numerous foster homes. Tragically however, Jim soon developed the same demons as his mother. After the youngster severely wounded a worker at the shelter, solitary confinement was seen as the only option – despite Billy’s best efforts. Upon overhearing this news, Jim hung himself.
‘Therefore, it may seem strange that an overriding sense of hope resonates through the album. For instance, ‘Book of James’, which deals most directly with Jim’s life and death, has a strong drumbeat running throughout; driving the tenderness of the vocals and lyricism forward. The whole track is understandably bittersweet: for every happy childhood memory mentioned, the harrowing conclusion remains the same. Nonetheless, as McCarthy ferociously strums the guitar and throws himself into every line, it is clear the experience is cathartic, offering resolution rather than painful recollection. All the contradictions solved in a single verse: “And all these words can all get spoken, just know we tried, and you’re forgiven.” Importantly, subsequent tracks such as ‘Augustine’ and ‘Juarez’ expand the sound and overall scope. Juarez is particularly brooding, an echoing baseline adding atmosphere to the otherwise sharp guitar riffs, before building to a crashing crescendo. Sonically, this brings us very much into Kings of Leon territory. However, the depth of the subject matter adds a maturity that Caleb and co have rarely reached.’
Read the rest of my live review for Altsounds.com here.
The Horrors: Skying
Skying, The Horrors’ third album, continues the drastic change of direction established during Primary Colours. The sound on this record is considerably more psychedelic, mixing Joy Division with Pink Floyd. It is shamelessly retro, baggy and pretentious. However, even if the synth soaked sparsity accumulates heavy artistic debts, when you can construct shoe-gaze rock this anthemic, it matters little. Let the revival continue.
Alex Kenji, Starkillers, Nadia Ali: Pressure (Alesso Remix)
2011 will go down as Avicci’s year and rightly so. Nevertheless, this remix by Alesso is simply mind blowing. Listen loud and try not to cry.
Friendly Fires: Blue Cassette (Tiga Remix)
‘Where’s the drop!’, you hear the Skrillex fans cry. Pity they’ve yet to realise foreplay is the best part of sex.
The 2 Bears remix of ‘The Bay’ also deserves an honourable mention.