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> RWG's Top 100 Albums of 2011
RWG
post Feb 5th 2012, 12:00 AM
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10. Smoke Ring for My Halo
Kurt Vile
Matador


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Kurt Vile was once a D.I.Y.-er and stoner guitarist for The War on Drugs. The trajectory he's followed into a polished singer/songwriter bears resemblance to that most famous rock stars follow (for whatever reason, Eddie Vedder screams out as the template). Smoke Ring for My Halo, the lo-fi guitarist's fourth solo album, features 1990s sound sound that is refined, sultry, and emotional. "Jesus Fever" makes for the perfect Sunday-morning hangover song with its mellow arrangement, soft strumming, use of keyboards, and thoughtful lyrics ("When I'm a ghost I see no reason to run when I'm already gone"). This side of the album is balanced out by three gripping acoustic tracks later in the album: "Runner Ups," "Peeping Tomboy," and "Smoke Ring for My Halo" really cut to the album's essence. Vile's rambling lines and acoustic licks make for a grungy, Seattle-esque brand of unplugged rock on these songs. "Puppet to the Man" and "Society Is My Friend" are more suited for the garage by way of distortion and percussion-heavy approaches. Compared to other singer-songwriters, most of which base their guitar playing around their artistry, Vile, a guitarist by nature, is able to take more rich approaches when incorporating things like progressions, riffs, and licks, even in the more acoustic songs. He enriches the conventional singer/songwriter album, and in terms of artists that take a straight up rock and roll approach, Kurt Vile is one of the best out there right now.

Recommended tracks: "Jesus Fever" "Puppet to the Man" "Runner Ups" "Smoke Ring for My Halo" "Peeping Tomboy"

9. Blessed
Lucinda Williams
UMG Recording Inc.


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When Lucinda Williams visited my hometown earlier this year, the rock columnist in the local paper heralded her one of the best living songwriters. I usually disagree with him, but in this case, he's probably right. Lucinda Williams fires off alt-country and southern rock gems as if from nowhere. Her edgy, raw, vulnerable approach to songwriter goes uncontested in country music. On top of the fact the 59-year old Louisiana native comes across as sharp as a tack in interviews, she's established herself as a talented and time-weathered singer, songwriter, guitarist, and performer. Her experience shows in Blessed, her eleventh album since 1979. This isn't Williams at her most intense or gripping, but it presents itself as a professional collection of rock, blues, and mostly country folk tracks. The album opens with "Buttercup" a gritty blues bar song with sharp lyrics and a big-punch chorus. The wintery blues ballad "Copenhagen" and the soft country ballad "I Don’t Know How You’re Livin'" both sound aimed at Williams' mentally ill brother (who I believe recently passed). The latter in particular resembles Williams' touching 2007 hit "Are You Alright?" Overall, Blessed proves a slower album—and maybe a boring one for those who like to kept on the edge of their seats track by track. "Buttercup" makes for its one true rock moment. This isn't Lucinda Williams at her hardest, but it's some of her most thoughtful songwriting. She knows how to put together songs.

Recommended tracks: "Copenhagen" "Buttercup" "I Don't Know How You're Livin'" "Blessed"

8. Stone Rollin'
Raphael Saadiq
Sony Music Entertainment


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Firstly, I can't believe Raphael Saadiq is pushing 50. He looks f'in cool. I'm half his age and look about as haggard. Like his appearance, his latest album, Stone Rollin', points to a man that just can't be 50. The songs have such a youth and energy from them. The moments of joy, sadness, excitement, energy, anger, and love sound fresh and youthful. It plays like a 20-something's life encyclopaedia. Beyond its lyrical content, Stone Rollin' makes for an interesting collection of lost soul subgenres. The kit of roadhouse blues, R&B, Motown, and pop make it an exceptional old-school album. The title track and the lead "Heart Attack" are upbeat blues numbers with catchy hooks and riffs. "Movin' Down the Line" speaks to the album's Motown influence; it's upbeat in the key of a "My Girl" or a "I Can’t Help Myself." "Good Man" may prove the album's centrepiece. The gripping, R&B track is self-assuring and heartbreaking at the same time. The falsetto note at its apex is to die for. People get images of a time-weathered Muddy Waters howling into a microphone when they think of old bluesmen. I don't consider 45 old, but if Stone Rollin' is any indication, Raphael Saadiq may be the kind of artist that would stay true to his youth at 80.

Recommended tracks: "Good Man" "Movin' Down the Line" "Stone Rollin'" "Heart Attack"

7. Take Care, Take Care
Explosions in the Sky
Temporary Residence Ltd.


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I'll always remember 2011 as the year I began my infatuation with Explosions in the Sky. I never knew an instrumental band could make for such a thoughtful listening experience. The four-piece Austin, Texas, band creates the ideal lying in a field or sky staring music, or, as they more better describe it, "cathartic mini-symphonies." In my research, I don't notice any major stylistic shifts between albums, perhaps other than the fact they build a little more and take a bit longer to get into their songs' essence on Take Care, Take Care. All but one of the six tracks are over seven minutes in length. The album opens for an intense and chilling intro to "Last Known Surroundings"—perhaps the bone-chilling musical moment of the year for me—which fades into a softer, slower, and more melancholic but equally beautiful main section. The album's other masterpiece is "Postcard from 1952," a continual rise from trickling introduction to echoed chords in the centre to an all-in rock out before a soft closing. Most tracks follow a similar format; "Human Qualities" is another highlight. Explosions in the Sky take me back to my piano and viola days, when I recognized melodies for what they are: a series of compatible notes at the forefront of a musical ensemble—not words. And the way they can get you thinking is incredible. The instrumental approach emphasizes things in ways pop music can't. Track names. Chords progressions. Riffs and themes. They just resonate differently. It's not that I'd never heard instrumental rock before—I've done the rounds with Pink Floyd and Zeppelin and Godspeed You Black Emperor of whatever they're called—I've such never heard largeness applied to it like this.

Recommended tracks: "Last Known Surroundings" "Postcard from 1952" "Human Qualities"

6. Wounded Rhymes
Lykke Li
Warner Music UK Limited


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I think Lykke Li is going to be the next indie star to break the mainstream to a Florence + The Machine or Amy Winehouse extent. She has all the makings of a successful "cache artist": an interesting voice, a catchy way of delivering pop melodies, a striking look (note the Fiona Apple-like gaze), and underground marketese. The Swedish singer's follow up album Wounded Rhymes has put her on her way for a number of reasons. There's no denying its catchiness or the pop-savvy streak in Zachrisson. "I Follow Rivers," for example, shifts between three equally sexy- and mysterious-sounding melodies in different sections. It's a dark and intriguing song and possibly the album's finest moment. The more rhythmic "Get Some" takes an aggressive, in-your-face approach (despite some self-deprecating lyrics to the extent of, "I'm your prostitute / You goin' get some”). "Youth Knows No Pain" also emphasizes percussion, but its use of organs gives it a funky Eric Burdon feel. Rounding out the album's highlights is "Sadness Is a Blessing," a beautiful heartbreak ballad with 1960s blue-eyed soul styling. Parts of the rest of the album use similar structures as its hits ("Rich Kids Blues," "Jerome"), while others take a more minimalistic approach ("Silent My Song," "I Know Places"). But I never feel the need to skin a song when I listen to Wounded Rhymes. Whether I’m out or at home alone, I just get sucked in when I hear her sticky vocals and trippy tunes. This is a sharp album that fuses classic pop elements with a hippie kid appeal. Her energy and artistry hint towards a lengthy career. I'm sure she's just getting started.

Recommended tracks: "I Follow Rivers" "Get Some" "Sadness Is a Blessing" "Youth Knows No Pain"


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thegreathoo
post Feb 5th 2012, 3:18 AM
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This post has been edited by thegreathoo: Feb 19th 2012, 1:29 PM


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post Feb 5th 2012, 4:15 PM
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^ Been busy.


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RWG
post Feb 12th 2012, 1:10 AM
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I'll finish this tonight, though I don't think anyone cares. haha.gif


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RWG
post Feb 12th 2012, 1:51 AM
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5. Badlands
Dirty Beaches
Zoo Music


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What a peculiar way to launch a music career. Badlands meshes the weird, romantic, haunting, and old-fashioned. Alex Zhang Hungtai, the artist behind the solo project, invites comparisons to the likes of Elvis, Suicide, The Cramps, and Roy Orbison—just to name a few. The album's mood may be consistent—something to the extent of the one get in a tobacco-reeking bachelor pad at 2:00 a.m.—but its style is vast. A rockabilly/psychobilly feel comes off of the upbeat tracks' guitar riffs. "A Hundred Highways" and "Sweet 17" promote Zhang's being cataloged as some bizarre kind of punk rock maverick. Yet Badlands' ballads are the reason behind my ranking it the fifth best album of 2011. "Lord Knows Best" is a hauntingly beautiful and simple love song. Zhang's Elvis-like baritone and the piano looping sample from Françoise Hardy's "Voilà" make the perfect match with its dense lyrics: "The lord knows best when it comes to you, / But you know well that I don't give a damn about anything but you." Badland's drawing from miscellaneous musical sources can also be heard in "True Blue," which samples two songs by The Ronettes: the oldies guitar hook comes from "Keep on Dancing," while the melody and some lyrics are drawn from "Be My Baby." "Lord Knows Best" and "True Blue" are almost objectively romantic; mostly everyone should find them charming or intriguing in some way. The album's less sensitive side may delve more on the whackier side of familiar things, but it's still a jewel for anyone who cherishes the weirdness of rock and roll.

Recommended tracks: "Lord Knows Best" "True Blue" "A Hundred Highways" "Sweet 17"

4. Nine Types of Light
TV on the Radio
DGC Records


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Nine Types of Light will undoubtedly mark the end of an era for TV on the Radio. Just nine days after its release, the band lost bassist Gerard Smith to lung cancer. Because even the loss of something as audibly replaceable as a bassist can shift a band’s performing and songwriting dynamics, it proves thankful for TV on the Radio fans that Smith hung on for this album's production. Who knows if it would have been as good? Unfortunately, Nine Types of Light is hard to manipulate into a mourning album after the fact. It's actually quite upbeat. The Brooklyn band takes on a largely energetic tone on their fourth album, at times delving into funk and disco sounds. The opener, "Second Song," makes for an adequate microcosm; it's a rangy and dynamic pop song incorporating Barry Gibb-esque vocals and a palpable brassiness (horns are the staple of my favourite TV on the Radio song, "Blues from Down Here," off of 2006's Return to Cookie Mountain). The nightlife feel the band established with songs like "Staring at the Sun" and "Wolf like Me" isn't so much at the forefront here, but a vibrant mixture of funk, soul, electronic, and indie rock make for a solid listen from start to finish. If there is anywhere on the album from which to pull sentimental undertones for Smith's death, it would have to be in the lyrics of "Keep Your Heart": "If the world all falls apart, how am I gonna keep your heart?"

Recommended tracks: "Keep Your Heart" "Second Song" "Caffeinated Consciousness" "You" "Will Do"

3. 21
Adele
XL


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When I ask myself who really won 2011 in music, the only name that comes to mind is Adele. In the modern music industry, she's the only person right now who has her cakes and eats it too. I can't think of a recent chart-topper as stylistically thorough as this one or, more to the point, the last time talent dominated the charts like this. The local popularity of her debut album 19 is one of many examples of how, unlike in the U.S., non-club music is allowed to be popular in the U.K., but the international success of 21 proves a point about her trajectory. As haunting as "Hometown Glory" is, I think she becomes a more interesting artist on this album. My first article would be pointing out "Rolling in the Deep"; in place of a simple and elaborately decorated pop single, the album opens with a loud, abrasive, "kick your ass" foot-stomper. I think she shows a willingness to showcase the fullness of a band by highlighting so many different elements of it (drums, bass, keyboards, electric guitars, and choral backgrounds all have fortissimo dynamics to them). You simply don't hear many number-one hits like this anymore. The rest of the album features moments of sass ("Rumour Has It") and elegance ("Set Fire to the Rain"), but while I do think it's like many top-40 albums in that its hits are its best songs, I don't think it ever wavers or merits skipping. The scary part about Adele is that she's better live. I usually consider live performances the premier authenticity check in pop music. Based on her rendition of "Someone like You" on Jools Holland—which I’d probably consider the best live music moment of 2011—she's of a dying breed of pop artists that backs up what they sell.

Recommended tracks: "Rolling in the Deep" "Someone like You" "Rumour Has It" "Set Fire to the Rain"

2. Kaputt
Destroyer
Merge Records


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Between his work with The New Pornographers and his solo(ish) career as Destroyer, Dan Bejar has long been considered an indie rock icon. However, his shift away from clean power chords and upbeat rock songs towards a slower, more chilled brand of stoner indie on Kaputt proves a genial artistic manoeuvre. This won't read like the most professional write-up ever; my love of Kaputt is so subjective (as I think anyone's would have to be). The mellow, daydream quality of these songs make for a thought-evoking, feel-good listen similar to the one you get from listening to your favourite song from when you were sixteen. From the dreamy "Kaputt" to the tantric-like "Blue Eyes" to the eleven-minute tower of song in "Bay of Pigs," the thoughtfulness goes unparalleled. Thematically, Kaputt scores big. These songs all take on unique melodies, riffs, and repetitions, but a mixture of Depeche Mode synthiness, Lou Reed rambles, and 1930s elevator jazz prevail from start to finish. The use of the saxophone gives the album a distinct and nostalgic feeling. The backup singers and split male/female-sung melodies throw an old-school soul vibe into the mix. However, the most genial thing about Kaputt is its lyrics. And I don't say that often about my favourite music. Really, it's an album about nothing, but the sharpness and romanticism with which Bejar describes everyday people, places, routines, stories, and relationships make lyrics stick in your mind the first time you hear them. The title track's in particular are sleek: “Wasting away, chasing some girls, alright / Chasing cocaine to the backrooms of the world for now.” I concede failure in saying what I'm trying to say about this album. It just makes me feel a certain way, and I cherish whatever that is.

Recommended tracks: "Kaputt" "Blue Eyes" "Downtown" "Chinatown" "Bay of Pigs"

1. Let England Shake
PJ Harvey
Universal Island Records Ltd.


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For anyone who never got into PJ Harvey during her heyday in the 1990s alt-rock mania, now is a good time to give her another try. Not only is Let England Shake more inventive, detailed, and sophisticated than her earlier music, but, in my opinion, it's the best album of 2011. For one, I love the way she executes this concept. As its name suggests, Let England Shake is a political album—in a nutshell, describing the effect of centuries of war on British society—but its composition is so elegant. Both lyrically and musically, Harvey mixes boldness and beauty to the perfect extent. Marked by a mellotron, a wide array of brass, male vocal callbacks, and Harvey's unconventional sense of melody, many of these songs simply don't fit under any categorical label. They are their own thing. My personal obsession is "The Last Living Rose." It uses basic electric chords and a militant-sounding rhythm and eventually marches into a pulsing brass section and a beautiful guitar solo (reminiscent of the one in The Shins' "New Slang"). The simplicity, crispness, and beauty of this song make it my favourite individual track of 2011. The album's fine points don't end there, however. Track after track, Let England Shake offers something lovely, distinct, raw, and heartfelt. Highlighted by a gripping outro, "The Words That Maketh Murder" is a more abrasive take on war and death. "In the Dark Places" recalls Harvey’s grungier side, while a trickling keyboard effect in "On Battlefield Hill" add, ironically, a peaceful edge to the album. At the end of the day, I can't praise or recommend this enough. Something about the songs and lyrics put images of Victorian London alleyways in your head, yet their message is so current. As for the musical aspect, I don’t know in what era you'd find such a unique way of writing music.

Recommended tracks: "The Last Living Rose" "The Words That Maketh Murder" "In the Dark Places" "On Battlefield Hill" "Let England Shake"


I hope you enjoyed my list. Thanks to those who read. I know this list doesn't really target IDF's taste in music, but hopefully a few people enjoyed reviews or found something they like.


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post Feb 13th 2012, 10:29 AM
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