With the year coming to an end, I've decided to roll-out my Top 30 Albums of 2011 list. Yesterday, I gave you pt. 1, so today here's pt. 2. Before the jump here's a recap of what there's been so far.
30. 4- Beyonce
29. The Dreamer, The Believer- Common
28. Just Once EP- How to Dress Well
#27 Alien Observer- Grouper
Imagine if you will for a second that you’re drowning in the midst of a great ocean in the dark. The waves slowly roll over you and you start to sink, just before you do a soothing hum enters your ear. A smile comes to your face and you are at ease, your impending doom no longer seeming to matter. This is the imagery I conjure up when listening to Grouper.
On one half of a double-album that serves as her sixth official LP, Grouper has recorded six tracks of mind-numbing austerity. Opener “Moon is Sharp,” comes in heavy with mountains of reverb and Liz Harris’ voice rises up out of the ether. Her shy voice is the alluring eye of the hurricane. After the six-minute drone has ended, you’re left thinking you’ve spent hours floating on that same listless sea.
In what I argue is the album’s strongest spot, Grouper’s vocals ride a trembling keyboard line to a dark distant planet. “Look into the night sky, looking towards the big lights, looking out to be free,” she sings on “Alien Observer.” That longing soon becomes despondence as Harris realizes she’s an “alien observer,” in a world that isn’t hers.
Grouper’s has often been lauded for her ability to draw up the sublime from the sorrowful and this work is no different. It’s a record that can make you cry tears of joy one minute and bitterly weep the next, the severity of the reverb-heavy music often dulled by that serene voice. It’s a faint voice that calls in the dark night, calling you to a home you’ve never known.
#26 Step Brothers- Don Trip & Starlito
So much of this mixtape is the kind of dumb-fun you rarely hear in rap anymore, where two rappers spit as if their lives depended on it. Some of these lines are Lil Wayne levels of absurdity, with ‘Lito stating at one point that “I don’t get as high as I used to… Vince Carter!” “Money talks and mine will never go hoarse,” Don Trip declares with a snarl on opener “Boats and Ho’s.” For more than an hour, the duo talks and rarely do they “go hoarse.”
Part of the dumb-fun of this mixtape comes with the inclusion of samples from the Will Ferrell “classic” Step Brothers. Rather than bend to the will of such an oddball inclusion, Trip and ‘Lito zig-zag at a stupefying-pace, dropping a touching track just when you expected another knucklehead banger. Over a hypnotic vocal loop and clacking drum machine, Don Trip becomes a dealer cognizant of the damage his career is doing to his community. “She’ll get high no matter what; I might as well be the man. Might as well take the dope and hit the trap with a plan. Had to get my ass in and provide for my fam,” he raps on “5th Song.” His consciousness gets the best of him and he reminds himself “that’s somebody’s girl.” ‘Lito seals the deal on the emotional cut, remembering a fallen friend “in a box.”
For two guys who had reportedly only known each for a year or so before, this mixtape is marvelous. The Tennessee MCs make it sound too easy, trading bars as if they known each other since birth. That camaraderie carries this regional work to impressive heights. Though it may be cut from the cloth of Southern trap-rap, the Step Brothers mixtape transcends its locale, “making something out of nothing, like pottery.”
#25 Cole World: The Sideline Story- J. Cole
The title of this album masterfully encapsulates J. Cole’s own rap career. Late last year as his brilliant Friday Night Light mixtape was about to drop, Jay-Z announced New Orleans-rapper Jay Electronica’s signing to his Roc Nation imprint. The slight was practically foreseen by Cole who bitterly protested “it was supposed to be your moment,” on the intro. For Cole, the signing was just another case of him being “sidelined.”
Cole’s coming into the game now, to continue that sport’s metaphor and throughout this album, he rarely drops the ball. Track after track, Cole spits some of the most inspired verses of his career over his jazzy-piano and drum-heavy production sound. I’ve long respected Cole for keeping away outside producers, honing his soulful snark in a musical vacuum. It’s a move that pays off-well for the most part, though the dubstep-driven “Mr. Nice Watch,” and hit-single “Work Out,” represent two marked whiffs.
Any mistake Cole makes on the album is forgotten the moment “Lost Ones,” comes on. The track is the most personally intense rap song I’ve heard all year and should become Cole’s calling card. This abortion narrative details that personal decision from both sides, Cole himself giving voice to the man and the woman. “You’ve got some nerve to come up to me talkin’ ‘bout abortion,” he fiercely says as the woman, his voice nearly giving out under the weight of the emotion. The track represents everything Cole has come to be known for, heartbreaking-introspection, emotional-honesty, and clever turns of phrase. “I run the town, they tried to call me underground,” Cole raps on “Dollar and a Dream III.” Cole’s days of laboring in the underground are long since passed. He’s come into the game and isn’t giving up his spot anytime soon.
THE SHOW GOES ON, TOMORROW.