Monday, December 26, 2011

Top 30 Albums of 2011 (Pt. III)

And you thought I'd take a break for Christmas? How wrong you were. You know the deal by now, here's the third part of my Top 30 Albums of 2011, with a little recap.

30. 4- Beyonce
29. The Dreamer, The Believer- Common
28. Just Once EP- How to Dress Well
27. Alien Observer- Grouper
26. Step Brothers- Don Trip & Starlito
25. Cole World: Sideline Story- J. Cole

#24 Weekend at Burnie's- Curren$y

Work ethic. It’s a phrase you might not think to associate with a stoner-rap performer like Curren$y, but in reality it’s what’s distinguished him from every weed-rapper this year. In 2011 his output has resembled his hooks; stunningly-simplistic, but impossibly-effective. In just one year, the man known as “Spitta,” found time to drop: 3 well-received mixtapes, a posse-album, and his third major label release, Weekend at Burnies.

If you had to use a word to describe Spitta’s rap style it would have to be slippery. “Them haters trying to deplete my shine like Venetian blinds, but son do what sun do: rise,” he raps on “You See It.” At first listen, the clever turn blows right by, the wonky beat masking the brilliancy of the line. Given Curren$y’s tendency to ramble around the beat, instead of staying on point, it’s an example of missed-genius, that happens all too often in the New Orleans rapper’s world.

Hazy beats envelope most of this album, with “She Don’t Want A Man,” being the stoned-summit. Even for a man who specializes in hypnotic music and thorough descriptions of “lighting up,” the beat here is incredibly alluring and the story unusually detailed. Here he examines the breakdown of an unfaithful relationship, showing signs of guilt at the track’s end. “Say something talking heavy on her heart today. Telling her the situation is wrong and she should walk away. Cause her feelings was coming into play,” he raps. Curren$y may have the mind and lungs of a stoner, but he has a heart of gold.

"She Don't Want A Man"

#23 Suck It and See- Arctic Monkeys

The Clash. The Smiths. Oasis. England has had a long history of declaring the latest emerging rock-band saviors of the form, torch bearers of Lennon & McCartney. Some did everything to avoid the comparison (The Smiths) and others relished it (Oasis), but couldn’t stand the intense heat of the spotlight. Then there’s the Arctic Monkeys.

From their first record which was publicized to the point of parody the Arctic Monkeys have had an intolerable hype surrounding them. They avoided the sophomore slump with Favourite Worst Nightmare, dropping it just a year after the fastest-selling album in British history. They took a hard-left turn with third-album Humbug, embracing psychedelic sounds, a move many “kingmakers” balked at. In many ways, this decision was their biggest move to date. It’s a move that allowed them to pull-back from the public and make a record on their own terms, with little opinions as to what an Arctic Monkeys record “should sound like.”

And what a sound this record has. It’s a remarkable blend of everything the band has laid to wax before. There’s the punk-meets-clubber tone of “Library Pictures,” the indelible garage-rock chorus of “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala,” and the creeping psychedelia of single “Don’t Sit Down Because I’ve Moved Your Chair.” This blend would be bland without a full-working Alex Turner, who fires on cylinders for the album’s 40 minutes. Opener “She’s Thunderstorms,” sports a lucid-guitar line, not far-removed from the Stone Roses’ discography, and Turner’s most soulful singing to date. His decision to dial down for the number, one of the wisest choices the Sheffield-group has made. 

As fast as our music scene moves, England moves at twice the pace. Bands come and go at a moment’s notice; not surprising considering this is the country that has birthed nearly every-important band of the last 30 years. With that, the Arctic Monkeys have been forgotten in some circles. “I want to build you up, brick by brick,” Turner sings intently. Though the press may have “built them up,” the Arctic Monkeys have succeeded on their own terms by moving at their own pace. Spurning the past and steadfastly-staring toward the future.

"She's Thunderstorms"

#22 Celestial Lineage- Wolves in the Throne Room

I hate black-metal. I hate it for the same reason many seem to have such a disdain for reggae, because I often see little variance between artists. For me, one loud and overbearing scream is often indecipherable from another. That is to say little of the lyrics, that are often so obsessed with Satanism it borders on the absurd. Many consider this album, the fourth by Washington-natives Wolves in the Throne Room to be firmly in the grounds of black metal, but its inclusion on the list says otherwise.

It all begins with the chiming of a bell, rusty and distant. Soon we hear the jostle of chimes, a swelling synthesizer, and the apparent pitter-patter of piano. Jessika Kenney’s self-described “clean vocals,” rise up triumphantly, announcing the foreboding doom just-off in the horizon. “Redness in the east beyond the mountain, the wheel begins to turn anew.” As her angelic voice floats away, electric guitar cruelly comes forth and darkness sets in. With an on-time drum-breakdown by Aaron Weaver, brother Nathan begins to snarl and shadows rain down. “Black clouds bring rain,” he screams, fully-aware of the stormy sensations his band is capable of producing. The triumphant gloom of “Thuja Magus Imperium,” gallops on for 11 minutes and when it’s over, we’re left with what could be described as Godspeed You Black Emperor! converting to a black-metal band.

The majesty of the opener seeps into every nook of this LP. Several times, the unadorned sounds of nature can be heard with rustling leaves and howling winds. The brutality of the vocals is often buoyed by a pastoral presence, the lyrics finding a warm-home out in the elements. “A temple of wet earth and rough stones erected in haste,” is recalled in “SubterraneanInitiation.” This is music forged from fire in the bitter cold.

Other records in 2011 may be better, but I haven’t heard a more epic album this entire year. The ebb and flow of this record is as massive as a major river, the band dialing down from their wall of noise to the plucking of a harp in an instant. Few bands are capable of making dread and doom sound alluring, but on Celestial Lineage Wolves in the Throne Room found a way. This is a release that breaks forth from the shackles of black metal, defining the sedate sub-genre on its own terms.

 "Prayer of Transformation"



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