Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top 30 Albums of 2011 (Pt. V)

Since I didn't deliver the goods yesterday, I'm back with a double-dose today. That's right you'll be getting six albums instead of the usual three as we move closer to the coveted #1 spot. But first, a 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 Burnies- Curren$y

23. Suck It and See- Arctic Monkeys

22. Celestial Lineage- Wolves in the Throne Room

21. The Whole Love- Wilco

20. Bad As Me- Tom Waits

19. Live, Love, A$AP­- A$AP Rocky

#18 Helplessness Blues- Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes are hopelessly preoccupied with the past. For them music stopped as the 60s came to an end. This is the most modern-sound the band approximates, often dipping into timeless folk-balladry. They long for a time they can never live in and this album represents that deep-desire to go back in time, if only in their mind.

“So now I am older than my mother and father, when they had their daughter now what does that say about me,” Robin Pecknold asks on the serene opener “Montzeuma.” With the voice of an Appalachian angel, he turns an eye to his own past, lamenting what he “used to be.” The song supplies rustic guitar work and harmonies that would make the Beach Boys proud. On “Bedouin Dress,” the groups utilizes Irish-tinged violin and recalls the restorative waters of Innisfree. “Just to be at Innisfree,” they join in singing, longing to be at the tranquil place once more. The jaunty “Battery Kinzie,” sees the band break gently from this pattern of nostalgia, focusing on a present problem. The track is a flimsy relief however, as Pecknold can’t help but dwell on what led him to losing his love.

Though the band spends a great deal of time dwelling on the past both musically and lyrically, on the title track Pecknold obsesses over his present station. “Just tell me what I should do,” he demurely demands. On this album, Pecknold’s past is a bright and glorious land to which he can never return, his present and future mysteries he is helpless to solve. 

"Grown Ocean"

#17 21- Adele 

Hopeless romantic and jilted lover. Adele inhabits these roles with a “fire starting in her heart,” as she croons on “Rolling in the Deep.” The moment that voice first emerges with the subtle guitar playing, you know this is a woman that’s been wronged, someone who’s suffered. She doesn’t need to go any further, one line paints a thousand pictures. The fire burns out of control on the propulsive chorus where Adele reflects on her heart being helplessly crushed. “We could’ve had it all,” she screams, her recollections the gasoline to the forest fire that is her former relationship.

That raging fire becomes a delicate ember on “Turning Tables,” Adele is lost, breathless under someone’s thumb. The cold piano-figure further quells the flames that burnt within her at as she has to convince herself she’ll “be braver.” Adele continues to look longingly into the past on the blue-eyed soul of “Don’t You Remember,” where she can’t help but wonder if she’s even still thought of. Desperation is a demon she can’t seem to shake, “just take it all with my love,” is the plea on “Take It All.” The piano-laden track, common to this album, leaves Adele listlessly floating in sea of conflicting emotions.

The great irony of this album is that its strongest, most redemptive moment comes in the most fragile package. The alluring “Someone Like You,” is the one of the finest closing tracks in years. “Never mind I’ll find someone like you, I wish nothing but the best, for you too,” she maturely sings over a single piano. Here her power comes in admitting defeat. The fire of “Rolling in the Deep,” has been put out, as Adele knows her former love found someone else. She can now move on, but knows it won’t easy. It’s bittersweet for the 23 year old, and a brutal reminder for the listener, that love is rarely an easy emotion. “Rolling in the Deep,” may be the catchy single that moves the body, but “Someone Like You,” is the heart and soul of this record. It’s a forlorn soul longing to be loved, staying cautiously guarded through the years. If age is just a number, then that number on the cover is lie. On this record, Adele has spent an eternity in and out of love.

"Someone Like You

#16 Wounded Rhymes-Lykke Li 


Can this even be the same Lykke Li? On 2008’s Youth Novels she hesitantly proclaimed her love, “I think I’m a little bit in love with you,” she cooed on “Little Bit.” That shyness is now gone. Li is no longer afraid to open up and on Wounded Rhymes it takes her to places she knows all too well.

“Oh my love, I’ve been denied it. Oh my love is unrequited,” on the album Li is fractured, but instead of wallowing in pain she finds power in it. The meditative ballad of “Unrequited Love,” is beaten senseless by “Get Some,” a galloping track where Li declares “like a shotgun needs an outcome, I’m your prostitute you gon’ get some.” Here Li is in a bold new place, in total control, wrapping a sad-sap around her finger. It’s Li at her most dominant, and she gleefully seizes the reins.

With the Ronettes-indebted “Sadness is a Blessing,” Li takes up sadness as her boyfriend, wondering if sorrow will be her only lover. The song’s deep drums and soaring chorus betray the pain Li is in. Li is pathetically hopeless on the stunning “I Follow Rivers.” When I first heard the song, it was my pick for song of the year and in the months since, nothing has changed. The track similarly employs a grand-sweep, masterfully concealing the desperation of the situation. “Oh I beg you, can I follow?” she pleads, willing to follow her unreciprocated love into the depths of the deepest sea. The disconnect between Li’s assertiveness and the situation at hand is staggering. Li is finding power in pitiful circumstances, convinced that things can change.

The love Li sings of on this album is complicated. It’s a love grounded and starry-eyed, empowering yet deflating, painful but comforting. These wounds may cut Li deep, but they are ultimately scars of strength, earned by an old-pro who’s been to battle before. 

"I Follow Rivers"

#15 Hilarious- Louis C.K. 

If I had no discretion in putting together this list, this album would sit steadfastly at the top. Cackling at all the inferior albums below, but as it stands I realize it’s more than a stretch to put a comedy album at the top of a year-end album list. In spite of my own reservations about placement, I have no problem in calling this the greatest comedy record released in the past 10 years.

“You’re all gonna die,” Louie reminds the audience on the intro. He goes on to relay that being dead is “mostly what you’re ever gonna’ be,” the starry-eyed optimism of tracks like “Kid’s Names,” giving way to Bill Hicks levels of cynicism. This shift is no doubt inspired by Louie’s divorce and hitting that magic number of 40. Much like his phenomenal FX show Louie, he extensively details the struggles of being single after “10 years of marriage.” In his life as a 40-something single dad, getting into arguments with a three-year-old over a cookie is a common occurrence. 

In the album’s strongest segment, Louie looks at the prevailing attitude in our country that we often want way more than we deserve, all the while hating the “beautifulthing” that we have. Louie’s observational humor has always been top-notch and now his social commentary has caught up. With this deft-blend of styles, Louie has released an album worthy of being called “hilarious.”

"The Way We Talk"

 #14 Cults- Cults 

When I first heard the jovial “Go Outside,” back in February 2010, I was afraid. I worried that this idyllic slice of indie pop was doomed to die before Cults as a band could ever begin. Hearing that song in the context of an entire album quells my fears, and I can easily rest my head on the bed of modern girl-pop the band has made.

The instant that shuffling guitar comes in on opener “Abducted,” and a distant Madelline Follin chirps over a whimsical xylophone I know that all is well. “I knew right then that I'd been abducted I knew right then that he would be taking my heart,” it’s a sentiment as old as the music Cults hangs their hat on, but still sounds strangely refreshing. Part of the revitalization comes from Cults combining this “formulaic,” style with alien elements. At times you hear synth and troublesome quotes from actual cult-leaders, two things unlikely to crop on any of the Supremes work.  

Even now, many musicians still struggle to open up and I have long admired Girl pop for doing just that with remarkable ease. When Follin, backed by a beat two boot-steps removed from Nancy Sinatra declares “I never saw the point in trying, cause I would only let you down,” on “Never Saw the Point,” it’s a nakedly-honest admission on an album overflowing with them. By the time the 50s flavored “Rave On,” sends us off into the night, we realize we’re in a place few dare to go to, a place where melancholy and merriment walk side by side.  


#13 Goblin- Tyler, the Creator

Bastard intro, how the f**k I’m supposed to top that?” Tyler questioningly snarls on “Goblin.” It’s a valid question, in the year since Bastard dropped Tyler and Odd Future have become lightning rods for controversy in the rap community. The young rappers who “gleefully” rap about sex, drugs, violence, and all-out debauchery are the new Slim Shady. Begging the question when does music go too far? Do lyrics matter if we know they’re fictional? Can something this venomous be considered art?

“I’m a f**king walking paradox,” he raps on “Yonkers.” Thanks to the video, still the most shocking I’ve seen in years, it’s a line almost any rap-fan has heard. With lurching synthesizer and repeated screeches that sound like a Bernard Hermann orchestra on speed, the track is the most important rap song to drop in 2011. The gigantic “Yonkers,” gives way to the punk-rap “Radicals,” with the anarchic chorus of “kill people, burn s**t, f**k school.” “She,” the first sign of relaxation, features an addictive Frank Ocean hook and is the most "mature" track Tyler has recorded. The three hit knockout of “Transylvania,” “Nightmare,” and “Tron Cat,” is Tyler at his vilest, soaring to new heights of degeneracy in “Tron Cat.”

The album’s back-half furthers Tyler’s imagined chaos, he calls out anyone who dare call him horrorcore on the virulent synth-paradise “Sandwitches,” pitting himself and his misfits against “them.” This violence is contrasted with the respite of “Analog,” which amounts to Tyler just hanging out and having a good time. “B***h S**k D***” follows and mentions its name a million times over. The song would be outright misogyny were it not for the wonky beat and adolescent lines offered by Jasper and Taco. Tyler kills the rambunctious pair at the song’s end and disturbingly lays waste to the rest of the crew on “Window.” “I killed my f**king friends,” he cries at the song’s end. “Golden,” puts an end to the violence and the album, as Tyler comes to grips with the conflicting natures inside him.

Tyler thrives on conflict and controversy, as this album fully demonstrates. Every time someone takes a line of Tyler’s and uses it against him, he smiles gleefully and politely tells them off. It’s Tyler as contradiction, he’s a kid who’s rapped about doing cartoonish amounts of cocaine, but proclaims to not drink or smoke. He’s killed more people in his songs than Dahmer, but couldn’t be nicer in person. His music is such a drastic far-cry from his real-life that the difference is often more-jarring than his controversial lyrics. For as divisive as his words are, we need people like Tyler. He artfully hopscotches between lies and truth, beauty and depravity with ease, “paradox” personified. 



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