Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 25 Records of 2011

25) Thrice - Major/Minor
24) Blu - Give Me My Flowers While I Can Smell Them
23) Big Sean - Finally Famous
22) Doomtree - No Kings
21) Dawes - Nothing is Wrong
20) The Horrible Crowes - Elsie
19) Ryan Adams - Ashes & Fire
18) My Morning Jacket - Circuital
17) Washed Out - Within and Without
16) Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes
15) Moving Mountains - Waves
14) The Dangerous Summer - War Paint
13) Skyzoo - The Great Debater
12) M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
11) J. Cole - Cole World: The Sideline Story

10) The Black Keys - El Camino

The only reason this barely made the top 10 is because I had a mere three weeks to spend with it. I'm personally more partial to Brothers falsetto-assisted, blue-eyed soul, but it's equally hard to argue with the Keys when they bring back their charging, fuzzy garage blues. "Lonely Boy" (along with it's hilariously awesome video) and the overtly Led Zeppelin-inspired "Little Black Submarines" are enough to make this one a regular listen for some time to come.

9) Common - The Dreamer, The Believer

Another album that dropped near the end of the year that made the cut. Much like Grizzly said in his year-end list, I haven't listen to much else aside from this since it's early December release. No I.D.'s production has ushered the material back into the soulful leanings that made Be a favorite and it's nice to see Common round out his laid-back consciousness with some grit on the fiery "Sweet".

8) Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver
 I understood the buzz around For Emma, Forever Ago. There's plenty of intrigue and appeal to a sad sap recording mournful acoustic tunes in a cabin by himself in the dead of winter. With Bon Iver, Bon Iver, however, Justin Vernon turns in his tissue box for a plugged-in sound that adds texture to his tender, but previously one-dimensional, sound. If the likes of "Hinnom, TX" or "Holocene" don't sparkle enough for you as is, be sure to check out the visual accompaniments that were released for every song on the record.

7) The-Dream - 1977

Terius Nash a.k.a. The-Dream dropped this free mixtape on us with little warning. The confusion tied to the abruptness of it's release subsided with one listen thanks to the sheer quality jammed into the 11 tracks. The bitter break-up songs that stem from his controversial split with Christina Milian ("Wake Me When It's Over", "Long Gone") are paired with glossy bass rattlers ("Ghetto", "Rolex") that reaffirm why The-Dream's other moniker is Radio Killa. Heartbreak, braggadocio, and multi-layered beats...what more does an R&B album need?

6) Portugal. The Man. - In The Mountain, In The Cloud
Portugal. The Man have cemented themselves as one of the most prolific bands of the (somewhat) new millennium, releasing an album a year since 2006. This year's edition might be one of there best. Possessing a touch more focus and cohesiveness than their last few efforts, the band proceeds to round things out even further with a string section and measured synths. The result is a collection of psychedelic rock tunes that evoke their roots in the sounds of Pink Floyd, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin, without abandoning their own (albeit ever-changing) sound.

5) Adele - 21

 Had to "respect" this into the top five. Due to overplays ("Rolling in the Deep", "Someone Like You") and waning interest since the summer, I wasn't sure this album was going to end up that high in my list. But looking back to the first time I gave 21 a listen, I remember instantly feeling like this was the best record of 2012, bar none. While I may have ended up liking some LPs better this year, few were as hard-hitting, emotionally-genuine, or as all-around standouts as this one.

4) The Roots - undun

The Legendary Roots Crew spent most of 2012 backing up Jimmy Fallon's great late night show, so when news broke that they'd be releasing a new album near the end of the year, there was marked excitement. That anticipation seemed to ebb when the band described their forthcoming LP as a concept album that tells the story of a hard-luck young adult in the inner city starting from his death and finishing with his birth (closed with a four-act classical movement inspired by Sufjan Steven's "Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)") However, when the crisp snare snaps, ominous bass thumps, and Black Thought's feverish bars all hit the airwaves, the music world learned again why they should not question The Roots.

The short film was pretty cool too.

3) The Weeknd - House of Balloons

There were a few artists I wanted to tap as the surprise of the year. In any other year, maybe. But not in 2012 thanks to the emergence of Abel Tesfaye. The 21-year-old Toronto native put himself on the map as Drizzy protege by releasing not one, not two, but three full LPs for free in a year's time. All of them could fit somewhere on this list, but I wanted to give special due to his debut House of Balloons. This was the record that ignited the intrigue surrounding The Weeknd when it popped up without explaining on Drake's October's Very Own blog. It was the one that introduced us to the hazy instrumentals, hypnotic cooing, and jagged lyrics about drugs, fame, and sex. It's truly incredible to see a young artist go from relative unknown to major partner of arguably the biggest act in the nation (The Weeknd had a huge helping hand in Take Care's creation--more later) and Mr. Tesfaye surely did that with as much charisma, modesty, and mystery as anyone in recent memory.

2) Kanye West & Jay-Z - Watch The Throne

Yeezy. Jay. What more is there really to say? The visual bombast of the "Otis" video gripped the music world, while the verbal bombast of "Niggas in Paris" clocked it in the face. These two men are defined by the very dividing line that splits this record: excess vs. reality, grandeur vs. squalor, arrogance vs. plainspeak. Sure it's not perfect, but it's issue lie within their attempts to tell us about the world the way they see it. It's a record about who they are, not what they aren't. For better or for worse.

1) Drake - Take Care

As others have, I'll probably get a lot of hate for this pick. Drake is seen as soft, poppy, gimmicky to some and causes him to lose a considerable amount of credibility. But if you put those preconceived notions aside and really listen to Take Care, you see that Drake set out to make a very specific kind of record and hit it right on the head. After his success with the glitzy Thank Me Later, Mr. Graham wanted to make an album that was unquestionably his. Bypassing the big name guests (T.I., Young Jeezy, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, and The-Dream all appeared on TML) for his closest friends (The Weeknd, Nicki Minaj, and Lil' Wayne are of note, while 40 handles the majority of production duties) Drake furthers the record's tales about loyalty, finding meaning, and looking forward. The truest knock is that there are too many slow songs that are enough to lull some to sleep. But I think those more melodic moments are the ones that further distinguish Drake as one of the more truly versatile MCs out. Overall it's refreshing to see someone set out to tell their story, meet their, and only their, expectations, and come away with widespread acclaim.

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