Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Top Ten of 2011

You've seen the other lists. Now prepare yourself for the definitive Top Ten list of albums for 2011.

10. The Weeknd - House of Balloons (mixtape)

This album and artist appeared out of nowhere, putting the "House of Balloons" mixtape out on the internet for free last spring. And know what? It is dope. This is modern music. The follow-up mixtapes, "Thursday" and "Echoes of Silence" are real good too. I may be the only one who really digs this new RnB sound, but I like it.

9. Blue Scholars - Cinemetropolis

Seattle love. It took me a couple of listens to warm up to the new beats Sabzi brought, but once I absorbed it, I was sold. The album celebrates Seattle and the Northwest ("Fou Lee," "Slick Watts," "Chief Sealth"), while touching on timely social ("Oskar Barnack ∞ Oscar Grant") and political ("Hussein") topics. The whole albums works well to build on the theme of life and music as cinema.

8. Adele - 21

What can I say. Girl has got pipes. I love the span of emotions covered as well. And getting Rick Rubin to produce the album wasn't a bad call either. I'm really feeling the neo-soul music out right now and this album fits right in with the best the genre has to offer.

7. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

This music sounds like it came from a bygone era. And I mean that in a good way. According to Wikipedia (and Tanner), the band recorded many of vocal harmonies in one take, in the hope that any minor flaws in harmony, or missed guitar chords, or whatever other errors would add a more organic and urgent sound to the record. Whatever they did, they did it right.

6. Frank Ocean - nostalgia, ULTRA. (mixtape)

Who would have thought that the only member of OFWGKTA to make a Top Ten list would be the R'n'B singer of the group? While Golf Wang was the summer love of critics across the Internet, it was Ocean who, along with Tyler, the Creator, created actually memorable work this year. Tyler speaks to the angry thirteen-year-old in all of us, while Ocean's music calls out to a slightly more mature audience. When going in for a second, third, and fourth listen, it's Ocean who gets the play.

5. Bon Iver - Bon Iver

There is a word for this kind of music: brilliant. And I mean that both in terms of genius and in terms of brightly shining light. This album is so wonderfully melodic and warm, it just seems to radiate comfort and beauty, with a just touch of sadness mixed in there. Whether its a bright summer day or a dark, rainy winter night, I can listen to this and feel good.

4. Childish Gambino - Camp

Troy from Community has rap skills?


Drawing his MC name from a Wu-Tang Name Generator online, Mr. Childish followed up several impressive mixtapes with a bona fide good debut album. His emotion is raw and at times over the top, but he speaks bluntly on sex, race, and fame in a refreshing way. The album ends with a long soliloquy that explains the actor/comedian/jack of all trades' reasoning for his emotional reveals.

3. Shabazz Palaces - Black Up

More Town music. This is some futuristic Ish. (Ha ha funny pun, get it?) This album is not for everyone (looking at you, Stefan) but if you like crazy beats that mesh electronica synths with African drums, as well as nuevo-gangster lyrics for the thinking grown man, you will like Shabazz Palaces. Who else can summarize rap today so precisely and concisely:

"I brag I boast I kill I coast I toast to cake and crime/Doing the most, a stronger dose of king at leisure time."

2. Kendrick Lamar - Section.80

"My issue isn't televised and you ain't gotta tell the wise/How to stay on beat, because our life’s an instrumental/This is physical and mental, I won't sugar coat it/You'd die from diabetes if these other n*ggas wrote it."

The West Coast killed it this year in quality hip hop. And standing above the crowd is 80s baby and leader of the Black Hippie movement, Compton's own Kendrick Lamar. Building on a couple of stellar mixtapes, Section.80 is a comprehensive album that tells a story from end to end. Plus Kendrick's flow is outrageous. He kills your favorite rapper.

1. Mayer Hawthorne - How Do You Do

Detroit MC Haircut started singing and recording Motown-style music because his struggling rap group, Now On, couldn't afford to clear the samples that they wanted for their album. Stones Throw label head Peanut Butter Wolf heard the recordings and thought Haircut had stumbled on some lost gems from the 1970s. When he learned the truth, PBW insisted that Haircut get in the studio. Going by his middle name - Mayer - and the street he was born and raised on - Hawthorne - this Jewish whiteboy from Detroit has revived the soul of Motown. And rumor has it he has been in the studio recently with local legend Jake Uno working on a 1990s-style RnB album due out next year. 2012 is looking good.

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