Friday, December 23, 2011

YPOIW TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2011: 5-1

With 2011 coming to a close, YPOIW would like to take the week to showcase our favorite releases of the year. Monday through Friday will be a countdown of our top 25 favorite albums of 2011, starting with spots #25-21 on Monday and continuing until the final #5-1 on Friday. This weekend, we'll also be taking a look at some albums that we feel deserve an honorable mention but didn't quite make it on our list. Thanks for reading, and most importantly, enjoy!

5. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
Embracing electronics like this was the best choice Annie Clark has ever made. As her moniker, St. Vincent, Clark is making some of the most interesting experimental pop that's out there. Strange Mercy is a trip, an album that truly oozes character through every pore. When I first heard "Cruel", the second track to drop from the album, I wasn't sure what to make of it. It seems that Clark had heard the bleeps and bloops going on in other songs, and wanted to incorporate that into her St. Vincent work. Every decision on this album is conscious. It plays as a crafted album, and even the flaws she showcases are there for a reason. If there's one thing 2011's music has shown us, it's that the best albums push the genres within which they operate. Strange Mercy does this, and I can't wait to see what Clark cooks up next. -Josh Custodio


4. Danny Brown - XXX
Danny Brown begins XXX with a voice and inflection that you may find annoying. It's a record that is meant to document Danny's life and struggles with addiction. On "Die Like a Rock Star" Danny considers the fact that he's experimented so much but is alive to tell the tale to be a miracle. Back to that inflection, I'm sure many gave up on this album before the end of the opening track. If you can deal with his bizarre and eccentric voice and style, even more will hate this album because of the content. This is not a clean record, it's a drug filled romp of misogyny, sex, and weird pop culture references. Danny Brown uses his bizarre yelping voice to say some truly awful and offensive things. The thing that is most impressive about this album is Danny's uncompromising personality and wit. The impressive production complements his weirdo style greatly. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows how often I tweet lyrics from this tape, and I don't even feel like I've scratched the surface.

It's not all jokes, misogyny, and horror-core though; Danny also manages to have moments on this album that are deep and introspective. Most of these moments occur on the album's second half where Danny is less concerned about making you laugh and more concerned with making you think. On "DNA" he compares his addictions to those of his father and makes a case of it being hereditary, and by this point, his voice and inflection are approaching that of a traditional rap artist. This is the sound of Danny coming off the drugs for a spell and tearing his heart out and showing it to you. His only coping mechanism returns with the eccentric voice and inflection returning on album closer "30", signifying that although Danny is 30 and he considers himself to be the "greatest rapper ever" (his words, not mine), he still struggles with addiction even today. It's a sobering thought, one I haven't personally dealt with myself but I can sympathize with greatly. XXX is the kind of record that's easy to decipher on the surface, but much more interesting and painful than those that gave up on it give it credit for. Even Danny's biggest detractors would have to admit his talent, and it would be a shame for him to die like a rock star, so to speak. -Kyle Shoemaker


3. Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
Formerly of 90’s outfit Digable Planets, Ismael Butler now combines with instrumentalist Tendai Maraire to make up Shabazz Palaces. Following the release of 2 EPS in 2010, they delivered Black Up, a futuristic and other worldly take on Hip Hop. Sonically, nothing else of the genre has rivalled it this year, perhaps only Clams Casino providing the strongest competition. With an incredibly rich and diverse range of production techniques, moments like the piano sample switch up on “Are you...? Can you... Were you? (Felt)”, whilst relatively simple, feel fresh and unorthodox. Almost everything here is unconventional. No two tracks fit a particular structure but the consistent prominence of low end keeps Black Up from feeling non-cohesive. Lyrically, Butler is deceptively elegant and even culminates in some quasi-tribal chanting on the closer “Swerve... The Reeping Of All That Is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding)”. I genuinely believe that this album will be looked back on as an alternative hip hop classic and a lesson that the shackles of hip hop conventions should be let loose once in a while. Not to say it never happens, but Shabazz Palaces does it in a way that captures attention and admiration whilst managing to surpass conceptions of "genre" altogether. -Jack Hayter


2. Death Grips - Exmilitary
I once again got lucky in the album I got to write up, because Exmilitary was number two on my top albums of the year. And judging from its position on the YPOIW list, quite a few other people seemed to feel similarly. It's not often an album can feel so groundbreaking and experimental, yet so solid and...well definitely not accessible, but maybe "blue-collar" is a better term. Exmilitary is hardcore hip hop in the sense that it's hip hop for fans of Bad Brains and MDC. There's even a Black Flag sample on here. It takes a rap song and distorts the hell out of it, and then a scary man with a beard beats it into your skull relentlessly, shouting and yelling all the while. He has the flow of a steam roller. And while you would think shouted vocals and aggressive beats would get old quick, the sheer force of the thing will get your blood pumping each time without fail. TAK. -Austin Kirley


1. tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l
I was worried about w h o k i l l. Merrill Garbus’ first tUnE-yArDs album BiRd-BrAiNs conveyed so much raw emotion through a simple voice recorder, that I feared excess production would dilute her style and her substance. The intricate cascading waterfall of sound that is the first single “Bizness” did a lot to dispel my worries, but it wasn’t until I heard w h o k i l l opener “My Country” that I realized this album could not only match BiRd-BrAiNs, but surpass it. On the surface, this is some of the catchiest pop music of the year, with all of the variety and weirdness that draws me like a moth to a flame. There are songs to dance to, songs to scream with, and songs that would sound right at home in an old Crash Bandicoot game. Garbus’ fusion of folk, hip hop, afro-beat, tropicalia, and her distinctively passionate voice makes w h o k i l l a treat for fans of irregular pop.

My moth and flame simile, while clich√©, is nonetheless appropriate. This record is attractive and glistening thanks to the wonderful production and detailed arrangements, but at its core this is incendiary music. This is pop with fangs. And this is American music, right down to the multicultural and multi-genre soup of song styles and inspirations. The lyrics convey a sense of restlessness and frustration towards issues like economic and political inequality, police brutality, drug addiction, and the self-consciousness of the 21st century young person in America. Garbus’ music is infectious and activist, yet not so overbearing that the message undermines the music. The record uses abstract storytelling and ironic turns to maintain that necessary sense of entertainment, and nowhere is this is more apparent than the opening lines of the first track, a subversion of nationalistic pride: “My country ‘tis of thee / Sweet land of liberty / How come I cannot see my future within your arms?” In fact, the entirety of w h o k i l l functions quite well as a prophetic soundtrack to the Occupy movement. It is music meant to be sung in the streets, meant to unite and ignite, and so I believe it to be not just the best album of 2011, but the best album for 2011. -Steve Jones

prev (10-6)_____________________________next (honorable mentions)

No comments:

Post a Comment