WPTS Top 30 Albums of 2011
30. Zomby– Dedication (4AD) July 12th
29. The Weeknd– House of Balloons (XO) March 21st
28. Kurt Vile– Smoke Ring For My Halo (Matador Records) March 7th
27. Future Islands– On the Water (Thrill Jockey) October 11th
26. Smith Westerns– Dye It Blonde (Fat Possum Records) January 18th
25. PJ Harvey– Let England Shake (Vagrant Records) February 15th
24. Mastodon– The Hunter (Reprise) September 27th
23. Talib Kweli– Gutter Rainbows (Javotti) Janurary 25th
22. Gil Scott Herron and Jamie XX– We’re New Here (XL Recordings) February 22nd
21. Tom Waits– Bad As Me (Anti) October 24th
20. Man Man– Life Fantastic (Anti) May 10th
19. Girls– Father, Son, Holy Ghost (True Panther Sounds) September 13th
18. The Antlers– Burst Apart (Frenchkiss Records)May 10th
17. St. Vincent– Strange Mercy (4AD) September 13th
16. Cults– Cults (Columbia Records) June 7th
15. Yuck– Yuck (Fat Possum Records) February 15th
U.K. noise-gaze quartet Yuck revives the sound of early ‘90s indie rock on their debut, especially Dinosaur Jr. and early Teenage Fanclub. Is that cool? Yeah, it really is. Partly owing to the revivalist sound, and partly owing to the lovelorn lyrics, the record sounds instantly nostalgic, trading back and forth between overdriven rockers and acoustic numbers. The best of the bunch is far and away the buzzing, hazy pop of “Georgia,” which sports sweet boy/girl vocals (and nicks the lick from the Flaming Lips’ “Gingerale Afternoon”). But other winners include fuzz-pop gem “The Wall,” with its trimmed out vox; the largely acoustic (and very TFC) “Shook Down”; and the lumbering, menacing closer, “Rubber”.
14. tUnE-yArDs– w h o k i l l (4AD) April 19th
w h o k I l l is a primetime example of music done by a band with aLeRnAtIng lettering used in their name. Dizzying and loosely put together yet strangely pleasant to listen to; Merrill Garbus’ second album under the moniker tUnE-yArDs is a bedroom loop-petal experiment given professional studio treatment worthy of NPR buzz. All of the songs are highly experimental, containing complex harmonies and piercing beats which making them unlike anything heard in the mainstream despite remaining familiar to the average listener. With powerful pop jams such as ‘Bizness’ and ‘You Yes You’ to thoughtful and beautiful showcases of Garbus’ vocal capabilities like ‘Powa’ and ‘Es-so’, w h o k I l l definitely deserves its fair share of playtime.
13. Fucked Up– David Comes to Life (Matador Records) June 7th
The newest CD by Toronto punk band Fucked Up marks a huge stride for the band. The 78-minute rock opera centers on David Eliade, a factory worker who falls in love with Veronica Boisson, conspire to build a bomb together, all while his nemesis Octavio St. Laurent and ex-girlfriend Vivian fuck things up. Two female guest vocalists (Cult’s Madeline Follin and singer/songwriter Jennifer Castle) represent Veronica and Vivian respectively, and they lend a nice softness against singer Damian Abraham’s roaring shout. Kurt Vile even shows up on the final track to mellow things out after all the screaming. The guitars are loud and Husker Du-ish in nature, yet there’s always a melody behind the layers of noise. This 4-act opera is highly ambitious, and Fucked Up pulls it off. This is undoubtedly their most accessible album yet.
12. Atlas Sound– Parallax (4AD) November 8th
Unlike previous Atlas Sound releases that heavily drift back and forth between pop and ambience, Parallax consistently embraces all of these elements without ever really slowing down. It is an album that you can let burn slowly or take song by song. Technically Parallax can be called somewhat of a singer-songwriter affair considering at the core of the album is Bradford Cox and his guitar. What totally alienates this album (in the best way possible) from the genre is how every song is drenched in avant-chamber pop aesthetics that seamlessly connect the lyrics, guitar, ambient elements, and percussion in a way that makes Parallax both ethereal and beautiful but consistently accessible.
11. Charles Bradley– No Time For Dreaming (Daptone) January 25th
This funk and soul album comes from Daptone Records, home of Sharon Jones and the Dapkings and the Budos Band among other acts. Bradley is a hard-hitting soul belter who sounds at times like James Brown, especially in his coaxing “cmons!” and guttural noises. The Menanhan Street Band (sampled frequently by Jay-Z and 50 Cent, randomly) provide excellent backing instrumentation (not as heavy as Budos Band for example). This album perfectly reinvents the soul movement of the 1960s and ‘70s into something gut-wrenching, beautiful, and modern.
10. Mogwai– Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (Sub Pop) February 15th
More post-punk than post-rock, Mogwai absolutely shines on this album. This is definitely one of their faster albums and arguably one of their cheerier ones as well. Though much different from their previous work, Mogwai still retains some of their best features. Odd electronics are peppered in the mix, guitar effects gloss over riffs, and massive crescendos drive many of the tracks. For those unfamiliar with Mogwai or those turned off by their previous albums: play this album. You will not be disappointed.
9. Fleet Foxes– Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop) May 3rd
I first listened to the new Fleet Foxes album on a turntable in my friend’s living room. We sat in silence for its entire length. Like the band’s previous works, Helplessness Blues takes the listener on a woodsy journey through orchards and across “grown oceans,” even to the outer reaches of the universe on the Carl Sagan-inspired “Blue Spotted Tail.” Here, lead singer Robin Pecknold’s voice seems drenched with more yearning, more heartache than one man can bear. In short, this multi-instrumental tour de force will be long remembered in the canon of contemporary folk albums.
8. WU LYF– Go Tell Fire to the Mountain (L Y F) September 6th
WU LYF (World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation) is a band that for over a year has offered nothing but two songs, a cryptic webpage, and a rare but hell-of-an-awesome live show. Although they’ve dropped that level of mystery in preparation for the album the music remains the same; triumphant, pounding, and damn catchy. Go Tell Fire to the Mountain is an album always on point. Every song demands its own attention with blissfully sharp guitar sounds surrounded by a haze of synth, clean bass lines, and topped off with howling, indiscernible, and grammatically incorrect lyrics. The LP almost feels as though it was captured the bliss of summer and uses it as a weapon against a young generations’s collective angst. Play it loudly, play it in full, and rise up to howl along with it for Go Tell Fire to the Mountain is one of the best records of 2011.
7. Youth Lagoon– The Year of Hibernation (Fat Possum Records) September 27th
22 year old Trevor Powers records album all by his lonesome in his bedroom, gets noticed by the newly hip Fat Possum label. This is so pretty, I’, not sure whether it should make me feel exuberant or cry – hushed vocals, the occasional whistling (“Afternoon”), soft guitar riffs, pulsing drum beats to propel each song forward, vintage organ-sounding keys add a hip “vintage” feel. It certainly sounds like it was recorded in a bedroom (Powers coos on “17”, “It’s just me in my room with my eyes shut”), with disarmingly honest lyrics about both adventure and retreat. Maybe for now Youth Lagoon is just the new lo-fi boy on the block, but this really is THE perfect headphone music for fall. Cuddle up to this dreamy record; it’s not one to miss.
6. Tennis– Cape Dory (Fat Possum Records) January 18th
Debut album from Colorado husband/wife duo. Strongly influenced by surf-rock, classic ‘50s rock, and the girl-group pop of the ‘60s, Tennis sounds something like what you’d get if the Drums and the Dum Dum Girls joined forces – and then proceeded to write much better songs. The album has a terrific sound; reverbed, almost surfy guitars, matched with basslines on the synth, topped off by Alaina Moore’s gorgeous vocals, which range from cooing (“South Carolina”) to keening (“Baltimore”). But the strength of the record lies in the songwriting: the tunes are so uniformly terrific, it’s almost a waste to try to pick out the best ones: “Take me Somewhere” transitions from a Beach House-y, waltzing verse into a surfy rave-up; “Marathon” marries almost country-politan verses with a startling, gorgeous, wordless chorus of “oohs” over staccato guitars; “Bimini Bay” is a lovely, electrified sea shanty; “Pigeon” is a what you’d dance to at your prom if you HS were super –alt and also you were cool back then. Sailing and sea themes predominate on the record, reputedly written while the couple was at sea for 7 months, exhausting their savings on a boat, sailing up the East Coast. Is it true? Who cares; this is a pitch perfect pop record.
5. Shabazz Palaces– Black Up (Sub Pop) June 28th
I had no idea what to expect when I popped this in, but Shabazz Palaces does not disappoint. The first ever hip hop release on Sub Pop, black Up is a very innovative take on modern hip hop. The instrumentals are glitch, but flow well with the heave hitting lyrics. The beats sound like they could’ve been taken straight from a Flying Lotus album with strong basslines and heavy drops. He is able to showcase strong lyrical flow throughout the entire album, making this release reach places that traditional hip hop doesn’t touch.
4. M83– Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute) June 28th
French musician Anthony Gonzalez has been around for quite a while now, but always from France. Now he’s relocated to Los Angeles and just released his 6th album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Even with the drastic location change, his heavy synth, soft lyric speaking music is still the same. Not only that, but it is a double album-meaning double the heavy instrumentals. The single “Midnight City” is getting some pretty big buzz (it is now being featured in a Victoria’s Secret advertisement) so we will see how this album stands up to more mainstream attention. There are definitely more happy pop songs on this album than on his previous work, but if you are into huge drums, droning retro synthesizer lines and emotional lyrics, this album is for you.
3. James Blake– James Blake (Universal Republic) March 22nd
Over the past year James Blake has exploded from internet electronic sensation to international pop phenomenon thanks to the release of his self-titled. The stunning success of the album stems from Blake’s masterful sense of production; through painstaking attention detail each sound is just as beautiful and important as the last. The most striking aspect of the album is how through the thick electronic composition shines a lasting pop album that has gained Blake mainstream success as his soulful singing breathes life into his tracks. It is an album of stark contrast that begs its listener to join Blake as he stares into infinitum.
2. Real Estate– Days (Domino) October 18th
Despite a mid-autumn release, Real Estate has put out another album that will make you long for a warm summer day and a nice beach to lie on. Days is the kind of glo-fi indie rock album that makes you want to sit back, relax, and not give a damn as the days roll by. The songs flow into one another so pleasantly you won’t notice as the album slips back and forth between instrumentals. The guitar is sunny, the rhythms are tight, the melodies are just the right amount of jangly, and everything is drenched in just the right amount of reverb to make it sound and feel all warm and fuzzy. So give it a spin, or listen to the whole thing and Days might just be the album that gets you through the winter in one piece.
WPTS interviewed Martin Courtney of Real Estate in November.
1. Battles– Gloss Drop (Warp Records) June 7th
Battles will hold a special place in any Pittsburgh music lover’s heart due to the band’s local roots. Ian Williams (who was interviewed by WPTS earlier this year) former guitarist of Don Caballero and Storm & Stress, can be heard in Battles playing dueling synths and lead guitar. This record (their 2nd full-length) picks up where 2007’s Mirrored left off, while featuring higher production quality than the last record. Although it would be fair to label this album Prog Rock, it is crucial to remember that Battles is not afraid to use synths and sequencers on top of their powerful drums and catchy melodies. More than anything, this record is entertaining – something that was seen as Battles took the stage during VIA in October. Battles played at the Rex Theater as part of the electronic and visual arts festival, co-headlining the Friday night show. At the performance, drummer John Stanier cemented his place as one of the best percussionists around today by carrying the performance with his unorthodox drumming style until their set ended at 2AM. Due to the band’s powerful songs, catchy beats, and charismatic stage presence, Battles will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the most important bands of 2011.