Lists, lists, lists. Music writers love lists! Here, CityBeat writers give you our favorite albums, EPs, compilations and musicians of 2011. Also, Seth Combs talks about all the music he hated.
Jeff Terich's 10 Records That Made 2011 Memorable
St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
Fucked Up - David Comes to Life
Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo
Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
The War on Drugs - Slave Ambient
Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972
Liturgy - Aesthethica
Wye Oak - Civilian
M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
Future Islands - On the Water
Jim Ruland's Top-10 Releases of 2011
10. Complaints* No Action 7” - San Francisco street punk
9. The Steve Adamyk Band, Forever Won't Wait 12” - Ontario power-pop punk
8. Red Fang, Murder the Mountains - Portland stoner metal
7. Smogtown, Incent & Pestilence 12” - South Orange County punk rock
6. The Spits, Kill the Kool 12” - Special-edition 2011 tour album from Seattle's kings of three-chord punk
5. Wavves, Life Sux EP - San Diego surf pop
4. Iceage, New Brigade - Copenhagen post-punk
3. Cerebral Ballzy, S/T pirated CD - Brooklyn thrash punk with a West Coast vibe
2. A.A. Bondy, Believers - Alabama alternative rock
1. Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring for My Halo - Indie singer/songwriter
Justin Vellucci's 10 Favorite Records Celebrating an Anniversary in 2011
1. Slint -- Spiderland (20 years)
2. Tom Waits -- Small Change (35 years)
3. Nirvana -- Nevermind (20 years)
4. Lead Belly -- First three CDs in Library of Congress series (20 years)
5. Tortoise -- Millions Now Living Will Never Die (15 years)
6. Radiohead -- Amnesiac (10 years)
7. Rachel's -- The Sea and The Bells (15 years)
8. Charlie (cq) Patton -- Screamin' and Hollerin' The Blues: The World of Charley Patton (10 years)
9. Calexico -- Aerocalexico (10 years)
10. Melvins - (A) Senile Animal (Five years)
Peter Holslin's 11 Favorite Albums/EPs of 2011
Katy B, On a Mission
King Krule, King Krule
Charles Bradley, No Time for Dreaming
The War on Drugs, Slave Ambient
Araabmuzik, Electronic Dream
Oneohtrix Point Never, Replica
The Weeknd, House of Balloons
Mariachi El Bronx, Mariachi El Bronx
Real Estate, Days
Gang Gang Dance, Eye Contact
James Blake, James Blake
Peter Holslin's 6 Favorite Compilations of 2011
6. Blow Your Head Vol. 2: Dave Nada Presents Moombahton - Moombahton, an electronic-music subgenre that merges reggaeton and Dutch house, has been blowing up in San Diego lately. If you listen to this compilation, put together by moombahton inventor Dave Nada, you'll understand why. This is some of the loudest, wackiest, sexiest, juiciest, downright nastiest dance music you'll hear all year.
5. Thai? Dai!: The Heavier Side of the Luk Thung Underground - There's plenty of stuff to love on this compilation of long-lost psych-rock gems from Thailand, including a gnarly version of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" (included here as "Kuen Kuen Lueng Lueng"). If anything, though, it's the off-key, out-of-left-field cover of Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4" (see "Klug Tum La") that makes this one a keeper.
4. Black Box, Vol. 2 - With 34 tracks by 33 local bands, this digital collection produced by Black Box Recording Studios (available here) makes for a comprehensive snapshot of the current local music scene (give or take a few bands that have split or gone on hiatus). Newcomers to the scene will find this to be a great introduction while scene veterans will no doubt dig the previously unreleased tracks by local favorites like Writer and Transfer.
3. Music from Saharan Cellphones - Sahelsounds head Christopher Kirkley got all the tracks from this wonderful collection (available via Bandcamp) by swapping mp3s with folks in the Sahara desert using the wireless Bluetooth connection on their cellphones. He ended up with some trance-inducing desert techno-blues, some nightclub-ready dance tracks and even one example of Africanized Southern rap. Good stuff.
2. Invasion of the Mysteron Killer Sounds - Compiled by Kevin "The Bug" Martin and Soul Jazz Records head Stuart Baker, this two-disc set is essential for any fan of Jamaican dancehall, especially of the electronic variety. There aren't any catchy melodies on this, just a lot of cosmic riddims that'll have you shaking your booty while nodding appreciatively at the incredible evolution of Jamaican music. Plus, it comes with an exclusive comic book!
1. Wallahi Le Zein!!: Wezin, Jakwar and Guitar Boogie From the Islamic Republic of Mauritania - Mauritanian-music obsessed Matthew Lavoie spent years collecting cassettes and researching the music of Mauritania, a vast country in West Africa. The result is this incredible collection of hypnotic guitar jams, probably the best document of Mauritanian music that's currently commercially available. Coming with photos and erudite essays on the country's music, this is an essential collection for African music fans, and for guitar enthusiasts in general.
Peter Holslin's No. 1 Artist of 2011
Step aside, Bon Iver: DJ Islam Chipsy is in the house! While Egyptian protestors flooded the streets to take down Hosni Mubarak's dictatorial regime, this keyboardist was among the Egyptian musicians making the soundtrack to the revolution. He hasn't released any albums as far as I know, but he regularly busts out with gnarly lines and wild moves at weddings and dance parties. (Hat tip to Banning Eyre for sending me the Arabic-language YouTube search results.) Seriously, check this guy out:
Seth Combs' 11 Worst Albums of the Year (because 10 just wasn't enough)
11. Beady Eye - Different Gear, Still Speeding
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
When it comes to wars, they say history is written by the winner. In the case of the ceaseless feuding between Oasis' Gallagher brothers, who both released albums this year with their respective side-projects, we all lost.
10. Ryan Adams - Ashes & Fire
Domestication can make or break a singer / songwriter. In the case of Adams, I could care less how many drugs he took or how many women he couldn't keep around (paging Parker Posey), just as long as the music was good. And looking closely at his catalogue, he's always made his best music in the midst of recidivism and heartbreak. And so we have this turd of a record, his first since moving to L.A., marrying Mandy Moore (yes, that Mandy Moore) and settling into the white-picket-fence life. I haven't heard a song as cheesy as "Chains of Love" from Adams (sample lyric: "Locked up in the chains of love / We change / Caught up in the chains of love / Can't take us away." Did Celine Dion not want this one?) since that awful "New York, New York" crap. Do yourself a favor: If you were thinking about buying this record, take your money and buy the Whiskeytown reissues instead.
9. The Strokes - Angles
Angles is what happens when a bunch of talentless hacks realize that they're broke and that, despite their immense hatred for each other, their side projects and solo albums aren't gonna keep those supermodel girlfriends fed. No one will remember this album five years from now. No one will play "Under Cover of Darkness" over "Last Nite" on the radio and the sooner you forget this record ever happened, the better your life will be.
8. blink-182 - Neighborhoods
Much like Angles, Neighborhoods is what happens when a bunch of talentless hacks realize that they're broke and that, despite their immense hatred for each other, their side projects and solo albums aren't gonna keep the wives fed. No one will remember this album five years from now. No one will play "Up All Night" over "All the Small Things" on the radio and the sooner you forget this record ever happened, the better your life will be.
7. tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l
Mainly the one-woman project of Merrill Garbus, this album was overly praised for its "fractured gorgeousness" (CMJ) and "musical and lyrical boldness" (The Guardian). In fact, I don't think I read one bad review for this record all year, so let me be the first to say it: Garbus' voice is shrill to the point of being dangerous to animals and small children. Second, her musical boldness seems to be looping an electrified ukulele into something that kinda / sorta resembles Afropop, but more closely resembles an anal rape of said genre. And, finally, her lyrics are train-of-thought drivel that would never be taken seriously if uttered by someone that didn't look like a failed performance artist. I don't think I met anyone this year who liked this record who wasn't white, trendy and half-deaf. tUnE-yArDs is proof that just because it's different doesn't necessarily mean it's good.
6. Metallica & Lou Reed - Lulu
Let's not beat a dead horse here. If you follow music at all, you already know that the utterly unlistenable and unlikable Lulu, a double album based on some obscure German play, has been panned so relentlessly, some critics speculate it could be the worst record of all time. I wouldn't go that far (see below). However what concerns me more is that, in the spirit of rock 'n' roll, some aspiring musicians might embrace the record as some undervalued and wrongly dismissed piece of art (think Plan 9, think The Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat, think Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left, think Weezer's Pinkerton, think anything by Hall & Oates) and, what's worse, they'll try to emulate it. So I've changed my mind. It's actually the best album of the year. Please, to any impressionable youth out there: DO NOT TRY TO COPY WHAT YOU HEAR ON LULU! You will never be able to replicate its awesomeness.
5. Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto
Speaking of concept albums, Mylo is reportedly about a couple of youths who meet via rival gangs and fall in love in a dystopian urban environment. Seriously, can somebody please tell that fucking idiot Chris Martin that we already have West Side Story and that the band Fucked Up already did this same concept four months before and with much better results? I beg you, Mr. Martin, please stick with what you do best: Coming up with stupid baby names and deluding your wife with notions that she can sing.
4. The Rapture - In the Grace of Your Love
The Rapture are masters of the bite: Effortlessly ripping off older dance-rock and post-punk bands and passing it off as their own. I mean, add some cowbell to Public Image Ltd.'s "Careering" and that's The Rapture's breakout single, "House of Jealous Lovers," in a nutshell. However, I always gave them some credit for their source material, as they always seem to mine the appropriate bins at the record store for inspiration and turn them into indie party-rock anthems. But I couldn't help but scratch my head at first listen of "How Deep is Your Love?", the main single from Grace. OK, so it's not a cover of the Bee Gees classic, even though frontman Luke Jenner does his best to sound like a one-man Brothers Gibb, but where had I heard that chorus before? Oh, yeaaaahhh, this is where I've heard it before. To paraphrase my friend from Dru Hill, this album has dumps like a truck.
3. Bon Iver - Bon Iver
This is easily the most overrated release of the year, with Best of the Year listings in Rolling Stone, Spin and Pitchfork (with the last one declaring the release as its No. 1). OK, let me break it down real simple: Just because Justin Vernon made an album of cheesy, over-produced soft-rock instead of cheesy, underproduced folk-rock does not mean that he made some gigantic creative leap forward. I don't care how many hipsters ironically appreciate Chicago, Bruce Hornsby and Mike and the Mechanics. THEY FUCKING SUCK! And for some ass-hat to come out of his cabin and try his hand at yacht-rock is fucking insulting to both your ears and your intelligence.
2. Adele - 21
It's rare that the highest-selling album also has the highest amount of praise, but, hey, who doesn't love a fat girl who can sing? This was the year that I just could not escape Adele's schmaltzy anthems and piano-pop. Why are they playing "Rolling in the Deep" at Petco Park? Why are they playing a remix of "Set Fire to the Rain" at the club? These kinds of questions just tortured me. And then I developed a theory: If you were one of the first million people who purchased 21, you are probably either a woman or a gay man. If you came to like 21, it's probably because your significant other bought it and bombarded you with it until you just gave up and jumped on the bandwagon. You can't argue with a woman or a gay man. You'll lose.
1. Jay-Z/Kanye West - Watch the Throne
"I hate what I've become to escape what I hated being." I don't remember who said that. Maybe it was Oscar Wilde. Maybe it was Marilyn Manson. Either way, the quote came to mind every time I listened to Watch the Throne this year. I'm well aware that the days of The College Dropout and Reasonable Doubt are long gone. I mean, obviously, we're dealing with straight ballers and shot-callers now. But what's the point, especially considering it's such an anti-sign of the times for two of the richest musicians in the world to rub it in our faces? Take a closer study of this self-aggrandizing, self-congratulating journey to the center of the ego, and you'll realize that more than 80 percent of Jay and Ye's lyrics are devoted to the topic of how much richer they are, how much better they are and how many more women they've fucked. OK, so it's not the 99 percent, but it's worth pointing out that the "I'm the 99 percent" argument also applies here. Pitchfork made the argument that the album was, indeed, great for the reason that it was a brilliant example of escapism: Something where the listener could imagine not only being able to afford not one, but two Rolexes (I'm talking the new, not-released-yet model), but also a new Maybach 57S, only to turn it into a Mad Max-influenced dune buggy and drive around with four supermodels. But if the Occupy protests proved anything, it's that attitudes towards such frivolousness is changing. Quite simply, the escapist fantasies, the American Dream (or whatever the hell you want to call it) just isn't cutting it anymore because most people really don't have shit. To add insult to injury, there was the "Occupy All Streets" T-shirt Jay briefly put out. Yes, Jay, that's a play on words, but it only proved that while you're popping bottles, the struggle of real people is but a sociological footnote to you. You know what we needed? We needed an album that brought them back down to our level. Not another boastful series of songs talking about how great they are and how other niggas ain't shit. But why should they do that? After all, it's good to be the kings. Because at their best moments, they were at least relatable. So it hurts when instead of "George Bush doesn't care about black people," what we got this year was a mythological pipe dream that was the musical equivalent of Bernie Madoff and Bank of America. The beats are whack, the subject matter is whack and I'll say this with as much swagger and boastfulness as I can muster: Jay-Z and Kanye West don't care about any people.
Seth Combs' Honorable Mentions (albums that still suck, but just didn't suck enough)
Buraka Som Sistema - Komba
Justice - Audio, Video, Disco
Atlas Sound - Parallax
David Lynch - Crazy Clown Time
Jane's Addiction - The Great Escape Artist
Bjork - Biophilia
Kate Bush - Director's Cut/50 Words for Snow
Spank Rock - Everything Is Boring & Everyone is a Fucking Liar
The Low Anthem - Smart Flesh
Foster the People - Torches
Junior Boys - It's All True
Tinie Tempah - Disc-Overy
The Arctic Monkeys - Suck It and See
Beirut - The Rip Tide
Lil Wayne - Tha Carter IV
Red Hot Chili Peppers - I'm With You
Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact
Wild Flag - Wild Flag
Cults - Cults
Lady Gaga - Born This Way
Britney Spears - Femme Fatale
Drive-By Truckers - Go-Go Boots
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit - Here We Rest
Tennis - Cape Dory
R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now
New York Dolls - Dancing Backward in High Heels
Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Pt. Two
TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light
SuperHeavy - SuperHeavy
Yuck - Yuck