Take 'em Back Radio
It’s that time of the year again. The time where everybody posts their end-of-the-year lists and tries to prove how much more eclectic they are than everybody else, or how they’re the biggest tastemakers in town. I used to try and listen to as many albums a year as I could so I could have a respectable list, but ironically, since joining WHUS, it seems my music consumption has decreased. I guess it’s like Steve Albini said about if you love music, stay the hell away from the music industry.
Anyway, this year I decided I’d post my 25 favorite albums here on the WHUS blog. I'll be posting #25-16 today, #15-6 once I can get another break from exams, and #5-1 as well as some honorable mentions after that. If you want to leave a comment, please do so, but make sure to follow these guidelines.
25. Tyler, the Creator – Goblin
There’s no doubt 2011 was Tyler, the Creator’s year. Or at least the first half was. The 20-year old made waves through much buzzed about appearances on Jimmy Fallon and at the mtvU Woodie Awards. His minimalistic music video for "Yonkers" in which he eats a cockroach, threatens to murder Bruno Mars, and simulates his own death by hanging caused just as much controversy. And then when Goblin finally came out, even more debate stirred around Tyler’s alleged homophobia and misogyny. It was enough to make you forget that Goblin was its own standalone album, not just some media circus, and it seems by now that most people have. While Goblin is a fun, twisted foray into the mind of an angry teenager , at 73 minutes it’s a little more than top-heavy. Still the potential, and swag, is there, so here’s hoping that Tyler’s next album trims the fat and earns some staying power.
24. Yuck – Yuck
I’m honestly not sure if this album was recorded in 2011. Yuck’s debut is full of fuzzy riffs that sound like they’re straight from Dinosaur Jr’s garage, downbeat tracks that emanate from Elliott Smith’s basement, and eclectic pop sensibilities that mirror Yo La Tengo. To put it short, the album is extremely derivative, but that isn’t always a bad thing. Yuck is an extremely fun hit of nostalgia that should capture the excitement of anybody that grew up on 90s indie rock. (Check out "Georgia")
23. Dirty Beaches – Badlands
I honestly don’t believe this album was recorded in 2011. So lo-fi I want to cry. It sounds like it was recorded on a cassette back in the late 50s, warped five or six times, and recently discovered at the ruins of an abandoned drive-in, but enough about the sound quality. The music itself channels the atmosphere of a demented sock hop, like something out of a David Lynch wet dream and, as the album title references, captures the isolation and beauty of a Terrence Malick film. Ultimately, Badlands is a album lost in time and space, that decided to make its home in 2011. (Check out "Lord Knows Best")
22. Washed Out – Within and Without
This album is just cool. Like a frozen breeze on a hot summer day. It ended up being my unofficial summer album, not because I particularly liked it (I did) but because when listening to it I didn’t even need to turn on the air conditioning in my car. Overloaded synths, half-stoned vocals, and a dark, dreamy atmosphere make this album the soundtrack to waking up in a cold sweat. (Check out "Eyes Be Closed")
21. Young Widows – In and Out of Lightness and Youth
On In and Out of Lightness and Youth, Young Widows attempt to advance their sound past the minimalist sonic barrages that occupied their previous albums. While Settle Down City and Old Wounds thrived on tightly-wound noise jams that packed a punch, Young Widows attempt to loosen the reins and explore the space beyond which they previously limited themselves. The results are mixed. Moments are still there, but often time the songs are too long for their own good. Oddly enough, they finally make the formula work by killing it on the longest track, closer “In and Out of Youth”.
20. Weekend Nachos - Worthless
Much like Young Widows, Weekend Nachos have been progressively drawing out their sound since their debut album. Unlike Young Widows, Weekend Nachos play powerviolence, and they’re just as uncompromising now as they were when they started, perhaps even more so. On Worthless, Weekend Nachos seamlessly transition from breakneck speeds to militant stomps and unsafe amounts of crushing distortion. However, the band manages to hit heavy lows without succumbing to the sort of cheesy, floor-punching breakdowns that are all too prevalent in modern hardcore. Also, the album features one of the most absurd/fitting cameos of all-time on “Jock Powerviolence” where Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy fame chimes in “I stopped trying to be cool a long time ago/I laugh to myself as I see you come and go/Make up rules for your friends to live by/I’ll keep doing things my why while you fucking cry”
19. La Dispute – Wildlife
This is my guilty pleasure of the year. I really don’t want to like La Dispute. I hated their first album, Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair, but they really improved on Wildlife. Vocalist Jordan Dreyer is still wildly over-the-top, sounding like he’ll break down into tears at any moment and his lyrics could desperately use an editor, but on a number of tracks his stream-of-consciousness heart-on-his-sleeve technique really works, specifically “St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church Blues” and “Safer in the Forest - Love Song for Poor Michigan”. The rest of the band is extremely tight, providing a backdrop for Dreyer’s vocals that are interesting and catchy without being distracting. And then there’s “King Park” which is probably the song of the year. Even though I criticize the band for being over-the-top, and this is the worst offender, I can’t help but love it for it.
18. Touche Amore – Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me
Like La Dispute, Touche Amore wear their hearts on their sleeves, but they’re much more direct and concise about it. While the shortest song on Wildlife is 2:19, the longest song on Parting the Sea is 2:21. Still, Parting the Sea is extremely diverse and each song packs a punch. While most of the songs are straightforward in their approach, the band manages to fit in subtle guitar riffs and drum fills to make each song feel complete. And while vocalist Jeremy Bolm’s lyrics can be hit and miss, when they hit they hit especially hard, like on “Method Act” and “Home Away From Here”, but when they miss it’s just as bad like on “Condolences”.
17. Panda Bear – Tomboy
In retrospect, Tomboy was kind of disappointing. The first time I listened to it I was floored. Lennox had taken the incredibly spacious, dreamy, and warped pop sensibilities of Person Pitch and turned it into something much easier to digest. Just as Animal Collective has been getting progressively poppier and more accessible I welcomed a more straight-forward Panda Bear. However, after a few weeks I’d lost interest in the album. Although Tomboy is glossy and fun, it just seems to lack depth and really drags in the second half after the superb combination of “Tomboy” and “Slow Motion”
16. Ash Borer – Ash Borer
It might be weird to hear, but black metal is cool now. Although once confined to the underworld of Norway and spawning a slew of murders and church burnings, it’s made its way to America as a wave of intellectual thought: Colleges have taught courses on the subject, Liturgy frontman/professional douche Hunter-Hunt Hendrix released a so-called "manifesto", and a number of other bands have started blending black metal ideas with other genres to create America’s own homespun version of the genre. Ash Borer have been one of the most successful, due to their commitment to those ethos. Released exclusively on cassettes, Ash Borer is fast, dirty, and loud. It strips black metal to its core, although it does stylize it a little bit with a rather dark, gloomy atmosphere, but it comes organically to the band. If you’re interested in metal or black metal, Ash Borer is a great place to start. (Check out "Rest, You Are the Lightning")