Great Records from 2011: Clif’s Picks Part 1

Oh, it’s been good to get some time off!  I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays and wish our readers and supporters the best in this new year. I’ve poked around long enough and finally prepared a list of albums. So without further ado…

2011 was yet another great year for music. I have to agree with Craig’s selections of Destroyer, PJ Harvey, M83, Braids, Smith Westerns, and Sea Oleena. These were all fantastic albums that I’ll carry with me in my memories of 2011, and are all “must buy” recordings.  Craig captured these albums well in his 2011 posts (pt. 1; pt. 2), and you should consider reading his take if you haven’t already.

I’ve selected 11 other albums that are the rest of my “must buys” for 2011.  The list has no particular order and is presented in two parts. Here is part one:

tUnE-yArDsW H O K I L LtUnE-yArDs founder and principal player, Merrill Garbus, gets a whole bunch of production support on her second album, and makes good use of it. Garbus’s unique vocals pierce through polyrhythmic loops of guitar, ukelele, horns, guitar, and sundry  noise. Inspired by her travels to Africa and life in Oakland, West African and Hip Hop music dot the entire album. Pulsing bass and beats propel up-tempo bangers (i.e., My Country, Gangsta, and Bizness).  Merrill’s soulful singing powers slow-tempo jazz and neo-soul tracks Riotriot and Doorstep. WHOKILL benefits most from the presence of Nate Brenner, who plays bass and contributes as a songwriter to four of the tracks. While the tales of injustice, dissatisfaction, violence, and personal journey are distinctly Garbus, Brenner and other studio musicians take tUnE-yArDs from DIY to full-fledged outfit. WHOKILL places Garbus within the vanguard of music artists of this new decade.

Check out: Bizness [mp3]

Watch: Gangsta

Wye OakCivilian:  The Baltimore-based duo’s third album is their best and most complete effort. The title track stands out with Jen Wasner singing melancholically over grinding beats and guitar.It explodes at the bridge with Wasner’s wailing six string and the furious drumming of Andy Stack.

Other stand outs include the brooding Holy Holy, Stack’s brilliant performance on Dog’s Eyes, the wistful pop of Fish, and slow building flourish of We Were Wealth. An album in the truest sense, Civilian is one of those recordings you can play repeatedly without tiring from it.

Check out: Civilian [mp3]

Watch – Holy Holy

Will Hanson – Moving A Body: Paris-born, London-reared, and Glasgow livin’ Will Hanson is a well traveled musician. Moving A Body is a fantastic debut. Backed by a six-piece band, Hanson demonstrates an edge tempered by a brooding dark side that is wont to revel in macabre and misery.

Artistically, Hanson uses musical arrangements to complement and accentuate mood, or to draw sharp contrasts to emphasize the imagery of his lyrics. It’s truly a strength of his, and it’s largely why this album works.

For example, an upbeat arrangement is undergirded by the ominous in Our Basket, which describes being sent to the gallows for an impending meeting with a guillotine blade.  Bats also contrasts music and lyrics as it shuffles along ebulliently, while its protagonist is resigned to performing a killing spree. The eerie, Deathbed Conversion, has that fresh funeral feel and closes with a dark, Iommi-approved guitar lead.

On other tracks, Hanson flexes his chops on Curtains and In Our Loving Memory. The slow build of Curtains leads to a marvelous crescendo of strings and slightly strained vocals. In Our Loving Memory is an epic track driven by a punchy bass line until it hits the song’s bridge and then catapults itself into the stratosphere. It’s amazingly cathartic.

Moving A Body is a fantastic debut; one that sets the bar high for Will Hanson.

Will Hanson – The View from Ebury Bridge

Will Hanson – And So…

SBTRKT – SBTRKT:  In his debut, Aaron Jerome (aka SBTRKT) enlists several vocalists to croon over his mix of beats and grooves.  The first release, Wildfire, is an absolute smash featuring the vocals of Yuki Nagano from Little Dragon. It’s a slow burning, sexual thumper that tested the woofers on several car audio systems this summer. Wildfire alone is reason enough to become interested in the artist, but the entire LP is full of surprises.

The sometimes muted, but soulful vocals of Sampha are featured on many of the tracks. Sampha is the heart in SBTRKT’s impressive machine, as he brings an emotional presence that is authentically evocative.

While the album is often down-tempo, SBTRKT’s instincts as a DJ work well in sequencing the entire 40 minutes of the album.   Instead of fading through the last third of the album, SBTRKT offers Pharaohs, which features the sensual vocals of Roses Gabor. It is a funky, euro-trip step number followed by the playful, Ready Set Loop. Earlier in the album, Sanctuary provides the same lift  as it sits between the sultry Wildfire and the pleaful, Trials of the Past.

More than anything, SBTRKT is a crossover album that can attract those who’ve found dub-step to be a bit too sterile or unconventional for their taste.

SBTRKT – Wildfire [stream]

Pulco – Small Thoughts:  Ash Cooke’s seventh album as Pulco is a collection of bedroom pop, stream of consciousness poems, and Cooke’s relentless quest to master noise. Small Thoughts is as much soul bearing, as it is experimental. It takes a collection of misaligned jigsaw pieces and creates a complex puzzle, full of beauty, but not readily discernible. Small Thoughts is an exploration of identity and self-awareness. He is Pulco, and the album proceeds to unveil this fact through sketches of poems, songs, and random bits and clips.

Musically, the album is a mish-mash of noise pop, folk, and power pop. Vocally, Cooke favors Elliott Smith. However, he’s a bit more robust and wont to see the humor in things. In Small Thoughts, Cooke demonstrates the potential of integrated media, as he channels William Blake, Syd Barrett, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, and Frank Zappa. The subtleties and sundry pieces combine wonderfully with music to illustrate Cooke’s process of reflection and acceptance of mid-life.

Pulco – Place Lid On Me

Happy New Year!!!–stay tuned for part II!


2 responses to “Great Records from 2011: Clif’s Picks Part 1

    • Neven–Thanks for your comment! I think both of those albums are very good. Annie Clark really put herself out there on “Strange Mercy”. While it’s not as accessible as her earlier material, it’s still very good and really shows her abilities as a musician. She’s an outstanding artist, and I have to admit loving everything she’s recorded. Re: Burst Apart: I like the Antlers album, but it did not stick with me the way some of the other albums I reviewed. Strange Mercy and Burst Apart will be listed as honorable mentions in an upcoming post.

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