Tag Archives: Kanye West

Top 5 Albums of 2016

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A lot of things informed my list this year – I turned 30 (shriek!), then got laid off from my job, then got another job, then my relationship of over 2 years ended, then I moved to a new city, got a new apartment, then Trump was elected as our next President, oh and then all those musicians everyone loved died. And that’s just my shit, sooooooo…

Yeah, 2016 man. It’s why my list is only five albums this year. It’s not that there weren’t many, many more great albums released this year. It’s that I’m tired. I’m over it. Check please. In strange times I’ve relied more heavily this year on old emo favorites – Aimee Mann, Elliott Smith. Sufjan is never turned off. The National’s Trouble Will Find Me finally found me three years after its release when I didn’t even know I needed it most.

But these five albums also had a tremendous effect on me. They’re the five that I’ve kept coming back to over and over again throughout the year. They’ve kept me going, made me cry, made me laugh, made me get beyond excited to hear one of their tracks in the cloob, helped me be more introspective than I think I’ve ever been. Maybe some of these have done that to you too?

So here’s what’s ‘currently murking’ me. I’ve been a mess – thanks for putting up with me this year.

5. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

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I was at work hiding in my cube with headphones on and the livestream of Yeezy Season 3 up and running. The Kardashians made their entrance, which was chic but also not chic, and then the crowd at Madison Square Garden cheered even louder as Kanye finally stepped up and played the first track off of his new album, “Ultralight Beam.” And then we all died.

Hope you’re feeling better Ye, stop meeting with Trump.

Favorite track: “Ultralight Beam” / “Highlights”

4. Beyoncé – Lemonade

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I was sitting at home on the couch looking at Instagram when an image from Beyoncé’s account depicting her in a fur hanging out the side of a car casually slid across me screen with a link to the music video for “Formation,” which was literally released that minute. Then the Super Bowl happened the next day and, despite my thinking that not enough time had passed since her surprise self-titled, we all got that taste of Lemonade we were so, sooooo thirsty for. And I mean everyone got that taste, whether they liked it or not. So necessary this year.

Favorite track: “Sorry”

3. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

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It was the worst week of 2016 for me. Although the clues from Radiohead helped a little. I was glued to Radiohead’s Reddit thread along with all the other nerds, keeping myself occupied.

Then the video for “Daydreaming” was released and I could barely get through the day.

Then it was Mother’s Day. Then A Moon Shaped Pool was released. It was gorgeous. It was Radiohead’s breakup album. How perfect.

Favorite track: “Present Tense”

2. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

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I had been feeling exceedingly worse about my decision not to attend this year’s Eaux Claires Festival as it became “duh” that Bon Iver would be premiering their new album in full on Friday.

The last time I saw Justin Vernon live was in September 2013 for a Volcano Choir show at The Metro in Chicago. I was convinced that band was his new point of focus – interviews Justin gave before kind of led you to believe that the Bon Iver project was dead dead dead.

Well it wasn’t. It’s not. Holy hell. It’s entirely possible for me to cry during every single song on this album – I’ve tried it.

It’s almost enough to get me to move back to the Twin Cities – to be closer to family and friends, of course, but also closer to the music scene and culture and the people that made and continue to make this kind of music happen.

Favorite track: Sorry it just really has to be taken as a whole.

1. Frank Ocean – Blonde 

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“Listen, stop trying to be somebody else. Don’t try to be someone else. Be yourself and know that that’s good enough. Don’t try to be someone else. Don’t try to be like someone else. Don’t try to act like someone else, be yourself. Be secure with yourself. Rely and trust upon your own decisions. On your own beliefs.”

– Mom

Favorite track: “Self Control”

 

 

 

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Top 30 Albums of 2013

What a weird fucking year for music. What looked good on paper sadly translated into the not-so-impressive on the ears: 2013 was the year that everyone released an album; 2013 was also the year that everyone flopped.

Let’s look at the many notable names in music that missed their mark in 2013: Phoenix, Youth Lagoon, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Deerhunter, Major Lazer, Fall Out Boy (jokes), The-Dream, Camera Obscura, Ciara, Jay-Z, Goldfrapp, MGMT, Britney Spears (this kills me), Lady Gaga, Cults, the return of Justin Timberlake…even the full length from Sky Ferreira didn’t live up to the magic of her EP.

And yet, where many stumbled, a few lived up to the hype, or lack thereof in the case of Beyoncé. Some overcame doubts that they could pull off another masterpiece. And plenty of room was left for newcomers to show the established set just how to make real music. Yes, there’s lots of familiar names on my list, but I was also fortunate to be exposed to brand new artists for the first time through live shows and word of mouth, a method of discovering music that closes the personal loop you have with certain tunes.

And so, while the year in music didn’t exactly shape up the way I expected it too, I’m pleasantly surprised by the results and am left hungry for what 2014 has in store.

30. HAIM – Days Are Gone

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Wilson Phillips-esque is always chic, but these ladies are talented in their own right with unexpectedly different records like “My Song 5.”

 

 

 

29. Kurt Vile – Wakin On a Pretty Daze

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The perfect soundtrack for unemployment, especially if you’re able to wander around Chicago’s lakefront. Weird, that was my life. Also one of the most warmly-produced albums of the year, and I don’t hate it.

 

 

 

28. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away

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It’s about all of it, but it’s really all about “Jubilee Street.” Dead.

 

 

 

 

27. Bill Callahan – Dream River

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A master songwriter returns with another provocative collection of songs that magically fits perfectly with the scenery of Colorado, so that’s chic for me.

 

 

 

26. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

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Not gonna lie, I was a little disappointed by this release, but you still can’t deny that The National are really, really good at what they do. Maybe it’s just time for them to try something a little bit different the next time around. “Pink Rabbits” also kills.

 

 

 

25. Arctic Monkeys – AM

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Who knew these guys would still be relevant all these years after “Fluorescent Adolescent” took over the radio, but the Arctic Monkeys’ AM was one of the most solid rock albums of 2013.

 

 

 

24. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

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Yes we’re all sick of “Get Lucky,” but there’s a reason why it blew up. Daft Punk finally returned in 2013 with the most slickly-produced odes to glam disco 70s funky chic with a roster of impressive guests to boot. Was it what everyone was hoping for in a new Daft Punk album? No, but it’s perfect in terms of what they were going for.

 

 

23. Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle

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I don’t even know, she’s just really damn good at what she does.

 

 

 

 

22. Caveman – Caveman

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I didn’t even know about this band until I caught their act while opening for Rogue Wave (moments) at Lincoln Hall this past June. I’m really glad I went early (when you go to a majority of shows alone, it’s easier to drink at the venue then alone in your apartment…awkward) because I can’t stop playing their self-titled LP. Glowing melodies fuzzy keys and emo subject matter – I can totally get down with that and you should too.

 

 

21. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe

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Obligatory, but it’s also a great album.

 

 

 

 

20. Iron & Wine – Ghost On Ghost

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Sam Beam decided he also had to throw his hat in the ring in 2013, but he actually made a great album with Ghost On Ghost. Songs like “New Mexico’s No Breeze” and “Joy,” which had a killer music video to boot, are worth the price of admission alone.

 

 

 

19. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

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She must have been going for a Fiona Apple-esque vibe with that album title, and while it’s definitely not Neko’s best album, it’s a solid entry in an outstanding catalog of music.

 

 

 

18. Rhye – Woman

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Made up of Milosh and Robin Hannibal, Rhye’s Woman came out of nowhere and blew most listeners away, me being one of them. It also didn’t hurt that the group’s super exclusive show at Schubas was one of the best I’ve seen all year.

 

 

 

17. Atoms for Peace – Amok

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This is what Thom Yorke’s Eraser should have sounded like, although I like them both. Whatever.

 

 

 

16. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator

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I mean baiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii. Talk about emo moments. But really, it’s quite something to hear what Devon Welsh and his producer / collaborator Matthew Otto can do with the most minimal of elements.

 

 

 

15. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II

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These are all supposed to be my top albums of 2013, but UMO’s II is definitely a favorite. But like really, “So Good At Being In Trouble,” “Monki,” “Secret Xtians.” Are you kidding me?

 

 

 

14. The Dodos – Carrier

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I’ve mentioned this a few times on this blog that I hardly pay attention to anymore, but The Dodos are special not only because I love them, but because they were the subject of the first review I ever wrote. They disappointed with 2011’s No Color, but thankfully came back better than ever with Carrier, which is best digested in a solid listen from start to finish. It’s good to hear the group channeling the loss of guitarist Christopher Reimer into such beautiful art – putting the medium to its best possible use. Also bittersweet – the last show I saw at my home away from home, Lincoln Hall, was headlined by The Dodos; A fitting bookend to my life at that moment.

 

13. Night Beds – Country Sleep

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Lead by Winston Yellen, newcomers Night Beds tugged at the heartstrings with Country Sleep.  These are the types of songs you’d hear on The OC before the rest of humanity discovered them only because of said show, and yet they also avoid sounding clichéd. Also check out the super disturbing video for “Even If We Try.” Oh, also, my friend totally could have gone back to Winston’s hotel room the night they played the Varsity in Minneapolis, so that’s fun.

 

 

12. Disclosure – Settle

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Another debut in a list of amazing debuts in 2013, Disclosure’s Settle was, by far, the best dance record released this year, and then Beyoncé had to come and mess everything up if you’re into more of an R&B flavor. But really, can we talk about “Latch” or “Defeated” or “You & Me” or “Help Me Lose My Mind” or really every track on this album, because damn.

 

 

11. Indians – Somewhere Else

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Maybe it’s the chic album art that I wouldn’t mind having framed, maybe it’s the delicate yet slightly kooky vocals from Søren Løkke Juul (not to mention the kooky name, but whatever he’s from Copenhagen so act cool), maybe it’s the melancholy melodies backed by subtle electronics to make the whole thing grander, but Somewhere Else is certainly something else, in the best way possible.

 

 

10. Drake – Nothing Was the Same

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I really didn’t want to like this album. Perhaps I was getting a little sick of Drake and I didn’t want anything to overshadow the amazingness that was and still is Take Care. But Nothing Was the Same is like, really, really good you guys. I still kind of don’t want it to be as good as it is, but damn, he cracked my top 10. Bravo.

 

 

9. Local Natives – Hummingbird

Local Natives, Hummingbird

After breaking out with the brilliant Gorilla Manor, I’m really happy Local Natives avoided the dreaded sophomore slump and came out ahead with Hummingbird. And while it doesn’t offer much in terms of innovation, Hummingbird makes up for that in perfecting the direction of the band and setting excellent expectations with songs like “Ceilings,” “You & I” and the devastating “Colombia.”

 

 

8. Phosphorescent – Muchacho

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If landscapes could sing songs, they would sound like those grouped together on Muchacho. It sounds new yet rustic at the same time, like you’ve heard these songs in a past life or something. Muchacho is beaten up, triumphant, free-wheeling and wistful – all the makings for one of the best albums of the year.

 

 

7. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

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The expectations for this album were incredibly high, thanks to a viral campaign, “secret” shows, track listing leaks, and lots and lots of ad money. Ultimately, Reflektor fell short for many. Have Arcade Fire jumped the shark? Maybe. Our quaint little indie band are now playing arenas on the next tour and have a much larger sound to match. Yet isn’t this the complaint aimed at every band who were once someone’s secret that now everyone enjoys? It isn’t all bad, and Win Butler seems to know exactly what he and the rest of the group are to do with this newfound superstardom. And there’s still no denying the pockets of genius found throughout Reflektor, with the title track being one of my favorites of 2013. Maybe I’m a little jaded that the secret’s fully out in the open, but I think we’ll get a clearer picture of what Arcade Fire is turning into (or has become) with a follow-up, whenever that happens.

 

6. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe

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Like, this is almost a perfect album. There’s really not much more I can say.

 

 

 

 

5. James Blake – Overgrown

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James Blake traded in the dubstep sound of his first proper LP for a more R&B flavored sound on Overgrown, and it pays off in dividends. Overgrown is a multi-textured album that has the ability to fully launch the listener into a dark, seductive atmosphere. It’s an album full of surprises, twists and turns that remind us why Blake is one of the best in the business.

 

 

4. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

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A familiar name that actually pulled through in 2013. People love to hate Vampire Weekend, but why? I think it’s jealousy. Insanely talented, good looking, smart guys that make great fucking music with a sound that is distinctly their own, Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City is familiar enough while also offering something fresh over previous releases. It’s like a really solid piece of furniture. Don’t even get me started on “Hannah Hunt.”

 

 

3. Beyoncé – BEYONCÉ

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Even though it’s not the number one album, Beyoncé’s surprise (that’s an understatement) “visual album” clearly won 2013. If there was ever a time to use the term “tour de force” to describe an album, let alone the full Beyoncé Experience that was dropped on humanity as the clock struck midnight on December 13, this would be the occasion.

Not only is the album 14 songs long, but there’s a full on music video for each song (and then some). And these aren’t just like, go-pro handycam bullshit videos. Oh, and on top of all of that, the album slays. It’s her best work yet, sounding current without overplayed while also pushing some sonic boundaries.

In an age of massive pre-release promotions that have the potential to do more damage than good (see every other major release from well-established artists this year), Beyoncé and her team were able to create an event akin to when Radiohead released In Rainbows. It shows her dedication to not only the craft, but also the meaning of music and its ability to bring people together. Don’t be jealous.

 

2. Volcano Choir – Repave

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God damn Justin Vernon. I remember seeing Volcano Choir perform their first ever show at The Cedar in Minneapolis back in 2011. Since Justin Vernon was involved, the crowd was a who’s who of the Minneapolis music scene and Bon Iver fanboys, all trying to get a taste of whatever Vernon had his fingers on those days.

The show was awesome, but it was basically one giant, live experiment, similar to the entire structure of Unmap. Certainly, this wasn’t music for the mainstream and would remain one of Vernon’s many side projects with his buddies.

Ugh, that notion was so wrong, and what a difference two years makes. After seeing Volcano Choir perform at The Metro in Chicago in support of Repave, we now find the group as a fully-formed juggernaut, complete with a live show that employs a beautifully-designed lighting concept cascading off of a cave-like backdrop, with Vernon planted behind a pulpit, preaching to raptured audiences. The songs on Repave are no longer experiments in sound and electronics. These are lovely, anthemic, powerful songs that serve as a call to arms. Vernon, for the most part, ditches the falsetto, belting out lines like “set sail,” pleading with the listener to “repave, repave, repave, repave,” and to “shed skin.”

It’s as if Vernon is shedding the persona of Bon Iver, and he very well may be according to some recent interviews. He’s at the helm now of a different, more powerful ship now, and that plasters a giant smile on my face.

 

1. Kanye West – Yeezus

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I’ve already dropped the mic on this album back in June, but once again, Kanye West has released the album of the year – an album that sounds like nothing else and pushes forward a very specific agenda about status and race in America. In closing, and in true Kanye form, Imma quote my previous post on Yeezus:

When Kanye first tweeted that he would be projecting new music at specific locations across the country, I dropped what I was doing and headed up the street to Wrigley Field, not knowing what to expect. In true Kanye form, the projection of “New Slaves” started an hour late. I tried to be as in the moment as possible while also trying to decipher what this new sound was and listening intently to the subject matter of what is a very deep song. Then, out of nowhere, in slammed the sample of Omega’s “Gyöngyhajú Lány.” It’s quite a beautiful and somewhat profound moment, actually, and felt more that way as me and 50 other people stared at the entrance of Wrigley Field with jaws dropped, while Kanye and Frank Ocean crooned “So let’s get too high, get too high again.” It may not be the same type of high that Dark Fantasy gave the world – Yeezus is a high of a very different sort. And thank God – At least none of us are bored anymore.

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Thoughts on Yeezus

kanye-new-album-yeezusThe first record on Kanye West’s sixth studio album, “On Sight,” clearly spells out what the fuck is about to happen for the entire length of Yeezus.

“How much do I not give a fuck? / Let me show you right now before you give it up,” West snarls before we hear a classic Kanye-esque sample, featuring the line “He’ll give us what we need / It may not be what we want.”

Exactly.

West already gave us want we wanted with 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He’s so good at doing this only 10 years into his professional solo career that he pulled out all the stops, scheduled every guest rapper you’d ever want to hear on a Kanye album and pushed all the studio flourishes to the extreme because he knew Dark Fantasy would play like a greatest hits album. At the very beginning of Dark Fantasy, we hear “Can we get much higher?” Like, hello.

And you wanted that again?

I’m about to compare Kanye West to Radiohead right now. Radiohead are expected to evolve and make drastic and creative leaps and bounds forward with each album. All of that came to a head with In Rainbows – it was the best of everything that had come before it. Then The King of Limbs was released and people were pissed off because it was more challenging, didn’t change things enough and was “too short.” LOL K.

I think the same thing is happening with Yeezus, although I would say it’s more like Kanye’s Kid A. You see, Kanye got us all gassed up over the past decade, made his “ultimate” album with Dark Fantasy, and then pulled the rug out from everybody who was expecting something they could play in the club or while pre-gaming.

Yeezus is a dark, twisted fantasy in its own right. It sounds like nothing else, yet peppers in sonically beautiful moments that link to Kanye’s past, most directly to the also challenging and commercially unviable 808s & Heartbreak. All at once, it’s funny, uncomfortable, provocative, beautiful, depressing and a challenge.

Very recently, celebrated band Low played the annual Rock the Garden, and people were super pissed because the band’s set consisted of one song stretched out to 27 minutes. In response, the City Pages’ Reed Fischer complied an argument for why it was actually brilliant. I’m going to use a couple of his arguments to wrap up my thoughts:

Fischer: Rock the Garden is a Walker Art Center event, not Jingle Ball.

Low not playing “Plastic Cup” is nowhere close to equivalent to Katy Perry skipping “Teenage Dream.” Get over it. The Walker has a long tradition of supporting experimental performance that sits outside the mainstream, and Low’s choice to densely explore one track was a fitting addition to the day. If anything, this will be a Low appearance that will be talked about for the rest of our lives. Plus, “Drone, not drones,” was a completely badass way to address the crowd. Alan Sparhawk and his band looked fearless and punk as fuck up there.

Me: Kanye West is not Flo Rida, T.I. or J Cole. He’s creating art that the masses have seemed to relate to up to this point. Kanye West will not be playing Jingle Ball.

Kanye not making “Gold Digger Part 2” is kind of the point of pushing music forward. Get over it. If anything, Yeezuz will be talked about for the rest of our lives. Plus, sampling “All the Beautiful People” on “Black Skinhead” is completely badass.

Fischer: Not every effective piece of art is easy to pigeonhole.

Admittedly, I was initially confused by the long, billowing intro that stretched easily five minutes before a noticeable change. But as the sun started to peek its way out from behind the clouds, “Do You Know How to Waltz?” began to build into something epic. In an era when we’re used to getting exactly what we want with a swipe of a finger on our smart phones, it can be refreshing to have a surprise, a plot twist, a moment of not knowing what will come next. Although the few lyrics of the song include the line “One more reason to forget,” I guarantee no one who was gathered there Saturday will be able to erase in their minds what they experienced while Low played. A shame for those who just wanted something less unique, less singular, and less captivating. The crowd agreed that Emily Haines was “not synthetica” later on, but should remember that we should not be passive, music-consuming drones either.

Me: Not every effective piece of art is easy to pigeonhole.

From the very beginning, Yeezus sounds like no other Kanye album out there and can initially be confusing. In an era when we’re used to getting exactly what we want with a swipe of a finger on our smart phones, it can be refreshing to have a surprise, a plot twist, a moment of not knowing what will come next, a la Yeezus and Kanye’s career in general. I guarantee no one who listens to Yeezus will be able to erase in their minds what the hell just happened in their ears, on their speakers, etc.

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When Kanye first tweeted that he would be projecting new music at specific locations across the country, I dropped what I was doing and headed up the street to Wrigley Field, not knowing what to expect. In true Kanye form, the projection of “New Slaves” started an hour late. I tried to be as in the moment as possible while also trying to decipher what this new sound was and listening intently to the subject matter of what is a very deep song. Then, out of nowhere, in slammed the sample of Omega’s “Gyöngyhajú Lány.” It’s quite a beautiful and somewhat profound moment, actually, and felt more that way as me and 50 other people stared at the entrance of Wrigley Field with jaws dropped, while Kanye and Frank Ocean crooned “So let’s get too high, get too high again.” It may not be the same type of high that Dark Fantasy gave the world – Yeezus is a high of a very different sort. And thank God – At least none of us are bored anymore.

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Top 25 Albums of 2011

Ok 2011, you were kind of a weird, but good year for music.  Honestly, this has been one of the hardest “Top 25” lists I have ever made, because, besides my pick for the number one album, a lot of the rest was pretty much up in the air for me.

One note: PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake is nowhere to be found on my list.  Sorry for partying, but it still just hasn’t clicked with me.

Also, lots and lots of good hip-hop came out this year.  Which is fun, but also, as a big fan of hip-hop, might make my list seem very “commercial.”  Not really sorry for this one, it just is what it is.

And so…..judge away:

25. Panda Bear – Tomboy

 

 

 

 

 

I mean, it’s mostly all about “Last Night At the Jetty,” but it’s also about the overall lush, woozy sound drenched in layers upon layers of reverb  heard throughout the album that makes Noah Lennox’s Tomboy a notable listen in 2011.

24. Cults – Cults

 

 

 

 

 

Cults threw their hat in the whole retro-pop ring and came out on top with their first try.  Although I was skeptical at first, debut single “Go Outside” was the perfectly breezy song of the summer.  Seeing them live at the 7th Street Entry sealed the deal, and “Walk At Night” is one of my favorite songs of the year.

23. Lady Gaga – Born This Way

 

 

 

 

 

There’s really not much more to say about this one than what I already wrote in my review of the pop star’s second album, and even though it’s getting kinda old kinda fast, there’s no denying that this was one of the best pop albums to come out this year.

22. Beyoncé – 4

 

 

 

 

 

Ughhhhhhh Beyoncé, how you murk me so.  Even though I would have preferred an album filled with songs like “Countdown,” we instead got more of a mood album, a Beyoncé tone poem, if you will.  You can almost hear the tears in “I Care,” feel the swagoo in “Party,” and bonus track “Dance For You” definitely makes me want to swirl.  A fine body of work.

21. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

 

 

 

 

 

Another example where a live show catapulted an album into being something special…no but really, as a debut, The Year of Hibernation is a remarkable achievement for the young Mr. Powers.

20. TV On the Radio – Nine Types of Light

 

 

 

 

 

Bucking the trend, I actually didn’t much enjoy this band’s appearance at First Ave.  I honestly think it was just because I was in a sour mood, however music usually can lift me out of that, and that just didn’t happen at the show.  But as an album, Nine Types of Light continues a winning streak for TV On the Radio.

19. Britney Spears – Femme Fatale

 

 

 

 

 

I mean…Britney hasn’t been this exciting since Blackout.  Love her, hate her, say what you will about her, but Femme Fatale is simply a fun, expertly crafted, perfect pop album, and that’s all it needs to be.  It’s also fun when Britney gets dirty and swears (“You can be my fuck tonight” on “How I Roll”) and references past hits (“Hit me one more time” on “Inside Out”).  Let’s just face it, growing up with Britney as the soundtrack to everything from 8th grade “mixers” to high school proms and now drunken, messy nights out in your 20s has been a gift everyone can (and should) appreciate.

18. Feist – Metals

 

 

 

 

 

Metals is a really pretty album.  Nothing too groundbreaking happening here, but for craft, this album gets an A.  “Graveyard” and “The Circle Married the Line” sound both thrilling and heartbreaking at the same time, which could describe this album as a whole….yes?  Maybe?  Yeah.

17. James Blake – James Blake

 

 

 

 

 

Dubstep ughhhhhhhh.  It’s a great album though.  Also, I saw him in the Entry and you probably didn’t.

16. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah yeah, “Midnight City” is like, the song of the year.  Listening to this album in one sitting is quite the experience.  And, they hit their live show out of the park at First Ave.

15. CANT – Dreams Come True

 

 

 

 

 

I was pretty skeptical about the solo effort from Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, especially since lead single “Answer” really didn’t do much for me.  Well, wow, this album is pretty fucking great, proving Taylor can hold his own as an artist.  Also, none of you went to the show at the Entry.  Shame on you.

14. Terius Nash – 1977

 

 

 

 

 

Terius Nash aka The-Dream.  That’s pretty much all you need to know.  The best part is that this breakup album is mostly about Christina Milian.  Super fun.  Also, 1977 is a contender for giving us some of the best one-liners in rap history: “You used to be anti-internet, but now you constantly blogging and shit,” “Another day with you is just another fucking day,” “That get up in the mornin’ and put it on me, she so horny,” “Let me sing you my drunk song,” “Blowin’ bottles of dat drank,” “Ever seen a n@&*a buy a house from the toilet?”  I could go on, but I wont.  You should just listen.

13. Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know

 

 

 

 

 

Not too much to say about this one either, other than Laura Marling’s voice is, you know, one of those voices.  It just hits you right in the gut.  And she’s only 21.  Although not as immediate as I Speak Because I Can, there are plenty of highlights throughout A Creature I Don’t Know, including “I Was Just a Card,” “Salinas,” and “Sophia.”

12. Wilco – The Whole Love

 

 

 

 

 

WILCO IS BACK!!!  Right, they didn’t really go anywhere, but honestly, this is the best thing since A Ghost is Born, and a lot of people didn’t even like that album.  So then this is the best thing since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.  Which is saying a lot.  Also, their first of two recent shows at The State Theatre was one of my favorite concerts of the year, maybe even ever.

11. The Roots – Undun

 

 

 

 

 

If you know me, it’s kind of a given that if an album includes Sufjan Stevens in the credits, I’m going to take notice.  And while Sufjan’s “Redford” is the base for the last suite of songs, the rest of this concept album is all The Roots, and it’s fantastic.  Definitely the most heartfelt hip-hop found on this list.

10. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

 

 

 

 

 

Strange Mercy might be Annie Clarke’s masterstroke.  “Cruel” is one of the best songs of the year.  The title track is my personal favorite from the album.  All in all, Strange Mercy is classic St. Vincent but more focused and sonically profound.  Amazing stuff.  I also got to sit on the stage for her show at The Walker.

9. The Antlers – Burst Apart

 

 

 

 

 

The Antlers’ Hospice was a masterpiece, even if it left you completely wrecked after each listen.  Talk about a downer!  Things haven’t changed much with Burst Apart, but everyone was waiting to see if Peter Silberman and crew would be able to produce something as meaningful that didn’t have the story arc of Hospice.  I’d say The Antlers have succeeded – Burst Apart still tells a story, but this time it’s about moving through the murky waters of heartbreak and loneliness, fun stuff like that!  Who knew depression could sound so lovely?

8. Real Estate – Days

 

 

 

 

 

The surf-infused sounds of melancholy is the best way I can describe Days.  What’s up with me and loving sad-ish music so much?  Anyways, Days is a lovely gem of an album.  And really it’s not all that sad.  Seriously, don’t let that scare you away from listening to it!

7. Beirut – The Rip Tide

 

 

 

 

 

Zach Condon’s most accessible work still maintains that European quirkiness that defines Beirut’s sound.  Condon’s voice has also never sounded better, song’s like “Goshen” a showcase for his deep, swoon-worthy vocals.  All those horns pull at your heartstrings too.

6. Radiohead – The King of Limbs

 

 

 

 

 

It’s an odd year for me when Radiohead put out an album and it’s not automatically number one on my list.  Yup, I’d say you either loved or hated The King of Limbs.  Maybe it even pissed you off.  Clearly, I fall in the love camp, while also recognizing that better music came out this year.  Honestly though, why is everyone so mad that the album (consisting of JUST EIGHT SONGS?!?!?! ) is under 40 minutes long? There’s a lot packed into those 40 minutes.  “Bloom” is like an awakening, “Lotus Flower” is another one of the best songs of the year, “Codex” murks you and “Give Up the Ghost” is unlike anything heard from the band.  Yeah, it’s not an instant classic like In Rainbows, but this record holds up very nicely when not compared to Radiohead.  Think about it.  Bye.

5. Kanye West & Jay-Z – Watch the Throne

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah yeah, I know I wasn’t head-over-heels for this when it first came out.  But my, how Watch the Throne has grown on me, just like I guessed it would.  Again with this one, pretty much everything that could be said about this album already has been said.  Along with 1977, Watch the Throne also ranks high with classic one-liners that have quickly made their way into me and my friends’ everyday vernacular.  I’d type out some examples but I’d have to use too many $*#@)($#@s.

4. The Weeknd – House of Balloons/Thursday

 

 

 

 

 

Completely out of nowhere and I am so completely happy that both of these mixtapes (with a third on the way) happened this year.  Really, there’s not a single track on both of Abel Tesfaye’s (ok let’s just stick with calling him The Weeknd) outings thus far that I would skip over.  They just make you feel so many feeelingssssssssss.  And I think that’s a good thing, especially in this genre.

3. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

 

 

 

 

 

I actually re-listened to Helplessness Blues last night as a refresher.  Originally it was a few slots lower on my list, but my notions were confirmed that, yeah, this is definitely one of the top three albums of the year.  The title track kills me every time.  The harmonies almost make you want to vomit because they sound so perfect.  It’s almost an overload of beauty.  Did I really just say that?  Yeah.  Cuz it is.  Helplessness Blues is almost an overload of beauty.

2. Drake – Take Care

 

 

 

 

 

Are you for real?  Really though, Drake killed it this year.  I really can’t talk about it.  I also really can’t talk about that album cover.

1.  Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver

 

 

 

 

 

Why must Justin Vernon do this to me?  Crying in my car, crying at work, crying in my apartment, crying at the freaking concert.  This album is actually mind blowing.  It’s almost like everyone wanted it to suck because it would not be fair for our very own Justin Vernon to keep on succeeding and producing music that is again and again this transcendent.  But guess what??? He made 2011’s album of the year.

So, that’s it!  Below, in no particular order, are some of the albums that didn’t make the cut, even though I really, really wanted them to.  Going up to 50 albums would have actually killed me.

Akron/Family – S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT

My Brightest Diamond – All Things Will Unwind

tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

Cut Copy – Zonoscope

Bright Eyes – The People’s Key

My Morning Jacket – Circuital

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong

 

 

 

 

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Album Review: Kanye West & Jay-Z – Watch the Throne

7.5 out of 10

As if we really needed a joint album to tell us that Kanye West and Jay-Z own the hip-hop throne.  But here we have Watch the Throne, which only solidifies this fact, but what do Kanye and Jay have to prove, and who are they trying to prove it to?

I’m just going to put it out there that this is a Kanye album where Jay happens to guest on every track.  From the production style to the “skits” (dialogue from Blades of Glory that end up being more distracting than funny) to the musical interludes between some tracks to the album art by Riccardo Tisci, this is a Kanye project.  Some may argue that Kanye even has the upper hand on most of the verses, although Jay surprises and even trumps his partner in some instances.  But this isn’t a Kanye album, and so it has to be judged on the fact that this was a joint project, and after an initial listen, it’s a little disappointing.

Those expecting to be blown away by which should have been like, the ultimate marriage in hip-hop talents coming together to just make a blow out affair should, well, not expect that.  Watch the Throne is nuanced and is even serious for a majority of the running time.

Tracks take musical twists and turns – there are dubstep breakdowns (I think this is now just a requirement for all music in 2011) and beat shifts which are oft the best moments of the album.  While “Lift Off” is a guaranteed big radio hit thanks to Beyoncé, it’s the last minute of the song where it gets really musically interesting, and this is the minute most likely to be cut during the radio edit.  We hear pure horns; Beyoncé’s vocal is remixed with an added in “Jump!” and then hand drums come in to stir everything to perfection.  It’s a wonderful moment, and could have been the base for an entire track.

Same goes for “Ni**as in Paris.”  The main track is entertaining enough – who doesn’t like to hear Jay rap about his Rolex and Vuitton and Kanye mentioning Margiela over a straight balling track?  I mean it’s sick.  Yet again, with this track it’s the last minute that really seals the deal.  We get a very Kanye-esque melancholy chorus in the background as piano chords accentuate the fact that both Kanye and Jay are definitely in their zones.

The lighter tracks are the fun that you would have expected from a Kanye/Jay album, but have some problems of their own.  “That’s My Bitch” starts out with Kanye impersonating the part where Alicia Keys calls her café love in “U Don’t Know My Name,” before turning into a party jam, but really doesn’t offer anything that we haven’t heard from Kanye or Jay before.  “Otis” is…well, Otis.  And while probably not considered a lighter track by the majority, “Made in America” just can’t be taken seriously by me, Frank Ocean’s “Sweeeet Queen Corettaahhhhhaaahhh” is just too giggle inducing.  It’s just trying damn hard, even if the versus from Kanye and Jay are heartfelt.

The more emotional tracks continue to be the standouts, with “New Day” being one of the highlights of the album as Kanye and Jay tell their unborn children to learn from the mistakes they have made over a flowing vocal sample of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.”  “Murder to Excellence” follows in this same emo vein where we can hear a hand-strummed guitar while the two artists muse on “black on black murder.”  And “Welcome to the Jungle” has Swizz Beatz returning in fine form, where minor electric keys make for another emotional moment.

And while Kanye and Jay’s verses are more often traded back and forth seemingly independent from one another, it finally all comes together with the excellent “Why I Love You.”  Whoever made the genius decision to lift Cassius’  “I Love You So” as is, simply adding a more hard-hitting bass line, should be applauded. While Jay owns the majority of the song, it’s near the end when Jay and Kanye go back and forth mid-sentence, trading statements and finally rapping on top of each other as the track dissolves into strings (that should have lasted another minute) as they declare “for these ni**as not know what they do, ooh.”

I mean the thing is though, both Kanye and Jay do indeed know what they’re doing, together on this album and independently from each other.  That’s why it comes as a surprise that this album is a grower and has its weak moments.  Both men tend to aim for immediacy with their work, however Watch the Throne requires multiple listens before it can be fully digested.

In “Why I Love You,” Jay asks, “Wasn’t I a good king?” as Kanye answers “Maybe too much of a good thing, huh?” I just want to know – for being so self-assured throughout this whole affair, what are they so nervous about?

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Volcano Choir @ The Cedar 03.25.11

Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver, aka Kanye West’s favorite Midwest auto-tuned crooner, graced Minneapolis with his presence in the form of Volcano Choir, a band that combines members of Collections of Colonies of Bees with Vernon tackling lead vocals.

Unmap, released in 2009, is Volcano Choir’s only album.  While not as accessible as Vernon’s other work as Bon Iver, the experimental nature of the music, combined with Vernon’s signature falsetto, made for a very interesting and at times emotional listen, something that would be challenging to reproduce in a live setting.

Live setting be damned, Vernon and crew decided to do two live shows in the U.S. after a one-off performance in Japan last year.  And boy, did they do a number on Unmap.

After quietly walking on stage a little after midnight, Volcano Choir opened the show with the slow burning and mostly electronic “Dote,” a perfect opener that sounds like the electronic equivalent of slowly waking up under the sea, the synthesized keys fluttering around like bubbles as sun rays reach the bottom of the ocean.  No but like really, that’s how it sounds.  And it’s even more impressive live, as the gentile sounds gave way to “Seeplymouth.”  With Vernon’s auto-tuned vocals brought to the front in the mix than blending in like they did on the album, the meandering “Seeplymouth” was suddenly immediate sounding.

With audience members Martin Dosh and Mike Lewis cheering them on, Volcano Choir ripped into “Island, IS,” the most song-centric cut from Unmap. Clipping along at a faster pace when compared to the album version, it sounded exciting and uplifting, capturing everyone’s attention that had packed into The Cedar.

“Island, IS,” Live @ The Cedar

“Husks and Shells,” as well as “And Gather,” provided the soundtrack for the more contemplative, quieter moments of the show, yet each sounded lovely in their own right, Vernon singing his soul out with eyes closed, playing with his own voice and the effects layered upon it.

And then, a surprise – Vernon introduced a new song.  Titled “Blue Ni Ni,” the song is more in the spirit of “Island, IS,” but packs a deeper emotional punch.  With spiraling guitar riffs and a galloping beat, “Blue Ni Ni” ends with one of those power choruses where everything builds to a point and then comes crashing down again, Vernon’s vocals ripping out everyone’s heart.  If this is what Volcano Choir are up to lately, we are very lucky.

“Blue Ni Ni,” Live @ The Cedar

The show ended with the spiritual “Youlogy” before the band returned to the stage to perform the now famous “Still,” a song that makes an appearance in the form of “Woods” on Bon Iver’s Blood Bank EP and would eventually go on to serve as the backbone of Kanye’s “Lost In The World.”  And although I was secretly hoping that at any moment the beat would drop and Kanye would come roaring on stage to support his boy, the song in its Volcano Choir form was transfixing.

Making the jump from a meticulously engineered album to performing content live is one that many bands try to make and sadly more than often fail.  Yet on Friday night, not only did Volcano Choir prove that it’s possible, they one-upped themselves and gave the audience something better than the album, wrapped in the memory of being present for perhaps a once in a lifetime show.

Let’s hope we get to experience this again.

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Album Review: Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

9 out of 10

I get why a lot of people dislike Kanye West.  He’s outspoken, cocky and arrogant beyond belief, and at times rude and insensitive.

And yet all of our lives we are taught that if you don’t believe in yourself and have confidence in your dreams, you won’t achieve them.  Kanye West believes he is, without a doubt, one of the best, if not the best, rappers of all time.  And so he is.

In the same fashion that he crashed the VMAs and trumped Taylor Swift by declaring that Beyoncé had “one of the greatest music videos of all time,” (which you all secretly agreed with but decided to call him outspoken, cocky and arrogant beyond belief, rude and insensitive), West declares his music as some of the greatest of all time.  And so it is.

West alluded to all of this on the track “Last Call” from his 2004 debut The College Dropout:

Some say he arrogant. Can y’all blame him?

It was straight embarrassing how y’all played him

Last year shoppin’ my demo, I was tryin’ to shine

Every motherfucker told me that I couldn’t rhyme

Now I could let these dream killers kill my self-esteem

Or use my arrogance as the steam to power my dreams

I use it as my gas, so they say that I’m gassed

But without it I’d be last, so I ought to laugh

 

Yep, he’s motivated alright, and after following up his debut with the excellent, Jon Brion produced Late Registration, successfully avoiding the sophomore slump, West had already cemented himself in the legions of rap music’s greatest of all time.  Graduation and 808s & Heartbreak didn’t hurt either.

And so now we have My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  Yes, it’s an instant classic, although I’ve come to expect nothing less from West at this point (see above).  And while West has always been very personal in his rhymes, this album contains some of the darker, twisted thoughts ever rapped before.  It’s also gorgeous, at times even moving.  Sure, attribute some of that to the samples and guests (Bon Iver anyone?) West handpicked for each track, but even if you reduce his talent to that of a great editor and pop culture curator and consumer, then he is one of the best editors, curators and consumers of all time.

It takes someone special to not only think of using the Aphex Twin song “Avril 14th” as a sample, but to then turn the contemplative piano line on its head, make it sound even more pensive and then turn that into the base of a song like “Blame Game.”  Morphing Bon Iver’s “The Woods” into a club banger without erasing the emotional weight of the original song is just plain crazy.  And genius.

And while the impact of some of Fantasy’s standout tracks was diminished with the early releases via West’s again, genius, and free, G.O.O.D. Friday releases, the quality of the songs themselves is anything but diminished, making more sense in the sequence of the overall album.  In some cases, West even went back and added to these tracks before the album’s release, as is the case with “Devil In a New Dress,” breaking the song down with a baseline that can only be described as soulful as hell, as cliché as that sounds, and then dropping a Rick Ross rhyme on top of it all that is one of the best moments on the album.

Don’t even get me started on how good the menacing beat on “Dark Fantasy” sounds in the car at highway speeds.

So sure, continue to carry your preconceptions of Kanye West before even scratching the surface to find the meaning of his music, the samples he chooses, his motivation and his arrogance. Sure, call Fantasy just another rap album and fail to acknowledge how this genre of music is one of the most important in our culture and the significance of the commentary it provides on the current state of society.  If you really want to understand why this album matters, you need to separate the man from the music, and then put the two back together again.  Maybe then you will get it.

Until then, I can’t hear you.  I’m laughing hysterically at the Chris Rock bit at the end of “Blame Game.”

Key Tracks:

Dark Fantasy

All of the Lights

Monster

Devil In a New Dress

Lost In the World

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Kanye West’s “Power”

A true superhero...

Kanye is back!  After the whole Taylor Swift debacle (I actually agreed with what he said on stage at the awards), it’s good to see Mr. West back on his grind.  And he brings the goods with the first single from his forthcoming release, Good Ass Job.

Check out “Power” below:

Link removed due to Copyright – if you’re smart, it’s out there…

“I’m an asshole,” raps Kanye in the song.  Yes, that may be true, but he knows how to produce a beautiful track.

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Kanye West is Real Cold

The video features some a reworked production from the bleakest track off of 808s & Heartbreak.  Very Harry Potter, Death Eaters vibe.  Kanye, I’m ready for some new ish from you now…

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