Before we dive into a proper Top 30, we thought we'd pull back the curtain a bit for a look at the albums that didn't quite make it in. Personal favorites that didn't make the cut, albums that lurked right outside the lists purview, or pieces that just didn't land specifically enough to make a fight worthwhile--a whole bunch of them follow, courtesy of Marty Brown, Sean Witzke and Tucker Stone.
Action Bronson – Dr. Lecter
Cities Aviv – Digital Lows
Kendrick Lamar – Section.80
Lil B the Based God – I’m Gay (I’m Happy)
Spaceghostpurrp – Blvcklvnd Rvdix 66.6 (1991)
Here’s five albums by dudes I’d consider foreriders in the current rap vanguard. Action Bronson pulls off the year’s second-best Ghostface impersonation on a Primo- and Pete Rock-indebted concept album about New York cuisine. Memphis resident Cities Aviv squeezes hard-bodied introspective joints out of high-garbage-content samples from “Float On,” “People Are People,” and, most impressively, the Alessi Brothers’ “Oh Lori,” which, yes, is about riding a bicycle in Springtime with the person you love perched on the handlebars. Kendrick Lamar, who is reportedly taking pole position on Dr. Dre’s mythical Detox, raps dexterously enough to establish himself as the post-Drake Snoop Dogg. Lil B unexpectedly steps his game up for the most anticipated album of his short, prolific career by toning down the self-help verbiage and learning how to get out of the way of his producers. And, finally, Miami-based beat-maker Spaceghostpurrp is responsible for the most intentionally ugly rap album of 2011, mastering sounds at different levels within the same song and inserting horrific/orgasmic screams with the same velocity that AarabMUZIK inserts DJ drops. From Bronson’s immaculate East-coast traditionalism to Spaceghostpurrp’s engrossingly terrible production, each of these guys has a conscientious stake in what hip-hop wants to sound like over the next decade.
The Rapture – In the Grace of Your Love
In the five years since Pieces of the People You Love, dance-punk impresarios The Rapture lost half of their rhythm section but rediscovered disco and, oh yeah, Christianity. For this years’ “comeback,” they toned down the more abrasive aspects of their sound—the primacy and jaggedness that got them so much attention a decade ago as part of the first wave of DFA artists—and came up with an album jam-packed with arena-rock dance-pop. Proving that if old punks never die, they can at least age gracefully, In the Grace of Your Love is The Rapture’s best, most cohesive record to date. It’s about Jesus, but fuck it.
Tiger & Woods – Through the Green
Throughout its 75-minute run time, Tiger & Woods’ full-length debut recalls bits of nearly every hit from the electro-disco era—“Heartbeat” to “Mercedes Boy”—but it plays more like a 12-hour fever dream with Melvin Riley’s exact intonation of the words “oh” and “Sheila” stuck on repeat inside your head. Credit the reclusive duo with taking Theo Parrish-style experiments in tedium and repetition; subbing out the component parts for diva-house vocals and Salsoul orchestral stabs; and ultimately churning out ten lengthy exercises in sustained joy.
Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo
You don’t often think of singer-songwriters as bitchin’ guitar players—part of the draw for “musicians” is that being one usually doesn’t involve much more than strumming and feeling your feelings; it’s not a profession for strivers. So it makes a certain sort of sense that, on an ostensibly “singer-songwriter” album, Kurt Vile plays guitar like he could shred if he really wanted to, but is content sounding like a 90’s teenager sprawled out on a couch in a cement basement, sleepily reconstructing his hazy 80’s memories of 70’s rock radio. He sings as laconically as imaginable, as if he’s barely trying to hit any note, to say nothing of the right one. It’s what you’d call effortless if effortless weren’t a compliment. Yet, in spite—or because—of Vile’s apparent laziness, Smoke Ring for My Halo is one of the most compelling singer-songwriter records of 2011. I guess it’s like Kanye says: When you try hard, that’s when you die hard.
Richard Fearless, aka Death In Vegas, has spent a lot of the past decade in the wilderness. The album, rumored to have been sitting on a shelf, unmastered for the past three years, sounds like what happens when someone has just enough money to disappear for a while and do a ton of drugs and sleep with club girls and record an album about doing just that. There is a sense of Trans-Love Energies as Fearless’ all star Chemical Brothers album but he never went and got the collaborators in order to make it the masterpiece in his head, instead released something that feels a lot more fragile than the Death In Vegas we knew. The final result is some of the most beautiful work of Fearless’ career, even as it seems to be half-complete and imperfect, addled and mercurial. There are moments that stick out - the pulse of “Your Loft, My Acid”, the finale of the piece “Savage Love”, recalls both “Mogwai Fear Satan” and “Purple Rain”, without really sounding like either, constructing a space where those two pieces meet in epic-movie-score-heaven. When the album is over, you’d be hard pressed to differentiate what song and what lyric struck you, making the entire piece feel like a memory, something immediately familiar when it’s on but which disappears into vague recollection when you grasp for it. Probably how Fearless feels about it too.
This is barely an EP, four and a half songs(an intro) written by the frontman of the Arctic Monkeys for Richard Ayoade’s debut film. Intentionally written to evoke the mid-80s period the film is set, the 60s New Wave references Ayoade is playing toward, and Simon and Garfunkel’s work for The Graduate. The songs are kind of strange anachronisms in the film, fitting perfectly but Turner’s phrasing can’t help but feel modern. Turner’s language, no matter how he sings, sounds like someone from the 21st century, oddly showing how much his lyrics make the Arctic Monkeys something of it’s time. The songs are quite gorgeous, though, and it being written for a film gives it an “authenticity” (that’s the wrong word but it doesn’t feel like he’s a modern artist trying to write 60s folk-pop songs like so many artists this year) that an acoustic record from Turner would likely have lacked.
Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Pt. II
The Beasties are still the best who ever did it, ever, and opening track “Make Some Noise” is indisputable proof that they still have the stoopid in them. This sounds like the three guys who made Check Your Head, Paul’s Boutique, and Liscensed to Ill dicking around in the studio not even worried about their legacy. This album is a piece with those classics, and is a stunning achievement considering how few rappers stay not just coherent but good this far into their careers. No matter how much real life - where they are irritatingly politicized, where MCA gets sick, where they are married, have kids and are deep into their 40s - gets in the way of that. Hot Sauce Committee part II would be a return to form if the Beastie Boys ever really had a consistent form, but yes - there’s everything they do here, and done well, and with a sense of joy in rapping that can only come with not giving a shit about anything but rapping. Because really, since when did any that shit matter as much as rapping?
The track record seems to be one solid twenty minutes of material every other year with these guys. This is one of the good ones, even with the terrible album title.
Kriedler - Tank
This is what Goblin would sound like if Goblin were a bunch of fans of Goblin, and it was 2011.
Mark McGuire - Get Lost
He gets better with every release, but he’s got a way to go before people start throwing their Tim Hecker albums out the window. There's a really unusual, hard to get past noise effect on almost all of these tracks--it's sort of like a electronic rake being quickly scraped across an electronic plate--and while it's too infrequent to get used to, there is a feeling of satisfaction to be found the first time you proactively suppress the all-too-natural wince.
PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
You have to be careful when you’re on the way back from experimenting with noise, because it’s really easy to end up stuck in a Starbucks indefinitely. In the same way that you don't really wish the people you dislike any actual real world harm, nobody wants PJ Harvey to get her heart broken. And yet?
You know what I'm talking about.
Spank Rock - Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar
The best album of the last twenty years?
Finally, a Ryan Adams for those of us who want to appear cool with those girls who complement their oversized aviator glasses with oversized novelty t-shirts.
You gotta give it up for a group that could totally make it big on the nerdcore scene, but chose not to.
Big K.R.I.T. - Last King 2 (God’s Machine)
While 21 of the 22 tracks on Last King 2 (God’s Machine) aren’t “Yoko (Remix)”, one of the 22 tracks on Last King 2 (God’s Machine) actually is “Yoko (Remix)”.
Cold Cave - Cherish The Light Years
My only problem with sincerity is the part where you want me to listen to you talk about The Cure.
Gauntlet Hair - Gauntlet Hair
If all the Vampire Weekend fan bands are going to sound like this, maybe the next forty years won’t be an ever-worsening series of moments. (Well, the music part at least.)
Gui Boratto - III
In the same way I would give up on food for a series of life sustaining pills, I would give up on headphones to have Gui Boratto injected directly into the base of my spine.