2011 Music Reviews
Adele, 21 (2011) C-
Céline Dion in a younger (and plumper) form: she sings about the usual issues (romantic problems, duh), and while she can belt them out, all I'm really hearing are those high-paid engineers mass producing the same basic idea ten times (the sole exception being a sweet cover of The Cure's "Lovesong"). She seemed wiser and more passionate a whole album ago when she was chasing those damn pavements.
Active Child, You Are All I See (2011) D
The only way to make this cheesier is to shove a feeding tube in it loaded with gorgonzola. The title track is good.
And So I Watch You From Afar, Gangs (2011) C-
The trouble with these math rock groups I keep listening to (hoping one of them will really stand out at some point) is that they're really built for people who play music (I think) instead of people who want to enjoy music and could care less about time signatures, effects, etc. Math rock, unlike the best electronica outfits (The Field being an obvious one), privileges technique over listener emotion.
Animals as Leaders, Weightless (2011) D+
It's metal mixed with progressive rock ... I suppose. But it's also like getting on a bus with the intent of going to the edge of town when all it's doing is going in circles: where are you leading us?
The Antlers, Burst Apart (2011) B
Preening and precious, but still glorious in its own insular way: like "Hospice," it's simultaneously ethereal and melancholy and self-absorbed. The fascinating "Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out" is a bit of dream analysis - it's anxiety, guys, just take a Valerian Root, have some warm milk and try to get some sleep.
Arctic Monkeys, Suck It and See (2011) C-
Dumb title, (still) dumb band name, and it doesn't sound like that expert musical timing is helping these fellows out much anymore. It's about time they apply for their Master's Degrees.
Atlas Sound, Parallax (2011) B+
Compared to past releases by Mr. Cox as Atlas Sound, this one is relatively upbeat and bouncy, and I don't mean this in a bad way. His gift for atmospherics strengthens his already haunting voice. I think I'm starting to prefer his solo work to his work with the rest of Deerhunter (apologies to the rest of Deerhunter).
Beastie Boys, Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 (2010) C+
If I slam younger, less talented acts for reconfiguring old material and passing it off as new, so I can express disapproval of the Beasties pushing out an album that doesn't take full advantage of what they're capable of because let's face it, they've been around long enough to know better. Comes alive in spurts - like with the spunky "Lee Majors Come Again" - but too much is them referencing references they've referenced for a decade plus, whining about the State of the Nation, referencing Dylan. Okay, I can deal with the latter.
Best Coast, Crazy for You (2010) B
The combination of sunny-time pop rock and direct lyrics about romantic longing go so well together it's hard to quibble about the too-consistent tone/song structure. It's always nice to hear a woman come out and say, "I miss you and I need you" without having to battle through layers of self-defense and trauma to get there. In other news, the 'best coast' happens to be the East Coast ... not to reignite a coastal war or anything.
Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (2010) B
No offense to Mr. Boi, but it's always been André 3000 that's added the high level of artistry to their collaborative efforts: Boi's the more practical and more humble of the two, and with that humility comes a certain lack of 'wow.' That's not to say that this isn't a handsomely-produced and generally fun record - there are enough strong collaborations on this (Janelle Monáe, Gucci Mane) to make it well worth repeat listens.
The Birthday Party, Junkyard (1982) B+
'Slightly' toned-down follow-up to "Prayers on Fire" is still so frenzied (blast off!) and irreverent they make most other bands seem half asleep. It's the way punk should be: dangerous, unforgiving, self-destructive. As for whatever happened to 'honey' in the title track: get that garbage out of the sack.
The Black Keys, El Camino (2011) B-
Not bad, though I can't shake the notion that they can honestly do this with a case of beer and some studio time ... every time. Consistency can be a good thing, but aside from this being 'slightly' more mellow than earlier releases isn't signifying growth.
James Blake, James Blake (2011) F
Maybe the reason your brother and sister don't talk to you is because you are a grating twit (you abuse Auto-Tune, you have nothing to say, those audio clips don't mesh). I don't blame your siblings for their silence, so please don't blame me for lowering the volume and skipping tracks ahead to spare my ears. (And stop mentioning The xx in interviews.)
Bon Iver, Bon Iver (2011) B+
For the amazing success of his debut, Mr. Vernon hasn't slumped one bit with this follow up - it's (like the Antlers' second album) powerful without the high level of moody brooding, especially now that he got that blasted Emma out of his system ("there's a fire going out"). "Calgary" is the best track on here, as it mixes Vernon's falsetto with some electronic atmospherics: if I didn't know any better, I'd think it was a smidge inspired by Tunde and the rest of TV on the Radio (not a bad band to look to for inspiration). Minor slip: "Beth/Rest" reminds me of Kenny G meets Starship.
Boris, Heavy Rocks (2011) D
Japan's own Boris does their own version of arena rock, churns in some supposedly 'epic' 12 minute tracks. I'd groan, but that might be seen as a compliment.
Boris with Merzbow, Klutter (2011) C-
You'd think with two of arguably the loudest and most chaotic musical acts in the entire world collaborating for what's the umpteenth time they'd know better than to control themselves. It's almost as if the mashing together of similar aesthetic approaches leads to a sort of sonic negation.
British Sea Power, Valhalla Dancehall (2011) C+
I'm going to cut them some slack, but this is their weakest effort to date: even their EP from last year ("Zeus") was an unfocused but strong collection of different songs in different styles. This lacks the hard-driving intellectualism of their first two LPs, replacing that with an aesthetic 'softness' that leads to tracks like "Luna," "Baby" and the interminable "Once More Now." BSP should avoid easy sentiment and cheap sarcasm ("Living Is So Easy"). BSP should tell you can do it like you done it before.
Burial, Street Halo [EP] (2011) B-
"Dubstep" has a bad rep for being 'junk music' (trashy, easily replicated, rarely original) - some of my friends, I'm afraid to admit, are inexplicably addicted - but Burial is one of the few that can get it right (Benga being another), keeping his specific approach closer to the ambient (and spookier) side of things. He should probably lose the effect that turns his female vocalist into a chipmunk, however.
Kate Bush, 50 Words for Snow (2011) B-
Apparently hiding in a dark cave for years - as Ms. Bush has a tendency to do - gives one the need to make tracks that are no shorter than six minutes and can amble on indefinitely ... okay, to fifteen minutes. There's a delicateness to this that can't just be pushed away, though a teensy bit of modesty in the production room wouldn't have been so bad....
Cannibal Corpse, Tomb of the Mutilated (1992) B+
This is the kind of music I listened to from basically fifth grade on (well, this and hardcore rap like N.W.A.) - I was entranced by the brutality, by the unrelenting drumming, by the disgusting song titles, by the disgusting cover art. It's 'technically' a classic of the genre - if such a label can be applied to music this demented - and I still, admittedly, find it to be a weird kind of release when I'm tired of listening to giddy pop records all day. Cannibal Corpse isn't about sophistication, they're about gross madness. And Cookie Monster.
Clams Casino, Rainforest [EP] (2011) A-
Mr. Volpe can go ahead and quit studying to be a physical therapist, because this tight five-track EP is really impressive: his usage of samples is phenomenal and the music is refreshingly unpredictable.
Cloud Nothings, Cloud Nothings (2011) C
The kind of punk record you'd expect from a teenager: a little banal and homogenized, but energized and containing flashes of excellence (the chant, "I am understanding but I can't believe what you've been through" on "Been Through" is quite the hook). He repeats things to make sure you heard them right the first time, as if his audience is just as attention starved as he is - the same chords, too, get a workout. But he left college to do it, and these days who the hell needs college? Right? Right?
Cold Cave, Cherish the Light Years (2011) B+
Synth-heavy nod to The Cure (I hope Robert Smith is getting some residuals) is not simply a great listen on a musical level, but Mr. Eisold's background as a poet (and publisher) lends the record a strong literary feel ("I'll carry your cross, now, baby / it's a blasphemous world today"). Many of the tracks cover the same theme of love lost and love troubled, but the uplifting (and frankly booming) production make it dance-floor ready.
Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto (2011) C
Martin's said he didn't like it when bands outstayed their welcome but seems unaware they should have stopped when they were ahead: "Viva la Vida" was a nifty little disc full of some wonderful compositions, but just take one listen to "Major Minus" and try not to think they've gone the way of U2. Pop radio friendly "Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall" is the album's sole stand-out track.
Cold War Kids, Mine Is Yours (2011) D
These California Boys went from being a little gritty and a little unorthodox to being Deep Blue Something ... except they can't pull off Top 40 radio ditties and are resorting to making metaphors out of field-plowing machinery.
Cults, Cults (2011) B
There's a girl, and there's a xylophone, and it has this whole summertime-bliss feel to it. They're from New York City. If they tour with L.A.'s Best Coast, will the universe collapse? It'd be the best of both oceans....
Cut Copy, Zonoscope (2011) C
Starts off all right - with the Magnetic Fields-ish "Need You Now" - before plundering the wrong side of 80's synthpop for inspiration. You copied & pasted the wrong beats, fellas. Go back to your MacBooks and hit the Undo button repeatedly.
Das Racist, Relax (2011) B
Yet another album in, and it's becoming clearer that they really want to name drop as many obscure references on you (Sam Raimi!?) and bat you over the noggin' with their hooks ("Michael Jackson / A million dollars / You feel me?"). They're still obsessed with food, and it's fairly obvious why.
Death Grips, Exmilitary (2011) B
Frightening, glitchy, intense mixtape about power and madness and hedonism: it's like Zach Hill and his collaborators decided to put together an album athletes will want to play in loop in the locker room before they set foot on the court, field or rink. There's a man and he is angry and he is yelling at you. He's telling you he's the beast he worships. You probably don't want to go drinking with him.
The Decemberists, The King Is Dead (2011) D
They've always tried to pull off this whole pure-hearted, gee-golly Americana persona, and now the noxious Positive Vibe crackling (and Let's Smile Our Way Through It attitude) has reached its limits of tolerability. Just as I slam bands for acting like they've never had a good day in their lives, so I wonder whether these folks ever went through a bad depressive spell or just wanted to pummel someone senselessly ("This is Why We Fight" is laughable). With Colin Meloy it's always been 'just' words.
Deerhoof, Deerhoof vs. Evil (2011) C-
It's always helped me to think of them as an instrumental band that happens to have a female vocalist who knows how to say a few words here and there. In this latest album by the outfit, they reveal that they're decent at using software to make their guitars fuzzier. And in atypical Deerhoof fashion, they get the acoustic guitar out ("No One Asked to Dance").
Deicide, To Hell with God (2011) D+
Lots of grousing about problems with the Infinite and organized religion - a well-covered topic in so-called 'death metal' - though as with past Deicide albums the whole concept can only be done so many times before you wonder when they're going to expand their horizons and talk about, I don't know, other pressing issues. Hating Christianity has become passé in recent years, after all....
Destroyer, Kaputt (2011) B
Oh, Mr. Bejar, you sarcastic little bugger: the sax over many of the tracks (particularly "Downtown") has to be tongue-in-cheek, not to mention the lyrics disparaging the very act of making music. And when he gets to "Song for America," he's mixing his jibes with an easy listening, cheesy jazz-funk background.
Dirty Beaches, Badlands (2010) B+
Fuzzy, abstract experimental record from a certain Alex Zhung Hai, who has managed to mash together Elvis, go-go records, rockabilly and sleaze into one sensual oddity: if I didn't know any better, this could be the hypnotic soundtrack to any number of cult movies released by the folks at Something Weird. Cue the writhing leather-clad hookers!
La Dispute, Wildlife (2011) C
The idea of using an album to tell an entire story isn't new - Fucked Up's release this year does a good job of it - but the story has to be good, you know? These guys have the ideas and passion in place, but the endless string of sorrows and laments wears them and their record out. Makes one appreciate the creativity of Blood Brothers even more....
Explosions in the Sky, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (2011) B
I think they're starting to get it: this rides a steady current of skill and grace all the way through. For being a bunch of Texan metalheads they've learned to take the stop/start/fast/slow aesthetic and make it their own: all I kept thinking about this for the two spins I gave it is how smooth it is. Not sure if that's the most accurate adjective, but I'm going with it.
FaltyDL, You Stand Uncertain (2011) C
Nothing especially catchy on this release, and more often than not he lets his beats run away with him. The "You" in the album title should be replaced with an "I."
Christian Fennesz and Ryuichi Sakamoto, Flumina (2011) B+
One of the rare, few "classical" albums I'd recommend turning all the way the hell up, mostly so you can hear Fennesz's glitch infect every second of Sakamoto's pristine piano playing. Might be the soundtrack to either the end of the world or a rocky new beginning, depending on your mood and viewpoint. As with their equally excellent "Cendre," these two are a collaboration made in heaven: each of their strengths balances each other out (Fennesz keeps Sakamoto from being too austere; Sakamoto 'warms up' Fennesz's icy soundscapes).
Lupe Fiasco, Lasers (2011) C
I like his political messages ("what the hell is going on in this country"), which has to come from the likes of Talib Kweli, Mos Def and people like that, but some of these tracks are kind of ugly ("State Run Radio," the inexcusable "Float On" rip "The Show Goes On"). He's tailoring it for pop radio, but he might want to change course at some point....
The Field, Looping State of Mind (2011) B-
... And loop it does. After two fantastic LPs, Mr. Willner is (essentially) in a rut with this one, spinning his tracks not to the point of transcendence, but to some kind of calculated monotony. Minimalism can be a tricky balancing act.
Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues (2011) B-
Not sure what it is in Robin Pecknold's parents' basement that caused the great improvement from his drab first release (in 2008) to this one - hopefully not Radon - or if he just needed time to mature as an artist, think a little more about his own style and tweak his writing. There's still too much Paul Simon in this for my liking, but he's got the right idea. And someday he'll find the sunshine.
Foals, Total Life Forever (2010) B-
Nice step up from their (tepid) last album, with a few nice ditties to carry things along ("Miami," the title track) ... only to run out of energy before the end. They could use a healthy dose of daring at some point if they wish for this run to continue, however....
Fucked Up, David Comes to Life (2011) B
They got something pretty good with this one: it's a concept album, it's intelligently written (but belligerently screamed), they remember that hooks aren't that bad a thing, they know they can tell a decent story of birth, death and rebirth. Damian Abraham's growly vocals can become a smidge monotonous for close to 80 minutes, but it's worth it. These guys remind me of The Minutemen ... high praise, indeed.
Girls, Father, Son, Holy Ghost (2011) C
Not quite getting the hype on this one (same goes for their previous LP): I'm not impressed that they've thoroughly familiarized themselves with folk-ish stuff from the 60's, and the songwriting by Chris Owens is only average. Their arrangements are elegant, but sometimes elegance needs its neck wrung.
The Go! Team, Rolling Blackouts (2011) C-
It's nice and all when they're doing the shish-boom-bah Pep Up chants ("Apollo Throwdown" is very fun), another when they inundate you with one too many musak-y instrumental tracks that turn the album into background noise best played at a bowling alley. As with all cheerleaders, it's nice to see them shake the pom-poms for a bit, but then you want them to sit back down so the real game can resume.
Grails, Deep Politics (2011) D+
The kind of record from people who want you to realize that they know how to play their instruments. Now they just need to write songs that end up somewhere. Stop dancing around the point.
Grum, Heartbeats (2010) D-
Tackiness has its defenders. I am not one of those people. Or maybe I just don't want to dance to this ... and maybe I don't want anyone else to, either.
PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (2011) B-
Polly Jean cracks open the history books and takes a couple pot-shots at her homeland - it's the kind of loving slap you can expect someone who's both proud and kind of disgusted with the status quo (on "Written on the Forehead" she chants "let it burn" ... and she's dead serious). The opening tracks are marvelous, but sometimes she can get a bit too precocious, especially "On Battleship Hill" and "England" where she stretches her voice and talents a tad farther than they should go.
Tim Hecker, Ravedeath, 1972 (2011) C+
Individual pieces are chilling ("No Drums") though not all of them attain emotional resonance, and some (pardon my insolence) sound like Hecker pressing on an organ with his elbows for extended periods of time. His collaboration with Aidan Baker a few years ago was a fixture on my iPod; this, more often than not, is indulgent doodling.
The Horrors, Skying (2011) B-
Nice improvement over their last effort(s), if only because they toned the production down a bit so they're not trying to be My Bloody Valentine (a nearly impossible trick to pull off). A handful of the tracks could have used a bit of the ol' tightening, though there are those that are dead-on ("Still Life," for one).
Iceage, New Brigade (2011) B-
I imagine they recorded this is about a half an hour after 4/5 of a bottle of Jack Daniel's disappeared. It's got the spunk, even if it is unrefined. They're Danish, but the Brits are the influence.
Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean (2011) D+
If a few tracks didn't have Sam Beam talking about peeing I'd have sworn he's aged thirty years in the past decade ... this is the kind of flimsy record you'd expect from someone who's tired of testing himself and just wants to be James Taylor. The jazz funk of "Big Burned Hand" is inexcusable. Using the line "like an angel, naked as a fish at night" has to be a fine-able offense. Become, become, become, begone.
Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne (2011) A-
You'd think that bringing together two gigantic egos would produce a comical disaster, but this is actually powerful - so powerful, that when Kanye thanks Sweet Baby Jesus I actually believe him. The production is pristine and the lyrics are more than two giants bragging. Impeccable.
Junip, Fields (2010) B
Having a backing band does much to help out Mr. González, who is best known for his wonderfully pared-down covers of well-known songs. Having those two other musicians along adds texture and a bit of atmosphere to his (barren) compositions, though his 'original' material still isn't up to the standards of, say, Springsteen, Massive Attack or Joy Division....
Justice, Audio, Video, Disco. (2011) D-
Yikes, is this one a stinker. Clunky when it isn't awful and vice versa - it's not dance-worthy, it's outright dorky. Do the D-I-S-C-O doesn't have the same ring.
Leviathan, True Traitor, True Whore (2011) C+
He said he's not a poet, but he doesn't have to be: this is pure id, and the grunts and growling and relentless drumming are signs of his aggression. I can get behind that. It's not about to redefine the genre, of course....
Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes (2011) B-
Skillful, well-produced, nicely sung ... and completely forgettable. Real wounds linger in the memory far longer than this album ever could.
Lil B, I'm Gay (I'm Happy) (2011) C+
The whoa-there title is a stunt (he identifies as straight), the lyrics are jumbled and often times just uncomfortably stupid, but hey there: that's a nice production! You're Young (You'll Change).
Maybeshewill, I Was Here For a Moment, Then I Was Gone (2011) D+
Relatively simple, sadly uninvolving jams that sound primed and ready for a romantic comedy of your choosing: boy meets girl, girl runs off to study bats in Guatemala, boy enlists in Marine Corps, war breaks out, they meet again when his plane crash lands and girl has to find him. Rated PG-13.
M83, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. (2011) C
I'm guessing it's too late to ask Anthony Gonzalez to extract the filler from his breadcrumb-laced crab cakes. I can pick out the hearty moments but the rest I just want to scoop out and wrap up in a napkin to be discarded. "My Tears Are Becoming a Sea" sounds like a victory song for someone who, unbeknownst to him, actually lost the race.
Mogwai, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (2011) C
This doesn't have the creativity that makes some of their most important records such endearing listens ... and what's with the 'singing?' "White Noise" and "You're Lionel Richie" are a bit of the old Mogwai, but the middle lacks the same potency.
My Dad vs. Yours, Little Symphonies (2011) C-
Mogwai-influenced instrumental rock outfit reveal to us that they do, in fact, know what chord progressions are. And they show us that they can jam. And they show us that they randomly stick sound clips into their random pieces. They start getting it right just when the album's about to end.
Nader Sadek, In the Flesh (2011) B-
Scary mask master Sadek recruits some of black metal's finest for this above-average record, culminating in the thundering "Nigredo in Necromance" (which also sports a pretty nifty music video of a guitar that morphs into flesh and a severed head that earns a kiss). He's more of a visual artist than a musical technician, but he's got time.
Oneohtrix Point Never, Replica (2011) D+
A bunch of creaky loops play until they end ... sometimes abruptly. And sometimes it sounds like it's trying to imitate Smooth Sounds to Make You Fall Asleep ... but then, suddenly, they want to wake you up. What a tease!
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Belong (2011) C
Giddy pop that is one or more of the following: (a.) safe, (b.) stuck in the 80's, (c.) fey, (d.) whining.
Panda Bear, Tomboy (2011) C
I never really found the density in Lennox's solo material that's so coveted in his work with the rest of the Collective, and so much of this sounds like Beach Boys-esque pop run through filters. Forget about the waves washing the sand castle away; all it will take is a small child's wet foot.
Peter, Bjorn and John, Gimme Some (2011) D
Mind-numbingly banal glucose pop makes The Apples (In Stereo) seem like songwriting wizards. When you prove you can write something poignant like "Young Folks," there are no excuses for this degree of mediocrity. I won't tell lies: all three of them let it cool off.
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raising Sand (2007) B-
The alt-country trappings are there, but the chemistry between unlikely duo of Plant and Krauss does enough to propel this ahead ... though enigmatically it won the Best Album Grammy over a certain Radiohead recording. Who are these voter people, and why do they always go for the safe bet?
Radiohead, The King of Limbs (2011) A-
They're so profoundly popular that it's led some snarky wits to gripe that it's hard to be so miserable (as Mr. Yorke apparently is) when you're making so much money and you're so beloved, but I don't think their tracks are necessarily 'about' themselves specifically (plus, assigning any 'certain' definitions to Yorke's defiantly abstract declarations is foolish territory). I'm liking how a few of the tracks on here sneakily evoke memories of "The Bends" ("Separator," "Give Up the Ghost"), as if to remind the die-hards that the band is fully mindful of its own past. They're our troubadours of sadness and collectively; they possess some kind of dark genius.
The Rapture, In the Grace of Your Love (2011) B
"Sail Away" starts this off in standard Rapture-esque fashion before more or less changing gears into ... a slightly more subdued Rapture? No longer are there Four Guitarists of the Apocalypse, now they're more into taking their time and really plucking those notes. Good for them, to be honest. But "Never Die Again" is a little too close to disco for my taste....
Real Estate, Days (2011) C-
They jingle-jangle all the way to the beach, but on their way there, Brian Wilson proceeds to sack them and chew apart their cords with his teeth. The audience, ashamed, buries their heads in the sand.
Rustie, Glass Swords (2011) C+
Spotty dance record shifts quickly from being completely engaging to being head-scratchingly silly ("Cry Games"). When are these DJs going to figure out that adding helium voices to their tracks doesn't improve them one bit?
Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx, We're New Here (2011) B-
Should really be called "Jamie xx featuring Very, Very Select Sound Clips of Gil Scott-Heron," because the pros of this are all due to Mr. Smith's production skills. I prefer this 'remix' version over the original, though the two albums aren't exactly great strides apart.
SBTRKT, SBTRKT (2011) B+
Something in this strikes me as the kind of record I thought Röyksopp was going to grow to make before Röyksopp got stuck in their own rut. It's 'technically' dubstep, but makes a lot of the dubstep I've heard sound like amateur hour, and Mr. Jerome's assortment of lovely lead singers compliment his elegant backing tracks.
Seefeel, Seefeel (2011) C
Sparse, glitchy, sporadic, and I'm not even sure I'm impressed with it on a technical level. It's not the 90's anymore.
Starfucker, Reptilians (2011) C+
The most outrageous and original things about them are (a.) their name and (b.) their infamous stage attire, which (gasp!) often has one or more of the (male) band members cross-dressing. When it comes to dance-pop for the club kids, you could do worse - most of this is efficient and unremarkable, with our chic Portlanders hitting their chill-out stride with "Mona Vegas."
The Strokes, Angles (2011) C-
With their first two outstanding albums they took a lot of time and effort to give off the impression that they didn't give a damn (despite what was no doubt countless hours of work and planning and songwriting) and now that they actually don't give a damn, it sounds it.
St. Vincent, Strange Mercy (2011) B+
Clever, crafty wordsmith Annie once again pairs some deliciously ambiguous lyrics (the double-meanings in "Surgeon" and "Cheerleader" are playful ... and playfully snide) with expert musical awareness (definitely not learned at Berklee). She knows how to make light of her own insecurities (although she's 'said' her songs are not autobiographical) and her Twitter feed suggests a mind eager to devour the world's knowledge. Despite the demure sweetness, the womyn knows how to rock the hell out.
The Submarines, Love Notes/Letter Bombs (2011) D
They can nah-nah-nah-nah all they want, but there are so many other bands that do this chirpy thing with more dexterity. The lyrics read like a pissy 16-year-old's diary.
Sun Glitters, Everything Could Be Fine (2011) B-
I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt with this glitched-up affair - it doesn't break any new ground or linger for long, but while it's playing it has an assuredness to it that's missing in lesser acts. Still a victim of the Chipmunk Voice effect....
Tapes 'n Tapes, Outside (2011) B
Nothing in this is going to redefine 'indie rock' (if such a term even means anything anymore), though they get creative with what talents they have - for example, I like the lounge-y tone to "One in the World" and I like their attempt to get growly ("The Saddest of All Keys"). How they stay this packed with energy when the cold of MPLS drains the air out of them is the real question: Stay Inside.
Tennis, Cape Dory (2011) C-
One-dimensional summer-y rock record plays like a third-rate Best Coast. "Do you call on me when you're living on the sea?" Really?
Thievery Corporation, Culture of Fear (2011) C
I was really into these guys back in the late nineties when they became part of the soundtrack of my college life and I was looking for something to balance out the 'harder' and more experimental music I was into (can't listen to Aphex Twin all day), but they really haven't changed much in all those years and if it weren't for the plethora of collaborators, the tracks are kind of canned.
This Will Destroy You, Tunnel Blanket (2011) C
Sometimes cathartic but mostly formulaic series of ascending columns of sound: once you get the gist of what they're going for, it becomes rather mundane. No one should strive to be mundane.
TOKiMONSTA, Creature Dreams [EP] (2011) B
Blissful little record from L.A.-based Ms. Lee, who gets some nice vocal assistance from Gavin Turek. Brings to mind the urban elegance of Télépopmusik's best work.
Toro y Moi, Underneath the Pine (2011) C-
If the whole album was as luscious as the opener, "Intro/Chi Chi," this would be one of the dreamiest discs of the year. But Bundick's more into silly jazzy pop than the shoegazers.
Tune-Yards, Whokill (2011) B
Punchy and erratic like the late, great Captain Beefheart with a touch of indie rock to make it a fine listen. Miss Merrill's a little over-indulgent, but what do you expect from someone with a background in theatre?
TV on the Radio, Nine Types of Light (2011) B+
More mellow and less incendiary than the esteemable "Dear Science" - this release redirects the band's focus from international matters and focuses more on the inter-personal. For all intents and purposes "Keep Your Heart" should be banal, but then there's Tunde cooing and wooing and they make it shine. "Second Song" is a gem.
The Twilight Singers, Dynamite Steps (2011) B-
Opening number "Last Night in Town" is the closest Greg's gotten to Afghan Whigs-era majesty in a while (the gorgeous "66" pops into mind) - I wouldn't call the remaining ten tracks a 'return to old form,' but rather the result of a confident musician using what he's familiar with. I could probably live without the tired "Be Invited" and the arena rockish "On the Corner," but I'd like to buy the rest of it a whiskey.
Tyler, the Creator, Goblin (2011) B
Demented trip into the young rapper's mind shows a maelstrom of hate, fear and self-loathing: it's a fascinating voyage, but by the time he gets around to "Bitch Suck Dick," it becomes a bit difficult to comprehend why he's so pissed off at someone who gives him head (or why anyone would complain about this ... ever). You're young, you have money, you get to travel, you got groupies: swallow some more Xannies, cool it on the weed.
Van Morrison, Astral Weeks (1968) A
Simple, elegant, thoughtful. But you knew this.
Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring for My Halo (2011) C
Smoke ring ... as in vaporous, drifting, quickly floating away? So true: for the intimacy of the production, Vile's voice and words ("Society Is My Friend," for example, is agonizing) don't sting as much as he'd like them to.
Rufus Wainwright, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu (2010) B
Rufus may not be a tit man but he's grand at 'playing' Diva: he does go way overboard with the flourishes, but when he's spot on (the Sonnets, "Who Are You New York?"), there's no denying the passion he has for singing. Flamboyant but articulate Louise Brooks smiles on from the great big speakeasy in the sky.
Tom Waits, Bad as Me (2011) A-
A former roommate of mine (from Iran!) was telling me one night that Waits was America's natural poet successor to Bukowski ... I've always liked Waits and Bukowski, and saw no reason to argue. I think Bukowski gets a little more sleazy and sexual; Waits is the hard-drinking, hard-smoking, hard-living drifter. And his penchant for wonky melodies and his creative use of his voice are what make him so wonderfully distinctive. And no one can do Auld Lang Syne like him....
Washed Out, Within and Without (2011) C+
Lovely synth pop starts off like a luscious wave ("Eyes Be Closed") then kind of rolls back into the ocean; he's a tad garbled and a pinch transparent, and he could use a lesson from Cold Cave about keeping the record steaming forward.
The Weeknd, House of Balloons (2011) D+
Tolerable production values, but this guy's lyrics are unfathomably bad. Here are a few golden ones: the wonderful simile "Got the walls kickin' like they 6 months pregnant," the inane "Cause with this money comes problems / and with these problems come solutions / and I use 'em but I'm fading," the romantic "These fucking eyes that I'm staring at / Let me see that ass / Look at all this cash" and my favorite, "But you're mine in a dream world / What you doin' in the bathroom? / I hear noises in the bathroom." You know what those noises are? They're her opening the window to get away from you.
White Lies, Ritual (2011) F
Who gave you clowns permission to record this corny arena rock rubbish? And who led you to believe you were poetic?
Wilco, The Whole Love (2011) B
Took three complete listens before I 'got' this one, and found it to be quite pleasant (their best, in my opinion, since the seminal "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot"): it's still melancholy, but Tweedy has been through worse before. "Born Alone" is simply lovely (and the electric guitar parts are a nice highlight).
Wire, Red Barked Tree (2011) B-
I've always admired the craft of Wire - and their ability to cautiously re-tool their sound - without becoming enraptured with any of their albums: they've always seemed to get a bit too into the 'technical,' and, like Mark Smith, when they get 'political' I 'hear' them without wanting to join the protest.
Jamie Woon, Mirrorwriting (2011) C-
I guess this is what's passing for R&B: some lame-ass lyrics over an echo-y electronic backbeat. I'm not feeling the rhythm or the blues or even the soul, I'm hearing Woon and company pushing buttons. You can only go so far on having a good voice.
Young and in the Way, I Am Not What I Am (2011) D-
Noise and fury have their place, but I can barely tell one 2-minute track from another. "Blackened crust" is what happens to toast when I burn it and throw it out.
Youth Lagoon, The Year of Hibernation (2011) B
Here are eight elegantly simple songs that sound like they were recorded in an empty church. Though the album is a bit overpraised in some circles - he's not Beach House yet, sorry - and he tends to replace real lyrics with a multitude of coos and ahhhs, the child-like melodies are infectious.
Zomby, Dedication (2011) C+
There's nothing particularly 'bad' about this latest from the UK's Zomby, who specializes in trying to make glaring tacky synthesizers less glaring (sometimes it works, sometimes you might want it to fade out). That Guy Fawkes mask I've seen him wear makes me think he frequents certain websites that aren't worth mentioning....
Singles of the Year: Active Child: "You Are All I See," The Antlers: "Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out," Burial: "Street Halo," Calvin Harris: "Feel So Close," Clams Casino: "Natural," Cloud Nothings: "Been Through," Cold Cave: "Underworld USA," Coldplay: "Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall," Death Grips: "Beware," The Go! Team: "Apollo Throwdown," PJ Harvey: "Let England Shake," The Horrors: "Still Life," M83: "Wait," Mogwai: "White Noise," Nader Sadek: "Nigredo in Necromance," Peter, Bjorn & John: "Tomorrow Has to Wait," Radiohead: "Lotus Flower," The Rapture: "Sail Away," SBTRKT: "Something Goes Right," Starfucker: "Mona Vegas," Toro y Moi: "Intro/Chi Chi," Tune-Yards: "My Country," The Twilight Singers: "Last Night in Town," Washed Out: "Eyes Be Closed," Wire: "Please Take," Youth Lagoon: "Afternoon"