If the last couple of years were about me re-discovering my love of UK bass music ( dubstep, grime, Hyperdub, Hessle Audio, Keysound Recordings and the like) this last year saw a shift towards (heavily on rotation in the last few months) reveling in the breadth of contemporary hip-hop. There was one or two maybe, “rock” albums that I listened to with any regularity.
In terms of hip hop I listened/reflected alot on the following artists/records: Stankonia a classic that i listened to in my car for a good bit on CD and the hard-hitting (politically and lyrically) PL3DGE by fellow Atlantan Killer Mike. Also: Feast or Famine by Davinci (shout out East Bay!) a great set of tracks to run to, LIVELOVEA$AP by A$AP Rocky, Under the Influence by Domo Genesis (the only OFWGKTA affiliated release I have been able to get down to) and then Illusions of Grandeur my favorite (to-date) mix-tape from based God, Lil B, he of prolific releases.
While DaVinci’s work takes a more classicist, Bay area approach, it is a refreshingly distinct and just banging. Meanwhile the other three artists are united by an expansive (sonically) sense of what hip-hop can be. As well as being youthful in terms of energy, sense of boundaries and sub-genre mixing.This is particularly showcased by the fact that two of the three are at least partially “known” for rapping over the production work of Clams Casino. Whose Instrumentals record is a classic of crisp, icy yet synthy and lush, sample(ed) beats. A must own if/when back in stock on wax. And a solid album of the year in it’s own right.
Of course the penultimate hip-hop record of my year, that was a smash critical, artistic and I hope commercial success, featured the re-emergence of Ishmael Butler aka ‘Butterfly’ of Digable Planets fame, in the full length Black Up as Shabazz Palaces. Sub Pop records also put the whole album up as a streamable Youtube video (see below). Apparently they do that for many of their artists. Which in terms of the whole digital-music question, I mention only because I ended up buying the wax LP anyways and the move endeared them to me as it was an easy way for me to listen to the record now matter where I was.
In terms of rock n roll, as mentioned it wasn’t a strong year at least for new releases, yet still I had a few loves. None released, but all purchased, this year. The first being the excellent R.E.M. compilation And I Feel Fine: The Best of the IRS Years 1982-1987. Additionally, two oldies one on wax the other on CD, highlighted the excellent North West Coast doom/grunge rock scene of the 1990s. First the Screaming Trees Change Has Come EP on wax. Followed by Earth (the band) ‘s, A Bureaucratic Desire For Extra-Capsular Extraction. Both interestingly enough have a song which features guest vocals by Kurt Cobain. Finally, although I didn’t listen to the album all that much, I was continuously intrigued (conceptually) by Celestial_Lineage from Wolves in the Throne Room. Especially after listening to a radio interview with one half of the band which discussed among other things: Shamanic blast beats, the Pacific Northwest, and taking responsibility for wildness.
My most anticipated future concert is now, the one assumes, inevitable Sonic Youth re-union tour. They never made it close enough to Gainesville for me to catch them, since I became a fan but whenever they (hopefully) do a reunion tour, it will, if it follows the standard model reach a large enough audience with enough regional stops to allow me to see them, finally. Or maybe I will by then be living in a major market. Either way the expected (?? and not yet confirmed) breakup of indie rock’s, Adam and Eve, uber art couple must be noted.
The local show/group that got me most excited was seeing the first official show of The Tricycle Chiefs, in the Bocamino Backyard. Partially because Gainesville’s local music scene has always faced a dearth of good hip-hop/rap artists. I am planning to try and make it to the upcoming second show on Jan 5th despite the fact it is on a Thursday. The music is good, so are the lyrics, plus I know two of them.
Of course I couldn’t write about popular music in 2011 without mentioning the perverse R&B of The Weeknd‘s, Abel Tesfaye. All three of the mixtapes put out under The Weeknd name were centers of discourse and the manner in which Tesfaye has managed his/the groups mystery/image is noteworthy. Chiefly due to the fact that while he has recently announced plans to re-release official (for pay) mastered versions, all the music is for now available free of charge. The music speaks for itself; dark and smooth, twisted and icy, retromania at its best but also so contemporary. The first of the trilogy House of Balloons is generally the more critically acclaimed and of the three was the one I listened to most (generally while working late or on a weekend) at my desk (an odd choice it may seem). However, the second and third are I think, to be more admired. The second for it’s even darker, post-party atmosphere and the third for it’s introduction a level of self-doubt along with the self-assurance and hedonism. As the Pitchfork review writes it “exudes a brazen, animalistic confidence…It’s a chillingly cyclical picture of decay and self-immolation marking the Weeknd’s greatest triumph“. Each of the albums grow in terms of self awareness, depth, production and vocal artistry.
Finally, I will end with a list of a few other albums which featured heavily on my Grooveshark play list this year. Some were old and just now discovered because of some mood or aesthetic appeal and others, new music which I haven’t purchased yet.
At least two of the records Avey Tare’s Down There and Forest Swords Dagger+Paths I loved for their swampy, echo laden or otherwise hauntological aesthetic. Both were very percussive without being “beat music” per se. Kuedo’s Severant was similarly beat music without the traditional techno/beat sound. Instead the music sounded as many have pointed out, like a sonic future imagined in the 80s. Blade Runner meets grime maybe?
Last but not least the lone “African” or “world” music album of my last year was Group Doueh’s, Guitar Music From the Western Sahara. A excellent example of dusty, rock n roll from the Western Sahara. In the vein of other Saharan desert blues artists like Tinariwen and Group Inerane.