More of my favorite picks from 2011:
CUT/COPY - ZONOSCOPE: Zonoscope is the third release from Australian pop/synth band Cut/ Copy. Listening to it I found the reminiscence of early eighties pop kind of spooky. The opening song Need You Now sets the tone for a fascinating New Order-esque retro pop journey that stays strong through the album's closing track, a fifteen minute electronic opus called Sun God. The hooks are catchy, the choruses fused with Regan-era idealism and more than a replica or eighties rehash band, Cut/Copy seems to have been transplanted through time while riding with Michael J. Fox in his DeLorean. Though Zonoscope is primarily a mellow ride and never really shifts gears , I found the hypnotic trance to be a fun and addictive ride indeed.
FLEET FOXES - HELPLESSNESS BLUES: Fleet Foxes are one of the bands this past year that "had me at hello". On the first track, Montezuma, singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold opens with the following lyrics: "Now I am older than my mother and father, when they had their daughter. What does that say about me? Oh how could I dream of such a selfless and true love, could I wash my hands of just looking out for me." Wow - right? Helplessness Blues is a gorgeous symphony full of introspection and soulful longing set to soaring choruses of harmonies and beautiful acoustic melodies. Think Neil Young on a nature retreat with a copy of Thoreau's "Walden."
THE KILLS - BLOOD PRESSURES: This is The Kills fourth studio album so they are not newcomers to the scene, but comparisons to The White Stripes are inevitable. A guy/girl duo with a sparse garage rock sound, punctuated by heavy blues beats and raunchy punk rock attitude. The Kills distinguish themselves, however, by taking cues from experimental rockers like The Velvet Underground and Patti Smith. The commanding, seductive vocals of American singer Alison Mosshart interweave flawlessly with the dirty punk rock guitar riffs of the U.K. born Jamie Hince. The result is an ear pleasing, booty shaking, kick in the jugular with a stiletto heel, balls out, rock 'n roll experience.
TUNE-YARDS - WHO KILL: Mariel Garbus' project Tune-Yards is a storm of looped beats, layered with African rhythms, ukeles, pots and pans from her kitchen (literally!), her own crazy/beautiful vocals, electric bass, horn sections, and anything else she can get her hands on to make a song. Mariel's 2009 release Bird-Brains was recorded on a handheld voice recorder and self-released on a recycled cassette tape. Tune-Yards' second release, Who Kill, has garnered attention from Rolling Stone, Spin, and the New York Times. This is the stuff dreams are made of kids! To say Who Kill is experimental is an understatement, but there is also something so warm and familiar about this album. Like good conversation over a great cup of really strong coffee.
JAY-Z & KANYE WEST - WATCH THE THRONE: Leave it to Jay-Z to point out that Kanye isn't just a pompous ass. He has actual talent. Niggas in Paris and Otis(Jay-Z
and Kanye rap over Otis Redding's vocals looped to a sick bass beat)
are among a few choice tracks, reminding us that often the most talented
artists are also the most fun. Jay-Z and Kanye also take time on New Day to talk to their children about not making the same mistakes they made. We of course get to hear about Beyonce once or twice and then Kanye says about his own child's mother; "I woulda never let his ma move to L.A. She couldn't take the pressure now we all pray". So it's not all just silliness and that's what makes Watch The Throne a great album and not just this year's guilty pleasure.