Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Top 9 Favorite Releases of 2011

9. Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica

I remember when I began messing around with samples, and producers like Madlib and J Dilla really began to leave me jaw-dropped with the ways they pieced samples from all different genres and time periods together.

On Replica, Oneohtrix Point Never seems to take all of those short little leftover snippets from the beginning or end of the kind of samples most musicians are discovering now, and blends them so perfectly that, what sounds like a mistake at first, begins to sound like a beat or a melody or chorus.

8. Blouse - S/T

Blouse takes everything that was so new/now about the late 70's and the 80's, strips it of all the crap that didn't stand the test of time, and coats it in a handful of our late 2000's reverb, making the old sound new or the new sound old, or both.

7. Grouper - A | A

On Dragging a Dead Dear Up a Hill, Grouper seemed to float just beneath the surface of a large, lonely body of water, occasionally surfacing for just enough air to dive down for another swim.

A | A is more like laying on your back, staring at the stars, and forgetting that the ground is underneath you.

6. RAJA - The October Series Mixtape Trilogy

This immense trilogy spans 3 mixtapes, and nearly 80 songs. Each song crackles and vibrates through milk crate after milk crate of assorted old records, never straying too far from the soft, established emotion that each tape conjures.

Unlike some beat tapes, these songs feel like complete pieces rather than skeletons or ideas for someone else to pick up on and finish.

Free Download

5. City Center - Box of Sand

Fred Thomas, the man responsible for City Center, makes a lot of music. A helluva lot.

I still don't understand how musicians like this differentiate between what is going to be an "album" and what is simply going to be some side release or EP.

While the production of City Center's 2011 album Redeemer, certainly implies a greater degree of time and work was put into it, Box of Sand better shows Thomas' tendency of messing around with all kinds of new noises with each release.

Free Download

4. Shabazz Palaces - Black Up

I've already said a great deal about this one in an earlier post, and I think it is a good example of 2011's tendency of approaching established genres in new ways. Pushing things forward by looking back.

3. RUN DMT - Dreams

Stumbling its way through surf rock into on-the-floor-of-the-bedroom pop music, a description of Dreams might come a little too close to a comparison to every other one-man, sample-based operation with a copy of Person Pitch gathering dust somewhere in the middle of that milk crate full of records. But such comparisons are getting old enough that they’ve begun gathering dust themselves, and that is kind of the point of nostalgia, no matter how recent—accepting influences, and desiring to be a part of that which we look back on so fondly, and it tends to be a fortunate side effect of sampling.

What Dreams offers is a plunge into an ocean that hasn’t moved since surf-obsessed teenagers started writing songs about it in the early 60’s. The difference is that Run DMT’s Collins is more interested in what is going on below the surface where all the surfing is taking place. Tracks swirl around, ranging from 60’s style pop to drenched, slow-moving drone that reminds us how far we are sinking into this stagnant, beautiful underwater landscape that will be here long after we’ve left it.

2. DJ DJ Tanner - S/T

What I like so much about DJ DJ Tanner is how much it represents my belief that ideas, creativity, and experimentation make for better music than raw talent. Too often, I think the most talented musicians waste it on emulation, because it tends to be easier and more rewarding.

This album (and the various other clumps of music I have downloaded), is an album of ideas, showing the minimalist potential of loops, sampled or crafted, to expand outward as they repeat. That potential carries us through the highs and lows of each track as they drop in and sputter out, passing up the establishment of pacing -- the accepted technique most loop-based musicians rely on in absence of the dynamics of a whole band.

The focus on ideas over production is like DJ DJ Tanner's prolific call-to-arms. Too much attention to detail would only serve to wipe away the dust that establishes the environment of each sample, and leave less time for the kind of ideas that make this release so good.

Free Download

1. EMA - Past Life Martyred Saint

If someone had described EMA to me before I heard it, I don't think I ever would have listened to it, because it is kind of hard to provide a description that does it justice.

It has distorted guitars and drums and music swells, but it isn't really anything like rock music?

A lot of the lyrics are strangely humorous, but it isn't very comical?

As mentioned in the Shabazz Palaces blurb, 2011 was a year of turning previously established genres on their heads. Past Life Martyred Saints sounds so familiar in so many ways, but no one could call it rock, because that just wouldn't quite cover it.

All of the elements that make up this album seem so familiar, but are just strange enough to keep it from sounding entirely recognizable, like a painting hung slightly askew.

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