Friday, December 23, 2011
We'll continue today with our top 25 countdown with albums #5 through #1.
#5: Fucked Up - David Comes to Life
In all honesty, the concept album isn't my thing. Too often the ideas of a concept album sweep away what could have been multiple tracks of endearing music, instead playing the hand of a story that isn't terribly interesting to begin with it. That's why 'essential' records like Tommy, Quadrophenia, The Wall, and Sgt. Peppers, for all their massive critical acclaim, don't truthfully pass through time as well as their super-fans would like to admit. Daring? Sure. But so was the first 'Tron' movie, and that looks terrible now.
So, I had every right in my mind to be skeptical of Fucked Up's David Comes to Life project; a huge double-album about the omniscient David character and the pre-meditated sequence of events that follow upon meeting Veronica (both are identified in the album's second track "Queen of Hearts"). The problems that the band avoids is in their hardcore nature. While the song-writing is vital to the idea, Fucked Up thankfully understood that their punk sounds come first and foremost, not endlessly dragging through the four parts that make up the album. It almost feels like David Comes to Life destroys the concept of the concept album, playing with hearts instead of just minds.
#4: The Weeknd - House of Balloons
The man who should be on everyone's shortlist for Best Artist of 2011, Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, released three free records this year as part of a trilogy. Thursday and Echoes of Silence (released two days ago) were the final pieces, but it was his February debut House of Balloons that truly came out of no where to land him where he is right now, the best new voice in pop. Luckily, Tesfaye's edge isn't simply his voice, but his drippy, enriching production setting the pace for all three albums. The sampling is noticeable, like Beach House's "Master of None" on the seven-minute-plus "The Party & The After Party," but aren't the the most attachable portions of House of Balloons. That's Tesfaye's job, which comes through effortlessly and is hard to match.
#3: Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
Hip-hop too often settles with good, or just good enough. While some parts of the product remain pre-eminently consistent, truly pushing the boundaries isn't thought of as a necessary notion of the genre, it seems. For every great record that leaks through, there's another that just seems good, or passable, but not terribly imaginative. With the combined work of Ishmael Butler (ex-Digable Planets member) and Tendai Maraire, Black Up, the first studio release from Shabazz Palaces, is some of the smartest, most intricate, and deeply profound work the genre has seen in years. The narratives are existential tomes of race, materialism, and atmospheric elements only engraved in the deepest caverns of thoughtful construct. Combined with the other-worldly sounds the duo work with, and Black Up proudly comes out as one of the most imaginative efforts in recent memory.
#2: Bon Iver - Bon Iver
If there's one phrase that works for Bon Iver's self-titled release, it's "embarrassingly good." From the album's roaring opening, "Perth," to the slightly confusing, but heartwarming "Beth/Rest" (some won't agree with that), Bon Iver is too good even for the common cynic to thoughtlessly ignore. The sounds are too rich, Justin Vernon's voice is too sentimental, the craft is too perfect, the consistency is ... too consistent.
Every album has it's impossibly high moments ("Perth," "Holocene"), but rarely do they truly separate from the rest of the record, as it does here. From "Michicant" to "Calgary" to the aforementioned "Beth/Rest," fanfare is split to where the record stands tallest. But that distinction says more for Bon Iver's overall quality than anything else. It's a question worth asking, even if there's no direct answer.
#1: M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
Expectations were pretty high for Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, M83's sixth studio release in ten years. The previous records were consistently formative, but usually ended up plateauing after a couple remarkable singles ("Run Into Flowers," "Kim & Jessie," etc.) There always seemed to be an innate ability for Anthony Gonzalez to not only replicate those stand-out moments, but captivate them with something bigger, something that required more time. And it's pretty easy to see how big Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is; nearly 80 minutes and two albums worth of material. You'd figure Gonzalez would fizzle somewhere.
The album scorches in the opening, with "Intro," "Midnight City," and "Reunion" - three tracks that have already marked their way through the past few weeks as singles, and the expectations are pretty much met. That pitch-perfect manifestation of imagination and childhood enchantment Gonzalez has a complete knack for are packaged in what could be perceived as a deluxe issue, unrelenting and unconscious. It's hard not to get completely lost on the first or second listen, but that's what a perfect record should do. It needs to be so good you don't care about anything else.
We'll continue next week with our Top 25 Songs of the Year ...
Thursday, December 22, 2011
We'll continue today with our top 25 countdown with albums #10 through #6.
#10: Iceage - New Brigade
And all of you said there's no way anyone will talk about Danish punk music. Well, no one said that, but before Iceage's New Brigade, no one was thinking of it either. The messy, cathartic, and often disheartening record has no common pulse, just launching forward with unpolished, grimy sheen. The fact that Iceage are Danish teenagers does little to put New Brigade in a clever niche. It's carefully all over the map, from garage punk to polished underground new wave, in a tinge all its own.
#9: Danny Brown - XXX
Collectively speaking, 2011 was somewhat of a disappointing year for music in general, full of less-than expected album releases and a slew of band breakups. With that in mind, however, hip-hop came through stronger than it has in years with a new class of rappers garnering national attention. Danny Brown, the often overlooked, off-beat Detroit rapper, and his latest XXX comes through as a dirty, close to death last-call. Brown proudly retells his kinda disgusting instincts in porn-riddled tracks like "I Will," but fills you in on his less-than stellar ambitions like how he wants to, "Party like Chris Farley" on "Die Like a Rockstar." XXX, like the title, is indulgence and the underscored after-effects, crushing and killing the soul without resolution.
#8: White Denim - D
Psychedelia has uncomfortably addled itself next to 'boredom' in a music sense. The long-winded emphasis on musicianship strangling anything of the idea of new age virtuosity has, no matter how stereotypical, constantly attached itself to the genre. Enter White Denim, Austin's answer to a generation of music listeners who never try to confide their time in the aging music movement. For every guitar-driven episode on D, the group's fourth studio album in only three years, there's a change of pace to softer, pop sounds. So while "At the Farm" sounds like every other early 70s jam piece, "Street Joy" comes through unlike anything else on the album at that point. Guilty indulgence on all-too long instrumental pieces are fine, but White Denim puts out consistently strong albums because they understand that it isn't the end-all, be-all of music, and for very good reason.
#7: Black Lips - Arabia Mountain
The Black Lips have made a career resting on the laurels of garage punk. Little to no instrumental showmanship has ever showed up on the group's studio releases, and if you ever experience the group live, you'll understand that the instruments are merely a tool to help them wade through and project their collective insanity. Knowing that, the band's previous albums haven't tried too hard for craft, true garage punk by its most modern means. But on Arabia Mountain, arguably the group's best work yet, the band comes to understand that the grime of their early years can still exist, but not necessarily present it in such a meager way. There's a necessary polish on the album that fits the band well, but never hinders the joyful, careless nature of the message. Call it growing up for people who were always cooler when they were kids.
#6: James Blake - James Blake
The dubstep genre has been mangled by misguided, preconceived stereotypes and club aesthetics to the point where artists like James Blake are hardly identifiable in the oft-ridiculed movement. In part, because the construction of Blake's work is hardly aligned with those misgivings - slow, soulful, and delicately moving through the London-natives harping voice. The electronic architecture of Blake's self-titled album are merely means of conveying his deceptively artful songwriting, rather than the distracting centerpiece.
We'll continue our countdown tomorrow with albums #5 - #1 ...
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
We'll continue today with our top 25 countdown with albums #15 through #11.
#15: Destroyer - Kaputt
Dan Bejar is somewhat off-putting at times. The super-literate and carving intellectual drive of his work with Destroyer and The New Pornographers, mixed with his Gordon Gano-like vocal renditions were a constant confinement to me; respectful of the craft and ethic, but disappointed often in the execution. As it is, Kaputt, Destroyer and Bejar's best output yet, kinda curves the perennial temperament. The free-flowing jazz inspirations aren't terrifically overwhelming (good), and play a common chord in the back on songs like "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker," placated by Bejar's indelible song-writing, that finds its place comfortably. And for all the profoundly intellectual moments that tended to make or brake the Bejar status quo, they stand firmly on Kaputt. Pitchfork found a word for the album, "redeeming," that in a very strong sense, fits well. If anything, after all my biased notions, I'm underrating it.
#14: Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde
Dye It Blonde could be effortlessly tagged as a less-egotistical glam rock staple of the early 70s, with all its wistful keyboard back-pulls and single-string guitar riffs, and it'd probably be remembered much more fondly then than it would be now. That isn't to say that Smith Westerns self-titled debut is anything like Dye It Blonde. There's confounding maturity and technical prowess that allows itself to be taken seriously, even if the songs come out like dripping call-outs to love and all its nurtured positives. It's a proud leap from the band's 2009 debut, but still comes out fun.
#13: The Antlers - Burst Apart
Two years ago, The Antlers emerged out of the woods with Hospice, a charming, if not too delicate of an album. Lead-singer Pete Silberman's vocal were swept in downplayed and underwhelming pieces, which tends to work fine if there's little directive promise for much else. Burst Apart, however, allows Silberman to show that his high falsetto's can blend and carve a much more grandiose effigy in front of sparkling spirals of slow, decadent outputs. I'm not calling this anything close to stadium-esque profoundness, but the extra effort the Antlers push through is welcomed.
#12: Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo
Philadelphia-native Kurt Vile rarely sounds like he's trying, whether he wants to or not. The majority of the tracks on Smoke Ring For My Halo and the rest of the Vile catalog are essentially easy progressions of the prolific singer-songwriter; loneliness, emptiness, feelings of more, etc. It's a deceptive measure of people like him, who aim not to show their tirelessness, even if their reputation says the opposite. Smoke Ring For My Halo is full of tracks that sound carelessly stacked, even behind cleverly displayed layers of musical prowess. And for musicians, maybe that's the correct mindset: work, work, work until getting it right just comes naturally.
#11: Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost
How can a band like Girls that in all rights doesn't sound like they're doing anything terribly new, also sound like they're completely in their own world? Father, Son, Holy Ghost are borrowed pieces: surf rock, 60s pop, West coast garage rock, mixed with tempered sides of psychedelia and soul, that can be found anywhere in pop history, but really it's Christopher Owens that makes it stick. His well-documented background as an effeminate singer-songwriter raised in a cult (true) make him endearing as if he were some kind of well-read movie character. Maybe that's why Father, Son, Holy Ghost continues to surprise, replay after replay. You figure at this point you'd know Owens, but he surprises you with catchy, elaborate rock tracks like "Die" and you forget everything you suspect about what's next. Some albums are good because they make sense; their structure, songwriting, and progression. But here, you aren't supposed to suspect much, and it creeps forward even better that way.
We'll continue tomorrow with albums #10 - #6 ...
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
We'll continue today with our top 25 countdown with albums #20 through #16.
#20: Tom Waits - Bad As Me
If I told you that Bad As Me starts off like a "roaring train," you'd have every right to disregard whatever I have to say about it. Of course it sounds like a train - it's Tom Waits; the man who in his decades of work has become a physical manifestation of a midnight train and a misty back alley. From "Chicago" to "Hell Broke Luce," Bad As Me sounds in every way like Waits' machination: gritty, plunging yelps pacing an industrial pounce, making you wonder if the world is much worse than you ever thought.
#19: Big K.R.I.T. - Return of 4Eva
Justin Scott, the 25-year-old Mississippi rapper, hasn't totally made it. Building a reputation on free mixtapes, an all-the-more common internet era version of handing out your demo on the corner, Big K.R.I.T.'s biggest moments on Return of 4Eva skip the southern-rap regularity and shine through pitch-perfect sampling (also done by Scott). That being said, "Country Shit" with Ludacris is all too fun to ignore. There's a future here.
#18: Radiohead - The King of Limbs
There's a well-documented subsequent frustration with The King of Limbs. In all, it's hard to say it stacks up well against any of the landmark records the band has put out since their emergence with The Bends in 1995. Going back 16 years on a band that has become crowned the kings of the current era was certainly confounding for some who expect nothing less than titular perfection from the band of evolving (and aging) perfectionists. But for all its retractions (mull vocal styling, length, etc.), Radiohead have yet again pushed through something that doesn't totally replicate anything from their previous years. And once you get yourself past the fact that it's not an awe-inspiring mountain of perfection, there's definite value that goes over head.
#17: The Roots - Undun
The latest entrant in the list, The Roots have to be forgiven for what could be called a "tired" pass. Undun, the (almost) concept album of the morally righteous criminal drafted into a world where he doesn't want to belong. You have to forgive it because much like the rest of what the Philadelphia band has crafted since in the late 90s, it comes out too beautifully, too resonating. And those moments come collectively crashing with the band's final movement; a four-song lashing that makes you wonder if there's something more that The Roots can do.
#16: Real Estate - Days
Days lingers. It comes off like an entrapped memory long distant in those teenage years - the forgetful moments where no one says a word because no one knows what to say. It's a lot to say from Real Estate, who may not come across as anything more than another member of the new class of indie bands worth your attention. The details of Days are hardly profound, but that's part of the backwards endearment. Call it toned-down fuzz rock for anyone who isn't apt to a predictable title, but it's still one of the finer products of 2011.
We'll continue our countdown tomorrow with albums #15-#11 ...
Monday, December 19, 2011
With only two weeks remaining in 2011, it's that time of the year where all the music sites and publications dole out their annual 'Best Of' lists. Likewise, Bears and Bullets has stuck with that tradition as well, with an annual 'Top 25 Songs of the Year' list. But with the addition of the Albums of the Month feature on the site this year, I thought it wouldn't be fair to just stick with songs from here on out.
So, I present to you Bears and Bullets first ever Albums of the Year edition.
#25: The Horrors - Skying
Most people were somewhat uncomfortably introduced to The Horrors four years ago with their "Sheena is a Parasite" video; a minute and a half jumpy, barely in English audible that grew their reputation fairly well in England. And while the band's name grew within the NME crowd, fanfare was mull in the states. Skying, however, was the unsuspected breakthrough that pushed them over, full of inspiring and mature crafted songs that, Hell, most of us never saw coming.
#24: Julianna Barwick - The Magic Place
At some point in the past few years, Julianna Barwick has come to own the genre of atmospheric music. The majority of The Magic Place, a largely wordless drift of beautiful, if not cavernous sprawls, that would do well in most movie trailers, makes the serenity of distant sounds all the more important. Aptly titled, The Magic Place seems to present itself in a world that would only disappoint the real one
#23: Ty Segall - Goodbye Bread
Ty Segall, up until Goobye Bread, has been slightly controlled noise, full of static and fuzzy bumps in the road, rarely concerned with feel or pace. But with his major label debut, the moves are tighter, and the songs don't just stream through a similar jumble. Take "The Floor," a song that wouldn't be confused with The Violent Femmes at certain points, as the clearest most of us have heard Segall. Juxtaposed against quick-minute stomps like "California Commercial," and the San Francisco-native has learned where his pace fits best - everywhere.
#22: Mastodon - The Hunter
Maybe I'm too big of a Mastodon fan. After all, The Hunter, next to the band's previous work like Crack The Skye and Blood Mountain, is regarded as one of their weaker efforts. That isn't to say that it's a poor outing or anything, just falling short of the aforementioned achievements. Fan response aside, The Hunter still provides some of the year's stand-out efforts, like "Spectrelight," a track that would fit anywhere in the Mastodon catalog. Maybe I'm just still in awe how these guys don't put anything bad out.
#21: I Break Horses - Hearts
Breaking through like M83 did in the early 2000s, I Break Hoses' Hearts is an incredibly lush, broad, and detailed album, covered in dense layers of drippy and heroic synths charging through the backdrop. It's not hard to gets a sense of unreal beauty in Hearts, only seconds into the opening track "Winter Beats," in what feels like plunging into one of those metaphorical lakes that everything seems to come together in. It's hard to describe.
We'll continue the countdown tomorrow with albums #20-#16 ...