Best of 2011: 40-31

40. The Black Keys – El Camino

I’m going to play the thoroughly obnoxious (but satisfying) “I-knew-about-these-guys-before-everyone-else” card here, because I so rarely get to. Before The Black Keys filled arenas and appeared on the covers of national magazines, I eagerly awaited the release of their first album, The Big Come-Up, way back in 2002 after reading a tiny blurb about them in a “new bands to watch” article that described their sound as “buzzing garage blues” or something to that effect — it was enough to catch my eye and cause me to begin a vigil at my local Tower Records (RIP), waiting for it to appear on the shelves. Watching (and listening to) their development from a scrappy two-piece with a Junior Kimbrough fixation to a fully fleshed-out band (there’s still only two official members, but the sound is now augmented with overdubs in the studio and side musicians onstage) over the subsequent nine years and six albums has been a pleasure. Last year’s double-length Brothers was a serious statement of purpose, announcing to the world that they were no longer simply blues-pastiche dabblers, but a real, roaring, eight-cylinder rock & roll machine. The leaner, shorter El Camino is the exclamation point on the end of that statement. – MI

39. The Antlers – Burst Apart

Art that deals with dead folks or people who are passing is terribly depressing, and frankly a little too heavy for the BPM slaves that populate the Idle Time voters.  The Antlers previous album, Hospice, documented the passing of a friend in almost uncomfortable candor, so much so that it seemed that there was no way to come back.   Well, they made it.  Burst Apart documents the demise of personal relationships.  Again, the subject matter is sad as hell, but this time around the sound is much brighter.  That high falsetto is right in front of the mix while the rhythm section swings with a great deal of soul.  The songs themselves don’t necessarily have a running narrative, which makes them very effective on their own, but together they make a bitter sweet mosaic that you can’t turn away from. – WH

38. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne

Two of the biggest names in rap music prove why they’re two of the top entertainers in the music business. Watch the Throne is not the hit machine that people may have expected, but it’s a great concept. These two Olympian egos gather around the “throne” of pop culture, but they’re not there to fight. Instead, they join forces to tell stories about life on the top. The album is full of references to iconic figures at the top of their field: Dwayne Wade, Lebron James, Michael Jackson, Biggie, and even Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta. Yes, some of the lyrics are harder to sell than others, but overall its contents are what you would expect a rapper like Jay Z and a producer as talented as Kanye to produce. These two are the best at playing the rags-to-riches rock stars, frequently reminding us of their humble beginnings and their rise to European culture and amazing riches. Does this album raise some interesting questions? Of course. But it’s more fun to just listen to them talk about how awesome it is to be successful. I don’t think calling this album “inspiring” is exactly right, but there is a feeling of empowerment that transfers from this music. West deserves credit for making beats that are immediately funky and compelling in “No Church in the Wild,” and he keeps momentum for most of the album. Jigga ‘s verses prove that he’s still America’s top extemporaneous speaker, “Gotta Have It” and “Illest Motherfucker Alive” being just a few of the highlights. Yeah, the Bay-bay Jesus song is a little silly, but aside from the chorus, it’s still a cool beat and Ye and Jay don’t slack on their verses. You know, some people like Adam Sandler movies, some people like Milla Jovovich  movies, and some people like Tom Cruise movies. They can enjoy seeing the same characters in similar situations time and time again. The repetition doesn’t make them bad, it makes them stylized. I like Jay Z and Kanye West records because they have style like Mars needs moms. And I’ve been told that’s a lot. They promote ideals which carry complications, but if taken for just the shine, it’s treasure. Even the obligatory “real talk” songs like, “New Day,” and “Welcome to the Jungle” have some genuine sentiments and good music. If you like Kanye West and Jay Z records, this collaboration can’t fail. If you may not be a fan, there are moments of this album you’ll concede to. – RF

 

37. Sleeper Agent – Celebrasion

Say you’re a twenty-something garage band from Kentucky, who know your way around a Farfisa organ and a slightly out-of-tune power chord. Your record collection is probably built around scratchy, vintage 45s from the Sixties, a few Pixies bootlegs, and maybe a  Buzzcocks greatest-hits album or two. You’re getting nowhere. What do you do? You graft a feral, 18-year-old female singer onto your already powerhouse sound, bash out a raging-hormone lead single called “Get It Daddy,” and watch the ensuing fireworks as jaded, middle-aged music nerds swoon like bobby-soxers. Pandering? Undoubtedly. Shameful? Perhaps. But I can’t deny the rush this material brings whenever it pops up on the shuffle. Sleeper Agent hits like a punch to the solar plexus. I think their ferocity seems destined to burn itself out sooner rather than later, but this is one instance when I wouldn’t mind being wrong. – MI

36. WU LYF – Go Tell Fire to the Mountain

Fellow Idle Timer, Rex Flores, has claimed that the 80’s resurgence is dead and that the 90’s resurgence is upon us.  As much as I hate to admit it, he’s right, and there are several examples in 2011 to support his hypothesis.  Wu Lyf is the best of the bunch.  Wu Lyf’s sound is nothing new.  Beautiful guitar tones and heavy drumming set the tone for the maniacal Ellery Robert’s vocals.  Growled verses build upon the rising arrangements until the frenzy begs the chorus for release.  Each euphoric song is an anthem.  I can’t understand a damn thing he says, but I believe every word and would fight you to defend them. – WH

35. Bon Iver – s/t

Just like the Fleet Foxes, this guy had a very tough act to follow in his debut.  The legend surrounding the creation of his debut pushed it to cult status alone.  Luckily the songs did all the talking.  After parading around with Kayne West and dropping tunes on the Twilight soundtrack, Justin Vernon had to face the prospect of the sophomore slump head-on.  He delivers, in a big way.  This time around he’s not sitting alone in the woods of Wisconsin.  The song titles travel the world of both big cities and small towns.  He still got that ache in his voice and his songs still deal with personal struggle, but this time around there’s a band that brings the songs into High Definition.  The sounds and moods of the songs are almost as important, if not more so, than the tunes themselves.  With lush strings, horns, and some off-kilter electronic flourishes the arrangements are sometimes downright surprising in the their references.  The album closer, “Beth/Rest,” would be right at home next to “Roll With It” on a Steve Winwood collection.  Some might “EWWWWW”.  I say it’s the best record of the year. – WH

34. Atlas Sound – Parallax

If Bradford Cox had learned to edit himself a little earlier, his output would be all over the Idle Time lists of yore.  Between Deerhunter and Atlas Sound, he’s managed to craft some of the most brilliant and frustrating work in the last ten years.  Deerhunter has always been the more accessible outlet, while Atlas Sound is the more personal and experimental.  Cox’s disdain for “catchy” music was well documented in all of the prerelease interviews for this album, so you’d think he’d keep pushing the envelope with Atlas Sound. Instead, we’re left with his most accessible work to date in Parallax.  The album art casts him as some modern day Queer Ricky Nelson, and he delivers on the promise of that visage. – WH

33. The Vaccines – What Did You Expect from The Vaccines?

The Libertines. Franz Ferdinand. Arctic Monkeys. Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, every couple of years, a group of incredibly young, tousle-haired guys from the British Isles burst forth with a debut album so energetic, so catchy, and so full of the orgasmic realization that a few chords, some cheap amps, and songs they’ve spent their entire lives crafting can score them girls and free drinks that it threatens to revive the moribund corpse of guitar rock. Then comes the second album… The Vaccines currently occupy this unenviable position. Will they beat the odds, and continue to raise the bar for themselves with increasingly complex work (the Franz Ferdinand model)? Will they hit a holding pattern with solidly-rocking, enjoyable albums that satisfy their pre-existing fan base? (the Arctic Monkeys model)? Or will they flame out and be forgotten in sixteen months? (the thousands of other Brit-rock bands model)? Remains to be seen, but at least we have this album, a thirty-minute jolt of adrenaline addled bash & pop. – MI

32. Battles – Gloss Drop

Battles rocks harder than any band. Even metal bands. Before I saw them play at Treasure Island, I wondered how in the world they would pull off these incredibly complex and precise songs with twisting corners and engineered loops. They did not disappoint, and they played a set with almost no pauses. While the album is defined by carefully constructed and individually wrapped passages, the set was characterized by parts of extreme intensity followed by lulls where they were building the next set of loops. This three-piece band has more talent in the tip of one drum stick than most of us do in our entire bodies. I had never before seen a musician play a guitar solo and a synth solo simultaneously, and I don’t think I ever will again. Until the next time I see Battles. – DH

31. Wild Beasts – Smother

To put it simply, Wild Beasts are some creepy mugs.  Smother plays like a very complicated sexual relationship where neither party comes away clean.  Beginning with “The Lion’s Den” and culminating with their best work, “End Come Too Soon,” lust and desire are played out over ten tracks filled with beautiful and unsettling arrangements that give Hayden Thorpe’s arresting voice all the room it needs.  You come away from this album changed… and you might feel the need for a shower. – WH

Accolades Home | 30 – 21 >

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