Monday, November 21, 2011

Top 10 Albums of 2011

I look back every November to give thanks for all of the good music that graced my ears. Then I make a list. This list is a prayer of gratitude that goes out to all of the artists who still work hard in spite of album leaks, negative reviews, and unappreciative live crowds. I know this blog post isn't much, but it's my way of showing a little appreciation:

10. Active Child - You Are All I See

An ex-choirboy plays the harp over post-dubstep beats. I don't really feel the need to say anything more. He gets a guest vocal from How To Dress Well, brought Chad Valley along as the opener of his North American tour, and is now the opening act for M83's tour. He is running with the right crowd. We will hear a lot more Active Child in the years to come. You Are All I See is a beautiful haunt of an album, but it really feels like the beginning of something special.

best track: Hanging On

9. Bon Iver - Bon Iver

I couldn't stop listening to this when it came out. Replay value is what gets an album in my top 10. I would rather not even explain why this album works for me, it just does. If you also put these songs on repeat, you got it. If you turned it off seconds after hearing it, fine. I don't think this an album that needs to be defended.

best track: Beth/Rest

8. G-Side - The One...Cohesive

Rap album of the year. In a recent interview I did with ST 2 Lettaz and Yung Clova, they said that their music is not cloud rap, just Alabama music. But whatever we want to call it, G-Side has the most radical sound in hip-hop today. They sample Beach House, Enya, and Tame Impala like it's nothing. Seriously, they're not gimmicky at all. If the sound works for their song, that's why they're sampling it.

best track: How Far

7. Chad Valley - Equatorial Ultravox EP

If anything should be considered a "surprise" in my top 10, I guess this would be it. Equatorial Ultravox wasn't even reviewed on Pitchfork, so yknow. But these seven tracks still get me up. He sounded great at Schubas, so I have really high hopes for a full length (or another EP, or whatever he decides to release). It's the ideal chillwave, and I am still unapologetic about loving it. These guys are making fresh music, and it gives me the bliss.

best track: Fast Challenges

6. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming

It was 2011's epic album. And hey, if I'm looking for something grandiose and overwhelming, this is the stuff. It sounds like the 80s, but no, it actually doesn't. It sounds like 2011. This is music that people are connecting with right now. We're not going back in time. We're hearing synths clearer than ever, and they warm our hearts. Don't forget about shoegaze either. M83 is a culmination of a couple decades worth of ideas, succeeding today and today only.

best track: Midnight City

5. Korallreven - An Album by Korallreven

It was a great year for quiet music. Actually, I don't know. Does screamo exist anymore? Is punk still a thing? I have a feeling that loud shit doesn't do as much for us anymore because of how easy it is to make a high-quality album in one's bedroom with a laptop. Our ears are collectively refined, and emotional music can't be achieved as easily or brutishly these days. Korallreven is like new-age, Native American, sacred music, ambient, Sigur Ros and chillwave delicately smooshed into one lovely as honey viiiiiibe.

best track: The Truest Faith

4. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo

Hey, guitars! Yeah, that's an instrument for old dudes, but Kurt Vile doesn't care. He knows how to write a great song with his guitar, and he should continue. Kurt has an aura that you can't really fuck with. The timelessness of songwriting wins again here, whether you're a fan of Bruce Springsteen, Sonic Youth, or Arcade Fire, Kurt Vile's music somehow stretches across decades of rock and roll cool and comes back with a uniquely original style.

best track: Jesus Fever

3. Washed Out - Within and Without

Chillwave came out of the bedroom in 2011. Washed Out is the frontrunner of the movement, and is taking pride in being so. Whether you're getting high, having sex, dancing, reading, or sleeping, Within and Without should be the soundtrack. It's a strange time for music like this though. Washed Out opened for Cut Copy on their last North American tour, and leaving the venue I overheard some awful girl call Washed Out "the hipster Enya." First I wanted to turn around and tell her to check this out, but then I just shrugged it off and thought, "Enya is awesome."

best track: Soft

2. Real Estate - Days

I completely slept on Real Estate's self-titled debut, but after seeing their show at the Subterranean this summer, along with a majority of new songs in their set, I woke up. You don't have to look too deep beneath the haze to hear a band that cares deeply about music. Precision and harmony are of utmost importance to Real Estate, and the result is an arresting album of indie surf rock. And no, you shouldn't just listen to this in summertime. I just listened to it again, and it sounds great on 40-degree Chicago evenings.

best track: All the Same

1. Destroyer - Kaputt

I don't think a great album can ever be neutral. The best records probably get an equal amount of love and hate (I'm thinking Trout Mask Replica, Velvet Underground, Another Green World, In Rainbows, Rumours, anything by ELO, etc.). Believe it or not, people still think Bob Dylan has a weird voice. And yeah, Kaputt should divide us. People should get upset when they hear this easy-listening, cheesy-sax-drenched, v0cals-recorded-lying-on-a-couch, artsy shit. But what can I say. I haven't listened to any other album this year more than Kaputt. I am infatuated with every track here. I guess artistic audacity just gets me every time. I want to hear someone giving a crazy idea his all, even if that could potentially mean utter failure. Dan Bejar could've made the worst decision of his life by releasing Kaputt, but as long as listeners like me are around, we'll make sure this isn't the last time an artist doesn't play it safe. Kaputt is my favorite album of the year.

best track: Kaputt

Thursday, November 17, 2011

CHIRP playlist (11/16/11)

Just a quick CHIRP playlist before I post my top 10 favorite albums of 2011. And if you didn't know by now, my weekly shift is every Wednesday 8-10pm (CST), no more midnight shifts for me. It's nice to have more listeners, and less coffee. Tune in next week if you can. Oh, and come to Lincoln Hall on Tuesday for the Youth Lagoon show. Always say hi.

Pterodactyl Allergy Shots from Spills Out (Brah)

Radiohead Pyramid Song from Amnesiac (Capitol)

Joy Division The Only Mistake from Still (Factory)

Head of Femur Skirts Are Takin' Over from Hysterical Stars (Spin Art)

Mayer Hawthorne You're Not Ready from How Do You Do (Universal)

Patsy Cline She's Got You from The Ultimate Collection (Mercury Nashville)

Oneohtrix Point Never Nassau from Replica (Software)

Velella Velella We'll Getcha In Yeah from Atlantis Massif (self-released)

Painted Palms Water Hymn from Canopy EP (Secretly Canadian)

Rabble Rabble Wild Card from Jailbait (Commune)

The Damned Rabid (Over You) from Machine Gun Etiquette (Chiswick)

Cloud Nothings I Am Rooftop from Turning On (Carpark)

Sigur Rós Lúppulagið from Inni (XL)

Quasimoto Bus Ride from The Further Adventures of Lord Quas (Stones Throw)

XTC Chalkhills And Children from Oranges & Lemons (Virgin)

Tycho Elegy from Dive (Ghostly International)

Aphex Twin Avril 14th from Drukqs (Sire)

Nate Evans Main Squeeze from Twinight's Chicago Soul Heaven (Kent)

Sun Ra I'll Get By from Some Blues But Not the Kind That's Blue (Atavistic)

Rob Crow Tranked from He Thinks He's People (Temporary Residence)

Future Of The Left Polymers are Forever from Polymers are Forever EP (Xtra Mile)

David Lynch Pinky's Dream from Crazy Clown Time (Play It Again Sam)

The Raincoats Off Duty Trip from The Raincoats (Rough Trade)

Arcade Fire (Antichrist Television Blues) from Neon Bible (Merge)

Joan of Arc Explain Yourselves #2 from Flowers (Polyvinyl)

Anathallo Kasa No Hone (The Umbrella's Bones) from Floating World (Artist Friendship)

Korallreven As Young as Yesterday from An Album by Korallreven (Acephale)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Best Music of 2011

If something comes out in the next few weeks that totally blindsides me, I will amend this list. But over the past 12 months, I've heard a lot of great music. I'm ranking it right here, right now. If you want to hear any of these albums, just ask. Counting down from 25:

25. Thao & Mirah - Thao & Mirah

Two of the coolest ladies in music, making it together for at least this one album. For whatever reason, this was a critically underrated album. But it has every attribute I look for. Dynamic vocal performances, peaks and valleys of high to low energy, unexpected sounds from one track to the next, and perfect harmonies. They put on a fun show together too.

best track: Hallelujah

24. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Relaaaaaax. Who caaaaaares. Fleet Foxes don't have to prove anything to you, they're just hanging out, playing some songs. Helplessness Blues may not have the stand-out tracks of their debut, but that's what's so nice about it. When this album is on, I can turn my critic's ear off and sit around with my dog. It plays all the way through before I realize it's on, and then I wake up. Be quiet and enjoy Fleet Foxes.

best track: Montezuma

23. Gotye - Making Mirrors

So in Australia this went double platinum. Which kinda makes me want to move there. I mean, if Cut Copy and Gotye are any indication, this country obviously knows how to create melodic pop music better than the rest of the world. And don't even try to start with that South Korean shit, I'm not buying it. Anyway, Making Mirrors at first sounds like it could be a guilty pleasure, but it's too erratic and surprising to fit any mold. No guilt, pure pleasure.

best track: Somebody That I Used To Know

22. Hauschka - Salon Des Amateurs

Nobody else does the John Cage homage better than Hauschka. But this year, Hauschka took a brilliant creative leap forward by ditching the odd time signatures in place of house rhythms. It's an inspiring idea, but the resulting sound is even better than the idea. I'd rather listen on headphones than dance to it though.

best track: Radar

21. Eleanor Friedberger - Last Summer

I almost loved The Fiery Furnaces, but I think all along I was really just loving Eleanor Friedberger. Her debut solo album has all of the quirkiness (well, maybe not all) of The Fiery Furnaces, without any of the nonsense (you know what I'm talking about.). Melody and multi-instrumentation reign, and Friedberger's familiar voice sounds as uniquely warm as ever.

best track: Owl's Head Park

20. Blanck Mass - Blanck Mass

What kind of jerk would I be if I didn't include a drone album this year? To be honest, Blanck Mass is the most beautiful noise I've heard in years. It's ambient and hypnotic, not too sludgy or gloomy. This is Benjamin John Power though (Fuck Buttons), so it shouldn't be surprising to hear that this is good shit.

best track: What You Know

19. Friendly Fires - Pala

The summer album of the year. It's a big pop record from a UK dance band, and nothing more. But, certainly nothing less either. This is what I hope the kids are excited about these days. It depresses me that the Warped Tour is still a thing. Come on kids! Don't you realize Friendly Fires is here now! Eh. Whatever. Fun music is for fun kids. Take it or leave it.

best track: Hurting

18. Cave - Neverendless

Chicago always has a new band we can be proud of at the end of the year. For 2011 it is definitely Cave. Neverendless is pretty much just five pysch jams. It's crisply produced, like an American Dungen or something. It's nothing revolutionary, it's not even anything that hasn't been done tons of times already, but it's done as well as I've heard it in years.

best track: WUJ

17. Toro y Moi - Freaking Out EP

That's right, the EP is better than the full length he released this year. Or is that not even debated? I was underwhelmed by Underneath the Pine, but Freaking Out features the funkiest chillwave I've yet heard. And dammit, I love funky chillwave. Five songs I wouldn't hesitate to play at any moment at Rodan or on CHIRP. This is everything I love about new music.

best track: All Alone

16. Youth Lagoon - The Year of Hibernation

I'm very wary of lo-fi stuff. It's too easy to half-ass/bullshit one's way through. I mean, cassette labels are cool and everything, I guess, but I can't tolerate bad music under a guise of "lo-fi." However, when done right, lo-fi is warm and romantic. Youth Lagoon did it best this year. He sings like Daniel Johnston, and his lyrics get an A+ for earnestness. He was a teenager just a couple years ago though. He should be making music like this. And we should be listening to it.

best track: Seventeen

15. The War On Drugs - Slave Ambient

Rock and roll record of the year. Can I even say that? Maybe that's like calling my half-sister my "favorite half-sister," just because she's the only half-sister I have... But no, Slave Ambient is awesome, even if I can't think of another rock and roll record that came out in 2011. Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and all of the classic rockers should be proud of The War On Drugs for this one. This album keeps their sound relevant.

best track: Brothers

14. Megafaun - Megafaun

This is the closest thing on my list to country. And no, it's not really country at all. It's experimental indie folk, that should appeal to fans of country anyway. It's simple, sort of. It's chill, kinda. Alright, I'll just go ahead and say even after months of listening to this album, I have the hardest time describing it. And thus, I can't escape its greatness. There's something special going on here, and you have to just hear it to understand.

best track: State / Meant

13. Tycho - Dive

My favorite DJ gig every month is Rodan. I get to play tracks off of Dive, and this always makes me feel so so damn good. This is lush as fuck. Ghostly International is quickly becoming my favorite record label because of stuff like this. Electronic music is in a great place, thanks to artists like Tycho, Gold Panda, Phantogram, and the rest of their amazing roster. Take a drive through the city at night and tell me you don't feel in love with a girl when this music is on. So gorgeous.

best track: Coastal Brake

12. Wilco - The Whole Love

If this is number 12, then you know a lot of great music came out this year. The Whole Love is Wilco at their best. And this means, this is some of the best music in the world. They get their experimental game back on here, but never leave that front-porch-swing comfort with acoustic folk tunes. Like everybody already said, it is their best work since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. That, and it's Beatles-esque at times. What more can a music-lover ask for? (well. yeah. see below.)

best track: One Sunday Morning

11. Cities Aviv - Digital Lows

Cloud rap. My favorite new sub-genre of 2011. Get high on whatever you can and turn this shit up. For all of the terrible mainstream hip-hop out there right now, always have faith in the underground. And what's cool these days is that the underground is just a synonym for bandcamp. The serious rap guys are making good music and debuting it on the internet, not on the Billboard charts.

best track: fuckeverybodyhere

Oh, the top 10 are missing. I'll get to those next week I guess.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

New CHIRP Shift, Rodan 11/11/11

11/11/11. This is a once in a lifetime date. Never again will we see six identical numerals representing the year, month and day. It calls for celebration. Come to Rodan this Friday after 10pm, I'll be playing good tunes and the coolest bartenders in Wicker Park will be serving $5 Deja Vu cocktails on special. No cover.

Tomorrow night is my very first CHIRP shift at 8pm. It's only a two hour show, so tune in for a preview of Friday's party, as well as my exclusive interview with Chicago's prince of post-emo, Tim Kinsella. That airs live at 8:45. I'll fill in the rest of my shift with The Books, Laura Veirs, Hauschka, and requests.