The Best Tracks of 2011 (20-11)

20. Holy Other
“With U”
With U (Tri Angle)

In lieu of waxing lyrical about the ghostly, undulating debut from this masked Mancunian, I’ll let my buddy AJ — a man who doesn’t give a shit about music — explain it. In response to a Facebook status update of mine that claimed With U was my favorite EP of the year, Apple Jack posted simply and succinctly “Yeah, maybe of [sic] you want to meditate.” Replace “meditate” with “fuck,” and I think AJ’s in business. The sexiest indie record since The XX’s debut.

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19. Azari & III
“Hungry For The Power”
Azari & III (Loose Lips)
You know how that cliché “x is not for the faint of heart”? Well, Azari & III is not for the faint of sexuality. Basically, if you are worried about people thinking you might be gay, I’m thinking you’ll want to skip over this rising Canadian group’s pulsating, glossy disco jam. After sending this track to an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while, she responded succinctly, “So you’re telling me that you fuck boys now?” While I can’t say for sure, I didn’t disagree with her assessment. I’m sure it’s wonderful fucking boys music, but it’s also pretty awesome car dancing, bike riding, and fucking girls music.

18. Korallreven (f/ Victoria Bergsman)
“As Young As Yesterday”
An Album By Korallreven (Acéphale)

It only took a couple of (albeit stunning) singles for these enigmatic Swedes to explode last year, creating high hopes for their 2011 debut full-length. As responsible for last year’s Balearic pop explosion as anyone, the group didn’t disappoint, dropping a consistent, impeccably crafted nine-song set that brilliantly embraces Island pop without losing the spirit of dancefloors across Ibiza. Easily one of the best records of the year.

17. Curren$y
Weekend At Burnie’s (Warner Bros.)

I have to admit that it took me a while to come around on the ever-prolific, ever-stoned New Orleans MC. While I was quick to dismiss his work — mostly due to his material’s perpetual weed/pussy/NBA2K subject matter — but as I spent some more time with Curren$y (né Shante Franklin), I realized that I was missing the point completely. Spitta isn’t going to wow anybody with lyricism, social consciousness, or even his story telling. What he will do is pick fantastic, airy beats and use his laid-back, underrated flow as a counterpoint to said beats, injecting his gregarious, cool-as-fuck persona into the track. #jetsgo” is the most perfect example of this to date. It’s not challenging. It’s not game-changing. It’s easy, smooth, engaging, and fun as fuck. Which is probably a lot like hanging out with him.

16. Terius Nash
“Wake Me When It’s Over”
1977 (Radio Killa)
For a man who’s made his career making R&B, it’s incredible how little time Terius “The-Dream” Nash has spent singing about his vulnerabilities. Prince had “Empty Room” and “Nothing Compares 2 U.” MJ had “She’s Out of My Life.” Boyz II Men had about a hundred such songs. Don’t get me wrong, The-Dream has written his fair share of break-up tracks, but until this record, he never broke from the brash, cocksure veneer that he’s built up, penning kiss-off songs instead of “you broke my heart” songs. That all changed with his fourth record: a stunning sonic about-face, largely inspired by his very public divorce from pop star Christina Milian.

Of the album’s nine tracks, it’s opener is its most effective. Never one for subtlety, Nash tears down his larger than life persona and lays his pain on the table. What’s most fascinating is why Nash is really still hurting. It’s not about losing Ms. Milian (which he admits to later on — see: the fantastic “Wedding Crasher”); it’s about the notion that he cheated on Milian — something he obviously feels his ex-wife’s camp perpetuated to gain public sympathy. It’s a problem that very few of us will have, but it’s a fascinating glimpse into what a public break-up in the spotlight of the Twitter era is like. More importantly, it’s a rare glimpse into the heart of a previously emotionally unavailable pop star.

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15. Destroyer
Kaputt (Merge)
No matter what critics will have you believe, Yacht Rock never really went out of fashion. While he deserves all the credit in the world, critics have spent to much time writing about his group’s style rather than substance. It’s a little bit like lauding Kevin Love for his throwback style, whilst forgetting to mention that he’s a damn effective player, regardless of how good his inbounds passes are. Destroyer are an incredible group, not an incredible pastiche. This, the lead cut from their devastating ninth LP, is a perfect example of what makes them so special. Bejar’s gentle croon floats effortlessly over a super-smooth backtrack, built by an undeniable bassline, a gorgeous meandering melody, and just the right amount of sax filigree. Delish.

14. Ford & Lopatin
“The Voices”
Channel Pressure (Software/Mexican Summer)
Remember that Star Trek episode where Data gets feelings? This would be the song he would have written if he had kept them long enough to have his heart broken. The debut LP from the artists formally known as Games (Joel Ford and Daniel Lopatin) is a 16-bit headfuck of epic proportions — 35-minutes of stirring emotions delivered by robots. Because the disc — heavily influenced by 80’s analog synth-based groups like Kraftwerk and The Buggles — is so consistently stunning, it was nearly impossible to pick a standout. Therefore, I decided to go with one of its real oddballs: a driving, mid-tempo quasi-ballad that is one of the few tracks that actually brings Ford’s vocals to the front. One of my favorite debuts in years, Channel Pressure would easily be in my top 3 albums of 2011.

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13. A$AP Rocky
LIVELOVEA$AP (Self-Released)
Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with hip-hop (like, I dunno, my Mom) knows that they do not spit it slow in New York City. Incredibly when this 23 year-old Harlem upstart proclaims the contrary on one of his breakthrough singles, “Purple Swag,” he does so with such a conviction that it almost gets you to doubt what you know to be true. Obviously, with a bit of thought, you realize that it’s not that New York spits it slow, it’s that Rakim “A$AP Rocky” Mayers and his A$AP crew don’t much give a fuck about the history of their hometown sound. Much more sonically aligned with the the syrupy Swisha/Suavehouse sound of Houston, A$AP and his crew highlight the reality of the post-internet world: anybody can sound like anybody. And sometimes that’s a beautiful thing.

12. Dirty Beaches
“Lord Knows Best”
Badlands (ZOO)
2010 brought us the Black Morrissey (Twin Shadow). And in 2011, we were introduced to the Asian Roy Orbison. Taiwan-born, BC-based Alex Zhang Hungtai’s debut LP was one of the most unexpected of the year, and of its eight, 50’s obsessed tracks, nothing hit harder than this meandering devotional. On much of Badlands, Hungtai’s vocals are buried under layers of lo-fi fuzz, but on “Lord Knows Best” his heartfelt, slightly cracked crooning takes center stage. What really sets Hungtai apart is the sheer conviction he delivers his lyrics with, and that is never more apparent on this track. When he whispers, “the Lord knows best that I don’t give a damn about anyone but you,” it’s impossible not to believe it.

11. Ryan Adams
“Lucky Now”
Ashes & Fire (PAXAM)
I really shouldn’t be allowed to write about this guy. Consider me the parent of a kid who is playing youth soccer. My son may have given the ball away 200 hundred times, scored three own goals, and bit a member of the opposing team’s ear off, and I would have told you that he put in a Man of the Match performance. With some people you just aren’t capable of rational critique. Meet my 12 year-old son, Ryan Adams. He’s gonna be fuckin’ special.

With that disclaimer out of the way: let’s talk about Ashes & Fire. At face value, it’s just so hateable. Ex-enfant terrible/smack addict moves from New York to LA, kicks drugs, marries pop star, finds Yoga, writes borderline-adult contemporary album about it. But, surprise surprise, I kind of love it. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a Ryan Adams apologist for more than ten years, but it’s fascinating to hear someone write about getting out of a really difficult time in their life — Adams had to quit music for a few years to deal with Meniere’s disease. The best of the lot — the disc’s lead single “Lucky Now” — deals both with the loss of an old friend (Chris “Spacewolf” Feinstein of his old backing band) and trying to reconcile the person that you’ve become with the person you used to be.

I don’t care if he’s picked up more red cards than completed passes, he’s my boy and he’s gonna be a star.

Posted on by TP1.COM in Columns, Featured

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