Top 10 LP’s 2011 #1: In The Grace of Your Love ~ The Rapture
I was planning to write a lot about this album as it has been in constant rotation all year and I have been waiting to post more about it until this list. However my sister got into town yesterday for NYE and my birthday and I am really fucking hungover. Also my cat had a seizure this morning so its been a weird day. Anyway what I will say is that one of the marks of a great album is that it continues to unfold subtly across many listens and The Rapture have managed to do that here. In The Grace of Your Love has all these little intricate details that contribute seamlessly to the overall effect of each song but also provide a depth that keeps the album continually fresh. Moreover it is an album that sounds just as good when you’re on the subway as it does in a quite room. Just rad.
Additionally The Rapture are Webster Hall was my concert experience of the year.
As the cover suggests Leave Home listens like a proper two sided lp. The first half does an incredible job of channeling My War while the second half is a grimy bass driven garage rock romp (MC5 x Jeff The Brotherhood). Between the two The Men have teased out the two distinct parts of what made their debut EP so rad. In fairness a great deal of my love for the album is due in large part to the Black Flag influence. My War is one of my top 3 albums and it is an incredibly difficult album to rework in a unique way and that The Men have done that really well. That achievement more than anything else is responsible for where this album ends up on the list, its not to say that the LP as a whole isn’t excellent but I can’t imagine that without a strong affinity for late Flag that the record would rate as highly.
If this list were judged solely on bands that made “the leap” Cold Cave would be number one. I thought that although Love Comes Close was good in parts it lacked the sort of cohesion and editing to make it great. Further it felt like Cold Cave weren’t particularly interested in putting in the time to make up that ground. I was flat out wrong. From the first single (“The Great Pan is Dead”) through the full length release Cherish exceeded all expectations. Wrapping all the dark electro promise of Love Comes Close the band found a way to amplify it with darker synth driven hooks and equally perfected brooding vocals. Thanks to the mastering the album is nearly suffocating in its loudness and demands to be played at top volume. At times this unrelenting approach can make the album tedious. Background music this is definitely not. Moreover, despite how referential the album was as a whole it still felt organic, this was not schtick. Like eating a re-imagining of a traditional dish, the album hits familiar notes but does so in a way that masterfully blends reminiscence with exuberance for something new.
Top10 LP’s 2011: #4 Past Life Martyred Saints ~EMA
EMA has been one of the hardest albums for me to deal with all year. Its like nothing that I really listen to and I think I lack a lot of the language to aptly describe what is going on musically. Further its been turned inside out at great length by a number of blogs that I respect (see in particular, HFN) and I’m not sure I’ve got much more to add to the discourse. So I guess I will throw some platitudes around and wrap this up. The album is impossibly honest. Starting with “Grey Ship” the raspy vocals and stripped down production remove any gloss over what feels like an emotional raw diary in LP form. Its so god damned compelling. It feels like a modern In Memoriam or at least what every overly honest livejournal felt like to the author. More broadly there is something very individual to listening experience, as much as EMA is writing very precisely about her own experiences the album still reads differently for each listener as there is enough linguistic ambiguity and musical space to bring ones own experiences onboard. Ultimately there is some ineffable quality that continues to bring me back to the LP and I don’t think I will ever be able to fully capture what it is about a song like “Marked” that makes me hit repeat again and again.
More than anything Male Bonding wrote an album that I wish I would have liked when I was 15. Endless Now sounds so strongly of the pop punk that was prevalent when I was a teenager that it is uncanny. Of course, at the time, I was so blindly into the Boston/Portsmouth streetpunk/bootboy scene that it was anathema to admit that, maybe, just maybe those cats in Blink 182 weren’t all that bad. I would have had my Elvis Room card revoked. Of course part of growing up is getting rid of those rigid categorial crutches that help counterculture kids develop into adults and so now as a more full formed adult I feel fine listening to an album like Endless Now and admitting that it is good and in most ways superior to its pop punk predecessors. Aside from the dreadful “Saddle,” Male Bonding has imbued a genre known as much for its childishness with a sense of somber gravitas. This dynamic is best exemplified on the stand out track “Bones” where a healthy drone grounds pop punk’s prototypical lyrical melodies and guitar hooks. Much like the rest of the album, its a clever but intoxicating trick. Male Bonding toes the pop punk saccharin precipe with aplomb.
We rarely get to see a band/athlete/public persona go out “on top” however P.S. Eliot managed to craft their most complete LP to date in Sadie and although its sad to see them disband they are going out with what I believe is their fullest realization of their sound to date. Of all the albums on this years list, Sadie was not something that immediately knocked my socks. The opener “Talk” hits you with bold crashing guitars and then backs it off a bit for a more delicate verse before hitting again with the loud chorus. Look, loud-quiet-loud permutations thereof isn’t exactly and therefore after the first listen or two I felt the whole thing was really solid but wasn’t obsessed. And then I got obsessed. There were a solid few months where I was listening to this LP every fucking day and still fiending more. P.S. Eliot didn’t break any new musical ground with Sadie, all they did was make was incredibly well crafted album that so perfectly expressed a certain moment in alt-musical time that it totally dominated my conscious. Its not an album that is going to “change” music and its not going to grab everyone in the way that I fell in love with it but it is still perfect.
Top10 LP’s of 2011: #7 Belong ~Pains of Being Pure Heart
For reasons that I won’t get into I am not a huge fan of Seinfeld; however, listening to Belong I am reminded of the “close talker” episode. The joke was that this person’s speaking forced you to lean in close to hear whatever it was they were saying. So to Pains of Being Pure at Heart. It is both their strength and their weakness. It gives their songs an emotional intimacy and poignancy that their lyrics alone are probably not enough to accomplish. However it is their inability to abandon this vocal styling that ultimately limits the emotional range of the album. Pains have become far better at building soundscapes that ebb and flow to convey, for instance, urgency, but with a barely a change in intonation eventually it starts to feel more like annoying schtick. This is not always the case but after listening to the LP for the better part of the year if I begin to think about the singing itself, I start to get sick of it all.
Both of these records are better than the records below them but not better than the ones above. They both strike the same chord with me but for different reasons. Basically you’ve got Olde English and a decent red wine; same itch, different scratch. It seems like this year, at least in the bottom half of this “Top 10” list, I am really embracing the arbitrary nature of list making generally. Some blast thoughts:
New Brigade ~Iceage: First and foremost this was some of my favorite drumming of the year. Its one of those albums that is liability to listen to in public places because air drumming is still frowned upon and I really can’t help myself. Otherwise I enjoy the detached vocals and the occasionally discordant guitar on many of the tracks (“Rotting Heights”). Individually the songs are charged but as collective there is little cohesion and it doesn’t reach end so much as it just stops. The highlight of the album for me would be “Remember.” Still though for such a short album it feels long.
Here Before ~The Feelies: This came highly recommended to me from an older friend who is my “music peaked at Pavement” music fellow in residence. Sort of the flipside of Iceage’s youth driven attack, The Feelies have taken their collective decades of experience writing music and crafted an album that is both driven and still allows space for reflection. It feels complex and mature but not old. In some ways I feel like it is what I want Tom Petty’s Into The Great Wide Open to be. Expansive and reflective without being overblown with enough tempo and beat to demand some physical reaction. Highlight track would be “When You Know.”
Top 10 LP’s 2011: #9. Live.Love. A$AP. ~ A$AP Rocky.
Oh how cute. Another white boy blogging year end top LP’s and having the obligatory “hip-hop” record. So fucking urban. Shit gives this list integrity, you know? I’m totally fucking plugged into the streets son, I live within 5 minutes of housing project but keep shit bougie and this list is going to fucking represent that fucking reality. Seriously though hip hop is tough for me to write about. I grew up with a steady diet of it and so am somewhat versed in the tropes and kept listening but its not like I’m plugged “in” or even unable to stay out of the hype machine (thanks Odd Future). Eventually I came to realize that there were a few things I loved about hip hop and this album has those in spades.
My biggest bias in rap is a strong, rough flow (think Mobb Deep). My second biggest, which doubles as my guilty pleasure is screwed and chopped production. So this mixtape (so fucking down with the terminology!) put itself squarely in my wheelhouse from the get go. The Clams Casino produced tracks in particular were immediate bangers. From a purely critical standpoint I think A$AP probably gets bested this year by Pusha-T and Das Racist, both artists/groups have him beat on a technical level. I also thought that Pusha-T put out a more complete LP. Live.Love.A$AP tends to get a little but lost and long in places. However the great value of arbitrary hierarchies is that when they are yours you get to be arbitrary about shit like that. Truthfully, however unaccomplished as it may seem, I will always love someone spitting hard lines like “fuck fly, I am fashion” over the clever wordplay. Because I’m hard like that and keeps shit real up in these streets. Tilapia in a marinade, cook mad fishscale.
I recently saw the New York episode of NYC chef hero Anthony Bourdain’s new show The Layover. In it he declares that amongst his many pit stops he must absolutely have a great hot dog and enlists David Chang (of Momofuku fame) to aid in this quest. NYC certainly didn’t invent the hot dog but it has long been engrained as one of the simple low food staples of any self respecting NYC-er’s diet. Chang takes Bourdain to the not particularly tough to find out about Crif’s Dogs. Chang explains that Crif’s was/is one of the cities forerunners in taking this classic, simple, hearty meat product and elevating it with new flourishes. Taking something that is at once totally familiar and making it new and wonderful again.
Personally I love Crif’s. I’m certainly not an early adopter and I have since delved far deeper into sausage culture (just like your mom!) but this past weekend I had the good fortune to get a Crif’s trip in with some old mates as we did a holiday bar crawl. Crif’s was, as always, a delight. I make sure to tweak the order a bit from time to time but universally the moment that I realize that Crif’s just got added to the itinerary is one of giddy joy and this time through was no exception. Enough new to keep it interesting and enough of the remembered to bring on strong enjoyable waves of nostalgia. I would recommend it to any one.