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Matt Garman writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2011 (Matt Garman)

Throughout December CHIRP Radio presents its members’ top albums of 2011. The next list is from of the Top 10 Underrated/Overignored Releases of 2011 is by Matt Garman.

(Click here to get the complete list of CHIRP Radio members’ picks.)

  1. Madeline – Black Velvet (This Will Be Our Summer)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    This latest album is a slightly more psychedelic, Southern Gothic approach to pop. Madeline’s greatest asset, however, remains her angelic Joni Mitchell-esque singing voice and strong songwriting ability.
  2. The Lonely Forest – Arrows (Trans/Atlantic)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    The third full-length from this Anacortes, Washington pop band is clean and smooth, crackling with arena-ready anthems that draw strength from lead singer John Van Deusen’s powerful voice.
  3. Police Teeth – Awesomer Than the Devil (Latest Flame)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    The third LP from this quartet is their best to date, a collection of melodic, catchy post-hardcore punk. Mixing chaotic heaviness with tuneful pop, you can hear the exhilarating influence of Superchunk, Drive Like Jehu, and the Wipers.
  4. Cristina Bautista – Gold Parts EP (Local 638)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    This is a punchy set of pop songs, hook-laden and earnest. Bautista’s greatest strength lies in her enormous voice, sounding occasionally like Neko Case and/or The Reputation’s Elizabeth Elmore, applying it to her irresistibly shiny power-pop compositions with dramatic effect.
  5. Sandrider – Sandrider (Good To Die)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    A huge polished slab of triumphant stoner heaviness on this Seattle band’s debut, a succinct recording of catchy riffage, booming drums, dynamics, and surprisingly melodic vocals. Even if you don’t like metal or heavy rock, you might want to give this a try…and yes, the name is a Dune reference.
  6. Frank Ocean – “Novacane” single (Self-Released)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    This R&B number was an insidious earworm for me in 2011. “Girl, I can’t feel my face / What are we smoking, anyway?” You can’t smoke novacaine, Frank. But you can sure feel numb if you rub your life raw.
  7. Seacats – “We Don’t Sleep” b/w “Hard Truth” 7” single (Fin)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    If “Novacane” was my jams for the second half of 2011, “We Don’t Sleep” by Seacats was there for the first. The song is simple pop catchiness, with moog synths and handclaps, all of it made by high school students. I’m not even kidding – these kids are literally kids. They wrote a song that is amazing!
  8. Bone & Bell – Loom EP (boneandbell.com)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Chicago songwriter Heather Smith has a special talent for melancholy, precise folk songs that are instantly hummable and carefully crafted. Her music is regal and charming, possessing a literary feel.
  9. Radiation City – The Hands That Take Us (Tender Loving Empire/Apes Tapes)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    This is a mellow, lush exercise in pan-genre-pop: swirling atmospherics and chanting atop walls of guitar in one moment, cool soul in the next. As a means of combining eras and elements of various pop trends, from the quietly blipping drum machine percussion to the generous application of reverb and synths, this album is remarkable.
  10. Slow Skate – Count the Days with Me (Parlour Trick)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Languid, ethereal Americana featuring reverb-infused vocal and guitar lines from married duo Caitlin Sherman and Jason Goessl. Slow Skate resembles a jazzy Mazzy Star playing a Beach House where Joanna Newsom meets Portishead.

 

Honorable Mention

  • Favorite New NOT Underrated/Overignored Release of 2011: Shabazz Palaces – Black Up (Sub Pop)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    “The shit I pop is heated cuz I love it and I mean it.”
    -Palaceer Lazaro

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2011

Richard Paul - The Quest writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2011 (Richard Paul)

Throughout December CHIRP Radio presents its members’ top albums of 2011. The next list (in reverse order) is from DJ Richard Paul.

(Click here to get the complete list of CHIRP Radio members’ picks.)

  1. Tape – Revelationes (Häpna)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    “Gorgeous” is the best word to describe the ambient, experimental, instrumental folk from this Swedish trio.
  2. Washed Out – Within and Without (Sub Pop)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Ernest Greene’s got the voice and he fuses it seamlessly with electronics. It’s hard not to like this music. Every track does well.
  3. The Field – Looping State of Mind (Kompakt)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    How do you do it Sweden? And I have a feeling we’ll be seeing you again on this list. Who would have thought repetitive loops would make a “Best of” list? The Field must have. And so, I thank you Axel Willner.
  4. Gotye – Making Mirrors (Eleven)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    The Belgian-born Australian Wally De Backer took home the 2011 ARIA awards (think Australian Grammys) for Single of the Year, Best Pop Release and Best Male Artist all for very good reason.
  5. James Blake – James Blake (Universal Republic)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    I do not like dub-step, but James Blake has molded it into something I like very much.
  6. Detroyer – Kaputt (Merge)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    This album really kicked off the year with a bang…in a soothing sultry kind of way.
  7. Nils Frahm – Felt (Erased Tapes)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Nobody gets as much emotion out of a piano as the Berlin gentleman named Nils Frahm.
  8. The Drift – Blue Hour (Temporary Residence, Ltd.)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    There’s no better way to grieve than through your art form. Experience the anger and resolution as The Drift deal with the loss of their trumpet player, Jeff Jacobs.
  9. Roll the Dice – In Dust (The Leaf Label)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Ah, Sweden again. If you ever need to fast forward time. Put on this album. After one song, you’ll swear that 10 minutes did not just pass by. When, in fact, they definitely have. But you have no complaints about how those 10 minutes were spent. No complaints at all.
  10. Explosions in the Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (Temporary Residence, Ltd.)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Explosions can just do no wrong in my ears. They may not be as cutting edge as they once were but I believe that they completely put their all into every single song that they make. And for that, they have all of my gratitude.

 

Honorable Mentions

  • Beirut – The Rip Tide (Pompeii)
    Talkdemonic – Ruins (Glacial Pace)
    Loney, Dear – Hall Music (Polyvinyl)

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2011

Erin Van Ness writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2011 (Erin Van Ness)

Throughout December CHIRP Radio presents its members’ top albums of 2011. The next list is from Erin Van Ness.

(Click here to get the complete list of CHIRP Radio members’ picks.)

  1. The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart (Sub Pop)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Beautiful harmonies and lyrics that sound like home. I might just be a small town girl at heart after all.
  2. Caitlin Rose – Own Side Now (Thirty Tigers)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    A breath of fresh air. This is what REAL country sounds like.
  3. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Anthony Gonzalez reimagines the grooves of the 80s and makes them sound new again. The child-like “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire” might be my favorite song of the year.
  4. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire (Capitol)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Heartfelt themes of lost love, longing, and regret show the softer side of this notoriously moody fella.
  5. Beirut – The Rip Tide (Pompeii)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    I love me some trumpet, what can I say? Same gorgeous sound, with an air of growth and maturity that makes this album feel more genuine to me.
  6. The Antlers – Burst Apart (Frenchkiss)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    There’s something about the Antlers’ music that just pulls at me, and this album is no exception. Lush, melodic, and beautiful.
  7. Tennis – Cape Dory (Fat Possum)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    If you can get past the ridiculous album cover, you’ll find a solid throwback pop album, perfect for reminiscing about breezy summer nights.
  8. The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow (Sensibility Music)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Joy Williams and John Paul White were made to sing together. It’s as simple as that.
  9. The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    If Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen had a baby that grew up to be a musician, it might sound like this.
  10. Thao & Mirah – Thao & Mirah (Kill Rock Stars)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Cute, playful, and quirky, this album plays to the strengths of both of these amazing ladies.

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2011

Dan Morgridge writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2011 (Dan Morgridge)

Throughout December CHIRP Radio presents its members’ top albums of 2011. The next list is from Dan Morgridge. (Check out his Spotify playlist, too.)

(Click here to get the complete list of CHIRP Radio members’ picks.)

  1. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra (Self-Released)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    The usual array of indie-white-kid-friendly rap/pop stars made hits this year – Kanye, Jay-Z, Beyonce dropped two albums between them, each of which were fantastic by anyone’s measure. But the secret ingredient in both of those chart-topping albums is named Frank Ocean. Penning one song for Beyonce and appearing on two for the boys, Ocean’s touch is already in high demand (he’s written for John Legend and Justin Bieber in the past as well). But far from being the next Scott Storch, Ocean is just a 24-year-old kid with a tumblr of gifs, twitter-sized updates, and Sade and Pink Floyd videos.

    What he brings to the turntable, is hard to pin down, if not hard to appreciate. The odd storytelling of “Novacane”, the heart-on-sleeve angst of “Swim Good”, the wry send-up of hip-hop love songs on “Songs For Women” – Ocean’s charm is multi-faceted, but always held down by his top-notch production and top-tier R&B croon. Kanye’s clever/confessional rubric is certainly a blueprint for Ocean, but he’s stepped into the shoes without the anger or ego. If people still wonder how much Odd Future is a joke that the boys are in on, they need only look as far as Ocean: he epitomizes the vast knowledge a good student can learn, as well as the earnest naivete needed to attempt – and succeed – at besting your teachers.
  2. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra (Fat Possum)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Unknown Mortal Orchestra might be one of many acts with an air of mystery about their origin/identity this year, but they’re probably one of the best. Coming off like a lost-long psych rock artifact, the album finds timeless hooks with a dusting of fuzz on them. While on first glance nothing but sunny and upbeat, the songs also curiously all share a melancholy tone – songs like “Ffunny Friends” and “How Can U Love Me” toe the line between hippie cheer and wistful sadness. Maybe it’s a choice; or maybe they’re sad that they have to settle for making nostalgia from this modern world.
  3. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (XL)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Canadian Abel Tesfaye stayed almost completely anonymous as he released his debut album this past March. It was easy to picture a famous singer adopting a disguise to release this ode to burnt-out excess – the cold production and lyrics like “he’s what you want, I’m what you need” reeked of such vile, hollowed-out sex talk and an indifference to anything other than the next high, it had to be from someone riddled with years of soul-decaying fame. One can only hope House of Balloons is not purely confessional, but it’s eminently believable. The sparse church-organ beat on opener “High For This” shines a dim spotlight on Tesfaye’s angelic and soulful voice. Of course, that voice is spouting lines like “Drinkin’ Alizé with our cereal for breakfast/Girls calling cabs at dawn, quarter to seven” over Vangelis-meets-R. Kelly production, making this album one of the dirtiest slices of R&B imaginable.
  4. Mesita – Here’s To Nowhere (Self-Released)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    James Cooley is 23 years old, and is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist. He’s not as world-famous as Zach Condon of Beirut yet, but that part of your brain that doles out pure jealousy should probably be kicking in soon. Releasing EPs through his own webpage since 2008, Cooley’s first official LP finds him collecting his acoustic-guitar-driven melodies into a proper package. Opener “A Million Shades of Sky” is at heart a kid strumming his guitar, but the lush production and depth of layers is truly impressive. The bouncy bassline of “Somewhere Else” makes it the standout – robbed of anything else funky to partner with, the bass simply makes the falsetto croon and guitar fingerwork all the more head-bob-worthy.
  5. SBTRKTSBTRKT (Young Turks)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Another of London’s up-and-coming producers, Aaron Jerome and his debut are vivid frontiersman of a new sound. SBTRKT’s music employs soca, dem bow riddims, trance, Chicago House and the equally hard-to-define “UK Funky”. (Don’t worry, there’s no witch-house in here). The easiest musical parallel to draw is to Basement Jaxx, whose use of a medley of vocalists is followed here. Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano soulful wail elevates the dubstep of “Wildfire” to another level, while the smokey-voiced Sampha adds his accented croon to half of the tracks on the album.
  6. Toro Y Moi – Underneath The Pine (Carpark)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Chillwave might have been the sound of 2010, but it’s hard to pigeonhole South Carolinean Chaz Bundick into a fad. The tunes of “Causers of This” might have trended towards friend Washed-Out’s blissful vocal washes, but gems like “Low Shoulders” hinted at Bundwick being capable of some good, clean funk. Underneath The Pine doesn’t miss a step, with the wobbly, danceable funk of “New Beat” right at the front of the album. Purpose and percussion are here in plenty, with those chillwave tones taking a back seat but not going away completely. Album standout “Still Sound” is an innocent, funky dream of a love song, with what sounds like a dash of ESG’s “UFO” hiding underneath.
  7. Thundercat – The Golden Age of Apocalypse (Brainfeeder)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Stephen Bruner – the bassist of Suicidal Tendencies – has a jazz album. Scratch that: Stephen Bruner who has played for Flying Lotus, Erykah Badu, Bilal, Snoop Dogg, and anyone who wants one of the best bassists alive – that guy has a jazz album. Completely devoid of irony, Thundercat simply lays down easy-listening jazz, with his own bass acting as a major anchor. The centerpiece of the album is the tandem of “Is It Love?” and “For Love (I Come Your Friend”. The former is a slow lead-up teaser, and the latter is a cover of George Duke and Frank Zappa’s masterpiece of the same name. While the square-goateed one is not laying down his unstoppable guitar work on this cover, there’s no need for a replacement: the percussion is lock-tight, Bruner’s falsetto soars, and his fingers fly across the bass with such beautiful, nasty funk that even Stevie Wonder would raise his sunglasses and blink.
  8. Moss of Aura – Wading (Friends)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    The devastating and powerful rock of Future Islands is irrevocably stamped with the growling tenor of Samuel Herring. But without his presence (and the firm basslines of William Cashion), what’s left? Gerrit Welmers, AKA Moss of Aura, shows that there is addition in subtraction. Completely instrumental, Wading is a collection of Welmers’ beats made in spare time while not on tour with Future Islands. A vaguely tropical, almost cheesy theme connects the album, with a nostalgic postcard feel to everything (no accident, as the album is packaged with a set of five postcards). Simple, unforced, and in eternal repose, the album elicits and suggests relaxation of the highest order.
  9. Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx – We’re New Here (XL)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    A phenomenal story as well as an album, Jamie xx’s debut is a monster effort. Taking the vocals of “I’m New Here”, the young brainchild of The xx handwrote letters to the musical legend, mixing his vocal samples into a dizzying array of dub, dubstep, drum-n’-bass, and a dash of chipmunk soul. Tracks like opener “I’m New Here” demonstrate the full range of Jamie’s production, but the album also holds soft love-letter gems like “My Cloud” in its array. The wobbly and wonky beat of “Ur Soul and Mine” is the prime of several examples where Scott-Heron is almost completely discarded, but finale “I’ll Take Care of U” finds a gorgeous dovetail of the two artist’s unique musical worlds.
  10. Bibio – Mind Bokeh (Warp)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Always a treasure trove of found sounds, warped cassettes, and general hazy bliss, Bibio’s book has more than a page or two borrowed from Boards of Canada. But his most recent records have revealed a more in-focus production aesthetic, none moreso than Mind Bokeh. Opener “Excuses” rises from a subterranean-sounding atmosphere towards a sparsely-backed, acid-tinged vocal, and finally emerging (inexplicably) gracefully as trunk-rattling beat worthy of any freestyle. The middle of the record can be hit or miss, with kitsch getting applied too heavily at times. But the phenomenal “Saint Christopher” wraps things up in a soft-focus, dreamy 4/4 pastoral dance floor monster – a beautiful paradox.

 

Honorable Mentions

  • Junior Boys – It’s All True
    Deerhoof – Deerhoof vs. Evil
    Memory Tapes – Player Piano

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2011

Patrick Masterson writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2011 (Patrick Masterson)

Throughout December CHIRP Radio presents its members’ top albums of 2011. The next list is from DJ and Music Director Patrick Masterson.

(Click here to get the complete list of CHIRP Radio members’ picks.)

  1. Disappears – Live at Echo Canyon (Plustapes)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    It seemed obvious after listening to Guider that Disappears are, perhaps strangely, at their very best on live cassette. Only their two Plustapes releases in 2008’s Live Over the Rainbo and this relatively short release from New Jersey capture the same sort of ruthless intensity that their live shows always betray. Lower fidelity suits their gritty nature, this the best example yet of why listening to the band is so important. I’m almost wishing the arrival of Pre Language in March wasn’t so soon. Almost.
  2. Various Artists – Bangs & Works Vol. 2: The Best of Chicago Footwork (Planet Mu)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    Last year’s first Bangs & Works compilation was a revelation I wished I’d heard in full before submitting my 2010 list, but nobody’s perfect, and anyway, this is the more listenable of the two. A few Mortal Kombat samples here, a few R&B/soul samples there (Young Smoke’s “Wouldn’t Get Far” is the standout), and more than a few of the ankle-breaking beats you’ve come to expect from footwork’s birthplace. We’re really lucky to be living this right now.
  3. DJ Diamond – Flight Muzik (Planet Mu)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    If the Bangs & Works compilations are a good starting point for footwork, I see DJ Diamond’s Flight Muzik as the next logical step beyond the source material, the raw data. There are tons of footwork artists (or people who think they are, anyway), but it’s not always the point that they make it listenable; Diamond’s great feat on Flight Muzik (aside from the coolly understated album cover) is making a footwork LP that actually sounds like it’s suited for the form. Surprisingly listenable for a genre that thrives on confrontational twists and turns more than passive 4/4 head-nodding.
  4. blink. – The Architects (Whistler)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    This album took up a fair amount of my listening in the early part of the summer. Really enjoyable record front to back, mostly because it went beyond merely cycling through the motions of jazz ages past; this is a thoroughly modern record that suits our city’s famous improv scene. From the the electronic eye winks that kick off “Protect From Light (I)” to the choir of “The Secret Life of Quiz Shows,” this one’s a can’t-miss.
  5. Indian – Guiltless (Relapse)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    I think I complain about how much I miss the “old” Mastodon pretty much every year as a warm-up for expressing my gratitude to bands like Indian for existing, carrying on Remission’s forgotten promise. Guiltless surpasses the power of their earlier EPs and makes for the most brutishly sludgy album I heard this year. With Sanford Parker’s prowess behind the boards on full display, this LP duly rewarded Relapse’s support with dope-smoking doom par excellence.
  6. Mannequin Men – Mannequin Men (Addenda)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    This dropped right in the middle of a three- or four-week period of exemplary local records (Netherfriends, Russian Circles, Heavy Times, JC Brooks, on and on it went), so it actually took me more time to get to than I’d originally expected. Maybe I was just saving the best for last, though: Memorable moments like “Cheryl Tiegs” and “Enough” grabbed hold and made me remember what I’ve loved about these guys from the first time I heard them years ago on Fresh Rot. Incredibly addicting rock n’ roll.
  7. Implodes – Black Earth (kranky)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    One of Chicago’s darkest records this year (in case the silhouette holding a knife on the cover didn’t give it away), my clearest memory is playing the distant, haunting “Oxblood” alone late in the studio late one night and being unable to shake its vibe for the rest of my show. “Oxblood” on loop, that’s all that was going on in my head. But any of these songs could’ve done the same thing to you, such is Black Earth’s trance-like seductiveness. A nice companion to their distinctively separate live show.
  8. L.E.P. Bogus Boys – Now or Neva (self-released)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    It’s funny to me that these guys opened up for Drake, A$AP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar on a recent Club Paradise tour stop considering how much more experienced they are in the rap game and how much more mature they sound on a mixtape as good as Now or Neva than… any of those kids, really. “Amerikkka’s Worst Nightmare” is a foreboding start without sounding cheesy, and the entirety of the tape supplies a steady stream of serious bass and blow talk. Grittiest mixtape from the City of Win this year.
  9. JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound – Want More (Bloodshot)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    This band is too good at what they do to be from this decade, but lo, here they are, living and breathing the sounds of Numero Group’s lifeblood. Best part is that you don’t have to do any digging; they’re right here in front of us, delivering the truth one sterling soul gem at a time. The only thing that made it less than convincing was the incredibly crisp recording quality. The implications of needing poorer fidelity to enhance the listening experience reach far beyond what this paragraph is capable of sustaining, but the point is that it’s not the band’s fault. They’re more than holding up their end of the bargain.
  10. Heavy Times – Jacker (HoZac)
    BUY: Insound / iTunes
    As any listener can tell you, nasty garage is one of CHIRP’s cornerstones. Few bands excelled at this well-trod path in 2011 quite like Heavy Times. The agitated, occasionally flat-out rancorous Jacker wasted no time getting to the point on “Motionless Drift” – about as inaccurate a song title as you could find this year – then proceeded to burn through 11 more roughened pop diamonds en route to one of the year’s better aural assaults. Don’t miss it.

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2011

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