For the best albums in 2011, SF Critic will highlight each of our staff’s picks, rather than an accumulative 25, 50, 1,000 best album list.
I always tell people I started writing this blog because I wanted to be like that kid in Almost Famous. Three years later, and while I still haven’t been published in Rolling Stone, I still am determined and happy to continue with SF Critic. It’s amazing each year looking back on the different bands we’ve met, watched evolve, and the stories we have covered. I’m still collecting all the ticket stubs from the concerts I attend to eventually make a collage I can show to my kids. I had never been to a music festival before this blog. I was too broke (one of the few great perks of blogging is festival tickets). I may not be almost famous, but I am damn well sure that I’ve made a small dent thanks to you, our readers, the wonderful staff we’ve worked with, and the people we’ve met. Thank you all. Here are just a few of my picks (by going on Friday, the rest of the staff have already written about some of my other picks–*cough* Patrick!).
STRFKR – Reptialians
If there was any album I listened to constantly it was this. Like their previous album, Reptilians was drenched in synth chords that bubbled over subdued vocals. But with Reptilians mastermind Josh Hodges progressed as song writer and composer, taking the comparable songs like “Ronald Gregory Erickson The Second” and shrouding them in dark euphoric tones with hollow and gritty drum patterns on “Bury Us Alive,” or “Born.” What I love about STRFKR, and bands similar, is they give you the option to do two things, either embrace the titillating rhythms and dance-pop structures or carefully listen to weighted lyrics like “love or forget the sun, I’ll be your dream tonight,” on “Mona Vegas.”
Amidst the hazy lyrics, the confusion surrounding the band’s name, Hodges continues to educate listeners with morbid samples from philosopher Alan Watts like “Everybody should in their lifetime do two things. One is to consider death. To observe skulls and skeletons and wonder what it would be like to go to sleep and never wake up. Never” from the song, “Mystery Clouds.” And whether you’re tripped out by the profound quotes, the sensational melodies, or slurred lyrics–you clearly can’t dislike Reptilians if you enjoyed their self-titled debut.
Highlights include: “Mona Vegas, “Bury Us Alive,” and “Reptilians”[audio: http://www.box.net/shared/static/jr6fa71jk1.mp3]
The Weeknd, born Abel Tesfaye, came literally out of nowhere (Canada). House Of Balloons was this anomaly album in a year that heralded indie. The new age R&B combined the best of Ginuwine with Jodeci with the undertones of Nirvana. From the album’s start with “High For This” the album plays like an overly sexual drug binge full of regret and remorse. It’s fitting that Drake seemed to be the spark plug behind the R&B singer’s career, as the two artists styles compliment each other well. Drake sings about loving and getting with girls. The Weeknd sings about the parties and regret the morning after.
Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, the follow up EP Thursday that was released later in the year was not nearly as good. It appears that already, based on some of his newer stuff, he’s moving towards a more PG-13.
Highlights include: “The Morning,” “Wicked Games,” “What You Need,” “The Knowing”[audio: http://www.box.com/shared/static/oxmk5eirc3s09su10zad.mp3 | Titles=The Weeknd “The Morning”
Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra
While everyone barked, balked, and beckoned at Odd Future for their raunchy and intense (or horrific) lyrics, out from behind the curtains appeared Frank Ocean the polished R&B singer that didn’t threaten to kill white bitches. Nostalgia: Ultra is a well conceived pop album with boyish romance and mature sensibility. That sounds strange doesn’t it? Where “Novacane” and “Strawberry Swing” are like pubescent romance tales, “We All Try” and “Songs For Women” were words of guidance about personal growth and women’s rights. Like The Weeknd, Frank Ocean went from a promising talent to getting featured twice on Jay Z and Kanye’s Watch The Throne (that’s more than Bon Iver ever got).
Highlights include: “Novacane,” “We All Try,” “Songs For Women,” “Strawberry Swing.” and “Swim Good”
[audio: http://www.box.com/shared/static/xfrkqrqvirrh5bs5xs6b.mp3 | titles=Frank Ocean – Novacane]
Active Child – You Are All I See
Listening to Active Child can make someone feel more sophisticated in the same way that looking at man smoking a pipe in a dark parlor would make one think he’s a dapper chap. The added echoing effect on Pat Grossi’s vocals creates a chant like reverberation that coupled with his harp playing reminds me of classical Baroque music or what I’d imagine the music was like at a Grecian party. But lyrically Active Child, who writes about love, heartache, and relationships, sounds wooingly like an R&B singer on tracks like “Playing House” where he sings, “Don’t wanna be in love just with anybody / I’m tired of being just Mr. Anybody / So baby come with me and lets just make a body.” It’s a deadly combination of seduction and sophistication that any fan of Bon Iver or Frank Ocean, should willingly give themselves to.
Highlights include: “Playing House,” “High Priestess,” and “Diamond Heart”[audio: http://www.box.net/shared/static/xfbv5h7exbciyfdst0hg.mp3 | titles=Active Child – Playing House]
The Roots – Undun
Putting The Roots on an end of the year list is similar to adding Radiohead–people expect it. But Undun could not be expected. Who would have foresaw The Roots deriving an album based on a Sufjan Steven’s song. Who would have known that by labeling the album a “concept album” the band would finally receive the recognition long overdue. Don’t call this thought rap, or intelligent hip hop, call this music with purpose. The Roots have, and always will, create music that touches on the elements of story-telling hip hop embedded in rhythms of jazz and soul. It’s why so many people point to them as the epitome of underground hip hop–the true artists. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been until this album, with the exception of Things Fall Apart and Phrenology that the group has received such unanimous adoration. Thank the paycheck from Jimmy Fallon, whatever you will, it’s about time that The Roots receive the popular respect they deserve.
Highlights: The whole album.