Some Stuff We Liked in 2011 (Part 1 of 2)
As anyone who has read my columns knows, I'm not a big fan of the way music journalism typically works. My annoyance extends to Top Ten lists, which tend only to be a good metric of what was popular last year, rather than recognizing what really stood out as far as albums that will stand the test of time (that sort of thing involves waiting to see where the music world progresses past December). I feel like Top Tens don't mean anything unless you know the journalist's tastes and preferences, and even then it's only useful if those tastes line up with your own. So this year, rather than making a list of my "favorite" albums of 2011, I figured I'd just highlight albums I thought people might like to listen to, then I'd talk about why I think they're cool, topped off with some meaningless superlatives. - Daryl "Fucking" Hall (this is his page of recommendations)
Best Album to Get Your Instrument-Snob Friend into Hip-Hop:
Death Grips, Ex Military
I bet you thought this category would be for the Roots. Well, joke's on you, I picked something interesting instead! The Roots are the vanguard for hip-hop exceptionism - because they use live instruments, rock fans love giving them a pass. Death Grips use lots of samples, which means your asshole friend might start going on about how it's not "real music." But Zach Hill's drumming is live, and because Hill is a legend with rock-nerds, your friend won't want to talk shit about him. Plus, what he does here is actually pretty cool. While I think his drumming can be a bit overbearing in a rock setting, it translates really well to hip-hop, with crazy bass drums all over the place, replacing the admittedly repetitive spacing of beats in a lot of contemporary hip-hop. Oh, and they sample Black Flag, too. That'll probably shut that dude up.
Most Deceptive Résumé Award:
Dub Trio, IV
So you've heard about this group Dub Trio and you look 'em up - they've played backup for Common, Tupac, and The Fugees. So, you assume when you put the new record on, it's going to be kinda spacey, pretty roots-y dub with maybe a few dudes rapping over their stuff. You'd be very, very wrong. What Dub Trio delivers is somewhere between metal and live electronic dance music, and they seem interested with exploring pretty much everything that's on the spectrum of "between" there. Their new album, IV, jumps around a lot - "Ends Justify the Means" sounds like the least-busy American dubstep track in the world, while "Swarm" is incredibly heavy riffy metal - but that results in an album that keeps you guessing without feeling inconsistent.
"This Isn't Skrillex!" Award
Everyone has someone in their family who has terrible taste in music, whether it's the little brother whose crabcore band practices in the basement every Sunday, or the aunt who is just really into the Black Eyed Peas, so chances are everyone reading this list has heard a "dubstep" track at least once. Similarly, most people have at least one friend who is a total fucking dickwad about what [any genre] actually is (here's a hint: if you can't think of that friend, it's probably you). Maybe they give long lectures about how emo was started back in the '80s and haven't you read Our Band Could Be Your Life, or they wax poetic (no pun intended) about the difference between hip-hop and rap, when all you can think about is how they should just shut the fuck up.
Well, let me play that position for just one second (because I'm on the internet and obviously have credentials) and tell you that Skrillex shit is nothing like what they call dubstep in London. 2562's Fever will nail that into your skull in half a track. There are no wobbles or air-siren drops here, just a guy, an MPC, and a bunch of old disco records. It's atmospheric and challenging, for sure, but the way that he patches together bits and pieces to create something that is so obviously an extension of disco without just aping from it is mind-boggling at times.
Time Travellin' Award
The People's Temple, Sons of Stone
I'll admit that, on one level, a record that recreates a sound from decades ago probably shouldn't be worth noting on a list like this. They're derivative and, like the recent soul revival, often don't breathe new life into their influences. But I really, really like Sons of Stone. It's hard to turn on the record, awash in reverb and feedback, and not think of the 13th Floor Elevators, but there's an intensity in this record I never felt listening to that band. Maybe it's the production (much heavier on the bass than recordings from the '60s), or maybe it's just that People's Temple music moves a bit faster than anything the 13th Floor Elevators ever did, but I think that dismissing the music as simply aping from another band that so clearly influences them doesn't give them enough credit. Plus, it's nice to hear music that uses reverb to add another dimension to their music, instead of relying on it to cover up boring songwriting.
What You're Getting Your Dad For His Birthday:
Satellite High, The Dad Rock EP
If you're at all familiar with Satellite High's work, you know the butt of the joke isn't the music itself, but the weird ideas behind it. This isn't comedy because of a few funny lines or because it's novel that Rodney Dangerfield is rapping; it's comedy because the entire concept is so well executed that it's easy to forget the joke and just let the lyrics wash over you. At the very least, this album is worth noting because it's one of the few things I've ever heard that elicits laughs while still being musically interesting enough to merit play after play after play. Check it out on Spotify for sure!