Top 25 Jazz Discoveries of 2011

Top 25 Jazz Discoveries of 2011

Posted by: on Dec 31, 2011 | Comments (1)

I’m constantly finding great, older jazz albums at record stores, but I don’t always have much reason, or time, to write about them. Hence, each year I pick out the best ones that moved me the most, and compile my top jazz discoveries of the year. (Here are the lists from 2009 and 2010.)

Jazz is an incredible, fertile soil, and I can’t imagine I’ll ever stop digging for new inspiration. Scattered throughout are links to the music via YouTube or mp3 blogs; I hope you’ll click around and find something you like. Better yet, hit up your local used record store. Or even better, go see some live jazz here and here!


Sam Rivers – Fuchsia Swing Song

Sam Rivers died the day after Christmas, and I did what any music nerd does: pulled out the recently deceased’s music to listen to it anew. This was Rivers’ first date as a leader, and along with hearing it with the hindsight of his death, it’s a thrill to hear knowing what he accomplished afterward in the avant-garde. Here Rivers is more “in,” as if he knew he was recording for Blue Note and not ESP, and it yields his blissful masterpiece, “Beatrice.” Jaki Byard, Ron Carter and Tony Williams clutch the reins with casual care; this was 1964, and the horses had not been unleashed just yet. I found this at Groove Yard Records in Oakland, and though I was familiar with Sam Rivers, I’d owned no albums of his as a leader. Of course, once he died, I realized he was all over my record collection on albums by Dave Holland, Andrew Hill and Tony Williams. And also…

Bobby Hutcherson – Dialogue

There’s not a vibist in the world quite like Bobby Hutcherson, who straddled the inside-outside thing just as his instrument straddles percussion and tonality. This is a great band that needs no saddle, including the great Andrew Hill on piano and on drums, Joe Chambers, who in a rarity for drummers contributes two compositions. Sam Rivers shines on this album, and though Freddie Hubbard is nice on tracks like the 3/4 “Idle While,” you can hear the spectre of Rivers’ influence all over this album. Kid was from Boston, had just worked with Miles Davis. Of course they were paying attention to him. Like most albums on this list, I picked it up at the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa.

Charles Tolliver – Live at Slug’s Vol. 1

I saw Andrew Hill with a band that included Charles Tolliver at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, in 2006. It was a performance that has only gotten better in my memory, and if by chance Jim Bennett from KCSM’s ‘In the Moment’ comes across this post—Jim, I’d die to have a copy of the live recording. That night, Charles Tolliver was indescribably good—and I took note. I’d come across a Live in Tokyo album, but this live recording is the stuff dreams are made of—serene, thoughtful, nuanced and alive. The songs are elastic, with implied rhythm. Here’s the group with Stanley Cowell a year after this album was recorded; “Orientale” apparently gained fire over the course of 12 months. (Groove Yard)

Kenny Burrell – Asphalt Canyon Suite

Why this 1969 record isn’t heralded as Burrell’s masterpiece is a mystery. Side One is a suite of instantly gripping thematic jazz, airy and moody, which can stand up against the best modal / atmospheric releases of all time. Even stranger, the record was produced by Johnny Pate, who worked with the Impressions and B.B. King, and scored Shaft in Africa. You’d think he’d force a more upbeat hand here, but check out “Alone in the City” and stroke those chinhairs. Unfortunately the rest isn’t on YouTube, and the album isn’t in print. Burrell never played like this before, and never did afterward; if you ever come across this LP, snatch it up. (Last Record Store)

Sun Ra – On Jupiter

Sun Ra and his Arkestra, with their El Saturn label, were indie pioneers: they’d order small-run pressings of their lo-fi records, hand-write song titles on the blank labels, and decorate the album jackets themselves, on the bus, driving to the next show. This was in the 1960s, though—not the aughts. If you ever see one of these handmade Sun Ra LPs, you’re looking at something very rare, so pick it up while you have the chance. I found this while on a lull in my Sun Ra listening, and my obsession subsequently resurged. “Even the disco song is good” is not something I ever expected to say about a Sun Ra record, but this was recorded the same year as his terrific Lanquidity, and there was something in the air. (Groove Yard)

Neal Creque – Creque

This record is the reason I received a text message this year reading “I just shit my pants.” Any hip-hop head knows this cover design from People Under the Stairs, and when I found it I couldn’t help but send a photo to my friend Matt. I expected drumbreaks galore—especially since Billy Butler is on guitar—but instead got some completely stunning compositions like “Years of Regret” and “Cease the Bombing.” If you only hear one song off this LP, make it “Rafiki,” and let the bassline carry you through the rest of the day. Scored this along with a ton of great cassettes at Vinyl Planet in Petaluma. Thanks, Phil.

Kohske Mine Quintet – Daguri

What is known about Kosuke Mine? Not much, if you ask me. I came across his debut album on Three Blind Mice a few years ago in a revelatory batch of Japanese jazz LPs, and loved it to pieces, but never saw anything else. There’s so much invention on this album that I think I could listen to it 20 times and never fully comprehend it. There are liner notes in Japanese. If anyone knows Japanese and wants to translate them for me, and unlock the mystery of Kohske Mine, a.k.a. Kosuke Mine, I’d be much obliged. (Here he is in 2010 playing very straight, with the same drummer from this 1973 date, Hiroshi Murakami.) Another Groove Yard find.

Stan Getz – and the Oscar Peterson Trio

Sometimes gold just sits under your nose for half a lifetime and you never recognize it. Though I’m not inclined to avoid Verve, like other jazz fans I know, their releases tend to have a bit of a pedestrian, razzle-dreadful “hey, look, this is jazz!” element. The interplay on this date is phenomenal, and if it’s showy then who cares—I can’t believe the sense of fun and elation on every single track. (Here’s “I Want to Be Happy“). Oscar Peterson and Stan Getz had great mainstream success separately, and pairing them together at just the right time in their careers was a serendipitous idea that yielded a perfect jazz record. (Last Record Store)

Howard Roberts – Antelope Freeway

What in the hell was Howard Roberts thinking? An in-demand Los Angeles session player, Roberts had recorded some grit-and-sweat jazz sides (H.R. is a Dirty Guitar Player) and some standard mainstream offerings (Whatever’s Fair!) for Capitol Records, but nothing that comes remotely close to this. Antelope Freeway is a psychedelic melange of sound effects, grungy music and spoken-word, and likely had even the hip execs at Impulse Records scratching their heads. The Beatles’ “Revolution #9″ opened a lot of doors in music, many leading to nowhere, but deep tracks like “That’s America Fer Ya” and “Five Gallons of Astral Flash Could Keep You Awake for Thirteen Weeks” show that this one’s worth its weight in weirdness. (Last Record Store)

Peter Brotzmann Octet – Machine Gun

Lord almighty, if ever an album lived up to its name, this is it. Recorded in 1968, Machine Gun sounds like… well, a machine gun, firing rapidly and without pause. Eight Germans, 1968, under the influence of who knows what. I’ve been looking for this for years, and finally the label Slowboy reissued it this year, with an incredible thick sleeve and three-color silkscreen cover. Brotzmann is capable of making the most irritating music of all time, and the way the rest of the band takes his lead here on the title track is like a roller coaster tippling sideways on the rails. Ordered online from the label.

Connie Russell – Don’t Smoke In Bed

Admittedly, I bought it for the cover. But Russell is a nice, husky singer, and this is a very nice set of unaffected jazz singing; mp3 access here. “Lonely Town,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” “Angel Eyes,” “You’re My Thrill” and plenty more here make it a good listen on the late-night. Most people reading this who have once smoked in bed now don’t, so take a minute to remember how nice it was. (Online)

Monk Montgomery – Bass Odyssey

“Hey, let’s just go out in the desert and take the photo. I’ll bring my amp. Who cares if the sun’s going down.” Monk Montgomery was one of the Montgomery Brothers, and recording an album as a leader, as an electric jazz bassist, was unheard of back then. This is on Chiasa Records, a label owned by Hugh Masekela, and Masekela obviously gave his artists a lot of freedom. There’s some really fun, effects-laden largesse going on in the grooves of this supremely gloppy album. Here’s “Foxy Gypsy,” and “Fuselage.” Traded off of Matt the Friendly DJ.

Jaki Byard – Sunshine of My Soul

What a terrible record cover. Just look at it. A charcoal drawing of Jaki Byard, with a face contorted as if he’s on the toilet, inside a sunflower. Ironically, this is one of my favorite Jaki Byard records ever. I’ll let the handwritten ballpoint notes on the back cover from the previous owner speak for me: “‘Sunshine’ – far out but real gd; ‘Cast Away’ – far out & ok, slow; ‘Chandra’ – good!; ‘St. Louis Blues’ – weird but ok/gd; ‘Diane’s Melody’ – strange intro, rest nice; ‘Trendsition Zildjian‘ – far far out!” (Groove Yard)

Gene Harris – AstralSignal

Forget everything you know about Gene Harris, leader of the Three Sounds. In 1975, Harris went on some serious mind exploration and came up with a psychedelic conception of jazz that’s a blast to experience. It starts with a reverb-heavy prelude that sounds like a piano being dragged by a Mack truck, and then the declaration: “WELCOME. I AM EUGENE, WIZARD OF THE UNIVERSE. COME WITH ME TO OUR UNIVERSE OF LOVE, BEAUTY, AND OTHER FUNKY THINGS. IT’S TIME TO FEEL THE MAGIC.” You want to pick only one song? “Losalamitoslatinfunklovesong“—enjoy. (Last Record Store)

Anne Phillips – Born to Be Blue

When I hear this record I can’t help but think of soldiers overseas being sent music from back home in America. There were plenty of “Lonely Girl”-style LPs released in the late 50s, when we weren’t in a major war, but the idea is there. This was 1959, a banner year for jazz and jazz vocals, and it captures something special. Here’s the title track. (Last Record Store)

Richard Davis – The Philosophy of the Spiritual

It’s really hard to record jazz cello. Oscar Pettiford did it, and also Ray Brown (but then, Ray Brown could do anything). It’s even harder to bow an arco bass with high notes to sound like a cello. The great Richard Davis has an enormous discography and now teaches a classical approach, but when this record was recorded I’m not sure he was adroit at mimicking the higher register of a cello on his bowed bass. Nonetheless, there’s a Gunther Schuller-like atmosphere here that I love, and the compositions here are really cool—most of them are by Bill Lee, Spike Lee’s father. Bears repeated listens. (Last Record Store)

Andre Previn – Let’s Get Away From it All

Bouncy, fun piano that always reminds me of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Previn’s My Fair Lady album with Shelly Manne is the classic, and Andre Previn Plays Gershwin is another early highpoint, but it’s hard to go wrong with the collection of songs here. Nothing groundbreaking, just good, compact tunes. (Last Record Store)

Saracho – En Medio

At first glance I assumed this would be like that Luis Gasca record on Blue Thumb you see pretty often at Bay Area record shops—Latin-tinged jazz-rock. But instead, this is a Pharaoh Sanders-esque outing by a bunch of L.A. musicians, led by Gary Saracho, about whom not much is known. He plays some incredible electric piano, though, and Lawrence Higgins has some nice ideas on the sax. The arrangements are schizophrenic, jumping from one section to the next, like on “Sunday’s Church.” A dense bit of unknown history. (Last Record Store)

Mel Brown – Mel Brown’s Fifth

Mel brown is a guitarist who played with the great Bobby “Blue” Bland, and whose very blues-based debut album on Impulse, Chicken Fat, gets all the acclaim. That’s very misguided, as Mel Brown’s Fifth is so clearly the superior, down-and-dirty title. Just listen to the first track, “Time for a Change”. That‘s the way an album should kick off! “Good Stuff” follows, and if you think you’re in a sample paradise, you’re not wrong. Poor Righteous Teachers, Spice 1 and the Pharcyde all sampled this album. A beast. Thanks to Phil Jiggins for this one.

The Charles Moffett Family – Vol. 1

The first time I saw Charnett Moffett, he was playing with McCoy Tyner, Pharaoh Sanders, Ravi Coltrane and Eric Harland at Yoshi’s in Oakland in 2004. It was truly one of the most unforgettable shows of my life, and I especially remember Moffett—leaning his bass back low, attacking the strings, bowing vigorously and playing perfectly off of Harland. Imagine my surprise when years later I found this LP, a private pressing of ‘The Charles Moffett Family,’ featuring an eight-year-old Charnett on trumpet and bass. He obviously came from a rich musical family; this record is far, far better than I imagined it’d be, and sounds like it could have been released on Strata-East, no problem. Found at Fatty’s Threads in Santa Rosa.

Dick Schory’s New Percussion Ensemble – Music for Bang Baaroom and Harp

Sure, it’s pre-written, and I doubt any of it is improvised in the jazz idiom, but this is no regular orchestral music. It was recorded in 1958 in a giant concert hall, and there are a TON of drums. “Biggest Battery of Percussion West of Cape Canaveral,” it says. They even use a manifold from a 1946 Chevrolet as a percussion instrument. No joke. There’s some technical data in the notes, about using an Ampex three-track and as few Telefunken microphones as possible “rather than the easy but treacherous add-another-mike-for-what-you-don’t-hear approach,” and they thank the “man who kept pumping coffee into us for the two days we didn’t see daylight.” A real hoot. (Vinyl Planet)

Mary Ann McCall – Detour to the Moon

She got it, Mary Ann McCall did—the idea of selling an idea in a song and really conveying something instead of just singing words. Jubilee Records got the idea of selling records as well as ideas, and so came up with the gimmick of an album full of songs about the moon—”I Wished on the Moon,” “Moonglow,” “Moonlight Becomes You,” “No Moon at All,” etc. The idea inspired Verve to release Mel Tormé’s forgettable Swingin’ on the Moon two years later, but unlike that dull outing, Detour to the Moon is fantastic. Mary Ann McCall only released one LP after this, and her career fizzled; she went on to pour drinks at a dive nude-dancing bar in Hollywood in the 1970s. They say she had addiction problems, and before she died she was relegated to singing in the airport lounge at LAX. Crazy. (Last Record Store)

Yusef Lateef – The Doctor is In… And Out

If you get overwhelmed by his large output and can’t commit to either the early Prestige years or the later Impulse years, how about this what-the-hell hodgepodge of funk-inspired zaniness? You’ll get standard ’70s stuff like “Mushmouth,” exotic flute vehicles like “The Improvisers,” and a synthesized sound collage in the form of “Technological Homosapien.” Strangely, the album ends with a sampled barbershop quartet recording of “In a Little Spanish Town“; Lateef solos between phrases, as if playing along to a 78 in his living room. It’s kind of cool. (Last Record Store)

Moacir Santos – Maestro

Santos was a bona fide legend in Brazil when Blue Note signed him, yet a total unknown in the U.S., so of course he had to open his American debut with his most famous composition,”Nana.” He even preceded it by personally introducing himself in the track’s opening vamp. You won’t find simple “Girl From Ipanema” bossa nova here; the music is complex, yet distinctly Brazilian. Exhibit A: “Kermis.” (Last Record Store)

Paul Smith – Delicate Jazz

Paul Smith’s other dates seem to pay tribute to Tatum, demonstrating dizzying technique and fancy flourishes. Delicate Jazz is on Capitol Records, is borderline Champagne background music, and yet I keep playing it over and over. There’s nothing wrong with some simple calming trio stuff from a guy with a very plain Anglo-Saxon name. Found in the dollar bin at Amoeba SF.

Eddie Harris – Instant Death

A dramatic cover photo, but the music isn’t somber or moody. Ronald Muldrow is great on “Little Wes,” and the title track is pretty nuts. You’ll recognize a Digable Planets sample from “Superfluous” that was used on “What Cool Breezes Do,” from Reachin‘. Probably my favorite Eddie Harris record, even though this is definitely my favorite Eddie Harris cover art—and title. A good one for the New Year’s Resolutioners out there. (Last Record Store)

…About Those Top 25 Albums of 2011

…About Those Top 25 Albums of 2011

Posted by: on Dec 18, 2011 | Comments (2)

1. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l (4AD)

When I first heard tUnE-yArDs’ w h o k i l l, I was so flabbergasted that I could report my findings only in abstract poetry form. With a ukelele, a drum kit, a fantastic bassist in the form of Nate Brenner and a total command of loop pedals, Merrill Garbus has made a record that’s both daring, accessible, and fully enjoyable. Like Joanna Newsom revolutionized the harp and PJ Harvey rethought the autoharp, Garbus is probably spurring a boost in ukelele sales nationwide; what can’t be packaged is her incredible, malleable voice, which is sweet and cooing one minute and a roar from another world the next. Variety is the spice of w h o k i l l: There are grinding, horn-heavy jams like “Bizness,” and there are slow, beautiful ruminations on love, like “Powa,” with a breathtaking upper-register ending. Thematically, the record takes on a tortured society, from a refutation of modern America to violence, police brutality and empowerment. I saw tUnE-yArDs twice in 2011, and talked to Garbus briefly. (She told me “Santa Rosa isn’t piddly.”) I also played this record over and over and over and over and over and over.

2. Death Grips – Ex-Military (Third Worlds)

The Easy Listeningification of Everything was probably the defining thread of 2011. Last year’s chillwave mellowness permeated not just wispy rock hits from bands like Real Estate, Toro Y Moi and Washed Out, but it snored its way into hip-hop as well. Musically, Drake’s Take Care is just a couple steps away from new age, and Frank Ocean, sprung from the usually abrasive group Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, wowed critics (and Beyoncé) with a smooth, synth-ed out semi-R&B record, Nostalgia, Ultra. This Prozac-esque trend owes in part to three years of Lil’ B, the Oakland rapper from The Pack who released an album this year called I’m Gay, and whose Rain In England LP, heavy on rhythmless synthesizers, was released by the experimental noise label Weird Forest. (Going further back, one could tip the hat to Jay Electronica, who in 2007 released “Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge),” a 9-minute track of rapping, with no drums at all, over the incidental score from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.)

All this lead-up is to say that I got tired of hearing rap music that wasn’t fucking rap music in 2011, and Death Grips’ Ex-Military was the perfect antidote to the annoying trend of blissed-out navelgazing in hip-hop. Led by the maniacal MC Ride and powered by Hella drummer Zach Hill, the album is one ferocious eruption of angry ideas after another, shouted recklessly over samples from the likes of Jane’s Addiction and Link Wray. The group’s videos are skittish, diseased and terrifying. Hip-hop in 2011 mostly said, “I’m cool, thanks.” Ex-Military said fuck you.

3. EMA – Past Life Modern Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

Another pitfall of music in 2011 was dull oversharing. Menial details of one’s life do not a deep statement make, but plenty of artists (and Facebook users) thought otherwise. EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints is an album by Erika M. Anderson, who realizes life is not poetry unless you make of it something different and eloquent. You might not think as much from an album that opens with the lines “When you see that ship / It is the ship you can see,” but hang in there, I promise. “I wish that every time he touched me left a mark,” Anderson repeats on “Marked,” sounding like an Exile in Guyville Liz Phair; “20 kisses with a butterfly knife” reads like a cast-off lyric from Tom Waits’ Blue Valentine. There’s blood, jealousy, disappointment and revenge, especially in the fantastic semi-spoken “California,” a masterful hypotenuse between Patti Smith and PJ Harvey. Live in San Francisco, EMA was all sorts of likable awkwardness—if you’re into real human beings trying to be real human beings in front of a crowd of strangers, against the odds, she is fantastic. If you are not, you will probably say it feels like a therapy session.

4. Jamie XX – We’re New Here [Instrumentals] (XL)

I remained apathetic to the universally loved 2010 debut album by The XX (except that beautiful intro!), and this year did not jump out of my seat for a Gil-Scott Heron remix record by Jamie XX, We’re New Here. Intermittent “old soul” voice samples in electronic music = kind of 1999, but in the limited-edition box set released for Record Store Day, there was a separate disc of the instrumentals. I played them, and played them, and played them. Each time, the sonorous bass kicking in during “I’m New Here” was like a drip of morphine; the insistent wiggle and menacing handclap of “Running” always put me in an imaginary heist movie. This BBC Essential Mix on Soundcloud gives you an idea of the thoughts running through Jamie XX’s brain; download and escape.

5. Givers – In Light (Glassnote)

When making these lists, I have to consider records that just plain make me happy. Sometimes those records shoot to the top of the list, like in 2007, with the Cribs’ Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever. This year the “always makes me happy” award goes to Givers’ In Light. Critics may have pointed out that it sounds a lot like a Vampire Weekend / Dirty Projectors hybrid, but there is an effervescence to this record that I cannot deny. I mean, the first song is called “Up Up Up”! If I were to pick a perfect single of the year, “Saw You First” would be a contender—just a sweet-sailing, high-kicking love song that hits all the right notes. Really, listen to it. There are mega-epic “rock moments” all over the record, the songs are a senior thesis in perfect arrangement, and goddamn if Tiffany Lamson and Taylor Guarisco’s voices aren’t a lovely blend.

6. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (Self-Released)

I’ve tried in the past to contain these lists to legit physical releases, but with more and more artists self-releasing via free download, I wave the white flag—five titles on my 2011 list began life as free online offerings. The Weeknd’s House of Balloons was posted online in the early part of the year, and it might win the award for broadest appeal. The Weeknd is Abel Tesfaye, an Ethiopian-Canadian R&B singer who bathes in dramatic lust; if you’ve ever wondered what might happen if The-Dream loved Siouxsie and the Banshees, here’s your answer. More about mood than songwriting, House of Balloons is a successful straddle between indie, R&B and pop, and its intrigue and atmosphere transfer a regular late night into something gripping and sexual; a regular morning into something laden with regret and haze.

7. Clams Casino – Instrumentals (Type)

“Lil’ B songs are better without Lil’ B,” a friend told me recently, and such subtraction leaves Clams Casino’s Instrumentals. Casino is from Jersey, makes beats that fit in to the 2011 aesthetic of laze, and has worked with A$AP Rocky and Mac Miller and maybe Drake but he’s not saying. He always sounds better on his own, and Instrumentals—originally a download, eventually released on 2LP by Type Records—skirts into an astral plane and deserves attention without clamoring for it. Seek it out if you can; he’s definitely on the rise.

8. Odd Bird – Smith (PCL)

Some albums don’t hit at first pass; you have to turn them inside out. In the case of Odd Bird’s Smith, I took the literal interpretation of this idea. First, I bent the gatefold LP backward and inside-out so that this excellent photo by Sara Sanger would be the “front” cover. Then, I began playing it starting on Side C instead of Side A. Both adjustments turned a decent local release into a year-end winner. Taut tunes, animal imagery, harmonies between Ashley Allred and Judah Nagler that are in the clouds, plenty of guest musicians, and songs that pay rent in your head.

9. Kreng – Grimoire (Miasmah)

Remember all that complaining about synthesizers, a lack of drums, and langour infecting all genres? An irony to The Easy Listeningification of Everything in 2011 is that much of it is imported from the so-called “noise” scene. (See: Oneohtrix Point Never.) I admit that I overdosed on noise in 2010, and try as I did to escape the genre’s clutches in 2011, certain artists grabbed me and would not let go. Kreng’s Grimoire is an Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack updated for the 21st century—it lulls, then slashes, and slashes hard. Aside from Bernard Herrmann’s music for Obsession, I have never been so downright terrified listening to a record . Here’s a Soundcloud; good luck making it out unscathed.

10. Amon Tobin – Isam (Ninja Tune)

There was a streak there where I was waiting for Amon Tobin to make a substandard album. It came with The Foley Room, an experiment in field recording and sound manipulation that fell flat. But with Amon Tobin’s Isam, the Brazilian-born DJ makes a pummeling, bombastic case for longevity. (Back in 1997, who would have predicted that Ninja Tune’s boy upstart would one day overtake DJ Shadow?) Everything Tobin does is interesting, but Isam is cohesive, and ranks up there with Supermodified and Out From Out Where.

11. That Ghost – Songs Out Here (TwoSyllable)

That Ghost’s Songs Out Here is a surprise favorite of mine recorded by a kid named Ryan Schmale from Santa Rosa, whom I have never met. Lo-fi and echoey, part Roy Orbison and part Shirelles, antiquated and warehoused. I keep pulling it out and putting it on, and finding new things to love.

12. Hudson Mohawke – The Pleasure Principle (Warp)

Though he released a “real” EP this year on Warp, Hudson Mohawke’s The Pleasure Principle is a fucking dance jam, with exuberant club-worthy remixes of Janet Jackson, Keri Hilson, Jodeci, Aaliyah and Gucci Mane. I want to hand it to a DJ at Rock ‘n’ Roll Sunday School and see what happens.

13. Grouper – Alien Observer / Dream Loss (Yellow Electric)

For those looking to kill the lights and imagine Lars von Trier’s Melancholia in real life, Grouper’s Alien Observer / Dream Loss is a two-separate-album release; a vision in reverb and lost emotion. For someone whose art can be very detailed and knotty, Liz Harris’ music is linear and soaring; I cannot help loving this.

14. Beyoncé – 4 (C0lumbia/Sony)

The video of the year, in my opinion, was this Jay-Z-filmed backstage iPhone clip of Beyoncé warming up in her dressing room by singing “1+1″ with sparse accompaniment. Though I didn’t dig the album at first (singles “Love on Top” and “Countdown” are not the best representatives of this effort), Beyoncé’s 4 won me over with its unapologetic bliss. Get happily married, y’all, and then play this album, and then tell me what you think of it.

15. Tom Waits – Bad as Me (Anti-)

Another album I initially dismissed was Tom Waits’ Bad as Me, largely because it breaks absolutely no new stylistic ground. I kept coming back to it, though, and more than a disappointing retread from someone who should have more vision, it’s a touching album. The incessant banjo on “Raised Right Men” matches any tense gait, and the last song “New Year’s Eve” should be played at every New Year’s Eve party.

16. Terius Nash – 1977 (Self-Released)

Terius Nash’s 1977, well, what can I say? Yes, I love The-Dream (a.k.a. Nash) up to a point (that point would be Love King, blecch), and this free download brought back some of what I love. “Used to Be” is everything all those other cold-fish rapper-singers who complain about their love lives wish they could attain, a village idiot with a huge, complicated heart.

17. Pete Swanson – Man With Potential (Type)

A holdover obsession from 2010, Pete Swanson’s Man With Potential grabbed my ears for expanding beyond Swanson’s noise parameters and into a bizarre type of… house, or something? Imagine Manchester’s Factory with an insistent short-circuit; fans of Eno, Vangelis and Kraftwerk might do good to watch this clip.

18. Liturgy – Aesthetica (Thrill Jockey)

Many years ago a band from the East Bay called Asbestos Death morphed into a band called Sleep, whose Dopesmoker ushered in a new wave of slow, plodding stoner metal. (Kyuss helped on a mainstream level, then turned in to Queens of the Stone Age.) For a time, stoner metal was everywhere, and Sunn o))) did it best, and then… oversaturation. Liturgy’s Aesthetica brings that beat back in amphetamine explosions of rapid-fire time signatures and eruptive, howling vocals. It’s fast, it’s furious, it kicks ass.

19. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD)

I avoided St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy (fashion spreads turn me off) but then saw a clip on the late-night, and dove in. There is no easy categorization for the music here, and Annie Clark seems to avoid it even further by piling up pedal effects on her guitar playing. If the last time you heard her she was covering Jackson Browne (or as the kids say, The Royal Tennenbaums), then it’s time to call again.

20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25…

I love Greg Brown’s Freak Flag because his voice is lower and raspier than ever. . . Crooked Fingers’ Breaks in the Armor has “Heavy Hours” and “Went to the City,” two goddamn incredible songs. . . Do feel free to be freaked out by the cover photo of Chelsea Wolfe’s Ἀποκάλυψις, and make sure to save some extra freakedoutedness for the music. . . I desperately want Concord Jazz to take good care of the entire OJC catalog they recently acquired—seminal jazz titles on Riverside, Prestige and more by Miles, Coltrane, Monk, Rollins, Evans—but their track record of honoring what we loosely call “real jazz” is not promising. Releasing Stefon Harris/David Sanchez/Christian Scott’s Ninety Miles is a step in the right direction. . . I loved James Blake’s James Blake for two weeks, then hated it, then saw him and loved it, then hated it again, and now it’s just there. . . and from the fantastic vocalist, Gretchen Parlato’s The Lost and Found is a collection of soothing, nuanced songs by Wayne Shorter, Bill Evans, Lauryn Hill and others, with contributions from Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinsumire and Taylor Eigsti. And girl, she gots Skrillex hair.

Original list of the Top 25 Albums of 2011 is here.


Top 25 Albums of 2011

Top 25 Albums of 2011

Posted by: on Dec 14, 2011 | Comments (3)

1. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l (4AD)

2. Death Grips – Ex-Military (Third Worlds)

3. EMA – Past Life Modern Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

4. Jamie XX – We’re New Here [Instrumentals] (XL)

5. Givers – In Light (Glassnote)

6. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (Self-Released)

7. Clams Casino – Instrumentals (Type)

8. Odd Bird – Smith (PCL)

9. Kreng – Grimoire (Miasmah)

10. Amon Tobin – Isam (Ninja Tune)

11. That Ghost – Songs Out Here (TwoSyllable)

12. Hudson Mohawke – The Pleasure Principle (Warp)

13. Grouper – Alien Observer / Dream Loss (Yellow Electric)

14. Beyoncé – 4 (C0lumbia/Sony)

15. Tom Waits – Bad as Me (Anti-)

16. Terius Nash – 1977 (Self-Released)

17. Pete Swanson – Man With Potential (Type)

18. Liturgy – Aesthetica (Thrill Jockey)

19. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD)

20. Greg Brown – Freak Flag (Yep Roc)

21. Crooked Fingers – Breaks in the Armor (Merge)

22. Chelsea WolfeἈποκάλυψις (Pendu Sound)

23. Stefon Harris/David Sanchez/Christian Scott – Ninety Miles (Concord)

24. James Blake – S/T (Atlas/Universal)

25. Gretchen Parlato – The Lost and Found (Obliqsound)

There is much discussion about all of these titles over here.

Top 25 Albums of 2010

Posted by: on Dec 14, 2010 | Comments (1)

1. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening (DFA/Virgin)

2. Yellow Swans – Going Places (Type)

3. Jóhann Jóhannsson – And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees (Type)

4. Robyn – Body Talk Pt. 1 (Konichiwa/Interscope)

5. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor (XL)

6. Standard Fare – The Noyelle Beat (Bar None)

7. V/A – Welcome Home (Diggin’ the Universe): A Woodsist Compilation (Woodsist)

8. The Velvet Teen – No Star (Self-Released)

9. Jack Attack – My Rights Have Been Violated (Self-Released)

10. Jason Moran – Ten (Blue Note/EMI)

11. Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday (Young Money/Universal)

12. Goodriddler – The Strength of Weak Ties (Sell the Heart)

13. Grouper / Roy Montgomery – Vessel (Self-Released)

14. RVIVR – S/T (Rumbletowne)

15. Marco Benevento – Between the Needles and Nightfall (Royal Potato)

16. Hanalei – One Big Night (Big Scary Monsters/Brick Gun)

17. Superchunk – Majesty Shredding (Merge)

18. Hearse – Diagnosed (Self-Released)

19. Sam Amidon – I See the Sign (Bedroom Community)

20. M.I.A. – Maya (Interscope)

21. Evan Parker & John Weise – C-Section (PAN)

22. Daniel Bjarnason – Processions (Bedroom Community)

23. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma (Warp)

24. Joseph Hammer – I Love You, Please Love Me Too (PAN)

25. Best Coast – Crazy for You (Mexican Summer)

It’s All The Same Song

Posted by: on Jan 6, 2009 | Comments (0)

A successful, but far less funny, version of what they tried to pull off live at the Grammy Awards in 2006 arrives in the form of a software-enabled mashup of the Top 25 Billboard hits of 2008:

In related news, Pitchfork reverses their past worship and calls for an end to the mashup craze. Too little too late, I say.