I didn’t realize how good music was in 2011 until I started making my year-end lists. Though I had trouble deciding just what would make the awards podium, the wealth of remarkable material is, well, remarkable. You’ll probably notice, when it’s all said and done, there are a number of high profile omissions, that says more about the quality of music this year than what may have been “lacking” in those releases–also, I didn’t want to have 30 or 40 honorable mentions in addition to a top 20. Without further ado, let’s open the flood gates with a list of EPs, splits, and LPs that were great but didn’t quite fit in my top 20. In other words, I really enjoyed these and got tired of trying to assign numbers, but felt these in need of a spotlight. (Don’t read anything into the order, it’s all alphabetical, folks.) (more…)

Black Milk – How Dare You EP (EP of the Year)

1/2

I’ve already raved up and down about Black Milk‘s splendid full-length release (the ever more aptly-titled) Album of the Year, and I’ll try to limit the hype a bit, however, I have a lil’ more to dish about. It turns out, unlike many artists, Black had very few remnants on the cutting room floor when AotY was finished. In fact, he only had, according to a few different sources, a little under nine minutes of false starts and aborted beats/ideas.
On 2008’s totally boss Tronic, Black found a home for these undeveloped ideas by constructing interludes after a few tracks. Granted, it takes a bit of the life out of one of the most exciting hip-hop records of the last five years, but when you’re building your reputation on the back of your beats, showing off a few more ideas might not be a bad call. This time around, for Album of the Year, Milk trimmed the fat and now he’s serving it up, like scraps to a pack of dogs, on this EP. (more…)

I can’t imagine I’ll review days (of the week, month, or year) all that often, but this past Tuesday was pretty epic.

Tuesday, September 14th saw the release of several big-time indie-rock records by the likes of The Walkmen, of Montreal (which I won’t review), Les Savy Fav, Blonde Redhead, Superchunk, and Grinderman plus “urban” flavors from Black Milk and Bilal as well as the indie-alt-country stylings of Justin Townes Earl (how much more great pedigree could he cram into his name?). I realize a good number of Tuesdays could be equally if not more auspicious, but “in a world” where release dates mean less and less, this one seemed to carry some significance, if only for me. Since I’m still unemployed, I have the time to review all of these records. I’ll keep it short to both dip my toes back in the reviewer’s waters and to test the reader’s patience a bit less. All reviews are on a 5-star scale. Additionally, aside from the Black Milk release, I’ve only listened to each album a few times–I don’t anticipate that being the case many times more.

Black Milk – Album of the Year (Fat Beats) 1/2 of 5
Detroit Producer/MC Black Milk brings drums bigger than the Willis (ex Sears) Tower. Milk’s follow-up to 2008’s Tronic ups the ante on percussive creativity, going so far as to add more live drums than some records by The Roots. But it’s no surprise that someone who turned in some of the most idiosyncratically enjoyable beats this side of J. Dilla would continue to push his compositions and production. What is worth noting: Black Milk is slowly shedding his amateurish mic skills. Some verses still come off clunky and awkward, but his lines are stronger and no one, I mean no one, navigates Black Milk’s beats better than he does. Arguably the best dis line of the year: “My shit is Martin Luther, your shit is Martin Lawrence.”
Check out the video for the single “Deadly Medley,” try to ignore the laughably small scrum of “paparazzi.”

Grinderman – Grinderman 2 (Epitaph)
Grinderman is Nick Cave and some of his Bad Seeds getting down and dirty, really dirty. Every sleazy, sneering rocker since Carl Perkins penned “Blue Suede Shoes” has been distilled and bottled for your pleasure by this act. Their second go-round, with the very imaginative title, is a bit cleaner on the production front, but even slimier. With Cave’s almost nauseatingly sexy vocals a bit further up in the mix, the creeper come-on’s are more pronounced and the sleaze is more up front. If you thought Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds just needed to have more balls and be creepier, not in that macabre way, than you need to get on the Grinderman.

Les Savy Fav – Root for Ruin (French Kiss)
Root for Ruin, only Les Savy Fav‘s fifth studio LP in 15 years, is sharp. Not only is the instrumentation almost mathematically precise, Tim Harrington’s lyrics are also tersely brilliant. There is nothing revelatory on the level of Dylan or drunken literary spewings of The Hold Steady, Root for Ruin is full of tongue-in-cheek anthems. It’s a confluence of the reckless abandon of youth and over-educated word play of a college graduate; the perfect balance of angst and education to get the brother with a B.A. and a sibling still in junior high.

Bilal – Airtight’s Revenge (Plug Research)
Bilal is one of many victims of major labels sweeping up scads of R&B and hip-hop acts looking for the next big BET hit (the same mentality would lead to the ring-tone wars just a few years later). His debut, 2001’s 1st Born Second , was released with almost no promotional push from Interscope who subsequently shelved his follow-up, Love for Sale, which was leaked in 2006. Bilal’s found a home on a supportive indie Plug Research, who not only gave him room to create, but has, with it’s meager resources, actually promoted it. We need to thank Plug cause this is the sexiest, craziest, most startlingly fresh R&B record since Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Part I: 4th World War (2008).

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