Tuesday, July 19, 2011

“I’m back, baby!” – B.B. Rodriguez

No posts for two months? If I thought anyone was actually reading this nonsense I’d be afraid they might think something had happened to me.

That said, the dog days and doldrums of Summer are full upon us like an animal. This town that people who have never been here assume is covered in ice 365 days a year is in the midst of a massive extended heat wave with 110+ degree heat indices and humidity levels more appropriate for Calcutta than Minneapolis. But while we are hot and wet, the release lists have – as is their Summertime wont – gone cold and dry. Seems like a perfect time to reflect on the last six months and work on a list. (Did I mention that I love lists? I’m pretty sure I did.) Hence…

The mid-year best albums of 2011!

What 2011 has lacked in true greatness (TVotR aside), it has made up for in quantity of output… So above-average, but such large portions! The list begins with a big big party in Brooklyn, winds its way through England, Wales, Sweden, Italy, New Zealand, Scotland, Canada, and Tha Funk Capital of the World before ending up in Manhattan. Hmmm… Brooklyn at the top, Manhattan at the bottom… Yes, that should suit the Williamsburg hipsters quite nicely.

1. TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light (Interscope)
Fewer trips to the dance floor, more tugs at the heart and soul from the world’s premier art-rockers and one of the greatest bands working on this planet. At it’s heart is the haunting, banjo-inflected masterpiece that is “Killer Crane”.

2. Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (Capitol)
A truly triumphant return to form. After more than a decade of sparse mediocrity and a couple of scary years delay due to cancer, the most illenest b-boys put out a rekkid that is probably their best since “Ill Communication”, if not “Check Your Head”, and may be their most focused album to date.

3. Arctic Monkeys – Suck it and See (Domino)

The first time I listened to this album I was disappointed. It seemed too polished and accessible. The snotty aggression of their first two rekkids seemed to have been tempered, the post-punk meets desert grunge of the third rekkid gone. Repeated listenings have allowed this album to grow on me like milkweed. It is among my new fav’rit rekkids. Alex Turner’s bitingly witty lyrics have always been an upside. On the title track they are downright masterful, evoking Elvis Costello at his “Prince Charmless” best.

4. Wire – Red Barked Tree (Pink Flag)
Old guys… 2011 has been a year when numerous icons of British post-punk and new wave have suddenly released quality albums. Gag of Four, the Human League, Blancmange, even Duran Duran have put out good rekkids. None, however is better than this delicious slice of art-rock heaven from the original post-punk art rockers. Chiming, ringing guitars hold sway over the best set of songs these kids have produced in 20 years. God we’re old.

5. Gruff Rhys – Hotel Shampoo (Ovni)
If you’ve known me during the last 10 years, you know that I believe Super Furry Animals to be one of the three best bands on the planet. Knowing that, you probably know that the front man for SFA is Gruff Rhys. Gruff is an extremely good songwriter with a natural gift for wordplay (even though English is his second language), melody, and harmony that is almost unparalleled in this day and age. “Hotel Shampoo” is pure pop-psych deliciousness from a master.

6. Adele – 21 (XL)
I know, I know. You’re going to tell me about the hazards of over-exposure. I know, I know. “Rolling in the Deep” has been radically overplayed on pop radio. I know, I know, I know y’all need to understand that sometimes there are reasons for stuff like that. It’s just the rest of the world catching up to an artist who is actually talented, not just marketable. I’d still listen to Adele sing the phone book.

7. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic)
After her first album she could have attempted to ride her countrywomen’s coattails, tried to compete with Robyn and the like. Instead she went for a post-modern Phil Spector “wall of sound” art-pop rekkid which pleases the senses at nearly every turn.

8. Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi present “Rome” starring Jack White & Norah Jones (Capitol)
My co-worker and I were trying to distill this atmospheric movie for the ears. The cleaned-up version goes something like this: It’s like listening to Serge Gainsbourg seducing Ennio Morricone while Sergio Leone watches. Spaghetti Western/ 60’s Euro-Art-house cinema soundtracks enhanced by solid, natural performances by White and Jones.

9. Dennis Coffey – s/t (Strut)
A 70’s soul/funk guitar-infused explosion from one of the great veterans of the business, Motown Funk Brother and guit-fiddler extraordinaire Dennis Coffey. Punctuated by guest vocals by Lisa Kekaula of the Bellrays, Paolo Nuttini, and a duet from Detroit legend Mick Collins (Gories, Blacktop, Screws, Dirtbombs, etc.) and the Detroit Cobras’ Rachel Nagy.

10. David Kilgour & the Heavy Eights – Left by Soft (Merge)
Kiwi jangle-pop legend and Clean front man David Kilgour puts out his best rekkid in a decade. The glorious, Velvet Underground-influenced deliciousness of the Dunedin sound goes on…

11. Booker T. Jones – The Road from Memphis (Anti)
12. The Kills – Blood Pressures (Domino)
13. Gang of Four – Content (Yep Roc)
14. Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears – Scandalous (Lost Highway)
15. Charlie Haden Quartet West – Sophisticated Ladies (Decca)
16. Bootsy Collins – Tha’ Funk Capital of the World (Mascot)
17. Wagon Christ – Toomorrow (Ninjatune)
18. Mike Watt – Hyphenated-Man (clenchedwrench)
19. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong (Slumberland)
20. P.J. Harvey – Let England Shake (Vagrant)
21. Jonny – s/t (Merge)
22. Devotchka – 100 Lovers (Anti)
23. Telekinesis – 12 Separate Straight Lines (Merge)
24. Robbie Robertson – Clairvoyant (429)
25. The Strokes – Angles (RCA)

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