Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Taking On 2011 - Top Albums (Quarterly Review)

The onslaught of 2011 talk continues as Processed Grass turns its attention to the year's best albums, but I think the best question to ask is 'what makes an album?' I use a very liberal definition of 'album' so on this list I am going to include mixtapes and EPs as albums. We don't exclude here at Processed Grass, we include, we hope to shine lights, we want the artists to thrive. We are in a digital age, or so the picture box tells me when the news is on, and with so many methods of distribution, occasionally with intent to sell, removing some of the shining examples of artistic expression does not allow us to process. Process away, the music is waiting.

14. The Beets - Stay Home

The name of this band threw me off considerably. I went in expecting remixes of "We Need More Allowance" and other classics from the famous band popularized on the cartoon Doug, but what I found was a heavily distorted, highly faded, portrait of loneliness and youth. The lyrics here are beautiful at times, capturing feelings of my forgotten youth, but that tends to only happen when you can actually hear what is being sung. The record feels distant, and perhaps the past is distant, but I want to hold the past, not be aware of its unavailability. Also, such dank album artwork, simply stunning.

13. Team Teamwork - Team Teamwork Presents Super Nintendo Sega Genesis

I do not get along with mash ups, but I do get along with video games. I have also had an ongoing affair with hip-hop. With this release my infidelity is revealed as Team Teamwork brings all three elements together in the same digital space. Albeit a bit uneven, nothing strokes my nostalgia quite like hearing the music of Sonic the Hedgehog 3's Casino Zone behind a Lupe Fiasco track. If this CD does one thing it proves that platformers tend to have some fantastic music. Conversely, fighting games and brawlers do not.

12. Cut Copy - Zonoscope

They say that in Australia when it is winter in America land, it is summer there. This has been proven with science. Also proven with science is the badassery of surf rock pop. When I listen to this in the summer of the real world would I not fit in on that mighty continent? Do I ever really live in summer, or do I just exist in Australia's winter? Does the lyrical complexity of many of the tracks on Cut Copy's opus undermine the breezy feel to many of the standout tracks? Should we try to solve life's mysteries? We are here to savor. To observe. The understand. :au:

11. Curren$y - Return to the Winner's Circle

Braggadocio hip-hop has always been a beast that I struggle with because it asks me to forget the world, to not think of politics, to live vicariously. To floss, the shine, to stunt, to project. And there are times on the CD where Curren$y does his best to live up to what should repulse me, but strangely attracts me, to this type of hip-hop, though he ascends these tropes to make for a higher level of showmanship. That is what it means, I suppose, to be back in the winner's circle, and Curren$y will likely stay there for some time if he keeps putting out solid mixtapes like this one.

10. The Weeknd - House of Balloons

Urban is making a comeback, or at least what MTV has told me urban should be classified as is making a comeback. The sounds of R&B smoothly litter this debut album/mixtape/EP from The Weeknd, a group/artist still shrouded in mystery, but what changes it a bit is the way the lyrics become distinctly anti-R&B. Tensions and binaries dictate our world, not a second goes by without these forces pulling us, gripping at our jeans and tugging, begging for attention. The Weeknd don't beg, they/he/she/it creates.

9. Pusha-T - Fear of God

Being Pusha-T is probably pretty difficult, well aside from being a super player baller money making extraordinaire. He has found an audience in the past, but has the name Pusha-T ever meant anything to the mainstream? At times, yes, but now he risks being lost in the lofty shadow of Kanye over at the G.O.O.D Music label. But as the label's name implies, Pusha-T makes damn good music, and the CD has a distinctive feel, sound, and energy. The mixtape, at times, feels like a prelude to something bigger, and with Pusha-T's album on the way later in the year that is understandable, but even as a stopgap this mixtape has some damn fine tracks.

8. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - Belong

Since this CD just came out today I have not had close to the amount of time with it as I have had with the other albums that occupy this list. Still, the latest from The Pains of Being Pure At Heart offers a sustained mood that, at times, seems to betray the band's name. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, the lyrics pound, they cut, and my eyes are fully opened. The whole album seems incredibly steady, but these impressions are rough, literally only in infancy, less than thirty minutes old, and the record is included for posterity. I look forward to reassessing it, to letting it wash over me in the car, in the sun, in settings damn it. That's the spirit of The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, the essence, what we all search for each day, in the streets of Brooklyn, in used record stores, in buttons.

7. Miranda Cosgrove - High Maintenance

I have raved about the merits of this EP twice before, so I'll take this time to do a bit more pondering. Cosgrove matures, quietly and quickly, from her debut album to this one, seemingly without any of the growing pains that similar artists encounter. When is the point where we stop asking to grow up, when we start yearning for youth? Is there a time frame where we just live, before it comes slamming shut and we yearn, then we accept, then we go numb? Is Miranda Cosgrove in that time right now? The music speaks for itself, and I hope it keeps speaking.

6. Destroyer - Kaputt

Early on in the CD the words "I write poetry for myself" ring out. It's this magical moment that defines the mystique of Destroyer's latest CD, an announcement of artistic vision streaming from a passionately disconnected voice. Sometimes being punched is nice, we need the reminders of pain in order to appreciate the beauty. This CD drags us down and around, but then it puts us on the cliffside and asks us to survey the land, the ingest the beauty. All hail Destroyer.

5. Childish Gambino - EP

The latest release from Childish Gambino establishes a new force in hip-hop, capable of blending intricate wordplay with a variety of styles. The EP showcases Gambino's ability to work with minimal tracks that showcase lyrical prowess and delivery, evident on "Freaks and Geeks," while also slowing down and working with the singer/rapper combos that have lately been popularized on his tracks "Shine" and "Be Alone." Beyond the lyrical intricacies is a raw emotion, a core that anchors great music, great works of art.

4. James Blake - James Blake

I lamented in my Top Tracks Quarterly Review that I am unsure whether or not James Blake makes dubstep. I doubt I really need to know, or that being able to identify Blake with a singular label would do much justice to the finely crafted aural experience that he has, instrument by instrument, pieced together to make one of the year's most unique and fulfilling experiences. James Blake offers a series of thoughts, he sets moods that rise and fall, perfect fluctuations.

3. Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes

I find myself strangely attracted to much of the material in Lykke Li's sophomore release. Acting as a quasi love letter to heartache, Li captures the majesty of feeling. We, collectively, seem to scoff at the way angst is portrayed in many forms of popular media, but Li's mediation on sadness serves as an insightful portrayal of the emotions we wish away, but still possess. Nowhere is this more apparent than the stunning "Sadness is a Blessing" a showcase of Li's talents, an reexamination of the growing process, a denouncement and acceptance, a quiet beauty. I suppose that time on the Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack helped her grow. Long live Lykke Li.

2. the Mountain Goats - All Eternals Deck/All Survivors Pack

Any regular reader will know that, as a writer, both journalist and creatively, there is no man I admire more than John Darnielle, whom I consider to be the greatest living poet. What he has crafted is, once again, a beautifully deep thematic concept album that, while existing as a unique experience also fits in perfectly with the Mountain Goats's discography up until this point. The star fo the show are, as usual, Darnielle's poignant lyrics, boiling down complex ideas into the most approachable, poetic verses. And with All Survivors Pack Darnielle offers even more insight in to the process of creating, allowing the listener to watch sounds develop, to refine, but by issuing it on cassette tape, a custom of the early Mountain Goats recordings, Darnielle cleverly plays on the idea of the relic that is strung throughout many of the songs. It's all brilliant, it's all so perfect, it's all so beautiful. the Mountain Goats are music, they are poetry, they are perfection.

1. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

What makes PJ Harvey's album my favorite of the year so far, and in all likelihood for quite a while in the future, is the way it uses a historical backdrop to confront the present, to explore a specific time, a specific event, so perfectly while also probing at our world. It's a perfectly formed micro and macro relationship, all tied together by a sweeping range of instruments and Harvey's piercing lyrics and singing voice. It's not only England that is meant to shake in Harvey's latest, it's a quake that disrupts the flow of time. But in this division a unity is found, and in this unity realizations of the interconnectedness of time are discovered. Let England Shake is not a record to that should be waded in, it's a vast ocean meant to be discovered, explored, opened up.

Eclectic! If I was to make an uninformed guess about the rest of the year I would venture to assume that there will be many more projects from solo artists that crack my next Quarterly Review in June. Times change, perceptions shift, list making is a process, and here at the Grass we will continue to process, to produce, to consume.

Next Up: Top Films Of 2011 So Far


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at twitter.com/FLYmeatwad.

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