My supremely valid professional archive of reviews, critiques and compositions. In other words, a resume worthy digest. Lately I have just been copying and pasting stuff I write for my school paper. WHO SAID YOU CAN'T FIND WORK WITH AN ENGLISH DEGREE?
(taken from my school website, http://www.thecord.ca/?p=10837)
In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Tom Krell, the man behind How To Dress Well, claims that he is striving “for a balance between wordless singing and signifying lyrical lyrics”.
Total Loss, the follow-up album to the stunningly haunting Love Remains (2010), is a more sonically complete album than his debut. Whereas Love Remains sets the listener in an isolated space of blown out reverb and echoed cries for help, Total Loss is more focused, yet deeply personal.
Krell addresses those important to him within each track. If you can’t relate to the confessional lyrics in “Set It Right” where Krell cries out “Jamie I miss you/ Momma I miss you and Dad I miss you”, it’s because listening to Total Loss feels like an intruding visit in his isolated cave.
This is a downtempo R&B record, that doesn’t mention the balancing act of sex and drugs. Total Loss is more successful because it feels sentimental rather than idolized. As well, Krell’s voice acts as an accompanying melody, rather than the sole focus of each track. As heard on “Running Back”, in true Michael Jackson fashion, Krell uses his voice as layers of percussion and backing rhythms, letting out sighing breaths for each. His obsession for reverb still exists, but Total Loss is more focused than his previous work.
Total Loss is expansive without feeling confident. It’s more layered but Krell is still very much secluded. There’s even a climactic ballad at the end (“Set It Right”). Krell has managed to expand the sounds of the compiled Love Remains without sacrificing isolation—which made it so haunting to listen to. Even at surface level, it will arrest you upon first listen and linger long after.
Taken from The Cord Website:
I remember the first time I was exposed to The Office. Intimate and raw “documentary” style footage inspired humor by exposing awkward reactions and stupidity. Awkwardness and irony are the two dominating styles of comedy utilized in this century. Sitcoms using laugh track are still prevalent, as in the case of the increasingly popular How I Met Your Mother. Yet, more often than not, I’m attracted to comedy that experiments with different forms of humour that aren’t spoon-fed to the audience.
Arrested Development is an example of a successful sitcom that didn’t need to rely on joke set-ups and payoffs for the humor to be extracted. Humour was instead derived from everything from the narrator, Ron Howard, to the puns, deprecation and irony. Sarcasm and wit dominate shows; from H. Jon Benjamin in Archer to Cam in Modern Family, audiences don’t need to be told when to laugh.
This is not to say that sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother don’t succeed at what they’re aiming for, simply that the current state of humour is largely based around rambling awkwardness, confident machismo (read: Will Ferrell) and intelligent sarcasm. Our culture is obsessed with self-awareness (i.e. Community) so anyone attempting to be genuinely happy comes across as phony. Reflection as a form of self-deprecation is an easy way to get a laugh — Seth Rogan has successfully built a career on making fun of himself and laughing awkwardly to appear charming. The objective is an aim to be real by addressing the audience so the producers/actors are in on the joke with the audience, such as onCommunity.
When I watch a show with a laugh track and I hear the “audience” in the background splitting their sides to a middling joke, the immersion can be broken. MSNBC Studies show that people are more likely to laugh when there is the presence of the laugh track, as a form of “peer pressure,” but when you’re sitting alone at home, failing to “get” a joke may completely break the immersion that the show is attempting in the first place.
To contrast this, a show like Archer continues to move at a blistering pace, never slowing down to allow time for the laugh track, so if the joke is missed, there’s no time to criticize. Programs without “help” also force better dialogue, relying less on punch lines than those with. This is not to suggest that we abolish the sincere form of the “classic” sitcom, because it still proves to be working; but we should welcome the new and diverse techniques of getting a laugh.
- been playing Mass Effect 3, about 8 hours into it; real scared about this
earth-shattering internet shattering ending but FUCK YOU IDIOTS WHO WANT IT CHANGED: you can’t change an album after it’s released so GAMES SHOULDN’T CHANGE EITHER
- combat seems fine… or better? maybe I’m just warming up to ME combat in general but there is a particular mission (female krogan, you’ll know what I mean) where everything just clicked and I was using biotic powers and shotgunning fools and it was pretty satisfying
- the dialogue seems worse than ME2: things being said like “And Anderson… good luck” OH AND THE FUCKING KID WAS STUPID AS HELL
- paying for experience within the multiplayer is dirt baggish but thats the state of games and especially the state of EA.
- don’t really mind filling up a bar to “get the best ending” because at least I know what to do to get it
- James Vega (?) is pretty bad, doing pull-ups while talking, having a alpha male fist fight with Shepherd, just really stupid
I will post a full review when I finish it, but you know school essays and exams AND THAT KINDA THING
First article for my school paper:
A refreshing take on the survival-horror genre and – thankfully – one without zombies or diseases, The Grey provides an intimate movie experience that examines the will of human survival while featuring a handful of likable and well-developed characters.
The film is based on the short story “Ghost Walker” by Ian MacKenzie Jeffers, who also co-wrote the screenplay, revealing a pattern that suggests most films in the 21st century are based on adaptations.
The Grey director Joe Carnahan captures the harshness of the Arctic as well as the intimacies of personal struggles facing each character. By using the “handycam” technique with effectiveness, Carnahan shows a promising future for screenwriting.
Ultimately, The Grey is much more complex than some of his previous work such as his screenplays for The A-Team and the Smokin’ Aces franchise.
As the hard-shelled protagonists dwindle in number, the audience is exposed to each of their lives pre-disaster, mostly shown through a reminiscing campfire scene, where each gives a story (raunchy sex tale included) about their pasts. The scene ends with the main protagonist, gruffly played by Liam Neeson, looking off into the distance.
The threat force behind the players is a more realistic dealing than most survival stories: the set up is that a group of criminals are flown away to do an unnamed job. After crashing in or around Alaska they are faced with the challenge of surviving a large pack of blood-thirsty wolves, along with bitterly cold weather conditions and lack of direction.
The Grey is enjoyable because the characters are likable (even the stereotypical antagonist, played by Frank Grillo) and are well developed through dialogue and flashbacks, as the audience can see them struggle, all leading to the film’s ambiguous ending.
Throughout the film, the protagonist lives by a poem once rehearsed by his drunken Irish father, which fits nicely into the ending, as the poems line “Live and die on this day” correlate directly with the action taking place on screen. It humanizes and provides motivation for Neeson’s character John, who is otherwise a bit of a blank slate.
For all of the introspective flashbacks, the audience never really gets to know who John is but we find out he is questioning his faith and battling depression. The ending may sour some experiences but fits well with the established prophetic tone that the film establishes. The Grey is a tense, bleak, well-developed and enduring film - and not in a bad way.
What I enjoy most about Batman lore is the different perspectives that authors include to challenge the concrete wall of Bruce Wayne’s morality. In “The Killing Joke”, Alan Moore creates an ambiguous ending in which the reader must choose whether Batman can be corrupted or not. In Batman: Arkham City, the next environmentally logical step in Rocksteady’s perceived trilogy, like Arkham Asylum, Batman is battered and beaten, and by the end, through gradual wear-and-tear, his suit is ripped, and he’s bloody and bruised.
Many fans take issue with the open-world natural progress that is prominently featured in Arkham City. Asylum was a laser-beam of story, with rich and developed villains, filling the necessary canonical strokes that many Batman interpretations lack, so for those seeking the focused storytelling featured in Asylum, you have to force yourself to stay on track, avoiding the open-worldness (for those crazy people who have obsessive tendencies to collect everything, there are 400+ trophies to get, but I do not recommend it) and this is how I mostly played it throughout. The story is on par with the previous installment, featuring new characters, while also filling the Joker quota, as that’s what most fans have desired in the broad strokes of the Batman universe.
While Arkham City doesn’t bring any new essential elements, it exceeds what was done so well in the previous game, such as the combat system. Nearing the end of the game, beat up thugs was always satisfying, albeit not very challenging: Stalking, picking and choosing methods of predatory action created numerous iterations of assault, and while it tolerates button-mashing, it rewards those who pick and choose attacks and counters, all leading to an extremely satisfying combination.
The tacked on Catwoman material felt forced, creating parallel equipment for her to play like Batman, with a whip for maneuvering and caltrops in place of the “Batarang”. Also, it is a shame that the fact of this being new-game material only, an awful way to get people not to purchase used games, made me wonder just how necessary playing as Catwoman was (the used game incentives is a completely different issue altogether). Add to this the several codes you have to input before actually playing the game, I was set to hate these Catwoman chapters before I even played them, leaving a sour taste in my mouth on new copy exclusives altogether.
“Sequel-itus” aside, Batman: Arkham City continues to develop an interesting universe, proving that superhero video games aren’t always terrible once again. What I want and what I expect from a new Batman game from Rocksteady are actually not two completely different ideals, although I sincerely hope they do not focus on only making a bigger universe in a third game, because the strengths of this chapter, and the previous installment, are the intensely focused storyline and fleshed out characters of the Batman universe.
While making this list, I came to two realizations: I spend a lot of money at the movie theaters (too much money for a student), and I watched a lot of movies in 2011. Not all were great, I really wish I could have seen more independent films but I unfortunately do not have the resources (legal resources, anyway). Regardless, here are my top three films of 2011.
3. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Despite only seeing the first (original) Planet of the Apes a while ago, I walked into Rise… not expecting too much- just expecting it to be a fun, action film featuring James Franco and (always entertaining) John Lithgow. However, mainly due to the talent of Andy Serkis as the chimpanzee “Caesar” and the powerful moments that are brought to the surface from the ensuing story of a somewhat realistic story. It also featured the best moment of theater-going experiences for 2011, when Caesar finally shouts out “NO!” and the theater audience actually hushed, it was really something to see in an age of numbingly absent teenagers who are only concerned with social networking.
2. The Muppets
Again, I wasn’t expecting much with The Muppets, but I saw that it had decent reviews and was in the mood to watch something light. The Muppets is just a really funny, entertaining and, at sometimes, heartfelt movie in the nostalgic sense. The TV series didn’t play a major factor in going to see the film (I watched it as a very young child but it never played a huge role in my life), but The Muppets has some exciting moments and it made me laugh the hardest throughout the entire year. It is also the host of at least 3 very great musical numbers (“Man or Muppet” is the first thing that comes to mind, I won’t ruin the guest appearance because it’s a better surprise if you don’t know) and features at least 5 surprising cameos (Again, won’t ruin any of them here, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised).
As a person who actively despises musicals, The Muppets is self-reflexive enough to poke fun at the musical campiness that others fail to immerse me in. Amy Adams and Jason Segel are perfectly cheerful but not in a sugary-headache sort of way. And the Muppet characters achieve the emotional notes they set to; Overall, this film is just plainly entertaining, and I highly recommend it for any ages.
The developmental stages of unnamed protagonist and Irene (played innocently enough by Carey Mulligan) started to make me lose interest in Drive before it really shifts into motion. They speak (barely) to each other in an awkward manner, but not comically so. Ryan Gosling’s character is just quiet, something that is rarely featured in action movies; Even the dumb action heroes have one-liners. But the quiet natured protagonist is what stuck with me after the film ended, and into several days after watching Drive. In a lot of ways, Drive can be compared to the Grand Theft Auto series: both are crime dramas, with silent and mysterious protagonists that just “do the job for the money”, the protagonists have pasts that only develop in the latter half of the material, each flaunt stylized pink and cursive fonts, the 80s soundtrack and both feature hyper-violence.
When the protagonist reluctantly offers help to Irene’s freshly out of jail tough-guy boyfriend, the situation goes awry and this is when Drive turns into the played-outGrand Theft Auto fantasy. Said boyfriend steps out of a pawn shop with a duffel bag of money, gets shotgunned in the parking lot, and the narrator speeds off in an expensive car with the less-than willing prostitute (played by Christina Hendricks). Stuck in the middle of an awful situation (aren’t they all?), Gosling seeks revenge and then things get gruesome. In the most sickeningly gross sounding moments of 2011, after he kisses Irene in the elevator, he proceeds to stomp a sizable hole in a henchmen of the villains, and doesn’t let up. The seeking of revenge continues until the climax and tragic ending of the film; Without saying much more, just know that all neo-noir films have tragic endings and guess what, Drive has no happy ending, either.
What I enjoyed most is this mentioned aura of quiet-natured protagonists that most action films simply do not portray. Pseudo-turned-real badassness of Gosling when that elevator scene happens, and the audience realizes that hey, the Scorpion itched on his shiny jacket may just be symbolism, because Scorpions only strike when threatened.
FILMS THAT I SAW AFTER THE BREAK (Bold were the one’s considered):
1. Red Riding Hood
4. Your Highness
6. Scream 4
7. Fast Five
10. The Hangover 2
11. Super 8
12. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
13. Horrible Bosses
14. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
15. 30 Minutes or Less
16. Final Destination 5
19. The Muppets
20. Cedar Rapids
21. Battle: Los Angeles
22. Our Idiot Brother
25. The Adventures of Tintin
26. Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol
Quick confession: The nerdiest thing I continue to partake in is listening weekly to a podcast about videogames called the Giant Bombcast. Each week, 2+ hours of videogame content that really comes down to the likability of Jeff Gerstmann, Ryan Davis, Vinny Caravella, Brad Shoemaker and Patrick Klepek. I have been listening to these guys (Patrick being a newer regular of this last half of 2011) since early 2008, so nearly four years, and as really fucking nerdy as this sounds, it’s like I know these guys personally. Keeping a long show funny, their website, devoid of annoying ads and full of funny and original content that you can’t get on other sites, Giant Bomb is just a great website to find information on games and game-related content (such as pages dedicated to hamburger related games). Even if I do not always agree with their opinions on games, it’s still nice to see what content they pump out on the daily. Check it out if you haven’t.
Snapbacks/Camp Caps/SUPREME, IN GENERAL:
I don’t normally see myself as a hat guy, but I still found myself invested into some hat gear in 2011. It’s a scary habit, hat collecting, and I’m lucky I only dived into purchasing 3 camp caps. The almighty Supreme gear that is ever so allusive makes it all more desirable, but I’m still not going to lay down more than 50 dollars for a FUCKING HAT. Also looking to get out of hat buying, especially after seeing a bunch of young teens wearing every old style of NHL snapback imaginable.
Poor picture aside, shawarmas are delicious, despite whatever circumstances. And lucky I have a shawarma place right by my school, because one chicken shawarma beats a meal from every shitty fast food “restaurant” at my school and it’s the perfect meal for studying. They played a huge role in my work ethic this year and continue to rise the charts to become one of my favourite foods.
“American Psycho”/Brett Easton Ellis:
I probably don’t have to convince you that “American Psycho” is a great novel, it has practically become a classic. However, a novel has never made me laugh and feel sick at the same time. When I watched the movie, the reasons for Patrick Bateman’s killing seemed unclear, but the writing in the novel is so perfectly paced, with complete uninterrupted chapters of reviewing pop stars’ albums from the 80s, that the motives for his disconnectedness is drilled into the reader, with major help being from the perspective in the first person. After reading this, I proceeded to read Less Than Zero, which is surprisingly more depressing and I now am reading Rules of Attraction at the moment, which is different but seems interesting. Brett Easton Ellis’ themes consist of young, rich and numb narrators who deal with these feelings of having it all but having no emotion. I think his crafting of each novel is paced so perfectly, that I see it (not as effectively) done in Chuck Palahniuk’s novels. I also oddly like how he has auteurism such as the Bateman’s being sprawled through several novels, or Less Than Zero having a sequel in this generation, it’s interesting to compare the 21st century to the 80s.
A video game website written like Pitchfork. Also it’s good to see that it’s not full of “fuckin’ chainsaw” comparisons. Sure, call it a “hipster” or “indie” website, that’s fine, and I’ll admit their reviews can be a little pretentious (i.e. their review for L.A. Noire) but they make me think about different aspects about the games I spend mindless hours playing. I hope they continue to do this and I’m even considering getting a subscription for their print-magazine.
20. Drake – Marvin’s Room/Buried Alive (Interlude)
19. Bon Iver - Perth/Minnesota, WI
18. Tyler, the Creator - Yonkers
17. Youth Lagoon - Seventeen
16. Jay-Z & Kanye West - Niggas in Paris
15. John Maus - Quantum Leap
14. Shabazz Palaces - Swerve the Reeping of All That is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding)
13. Florence and the Machine - Shake it Out
12. Nicolas Jaar - Space is Only Noise if You Can See
11. Gotye - Somebody That I Used to Know (feat. Kimbra)
10. M83 - Outro: Talk about epic, Outro fades in, and then out into a black hole of sound, and then back in again to close Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming off, and it’s exactly the release you want from the tension being built up throughout the album. When Gonzalez finally churns out “Now and forever, I’m your King!” shivers tingle up your spine, every time. Although predictable, this is a beautiful end to a long and epic album.
9. Burial/Four Tet & Thom Yorke - Ego: Another song thats all build and release, “Ego” is a wonderfully produced collaboration from the people you would want to collaborate. From what I can hear, Burial is responsible for his signature lurching beats, Four Tet adds the clever piano riff in the back half, and (obviously) Thom Yorke provides crooning vocals which fade in and out of cohesive mumbling. The first 4.5 minutes build up layers of tension, and when the pretty piano finally drops, it melts the song into something too pretty to be solely a Burial release. Definitely was on repeat throughout each season in the year, whether it was a cruising song, or a a headphone-required late night swim.
8. Death Grips - Takyon (Death Yon): I want more people to listen to this album. It goes harder than any rap or hip hop album released in any recent memory. Relying on a simple distorted bass drop beat, Takyon is all about the visceral vocals being shot into your ears, and it makes you want to revolt with every listen.
7. A$AP Rocky - Palace: Talk about strong openers. Palace, masterfully produced by Clams Casino (who deserves much respect for many hits this year), proves that A$AP Rocky can indeed rap, while maintaining a lazy attitude about it. As with a lot of cuts this year, manipulated vocals appear here as well, but they are used tastefully, mostly because the lyrics aren’t just “swag, swag” a million times over, as A$AP sighs “Fuck the money, fuck the fame, this is real life,” and then it drops back into an ever increasing hi-hat heavy beat which goes well with his lazy after thought verses.
6. Zomby - Witch Hunt: Hearing that Zomby is kind of a dick, the coolness of Witch Hunt makes sense. Loaded with gun shots, a 8-bit videogame era sounding synth, and what can be described as static rhythm, Witch Hunt is a haunting slice of an otherwise disappointing compilation from Zomby. My only gripe with it is that it’s only about 2 minutes in length, but every second is perfect.
5. King Krule/Zoo Kid - Out Getting Ribs: Young Archy Marshall has courage. Despite only being 17 or 18, he is pumping out emotional heart felt dub hits with lyrics that are approaching some of the best I’ve heard in recent memory, especially in the way he wails them out on his releases. Out Getting Ribs may be arguably his best release to date, as he cries out “I’ve been broken down,” and it’s believable, he sounds much more mature than his age and I’m interested to hear what else he can do in the coming years.The King Krule EP was a little disappointing, but “The Noose of Jah City” is a solid single, showing that he definitely has chops in the vocal and production territory.
4. James Blake - The Wilhelm Scream: I was trying to come up with my favourite track off of James Blake’s self-titled release, as it was my favourite album of 2011. I had difficulty in doing so, especially considering the consistent material he has put out, but The Wilhelm Scream encapsulates everything that is canonical to his sound, even as he manages to evolve in production, with new releases like “Love What Happened Here”, and the collaboration with Bon Iver on the track “Fall Creek Boys Choir” (What the hell is Justin Veron singing?). “The Wilhelm Scream” is a soul track that features Blake sighing out lines in a simple, but effective, technique of repeating the last word from the line and expanding on it in the next. It builds up with synth sequencers and turns a chill dubstep into a soul ballad that is too personal to be called dubstep, and communities have been labeling this as post-dubstep. Overall, it’s the best of what I think is considered dubstep and incorporates the better qualities of R’n’B to make a ghostly ballad.
3. Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx - I’ll Take Care of U: While the backing vocals from Rihanna on Drake’s remix of this song are nice, they lack the soul from the original release of Gil Scott-Heron in 2010, something that Jamie xx does not lack with his reworking. He closes the album with this track and it is definitely the most successful of the lot to rework, and also capture the same vision of Gil Scott-Heron. Jamie xx includes beautiful, uplifting piano, guitars and an upbeat rhythm to completely change the original, and it’s a shame that most people will hear Drake’s version instead of this. The thing that makes it so beautiful is the very XX guitar riff that separates verse from chorus, and it’s been engraved into my head all year. Just a wonderful track that celebrates the safety and trust of a new relationship blossoming.
2. Balam Acab - Oh, Why: The slow pace of this track is moved along with an addictive piano riff, an innocent vocal sample that is not quite understandable, and with wall-crumbling sounds until the sounds burst into a satisfying chorus full of dubstep quantities such as bass drops and tempo-changing hi-hats. But the hectic and haunting chorus returns back into the beautiful, and everything fades away back to the original piano riff that hooked you into the first place, leaving another spine-tingling experience. The sample the title is based on, which features a woman crooning the title fades the song away and while the story in it doesn’t quite make sense, it has a beginning, climax and resolution, which leaves for a very satisfying experience.
1. Toro Y Moi - New Beat: When I was deciding this list, this song was the firstthat came to mind. The list dwindled away, eliminating songs left and right, but I never thought of eliminating “New Beat”. As the best song of 2011, I thought surely I should pick a song with more meaning, as this was obviously being picked because it was too damn catchy, but no, no matter how many times I listened to this certified jam, nothing dwindled from it’s quality. The catchiness is mainly due to the synth that pops in around 30 seconds and carries the song to a funk world and doesn’t quit. Even when it slows down and explores more psychedelic beats, there is no need to bring the funk back to the original riff, because the quality isn’t relient on it. Like Shutterbug of 2010, and Hey Ya of 2003, New Beat is a single that has much lasting value for years to come, and while Underneath the Pine is a great record that doesn’t have New Beat as the only good track, it’s definitely the best, and shallowness be damned, it is the best track of 2011.
James Blake – Unluck
James Blake – Love What Happened Here
Bon Iver – Wash.
Battles – Inchworm
Battles – Futura
Battles – Africastle
Wu Lyf – Spitting Blood
Wu Lyf – Heavy Pop
Cass McCombs – County Line
Braids – Native Speaker
Beastie Boys – Make Some Noise
Araabmuzik – Streetz Tonight
Nicholas Jaar – Keep Me There
Fucked up – The Other Shoe
Grouper – Alien Observer
John Maus – Believer
Kate Bush – Wild Man
King Krule – The Noose of Jah City
Oneohtrix Point Never – Sleep Dealer
Radiohead – Lotus Flower
Sbtrkt – Hold On
St. Vincent – Dilenttante
TV On The Radio – Will Do
Youth Lagoon – July
Youth Lagoon – Montana
Zomby – Natalia’s Song
College – Real Hero (feat. Electronic Youth)
Das Racist – Michael Jackson
Death Grips – Guillotine
Holy Ghost! – Hold On
The Antlers – Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out
James Ferraro - Starbucks, Dr. Seussism, And While your Mac Is Sleeping
that adele song
man or muppet - the muppets
that “WHAT AM I DOING?” by Drake
20. The Antlers - Burst Apart
19. Talkdemoic - Ruins
18. Chad VanGaalen - Diaper Island
17. Toro Y Moi - Underneath The Pine
16. King Krule - EP / Zoo Kid - EP
15. Death Grips - Exmilitary
14. WU LYF - Go Tell Fire to the Mountain
13. A$AP Rocky - LIVELOVEA$AP
12. Balam Acab - Wander / Wonder
11. Sbtrkt - Sbtrkt
10. Grouper - A I A: When I saw Grouper open up for Animal Collective at the Sound Academy in Toronto in 2009, she played for a group of impatient hipsters who immediately began to judge her after 2-3 songs. Liz Harris’ music is definitely not for someone who is impatient, she basically takes a guitar riff, along with loops from a tape deck, and layers her voice upon itself to create an overwhelming explosion of sound. I was intrigued after her opening song at the concert, but after the 8-10 songs, I was starting to get impatient as well because her formula doesn’t change a whole lot, sticking to the same climactic building of guitar layers and ghostly dronings of her voice. Add a stadium amount of reverb and you get the idea. These two 12” releases are aptly named “Alien Observer” and “Dream Loss”, mostly because the atmosphere she creates is relative to an alien abduction, space, and the floating aura of a dream-like state. This aura Harris creates is unmatched, and A I A is produced beautifully to calm an impatient soul.
9. John Maus - We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves: John Maus manages to take everything that I dislike about 80’s pop music- the weak sounding snares, abrasive synths and tremendous reverb vocals- into an album that I found myself listening to over and over again in the past couple of months. It’s largely due to the addictive mumbling vocals and popping bass, as seen on “Quantum Leap” and “Believer” that sets his music apart from other 80’s recreations of the 21st century. We Must… is a solid compilation of cuts that effectively recreate the dying sound of the 80s, for the better.
8. James Ferraro - Far Side Virtual: In a world of iPads, Skype meetings, Starbucks runs, and WiFi, James Ferraro successfully creates an album full of catchy and shallow music that captures the cold, isolating and disconnecting feeling of 21st century technology. If not just for the reflective look upon our cybernetic selves, the album’s music is actually pretty catchy. Taken like it’s straight out of a bad early 2000’s promotion for a networking business, Far Side Virtual is an upbeat album that appears to only be 46 minutes of shallow satisfaction until about halfway where the layers peel away to reveal the disconnecting consequences of our century.
7. Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica: Daniel Lopatin apparently made Replica with several old advertisements from bootleg DVDs that he bought and then manipulated, and this actually inspired me to make some of my own work by messing with commercials. Replica dives into a frightening world of manipulated chords to produce an all around uneasiness, even when the music is aesthetically pleasing, as is in the title track. Lopatin turns shallow wallows of commercialization into emotional cries for help, each a remorseful ambient cut that falls in place as a dark package.
6. Youth Lagoon - The Year of Hibernation: I didn’t really realize this album only had 8 tracks, a grand total of only 35 minutes, until now, but that’s only because I usually listen to it each time fully, and with every listen, it is as pleasant as the last. Each track is a single entity within itself, consisting of organ-sounding keyboards, synths, soft drum machine rhythms, low-end bass and the hurting voice of Trevor Powers. The Year of Hibernation is a swirling experience of nostalgic teenage summers where boredom and seasonal heartbreak are the only things that can go wrong. Powers relies on reverb within his vocals and his voice usually gets blended into the middle of the sleepy-eyed instruments that can only remind me of Little Big Planet and hide-and-seek as a young child, which ultimately result in a wonderfully pleasant album, with lack of ironic tinges.
5. M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming: If The Year of Hibernation is reminiscent of lazy teenage summers, then Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is the lovey-stargazing-innocence-isn’t-dead magnum opus of Anthony Gonzalez. Released as a double-album, nearing 80 minutes, Hurry Up… is a grand feat for Gonzalez, each album with 11 tracks, and said to have the tracks from each disc coincide with each other. Intro/Outro included, this is not a modest album, spiraling into intense goosebump-territory climaxes, orchestra and all. Eventually, the instruments melt together as a wall of sound, but Gonzalez never makes his ambition overwhelming, such as seen on “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire”, an adorable cut narrated by a young girl who turns the world into a fun-loving group of frog-friends, where “everyone is laughing and laughing”. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is the most hopeful album of the year, with major help being produced by Justin Meldal-Johnsen.
4. Destroyer - Kaputt: I would describe listening to Kaputt as if somehow you were able to drink velvet. The instrumentation is smooth, with swelling and fading trumpets, prominent bass, and melting vocals. The formula for Kaputt constantly approaches the line of poor soft rock, almost feeling campy in a way, but it never passes said line and successfully maintains its seriousness when it needs to, such as on the 11-minute epic “Bay of Pigs”, or the crooning Dan Bejar in “Savage Night At the Opera”. Kaputt is another album I didn’t think I’d like until actually hearing, and then proceeding to fall in love with, it.
3. Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx - We’re New Here: Dumb album title. And (what I thought) dumb idea for a remix concept. But Jamie xx’s production is unmatched, creating solid beats for seemingly random poetry by Gil, such as the several interludes throughout the mixtape, album, whatever you want to call it- reworking. Jamie xx creates spine-tingling sounds, such as the guitar on “I’ll Take Care of U”, which is reworked AGAIN this year by Drake on Take Care, and not as successfully (Drake stupidly raps “It’s my birthday, I’ll get high if I want to”). We’re New Here also delves into dub, with the sub-pounding bass drop of “I’m New Here”, which absolutely takes Gil Scott-Heron’s original vision into a direction I never thought possible. So, you win, Jamie xx, you took an album and made it into something completely new, but also managed to maintain the isolating tone of New York and raw vision of Gil Scott-Heron.
2. Bon Iver - Bon Iver: Upon the first couple of listens, I was sour on Justin Veron and what he is known to do: sing in falsetto, spew out depressing lyrics that aren’t personal enough to be cohesive, but aren’t general enough to be descriptive nonsense and spend 40 or so minutes making me miss a significant other. But goddamnit he did it again, he made another beautiful album, and it’s not just another personal yearning for Emma. The second, self-titled album from Veron is more sonically expansive than For Emma… ever was, including saxophone, DISTORTION bass, banjos, and more help from a backing band, and it’s effective. However, despite having an expansive sound, the tone remains the same without getting old. Much of Veron’s aesthetic is of nostalgia and memory, much of which can be hopeful or the feeling of missing someone, and despite the method of how you listen to Bon Iver, driving in a car, or with headphones on your laptop, this feeling remains the same.
1. James Blake - James Blake: 23 year old Blake is an inspiration to myself, producing the most consistently interesting material in 2011. What with 2 EP’s and a full-length album, every release of his is something I will cling onto until the well runs dry, but I don’t see that happening for a long time. His self-titled album mixes dubstep, soul, R’n’B and electronica into something so wonderfully produced, yet so personal that seems to have something to appeal to everyone. “The Wilhelm Scream” is a sighing ballad where Blake chokes out lines like “I don’t know about my love, I don’t know about my loving anymore” that puts heavy emotion into a dub percussive cut. For those looking for more hard-edged, cold and calculating dubstep, seek “To Care (Like You)”. While masterfully produced, James Blake is among the ranks of beautiful voices that remind me of Kid A era Thom Yorke, and his vocals bring the necessary emotion to complete a consistently soul-felt record. The emotional melodies are put in the all the right places, as is the hectic claps and bass drops. When it was released in February, albums after were only being compared to this, mostly with me concluding that “it was good, but no where near as good as that James Blake record”.