Here we go again. Short version: you should buy Kaputt, Hotter Than July, Trap Muzik, Five Italian Oboe Concertos, Apocalypse, The Last Days of Disco OST, Night Drive, and Watch The Throne.
The same rules hold from 2008, 2009, and 2010: these recommendations are selected from all the new-to-me music I listened to this year. Old stuff, new stuff, no matter. Fortunately, 2011 started with my favorite album, which means I got to listen to it all year long.
My favorite album of this month, and the year, was Destroyer’s Kaputt, and very few come close to topping it. Amazing listen.
January was my first exposure to Freddie Gibbs, who quickly became one of my favorites. It’s not the most polite music you’ll ever hear, but still… Midwestgangstaboxframecaddilacmuzik is excellent (see: County Bounce, I’m the Man, Boxframe Cadillac).
Curren$y, Pilot Talk and Pilot Talk II. I love the production on both of these. The first has higher peaks, I think (e.g. Breakfast, The Day), but the second is more consistently good.
The Roots, Rising Down. Rock-solid.
Bach. Arias. Can’t go wrong with that combo. Magdalena Kožená sings with Musica Florea cond. Marek Strync. I loved Kožená’s album of French Arias that I heard last year. The highlight from this one was an aria from Cantata BWV 208 Schafe können sicher weiden.
You might recall that I got hooked on dhrupad last summer. Gundecha Brothers to the rescue again with Tears on a Lotus: Ragas Gaoti and Shivranjani.
Five Italian Oboe Concertos. I played the shit out of this one. Nicholas Daniel and the Peterborough String Orchestra.
Mulatu Astatke & His Ethiopian Quintet, Afro Latin Soul. Great start to finish. Latin tends to wear on me after a while, but this one stays pretty fresh.
Irma Thomas, Wish Someone Would Care. Without Love (There Is Nothing) is a strong, strong tune.
Radiohead, The King of Limbs. It grew on me. Bloom and Give Up the Ghost are the top picks here.
Big month. Brace yourself.
In April, I started a Stevie Wonder review project, which made clear to me the trouble with best-of lists. Forget Songs in the Key of Life or Innervisions. They’re the reflexively-mentioned albums because they’re damn good. But one of the problems with them being both great and popular is that if you don’t *really* *love* the albums like you think you should, you might give up on the guy. Like I did.
So I’d never heard of his actual best album, Hotter Than July (←opinion!). All I Do, Rocket Love, I Ain’t Gonna Stand for It, and As If You Read My Mind make one of the best four-song sequences you’ll hear.
Fullfillingness’ First Finale is Wonder’s second-best album for me, in no small part because Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away has become one of my all-time favorite songs. Music of My Mind is a close third (see: Happier Than the Morning Sun and Keep on Running). Talking Book is also great (Maybe Your Baby is my fave).
I guess the bottom line is that he’s written a TON of REALLY GOOD music. I need to keep in mind the rule for many really good artists: if the super-popular super-great album/painting/sculpture/book still isn’t quite your thing, there’s still a good chance there’s another worthwhile one out there.
End of digression.
Marvin Gaye, I Want You. I’ve frequently mentioned my love for the title track, but there’s also After the Dance, I Wanna Be Where You Are and Soon I’ll Be Loving You Again.
In another example of how critically-acclaimed amazing things can overshadow other amazing things (what I loosely term the Wonder Conundrum), Let’s Get It On is known for… Let’s Get It On. Rightly so, great track. But If I Should Die Tonight is sooooooo damn good. I also have this weird association with it, as it shuffled on when I found out that Osama bin Laden had been killed. “How many hearts, baby, have felt their world stand still?”
R. Kelly’s Love Letter got foisted on me somehow and I don’t regret it. Love Letter and Number One Hit are the favorites.
John Coltrane’s Stardust was one of the few jazz albums I heard and liked this year. Title track.
Curren$y & Alchemist, Covert Coup. Mostly recommending on the strength of Freddie Gibbs’ guest appearance on Scottie Pippens, though Smoke Break and The Type are also quality.
Speaking of Freddie Gibbs again, I also got into The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs and Str8 Killa No Filla. Both worthwhile. See: How We Do, Do Wrong, Crushin’ Feelin’s, Slangin’ Rocks and most especially Rock Bottom.
May was another really strong month…
Holy shit, T.I.. My favorite rapper? Probably, yes. Trap Muzik is brilliant. See: Trap Musik, No More Talk, Doin’ My Job, Look What I Got, and Be Better Than Me.
I’d never listened to much Bill Callahan, but glad I started with Apocalypse. Such a good album. My favorite tracks are Drover and One Fine Morning.
Cass McCombs was also new to me. Wit’s End wears out just a little bit by the end, but County Line is a damn fine song.
I’m gonna go ahead and add in Terry Riley’s You’re No Good single here. Partly because it’s awesome, and also because its late ’60s minimalist sound segues nicely into June’s top pick.
Catherine Christer Hennix, The Electric Harpsichord. It’s one track that’s only 25 minutes and change, but this is fantastic.
Another must-recommend single from June was Radiohead’s Staircase (live From the Basement). I hope you didn’t miss it.
Getting back to full albums, The Rosebuds were a nice surprise. Of the albums I heard, Loud Planes Fly Low and Life Like are the best. See: Come Visit Me, Waiting for You, and Border Guards.
Bach again. He rarely goes wrong. Cantatas: Trauerode BWV 198 and Jesu, der du meine Seele, BWV 78 is a nice pair of cantatas performed by La Chapelle Royale under Philippe Herreweghe’s direction.
T.I. again, with DJ Drama. Down With The King. This one came from a list of albums recommended in Ben Westhoff’s book Dirty South. Top picks are Jackin’ for Beats, Welcome Back, and Xtaci’s hilarious/brilliant “Why?” freestyle.
Bumba Massa, Dovi. This is sonic Prozac.
The Last Days of Disco OST. I previously called this an UNDENIABLE SOUNDTRACK and I stand by that statement. Disco!
I’d never listened to much MF Doom. Take Me to Your Leader is funny and mental and weird and delightful. I love his production and the use of old film clips. I ought to find some more of his work in 2012.
Yeah… so… Young Jeezy pretty much owned September. I’m the first to admit his lyrics often blow, but man his delivery and production are so good, so often. The Last Laugh mixtape had my favorite tracks, with Pressure’s On and Game Over on repeat pretty often. Trap or Die (see: “GA” freestyle), Trap or Die 2, and 1,000 Grams were the most consistent of the other mixtapes I listened to.
I played the shit out of Chromatics’ Night Drive. It seems to fit a lot of moods: work-time productivity, lazy lounging, driving about town…
Hariprasad Chaurasia made one of my favorite albums from last year. Raga Darbari Kanada & Dhun in Mishra Pilu is another solid one.
T.I.’s The Leak is a classic. Front Back Side to Side and Do U Really Want Me are the favorites here.
Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi was the only Camera Obscura album I hadn’t heard yet. It’s amazing how consistent their sound has been since this early stuff, and how it still satisfies every single time.
Jay-Z & Kanye West, Watch The Throne. I didn’t want to like this album. It’s part of a foolish contrarian streak that doesn’t always serve me well. I actually didn’t like much of it besides No Church in the Wild and Otis (still my favorites) on first listen, but it keeps growing and growing on me. I expect this one to last.
Drake, both Thank Me Later and Take Care. Apparently I’m a Drake fan? I also didn’t want to like these, an opinion mostly based on songs I was tired of hearing on the radio. Happy to be proven wrong. I like Marvin’s Room, Doing It Wrong, and Karaoke in particular.
After listening to a bunch of other mixtapes this year (and re-visiting Big Pimpin’), I realized I love Bun B. Of the mixtapes I collected, Legends Series Vol. 1, No Mixtape, and Southern Royalty are favorites. Give a listen to It Ain’t Me, I Made It, and The Champion.
I also got UGK’s Ridin’ Dirty, which is awesome — thanks again to Westhoff’s Dirty South recommendations for the tip.