Inspired by Dottie and Trisha’s lists of their favorite music of 2011, I thought I’d post mine as well – some of these will be albums which were new in 2011, and some which I’ve just discovered and am really enjoying listening to. Here goes, in no particular order:
The Decemberists – The King is Dead:
This was a brilliant album, really different for the Decemberists, particularly compared with their previous album, The Hazards of Love. This album is some really great folksy tunes – definitely one of my favorites of the year. I loved the inclusion of Gillian Welch and Peter Buck on the album.
Björk – Biophilia:
What really needs to be said about Björk? More than most, I think, an artist who simply does whatever she feels like doing – to the extent of making up new instruments to make sounds she wants. I have to admit to not being a huge fan of her album Volta, but Biophilia is really a brilliant work from start to end – from delicate to almost violent, it’s quite a ride.
My Brightest Diamond – All Things Will Unwind:
My Brightest Diamond is largely the work of Shara Worden, sometimes with band members, sometimes not. I’ve loved all three of her albums now, each of which has a distinct style and each of which has different strong points.
Oh Land – Oh Land:
The endeavor or Danish singer Nanna Øland Fabricius, the overall sound of her music just really hit us, it’s very beautiful and melodic, well-polished.
R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now:
I have to admit to not having been much of a fan of anything of theirs after Automatic for the People (I liked some of their songs, but never a full album), but this one really hit it for me. I liked every song on it, and I feel like it was a really great final album for them, a fitting way to call it quits.
Radiohead – The King of Limbs:
Although I don’t think this is their strongest album, there are some great tracks on it, and the video for Lotus Flower is pretty great as well :)
Ólöf Arnalds – Innundir Skinni:
Another Icelandic artist, she was part of the group Múm for a long time, and this is her second solo album. I actually probably like her first solo album a bit better overall, but they are both wonderful.
Moby – Destroyed:
I’m a fan of a lot of Moby’s stuff, and while I think I like “Wait for Me” better overall, this album has some great songs on it as well. Moby’s kind of an intriguing fellow to me, and a great musician.
One very new thing for me lately is hip-hop. I’ve just been kind of beginning an exploration of the genre, and it’s been interesting and exciting to try some stuff that’s very new and different to my usual tastes.
You may know I’m a bit of a language nerd, and I feel like it’s important for me personally to be exposed to language and ideas that are difficult, that aren’t easily understandable at first glance, and that I have to work to get through and come to an understanding of. To me, hip-hop has been fantastic in that regard – because in hip-hop there is a lot of play on language in general, and some usage of words that may seem offensive to me at first glance, but when understood in context and in the meaning given by the writer, they can be very potent and something I agree with once I understand it. Even if I don’t agree, I feel it’s important to come to an understanding so that I at least understand what I’m disagreeing with, and I’m not just reacting to certain cultural connotations or personal biases. So, here are some of the things I’ve been discovering in hip-hop.
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy:
Kanye West is one of those public figures that gets a lot of heated opinions thrown around, and certainly his public presence has been anything from intentionally challenging to unintentionally inflammatory. From what I’ve seen of him outside of the major media flames though, I believe he is a really good and very sincere person, a very passionate person, whose feelings tend to get ahead of his thoughts – and come out his mouth before he can decide if that’s a good idea or not. In any case, he is an absolutely brilliant musician and producer, a great rapper, and his latest album just floored me, really. The video below is a short film he made that incorporates bits of most of the songs on the album.
Jay-Z – The Black Album & The Blueprint III
Jay-Z is an interesting character. He grew up in the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, NY. Sold crack in his teens and twenties, then decided to try rap as a profession, because he loved doing it so much, and as a shot to get himself out of dealing drugs. Released his first album at like age 26, was clearly very good at it, now at age 42, every one of his 11 albums has charted at #1, he’s married to Beyoncé, and expecting a child. He and his mom run a college scholarship trust that gives scholarships to people who are in social situations which would normally immediately disqualify them from typical scholarships (such as poor grades or criminal charges). He also owns the copyright to his music personally, owns a record label and music production company, as well as several other business ventures.
The Fugees – The Score:
The Fugees go way back to when MTV still played music :) Heavily influenced by Reggae, they are really a brilliant act – only two albums ever, but really genius. Pras Michel and Wyclef Jean are of Haitian origin, and Lauryn Hill is from the U.S. Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill have had successful solo careers as well and have collaborated with many other artists.
Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill:
Lauryn Hill has an incredible voice, and this album is just song after song of amazing. This particular song features Carlos Santana on guitar.
Another interesting person I’ve run across, more musically than personally, is DJ Dangermouse. He first became well-known for doing a mashup of Jay-Z’s Black Album and The Beatles’ White Album. There was a big controversy, as he didn’t get permission (read, pay money) to use either album, and EMI, who owns the Beatles’ music, made a big fuss, despite Jay-Z and Paul McCartney having no problems with it. The mashup exploded on the internet way more than he expected – he said he had intended to make it more as an art project, rather than trying to market it as an album. In any case, he has gone on to be part of many other collaborations.
Broken Bells – Broken Bells:
Broken Bells is a collaboration between DJ Dangermouse and James Mercer, the lead singer of the group The Shins. This is a match made in heaven, and this was another album that really just kind of hit me right away – one of the first things in this genre I started listening to.
Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere:
Gnarls Barkley is another collaboration with DJ Dangermouse, this time he and Cee-lo Green.
Anyway, there’s some of the stuff I’ve been listening to this year. Have you all found anything new and exciting to listen to? What are your favorites?