So continuing on from the other blog, here are my top 15 from the 30. I liked these albums. You should too. With the exception of the last two, the last 13 are in no particular order.
Matt Morris – When Everything Breaks Open. This former Mouseketeer (don’t hold that against him) was quite the surprise this year. This being his first major album, he left no stone unturned with how he felt about life, love, and the country. “Money” delivers the idea of how money doesn’t solve really anything and makes people turns the best to the worst. It’s a jazzy tune with a slight sample of a Lil’ Kim oldie but goodie. Nice job Matt. Then he can turn around and write a song called “Love” where he says “is plenty enough.” This is a grab bag of an album. Something for everybody. However the opening track “Don’t You Dare” is my favorite and quite possibly the weirdest song on the album. He’s a musician and a singer and a songwriter. But DYD is a loud percussion driving song with clashes and bangs and pops and machine sounding samples pushing him to overpower what’s behind him. It sounds like a Nine Inch Nails song honestly. And he delivers his voice hard with the banging and clashing. I didn’t know at the time that the rest of the album would be such a departure. But a good departure. When Everything Breaks Open is a great introduction to a singer who has many levels to him.
The Adventures of Bobby Ray. Yes. “Airplanes” was killer. Yes he salutes women in “Nothing on You” with Bruno Mars. But there is more to this album than that. “Ghost in the Machine” is a tale about leaving all that is behind because he’s tired of feeling like a ghost and no one notices him. And he wants the audience to see him and see what he sees. It’s really a beautiful song. “Past My Shades” illustrates to the listener that you might be able to understand his mind but never what is past his shades because he won’t let anyone really try to figure him out, a defense mechanism if you will. His eyes lead to his soul and he’s not ready for anyone to see past his shades. Perfect. “Kids” illustrates that kids will go wrong if they have nothing but negativity around them. They don’t stand a chance. Perfect. Very true. There is something for everyone here. Key Songs: the singles released, and the ones I just stated.
Local Natives – Gorilla Manor Heavy on the percussion, harmony, and good songwriting are the keys to a good album. And these guys have it. That’s it. That’s all I have to say. They have it. The drums draw me into every song. They keep it straight forward. Never stray away. Very good stuff. You an listen to this album and drift away. No complaints here . Very good indeed. Key songs: Airplanes, World News, Cards and Quarters, Stranger Things.
Buke and Gass – Riposte. I am always amazed when I hear heavy sounding music from just two people. It never ceases to amaze me. Bird and the Bee, Black Keys, and now Buke and Gass. I wonder if it’s because all the bands have B as the first letter in the name. No, just a coincidence I guess. But again, an album that delivers. Sleep Gets Your Ghost is a sing along boppy bop song. That’s the only way I can explain it. But it differs from the rest of the album. It’s chaotic sounding and it sticks in your head like flies to flypaper. It gets quiet in the middle of the song, and then takes off again. I love that. And the music is so loud..you want to break something. So does “Page Break.” There is some slow stuff on here which I won’t get into but it is also good. “Horse Head Nebula” sounds like something musically has gone awry with a screeching guitar beginning. It’s kind of funny actually. Check the whole record out and see for yourself.
Salem – King Night. I can’t even describe this album. It’s gothic. It’s electronica. It’s angry. It’s just weird. But I can’t stop listening to it. I’m going to let you all just listen for yourself. That’s all I can say about it. I tip my hat off to Sound Opinions in Chicago for the heads up on this one. Wow is all it left me saying time after time. Just. Wow. I can’t even pick a song. It’s just so..weird.
Underworld – Barking. For all the electronic heads out there, this album was pretty sweet. Underworld never really disappoints with the genre. It was good to hear vocals on this album too. I love elctronica but I would like to hear more vocals on songs. The challenge is to be able to find the right range for such a beat heavy bass heavy genre of music. So Underworld heard my prayers. Or read my mind. Most notably, “Grace.” Nice vocals. Nice beat. Simple. It’s a win win. No complaints here. My body gets chills in listening to “Always Loved a Film.” So so good. Makes my foot tap. I love how it builds in the first minute and then explodes into high energy 1:13 seconds in, cools down, brings the vocals but still doesn’t deter the listener. So so good. Key Songs: Always Loved a Film, Grace, Moon in the Water, Between Stars
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Say what you want about Kanye. But his albums are just amazing. He is a great producer. A great great producer. He has made one of the most captivating sounding landscape albums of the year. I can’t stand to hear him speak personally, but man the music and the samples and the choirs he chooses are just absolutely breathtaking. The best thing about Kanye is that he knows he’s a prick. He says it in his lyrics. And he doesn’t really know what to do with himself. He has no idea what to make of himself but he’s not going to stop what he’s doing because of his attitude. It just fuels his fire and you hear it in the music. For that as an artist, I respect him totally. I just wouldn’t listen to him in interviews. But musically, keep it comin’. Key Song: MONSTER.
Tracey Thorn – Love and its Opposite. I’ll keep this short. Tracey Thorn has captivated my listening ears ever since Everything But the Girl. This album, like her previous solo effort, is recorded and executed in her own way. Smooth vocals stand out over the music. And so it should be. It’s a good album from beginning to end. Very minimalistic. Her instrument is her voice and it upstages every instrument she used in the songs. Key Songs: Swimming, Kentish Town, and Why Does the Wind?
Robyn – Body Talk. Surely anyone that has been heavy into dance music this year has got to know Robyn. She released three eps this year, with this last one, Body Talk, being a culmination of the other two plus new songs. I have to say it’s quite ballsy to do. But anytime a woman who was on the brink of stardom in the 90s hangs it up and disappears for many a year, come back and do well in the underground dance scene and now resurfaces in clubs around the country is definitely a star in my eyes. She pretty much could do no wrong. She is the perfect mix of electronica and pop. Your speakers will thank you. Your butt will thank you for shakin it like a polaroid shaker, and your ears will thank you for turning them on to her music. Key Songs: Hang with Me, Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do, We Dance to the Beat, Get Myself Together
Stone Sour – Audio Secrecy. Corey Taylor and his comrades make another quality rock album. Period. End of discussion. Move along… “Hesitate” is a standout to me. He really can sing and not just shout like many rockers seem to live by. It’s nice to hear some harmonies on a heavy rock album. “I see you but I can’t feel you.” Great line. There really hasn’t been a lot of rock albums this year that has grabbed my ear. And I think rock is definitely is kind of going through a blah blah blah moment. So when Stone Sour released this one, based on their track record, I definitely wanted to give them a good listen. And it’s good to know in the fake, autotuned, pro tooled way of music today there is a band that can bring it and still have melodies that stick in my head. Rock melodies at that. Key Songs: Hesitate, The Bitter End (killer drums on that one), Hate Not Gone
Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards. Jack White is just the man. He can play the hell out of a guitar AND a set of drums, as evident in this album. It doesn’t stray from the formula behind the first Dead Weather album. This second one is more of the same using Allison Mosshart as the driving force with vocals. It’s not a friendly album. It’s unapologetic. It’s loud. It’s dirty. It’s rock. And you won’t be disappointed. Key Songs: Hustle and Cuss, I’m Mad, Gasoline, and Jawbreaker
Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid. This woman. What can I say about her? She is just amazing. This is a wonderful album from beginning to end. Janelle crosses many boundaries music wise and she feels like no one should be put in a nice little convenient box with a label. This album delivers and then some. It’s an album for the clubs. It’s an album for the headphones. It’s an album for your car. “Dance or Die” is a club banger. She sings so fast I have no idea what she is saying. And if you can leave me baffled with lyrics, than you’ve done something. She is definitely a force to be reckoned with and she carries herself with such finesse it’s wonderful. Women in the music business for the most part seem to conveyed as sex symbols with nothing to say. They just want to shake and shake and shake. Well Janelle shows them differently, never compromising who she is and the music she makes. Even the album cover is a throw back to the movie Metropolis. It’s a cover you don’t see everyday. Key songs: THE WHOLE THING
The Bird and the Bee – Interpreting the Masters, Volume 1. I will tell you what they are interpreting. Hall and Oates. And it’s good. I’m an H&O fan. Always have been. Don’t judge. They have more blue eyed soul in Daryl’s pinky finger than Justin Timberlake will EVER have. So I was very much on the defensive when I heard they had released this album. So I decided to cut them some slack and listen to them. And they are goooood. They don’t mess it up. They don’t overproduce it. The album is very dancey. And these two from B&B don’t try anything fancy. Her voice is very very whispery but not in an annoying Mariah Carey way. It carries the song as much as the music does. My favorite cover: “I Can’t Go for That.” So please, before you dismiss me with this selection, give it a listen. As much as I despise albums that are under 40 minutes, this is a perfect little addition at a little over a half an hour. Very easy to listen to and thumbs waaay up.
Big Boi – Sir Luscious Left Foot, Son of Chico Dusty. It’s a shame that this album sat and sat and sat and he had to go to a different label to get it released. But now that it has been released it was worth the wait. Big Boi brings some of his friends along for the ride of dance and clubbing. The one thing about Outkast that made them who they are was the music that was behind them. This album continues the tradition with heavy basslines and high hats. Mixed with Big Boi’s braggadocious lyrics, the album is a gem. My favorite line: “All the shit you rappers lack, we got plenty here’s a snack. Gon’ ruin their apetite cuz your shit is really wack.” Ouch. He knows how to get the booties shaking and is proud of it, especially in a song called “Tangerine.” I can easily see the dancers lining up for that one. It’s a shame Andre 3000 couldn’t have made an appearance (record label reasons). A particular favorite of mine is “Be Still” featuring Janelle Monelle. the chorus is sung at the beginning, letting Janelle bring in the listener slowly saying “never let it fall apart, be still my heart.” It’s a great song and quite the standout in the land of booty shaking. He’s not out to change the world. He just wants to make good dance rap music. Hats off to Big Boi. Key Songs: Be Still, Tangerine, and Hustle Blood
And my number two:
Black Dub-Black Dub. Daniel Lanois, producer extraordinaire (U2, Neil Young most notably..), has put together a fantastic album for the ears. It combines, r&b, rock, reggae/dub together all in one piece. Trixie Whitney is a Joss Stone soundalike with a voice that is strong and relaxing. My ears continued to stand on edge, and my head continues to bop. It’s nothing over the top. It’s just a straight up vibe record where you can relax and chill out and do whatever come may. The album opener “Love Lives” is an r&b track where Whitney hails, “I wanna live where love is. Where’s the field where I can work in.” Don’t we all? The drums are loud and haunting thanks to the phenomenal Brian Blade. And Whitney harmonizing with Lanois is simple and sweet. I can listen to that song everyday. “Nomad” is easily a road trip song. “I may fall from this trapeze but I’m a land down on my knees..the way the nomad rolls.” Great line, followed by a guitar riff by Lanois. It’s an excellent album. Stellar in fact and I can’t understand why this record didn’t pop up on more lists. But it’s truly a great find. It WAS going to be my number one album. Until a tiny man with a big voice stole their thunder.
My number ONE:
Cee-Lo The Lady Killer. Yup. SURPRISE!! You thought I’d choose Linkin Park. Sorry but no. I LOVE my LP and all, but they didn’t make the cut this year. Cee-Lo holds a special place in my heart since he was in one of my favorite rap groups, Goodie Mob in the 90s. And you all probably know him as one half of Gnarls Barkley. But his solo album is absolutely one of the most catchiest sounding albums in years. He’s a singer as well as a rapper. This album he pours his heart out vocally. It’s almsot as if there are two Cee-Los.. One that’s the questioning rapper, and one that is the playboy stud charming women with that Al Green/Cab Calloway voice. All vocals. There’s more to this album than just “Fuck You” which is a good song, but there is so much more to him than just a Lady Killer. FU is a song about women who have broken his heart. He’s so passionate about his heart being broken and so upset, there is no other way to describe his frustration than to say “Fuck You.” And haven’t we all been there? I will say despite this song, this is an album for the ladies. He loves the ladies, and proves it in various ways. And he romances ladies. And in a time where women are not really put up on a pedestal in music, he makes a notion to change that. His voice is refreshing and inviting. He’s not trying to hurt anyone despite being called “A Lady Killer” he is a gentleman. One of the few. My particularly favorite song is “Bright Lights, Bigger City.” It sounds a lot like MJ’s Billie Jean in the beginning…except for LOUD LOUD synths. That just killed me, no pun intended. And “Wildflower” a standout track in trying to show the value of woman who’s been hurt time after time. It’s wonderful. I won’t go on and on over every song. But trust me. This is a winner of an album. For a gentleman of a generation. Get it. NOW. NOW. NOW. NOW.
There you have it folks. My top 15 of my top 30. Quite the cosmic slop, no? Check two blogs back for the other 15. Have a great new year.