almost sounds corporate. Without context, some might confuse Ferraro’s future-minded historicism with soundtracks from commercials from the 90’s about computers, banking, and the internet. The mistake would be an easy one to make, considering Ferraro draws on sounds from technology—from Windows, from the Nintendo Wii (I think), and any number of sources. The result sounds sterile, but in an almost transgressive way—these compositions are an appropriation of corporate sounds that tell stories about old ideas of the future, new ideas of the past, and all of the manufactured optimism that Wall Street and Silicon Valley keep trying to cram down our throats.
Of all the albums that didn’t get a lot of votes in our poll, tUnE-yArDs w h o k I l l
is perhaps the most surprising. On this album, Merrill Garbus mashes up funk, punk, folk and anything else she can get her hands on to make an album that feels hyper-contemporary. Garbus’ compositions are disjointed and generous in a way that recalls The Dirty Projector’s masterful Bitte Orca, only Garbus’ take on the culture-mash comes off as edgier, rawer, a bit more unhinged, more urgent even. Ultimately w h o k I l l
is a vibrant album that pushes boundaries of genre and resonates deeply with both a post-millenial dread and the unchecked joy to be alive to experience that dread.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy | Wolfroy Comes to Town
At the rate Will Oldham has been releasing albums for the last five years or so, it’s easy to feel as if he has saturated the market for his work. His albums come out, are measured against his previous work, appreciated by his fans, and go largely undiscussed as we know he’s probably already three-quarters of the way finished recording the next one. But Wolfroy Comes to Town
feels a bit heavier than some of Oldham’s recent work. It builds on the musical ideas from 2010’s Wonder Show of the World
, but pushes them to sparer, more haunted places. Add to this some vaguely political lyrical themes and Oldham has released one of his best albums of the past seven years or so.
John Maus | We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
To be honest, I didn’t expect this album to get many votes in our poll. It’s a small, obscure album that didn’t generate much of an audience. The songs are dark and difficult to gauge, with arrangements that fall somewhere between late Joy Division and brighter 80’s new wave. That Maus fills his songs with lyrics about killing cops and how “pussy is not a matter of fact,” only serves to make the album more difficult. But there’s a playful, if dark, transgressive spirit running through the album that makes the journey worthwhile—once we get past the dense, lo-fi arrangements and dark ideas, there’s a raw, alienated beauty at the album’s core.
Ford & Lopatin | Channel Pressure
Ford & Lopatin put out one of this year’s best 80’s-apeing, nostalgia warping pop albums. More than pretty much any release in 2011, Channel Pressure
draws on elements of production that worked in overlooked 80’s new wave and re-purposed them into a surprising and fun retro-futurist, dystopian tale. In my initial review of this album, I likened the experience of listening to Channel Pressure
to being a time traveler unstuck in time. Now that I think about it, the time traveler is not simply unstuck in time, but slipping between universes as he fucks with the past. These are songs for a parallel dimension in which 80’s futurism came true.
R.E.M. | Collapse into Now
When the votes were all in, I was a little bummed to find that R.E.M.’s swan song only received one vote, and it wasn’t a particularly high placement at that. I’ll admit, I didn’t even put it on my list, and to a point, my initial lukewarm, but optimistic impressions of the album still stand. But, more than any other R.E.M. album since Up
, I found myself returning to Collapse into Now
throughout the year and letting its songs get under my skin in a way that R.E.M. hasn’t been able to do on this scale in more than ten years. This process was only accelerated when R.E.M. announced their break-up and clues of that news began to bubble up out of the album. The truth is, while there are still three or four songs on this album I haven’t been able to, and probably never will truly appreciate, the album’s overall spirit reflects the brilliant trajectory of R.E.M.’s career and serves as a warm, fitting farewell from The Best American Rock Band of All Time.
Youth Lagoon | The Year of Hibernation
The Year of Hibernation
is an odd, quiet little album made by a young dude named Trevor Powers from Boise, Idaho. The songs are spare and meticulously arranged in an intimate bedroom-pop meets wistful-emo-nostalgia kind of way. There’s something n Powers’ affected vocals and open embrace of nostalgic lyrics that recall early Bright Eyes (though Youth Lagoon isn’t nearly so overwrought or melodramatic) and the production vacillates between chill-wave calm and spacey, layered pop exuberance. At times, it feels as if Powers has made a smaller, more intimate, knick-knack sized version of The Soft Bulletin
or Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
, only instead of singing about robots and crazy scientists, he’s singing about smoking on the Fourth of July, and fondly remembered campgrounds from his youth.