Sunday, December 18, 2011

Only 25! - Part 2 (#10 - #1)

Wow, look...three Random Ramblings entries in three consecutive days! I must admit, I can get used to doing this a bit more often. Maybe posting a bit more regularly will be my New Year's Resolution for 2012.

So let's get this list done. Last night, I posted the first part of my Top 25 Albums of 2011. Check it out here. Or just scroll down and take a peek at #25 to #11. This time out for the Top 10, not only will there be some videos and such, but I've got an Mixtape and a Spotify playlist to share both featuring a track off of each of the Top 25. And to think, I'm doing this all while watching a My So-Called Life marathon on the Sundance Channel. Rayanne Graff 4 Life!

Let's get to it:

DJ Brian L.'s Top 25 Albums of 2011 (#10 - #1)

10. Ruin 1 - Elite Gymnastics
 Out of my entire Top 25, and really out of all the music I absorbed in the last year, Elite Gymnastics was the one band that completely took me off-guard. With both Pitchfork and Stereogum praising them, and with a name like that, I expected another in a long line of almost forgettable lo-fi chilwave acts. What we get is the complete opposite. Ruin 1 is the more striking half of their dual EP (released together as Ruin.) Where its second part slows things down, Ruin 1 is constant movement. The Minneapolis duo keeps the vocals at a safe distance, filling their songs with huge, industrialized beats made to induce a sweaty dancefloor rather than hipster swaying. While some chillwavers are content floating into the background, Elite Gymnastics makes music that demands attention.

9. New Brigade - Iceage
Four kids from Denmark, not even old enough to legally drink in the States, make a raw blend of 3 kinds of punk prefixes (post-, death-, and goth-) and come up sounding like disciples of Joy Division except with a non-existent attention span. Iceage hammers through a dozen songs in just a shade under 25 minutes. Even when they reach a blistering speed, they manage to do so while never sounding rushed.

  Iceage - Broken Bone by What's Your Rupture?

8. Sound Kapital - Handsome Furs
This is the Handsome Furs album that makes it easier to almost ignore Dan Boeckner's past. Not that I want to forget Wolf Parade, after all, they were one of my favorite indie rock bands of the last few years. But since they're on hiatus, Handsome Furs, a.k.a. Boeckner and his wife, Alexei Perry, have explored their electro-pop leanings. With Sound Kapital, everything has finally fallen into place. The songs are sturdy, inescapably catchy while still showcasing some rock muscle and being irresistibly danceable. 

7. Hurry Up, We're Dreaming - M83
Everyone will point out the huge ambitions behind Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. It's a daunting challenge enduring a double album of arena-sized dreampop. And Anthony Gonzalez doesn't hold back piling on layers upon layers of synths whose starry-eyed haze easily swell into a crystalline shimmer. The only real obstacle is Gonzalez's vocals, a yelp that sometimes overreaches but by the second half of the album eases into form keeping up just fine with the music's heavenly arrangements.

6. Past Life Martyred Saints - EMA
Erika M. Anderson is one of those rare artists who is tough to pin down. On her debut album as EMA, one can spot the raw-nerved emotion of someone like PJ Harvey or Patti Smith but that's just part of what makes Past Life Martyred Saints such an engrossing listen. Experimental in a way where no digital trickery is needed, EMA's songs are wounded and scuffed-up going from deeply confessional to the occasional 90's guitar chug. At either gear, Anderson's vocals remain bare as can be- shifting from scarred to scared with equal conviction. 


5. Cherish The Light Years - Cold Cave
If there was any album to come out this year that would be considered a no-brainer to make it onto my list this would be it. Cold Cave already won me over with their 2009 album, Love Comes Close- a great collection of dark, and at times, noisy synthpop. Cherish The Light Years improves on its predecessor slightly smoothing out some of its rough edges to great results. I once described this album to a friend as a mixture of Depeche Mode, The Cure, and Pretty Hate Machine-era Nine Inch Nails. His response to that was: "Well, then Cold Cave must be your favorite band right now." I can't say I disagree. 

4. Wild Flag - Wild Flag
With all due respect to The Dead Weather, Wild Flag is the best indie rock supergroup. Period. Yes, it was inevitable that they'd be awesome since the band is comprised of former members of Helium, The Minders, and the sorely-missed Sleater-Kinney. But when they join forces, they're musically unstoppable seamlessly meshing Janet Weiss' thunderous drumming with Rebeca Cole's psych rock keyboard drones, Mary Timony's guitar-god tendencies and Carrie Brownstein's rockstar kicks. It's the kind of album you'd expect from them knowing each of their former gigs, but it still has the ability to melt faces in the process. 

3. Conatus - Zola Jesus
Nika Roza Danilova has a towering voice. It grabbed attention last year with her two EPs (Stridulum and Valusia) released under Zola Jesus. With Conatus her soaring, eyeliner-smeared goth pop becomes soul-crushingy gorgeous as synths pulse and shiver while that powerful voice remains firmly intact. 

2.  The Big Roar - The Joy Formidable
The Big Roar could have easily topped this list if it was based solely on the number of times I listened to an album. If there was a way to wear out MP3s the way tapes get worn out, then this album would suffer that fate. I just recently got The Big Roar on vinyl and I listen to it way more than my other records. That's how addictive this is. It's no secret how obsessed I am with this band having seen them in small clubs and in a large arena never sounding out of place in either venue. The Joy Formidable seem out to redefine the power trio but instead of virtuoso-like noodling, the Welsh band uses effects pedals and breathtaking volume to their advantage. Musically, they share the same DNA as Lush and Sonic Youth only with stadium-sized aspirations. Thankfully, The Big Roar lives up to its title.

1. Skying - The Horrors
It's hard to believe that this is the same band whose first album, 2007's Strange House, was an almost campy take on gothy garage punk. Back then they were messy and messed-up sounding like they could implode at any given minute. Luckily, The Horrors were able move on from their trainwreck-ready ways and focus more on their music. On Skying the band seemingly absorbs everything that preceded them, borrowing elements of psych rock, shoegaze, Kraut rock, and even hints of New Wave and transforming it into something singularly their own. 

As promised, here's an Mixtape of 25 songs from the Top 25.

And here is a Spotify Playlist as well: 25 Selections From the Top 25 Albums

There you have it- The Soundtrack to my 2011. Another potentially great year of music is almost upon us and I'm ready for some new sounds and some new obsessions. One more mixtape to share before heading to the land called New Jersey for the holidays. Here's a spoiler: It's a Mixtape For A Crush. Sappy songs forthcoming. 

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