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2011: Evan Hanlon

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Hanlon took a break from writing about buzz bands for Dusted to run down his favorite 15 albums of the year.

2011: Evan Hanlon

  • Press play to listen to Evan’s favorite music of 2011 while you read about it:

  • Amateur Party
    Truncheons in the Manor

    A strong contender for least expected album of the year, Amateur Party’s reconstructed college rock hits take on the likes of Craig Finn, Ted Leo, and even Mike Watt. The musicianship is impeccable here, unsurprising given the band’s pedigree, a veritable who’s who of the Philadelphia post-hardcore scene (members of Off Minor, Armalite, and Kill The Man Who Questions). Civil undertones of revolutions also make it especially timely for the foot soldiers of the Occupy movement.

    Standout Single: “On College Kids & Gang Signs”

    A reminder of what summer is like, built for speed and shout-alongs. The songwriting shines here when the whole thing shifts gears right after the bridge, before it all just peters out.

    Black Milk & Danny Brown
    Black & Brown
    (Fat Beats)

    As good as the back nine of Danny Brown’s XXX full-length is, it took fellow Detroit denizen Black Milk to really unleash the full potential. The production makes Brown’s propensity for extreme scatology, derision and Internet obsession sound down right mainstream, often coming off as a more boisterous counterweight to classic Madvillain. It’s a real collaboration, too, with Brown able to take a breather from time to time and give Black Milk’s unrivaled touch some time to shine.

    Standout Single: “LOL”
    Equal parts self-aggrandizement, cuckoldry and acronymic absurdity, this track bounces off every wall. And yet, Black Milk’s funked-out beat pulls it all together to make for one of rap’s lightest heavy tracks this year.

    Take Care
    (Cash Money)

    From a rap album perspective, Take Care is an unmitigated disaster. But pull back and consider it as a kind of therapy rap sheet, and it becomes rather fascinating. The production sounds downright medicated thanks to Noah “40” Shebib, who is largely the star here. As for Drake himself, he cycles through so much schadenfreude, narcissistic insecurity, self-consciousness, and revisionist personal history so as to resemble hip hop’s very own Woody Allen. Most of which, of course, is a myth, or at the least, posturing. It’s understandable why Rick Ross lies about being a drug dealer, but it’s much harder to understand why exactly Drake is so upset with success.

    Standout Single: “Crew Love (ft. The Weeknd)”
    The inevitable convergence of Drake and The Weeknd occurs right here, in some strange Bermuda triangle consisting of Toronto, Poland and Harvard.

    New Brigade
    (Dais/What’s Yr Rupture)

    Maximumrocknroll put me onto Iceage’s first single last year, and since I’ve got a thing for Danish bands, I spent a lot of time looking for it to no avail. Then New Brigade showed up with a full album’s worth of angsty teenage post-punk seconds away from exploding. In the studio and on stage, it’s pretty clear that these kids are willing to bleed for the music. They’re just one big mess with a lot of bodies pulling in every direction, each one better than the last.

    Standout Single: “Remember”
    This would be a hell of a youth anthem if it wasn’t constantly falling apart. Except for the drummer. He manages to get through almost the whole thing, set to 11.

    J Mascis
    Several Shades of Why
    (Sub Pop)

    Lou Barlow has spoken a bit about J Mascis having tempered somewhat in his older age. It’s one reason Dinosaur Jr. was able to get back together. But Barlow’s also pointed out that Mascis is still, ultimately, the same inscrutable human being in a lot of ways. The most important way is in his songwriting, which is boiled down to its most essential on Several Shades of Why. What’s most remarkable is that it feels of a piece with everything he’s done, from Deep Wound to The Fog, without any of the trappings. Just a plaintive voice and well-picked guitar strings.

    Standout Single: “Is It Done”
    Raw only in an emotional sense, this is as good as J Mascis gets.

    Kendrick Lamar
    (Top Dawg)

    Out of a sea of overhyped and/or benignly frivolous young SoCal rappers comes Kendrick Lamar, a fully formed lyrically lyrical heavyweight that’s equally in demand amongst the street, backpack and Internet rap crowds. He’s an incredibly elastic performer, twisting rhymes throughout lines, couplets and verses, as well as the intensity and vigor of the flow itself. No wonder Dr. Dre stands behind him so firmly. If he won’t put out Detox, he might as well stand behind Compton’s next great talent.

    Standout Single: “Ronald Reagan Era”
    An update on a slew of early 1990s West Coast tropes infused with a youthful frustration endemic to 2011, Lamar crafts an anthem to anxieties and uncertainty that’s actually beautiful in its despair.

    Kurt Vile
    Smoke Rings For My Halo

    It’s no secret that Kurt Vile is a masterful songwriter and one of the great evokers of mood. But personal? Not so much. Smoke Rings For My Halo changes that, with the power of each song radiating out from Vile himself. It’s a subtle difference, but now that he operates from inside the music, it feels much more conversational, even confessional at times. Instead of just talking at you, Vile talks with you. That directness, with the metaphoric veil lifted, creates the deepest connection yet.

    Standout Single: “On Tour”
    An incredibly lucid song that addresses the difference between Kurt Vile the Artist and Kurt Vile the Human Being, “On Tour” is an eminently relatable song that’s just about “me being me / being free.”

    Royal Headache
    Royal Headache
    (R.I.P. Society)

    Australia almost singlehandedly ran the rock scene in 2011, and none more so than Royal Headache. This is one of the most joyous, rambunctious, no-frills pop records I’ve had the pleasure of hearing, with Shogun’s vocals being the most notable element. He wails as hard as the rest of the band, finding notes of Guided By Voices, The Walkmen, The Killers, Reigning Sound and even Fall Out Boy along the way. All of which is to say is they’ve mastered the catchy, and are more than willing to share.

    Standout Single: “Never Again”
    This is the opener, and it doesn’t stop after this. Full tilt, four on the floor, go for broke rock ‘n’ roll. Try not to get ecstatic.

    Shabazz Palaces
    Black Up
    (Sub Pop)

    Ishmael Butler steps past Digable Planets into some uncharted territory in between the jazz, pop, golden age rap and “other” inclinations that have ebbed and flowed throughout his career. The result is an album that is literally bursting with ideas, shifting with too much precision to be random. Alternatively nuanced, spacey and hard-bodied, it’s the kind of album you can really sink into.

    Standout Single: “Recollections of the wraith”
    “Clear some space out / so we can space out” goes the hook over a disembodied gospel soloist. Spare and simple. For someone not typically prone to said spacing, it’s pretty convincing.

    Teenage Cool Kids
    Denton After Sunset
    (Dull Tools)

    Album to album, Teenage Cool Kids have become an increasingly complex and well-informed band, not only to the canon and but also the current goings-on of the scene. They’ve blown through phases of Meneguar, Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr., and now into a rather original blend of Beat Happening and Pavement. And above all, these songs possess a maturity that exudes calm and control. Even when things start to fall apart.

    Standout Single: “Landlocked State”
    Without a doubt the band’s ur-’90s tribute song that avoids sounding derivative and/or dated. Just a lot of good vibes.

    Tom Waits
    Bad As Me

    In focusing upon himself on this album, Tom Waits ends up talking about a much broader, weirder swathe of the American experience by proxy. This isn’t the first time he’s done so, but it might be the most maniacally gleeful he’s ever been doing it, or vice versa. He swings wildly from claustrophobic fugue to lovely love song with the greatest of ease, managing to simultaneously be so chaotic, so wild, and so simple at the same time. One gets the sense at the end that Tom Waits might never die.

    Standout Single: “Hell Broke Luce”
    A demonic ramble that tackles the many issues of global interventionism. Each round is enough to drive you insane, but the complexity of the rhyme scheme, the strong structure and the story will leave you speechless.

    TV On The Radio
    Nine Types of Light

    It’s only when New York establishment rock bands reach the end game that I start feeling particularly strongly one way or another. Such was the case with last year’s final LCD Soundsystem album, and so it is this year with TV on the Radio. The difference here is that the band is coming back from hiatus as opposed to entering one, and it sounds like they’ve got things pretty figured out. Growing up doesn’t mean the party has to end. It just gives you more control over it.

    Standout Single: “Will Do”
    For a band that does the more harrowing side of human nature so well, “Will Do” is still something of a triumph. At once one of the sweetest and saddest songs this year.

    Wild Flag
    Wild Flag

    As super a group as you can compile in this day and age, the combined talents of Carrie Brownstein, Mary Timony, Janet Weiss and Rebecca Cole far exceed the sum of their parts. The whole album is an all-out blitz, hitting you from every direction, with a special focus on drums, keyboard and knockout harmonies. In the end, the band’s real triumph is in showing that straightforward rock ‘n’ roll can still hit you where it hurts.

    Standout Single: “Romance”
    All killer — from the opening riff to the handclap ender to the most addictive chorus of 2011.

    Wye Oak

    The most notable element of Civilian is the extreme density of the album as a whole. Despite the tenderness and the care that emanates from Jenn Wasner’s voice, the full-scale guitar assault is so heavy as to push this Merge indie rock band close to Torche territory. Which makes for an unexpectedly effective vehicle for the album’s main ingredient: doubt. Rather than shy away or play with insecurity, Wye Oak confronts their demons head on. The contrast between the soft-loud-soft, soothing-reckless-calming tendencies becomes a thrilling ride.

    Standout Single: “Dogs Eyes”
    It is a visceral experience to feel “Dog Eyes” go from the awkwardness of its opening to the deluge of the chorus to the overwhelming apotheosis of the coda.

    Zola Jesus
    (Sacred Bones)

    This album should be looked back at as Zola Jesus’s coming-out party. She is both at the height of her abilities as well as her accessibility, outmaneuvering Lady Gaga in theatricality, art historical and critical theory fluency, and sheer force of songwriting. Nika Danilova takes dark, constrictive music and turns it into expansive electronic textures seemingly built for the sole purpose of exercising her voice. Only these exercises aren’t practice anymore. They’re the real deal.

    Standout Single: “Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake”
    This is Zola Jesus at full force, going so far off the dramatic spectrum to render it pointless. “Big” is an understatement, and Danilova enters rarefied territory inhabited by the Kate Bush’s and Mariah Carey’s of the world.

    By Evan Hanlon

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