Monday, December 19, 2011

Top 25 Musical Happenings of 2011

Last year I made a list of the top 25 different things in the music industry that made me stand up and take notice and I feel like I should keep the tradition going.  I don't really like picking strictly albums or singles because I don't think that's representative of what's happened in the industry.  I want to do more as far as live music next year so that I can post more about concerts so that's in my plans.  This blog has been a great part of my life and it's allowed me to hear music I might have never heard in the first place and I hope that you are able to learn about new artists as well from this blog.  If you've been reading my blog, you know I can be all over the place and this list is no different.  These aren't just albums or singles or anything in particular, just things that were pretty amazing.  Music is a super important piece of my life and I hope it's part of yours as well.


25.  The Rise and Fall of Dubstep
Pretty Lights, Skrillex, Nero, Zeds Dead, Lights, DJ Fresh…even Britney Spears were in the spotlight sometime this year with Dubstep.  Dubstep is a progression from Drum and Bass and tends to be more industrial in nature.  From machine noises to wobble bass to not knowing whether or not you’re just listening to Autobots fuck, dubstep made a huge mainstream impact this year.  Do I think it’s done, not in the least…do I think it’s had its 15 minutes….I do.  I appreciate it for what it is but in the long run it’s really nothing more than disco cotton candy.  It tastes really good but eat too much of it and you’ll get sick.

See: Pin Panelle: Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites

24.  Childish Gambino - Camp
Childish Gambino, better known as Donald Glover, is an emmy winning writer/actor/rapper from 30 Rock and Community has been rapping for sometime now.  Before the release of Camp, he had 6 EPs under his belt and moved to a full length album.  His raps are full of intelligent social commentary and are written with so much charisma, it's hard to not like them.

See: Bonfire

23.  Nicole Scherzinger – Phantom of the Opera
This Pussycat Doll has pipes.  I had no idea that she could do this.  It has made me respect her in so many more ways than I ever thought I could.  I am a fan of PCD but they are pretty one note, that is until Miss Nicole blew me away in this performance.

See: Royal Variety Performance

22.  Bad Lip Reading
What started out as a joke actually produced some decent songs.  They were catchy to say the least and made you tap your toes while you were laughing.  The concept was what a song sound would like if someone who was bad at lip reading attempted to interpret it.  They started with the Blackeyed Peas and have shared their very special brand of love with Justin Beiber, Taylor Swift, Michael Buble, and even Rebecca Black.  What amazed me was that they actually transcended humor and created some decent music with some of their covers.  Notably “(Rockin’) All Night” – their cover of Taylor Swift’s “Our Song”.

See: Trick the Bridesmaid

21.  Beth Ditto - Self Titled EP
Beth Ditto doesn’t care what you think of her.  You like her or you don’t, she doesn’t half step and she doesn’t pander for your affection.   Stepping away from Gossip for a self-titled EP and collaboration with Simian Mobile Disco, Beth proves she deserves to be in this industry and will stand her ground for her place.  The album is amazing and I can’t say nearly enough about it.  Go ahead and buy it because you won’t be disappointed.

See: I Wrote the Book

20.  Pentatonix - Dog Days Are Over
Last year a performance from The Sing Off landed on my top 25 of the year and with no surprise another one makes the list this year.  Last year it was a group performance from the second episode and this year was the Judge’s Choice for the Texas based group Pentatonix.  With their rendition of Dog Days Are Over by Florence + The Machine, these 5 young people landed a place in my musical history forever.  There’s something special about this performance that can’t be replicated and shows how acapella music should sound when it’s done just right.

See: The Sing Off

19.  Florence + The Machine – Ceremonials
Some people say there isn’t enough space between this album and Lungs.  I say, if it’s not broke don’t fix it.  Ms. Welch has a voice that can power a city for months.  There is power and energy there like no other artist.  Combine that with all the imagery the label Baroque Pop can conjure up and you might be close to having a taste what this album is like.  Leading off with the powerful single (and gorgeous video to boot), “Shake it Off” – the album is a nonstop ball of excitement and energy that is difficult to contain.

See: Shake it Off

18.  Mac Lethal - Pancake Rap
He’s been rapping for quite some time now but when a video amasses over 7 million views in a number of days, there’s something special about him.  He asked his fans what beat they wanted him to rap over and they picked Chris Brown’s “Look at me now” and Mac destroyed it all while making a metric shit load of pancakes.  If you haven’t seen the video then you have been under a rock somewhere because it’s been all over the internet.

See: Pancake in the OJ

17.  Foster the People – Torches
Whether you want to describe it as hipster pop or alternative or whatever label, Mark Foster and crew have put out an album that is nothing short of incredible.  The manner in which the tracks are layered with instrumentation and effects and vocals, each time you listen to a song, you have the potential to hear something new.

See: Don't Stop

16. Aqua - Megalomania
Aqua's first album in over 10 years has proved, in my mind, to be their best.  Showing that longevity in this industry is achievable and in some cases it proves to make an act even better.  When I initially reviewed the album, I said Lene's voice had never sounded better and I believe it still.  The album has a super high energy level and makes you want to get up and dance.

See: Playmate to Jesus

15.  k.flay - I Stopped Caring in '96
Smart, Clever, Rapid Fire.  How else do you describe one of the hottest independent MCs in the game.  k.flay has degrees in both Sociology and Psychology from Stanford and uses every bit of her incredible brain to spit lyrics that leave other MCs not knowing where to start.  I had the opportunity to see her live and it was one of the most amazing experiences I think I’ve had.  Her latest mix tape, I Stopped Caring in ’96 is free to download from her website and it just touches the surface that is her genius.  Take a listen and then try to tell me I’m wrong.

See: Party

14.  Samantha Newark – Something Good
This is the first album I hit when I want to listen to my MP3s.  I start with “Hands on Me”, “Milk and Honey” or “Lover” and just start shuffling through there.  To say I’m not biased would be a lie.  I don’t want to say that being Jem/Jerica from the 80s cartoon is the only thing that Sam has done but it certainly puts butts in the seats so if I have to say that’s what she’s famous for to get people in the door to hear this amazing album, then so be it.  Don’t pigeonhole her because you’ll just embarrass yourself.  The album is great and her voice is amazing.  This album almost slipped through my fingers and I’m damn glad it didn’t.

See: Something Good Interview

13.  Fitz and the Tantrums - Pickin up the Pieces of Love
Throwback.  That’s the first word that comes to mind when you listen to this album.  Take everything good about the 60s/70s/80s throw it all in a blender, pull out the pesky guitar – add a charismatic pair of lead singers and you’ve almost got FATT.  What you can’t make up is the passion they have imbued each track with.  You may think you’re listening to a release by Hall and Oates and that’s ok.  Michael Fitzpatrick has a very similar sound to Daryl Hall and they have even collaborated on a live version of the single “MoneyGrabber”.  It’s one of the only albums I can put on and just listen from start to finish.

See: Moneygrabber

12.  Bon Iver - Bon Iver
I don’t know how to properly describe this album without just doting over it.  It’s expansive, it’s lush, it’s ambitious and it is 10 tracks that may not change your life but you’ll certainly know you’ve been touched by it.  I wasn’t familiar with him before this album so I can’t say how much of a departure it is from his previous works but I do know that whatever locale Justin Vernon is in, I want to be there with him.

See: Holocene

11.  The Young Professionals - 9:00 to 17:00, 17:00 to whenever
Ivri Lider and Johnny Goldstein make up the Israeli pop group The Young Professionals and with their debut album, they’ve transcended not only borders but cultures as well.  The album is one of the handful of concept albums that actually works.  Each track is an hour in the day of a “Young Professional”.  It moves from the start of the day to a night out at a club and each song is an amazing progression in the day.  It was a pretty awesome day when I came home and found an envelope for me from Israel.

See: D.I.S.C.O

10.  M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
Much like Bon Iver, the only way you can really describe this group is ephemeral.  It is a wild ride through what could almost be considered the closest thing to synesthesia as a person unafflicted with the condition could experience.  It’s art, it’s drama and it’s everything in the middle.  This is the album you listen to when you need.  It doesn’t matter what you need, it’s in there somewhere.  In the vastness that is this record, it’s in there somewhere.

See: Midnight City

9.  The Sounds Concert
I’ve been to a ton of concerts in my life but when you have the perfect venue with amazing sound, amazing artists and a receptive audience the recipe is right for one of the best times in your life.  That happened when my best friend Charles and I embarked to Cincinnatti to see The Sounds, The Limousines, Kids at the Bar and K.Flay.  To say this concert was in the top 10 of my life would be easy because it was just that.  Read my in depth review and cross your fingers with me in hopes that they will come back to the states in 2012.

See: Painted by Numbers

8.  Adele – 21
Even though Adele and I have just recently made up (I was mad at her for having to cancel her tour and we weren’t speaking), there is no way this list would be complete without her.  21 is so packed full of emotion, it’s hard to pick a place to start.  From “Rumor Has It” to “Set Fire to the Rain” to her cover of “LoveSong” this album is brilliant from start to finish.

See: Set Fire to the Rain

7.  Beezleberry Music
Again, sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time and my blog has helped me do that on numerous occasions.  This time, not only did I get the opportunity to meet an amazing songwriter, but I’ve made a hell of a friend.  Charlie Mason is an amazing songsmith that has worked with the newest up and coming artists as well as some pretty established artists, such as Miley Cyrus, Erik Saade, Jane Badler and others.  He deserves all the success he can get because he deserves it.

See: Kyle Brylin - I'm a Man (Not a Piece of Meat)

6.  James Leon - Never Been Cool
Every now and then, you get the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time.  For me, that was the creation of this blog.  I started learning about new music and new artists and people started sending me music to listen to.  One of the first artists to do that was James.  I was so amazed.  Not only did a musician contact me and want me to review a track but he was a British musician at that.  Move forward almost a year and James releases on of the coolest albums, despite the title, I’d heard this year.  It’s super fun and is an amazing debut album for an artist that has an amazing future ahead of him.

See: Purple Heart

5.  Matt Zarley - Change Begins with Me
When you hear people on television talk about Southern Food, they call it “Comfort Food” because it’s good for your soul.  If it’s possible for an artist to make Comfort Music then Matt Zarley is a master chef.  Accessible, Inviting, or Comfortable are all adjectives to describe his music but I think the best way to explain him to someone is by just saying it’s honest.  It’s going to speak to some part of you in a way you weren’t expecting.  The album is one of the best examples of an independent artist doing what he does best without compromising his beliefs.  You’ll find heart, soul, acceptance and more than anything love at the heart of this album and you’ll be glad you did.

See:  Perfect

4.  Resurgence of Synth Pop
I think this new resurgence came from Wonky Pop because at the roots, it was really only one step away from being Synth Pop.  Whether it’s Penguin Prision, Holy Ghost!, The Good Natured, Parallels, The Ice Choir, A Kiss Could Be Deadly, White Lies or any number of artists; 2011 was a damn good year for synth pop.  I don’t see it achieving mainstream popularity status but those of us that are nostalgic for it and the people that listen to us will certainly enjoy this funky synthesizer fueled trip.

See: The Good Natured - Skeleton

3.  Alex Clare - The Lateness of the Hour
Making something new out of two separate genres can either prove disastrous or ingenious.  When producers, Diplo and Switch collaborated with soul singer, Alex Clare they took the best of two worlds and created something new.  Some see the throbbing baseline and immediately pigeonhole this into Drum and Bass or Dubstep fueled but I see the production as a powerful enhancement to Alex's already powerful vocals.

See: Treading Water

2.  Levi Kreis – Kickstarter
Kickstarter is one of the most amazing ideas I’ve seen in a long time.  Someone with an idea throws it on the site and asks the general public to help them fund the project.  If there are enough supporters the project can get off the ground and come to fruition.  This happened with Levi’s new album.  He created the project and set his sights on a goal of $15,000 to create and promote the album.  When the project was funded on June 1, 2011 – he had raised over $62,000.  What does this mean for fans? Better promotion, more consideration and overall more bang for the buck.  I certainly believe in the project and can’t wait for the album to come out.  He’s been keeping his backers up to date with exactly what’s happening with the creation of the album and it makes you a part of the creation of the art and you become vested in his work even more than you had done so before.

See: Let it Go

1.  Justin Utley - Nothing This Real
Hands down, this is my favorite album of the year.  I wrote a lengthy review of it because it deserved it.  After I posted the review, Justin sent me a few messages via social media and I literally melted.  It's that kind of connection with fans that sends him into the stratosphere as an artist.  He didn't have to even acknowledge that I wrote the review but he did and that is amazing to me.  The album is full of heart and soul and every time a track comes on, I have to stop and give it the full attention it deserves.  It is a great album and I'm glad it's in my collection

See: Nothing This Real

It’s not an honorable mention because it certainly needs to be mentioned:

Penguin Prison’s Debut Album
He’s been releasing individual singles (which is why I can’t say this is a full release for 2011) for quite some time now but he finally created a full length album and released it.  The album is synth pop perfection and there isn’t a misstep on the whole thing.  From the opening licks of “Don’t Fuck with My Money” to “Someone got Everything” you can push play on the album and listen to it from start to finish and never want to skip a track.

See: Don't Fuck with My Money

That's my list for this year.  I can't wait until 2012 so that I can hear more great music and bring it to you guys.  Keep reading and thank you for everything you guys have done for me.  This blog has become pretty important to my creative life and it makes me happy to write for you all.