Tuesday, January 31, 2012
A fantastic young band who do their darndest to recreate early 70's Beach Boys sonically, but this debut album fares better than Wilson and co.'s output around that period on an overall songwriting front, especially when it comes to track-to-track progression.
Their sophomore release is actually coming out this year, so if you dig these classic-sounding power pop vignettes you are in for a sweet, sweet little treat within the next few months.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
4AD debut of an unbelievably promising female artist who has taken Montreal by storm over the last few years, Gяiмεs is a surreal moniker that incorporates everything from New Wave to New Age to K-Pop into a buzzing wonder of pop inventiveness that rivals everyone from Blondie to The Jesus And Mary Chain in psychedelic posturing.
With all that in mind, Visions is indeed eclectic and an early contender in 2012's AOTY war. The flavors inside are endlessly delectable: opening single 'Oblivion' is very much in line with classic Cocteau Twins while a gorgeous 6-minute deep cut like 'Skin' takes Enya's late 80's New Age-lite to a level of immersioncraft that borders on the inexplicable. Yet beyond all that there is a distinctly modern dancefloor songwriting edge to the musical process at hand, particularly in the dubstep dreamthump of 'Nightmusic' and a beautiful albeit bizarre take on J-Pop meets Quarterflash fusion in 'Visiting Statue'.
As inherently retarded as a tag like "post-pop" seems in the greater scheme of things, this is one of those rare albums that seems to fit such a label's elusive critera. Its the sort of misfit music that doesn't fit comfortably in any era, the sort of soniconcoction that could only be made in the shadow of an insatiable Information Age where all barriers vanish in a puff of neon lights and button clicks. Astonishing.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Long awaited sophomore release by producer/pimp Sнuyα Okiиo of Kyoto Jazz Massive, and it cuts helluva deep in all the right musical arteries.
Unlike his more House oriented debut a few years back, Dεstiиy sees Okino-san attempting to revitalize the sort of rhythmic space funkiness that a lot of late 70's/early 80's groups like Change and Cameo (and to a lesser extent guys like Alexander O'Neal and Leon Ware) crafted into near perfection back in the day, thus reigning over many a popular music circle until R&B balladry gained the upper hand near the close of the age.
Alternating classic covers with entertaining originals and bringing in a score of great vocalists to get the most out of the tracks themselves, I'm going to assert that this is a pretty fuckin' jammin' recreation of a long-dead era and one of 2011's more compelling under-the-radar gems to boot. Get cookin'!
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Perhaps the single most talented vocal jazz-anything to come into prominence in the late 70's and so forth, Al Jαяяεαu laid down some mighty fine L.A. pop-funk-soul'n'B in an era where only the strongest and classiest cats survived. Able to reproduce a number of astonishing sounds with his scatting and a master of vocal control in general, this '83 slice of sunny solid state came in the wake of 1981's Breakin' Away, his bestseller and one of the best jazz pop records of the early 80's in and of itself.
Like that particular classic, guitar king Jay Graydon plays throughout and produces this record to the point of perfection and beyond: his magic tough is a force to be reckoned with in conjunction with a performer and songwriter like Jαяяεαu, particularly on monstrous cuts like radio-favorite 'Mornin', dreamy keyboard glider 'Trouble In Paradise' and the 6-minute lynchpin where all good things collide known as 'Save Me'.
Ideal morning music and endearingly upbeat and fluid from song to song, this is an excellent treatment for any case of cynicism this side of the rail road tracks.
Monday, January 23, 2012
Although recorded hastily and begrudgingly at the behest of contractual record label obligations, this final album from the unfortunately short-lived classic career of Aτнεisτ (until 2010 atleast) is about as good as jazzy death metal got two decades ago, and thus could be considered something of a landmark at the time of it's release.
Befitting of it's namesake, Elεмεиτs serves as both a primal exercise in harsh-bled melody and a dissection of the various primordial components that formulate this band's sonic DNA. Fascinating stuff even in moments of obtuse clarity: the drumming proves jazzy and unbelievably flexible whether it's gliding along a mercurial groove or pummeling your skull to jelly, whilst the guitar work of then-newcomer Frank Emmi is a razorbacked swine that runs you down with unbridled belligerence, cutting through the mix with precise yet vital abandon in tandem with the mindboggling bass work courtesy of Tony Choy.
Although not an accessible record by any means, Elεмεиτs is still the friendliest and most approachable serpent of the snakepit that is the aural realm of Aτнεisτ, and is essential listening for anyone who claims to be a fan of technical metal in the first place.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Although this is something a number of you are aware of, some of the most fascinating music on the planet seems to be coming out of Russia and Eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall back in prehistoric times, with a number of artists being able to break the language barrier and reach international audiences on the sheer talent their recorded material represents.
This, of course, includes the oft-maligned genre known as progressive rock. In the space of two meager records, Tнε Goυяisнαиkαя have not only demonstrated that they are at the absolute pinnacle of creativity when it comes to this sort of music, but are creating a brand of art-rock that defies all and any categorization known to criticdom.
Metal, jazz-fusion, 80's synth washes and an assortment of trip-hop stylings and techno clubbery are but a few of the wondrous elements at play here on 2008's Closε Gяip, and the conjunction of these diverse sounds and how they collide and interact with one another in a melodic context is magnificent to behold. The Geddy Lee-esque vocals of MJ Whiner and the overall production style are reminiscent of Rush circa Hold Your Fire, but that particular ensemble would never do anything as audacious as throw in free-jazz saxophone solos ('Insomnia') or Gregorian choral chant interludes coupled with ominous piano ambience ('Autumn Frost') and still retain memorable songwriting progression. That's pretty goddamn brilliant!
Bizarre, addictive, peerless in ambition and blindingly schizophrenic in ways that defy expectation, I cannot lay enough accolades upon these guys and their output, because none of it does the music justice. It stands on its own merits and resembles nothing else.
In closing, albums like this one are why I started blogging in the first place. Do yourselves a favor and pick it up.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
SOPA, PIPA, Megaupload going down -- I suppose to many of you, it may seem like the world is coming to an end as far as one's online freedom is concerned.
That being said, do not despair. Media and entertainment in all their forms will always find a way to get into the hands of the people who want them regardless of what mandates are in place.
I could write a dozen essays or more on why it is a fruitless and even destructive task for any government or organization to attempt to curb media piracy, but I'll keep it simple and postulate that there is no proof whatsoever that music piracy translates to a lost sale of a single or album for an artist, record label, etc.
The truth is something nobody who makes a living in movies, music, etc. wants to admit: mainstream entertainment simply isn't as engaging and intriguing to an increasingly fragmenting culture as it used to be. A small minority of people aside, you'll actually find with a bit of research that single sales have actually been going up for the last 4 years and album sales in some sectors are actually INCREASING as of 2011/2012.
If your product is worth buying, then the people who would have bought it in the first place will still buy it even here in 2012. People who wouldn't have bought your album in the first place will most likely pull your album off a filesharing site and listen to a record that would have never spent money on otherwise. That's exposure, and exposure is a positive thing for any self-proclaimed artist regardless of where you are and what you do.
The RIAA and those who carry a "holier than thou' torch seem to be under the false impression that piracy and copyright violation is the reason the industries they represent are failing, and it is precisely because they are unable to see beyond what correlates on a PowerPoint graph and address the real problems that ail the film and music industries that these mighty powers will eventually fail and become obsolete as business models change and time passes.
The Widening Eye is one of many blogs that sees through the bullshit and deceptive bureaucracy of our times, and that's why we share and expose music that might otherwise be forgotten by a fast and fickle musical culture. Keep the fire burning!
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Japan's most well-known musical export in many a circle, and a helluva pianist to boot. Sαkαmoτo-san has had his hands in pretty much every genre known to man since his beginnings as a fiery young keyboardist behind electro-New Wave pioneers Yellow Magic Orchestra, and his aforementioned solo career is a rather formidable beast to tackle for those unprepared for the sheer amount of quality that is apparent from his decades of output.
The mid 80's caught the avant-garde pianist at an interesting phase in his career: he's still screwing around with synths and modulators and other such artificial constructs, but he's fucking around in such a way on 1985's Espεяαиτo that he comes across as the ridiculously uncanny middleman between King Crimson circa Discipline and Brian Eno at his most spontaneous and adventurous.
More of a curious set of mood pieces for the multifaceted than a specific collection of songs that tell a story, define a purpose or something to carry the Top 40 for yet another pointless week, Espεяαиτo is very much a product of its time that happens to fit into our own era with a curious, even eerie, sense of relevancy. Knab it!
Sunday, January 15, 2012
One of Brazil's top jazz keyboardists and sonic craftsmen of the last couple of decades, Euмiя Dεodατo certainly doesn't have to prove his chops or vision to anyone at this point in his career. Nevertheless, he pulls no stops whatsoever in 2010's Tнε Cяossiиg: everything here is full on 70's chilled out fusion, complete with Fender Rhodes solos, percussion your ears can salivate over and some truly remarkable guitar work to make the picture that much prettier in the grand scheme of things.
Jazz pop and bossa nova crossovers can many a time yield mere mixed results as far as quality or consistency goes, but this smooth collection is about as sumptuous as they come for the night owl that hoots within us all.
Friday, January 13, 2012
One of the best one-shot gems of the latter half of 70's progressive rock and a rarity to boot, England released Garden Shed in 1977 to nearly no acclaim due to changing trends and an increasingly diminutive market for prog. in general by this point.
Taken on it's own merits and out of context with the conditions of the era though, this is a pretty sharp record in more ways than one and boasts strong material that could compete with even the big players in the genre at the height of their creativity. Whether you find yourself taken by the quirky narrative flow of 'Midnight Madness" or the Yes-meets-Capability Brown 'Three Piece Suite', there is no song here that lack distinction, finesse, great harmonies and even ear-catching grandeur in both pace and arrangement.
A good progressive rock record, you see, can hold your attention, but an excellent one like Gαrdεи Sнεd makes the label itself seem rather limiting. Highly recommended.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
The indie equivalent to a Scott Walker with a bit more psychedelic charm and a preference for the stripped down and lo-fi, Dαмiεи Youτн has been recording some mighty fine gothic folk records since the mid 80's, and continues to be one of the best kept secrets of the American independent music community even into 2012. He's got an earthen sort of tone that quivers mighty strange against the windswept deserted places his guitar evokes, like a narrator to nightmares you haven't had yet.
Recorded on a cassette and ripped from lossless by yours truly, 1994's Fεsτivαl Of Dεατн should appease whatever stringent occultic-folk cravings some of you might have developed since my Bob Drake post way back yonder. Have fun!
Monday, January 9, 2012
Bizarre, bodacious, bombastic, beautiful and brazen - these are but a few numerous adjectives that come to mind when I think of this glorious collaborative effort between J-Pop singer/songstress Sαlyu and the ever fascinatingly eccentric Cornelius behind the deck.
Avant-garde doesn't even being to describe the tendencies within. Delicious J-Funk ('Mirror Neurotic') cuts a swath through the eerie vocalizations of After Dinner inspired cuts like 'Rain Boots De Odorimashou' and the gorgeous 7-minute wonderland sprawl of a title piece. You begin to wonder after awhile just how much beauty and madness can get stuffed into a single set of recordings, but then give up somewhere halfway and let the whole morass sink in with a great wooosh.
Arresting, insane, passionate and occasionally catchier than a 15th century death plague, I could see myself giving this as a birthday gift to someone else's significant other. Maybe they'll stop listening to The Jonas Brothers after a couple of rounds with this sucker!
Saturday, January 7, 2012
Sup. So Drake invited me to contribute to his muzak blog, and to be honest I'll probably post smooth shit as often as Drake posts metal. So for my introductory post I'll reveal my bullshit top albums of 2011 for you assholes. Mazeltov. Oh, and no honorable mentions because that list would go on too long.
#11. Letlive - fake history
Not a big fan of post-hardcore, never did much for me. But this fucker is emotive and quirky without sacrificing those snappy guitar hooks and choruses. Even the shorter tracks twist and turn more than most prog suites. This is one of the more surprising albums I've heard this year.
Vocalist sometimes reminds me of Patrick Stump, or maybe that's just because all these guys sound the same. Whatever, fucking gem.
#10 Mayer Hawthorne - How do you do
Street walkin' pop-soul as good as anything The Temptations/Smokey Robinson/The Four Tops ever produced. I loved it slightly more than Stone Rollin'. Even if you don't have a lady you can love your hand to this shit.
#9.(tie) J. Mascis - Several Shades of Why/Bonnie Prince Billy - wolfroy goes to town
Best folk things of this year imo, both have a moody sweetness, subtle nuances atop modest guitar pickins and a world-weary treble delivery. As far as morning music is concerned I flipped between these two repeatedly.
#8 Maaya Sakamoto - You Can't Catch Me
Came upon this rather late (new year's) but I liked previous efforts by Sakamoto. Her blending of J-pop with sunshine-y folk bullshit hit that sweet spot in my noggin. It's fucking pretty okay? If not for a couple other albums, this would be the best pop album of the year for me.
#7. Origin - Entity
SO MUCH SHREDDING. Many damn fine metal records erupted this year, but goddamn I love this riff salad bar. Plus it's all alien invasion badassery, which I dig.
#6. Devil's Blood - The Thousandfold Epicentre
The best occult rock group I've ever heard, and without doubt the best rock n' roll album I've heard all year. It rumbles, oozes, and burns like ectoplasm. A surly succubus of an album.
#5. Craft - Void
It was a coin flip between this and Taake, and frankly I would've picked this anyway out of guilt. This is a crushing, skullfucking, nunraping, motherfucker of a record. If this album was a woman, I'd take her out to a nice Italian dinner and hold the door open for her 'n shit.
#4. G-Dragon & T.O.P. - GD & TOP
This goofy fucking album has plagued me since I heard it earlier this year. But goddamn these songs are so fucking catchy, nearly every track is a banger. South Korea is some strange haven for addict-catchy pop fuckery. Bubbly cocaine ditties.
#3. A$AP Rocky - LiveLoveA$AP
Favorite dirty southern in quite awhile, not to say I didn't dig the fuck outta Gangsta Gibbs this year, but ever since I heard Houston Old Head I've had this album on repeat almost every day. This is a pretty dope record through and through, pretty much bleeds good times.
#2. Sabbat - Sabbatrinity
Bro-metal at it's finest. I love the shit out of everything Sabbat has ever summoned from the depths, and this christ-crunching monster is no exception. The production is greasy and crinkled, the guitars are crackling as if they're about to explode, and the vocalist comes off as a King Diamond impersonator. Still more fun than a plethora of other shit this year.
#1. BELPHEGOR - BLOOD MAGICK NECROMANCE
This album is nothing new, nothing especially unique. It just gets everything right. It strikes of perfect balance between catchy and heavy/extreme and accessible. I've heard many good fucking metal crushers this year, but this album is one of the few I kept coming back to. Maybe it doesn't have the pre-saurian doom of other impressive releases this year, but it makes up for it with personality and TASTY SATANIC RIFFS.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
A decade and a half after his last studio recording and a mere eleven months after the death of his jam buddy and collaborator T-Bone Wolk, blue-eyed soul king Dαяyl Hαll delivered a record that could have easily made my Top 11 of 2011, but didn't due to mere technicality and timing on my part.
Eclectic, groovy and difficult to place in any particular box as genre goes, Laughing Down Crying is remarkably listenable. Whether in jubilation or lamentation, these songs are some of the strongest I've heard from Mr. Hall since he & Oates cut H20 back in 1984, and that's not something I say lightly considering the quality of that particular period in his career.
That being said, there's not much New Wave or synth-pop or Philly soul here. Listeners are more likely to be reeled in by the low-key power pop of 'Talking To Myself', or perhaps seduced by the standout space funk shuffle of 'Eyes For You' (the keyboard line of which is a tongue-in-cheek nod to a certain hit by the duo back in '82). :P
Hark a gander at my 12th favorite record of 2011.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
Well, it's the beginning of a brand new year for The Widening Eye, a blog I started back in 2010 that has quickly become one of the fastest growing and most visited muzak blogs on the entire Internetz in the space of a mere 378 days. To celebrate this fact, I have invited a metalhead that nobody's ever heard of to make posts, talk about stupid weird shit, and all in all add some spice to the rice.
EVERYONE SAY HELLO TO THE MAGNIFICENT, THE IMPECCABLE...FEEJEE MERMAN!!!!
*the sound of crickets chirping...and crying in loneliness*
Ahem...and with that, it's time for another subjective 2011 AOTY list courtesy of myself. Feej will be doing one of his own after mine, so keep an eye out.
Folks, this has been a real amazing here for every genre under the sun. No, I'm not NPR or Pitchfork or NME or Kerrang! or whatever gods of review you subscribe to, but I won't be the first to say that none of those bigwigs even remotely capture an inkling of some of the great stuff that's come out this year. They all cater to different kinds of audiences, and as a result you won't find much in the way of decent pop, progressive rock, jazz or avant-garde anything amidst their pandering and sappy accolades.
Some of this you'll know, and some of it you won't. Either way, I think it's worth a scan.
#11: Nujabes - Spiritual State
A hip-hop record that can dazzle those who aren't really into or a part of this genre's vast base of militant beat mongers and overzealous so-called Independent listeners is a thing of wonder. In 2004 that record was Madvillain's Madvillainy. In 2005 that it was CunninLynguists' A Piece Of Strange, and in 2010 that record was Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
For this past year though, even great entries like that are thwarted in depth and execution by deceased Japanese producer Nujabes's posthumous release Spiritual State, a record more about the flow between piano keys and lighter-than-air melodies, tantalizing fragilities which contemplate and dream behind such mic veterans as Substantial and Pase Rock, figments that seem to spiral toward the heart of the sun as it dies below a distant waterline.
"More of the same" is what a lot have said about this collection. For the rest of us though, we can only wish there could be more.
#10: Boy Hits Car - Stealing Fire
L.A.'s premiere agents of aggression Boy Hits Car have been decade-long favorites of those who look for something just a bit spicier in their nu-alternative bowl of punch. They've opened for Deftones and possess the sort of progressive staying power of bands like Karnivool and Tool, catchy and abrasive through the sort of Middle Eastern scaling that bands like The Tea Party pioneered back in the early 90's.
Stealing Fire is the kind of record that people wish more bands would bring themselves to craft this past year, a challenge which met almost no contenders: exotic, anthemic, finely grained and sounding like a million bucks when turned up as you roar down a highway. Sure, the whole Prometheus allusion is a tad obvious, but you can't fault these boys for their ambition. Progressive nu-metal is a train with so very few occupants in tow, and right now Boy Hits Car are at the conductor's reins.
#9: John Martyn - Heaven And Earth
If there was one thing you could say about deceased U.K. singer/songwriter John Martyn, it's that he knew the mind of man in a way that few people ever really do. In his sandpaper voice there was a thousand truths about good, evil and all the contradiction that guides a soul through and beyond life, and he had the musicality to bring those thoughts of his into vivid, shimmering realities for all to hear.
2011 saw many a fine release hit shelves and site alike throughout the months, but one thing people seem to have forgotten is that it brought Martyn's final words and wonderings into the limelight for one last show. From the swampy thundering guitar-driven 'Heel Of The Hunt' to the (funny I know) Phil Collins co-penned 'Can't Turn Back The Years', this record is gorgeous even as you hear Martyn's voice disintegrating in his attempts to sound like anything but mishapen gravel.
Sad in context and poignant even without it, this record walks a line that we'll all cross one day ourselves. Whether that's a good thing in your mind is up for you to decide.
#8: Dir En Grey - Dum Spiro Spero
"While I Breathe, I Hope". Or so the title of experimental J-Rock superstars Dir En Grey's 2011 masterpiece translates to, and it's a puzzling yet oddly fitting declarative. After all, beneath all the instrumental pummeling and gut-churning dissonance and intestine pulling ero-guro schematics there is but two things: Kyo in all his insane, throat-wincing glory and a wicked sharp pop sensibility to make all the musical madness bearable to pretentious, sedated masses who don't have a goddamn clue about anything.
As more than one person could tell you, there are few bands on this planet who match Dir En Grey in sheer enthusiasm and inventiveness within the worldly confines of all things Japanese, weird and metal, and this album blows almost everything else released this year in ANY genre out of the water because due to precisely those things. A horrific, blood curdling atmosphere lets its molding limbs infiltrate each and every song, from the 9-minute prog. rock extravaganza ('Diabolous') to the doomy 'Yokusou Ni Dreambox...', and the terror doesn't let up at any point throughout.
Not fitting comfortably in any particular box, but alive and decomposing in some terrible, confined place under the Earth, this is the soundtrack to nightmares induced by the fever of the present and our collective dread of places man won't tread.
#7: David Dallas - The Rose Tint
New Zealand, interesting place that it is, is full of people who represent their scene with aplomb and style in whatever discipline they call their own. Such is the case with a young white rapper/producer/hip-hop of unusual talent and ear named David Dallas, who although has been collaborating and guesting with a variety of folks over the last while (Freddie Gibbs for example), unleashed his vision on an unsuspecting public with this debut gem. Honestly, I still don't think anyone was really ready for it: otherwise, you'd see it at the top of every list in every publication imaginable.
Jazzy, flexible and mindful of the breezy side of funk and soul, Dallas is near ungodly in his knack for melding beats with the right flow, the right guest, the right arrangement. Tracks like 'Caught In A Daze' and 'Sideline' snap with an immediacy and in-the-zone flow that guys like Jay Z and Kanye West have trouble nailing years into their respective careers. Cause you see, there have been loads of lauded hip-hop releases this year, but none of them come close to the perfection that this dude's debut has down to a science.
The best hip-hop, as I've mentioned before, is the stuff that even the genre's skeptics can drop their jaws in wonder at, and this delivers to the point of incredulity.
#6: Kate Bush - 50 Words For Snow
She's been the United Kingdom's favorite experimental songstress for nearly four decades now. She's worked with, helped with, even played with pretty much anyone who's anyone during that time. She was the first woman to have a song she wrote herself chart at #1 in merry old Britain. She's got that weird voice that Indie kids go gah-gah over when they realize she looks like an older Zooey Deschanel.
Yes, I'm talking about Kate Bush, and not only is 2011's oddly low-key marketed 50 Words For Snow one of the absolute best records of the year, but it's the single best collection of anything the woman's done since freakin' Hounds Of Love decades ago.
Pianos, twinkling cloudlike synths, detuned guitars and a host of unpredictable, primordial percussive elements guide this set of songs into something special for these ears of mine. Bush's voice is better than it's ever been, and Gothic, endlessly open-to-interpretation-but-strangely-clever lyric sense abounds ('Wild Man', 'Misty'). Elton John even guests amidst tense vibrations on 'Snowed In At Wheeler Street', and it's a high point in an already Herculian exercise of downtempo jazz-rockery.
I have no idea where a living legend like Kate will go from here, but she's already knocked 2011 on it's arse. Chances are she'll do the same again before anyone expects it.
#5: Septicflesh - The Great Mass
You know a metal album is going to be something pretty goddamn special when the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra are given the keys to the kingdom and told to play along. Symphonic death metal is a difficult feat to accomplish organically: many bands make do with a keyboard and some advisement by ex-classmates from whatever music college the band members were kicked out of for covering Venom instead of Beethoven during recital.
Septicflesh outdid their past work splendidly with The Great Mass, and as far as Greeks go they represent their country in my own mind far more effectively than, say, the much more internationally popular Firewind. They blast, they growl like animals as the strings soar and choral ensembles fill in the gaps behind and between the notes, and it's a fuckin' treat!
Not for everyone, but as someone who was not familiar with the band beforehand, it made one hell of a first impression.
#4: Nils Petter Molvaer - Baboon Moon
A trumpeter in an age where jazz is, even at the best of times, a marginalized and oft-ignored community of ideas, people and connections, Nils Petter Molvaer pushes envelopes in ways that most traditionalists would consider treasonous even in 2011. He doesn't do the fusion thing, the big band thing, or even the Miles Davis downtempo thing.
No, what Nils has done on Baboon Moon is revitalize, revolutionize, even regenerate an entire musical spectrum that has already experienced countless reinventions. He starkly sounds his little instrument into multitudes of post-rock dynamisms and refains, a sky soaked by deep six electronica and bursts of percussive lightning that sets the grey afire and makes you remember with every crack and dazzle why you want the talents who live their lives through music to avoid complacency, to push ahead and forget what's expected.
Records like this are blood to the vampire and coke to the addict. This is the shape of jazz to come.
#3: Ole Børud - Keep Movin'
Stevie Wonder, Ambrosia, Toto, Los Angeles between the years of 1976 and 1989: this is an era in pop music that I've got a nostalgic hard on for. In all the years I've been listening to music, observing trends, watching and trying and looking for someone (or people in general) who could re-usher in that golden era of Westcoast pop, I have never been surprised by anyone in 2011 as much as I have by a young Norwegian guitarist and songwriter named Ole Børud, who released Keep Movin' this past year...and nobody paid attention. Pathetic!
Incongruous for the most part with my usual tastes, Westcoast is a genre of music I enjoy almost giddily despite myself, and this record hits me in all the right places. Somewhere between that gorgeous early 80's jazz-pop sound and Jamiroquai in execution, Ole is blessed with an insanely beautiful set of pipes that make you do a double take at your own speakers at times, and he does what he does better than anyone on scene at present. A down-to-Earth Christian guy who plays lead guitar in progressive death metal bands when not doing music like this, it's the sort of record that has to be heard to be believed.
#2: Submotion Orchestra - Finest Hour
The best debut of the year by far and a triumph in all things jazz and electronic, this female-fronted vocal jazz "orchestra" from the U.K. is contemporary and fresh in things you think you've heard all before: ethereal vocals, horns at midnight, beats straight out of Bristol, the feeling that you're just cruising for another club to drown your troubles at....and then you hear a track like 'Angel Eyes' or the title cut and all you've heard before seems but a prelude to the first time you sit put Finest Hour at the top of your queue and press play.
This dark and stormy night in a disc, my find feathered friends, will be our grandchildren's Kind Of Blue.
#1: Work Of Art - In Progress
"Ever since I can remember, chasing love was just a way of spending time, til' you came around," soars the voice of Lars Safsund over the sort of guitar and keyboard two-punch riff that any melodic rock band since '78 would give their arms and legs to own. It's a classic, a surefire humdinger, the cream of the songwriting crop, the hook of a lifetime.
This reaction X 11 more songs = #1 AOTY
Work Of Art, a band that peddles a brand of alternative-tinged AOR not unlike a cheesy lovechild of Toto and Journey, released the best album of 2011 back in August, and the reason it's numero uno is actually very simple-
This. Shit. Is. Catchy.
And I don't mean "catchy" as in it's melodic, pleasant or even just fun to listen to, because In Progress is every one of things. I'm talking about a little thing called "hooks". Riffs. Arrangements. Execution. Vocals. Production.
When an album excels in every single one of these things, and does so in a way that doesn't feel "quite" radio ready or part of this era, something clicks.
It's the sound of everything going right. The sound of your intuition when it's set on fire by an idea or feeling. The sound of you going off to save the fucking planet. The sound of all that's good in life and none of the baggage or bullshit.
Nothing sounds better than a perfect pop album, and that's very much what Work Of Art have delivered in a year that really needed one.