Sunday, December 11, 2011

10 Best Albums of 2011

I've provided links to get most this music, all for free, and all from others' uploads. I encourage you in every case to seek out original CDs and actually buy them, whenever possible.

Marshmallow Kisses

Released January 25, 2011
This is one of my top two CDs of the year, and possibly the album I listened to most after discovering it online a couple of months ago while sleuthing around about Hong Kong underground music. While the MKs are somewhat late to the Hong Kong twee party, their first two albums (their first being I Wonder Why My Favorite Boy Leaves Me an EP) have delivered far beyond my own expectations for the genre ... and I'm a huge fan of HK twee pioneers My Little Airport, Ketchup and the Pancakes.

I have no idea what sort of legs this terrific ray of sunshine would have outside of the Special Administrative Region, but it seems criminal that not even Pitchfork seems to know about it. Get it here.

Listen to "Jazz for Lovers; Solitude for Me"

* * *

Deerhoof vs. Evil

Released January 25, 2011

I'm just as shocked as you are to see a U.S. band among my top 10, but along with Ciao!Baby, this was my most listened to CD all year. (My two top faves of the year were both released on January 25.) In another 2011 top 10 I read online, someone else described the album as "utilitarian," noting the lukewarm response it received from critics, who generally like the album but complain about it being unfocused, or even ADD. That actually makes it the perfect record for the kind of listener I am: completely bored with the simplicity of most western popular music but not terribly thrilled by most jazz or classical, either. It's what's driven me to track down every Albanian, Bangladeshi, Brazilian, Burmese, etc., etc. bodega in NYC, where I can get music I can really respond to on a visceral level. (Most western critics write about pop as if they respond to it on a purely socio-semiotic level; reading music more than than listening to it.)

Personally, I think this is the best album Deerhoof has ever made: sonically rich, forward-looking, utterly brilliant pop that sounds like it couldn't possibly have been made in this country. (File removed from link; sorry.)

Listen to "Qui Dorm, Només Somia"
* * *

Najwa Karam
Hal Leile ... Ma Fi Noum 
Released June 28, 2011
Holy crap, but I love Najwa Karam. I have--I'll admit it--zero objectivity when it comes to this woman; she could release an album sitting on the toilet reading Jewel poems translated into Arabic and I'm sure I'd buy it, listen to it and profess my undying love for it. That said, trust me when I tell you that this record totally and unimpeachably fucking rocks. Other than her voice getting consistently deeper and more powerful, little has changed since the Lebanese superstar began recording in the late 80s: nearly every record she puts out is either the dabke or the baladi equivalent of AC/DC, Rolling Stones or, closer to home, Hakim. And this one, quite honestly, is the most rockin' she's put out in a few years--it's like the Some Girls of her career.

Did I mention how hard she rocks? Or how hard this record rocks? If this wasn't such a recent purchase for me, it would probably be right up there with Deerhoof and Marshmallow Kisses in the "most-listened-to" category. I'm sure it'll earn that status soon enough. Get it here.

Listen to "Ya Baie"

* * *

Sōtaisei Riron
Correct Theory of Relativity

Released April 27, 2011

Sōtaisei Riron means "theory of relativity," so the title is kind of a play on the idea of a correct theory and the fact that most of this album is made up of remixes of the band's earlier work by Yoshihide Otomo, Spank Happy, Buffalo Daughter, Arto Lindsay, Cornelius and others. These aren't, however, remixes that sound like remixes--this album is completely unique, beautiful and totally perplexing. (Track three, for instance, is NOT a mistake; although it took me several tries before I was able to listen all the way through to the end and realize what, exactly, it is.) Perhaps appropriately, the first song, "Q/P," one of the two non-remixes on the album, opens with the words: "I. Don't know. Wha. Choowhachoo want ..."

The band has come a long way from its kind of Smiths-soundalike-with-female-lead-singer, and this album, though I bet it throws some fans off, is another great surge forward. Get it here.

Listen to "Q/P"
* * *

Summer Sweat
Released September 30, 2011

I know next to nothing about this band, which I "discovered" via Music Has the Right to People a couple of weeks ago. From what I've been able to suss out, it's a male-female duo based in Shanghai; this is their second album; and this one was produced by Yanghai Song of Beijing punk superstars PK14. When my absolute favorite Chinese punk band, Subs, released the deeply disappointing Queen of Fucking Everything last year, followed this year by a less-than-thrilling Honeyed and Killed from the once fabulous Hedgehog, I just assumed that punk in China had shot its wad. Apparently, it's just moved south to Shanghai.

This record is stripped down, extremely raw and in some ways every bit as surprising as Wire's Pink Flag (songs range in length from the 52 second "Christmas" to the nearly five-minute long "My body is not a wonderland"). I suspect it'll convince at least a few of the more cynical of you out there that, in fact, "punk's not dead." Get it here.

Listen to "Cloud Nine"

* * *
Zee Avi
Released August 23, 2011

This is the only record (other than the Deerhoof) that actually, so far as I know, has legs here in the U.S. In fact, you're more likely to know more about her than I do, as I only recently stumbled onto this record, wholly by accident, while scrolling through the music blog Chinese Music Collection. (Yes, I know she's Malaysian; thanks.) I don't know what her record was doing on that blog, but there it was, and I'm rather happy to have it, although I have no idea if I'll still be listening to it in another week or two; it's already starting to feel ickily like any number of earnest American or British neo-folkers whose work I have strenuously attempted to avoid for the last several years.

That said, I do love "Siboh Kitak Nangis" and "The Book of Morris Johnson," neither of which I can imagine getting tired of any time soon. Get it here.

Listen to "The Book of Morris Johnson"
* * *

Guitar Wolf
Released, golly ... sometime in 2011

This is a self-released album, recorded in Tokyo in 2010 and intended to be sold during Guitar Wolf's 2011 Hoochie Coochie Space Men North American tour. It is so ear-shreddingly raw, so super em effin' rockin', words simply can't describe how much I love it. How is it that, while 80s Japan rockers Shonen Knife have gotten increasingly self-consciously cute, Guitar Wolf has just gotten more fucked-up and awesome? Don't get me wrong; I love both bands. But GW has no right to be this full of energy, this rockin', this far into their career. For one thing, it isn't fair to everyone else. For another, it's just confusing. 

Get it here.

Listen to "Hoochie Coochie Spaceman"
* * *

Da Bang
Bone Hug
Released October 1, 2011
I'm seriously running out of steam here, so don't expect a lot of vivid description at this point. And, honestly, we're starting to get into "uneven" territory now. But the "end of year" convention demands 10 albums so, so help me god, that's what I'll deliver. I don't love everything on this record, but I love the stuff that sounds like super-jacked up 80s synth pop, especially "No-Hero-Days," which is as good as anything Big Sea Queen Shark has recorded, and "冰心" (which I'm assuming is about the famous Chinese writer of the same name).

Definitely worth a listen. Get it here.

Listen to "No-Hero-Days"
* * *

Juusho Futei Mushoku
Released sometime in 2011

I love this band so much it hurts. That said, their follow-up to their 2010 debut isn't quite as mind-blowing, though it certainly has its moments. I really, really, really, really, really, really wish I could find the video they shot for "One Two Three"; it was insane. Alas, it appears to longer be on YouTube, perhaps owing to the fact that it wasn't, to be perfectly honest, exactly P.C. Or maybe I just lack the skills to find it again. (If you find it, for god's sake, please let me know.)

Get it here.

* * *
Released February 10, 2011

In truth? I don't love this album, but I think this band, which I'm pretty sure is a duo, from Korea, has potential. They can either go one of two ways: Slicker and less interesting, or more Jonathan Richman/Crowd Lu-like and awesome. Time, I suppose, will tell. I wouldn't have included it here except that (a) it does seem promising and (b) fairly different from most K-pop.

Get it here.

Listen to "King Star"
* * *

So, what do you think? And, more to the point, what are your own favorite albums of 2011? Post your list in the comments below, or, better yet, include a URL to your own blog, if you have one. (But, seriously, if your list includes Wilco or PJ Harvey, don't bother.)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this list of gems! Really looking forward to digging into the Najwa Karam album.

Your observation about critics seeming to read music rather than listen to it rings true to me. I listen to music because it feels good, doggone it, and I suspect most people do the same.

As it happens, I do listen to a lot of US music. Some of my favorite non-Stateside albums this year are Seun Kuti's "From Africa with Fury", the Shaolin Afronauts' "Flight of the Ancients", and Tinariwen's "Tassili." Also a comp of reissued tracks titled "Russkie Wig-Out!" You should really try to find that last one and give it a listen.

Thanks for doing what you do!

Gary said...

Thank you so much, Jessi. I just found a copy of the Russkie album here:

it's making its way down to my soopercompooper as I type. Will hunt around for the other titles this evening. Hope you like the Najwa!

Eva said...

Oh God I love your blog. Will be listening to these when I get home :)

Gary said...

Wow, thank you for the greatest compliment I've ever received, Okuko!

Since you are in Hong Kong, I would absolutely love to hear from you any recommendations for things I should keep my eyes out for ... what are you listening to? What's awesome?

Eva said...

Hi Gary, I just spent a whole weekend at clockenflap, the first proper festival here with lots of local indie bands, like Milkteeth, 9maps, Sun Eskimos. I also liked The White Shoes And Couples Company from Jakarta!

Gary said...

Awesome! I was able to find a Myspace page for Milkteeth and YouTube videos for the rest. I'm really loving White Shoes & The Couples Company.

I downloaded WS&TCC's Album Vakansi here:

and I can't believe how great it is. Looking for their first record now. Thank you so much, Okuko!

Gary said...

Okay, I found their first record, too:

Gary said...

Oh, and finally, here's their 2007 EP, Skenario Masa Muda:

Eva said...

Hey Gary, thanks for the links!
Happy new year!

burntoutsavannahs said...

thanks for all of the great albums i have found through here sir. here is my entry for favorite 2k11 album.

Anonymous said...

really love the music here, but sorry but the Marshmallow Kisses album is grating to say the least. Mostly just that cloying high voice that really sounds like a guy trying to sound like a girl (just listen once more and you'll see what I mean) then the autotune on it is the icing on the proverbial cake. had to run and put on some Magical Power Mako to get the awful saccharine taste out of my mouth... and i like sweet music.

Gary said...

Edine's voice is extreme and I'm not surprised that she provokes extreme responses.

How do you feel about Kahimi Karie?

L said...

That 10cm tune is really intriguing. The link is broken but if you decide to repost, I would love to hear more from them. Thanks either way.