50. CLASS ACTRESS- RAPPROCHER
“Rapprocher” is the full length debut by Brooklyn based electro-pop duo fronted by Elizabeth Harper, she of hot looks and beautiful voice. Class Actress combines the polished sheen of 80’s synth-pop with the hazier, more left of center chillwave of now- catchy enough for radio but weird enough for hipsters. Though the album can get a bit samey feeling at times there are enough knockout tracks to make it worth your while. It’s easy to image tracks like “Weekend” and “Keep You” on the radio and best of all is the slow burning closer “Let Me In”. Class Actress is still pretty unknown but they seem to slowly be gaining some traction at least according to a handful of comments on this blog.
Buy Let Me InAmazon
49. JOHN MAUS- WE MUST BECOME PITILESS CENSORS OF OURSELVES
John Maus got his start years ago working with the Godfather of chillwave, Ariel Pink, who was his college friend. If anything Maus’s music might be even weirder than Pink’s. Maus’s music sounds haunting and dystopian and his vocals may remind you of a futuristic version of Ian Curtis of Joy Division. Though Maus is certainly inspired by the 80’s as so many electronic musicians are, he doesn’t sounds retro. Even the moodiest of his stuff carries with it a deep beauty, even including my favorite track “Cop Killer”, which is not an Ice T/Body Count cover but seems to reference it. “Hey Moon” and closing track “The Believer” are other standout tracks.
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48. CULTS- CULTS
Buy Cults – Cults
After a handful of web only songs in 2010, including the great “Go Outside” (also included on this album), which placed prominently on my 2010 best of mixes, the Cults debut album finally arrived in the spring of 2011. Though in my opinion, the group fails to reach the pop perfection of “Go Outside”, the debut is still made up of a bunch of mighty fine tracks. Cults style is 60’s girl group with Phil Spector0-like kitchen sink production meets modern indie pop. The recording sounds lo-fi, but the recording budget is major label. Bugged out spooky sounds and audio samples from actual cult leaders are added to give the music mystery, which contrasts with the sunny melodies of the songs. Some tracks can wear thin but the album is more than half great.
Buy Go OutsideAmazon
Buy Abducted – Cults
47. MY MORNING JACKET- CIRCUITAL
After a slight misstep with their last album “Evil Urges”, “Circuital”, Louisville, KY’s My Morning Jacket’s 6th album, is a bit of a return to form. Though I don’t think it’s as good as their best stuff, “Z” and “It Still Moves”, “Circuital” is much more consistent than “Urges” while still maintaining the previous album’s experimental spirit. MMJ has a well-earned reputation as one of the best live acts in rock and has a very rabid fanbase as a result, but the band does not seem content to sit still and repeat themselves. While they worked out some kinks with “Urges”, they may have just pointed themselves a way forward. The humorous and catchy “Holdin’ Onto Black Metal” has become a minor hit and the beauty of tracks like “You Wanna Freak Out” and the title cut could cross them over into a whole new legion of fans.
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46. THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART- BELONG
“Belong” is the follow-up to the Pains excellent lo-fi 2009 self-titled debut and finds the band trumping up the production considerably, sounding now more like a descendent of the Smashing Pumpkins than of early 90’s twee pop. Though ultimately I like this record less than the debut, it’s mostly because the album is so top loaded. Outside of “Too Tough”, the 2nd to last song, the first three tracks are by far the best on the record and the quality dips after that. The good news is that those three songs are some of the very best of the band’s young career, including “Heart In Your Heartbreak”, which is my favorite and one of the catchiest damn songs of the year. “Belong” sounds like vintage Pumpkins, but the dream-pop Pumpkins of “Gish” rather than the area rock of their later years. It’s clear that the Pains know their way around a hook and have now shown the ability to rock the hell out. If they can consistently produce great rock songs over the course of a full album then they’ll really be onto something.
Buy Heart In Your HeartbreakAmazon
Buy Belong – Belong
45. THE ROOTS- UNDUN
Buy Undun [Explicit] [+Digital Booklet]Amazon
It’s tough to think of any other rap group like the Roots. They’ve been together since the early 90’s and have released a slew of albums. They are the house band for the Jimmy Fallon show and the only major rap group I can think of that plays all live instruments. After all these years together, they still are not content to sit still. “Undun” is a concept album about a fictional composite character who is a drug dealer from the mean streets of New York City. The chronology of “Undun” is set in reverse- from the character’s death to his birth and focuses on the peak moments in his life that contributed to his downward slide. It’s a heavy concept for sure and one that I think will bare more fruit upon repeated plays. A few great tracks like “Kool On” and “The Other Side” make the middle of the album absolutely bang, though I hear less standouts here than on a typical Roots album. “Undun” is over in under 40 minutes and the last 5 minutes is an instrumental suite inspired by genius indie artist Sufjan Stevens. Give the Roots for widening their circle and pushing the envelope. These dudes are an inspiration and are a perfect example of how to manage a career in rap music with longevity and integrity.
Buy Kool On [Explicit]Amazon
Buy The Other Side [Explicit]Amazon
44. THE BELLE BRIGADE- THE BELLE BRIGADE
Buy The Belle BrigadeAmazon
The Belle Brigade are an L.A.-based brother/sister combo Ethan and Barbara Gruska, who are the grandchildren of composer John Williams (of Star Wars fame and countless other films). Their music carries on in the tradition of the seventies Laurel Canyon scene and they actually sound like a new millennium Fleetwood Mac. The absence of any and all hip hop and techno beats make them sound fresh even if there aren’t exactly very original. About half of the songs on the album are absolutely great and there are no total duds. The music comes off sunny & warm with a slightly country rock vibe and plenty of melody and beautiful harmonies between the two siblings. Barbara got her start as a backing musician for fellow L.A. musician Jenny Lewis and the group invites many of their fellow L.A. cohorts to guest on the album giving it a fun, communal vibe. “The Belle Brigade” is a very promising debut album.
Buy Where Not To Look For FreedomAmazon
43. ARCTIC MONKEYS- SUCK IT AND SEE
Buy Suck It And SeeAmazon
Though the Arctic Monkeys have never made a bad album, I’ll go ahead and call their 4th album “Suck It and See” and return to form after the slightly lackluster “Humbug” from 2009. Frontman Alex Turner still writes with great wit and the band comes up with a bunch of great songs most of which get better with repeated spins. The Arctic Monkeys are the prime example of a band who is way bigger in their native U.K. than they are in the U.S., a modern version of a band like the Jam. But they are one of the better and most consistent bands going right now. If this release lacks the excitement of some of their previous albums, it’s probably due to the lack of a killer single ala “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor”- but who knows, maybe this fine album will grow some legs and hang around longer than anyone originally anticipated. Tracks like “Reckless Serenade” & “That’s Where You’re Wrong” have hit potential.
Buy That’s Where You’re WrongAmazon
Buy Reckless SerenadeAmazon
42. WASHED OUT- WITHIN AND WITHOUT
Buy Within And WithoutAmazon
First full length album by one of the original holy trinity of chillwave groups is a winner and sticks more to original mellow, hazy sound that his compadres Toro Y Moi and Neon Indian. Washed Out’s first EP released in ’09 contains “Feel It All Around”, which you may know as the current theme song to IFC’s hilarious “Portlandia”. “Amor Fati” is the track that comes closest to “Feel It All Around” in quality, but the album is best listened to a whole. Perfect for a lazy summer day spent on a deck or near a swimming pool, it’s sure to bring you to a slumber but you’ll be smiling as you drift off into the abyss.
Buy Amor FatiAmazon
Buy You And IAmazon
41. RADIOHEAD- KING OF LIMBS
Buy The King Of LimbsAmazon
Every Radiohead album release is an event. At this point they are one of the biggest bands on the planet, at least among music geeks- not necessarily the masses. “King Of Limbs” is the most minor and shortest album of the band’s career, but because it’s Radiohead the album has been quite polarizing. Radiohead’s last two albums, “In Rainbows” and “Hail to the Thief” were more rock oriented than anything they had done since their 1997 masterpiece “OK Computer”, but “KOL” drifts back into the atmospheric, glitchy techno influenced territory of “Kid A” and “Amnesiac”. But “KOL” has little of the boldness of those two albums. Though the album was a bit of a disappointment on first listen when it was released last February and it certainly has not rank as one of the weaker moments of this great band’s career, “KOL’s” beauty and subtleties come out upon repeated listens. “Little by Little”, “Lotus Flower”, “Give Up the Ghost” and “Codex” are all great songs. And that’s half the album right there. Most every other band out there wishes that “King of Limbs” would be one of their weak moments.
Buy Lotus FlowerAmazon