My 5 Favorite Albums.
5. Wild Flag
It was a really good idea to put Mary Timony’s guitar and Janet Weiss’ drumming together. The combination is heavenly.
4. Lupe Fiasco – Friend of the People: I Fight Evil mixtape
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Lupe dropped this on Thanksgiving. I was having a hard day and then, BAM! This was happening. This is great. I listened to this on my way to work and school like every day for the rest of the semester. The opening song, Lupe Back, piles great lines on top of great lines into one of the more inspiring statement of purpose I’ve heard in a long time, concluding with the seasonally appropriate:
I fight evil, every day I’m living
Rest in peace to men, women, and the children
And middle finger to the pilgrims that killed them
Friend of the people, Happy Thanksgiving
The End of the World is wonderful and gets me choked up, what with “This one dedicated to the soldiers/Throw up peace signs in the face of bulldozers” and whatnot. Double Burger with Cheese is also fantastic, and it’s a much weirder song: Lupe runs through a kind of greatest hits moments of ’90s “hood movies”, weaving them together into one big, epic, tragic coming-of-age fable that provided a filmic backdrop to many real kids’ childhoods and teenage years. It’s not only fun and nostalgic, it’s moving and thought provoking. Someone made an apparently Lupe-approved unofficial video for it that’s also pretty great:
3. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
I was listening to this a lot while reading The Hunger Games. They went together fantastically well. I feel sorry for people who think the lyrics on “The Glorious Land” are too heavy-handed, are they ever missing out! Over a warped nationalist military anthem, Harvey sings with chilly pep that occasionally veers towards hysteria of land plowed by tanks and soldiers, “its fruit is deformed children”. Harvey has made a lyrically meticulous, musically inspired album serious about nationalism and war, and these lines are earned, appropriate, and actually kind of scary in a teenage-jesus-ear Lydia Lunch kind of way. Or a Hunger Games way. Have I mentioned how The Hunger Games fucked my shit up?
Here’s one of my favorite tracks. There’s a well made video for it, but I like it better without visual accompaniment:
This is my favorite PJ Harvey album since To Bring You My Love. I think I may like it better, even.
2. Watch the Throne
Long time readers already know my overall thoughts here. I listened to this album more than anything else this year (except my #1 choice) and Jay-Z talk me more about screenwriting than any other single source (it’s all about the depth of images and emotion he evokes with careful, economical lyricism.) I put Why I Love You on repeat more times than I care to remember, as that song comes from such a place of pain. It’s a great example of Jay’s artistry that he taps so cleanly into the near-universal through such extreme specificity. I’ve never built up a hip hop empire only to feel back-stabbed by Dame Dash et al, but I found myself taking comfort in this song more than almost any other.
1. Jean Grae – Cookies of Comas mixtape
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This. This resonated with me more than anything else this year. I don’t know what I did before I had Jean Grae in my life. She’s the perfect rapper–hilarious, heart breaking, fantastic narratives, complicated rhyme schemes and intricate word play for days. I was thinking I might do a “top ten lyrics of 2011” post, but I should really just do a “top ten Jean Grae lyrics of 2011” post, cuz I’m sure at least 80% would be her. Whether rapping about isolation in rap-dom (“with Kickass and Hit Girl/Lonely ovations” may be the deceptively simplest, best line of the year imho), the breakdown of trust in a relationship, or wearing a Boba Fett helmet on the red carpet, Grae hits the nerve, over and over.
Here’s the video for Uh-Oh, a track featured on CoCs, as well as on Talib Kweli’s Gutter Rainbows, another fine album this year:
You can download a fantastic in depth interview with Ms. Grae here, which includes discussion of this video and its problematic masks as well as drunken injuries provoked by Australian racists, plans to dress up onstage as Princess Leia, and making the art you want to make, whether or not everyone likes or gets it.
Happy end of 2011, all. Not a bad year for music. Hope 2012 is even better.