Dirty Beaches and more...
Alex Zhang Hungtai sounds like he resides in an alternate universe from a treatment for a David Lynch or Wong Kar Wai film. As Dirty Beaches, Hungtai conjures up soundscapes that are as surreal as the films of those auteurs, like something you’d hear on a car radio while driving through Twin Peaks or playing in the background of a Hong Kong dive bar. On Badlands, Hungtai creates music that doesn’t just sound like it’s from another time and place, but another dimension altogether. With its scuzzed-out guitar and crude, crackling samples, Badlands comes off like an uncanny hit parade beamed in from a secret radio station in Area 51 and piped into a haunted transistor radio. Putting a twisted twist on oldies genres from rockabilly to Motown, Hungtai’s music is all about how melancholic and bittersweet nostalgia can be. Arnold Pan
Family of Love EP
Dom has released only two EPs, but his relatively spare output does not contain a single dud. Either Dom is very selective about what he releases, or everything that pops into his head is irresistible. 2011’s Family of Love EP is only 16 minutes, but it was one of the better 16-minute stretches of music in 2011 musically, full of graceful and crunchy guitar work, smooth bass, and sweet, unassuming lyrics. Every song practically gleams with appeal, and each is an eloquent statement on behalf of pop simplicity: there are few frills and a verse, chorus, verse, chorus structure. But on the brilliant “Damn”, Dom doesn’t go from a bridge to a satisfying resolution with a last chorus, he gives the guitars the last word instead. It’s one of Dom’s best tricks, and the only way to get more of those hooks is to start the EP again. Elias Leight
2011 was a good and bad year for Drake. To start with the bad, he became hip-hop’s most targeted rapper since Ja Rule, but the good was that he continued to fuse hip-hop and R&B with the critically acclaimed Take Care. Drake regaled his listeners with tales of his struggles with fame, lost love opportunities, and narratives on his past. Drake also showed why he is one of rap’s top hit-making songwriters, penning tunes such as the catchy “Headlines”, the Nicki Minaj assisted “Make Me Proud”, and the player hater anthem of 2011, “Marvins Room”. Other songs such as “Cameras”, “HYFR”, and “Underground Kings” were hits with fans and critics, and many claim Drake delivered by far his most consistent work. Grammys 2013. Watch out for it. Brad Washington
I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive
US: 26 Apr 2011
UK: 25 Apr 2011
I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive
Perhaps the most surprising thing about I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive is how, after a decade as a neuveau-folk protest singer, the legendary songwriter Steve Earle has finally stepped back and let his songs speak for themselves. Now that he’s no longer trying to compete with James McMurtry for the title of “most political songwriter”, he’s able to fully focus on telling the stories of his multi-faceted characters, and what results is an unbelievably timely album. Earle sounds vibrant and refreshingly relevant on these dozen tracks, and it’s a shame the album came out in May. Despite being swallowed up by a year’s worth of equally solid releases, this album is a spectacular return to form from a remarkable songwriter and shouldn’t be missed. Jonathan Sanders
It would be futile to try and express my appreciation of The Valley without acknowledging how personal the subject matter is to me. Certainly, Sherri DuPree-Bemis’ painful divorce, which led to the creation of the album, serves as an immediate point of reference for anyone who has lived through such an ordeal. Yet as therapeutic as this collection of songs is for someone in the midst of pain, it’s also a grand presentation of the human condition and the struggle for hope in a broken world. From a strictly musical standpoint, this third full-length release from the band captures everything beautiful about their past work while showcasing a maturity and continuity that had been absent in the past. For the first time, the DuPree sisters’ lauded storytelling abilities intersected with a real-life situation that demanded expression and resolution. In a genre that seems to demand awareness yet sometimes loses sight of personal reflection, The Valley shines as an example of what indie pop should sound and feel like. Kiel Hauck
It seems unlikely that an album based on one of the most classic hip-hop albums of all time, Nas’s Illmatic could work, and yet Detriot rapper Elzhi not only makes it work, he knocks this record out of the park. Backed by Will Sessions, Elzhi and company bring an organic feel to these songs, and pay tribute to the original beats while Elzhi himself uses his favorite rap album as a foundation to tell his own story. He moves Nas’s New York to his own Detriot—see “Detroit State of Mind”—and often borrow snippets of Nas’s original lines to weave into his own. In all of this, though, nothing really feels borrowed. Elzhi’s flow is his own here, and awfully impressive, managing to be both image-dense and full of compelling narratives that keep your interest. He both pays tribute to his hero and uses his hero’s music to tell his own fascinating story. If Illmatic shows us Nas’s New York, warts and all, Elzhi gives us a picture of a Detriot we might not have known, one that is uniquely his, and clearly close to his heart. Matthew Fiander
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