Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 25 Albums of 2011

Yeah yeah, okay okay...so we all know the year is winding down and that tomorrow marks the beginning of always mistakingly writing down "2011" instead of "2012".  I swear it takes me at least two months to remember to put the new and correct year down on tests or papers.  Tomorrow also symbolizes a time of change with people devoting themselves to resolutions and new hopes, a time of mystery and wonder of what's to come, a time to start anew!  In a less emotional sense that actually pertains to the blog, there is a new excitement that brews with the onslaught of new releases that is soon to come our way.  Our questions will finally be answered!  Will Passion Pit finally come out with new music?  Will Lou Reed and Metallica hastily ready a follow-up EP to this year's Lulu?  Will Dr. Dre unleash Detox upon us at long last?!  (No).  Will LCD Soundsystem give in to their urges and decide to regroup?  Who knows, but those questions will be answered in due time.  For now, it is a time of reflection of the past year, and what a fantastic year it was.  Since it is the last day of the year, and since everyone else is doing it, I've put together a list of my favorite 25 albums of 2011. Below is a compilation of albums that truly grabbed me, it's straight-forward and honest.  I have ordered them based purely on listening enjoyment, trying not to worry so much about what may have been "cutting-edge" or "ahead of its time".  Is this good or correct?  I dunno.  Either way people will disagree with some selections regardless. Anyway, the list is posted below for those interested.  Enjoy!


25.  On the Water by Future Islands

24.  936 by Peaking Lights

23.  Era ExtraƱa by Neon Indian

22.  We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves by John Maus

21.  Diamond Mine by King Creosote & Jon Hopkins

20.  Civilian by Wye Oak

19.  Parallax by Atlas Sound

18.  Quilt by Quilt

17.  Nostalgia, Ultra. by Frank Ocean

16.  Kaputt by Destroyer

15.  Twerps by Twerps

14.  Yuck by Yuck

13.  Bon Iver by Bon Iver

12.  Underneath the Pine by Toro y Moi

11.  Tomboy by Panda Bear

10.  Hurry Up, We're Dreaming by M83

9.  Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes

8.  Burst Apart by The Antlers

7.  Within and Without by Washed Out

6.  Idle Labor by Craft Spells

5.  Dye It Blonde by Smith Westerns

4.  Slave Ambient by The War on Drugs

3.  Days by Real Estate

2.  Zonoscope by Cut Copy

1.  Smoke Ring For My Halo by Kurt Vile

Have a happy new year everyone!  Have fun and be safe!  I'll see ya in 2012 for another great year in music!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Frank Ocean

For months and months I've done something incredibly stupid...I have been completely dismissing Frank Ocean.  You see, I am not a fan of the rap ensemble Odd Future in the least.  More specifically, I cannot stand Tyler, The Creator (the group's founding member).  I congratulate him on his blossoming success, but I just don't get it.  Not a fan at all. So when I first heard Frank Ocean, another Odd Future participant, had released a mixtape, not a fiber in my body had a desire to listen to it.  Fast forward to three weeks ago...I am sitting on my computer browsing through a few "Top 2011" lists and Frank Ocean's Nostalgia, Ultra. is on just about every single one.  Curiosity eventually wins me over, and I give it a shot.  This proved to be a marvelous decision.  I couldn't stop listening to it; with this album, Frank Ocean put something together entirely different than I was expecting.  Nostalgia steers clear of any "horrorcore" label, and actually is way more of an R&B compilation than one consisting of rap.  Ocean does a great job of exhibiting his voice, flexing his vocal muscles over smooth, confident beats and (at times) remixes of several pop hits like MGMT's "Electric Feel" or Coldplay's "Strawberry Swing".  What adds to the brilliance is Ocean's delivery, laid-back and cool, giving him a reputable swag.  Despite this, he is also brutally honest lyrically, never afraid to sing about his own heartbreak or childhood memories, a seeming rarity amongst modern day rappers who are too caught up in drugs or money.  Nostalgia, Ultra. not only brings something new to the table, but offers up a refreshing listen with addicting hooks, catchy choruses, and a heavy dose of creativity.  The best part?  Frank Ocean has offered it up as a free mixtape.  You can pick it up over here, but catch a few tracks below. Enjoy!

Swim Good

Songs For Women

Lovecrimes

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Roku

A few days ago, beat maker Roku sent over his Music for Misfits album for a listen.  It's an ambitious project, a release consisting of 24 tracks which also includes three bonus songs.  Some of these are brief skits and interludes barely eclipsing the minute mark, but many are full-blow jams.  In this time, Roku packs tons of jazz-influenced, hip-hop instrumentals into a singular package that brings to mind J Dilla's Donuts.  In many of Roku's Facebook photos, he's pictured digging through crates and testing records to find the perfect mix for a beat, as well as a picture with his most "prized possession" as a musician...Illmatic on vinyl (seen above).  In this fashion, he's similar to J Dilla and all others of that genre like The Avalanches or DJ Shadow, and in his own fashion he fiddles with a magnificently constructed laid-back prowess, an open ended invitation to sit back and chill.  There a few highlights below, but you can hit up Bandcamp for the entire Music for Misfits as a free download.  Check it!




Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Quilt

In continuation from my previous post, Quilt is another band that has gone largely unnoticed this year. After their forming members Shane Butler and Anna Fox Rochinski met as visual arts students at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, a bond developed over "weird, experimental jams and pop harmonies". This connection evolved into a debut album aptly named Quilt on the Mexican Summer label, which includes such bands as Best Coast, Real Estate, and Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (not bad company!).  The result is a fantastic record, based heavily in the late-60s psychedelic folk music.  Quilt is full of breezy guitars and lush harmonies, paying homage to the likes of Jefferson Airplane or The Mamas and the Papas.  Accented with a slight cassette hiss, the album sounds raw and vinyl-ready, you would never even guess it was made in the present day.  Due to these qualities, it's easy for Quilt to be labeled as hippie music, to which I reply: "So what?"  Ha!  Like that's a bad thing.  Take a listen below and decide for yourself! Enjoy!

Milo

Utopian Canyon

Monday, December 19, 2011

Twerps

In the spirit of the all the end-of-the-year hubbub going on throughout the internet, I'd like to acquaint you with the young Australian band called Twerps.  Following an EP in 2009, the group released the self-titled LP Twerps earlier in October, an album which has flown completely under the radar. It marks a period of growth for the quartet, who have refined their pop tendencies to an addicting combination of jangle-guitar technique and lo-fi aesthetic.  A certain confidence is also on display; lead vocalist Marty Frawley's nerdy delivery complements the unabashed name "Twerps" without fear, and lyrics containing instances of youthful (at times straining) experiences are compiled with troubles of young love.  While there is a degree of melancholy that speaks from the guitar, there is never a feeling of overwhelming sadness.  Instead, Frawley's off-kilter wails lift us up from depths and show us all there is to enjoy in adolescence and start-up adulthood.  It's almost as if Frawley is saying "yea, life can be tough, but so what?"  All of this is beautifully constructed into a smooth, rewarding listen that goes down easy; nothing on Twerps is overly complicated, for its candor and simplicity make it accessible to just about everyone.  It hasn't gotten the credit it deserves.  I've posted some of my favorites from the album below, if you like what you hear you can always hit up Chapter Music to find out more.

Through the Day

Who Are You

Bring Me Down

Friday, December 16, 2011

Terracotta Blue

Let's switch it up to a little bit of chillwave, shall we?  I figured I might as well try and give something a little more calming to unwind the nerves of those who just their finished finals week. Unless you're me of course and have a huge accounting exam on a Saturday.  Awesome!  Enjoy your Friday night, world! Either way, whether you're free from the shackles of education or not, I present to you Terracotta Blue, an electronic-based solo artist from Maryland.  Three days ago he released a new single over on Bandcamp with the songs "Arcade" and "Healer", both are high quality jams with a stark contrast in their mood.  "Arcade" is the more intense of the two, forceful and commanding with a peaceful subconscious.  "Healer" on the other hand is way more of the chillwave breed with tranquil, Oriental undertones and a well-placed sample of Japanese metal band HeavensDust.  The end product is pretty neat, forming to create a style of chillwave that's a little off the beaten path. I suppose you could throw downtempo and trip-hop into the mix of genres, which allows for a pleasing fusion of ideas.  It's tough to pick which song to put up, but I'll have to go with the easygoing "Healer".  Of course, if you're interested in hearing the other or downloading both, hit up the ol' Bandcamp for your daily dose of free downloads.  Happy Friday everyone!  I'm jealous of you all....


Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Russian Apartments

Earlier in January, Mike Caulfield (who goes under the name The Russian Apartments) released his full length album The Last Last You.  The release showcased Caulfield's appreciation for '80s music, never straying away from cascading synths or manufactured string sections.  Not all is bright and cheery, though, many of his songs carry a darker resonance muddled under a thin layer of gloom.  Within his songs there are slight interludes, breathers in a way, that allow him to speak his mind.  These thoughts are enveloped by adorning instrumentation, magnificent electronics lavishly fabricated to move the listener from idea to idea.  This contrast between the murky and enchanted allows for an interesting listen, a kind of intensity that gets better and better with each spin.  Earlier this week, Caulfield sent over his new video for "Gods", the second track off of The Last Last You.  I've posted the video below, as well as his more recent "Summer Rails" single to demonstrate some of his range.  Take a look or listen below, then head over to the ever-reliable Bandcamp for some downloads he has put up for free.  Enjoy!




Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Elephant

On November 14th of this year, the London based co-ed duo Elephant released their Assembly EP.  I am pretty bummed I didn't catch wind of it sooner, it would've made for some great listening over the past month.  But considering it's December 14th now, I guess it's appropriate to give a shout out to Elephant today on the release's one month anniversary and celebrate the fact I can hear Assembly from here on out.  A reason for its draw is Amelia Rivas's inviting ethereal vocals, which for me is a big plus.  I am sucker for beautiful girl voices, and her smooth delivery works perfect with the synth-driven EP.  Behind each song is Elephant's philosophy, which states: "Songwriting and documentation should only be accomplished by the turn of the night, and should never leave the comfort and safety of the bedroom".  Sexual?  I don't know, but either way Elephant accomplish a warm atmosphere in their songs that does indeed sound comforting.  Check out "Assembly" below, and then head over to Bandcamp to grab to EP free o' charge. Peaaccceeee.




Monday, December 12, 2011

Summer Fiction

Many of the songs conceived by Bill Ricchini were done walking on the streets Philadelphia, usually heading home from the Tasker/Morris stop he'd regularly take.  En route, he would hum some melodies in his head and try to hang on to the particular arrangements to record when he returned.  Listening to Ricchini's work as the lead singer/songwriter for Summer Fiction, this method of creating those melodies only seems appropriate.  The self-titled debut album, Summer Fiction, is a light and jangly form of folk, harnessing inspiration from styles of '60s baroque pop.  For example, one of the instruments he uses to great effect is the harpsichord, a tool utilized frequently by such bands as The Zombies, The Beach Boys, and The Kinks to generate the happy, sunshine-injected ditties that made them popular in the first place.  These are the simple and relatable tunes that make it easy to stroll down a street and whistle...or hum.  In essence, Summer Fiction is a welcomed homage to what made music so great back then.  Check out some of the songs below, and then hit up the ol' Bandcamp for some downloads.  His homepage also has a lot of great updates, too.  Hope ya'll dig it!




Friday, December 9, 2011

Turn To Crime

The first 7 seconds of Turn To Crime's "I Can't Love" features a coarse drum section reminiscent of a brash lo-fi recording in someone's garage, a rugged style which may be tough to swallow for some people.  Therein lies the brilliance of the song, though; what initially may come across as harsh is effortlessly smoothed out with a definite bass-line, silky guitar riff, and clear vocals.  The raw drum sound becomes so absorbed with everything else that it fades into the song's subconscious, and you'll never realize that it continued for the entirety of the track.  Yet, the role of the percussion is key here, for it adds the necessary texture to tie the pieces together and give the song its character.  It paves the way for the ensuing instrumentation, ushering in the forthcoming haze.  In a way it reminds me of how the piano functions in LCD's "All My Friends".  What's also cool is how Turn To Crime mixes his songs to VHS, creating a "distinct sonic atmosphere and style" which aids in the fuzziness.  With these arrangements, "I Can't Love" finds itself nearing the label of psychedelic.  The effect has come with success, Turn To Crime has supported such acts like Zola Jesus, John Maus, and the influential '90s alt-rock band Sebadoh. Take a listen below, with a free download here.  Further downloads can be found at Bandcamp, where he's just released an album at the end of November.  Happy weekends everybody!


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Work Drugs

Exactly 360 days ago, the glo-fi outfit Work Drugs sent me their debut single "Third Wave" to put on the blog.  Since that time, the band has grown way beyond the boundaries of Audio Splash into a much, much greater realm.  With months of hard work and an assortment of new material, their popularity has grown tremendously.  From a music fan's standpoint, their continuing success has been fantastic to witness.  So in the past year, what have Work Drugs been up to you may ask?  They released the EPs Tropic of Capricorn and Tropic of Cancer in support of their tour with Two Door Cinema Club, adopted some songs from the EPs to develop their first full length album Summer Blood, and also released their second LP Aurora Lies in the beginning of November. They also had shows at the WXPN World Cafe, the Trocadero, and the Popped Festival Pre-Party while opening for the likes of Memoryhouse and Peter, Bjorn & John. What's more is that they're working on yet another album over the winter and are currently planning an east coast tour for spring.  Well alllll righty then.  They're certainly not a lazy bunch!  And now, as a one year anniversary for when "Third Wave" first dropped, Work Drugs has been kind enough to send me the exclusive for their new track "Dirty Dreams".  The song is a collaboration with another up-and-coming Philadelphia artist Dylan Sieh (aka Tours), whose undeniably catchy and dreamy instrumentation became the basis for "Dirty Dreams".  The pairing is a perfect match, for Sieh's shimmering foundation creates a magnificent platform for which Work Drugs can experiment with new sounds and textures.  The result is simply awesome.  Be sure to take a listen to the brand new song "Dirty Dreams" below (which they also offer as a free download), and afterwards you can get a hold of their other work at their Bandcamp and catch any updates on their homepage. Facebook or Soundcloud work, too.  Hope you all enjoy it, and a special thanks to Work Drugs for sending over the song early!


  Dirty Dreams by Work Drugs

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ratboy

Recently, my good friend from Notre Dame told me about a band he had seen live on campus called Ratboy.  Thinking I'd be into them, he sent me a link where I could download their stuff.  I wasn't sure what to expect with a name like Ratboy, but upon listening I was (very) pleasantly surprised to have my headphones fill up with warm folk-inspired textures blanketed by Julia Steiner's stunning vocals.  Over the course of 5 songs, Ratboy's self-titled EP, Ratboy, delivers some exceptionally soothing acoustic tracks as well as the ukulele-based "Down the River", a lazy Sunday jam that draws parallels to Noah and the Whale.  Never boring or void of personality, the EP is a must listen.  It's very impressive, especially considering the duo of Julia Steiner and Dave Sagan (who met at Notre Dame) whipped everything up together on a whim.  You would never guess it; they're fantastic songwriters, which is exemplified in "The Stanza".  Steiner sings about having a history of loving the wrong guys, concedes to the fact that she's cursed with this problem, and uses people she studied in high school as a metaphor for her woes.  Stalin?  Yeah, love that guy.  Marx?  Yeah, he had pretty eyes.  In between each admittance, we're given a burst of heavy strumming and drum pounding, helping to build the tension until the chorus explodes into a wonderful harmony.  And at the end?  The narrator is now in college, and someone tells her she has pretty eyes.  It's a great anecdote, carried with the help of Steiner's magnificent voice.  You can have a listen to it below, and be sure to visit their Bandcamp for a free download of the Ratboy EP.  They also have a Facebook page.  Check it!




Friday, December 2, 2011

Mission of Burma

Warning to all!  This is a long post.  I know a lot of you don't like the long reads so I apologize in advance. Regardless, I'd like to finish up the week by turning back the clock to 1981, a time when music was experiencing a unique and dramatic cultural shift.  The movement I'm talking about is punk; an incredibly fascinating and important era in music's timeline, and one that is usually associated with mohawks, leather jackets, and violence.  Although this is partially true, it's important to keep in mind that punk was, in every sense of the word, a culture, a driving force that had more substance to it than a bunch of kids doing drugs and causing trouble (a fact largely misunderstood).  So allow me to set the scene before I bore you; by the late 1970s the first wave of punkers like the Ramones and The Clash had established themselves in the mainstream, eventually giving way to art-punk bands like Gang of Four and Joy Division.  This coincided with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, which ushered in a rigid and boring political system much to the disdain of America's teens, who felt stifled by Reagan's bland conservatism. What's a better way to fight back than rebel with loud and obnoxious music to separate the dull, narrow-minded older generation from the energetic youth?  Black Flag pushed the issue when they pioneered the second wave of punk, which started to gain steam around 1981.  They became the first hardcore band to show that you didn't need a major record label to get your sound on vinyl and gain a following.  Instead, they just did everything like marketing and pressing themselves, which in it's own way is a form of lashing back at the society that was pissing them off.  Adolescents who felt the same angst they did bought into the records, and other bands trying to spread their material saw they had a chance at success being self-sufficient while not giving into "the man". People began to coalesce around these ideals, forming a type of cult in which they could all unleash their frustration as a unit.  Black Flag had just paved the way for underground punk.  Culture.

Boston's Mission of Burma was involved in this underground structure early on, forming in 1979.  Since this whole "post-punk" (referring to the second punk wave) thing was new, Burma never got the support system that many other indie bands had access to later in the decade.  The band did have three things going for them though; the hometown Boston locals loved them, all members were great with the press, and they put on insane live shows.  Still, the general populous wasn't quite ready to accept Burma's originality. Experimenting between a mix of artsy-pop and punk, they were being overshadowed by the popularity of hardcore, which garnered most of the attention.  Moreover, without proper distribution it was difficult for the band to expand beyond Boston.  To put it into perspective, when they toured outside of the city as little as 2 or 3 people would show up at times.  In 1981 they recorded their Signals, Calls, and Marches EP debut, a release that attempted to deliver a more universally pleasing sound.  Later in time its mastery would be fully appreciated, but at it's release date it could only be considered a moderate success.  The pattern of taut yet subdued verses leading into an explosive sound for the chorus in the opener "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" would be met with much more recognition for The Pixies, who we all know were the inspiration for Nirvana and one of the most acclaimed songs of all-time, "Smells Like Teen Spirit"....they were just a few years too early.  And when Burma sent Signals, Calls, and Marches to a major label, they responded with a note that promptly rejected them. One of post-punk's landmark EPs had just been passed up.  Luckily in the present day we can celebrate the EP's achievements, a collection of unconventional tracks that exhibited Mission of Burma's smoother personality and helped foster punk's growing fan base. Ok you can breathe now! This post is finally over.  Check out the grand instrumental "All World Cowboy Romance" and "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" below.


All World Cowboy Romance


That's When I Reach For My Revolver