Definitely one of the most underrated albums of 2011, the Suicidal Tendencies/Flying Lotus bassist shines with his smooth, soulful/jazzy solo debut. The Golden Age Of Apocalypse is one of those perfect chillaxing (yep, I used that term) albums you throw on a nice weekend morning and just vibe out to. Especially with standout tracks like "Daylight" or TC's cover of George Duke's classic "For Love (I Come Your Friend)," this album is definitely one not to pass up. —Rocko
In their 2010 self-titled debut, The Drums carved a spot for themselves as an indie pop gem, and, while not doing anything particularly new, managed to create an incredibly unique and engaging persona. The band has taken this a step further with their sophomore effort Portamento, a twelve-song arch rife with dark undertones and charming subtleties. Following the departure of guitarist Adam Kessler, the New York outfit has picked up the pieces and carried forward to create an album that stands out as one of the most unique indie records this year. While it may not have the anthemic sounds of previous works, such as "Forever and Ever Amen" or "Me and the Moon," Portamento delivers a dark yet wonderful package. The album's lead single "Money" immediately jumps into a catchy and fast-paced array of guitar, bass, drums before Jonathan Pierce's incredible vocal range is introduced, and "How It Ended" offers a sentimental and touching tale amidst a catchy combination of instrumentation. These songs, and the rest of the songs on the album, emote an incredibly sombre tale, one that focuses heavily on death and loss, but, surrounding these melancholy emotions are fantastic arrangements of instrumentation. By combining the ugly aspects of love, loss and life, conveyed through the brooding vocal work of Pierce, with a well-crafted exhibition of musical talent, The Drums have delivered a fantastic representation of how indie pop can and does work. —Adrian
Earlier this year, DFA electropop duo Holy Ghost! released their self-titled debut album, a wonderfully crafted gem that blends the allure of '80s disco house music with a crisp, modern sound. Each song is filled with layer upon layer of drums, synthesizers, pianos, vocals, bass, and subtle guitars that somehow combine to create perfectly synchronized throwbacks to '80s and '90s disco house. "Do It Again" energetically kick-starts the album, taking you through a fantastic dedication to the heyday of a genre that is making a comeback. "Wait and See" is unbelievably catchy, and has one of the best music videos of the year, "Hold On" quickly throws you into a magnificent soundscape of electropop goodness, and "Some Children" grabs your attention with its smooth basslines, groovy synthesizers and charming vocal work. Each song on this album is unique in its own way, but fit within the album as a whole, and there's no denying that Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser are experts at making damn catchy music. Holy Ghost! have captured exactly what made a thirty-year old genre work and infused it with modern styles and techniques, as well as their own personal influences. The result? A fantastically well-put-together electropop dream. —Adrian
Although I have always been a pretty big fan of everything that Brian Burton (who is better known as Danger Mouse) lays his hands on, I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical about the Rome project when I first heard about it. Music inspired by the music heard in spaghetti westerns? What even is that? Wait, Jack White and Norah Jones are going to be involved, too? I really had no choice but to hope for the best and fear for the worst. Fortunately, with the help of Italian composer Daniele Luppi (who also shared Burton's love for spaghetti westerns) the two were able to piece together beautiful dream-filled musical landscapes that for a moment seem as if they can't get any better until you hear the tracks that White and Jones are featured on. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I preferred Jones' vocal performances on the record over White's, which should be taken as more of a compliment to her than an insult to him as I have yet to not stop falling in love with "Season's Trees" over and over again.
I think what I have enjoyed the most about Rome in the time that I have spent with it is that with every spin of the record I am able to recognize how effectively it is able to take you somewhere that you've never been before without leaving your room. It doesn't go out of its way to attempt to be timeless, but somehow manages to pull it off anyway. - Kibbe
It's difficult to remember that James Blake's eponymous debut album was released this year, as the solo artist's career has risen to exponential levels since the February release of James Blake. Even with the numerous EPs, the collaborations with Bon Iver, and the touring, we can't forget the album that made Blake what he is today. The self-titled effort is James Blake at his core, it is the compiled essence of what makes him as great as he is. Every song on the album displays Blake's ability to create depth out of minimalism, of his want to introduce sounds and production styles that have yet to be explored or fully realized by other dubstep musicians.
This unique sound is where Blake shines, as each song carries with it an essential sound, but throws something into the mix that makes it different from every other song on the album. It is Blake's capacity to keep you engaged in every song, despite the fact that can oft be very simple, that make him a truly great artist. Whether it is the slow but satisfying progression from "Lindisfarne I" to "Lindisfarne II," or his fantastic cover of Feist's "Limit To Your Love," or the build up and pulsating dubstep release of "I Never Learnt To Share," each song is captivating in its own merit, and, at the same time, the album as a whole is a coherent, consistent envisioning of Blake's genius and talent. While Blake has done so much since his self-titled debut, we can't forget that this is the album where Blake is most poised and more consistent and confident than anything he has released thus far in his career. This is the album that defined James Blake. —Adrian