Matt Slaybaugh

Top 12 of 2011

Handsome Furs
Sound Kapital
Sub Pop

I continue to play the heck out of this album since I reviewed it in July. Back then I said, “They’ve produced a bracing, body- and soul-stirring, synth-rock masterpiece.” Take it from me, you can play this one really loud and a lot and it won’t get old.

The Weeknd
House of Balloons and Thursday

My wife thought this was a joke when I put this album on in the car. Okay, yes, House of Balloons and Thursday are completely over the top, but they’re both compellingly dark and twisty. The Weeknd’s music makes good driving listening because it’s got drive, and you almost want to shout along to it at times. It feels defiant, and though the lyrics seem to be mainly about things like taking drugs and feeling dirty on a weekday night, I don’t think that’s what Abel Tesfaye is really singing about. Everybody at the party’s grinding away and getting lonelier all the time.

Ambrose Akinmusire
When the Heart Emerges Glistening
Blue Note

Ambrose scored the role of Miles Davis in the ongoing development of The Miles Davis Experience, an immersive musical production. It seems that he’s well cast and that his playing is pretty simpatico with the sensitivity of Miles’ own. Also like Miles, he’s not afraid to bring things into the mix that seem like they don’t belong. Electronic drum sounds (“My Name is Oscar”), a little glockenspiel (“Ayneh (Cora)”) and the occasional pop melody (“Tear Stained Suicide Manifesto”). Let’s face it, not too many people are putting out jazz albums that are as energetic and fresh as this without going too far over the deep end for most people’s tastes. Mr. Akinmusire doesn’t just walk that line, he’s stands right on it and makes it his own.

Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat
Everything’s Getting Older
Chemikal Underground

Aidan Moffat worked with Bill Wells on and off for eight years on this, and apparently Moffat felt older and older all the time. Like me, he’s nearing 40, not exactly ancient, but pressing enough to demand a lot of reminiscing and, if you’re unlucky enough, plenty of regrets. Check out “The Copper Top” for a good taste of ruefulness. “The bar is busier than it should be on a weekday afternoon, as the door swings shut behind me, but I’m the only one wearing a suit.” Moffat ducks out of a funeral to grab a pint and be alone with his memories. Arab Strap fans will, no doubt, be completely unsurprised by the down-on-your-luck weariness that surrounds the most honest of these tracks.

CTI Records Reissues

Impluse Records founder Creed Taylor founded CTI in 1967 and proceed to gather still-relevant, mostly hard bop musicians together for some of the most spirited sessions of the ’70s. This reissue series has put out some completely amazing sets in the past 15 months. (The vinyl versions are beautiful and come with download codes to make it easy on the indecisive.) You’ll find underrated leaders like Freddie Hubbard (Red Clay), Stanley Turrentine (Sugar and Don’t Mess With Mister T) and Jim Hall (Concierto) playing in surprising combinations with guys like Paul Desmond, Ron Carter, Joe Henderson and Billy Cobham. I’ve got a large handful of them, and they’ve quickly moved up the ranks of my favorite jazz recordings.

Das Racist

Weezy inadvertently let loose every moron who prefers hip-hop without technical proficiency. It’s taking a long time for the culture to rebound, and Drake’s decent album only confuses the issue. Without Def Jux to fly the flag for weirdos with skills and no taste for retro-ism, it falls to Das Racist to save us. Good thing they can rap.

Pop Music/False B-Sides

Baths makes exactly the kind of almost pointless, barely distracting music that’s good for playing in the background while you browse the internet, and which you’ll find me complaining about all the time. So, what’s the deal? I guess I think he’s kind of sweet, the way he dances with himself while he tweaks those knobs and clicks his mouse. And I admit that he’s managed to squeeze a lot of glitchy humanity out of those machines. His newest, Pop Music/False B-Sides gets a “like” from me.

How to Dress Well
Just Once ep
Love Letter Ink

A few critics wrote that Nostalgia/Ultra was a nice start, but that it was more a preamble to future greatness, and that Frank Ocean would really be worth noticing “once he got out of bed.” But it’s that tossed-off quality of the lyrics that makes the mixtape so uniquely enjoyable. It lends an everyman quality to Ocean’s unbelievable voice, which is anything but mundane. Nostalgia/Ultra, with its nonchalance and idiosyncratic samples, gives the listeners the irresistible impression that Ocean is just a dude writing songs in his bedroom for no one but himself (or maybe the woman he’s trying to hook up with). And to be let in on that level of listener-intimacy is a rare and wonderful thing.

Cities Aviv
Digital Lows
Fat Sandwich

You’ve got to venture into the wild world of Bandcamp to download this stuff, but it’s so worth the trip. Gavin Mays of Memphis samples Steely Dan and loves Non Phixion, and those are just two of the influences that have made him one the most compelling new voices in hip-hop, even in the year of Odd Future. No one else came from such a leftfield perspective this year, and no one on a label made an album as confidently weird (yet still eminently listenable) as this one. Until Jay Electronica’s album drops, this is about as good as it’s going to get.

The Antlers
Burst Apart

I’m certain “I Don’t Want Love” is the single song I listened to most of all this year. Burst Apart is an incredibly apt title, since this album does have a lot of moments in which the contained, tightly wound band that made Hospice let it all hang out a bit. They’ve even got multi-word song titles this time. Heck, “I Don’t Want Love” could almost be a U2 ballad, if Bono was okay with not showing off for a few minutes. Don’t worry though, Peter Silberman’s voice is still bewitching, and there are still plenty of tracks worth crying yourself to sleep over.

James Blake
James Blake

The dubstep Bon Iver? Maybe. Hopefully he doesn’t go downhill as quickly as his acoustic analogue, but I will be surprised if he ever again does anything as satisfying as his sublime, self-titled, debut LP. It has the sound of simplicity, but it’s never overly straightforward. His voice is processed, but saddened, and he’s not afraid to explore the fringes of his quieter moods. Tracks like “Measured” are gospel for the internet generation, and to hear how noisy this stuff gets live is to take your place in the choir of believers.

Miles Davis Quintet
Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1

The best band of all time, Miles’ second great quintet featuring Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams, burns through some of their best compositions and pushes jazz in new directions all the while. Documents of the band playing live during this period are rare, and before now bootlegs were the only way to here these essential performances. This band was nothing less than supernaturally connected, and there are enough surprising moments on these discs to keep you breathless until Volume 2 comes out.

Other Favorites Covered Elsewhere by the Agit Reader Staff

Yuck, Yuck

Harald Grosskopf, Synthesist/Re-Synthesist

Wild Flag, Wild Flag

Zola Jesus, Conatus

Destroyer, Kaputt

Father’s Children, Who’s Gonna Save the World

Panda Bear, Tomboy

The Field, Looping State of Mind

Mickey Newbury, An American Trilogy