…continued from 2011: The Year in Music (part II)
…and at once I knew I was not magnificent / hulled far from the highway aisle
jagged, vacance, thick with ice / and I could see for miles, miles, miles
One lonely, scruffy bearded white dude spends a winter alone in a cabin in the woods, not all that unlike Thoreau. He’s escaping his day-to-day to be alone with his thoughts, trying to come to grips with a broken band and a broken heart and searching for inner peace… and writing a song or two in the process. It was an irresistible introduction to Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver―2008′s For Emma, Long Ago―and we could all relate to his heartbreaking, achingly gorgeous tales told in sweet falsetto. 2009’s complementary Blood Bank EP promised us that there was more to come from Bon Iver and the anticipation began to build.
Enter hip-hop mogul and single-handed media franchise Kanye West. Somehow, West had the crazy notion to include Vernon’s vocals―both new and sampled from Blood Bank―on several tracks of last year’s magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The album goes platinum and introduces Vernon’s voice to a new fan or two.
We had no idea what we were in for with this one. Bon Iver is more of an experience than it is an album―a world of lonely but uplifting sounds and textures culled from softer country-rock and psychedelic art-rock from the ’70′s through today with little hint of those experiences with Kanye (thank god!), save for vocal manipulations. Each song on Bon Iver works both by itself and with the others creating it’s own ambient atmosphere, but with a much more aggressive stance than For Emma using heavier instrumentation via a full band. Even amongst all of those layers of synths, odd percussions and horns, the album never becomes overwhelming or overdone, just more full sonically.
This is one that I’ll treasure for a long, long time and the gorgeous “Holocene” may be the best song of 2011. “And at once I knew I was not magnificent“. We disagree, Justin.
Why in the night sky are the lights on? Why is the earth moving round the sun?
Floating in the vacuum with no purpose, not a one. Why in the night sky are the lights on?
Borrowing from the rich harmonic traditions of Simon & Garfunkel, the Birds and the Beach Boys once again, Fleet Foxes returned in 2011 with Helplessness Blues to remind us that sweeping orchestral arrangements using the hammered dulcimer, the zimmer and the marxophone can be cool. From the album-opening “Montezuma” to the encore “Grown Ocean”, the memorable, articulate folk crescendos on this one are something to behold again and again.
Clear some space out so we can space out.
Revolutionary full-length debut from one of rap’s great poets, Ishmael Butler (Palaceer Lazarro, Butterfly). Released just one year after two stunning EP’s, Shabazz Palaces and Of Light, and enshrouded in mystique until it’s release, Black Up finds the former Digable Planets member flowing smoother than ever, but this time set to sophisticated, deconstructed dancehall or dub-step beats and the dirtiest bass known to man.
Equal parts John Coltraine, Isaac Asimov, Gil Scott-Heron and Fritz Lang, the world of Black Up is dense, abstract, cryptic and as dark as midnight… and it’s unapologetic about the fact that it’s like nothing else out there. This one takes some time to fully appreciate, but in time Black Up just might prove to be one of the genre’s greatest albums.