Ramon Ramirez’s Five Best Local Albums of 2011
Oddisee made the best DMV album of 2011. But I’m tired of reading about him in Arts Desk posts.
On the national side of sounds, the year was mostly about slowing down and turning up the bass (see: James Blake, Drizzy Drake, The Weeknd, Bon Iver, Girls, Frank Ocean). However, some Haterade for all the buzzy mp3s I kept getting tricked into tasting seems in order:
- Shabazz Palaces – We don’t believe you.
- Clams Casino – Can’t tell this apart from Cities Aviv.
- Real Estate – Fitting that there’s a track on the album called “All The Same.”
- Washed Out – Really, really did not enjoy anything about this.
Turning inward, here are some vital local hits to consume while we all wait for Skrillex to unveil his next masterpiece.
During my college-newspaper days, staffers spent an inordinate amount of time debating the merits of Joanna Newsom's Ys. I was more interested in Clipse's Hell Hath No Fury, but the arguing still seemed ridiculous: Either you dug music as finger painting—as precious, densely orchestral blasts about cartwheels and goats—or you preferred structure. Pree's May Tabol stirs similar cocktails, though the blender of ideas is proudly worn survivalist creativity: Folly stems from scattered sessions across area English basements. The DIY whimsy adds a shot of desperation to Tabol's gems about sailing boats and parading floats. What's a good home without some creaking stairs anyway?
D.C.-based Windian Records spent the fall releasing six albums from its geographically diverse roster. The self-titled debut from Milwaukee's White Face's upholds the exuberant positivity of their label boss' Capslocked Facebook musings. The band's garage pop rarely meanders beyond three minutes, and keeps the message warm and human. Sample lyric: "I like the way you smile when you're happy." Sunny Buzzcocks revivalism isn't new ground, but the Faces' well-crafted songs make it enjoyable again.
3. More Humans– Demon Station EP
Cricket Cemetery's budding reputation as a trusted partner in hardcore is well-deserved, as the local outfit released three heavy records in ‘11. Demon Station’s five songs are an unexpected and ambitious departure. Elegant tracks like “Dracula” recall the Zombies with more aggressive and intricate percussion (and without the organ). The driving emo of “Mason-Dixon” is led by those gorgeous, almost aristocratic indie vocal arrangements that make you think of Rough Trade Records. “Icicles” big-ups the ‘70s radio rock you hear in snippets during infomercials about ballad compilations. More Humans’ influences and complementary pieces feel easy to cite, but their sparkplug songwriting prevails.
2. The Cornel West Theory – The Shape of Hip-Hop To Come
I spent some time profiling D.C.’s most complex hip-hop collective a few months back and the comments took the feature to task for not spending much time working in the new album’s strengths and weaknesses. Fair enough. The thing goes hard. The beats are sick. The flows are on-point. The anger is focused and serious. In fact, Dr. Cornel West’s occasional, curating guest lectures are somewhat superfluous.
Hooray for the underdogs. If this were 2003, two spins on a MySpace page from desperate suits and these folky punks would have been signed to Island Def Jam, slapped on a Warped Tour alongside Story of the Year and Sugarcult, and ultimately suffered blacklist-level backlash from the message boards months after a sweet hook about high school love letters exposed them as over-privileged newbies.
In 2011, Typefighter’s band members are well-traveled, post-recession “indie rockers” that serve good eats at Sticky Rice, reach out to mom for guest vocals, and make sweetly optimistic, toe-tapping ballads. The kind Occupy D.C. protesters queue up into ear buds and dance around in circles to.
Fall Winter Fall is nostalgic in that it sounds like emo after the last good Jimmy Eat World album but before Taking Back Sunday broke up (for the first time). “Frank Sinatra” works in addictive hand-claps. “Eyes & Ears” is dutifully simple. “Eggs” is pretty damn twee, but it gets a pass for its catchy banjo. I don't think this is the bravest or more important local release, but real talk—could not stop putting these six songs on playlists since the they dropped in March.