Guided by Vices

Cults Cults

The best of 2011 so far

By Christopher Schutte

Cults

There are any number of things that make being a music critic a pretty good gig (my parents are so proud). First and foremost, you get to listen to virtually everything that’s released and you don’t have to pay for it. You also get “press” access to artists and passes to shows that you would otherwise fork over $25 to see. Not bad, right? The trade-off is that you start to approach listening to music as an academic endeavor instead of an emotional connection.

As someone who slaved over album liner notes and lived with records during his formidable years this can be a little disconcerting. I spent a lot of time with records before I made a value judgment which, if deemed worthy, culminated with a place in my collection.

As a music journalist in 2011, the emphasis is on being first – first to discover a new band, first to review a new record, first to tap the artist as “genre defining.” It’s all a little exhausting to be honest. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. It’s still pretty cool to see your opinion in print and know that someone is paying attention (thank you, Omega Records!). It’s just that I like to spend a little more time with records to see how they feel after the first impression.

With that out of the way, allow me to recap my favorite records from the first half of 2011. Records I’ve spent some time with. Records I’ve played over and over on my iPod and my porch speakers while enjoying a cocktail. Records that have stuck with me after repeated listening.

The Best (so far) of 2011….

1) James Blake, James Blake, [A&M]
What I said then:

Blake is decidedly experimental – skittering beats, effects-laden vocals and cavernous sub-bass define his palette. Unlike his contemporaries (Burial, Four Tet, etc.), Blake’s genius is grounded in actual songwriting and musicianship. A beautiful, restrained and groundbreaking record.

What I’m thinking now:
Unlike most electronica and dubstep which can grow cold and repetitive upon repeated listening, Blake’s record has a beating heart at its core. These songs resonate as songs, not just aural soundscapes. Easily my favorite record of the year so far – and it’s not really even that close.

2) Destroyer, Kaputt, [Merge]
What I said then:

Kaputt has head Destroyer, Dan Behar, embracing his 197’s AM-Gold side. His usual hyper-literate, jittery vibe has been replaced by languid saxophone fills, smooth synth washes and a heavy-eyed vocal style – all to good effect.

What I’m thinking now:
While Bejar laments the “hopelessness of the future of music,” his look back at touchstones such as Roxy Music will have you believing that he may be overstating things a bit. The lyrics are sharp, the phrasing spot on and the music assured. If this is what’s to come for Destroyer, then hopeless looks pretty good.

3) Cults, Cults, [Merge]
What I said then:

Cults is an extraordinary record that reveals a band adept at crafting sugary, girl group pop with a dark underbelly that belies its infectiousness. The fantastic opening salvo of, “Abducted”, “Go Outside” and “You Know What I Mean” makes you long for the bygone days of 45 RPM, 7” singles.

What I’m thinking now:
When you put aside all the hipster music baggage I probably enjoy this record more than anything I’ve heard this year. I initially thought that the bright/dark aesthetic and girl group ooh-oohing might get old after a time. After about 40 spins, I can now tell you that I was completely wrong.

4) Washed Out, Within and Without [Sub Pop]
What I said then:

Unlike some of his electronica contemporaries, Ernest Greene favors traditional song structure over texture building, and pop constructs over skittering beats. His new version of chillwave would be better defined as “trip-hop with soul,” or maybe something that defies genre altogether.
Within and Without is an unapologetically pretty, unabashedly ambitious record. The production is lush, the beats are bold and the blown-out ‘8os synth-pop vibe is palpable.

What I’m thinking now:
I’m liking this record more after every play. I wouldn’t exactly call it a “grower,” because I liked it almost immediately. I think part of my increased appreciation is listening to the record almost constantly on headphones. It’s sonically rich, but that’s only part of it. It’s a record that creates a very specific kind of mood that I can’t quite define. I don’t know if it’s nostalgia, or the future, but I like it.

5)The Strokes, Angles [RCA]
What I said then:

I can’t lie – Angles – is definitely a train wreck. But it’s a damned entertaining train wreck that covers just about every musical genre from white-boy reggae (Machu Picchu) and ‘80s synth-pop (Two Kinds of Happiness), to an Elvis Costello homage (Taken For A Fool) and a note-for-note Thin Lizzy rip-off (Gratisfaction). Angles is a completely disjointed mess that also happens to be a pretty irresistible listen.

What I’m thinking now:
As I started this list I kept pushing Angles back thinking there had to be some other record – or records – that I’ve liked better this year. Now I’m beginning to think that all the so-called “experts” who panned this record never really took the time to really listen to it. Sure, it’s kind of a mixed-bag, but it’s always entertaining. Julian Casablancas has never sounded better and the guitar interplay is damned near Television-level at points. It may be that I’m just a fan. But with everything considered, is that so bad?

 

All of these albums are available for purchase at Omega Records at 318 E. Fifth St. in the Historic Oregon District. Look for the Dayton City Paper recommendations shelf.

 

Reach DCP freelance writer Christopher Schutte at ChrisSchutte@DaytonCityPaper.com.

About Christopher Schutte

View all posts by Christopher Schutte
Chris is a freelance drinker who spends most of his free time doing really cool things. Things you wouldn’t believe even if he told you. He enjoys consuming things, making things and writing about things while wearing fashionable clothing and listening to recorded music. He also has a pug named Miles. Reach Chris at chrisschutte@daytoncitypaper.com.

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