Thursday, December 29, 2011

The 2011 Okapi Sampler!

I didn't have a lot of friends when I was a kid.  I didn't live in a nice subdivision or a neighborhood like all the kids at school did, and there wasn't anyone under 50 who lived anywhere near me.  So, I had to find ways to keep myself out of the the constantly threatening boredom vortex.  I explored the woods behind our house, and mapped out my discoveries.   I collected animal safari cards and couldn't wait to be old enough to leave Pennsylvania for my destined life as a scientist-explorer deep in the Amazon. 

And, I obsessed about music.  Mostly Disco, Funk, and then, New Wave music.  I spent hours every Sunday morning listening to Casey Kasem count down the week's Top 40, and I would plot and graph and make predictions for next week.  I could spout off pop music trivia and chart positions the way just some boys can recite number of hits and home runs in a season  I did this for years, and the music nearly completely shielded me from my loneliness.  Well, I am 41 years old now, and I still find refuge and inspiration in music, and I'm still enough of a nerd to want to organize my favorites in to the annual Lair of the Okapi Sampler - my 10 favorites tracks of the year.    So, here it is...

Last year, I noted that the most notable music of the year seemed to address the tension between escapism and melancholy - well-suited to an era of conflicting feelings and opposing dreams.  In 2011, indie music delved even deeper into murky overlap of joy and hopelessness.  In a year of Tea Parties, Occupiers, and an Arab Spring, it just didn't feel right to have one feeling without the other.  But, what is remarkable this year, compared with last, is the way in which women's voices came to the forefront.  After over a decade of women nearly exclusively in the musical roles of novelty rappers, rock accessories, and artificially flavored pop tarts, it's so refreshing to see (and hear) women taking control of their perspectives, stories, and voices - and oh, what damned good voices there were this year.  

So, without further ado, here is the 2011 Okapi Sampler!  

 # 10  tUnE-yArDs - "Bizness"

tUnE-yArDs is the musical creation of Merrill Garbus, a native New Englander with a truly global sense of rhythm.  "Bizness" seems, at first listen, an odd tune to receive the critical acclaim that it did in 2011.   East African beats, socially-conscious loops, and a roaring androgynous voice coming from a woman who isn't afraid to look anyone in the eye, don't normally add up to a warm welcome in the United States.  But, 2011 hasn't been a normal year, and the joyous rage and commitment to freedom in this track is just what the world needed - or maybe I've just been spending too much time in Ethiopian restaurants.  

 # 9  KING - "Hey"

You know how that first warm day feels after a long cold winter?   That sweet joy is KING - a trio of beautiful electro-soul queens from Los Angeles who've come to save us from ugly music.  "Hey" is smooth and sticky like honey - no artificial sweetness here.  These ladies have, somehow, figured out how to deliver the best elements of classic soul without that "retro" feeling that sometimes feels a little empty.  I'm not sure if this is the next step in neo-soul, or a new genre of future soul - but either way, I cannot wait to see where they take this soul train next.  

# 8 Canyons - "See Blind Through"

In the mid-80s, something magical happened in Chicago, and House Music was born and from this groove came the groove of all grooves.  This duo from Perth, Australia understands House Music - it's a spiritual thing, a soul thing, and "See Blind Through" is like a walk down House Lane.  There is a definite flirting with Hercules and Love Affair's 2007 hit, "Blind" that makes the past and future painfully clear, but with all of it's nods to 25 years of House landmarks, "See Blind Through" is still fresh enough to become a landmark of its own.  

# 7 James Blake - "The Wilhelm Scream"

James Blake bubbled up late last year from the British underground with the sound of the future.  He's hard to categorize - Post-Dubstep?  Glitch-Blues?  Experimental Broken-Beat?  Whatever it is, James Blake's music will be looked back upon by future music geeks as a turning point.  It will influence much of what is to come - in the way that Joy Division did in the late 70s.  "The Wilhelm Scream" sums it up nicely and wraps us in a murky haunting rainy-day dream that comforts in a way that no music has since Depeche Mode's masterpiece, "Violator" in 1990.  

# 6 Lykke Li - "I Follow Rivers"

Oh Lykke Li.   Thank you for reminding us all of who we were when the whole adventure was in front of us, when passion and the thrill of life defined every thought and action.   "I Follow Rivers" with its could-only-be-from-Sweden quirkiness finds the exact meeting point of The Cardigans and The Knife - then adds a quick pinch of Stevie Nicks.   It's the sort of song that's so full of life, it makes you want to get out there and change the world, or at least fall in love again.  And, I suspect a lot of folks have fallen in love with Lykke.  

# 5 Neon Indian - "Polish Girl"

There's been a lot of talk about Dubstep as the current musical rage, but I'm predicting hipster history will more remember 2011 as the year that Chillwave was accepted as the sub-genre of choice.  The new New Wave has been marinating for a few years now with Chromeo, Cut Copy, and Holy Ghost, and this year Neon Indian from Denton, Texas and Toro Y Moi from Columbia, South Carolina brought Chillwave out of their suburban bedrooms to the forefront of indie music.  With dreamy synths and bouncing melodies, it's the perfect escape from a mad, mad world.  And, who doesn't need a danceable escape once in a while?   

# 4 Goapele - "Play"

After so many years of watered-down, commercial-ready, soul-less R&B, I'd almost given up hope.  With Goapele, there is hope again.  Goapele Mohlabane, from Oakland, California, was blessed with a voice so rich and smooth and seductive - it just cuts straight to the core of the human experience.  Add to that, a slinky, writhing, arrangement, and it's impossible not to feel like she's taken you to a higher plane.  And that is what soul music is supposed to do.  

# 3 Toro Y Moi - "Still Sound"

"Still Sound" conjures Polaroid Insta-Matic memories of windows rolled down on country roads, basking in the sunshine and the crisp early autumn air.  It's music for a generation that needs to learn how to not be so serious all the time.  Toro Y Moi, aka Chaz Bundick, makes music that would work as the soundtrack to your earliest adult years - free and promising, without a care in the world - far away from the teenage angst that has ruled the music scene for so long.  But, to be clear, the Toro Y Moi sound isn't artificial fluff.  It's a smart and insightful road trip going who knows where for who cares how long.  

# 2 Lana Del Rey - "Video Games"

Lana Del Rey was born Elizabeth Grant in Lake Placid, New York, and in 2011, she became this century's Patsy Cline.   Her voice is just extraordinary, with a rare smokiness that makes hair stand up.  There's a mystery and an intimacy that's impossibly alluring - like a Tarantino movie about a rich girl gone astray.  "Video Games" is a timeless hopeless honky-tonk love story for the digital age.  

 # 1 Adele - "Rolling In The Deep"

Anyone who knows me, at all, would never expect a # 1 pop chart smash to be mentioned anywhere near my top ten of the year.   Well, sometimes, even I have to shelf the musical snobbery and accept that absolutely everyone loved the best song of the year.  There just can't be one person out there who didn't put their whole being into singing that chorus with Adele, in private, at a long stoplight.  She summons the ghosts of bluegrass, gospel, and soul, and belts that shit out  - it's startling and beautiful.   And the best song of the year, hands down.   

There was a lot of great music this year, and a lot of honorable mentions...

M83 - "Midnight City"
Florence and the Machine - "Shake It Out"
Foster The People - "Pumped Up Kicks"
Hercules and Love Affair - "My House"
Destroyer - "Kaputt"
Atlas Sound - "Te Amo"
Clams Casino - "I'm God"
Ursula 1000 - "Mondo Beyondo"
Burial - "Street Halo"


DBlaze said...

Great articles, you write very well which i like very much. I am really impressed by your post.
moving company in new york

oakley glasses said...

Thank you on your insightful article content this unique informations. I like this website very much, Its a rattling nice position to read and incur information.