February 25, 2012

The Top 20 Albums of 2011 - The YouTube Compilation

The Top 20 Albums of 2011 - The YouTube Compilation
Words by Dirk Calloway

By popular demand, you can now stream my picks from The Top 20 Albums of 2011 on YouTube here. Click play below and you'll be provided with 3 hours of awesome music, starting at album #20 and working its way up to #1:

February 22, 2012

The Top 20 Albums of 2011 - #1 - Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi: Rome

The Top 20 Albums of 2011
#1 Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi: Rome
Words by Dirk Calloway

Preface: Over the last three weeks, I've reviewed the best 20 albums of 2011. This is the final review in the series. You can catch up on the other 19 by clicking this link here.

The best album of the year is Rome, starring Jack White & Norah Jones - wait, what? Norah Jones? "Starring" Jack White? Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot?! Tell you what, let's back up a moment. So, this is the definition of a 'concept album' in 2011. It's an imagined soundtrack to a movie that doesn't exist. If the film was real though, it would surely be a spaghetti western. But it doesn't, so what you are seeing is a labour of love by producer Danger Mouse and film composer (for real movies) Daniele Luppi. Let them explain it for you though, they'll hopefully make things more clear:

If you didn't watch the video, let me summarise it: the record's been 5 years in the making. They recorded it in Rome, using 70 - 80 year old musicians who used to work on this type of film score, and they always had the idea of featuring both a male and female voice. Jack White was involved fairly early on, while Norah Jones was roped in later in the piece's construction. Several years after it began, it was done, and conveyed a complete sonic vision. 

With this record, Danger Mouse has pulled off one of the most amazing hat-tricks in producing history. He rose to infamy with The Grey Album - an excellent mashup of The Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's The Black Album. From there, he proved his hip-hop and pop bonafides with the likes of Gnarls Barkley, MF Doom, Gorillaz, The Good The Bad And The Queen,  records. Along the way, he cemented himself as a rock producer with his work on The Black Keys' Attack & Release, Brothers, and El Camino, as well as Beck's Modern Guilt (my pick for album of the year in 2008). Since 2005, he's been Grammy nominated for Producer of the Year 5 times, and won it once. In 2011 he proved he's now a genius at producing hip-pop, rock, and... spaghetti western soundtracks:

The album's basic structure is feature either White or Jones for a song, then do an instrumental or two, then back to the vocalists again. It keeps things fresh while you're listening to it. Just like a real film's score might, it languishes in lulls and reaches for massive highs, creating a roller-coaster ride of emotion for the listener. Most importantly though, like a real film score, you know there's a consistency and integrity to the overall sound. You're in safe-hands, with a composing team that are setting up themes early on, then paying them off several songs later. It's an approach that rewards each re-listen, and that makes more and more sense after you've spent a long time in the album's world.

I'll be the first to admit that it's not to everyone's tastes. But then, this isn't a Rolling Stone Top Albums of the Year list (who, just so you know, thought the best record was by Adele, and the second-best record was Kanye & Jay-Z's awful Watch The Throne); nope, it's Dirk Calloway's Top 20 Albums of the Year, and he only ever picks an album that will stand the test of time. This record will make just as much sense in 2021 as it does in 2012. When I was agonising over the final selection of 'Record of the Year' in the last couple of days, this is what was the deciding factor. The Kills' Blood Pressures might be bettered by a follow-up by the band in a few years, and that record might be looked upon as a warm-up to something that ended up being better. Likewise, Beirut may yet reveal a masterpiece as grandiose as Sgt Pepper, making The Rip Tide seem like A Hard Day's Night in comparison. But Rome, half a decade after it began its search for life, will stand the test of time. I'm sure of it.

Thanks for reading folks, we're all done now! The rest of the Top 20 reviews can be read here.

February 21, 2012

The Top 20 Albums of 2011 - #2 - The Kills: Blood Pressures

The Top 20 Albums of 2011
#2 The Kills: Blood Pressures
Words by Dirk Calloway

Preface: We're 18 reviews into my retrospective on the 20 best albums of 2011. Hopefully you've enjoyed reading these. If you missed some, click this link here to catch up.

Blood Pressures is the album I wish Radiohead's King of Limbs had been. It's the album I wish Arctic Monkeys' Suck It And See had been. Both records have their fans, but they didn't grab me by the throat in the way I wanted them to. In my book, rock music should shake you around, shove you, rattle your core and baffle you into a state where it is just you, the song, and the band. With Blood Pressures, The Kills have managed to do all of the above. It's a violent, sulky blast. It's sexy as hell:

Gone are the scandals and Kate Moss tabloid stories. They've outlived The White Stripes (their perpetual "sounds like" foil). They've survived their lead singer's dalliance with The Dead Weather. The Kills have made another good album, and it rips the roof off whenever you play it. I heard it first in JB Hi-Fi, and its first track made their shoppers jump in fright. Three songs in and everyone in the store was grooving:

At that point, I knew I had to have this album. Heart Is A Beating Drum is a fantastic track. Allison Mosshart (the lead singer) turns in a performance that is actually quite restrained, keeping the melody simmering, while guitarist Jamie Hince pushes his style to the brink and then turns everything 'up to 11' for the solo. And that riff! It's more hummable than the verses. In a day and age where shoe-gazing twaddle counts as 'indie rock' and the rest that isn't is performed on a keyboard by tweens wearing cardigans and ill-fitting sunglasses, it's a relief to hear a guitar riff this good, played by a man. This is the thinking man's not-guilty pleasure of 2011.
The first line of the above song says it all: "You can holler, you can wail, you can swing, you can flail / You can fuck like a broken sail / But I'll never give you up / If I ever give you up, my heart will surely fail." This is rock music for adults, so all you young pups step aside and watch the pros hit this sucker out of the park.

Gorgeous music. As described by UnderTheRadar: "for the most part Blood Pressures reeks of whiskey and sex—a taste that lingers like secondhand smoke." As far as rock music goes, that's the highest compliment I can imagine one being given. You can stream it, care of Rolling Stone.

Cheers for reading, yo. Check back tomorrow for the last review in this series. Click this link here if you want to find out what the other 18 best albums of 2011 were.