Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Top 3 Albums I First Listened to in 2011

It's the one year anniversary (plus a few weeks) of my resolution to create 333 top-3 lists and post them to my blog. As evidenced by my now international fame, it's been a rousing success. To celebrate, tonight I'm going to reprise top-3 #1. Here are my three favorite albums that I first listened to in 2011.

3. Ratatat: LP4 (2010)
2011 started out as a bit of a bummer for me, musicwise. One of my all-time favorite pop groups, Freezepop released their first "post-Duke" album. The result was so un-Freezepop that the electro-pop loving piece of my brain slid into major depression. Fortunately, that part of my brain doesn't have any important responsibilities, but I was concerned about it just the same.

Enter Ratatat and their fourth album, LP4. I don't know how this slipped to 2011, but I'm glad it did because it was just the pick-me-up that electro-pop part-of-brain needed. It's Ratatat. It's exactly what you'd expect. And it's fantastic.

I know that Freezepop primed me for this reaction a bit, but I honestly think that Ratatat could put out 20 more albums exactly like this and I'd love every one. Who says you need to innovate to stay fresh? Perfection + iteration works just fine.

The Duke of Pannekoeken was Freezepop's co-founder and "programmer", his primary instrument being this thing. He left in 2009 to lead the development of the Dance Central video games for Kinect. :(

2. Blue Scholars: Cinemetropolis (2011)
Blue Scholars are a hip hop duo from Seattle. Their first album (2004) hooked me in about ten different ways. First, it was just plain good—smart, slick rhymes over smooth, catchy beats. Second, it was all about Seattle, which I was completely in love with at the time. Third, I was in on it early, snagging the original, self-released version of the album when I heard it playing at the great (and sadly defunct) Cellophane Square. And also about seven more ways. The point is, I loved it.

The next few albums/EPs were fine, but they didn't hook me like that first one. They were a little too smooth, verging on boring, and I wasn't exactly chomping at the bit for another. When I heard the new album would be self-released through Kickstarter though, I signed up with a slight sense of obligation. Gotta support the local dudes doing it proper, and all that.

Anyway, May 2011 rolled around and I got a shiny new download link in my inbox. Again feeling obliged (since the perk for supporters was early access to the album), I downloaded and listened to it that night... and it was so awesome.

Gone are the sedate, jazz-based beats of Blue Scholars-past, replaced by a spectacularly danceable electronic soundscape. DJ Sabzi had been slowly adding synths into his beats, but I don't think anybody saw this revolution coming. He is a fantastic electronic producer, and absolutely makes this album.

Check it: Old Blue Scholars—pleasant and likable. New Blue Scholars—yeeeooow, that's hot!

Thus, in direct contradiction to the above, sometimes you have to completely reinvent yourself to retain my affection. I hope all my favorite bands are taking notes.

1. Eero Johannes (2008)
In contrast to Ratatat and Blue Scholars, I have no history with Eero Johannes, and so perhaps the least to say about this album, my favorite that I first listened to in 2011. But I'm completely smitten, so I'll do my best.

Eero Johannes is Finnish, a graphic designer by day and an electronic producer by night. He's part of an electronic movement/genre in Scandanavia called "skweee". I assumed the name was onomatopoeic, but Wikipedia says it comes from trying to "squeeze" the most interesting sounds out of old synths. Regardless of the etymology, the name is fittingly gleeful. The genre is bright, airy, funky, and playful.

The thing Eero Johannes does so well (like Justice), is to make experimental-sounding music exceedingly catchy. There's all sorts of weird stuff going on here—syncopated beats, squeeky beeps, bursts of white noise, chopped up sounds, and a huge diversity of synth patches in each track—but Johannes never loses track of the melody and spins the whole delicate mess into some seriously addicting hooks. Just a fantastic album.


  1. They were just getting ready to swing, knocked me out with a baseball bat.

  2. I read that sentence and my brain filled in the subsequent bassline perfectly in time...

    #3 might be too low for LP4. It is by far my most-listened to album from last year, about 3-4 times the other two albums on this list. I guess, in the end, I dinged it for being "just more Ratatat". But just more Ratatat is all I really ever want out of new music anyway.

  3. I am starting a comments war until one of us works up the effor to post again.

    Your nose is eminently breakable!

  4. Although forcing me to "prove I'm not a robot" in order to comment somehow means you always win. Well-played.