Mark Zip Poop ’11



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Katie B – On A Mission (Rinse / Columbia)
Among all the BRIT School graduates who made waves this year (Adele, Jamie Woon, Rizzle Kicks, Amy Winehouse), Katie B was by far my favourite. Last year’s contribution to the Magnetic Man album (featuring the brilliant lyric “something, something, something…”) and the “On A Mission” single had given us reason to expect a strong debut and we were not disappointed. The combination of pop, UK funky, dubstep and drum ‘n bass (hell, there’s even an Amen break on a coupla tracks) was addicting and served to put her light and flexible voice in interestingly textured and coloured spaces. Bonus points for having the balls to invite Ms. Dynamite on the record and for holding her own next to that whirlwind.



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PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Vagrant)
This is the record I turned to most often for a dose of reality. It seemed to change throughout the year as I frieghted it with more contemporary baggage and sloughed off the approach I had taken the last time I listened to it. One day it was about war, the next the Arab Spring, the next broken relationships. Art is (partly) about what you bring to it, right?



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Tom Waits – Bad As Me (Anti)
This is the record I turned to most often for a dose of horror. Over the last seve­­ral CDs, I have found that a little Tom goes a long way. For some reason this particular record made me listen longer and more closely. “Hell Broke Luce” is the most frightening song I’ve heard in many years.



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Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic)
This is the record I turned to most often for a dose of sadness. Sure, there are depressive songs here. But they don’t really strike me as morose. The singing and the production give off the feeling of some small glimmer of hope buried in the gloom. Whether it’s the shoop-shoowaa or the pop melodies, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I think. Bonus: Remarkable video for “Sadness is a Blessing” with Stellan Skarsgård.



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Chase & Status – No More Idols (Mercury UK)
While this, their second full length effort, is more obviously commercial than the first, it’s difficult to say if that is because the world has moved toward them or vice versa. They definitely made an effort to make the sonics stand out, but the mash and chaos of styles and attitudes is not obvious. It’s a particularly calculated set of “let’s see what we can fuck with next” approaches to drum ‘n bass, house, dubstep and brostep. Confirming the success of the approach, videos of the live tour show massive mosh pits and stadium sized stage sets rocking huge crowds.



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V.A. – Annie Mac Presents 2011 (Island UK)
For the last 3 years the “AMP” series has done a great job of giving casual pop fans a comprehensive snapshot (if there can be such a thing) of dance music from the twilight zone between the deeeeeep underground and the truly mainstream. All the tracks are accessible and up-front, but none are too hackneyed. Annie Mac’s weekly radio show and her concert series do a good job of integrating electronic dance music of all types, and that’s the philosophy behind the compilations too. This year she includes killers from Redlight featuring Ms. Dynamite, Tensnake, Aloe Blacc and Jack Beats, among many others. Where the song is a mainstream success, these compilations use a remix which is odd or twisted. For instance, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” is represented by the Jamie XX remix, which strips this year’s runaway smash down to the vocals and a few stabs and adds what is essentially a moombahton beat. These days it’s a fools’ errand trying to keep up with every micro-genre in the dance world, but the combination of the radio show and these comps makes the effort a pleasurable one.



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Bunny Lee & The Agrovators – Dub Will Change Your Mind (King Spinna UK)
This limited edition vinyl / mp3 release is the first from King Spinna, a new label formed by the guys behind the late lamented Blood and Fire. While there’s no shortage of Bunny Lee/King Tubby dub items on the market right now, this one contains some truly rare dubs from ’74 to ’78. The remastering is good and the packaging classy.



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Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams (Sub Pop)
Girls, guitars, slab-of-noise production, melodies – What more do we want?




Azaelia Banks – “212” (video) (YouTube)
Yup, the hype is deafening. Take a look at the video, however, and you’ll be a believer. Look, I’m pretty sure we can all think of artists whose debut full-lengths don’t live up to the promise of the first two singles, t’was ever thus. But I think she has the right mix of ambition and discipline to pick the right folks to work with and the right way to record.



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James Blake – James Blake (Universal / Republic)
The treated vocals, the subdued atmospherics, the barely-there chords; perfect fodder for coffee-table R&B, yes? Well, yes and no. At first blush those prerequisites are all present and correct. But there is more here. Strange little ticks and blips, off-beat tempos, weird hitches in the flow. I think this might be the “Marmite” record on this list. You either love it or hate it. Annoyingly, it sounds even better, perhaps best, in headphones.



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SBTRKT – SBTRKT (XL)
The most confusing record of the year for me. Which may be exactly what was intended. It’s not as focused as the James Blake record, yet not as obvious at the Chase & Status. He doesn’t sing on his own record, but rather serves up tunes and beats for guest singers. While there are spaces in between the notes (similar to James Blake’s and Jamie Woon’s efforts), the spaces are not what the record is “about”. He has a sense of humour too, which always helps when your listeners might just (like me) be a little confused.



Others:
The StreetsComputers and Blues (679/Rhino)
Jamie WoonMirrorwriting (Verve)
St VincentStrange Mercy (4AD)
Little DragonRitual Union (Peacefrog)
RaffertieNot Asleep, Not Awake EP (Ninja Tune)
TinariwenTassili (Anti)
Pistol AnniesHell on Heels (Sony Nashville)
The WeekndHouse of Balloons (free mixtape)
V.A.Bambara Mystic Soul (The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979) (Analog Africa)
V.A.Zambush Vol. 1 Zambian Hits from the 80s (Sharp Wood)
V.A.Zambush Vol. 2 – Zambian Hits From The 60s & 70s (Sharp Wood)
V.A.Soundway Records Presents The World Ends Afro Rock and Psychedelia in 1970s Nigeria (Soundway)
V.A.Rinse 15: Roska (Rinse UK)
SepalcureSepalcure (Hotflush)

Reads:
Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever – Will Hermes
(Disclosure: Will is a friend and I think I suggested at least one important song) – A remarkable survey of time and place. While there are few amazing revelations, I especially appreciated the way he folds together time and people, introducing artists in one context and with one name, only to reveal them at a different time and with a more common name later. I also learned a lot more stuff about the Latin scene. Though despite his mentions of them, he still couldn’t make me interested in KISS (the band).

TechDirt: “The Future Of Music Business Models (And Those Who Are Already There)” (http://bit.ly/CwfRtB)
An article from 2010 which posits the idea that the music business can survive if it adapts. The formula is pretty simple to state: Connect with Fans (CwF) + Reason to Buy (RtB) = The Business Model This was very nicely illustrated in 2011 by Louis C.K. With his $5, DRM-free, video pulling in more than one million dollars despite the fact that it was available elsewhere for free. Louis’ story was explored in length in another post at “Louis CK: Connecting With Fans & Giving Them A Reason To Buy By Being Polite, Awesome & Human” (http://bit.ly/w3Maip)



Gig:
Robyn at Radio City Music Hall
While the stage set was obviously designed for smaller hall, and thus did not do a good job of filling the space, Robyn herself fed off the crowd’s good will and projected mightily, running up and down the sides of the hall to the delight of the audience. Her “I don’t give a fuck” goofy dancing was a delight and she barely missed a beat when she almost fell off the stage. Another highlight of the gig was the venue. I’ve not been to Radio City for many many years and had forgotten just how great a place it is. New York at its finest. Later in the year she appeared on SNL and, performing the same set, failed to ignite. For me that showed that the distancing effect of TV robbed the “I don’t give a fuck” goofy dance of the charm it has in person. When you are on the same screen as Beyonce and you can’t dance like her you have to find another way to connect. At Radio City she did.






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