When I first heard tUnE-yArDs' 'w h o k i l l,' I was so flabbergasted that I could report my findings only in abstract poetry form. With a ukulele, a drum kit, a fantastic bassist and a total command of loop pedals, Merrill Garbus made a record that's daring, accessible and fully enjoyable. Garbus' malleable voice is sweet and cooing one minute, a roar from another world the next; there are grinding, horn-heavy jams like "Bizness" and slow, beautiful ruminations on love, like "Powa," with a breathtaking upper-register ending.
The easy listeningification of everything was probably the defining thread of 2011. Last year's chillwave mellowness permeated not just wispy rock hits, but snored its way into hip-hop as well. (Musically, Drake's Take Care is just a couple steps away from New Age.) I got tired of hearing rap music that wasn't rap music in 2011, and Death Grips' 'Ex-Military' was the perfect antidote to blissed-out navel gazing in hip-hop. Led by the maniacal MC Ride, the album is one ferocious eruption of angry ideas after another, shouted recklessly over samples from the likes of Jane's Addiction and Link Wray.
Menial details of one's life do not a deep statement make, but plenty of artists (and Facebook users) thought otherwise in 2011. EMA's 'Past Life Martyred Saints' is an album by Erika M. Anderson, who realizes life is not poetry unless you make of it something different and eloquent. "I wish that every time he touched me left a mark," Anderson repeats on "Marked," sounding like an Exile in Guyville Liz Phair; "20 kisses with a butterfly knife" reads like a cast-off lyric from Tom Waits. There's blood, jealousy, disappointment and revenge, especially in the fantastic semi-spoken "California".
I didn't jump out of my seat for a Gil-Scott Heron remix record by Jamie XX, 'We're New Here,' but acquired a separate disc of the instrumentals. Each time, the sonorous bass on "I'm New Here" was like a drip of morphine; the insistent wiggle and menacing handclap of "Running" always put me in an imaginary heist movie.
There is effervescence to Givers' 'In Light' that I cannot deny. The first song is called "Up Up Up," and if I were to pick a perfect single of the year, "Saw You First" would be a contender—just a sweet-sailing, high-kicking love song that hits all the right notes. There are mega-epic "rock moments" all over the record, and the songs are a senior thesis in perfect arrangement.
Read about the Weekend's 'House of Balloons,' Clams Casino's 'Instrumentals,' Odd Bird's 'Smith,' Kreng's 'Grimoire,' Amon Tobin's 'Isam' and 15 other top records from 2011 on the Bohemian's music blog at www.citysoundinertia.com.