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Old 12-19-2011, 02:50 PM  
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Reaper's Favorite Albums of 2011

Here it is, y'all. The highly-anticipated annual list of my favorite albums of the year. 2011 was an interesting year in music. There wasn't a single album that I personally rated 9/10. No great albums. But there were a ton of albums that I rated 8.5/10 to 7.5/10. Lots and lots and lots of really good albums. I struggled with the ordering of these albums; it seemed arbitrary at times. So that's why in lieu of doing honorable mentions this year I'm just going to do an ordered top 50. That's right, these are my favorite 50 albums of the year.

As always, this isn't meaning to be an objective list of best albums of the year. While I listen to over 300 new albums each year, I still don't listen to enough to feel comfortable making objective claims about quality. Do you think I snubbed some really great dubstep album? Did I miss out on a perfect bluegrass album? It's very likely that I did, but this is a list of my personal favorites. That's why you're going to see lots of metal albums on the list. It's also why you're going to see as many, if not more, hip-hop albums on this list. 2011 was a stupendous year for rap music.

Anyway, I'm going to be rolling these out over the next couple of days or so as I write up little paragraphs for each album in-between working on other stuff.

50.) Tune-Yards - w h o k i l l
49.) White Willow - Terminal Twilight
48.) Blut Aus Nord - 777 Sects
47.) Blut Aus Nord - 777 The Desanctification
46.) La Dispute - Wildlife
45.) Childish Gambino - Camp
44.) Wolves in the Throne Room - Celestial Lineage
43.) Boris - New Album
42.) Antediluvian - Through the Cervix of Hawaah
41.) Fen - Epoch
40.) Kendrick Lamar - Section.80
39.) M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
38.) Florence + the Machine - Ceremonials
37.) Wild Flag - Wild Flag
36.) Opeth - Heritage
35.) The Roots - Undun
34.) Vektor - Outer Isolation
33.) Rudra - Brahmavidya: Immortal I
32.) Tech N9ne - All 6s & 7s
31.) Lady GaGa - Born This Way
30.) Death Grips - ExMilitary
29.) Leprous - Bilateral
28.) Mr. Mother****in eXquire - Lost in Translation
27.) ASAP Rocky - LiveLoveA$ap
26.) Hades Archer - For the Diabolical Ages
25.) Cities Aviv - Digital Lows
24.) Big KRIT - Return of 4Eva
23.) Absu - Abzu
22.) Disma - Towards the Megalith
21.) Cunninglynguists - Oneirology
20.) Bon Iver - Bon Iver
19.) Trap Them - Darker Handcraft
18.) Das Racist - Relax
17.) Steven Wilson - Grace for Drowning
16.) Necros Christos - Doom of the Occult
15.) Ulcerate - The Destroyers of All
14.) Cormorant - Dwellings
13.) Symphony X - Iconoclast
12.) Danny Brown - XXX
11.) St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
10.) Hell - Human Remains
09.) Wolverine - Communication Lost
08.) G-Side - Island
07.) Dessa - Castor, the Twin
06.) TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light
05.) Unexpect - Fables of the Sleepless Empire
04.) Sims - Bad Time Zoo
03.) Doomtree - No Kings
02.) G-Side - The One... Cohesive
01.) Astronautalis - This Is Our Science

Thanks for reading and listening. Please put up your own lists in this thread if you'd like, or talk about other year-end lists, etc. Just like you guys have done for the past few years that I've done this.

Per QuikSsurfer's request, here are links to previous year's list threads: http://www.chiefsplanet.com/BB/showthread.php?t=238651 (2010); http://www.chiefsplanet.com/BB/showthread.php?t=219784 (2009) (I would change the order of the top 15 around if I were to re-do this one); http://www.chiefsplanet.com/BB/showthread.php?t=202037 (2008).

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Old 12-20-2011, 10:41 AM   #61
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9.) Wolverine – Communication Lost




This is a progressive rock album that everybody is sleeping on. Who has even heard of this album? You should probably listen to it, though. I’d say that fans of harder prog rock like Tool or Oceansize or Riverside would like this, even though Wolverine doesn’t actually have all that much in common with them. I guess they might be as much metal as they are rock. Whatever. The melodies are deliberate and frequently gorgeous. The songs have an organic pacing to them and there is a complete lack of ornate instrumentation thrown in for no reason (as is the downfall of many prog albums). My favorite part of this album are the vocal harmonies and how they are complimented and lifted by the lead guitars. I guess I’m most reminded of Green Carnation when I listen to this album, which is probably why I love it so much. Tracks like “Your Favorite War” are sweeping and emotional like the best Broadway show closing songs, without being one bit cheesy. Please listen to the linked track, “Communication Lost.” It’s one of the most uplifting, feel-good rock songs of the year to me. The album builds up the whole time to that song and its climax, and the release that you get for getting to that point is something that is only possible in the rarest of progressive albums. It’s a HUGE moment, and it totally destroys the forced hugeness of pop albums like M83’s and Florence + the Machine 2011 albums (and I really, really like those albums; they place #39 and #38 respectively in my list). This album may actually rise in esteem for me over the years.





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Old 12-20-2011, 10:43 AM   #62
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8.) G-Side - Island


When I moved to Alabama, one of the first things I did was look into the hip-hop scene in the state. Most everything out of Birmingham was derivative of the Atlanta scene, but I found some stunning originality in Huntsville. The standout act was G-Side, whose two albums prior to 2011 (Starshipz & Rocketz, and Huntsville International) featured some of the most lush production I’ve heard in all of hip-hop. G-Side is a duo made up of ST 2 Lettaz (aka Crooked Letter T) – a more East Coast influenced MC who can really rap circles around southern rappers not named Big Boi or Three Stacks – and Yung Clova – a more swagged-out southern rapper who married a chill delivery with deeper-than-you-think lyricism. In 2011, G-Side released two albums and they are getting all kinds of buzz from SPIN, Pitchfork, etc.

Island is their second album of the year, and it is a Goddamned tour-de-force of rap music. Let me bring up Block Beattaz, the resident producers on Slow Motion Soundz. Mali Boy, CP, and assorted underlings/apprentices make up for perhaps the best and most forward-thinking production team in ALL of rap music right now. They make sample-based beats that are more inventive, more fresh, than anything else I’ve heard from anyone. They’ll sample from indie rock or new age or world music. They pioneered the use of trance samples in rap music. Their work from 2008 is still ahead of its time. Their work from 2011? All you have to do is listen to “Cinematic” off of this album to understand how moving the combination of Block Beattas, Yung Clova, and ST are.

Island has numerous standout tracks that rank with the very best in all of hip-hop this year. For me, there’s a middle period on this album where the songs are about celebrating how far they’ve come that falls a bit flat. Part of G-Side’s charm is the working man’s struggle that is reflected in their lyrics. It’s what makes their art so valuable. But all of a sudden they can make songs about buying things for girls and about how many international shows they’re booked for and how much Gucci they can buy and along the way their originality gets lost a bit. This is a minor criticism, as the album is still obviously in my top 10 for the year. But I wonder if it isn’t a harbinger of some greater shift in their work. Still, songs like “Recognize” or “16 Shots” are as energetic and thrilling as rap can get. The best part of this album might just be Yung Clova. In G-Side’s previous material, ST often shines brightest. On Island, Clova steps up to the plate and turns in his best performance yet. G-Side are the new face of southern rap. Don’t sleep.





Recognize: Alabama vs. LSU--The Rematch from Be Xo on Vimeo.

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Old 12-20-2011, 10:45 AM   #63
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7.) Dessa – Castor, the Twin


Dessa’s first full-length, A Badly Broken Code, placed #2 last year in my 2010 list of favorite albums. In case you don’t know, Dessa is the best female rapper on the planet. She can spit battle-rap style or she can weave complex, intricate, literary lyrics in and around torch-singing melodies that she herself sings. She has a wonderful ability seamlessly transition from rapping to singing and back, mid-line. She also writes creative nonfiction (as well as some fiction and poetry), so there’s that.

Castor, the Twin is an album of rearrangements of older material of hers. The songs are rearranged or reinterpreted to fit in the context of a live jazz band. The emphasis on this album is the interplay of Dessa’s own singing with fantastic backup singer Aby Wolf, as well as the thunderous upright bass and live drums. The entire album was recorded not instrument-by-instrument but as a whole band, at once. Old old Dessa tracks like “551” and “Kites” benefit greatly from the saturating bass sound and enhanced melodic approach, while the live guitar adds a new, rockier tension to 2010 songs like “The Crow” and “Mineshaft II.” The highlights are the two least-known songs on the album: “Palace” was originally a track on DJ Paper Tiger’s solo album; this reinterpretation takes away all the electronic sounds and reveals the underlying song to be so emotionally rich. “The Beekeeper” is the only new song on the album, and I’ll let the YouTube link speak for itself. While nearly every song on this album is originally a rap song through and through, this album comes off much more as a jazz-pop album to rival the best that the likes of Norah Jones have ever put out. This album is incredible because the songs are incredible. The only reason that this new release doesn’t place #1 on my list is because it is 99% rearrangements of songs that she’s already released, and because it isn’t all that “new” I don’t think it is fair to rate it any higher than I already do. I contemplated leaving it off the list entirely for that reason, but it is just too damn good to do that.





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Old 12-20-2011, 10:46 AM   #64
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6.) TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light


This album wouldn’t be this high if this were a best-albums list. The sequencing on this album is… strange, to say the least. When TV on the Radio released a short film consisting of a music video for each track on this album, the order of the songs was different than the album order. The weird thing is that that order wasn’t necessarily and improvement. It’s almost as if these songs are interchangeable. And I haven’t figured out an aesthetic reason for that because I’m too busy enjoying the meticulous songcraft present on these rock songs. If TVotR’s previous masterpiece, Dear Science, was ahead of its time then Nine Types of Light is exactly at the time it should be. It isn’t particularly forward-thinking, just damn good.

“Second Song” (which does work quite well in its spot as an album opener) features slangy rock guitars over thick, bassy synths and gentle piano while Tunde Adebimpe goes into an infectious falsetto croon over the chorus and slowly prog keys and trumpet blasts and new guitar lines get added to the song until we’re left with a triumphant array of sounds that all work together in joyous ways. “Will Do” uses a driving bass line to prop up an otherwise melancholic electro-pop song, and of course it wouldn’t be TVotR if there wasn’t an uplifting and well-crafted shift going into the last act of the song, with new tempos and orchestral strings popping up. This band is just so good. I’m hard pressed to think of many rock bands in this country that are better at writing accessible, interesting songs. Or are just better, period. Again, the sequencing is off and the album misses a dark & heavy song such as “Wolf Like Me” or “ DLZ.” But in a down year for albums, a par-for-the-course offering from TV on the Radio is plenty good.





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Old 12-20-2011, 10:48 AM   #65
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5.) Unexpect – Fables of the Sleepless Empire


Oh, Unexpect. You are what you say you are: unexpected. Well, on one hand I knew what I was getting into. I’ve been waiting so long for this band’s follow up to the remarkable In A Flesh Aquarium (a top 3 album for me in 2006). And it delivered what all Unexpect fans are looking for: songs that take puzzling, baffling twists and turns, songs that are really, truly ****ing crazy, songs that somehow feel natural and organic in spite of the insanity. Unexpect have a male vocalist that talk-sings and a male vocalist that just does harsh vocals and (best yet) a female vocalist that sings all the most interesting of melodies. The drummer and guitarist are talented in classical and jazz stylings, and their sheer versatility shows. The lynchpin of the whole band is the 9-string bass that the bassist uses.

Things get really complex, really quickly. It’s very difficult to describe, so I’m mostly going to let the YouTube links speak for themselves. This is the inner-monologue of the schizophrenic. This album frequently sounds like circus music, but maybe a space circus. Like a more progressive, more technically sound, more insane version of, say, Diablo Swing Orchestra. SO MANY INSTRUMENTS. So many surprising shifts in tone or time signature or atmosphere. It’s a very challenging album, despite being more straight-forward and heavier than their previous album. If you like your metal albums incredibly complex to the point where you are being rewarded over five full listens in (and I am one of those people) then you’re going to love this album.





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Old 12-20-2011, 10:49 AM   #66
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4.) Sims – Bad Time Zoo


Sims is the second member of Doomtree (along with Dessa) to place solo albums in my top 10. Bad Time Zoo is a loosely Ray Bradbury-influenced account on living a modern life in a modern city; check out the Bradbury short story The Veldt, which is also the name of a song on this album. It’s very lyrically tight, and Sims has an easy-going-though-wordy flow throughout the album that charismatically emphasizes through keen delivery the themes inherent in the lyrics. Sims doesn’t just ride these beats, he embodies them.

And, oh, these beats. Let’s talk about these beats. Bad Time Zoo is entirely produced by Lazerbeak (who is one of my absolute favorite producers in hip-hop), so there’s so much horn and soul sampling being layered on top of heavy-ass drums that is ‘Beak’s signature. The beats are pretty dynamic and they range from doom-jazz like on “Burn It Down” and “Too Much” to familiar Doomtree rap beats like on “Radio Opaque” to the ethereal, indie-rock inspired “When It Rolls In” and “Sink or Synchopate.” And as much as the Cecil Otter-produced beats on Doomtree’s group album, No Kings, are ahead of their time (see #3 on my list), the secret track that appears a couple of minutes after the last track ostensibly ends goes even further beyond anything on No Kings. This song, appearing after “Hey You,” is linked above. It’s an autobiographical account of the fear Sims felt as his girlfriend was going in for an emergency organ transplant and the subsequent organ rejection that happened. The lyrics and delivery and powerful and frightening, but the beat behind them – loopy, distant synths and wave after wave after wave of symbol crashes – brings the whole thing to panic-attack-inducing levels. It’s perhaps the single most striking and original rap song of the year. People have really slept on this album and I don’t really understand why. It’s remarkable in so many ways.





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Old 12-20-2011, 10:51 AM   #67
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3.) Doomtree – No Kings


Is there any album better positioned for the time of Occupy Wall Street than Doomtree’s fantastic No Kings? As an album, the consistent message is that we have no kings above us; a message of equality. This is played out in so many ways throughout the album, in lyrics so packed with meaning that it’d take you dozens of listens to situate everything. That’s one thing you know you’re getting with Doomtree: literary lyrics that matter, from the social consciousness of Sims and P.O.S. to the personal memoir content of Dessa and Cecil Otter, to the language poetry of Mike Mictlan (that is so good that I’m pretty sure I could just send off his verses to literary journals under an assumed name and get them published). The whole group is on-point here, and the cool thing is that they each understand the role of their voices and flows in the context of a group album. So while Sims is very wordy and mid-paced on his solo album, on Ni Kings he strictly uses his slow flow so as not to overlap with P.O.S.’ range. Mictlan brings the high energy, Cecil Otter calms things down, and Dessa fills out the melodies.

But more impressive than the verses are the beats. Even the beat making was a true crew affair. Doomtree has two full-time producers, Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger, who each have their own unique sound. But P.O.S. and Cecil Otter make beats too. And all four lend ideas to every single song (though you can tell if you’re familiar with each producer who is taking the lead on which song). The beats are ever shifting and surprising as a result. Take the track “Own Yours” for instance. It’s an exhilarating listen because you truly can’t guess where the beat is going to go next; you’re forced to submit and go along for the wild ride. The most forward-thinking beats on the album are spearheaded by Cecil Otter, who has become fond of old, old synthesizers that make noises like you’d hear on an old episode of PBS’ Nova or something. “The Grand Experiment” and “Beacon” feature this sound, and these tracks are so, so different from anything Doomtree has done before. Other tracks surprise in their own ways: “Bolt Cutter” uses honest-to-God dubstep in a rap beat, while “Little Mercy” and “Team The Best Team” feel like classic Doomtree in key spots in the album. Perhaps the only reason I’m not putting this astounding album #1 is because of the song “Gimmie the Go” which is not only the weakest song on the album by far but is sequenced in a spot where it undoes all the momentum that “Team The Best Team” creates going into the finale of the album. “Own Yours” recaptures the momentum, but it’d be perfect if “Gimmie the Go” were cut from the album. The final track, “Fresh New Trash,” makes me so happy. When I was officially voted in as the new Nonfiction Editor for Black Warrior Review, this was the song I wanted to play first. This track is a celebration for Doomtree of all they’ve been through as a crew and where they’ve gotten to. Dessa’s verse is among my favorite in all of rap music this year, and Mictlan delivers an anthemic closing note to what is, except for one weak track, an incredible album and collaborative effort.





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Old 12-20-2011, 10:53 AM   #68
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2.) G-Side – The One… Cohesive


I might be biased. I mean, I’ve met G-Side. I’ve been to their shows. We follow each other on Twitter. I have a stake here. But still, G-Side’s first of 2 albums in 2011 is ****ing amazing. This album doesn’t lag at any point. The only weakness is that nearly each track has a feature, and they often aren’t anything better than average. That’s the only weakness. Well, the first two tracks do sound out of place with the rest of the album. Otherwise, this is the most forward-thinking, spaced-out, original rap album of the year. These Block Beattaz beats just keep surprising me. I mean, listen to ASAP Rocky’s excellent song, “Demons.” NOW listen to G-Side’s “Pictures.” Both use the same Clams Casino beat. But Block Beattaz add all sorts of musical flourishes to that base beat (which itself is already intricate) and the G-Side song is over-the-top good as a result. Perhaps my favorite musical moment of the whole year is the way the beat on “Y U Mad?” builds and explodes to its full potential right after the Kristmas verse and going on into the 2nd chorus. This album is a journey and an artistic experience that could only come from. There’s so much going on. To describe it would be to spoil the delight you’ll have listening to the album.

Go see these guys live, too. G-Side absolutely destroys their live shows like almost no other act I hip-hop can. If you want to be ahead of the curve, get on these guys before they blow up. Even if you think you don’t like southern rap, scratch that – especially if --, you must listen to this album. It is as it says it is – a cohesive listening experience. It’s uplifting, soaring, motivating hip-hop music.





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Old 12-20-2011, 10:55 AM   #69
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1.) Astronautalis – This Is Our Science


This album came, well, not quite “out of nowhere,” but I certainly wasn’t expecting this. Astronaultalis’ previous album, 2008’s Pomegranate was an enjoyable, ambitions, but uneven & flawed blend of rap & indie-rock, with interesting historical fiction lyrical content. Between albums, this Seattle rapper moved to the best rap town in America, Minneapolis, and the Minneapolis influence shines bright on this album.

This might be the first significant post-Doomtree album; or better put, the first album to wear a Doomtree influence on its sleeve. Those aggressive, rattly, punky drums holding up swelling, soulful samples that was the hallmark of the Doomtree sound for the past five years is present on this album. Add plenty of piano – sometimes supplementary, sometimes the driving force of the beat – and you’ve got all the makings for a nice Minnesota hip-hop record. But Astronautalis is not interested in pure hip-hop. This album is arguable as much an indie-rock album as it is a rap album, with plenty of guitars and especially electronic flourishes. Astronautalis sings in a unique, almost gravelly voice as much as he raps on this album. In a way, Astronautalis is like a masculine counterpart to Dessa. They both have similar base sounds and very intricate, literary lyricism. Where Dessa has influences of torch singing and smoky jazz complicating her music, Astronautalis has indie-rock and Beck-influenced electronic music to individuate him from other rappers. Hell, Astronautalis (in what has to be an homage), on the track “Dimitri Mendeleev,” says a line – “Look what the cat dragged in” – in the same exact cadence and inflection as Dessa says that line on an old Doomtree track. Doomtree’s Sims and P.O.S. have guest appearances on this album. So the connection is there.

This is a true album. Lyrics from early on in the album inform lyrics on the last track. The piano provides a consistent musical tether as the album moves from rap verses to songs without any rapping at all, from slow, seething tracks, to beats that sound lost and wandering amidst love and loss. I can type out descriptions all day, but listening to the album would be the best justice done. I’ve linked to three songs that I think are a pretty representative sample, but the album is more varied (yet always coherent) than these three songs. It remains rewarding with each listen, and it is an album that I keep returning to. In a year without any great albums, this was the most surprising album I heard.








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Old 12-20-2011, 11:35 AM   #70
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Excellent metal choices as expected.

Admittedly, I listened to a lot of rap in the 90's, but due to finite resources, I have fallen way out of touch. I really don't have/make enough time to listen to all the metal I would like. I'll try to listen to those I'm not familiar with throughout the week.

My top 20 list of favorites is below. Obviously, my metal leanings don't posses too much variance:

1. Ulcerate The Destroyers Of All
2. Krisiun The Great Execution
3. Vektor Outer Isolation
4. Midnight Satanic Royalty
5. Gigan Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes
6. Rotten Sound Cursed
7. Gorgasm Orgy Of Murder
8. Sectu Inundate
9. 40 Watt Sun The Inside Room
10. The Gates Of Slumber The Wretch
11. Exmortus Beyond The Fall Of Time
12. Brutal Truth End Time
13. Pentagram Last Rites
14. Disma Towards The Megalith
15. Blood Freak Mindscraper
16. Maruta Forward Into Regression
17. Illogicist The Unconsciousness Of Living
18. Deceased Surreal Overdose
19. Exhumed All Guts, No Glory
20. Ghoul Transmission Zero

EP
Sarpanitum Fidelium
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Old 12-20-2011, 11:40 AM   #71
NewChief NewChief is online now
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Bummed that you metal heads didn't give any love to Rwake's "Rest."

Of course, Mastodon didn't make either list, either.
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Old 12-20-2011, 11:52 AM   #72
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Bummed that you metal heads didn't give any love to Rwake's "Rest."

Of course, Mastodon didn't make either list, either.
I discovered Rwake in the early 2000's mostly from being regional, but it wasn't my bag. Admittedly, I haven't listened to Rest. I've seen seen it on several "Best" lists and several "Biggest Disappointments" lists around the metal community lately.
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Old 12-20-2011, 11:53 AM   #73
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Bummed that you metal heads didn't give any love to Rwake's "Rest."
Didn't listen to it, to be honest. Downloading now.
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Old 12-20-2011, 12:10 PM   #74
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Check out Puscifer's Conditions Of My Parole. It is a very good side project.

Maynard has almost turned that "band" into a creepy simple bluegrass thing with smooth as silk vocals.
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Old 12-20-2011, 01:45 PM   #75
NewChief NewChief is online now
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Curious about your methodology:

Do you take notes throughout the year on the albums to go back and look at? I think that if I did a list like this, I would have a bad tendency to really weigh albums that I'm buzzing on toward the end of the year (like the Oscars), and I'd forget a bunch of the albums I liked from earlier in the year.

The TVOTR album, for instance, was awesome. It would be high on my list for sure. That being said, I haven't listened to it in probably 5 months. On the other hand, right now I can't get enough of WU LYF, but that's because I've been listening to them nonstop for the last 48 hours. Who knows if they'd make my list in six months... but right now.. they'd be toward the top.
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