> Bjork: Biophilia
I learnt many things from Bjork's 7th album, Biophilia. I was listening to it while reading Joseph Campbell's "The Power of Myth". Those two experiences, randomly juxtaposed, happened to make for a beautiful and unexpected overlap. Both works happened to discuss a lot of the same ideas...the human body as an electrical energy field...the similarity of the movement of atoms and the motion of the planets...the music of the spheres above us. Or to quote the breathless Wired magazine cover story on Bjork's revolutionary app album, this magnum opus promised to "define humanity's relationship with sound and the universe" even as it was to "pioneer a music format that will smash industry conventions". Cut to my eye roll. I am not ashamed to admit that my key motive for downloading this sucker was to see how the M/M (Paris) design ethos would translate to the technical language of an app. (That was totally fabulous btw and the font work sits so prettily on an IPad I loathe to contaminate with bad design). I was thinking the music would simply be superflous. So I started playing with the "Heaven" app, a song with lyrics which overlay different myths of the creation of the universe as told in various cultures. Joseph Campbell again you see. The app gave me the option of singing along to the "sheet music" scrolling by on my I-Pad in an acapella version. And in a magical moment I found I could actually follow the notes, high and low. Not since childhood had I experienced such a sense of openness and play when it came to music. They say making Biophilia cost Bjork and her record company a fortune. Apparently not only did this complex, imaginative and supremely creative experiment boggle the minds of most of Bjork's listeners (you don't want to read the Itunes reviews), the critics couldn't figure out what to make of it. But for all the people to whom Bjork whispered that "you too can decode the mystery of music", "You too can make a song" , she has achieved something beyond historic. She has created a new template for listening to music in the 21st century. Joseph Campbell would consider her journey true to the dynamics of a classic hero myth.
> Blood Orange: Coastal Grooves
Now what does a nice English boy like Devonte Hynés know about Sutphin Boulevard , that far flung and forbidding subway stop on the E and F line, all the way out in Jamaica, Queens! Or for that matter why is he all up on Sally's Hideaway? Of course if you played Blood Orange anywhere on Sutphin Boulevard ( or Sally's Hideway for that matter ) you'd probably clear dance floors. But therein lies half the charm. Blood Orange's debut long player is that post-Prince-cum- lost-AR Kane-opus that musical misfits have been longing for. Think headphone candy that cuts like a cult classic that's actually more classic than cult. Why classic? Because it continues a mythic tradition of a hidden New York, an underground New York, a secret New York where no one gives a fuck who you are (or think you are ) as long as you beam the promise of a good dance or some good sex. The two you see are often inter-related! Which brings us back to Sutphin Boulevard , TI's song of the year.
> The Throne: Watch The Throne
"Luxe rap" as Rolling Stone dubbed it, gilded and guiltless, imperial and yet comic. This album was every inch as self indulgent and opulent as imminent cultural emperors Jay and Yeezy wished it to be, The Throne was very much about hip-hop's sweeping sense of cultural prerogative . For the kids who couldn't cop a Givenchy scarf or for that matter a Roitweiller T, that fold out cross-shaped gold CD case was quite the metaphor for the glorious excess of Watch The Throne with it's luxury brand complex. I don't even have to listen to the tracks anymore to summon up visions of champagne soaked recording sessions at The Mercer complete with a bedroom as makeshift recording booth with spent groupies piled up in the corner. Of course all of Harlem is now convinced Givenchy is the preferred label of The Illuminati. That's serious market penetration son !
> *SebastiAn: Total
What right has some branchitude drenched French kid to cut up this much funk? Prince would giggle even as the Top 50 models would wiggle at these beats because that Ed Banger clique can't help but leak a little bit too much industrial grime in their funk. This is the kind of music you DJ at Versace/H& M launch parties. I mean, so what if he scores Romain Gravas films ("Notre Jour Viendra"...deep branchitude). I'd rather be seen shimmying to SebastiAn than Justice anyway cuz SebastiAn tongues down himself with total conviction on Total's cover. I'm not mad!
> Lil B: I'm Gay
It sure is messy in Baseworld. The kids can't take Lil B's odd flow, lazy metaphors , his tight jeans with the bubble hanging, them old ass Vans and his sexually blurred shock tactics. But for all his overflow of product and schizophrenic quality control, this brave artist totally proves that the digital grass roots culture of Tumblr and YouTube may have well saved rap from it's heedless commodification. I blast that "1 Time Remix" virtually every night before going to bed and find great succor in the mantra" Everything I did, I did so right". A star is a star even before the applause rises to vindicate .
> Florence + The Machine: Ceremonials
God I tried so hard to dislike Florence and her infernal PR Machine as she vamped from being that very visible Gucci reference to the Met Ball to the Chanel SS 12 show to Interview's October cover. I didn't want to be so au courant, so Hells Kitchen fashion publicist on my IPad playlist but then Miss Welch let it out with" Shake It Out " and when lyrically , she started burying horses, I had to. I just had to give it up to Miss Florence. This is greatness !
> *Frank Ocean: Nostalgia Ultra
This is a great story. Maybe the rebel genius story of the year. Unruly Odd Future affiliated artist spazzes out on his label, Def Jam and leaks his own damn album for FREE on Tumblr . And then it happens, the avalanche of critical praise for a major event album that technically you can't really "buy" . Yet. Listen to "Novocane" (which of course you can buy as a single on iTunes ) and when Frank moans about not being able to feel his face, you realize that a musician can turn angst into something cinematic. Nostalgia Ultra is that great soul album for our bugged out times.
> *PJ Harvey: Let England Shake
I cannot be contrarian in the face of the great art achievement that is PJ Harvey's Let England Shake. It was an undeniable landmark of a troubling year. Let it sweep every award in England... Mercury, Uncut, NME , Mojo! All I know is this total work that moves from music to film to photography with unflinching commitment , personalized and humanized the trauma war and violence leaves in it's wake. In a year when the youth of England, North Africa and America took the streets looking for a reason , PJ Harvey's sense of political engagement and confrontation resulted in the most prescient and moving album of 2011.