Margaret Allen’s Top Five Albums of 2011
• Mayer Hawthorne — How Do You Do (Universal Republic)
I had a friend tell me that she was getting her mother Mayer Hawthorne’s discography for Christmas, but she was a little scared to do so because she didn’t want another sibling. You may think that’s something silly to worry about, but let me warn you right now — this is real baby-making music. Ann-Arbor producer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Mayer Cohen has created a record that’s not only a revival of the type of music that made legendaries Curtis Mayfield, Smokey Robinson, and Isaac Hayes great, but stands out as a modern take on the whole business of soul. And with all its busy-horn-funky-bass-piano-riffed glory, you’re not going to be able to keep your hands off the person next to you, even if you’re only dancing.
• Cut Copy — Zonoscope (Modular Recordings)
Bands from Melbourne, Australia’s electronica scene are quickly becoming my most played tracks on iTunes. Between this group and Miami Horror, the Australians may soon prove to be my new favorite electronic obsession, possibly even surpassing longtime European favorites like Daft Punk and Justice. I love this particular brand of electronica because it harks back to the genre’s origins in disco and ’80s synth-pop, which makes for a cleaner, more classic form of electronic music than most of the jarring over-produced and over-stimulated stuff we hear today (Yeah, dubstep, I’m talking about you). DJ and lead singer Dan Whitfield’s deep voice reminds me of a contemporary Curt Smith, while his drawn-out enunciation is like that of Morrissey circa the Smiths’ “Still Ill.” The tracks are clean and retro (they even squeeze some awesome and surprising Afro-beat influence), but this record still manages to sound completely modern, and undoubtedly reinvigorates the saturated genre.
• Oddisee — Rock Creek Park (Mellow Music Group)
Fans of producer/MC Oddisee will undoubtedly argue with me on this one. I almost chose his other 2011 release, Odd Seasons (a collection of four EPs each released at the start of a season), which is arguably more popular and definitely a better primer to the D.C. native’s music. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a great record, but I just can’t stop listening to Rock Creek Park. It’s almost entirely instrumental, save for a few instances, and will remind most folks on the street of ’90s-era hip-hop groups like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. But this 10-track LP has everything I love about good hip-hop; it’s funky, smooth, jazzy, and even has a few muted disco influences hidden in there. You’ll be hearing from Oddisee and his group Diamond District soon enough — they’ve just been shortlisted for a 2012 Grammy.
• Miles Davis Quintet — Live In Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1 (Columbia/ Legacy)
The legendary jazz trumpeter’s second great quintet — consisting of Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, and Wayne Shorter — was formed after Kind of Blue and before the great crossover of Bitches Brew. These five musicians were the cream of the crop. Each was a virtuoso of his instrument, and this box-set full to the brim of pristine live recordings never previously released demonstrates the innate chemistry and musical rivalry that made this quintet one of the most complex interactive groups in jazz history. Although you may recognize some of the track names, they are performed here unlike you’ve ever heard them, and truly illustrate each of the participating instrumentalists’ impending leap to experimental/fusion jazz that would come only a few years later.
• Wilco — The Whole Love (dBpm/Anti-)
I love Wilco. I always have always will. And although this isn’t Mmy favorite album of theirs, it’s better than most bands best work. The absolute greatest thing about this record, though, which is their first since ending their contract with label Nonesuch, is that it returns the Chicago band to its Yankee Hotel Foxtrot roots. For years, they seemed to have shied away from the experimental production that made YHF one of the best records of the decade, which was all at once a homage to their alt-country/Americana beginnings and an industrial-inspired atmospheric modern masterpiece. This is the first I’ve heard of that side of Wilco in a long time. And although it seems they haven’t completely embraced it yet, I’m glad it’s back.