The best (and worst) music of 2011: Hank Shteamer's picks
Publication: Time Out New York
Author: Hank Shteamer
Date: December 11, 2011
The best albums
1 Frank Ocean, Nostalgia, Ultra (self-released)
To say that this 24-year-old crooner had a banner year would be like labeling the sun a pretty bright star; but even alongside guest spots on Tyler, the Creator’s Goblin and Jay-Z and Kanye’s Watch the Throne, Ocean’s own debut—a challenging, charming, beautifully paced set of indie R&B—stood way out.
2 Anthrax, Worship Music (Megaforce)
Opening for their old-school thrash peers on the Big 4 tour, these NYC veterans drew bottom billing, yet they emerged triumphant on this hook-saturated fist-pumper of a comeback LP.
3 Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo, Songs of Mirth and Melancholy (Marsalis Music)
One of our few household-name jazzmen and his first-call pianist stepped away from their signature quartet and produced a duo session so stately, it felt avant-garde.
4 Drake, Take Care (Cash Money/Universal)
As oppressive as Aubrey Graham’s second proper LP could be—Endless Bummer is an apt nickname—you knew you were in the presence of a half-poet, half-cad visionary.
5 Deceased, Surreal Overdose (Patac)
Sad that Mastodon scaled down its ambition this year? King Fowley, a Virginia drummer-vocalist with a knack for stylized horror and an encyclopedic metal mind, offered consolation via his latest subgenre-spanning epic.
6 Gerald Cleaver’s Uncle June, Be It as I See It (Fresh Sound New Talent)
Local drummer-composer Cleaver mined his personal history and struck gold, yielding a richly orchestrated sound journey that made room for both violence and romance, as well as contributions from some of the city’s sharpest improvisers (pianist Craig Taborn was the MVP).
7 The Strokes, Angles (RCA)
Don’t let anyone tell you Julian & Co. have overstayed their welcome; barring a few duds, this fourth LP showed that NYC’s archetypal postmillennial rockers are still writing the crispest, catchiest guitar pop around.
8 Disma, Towards the Megalith (Profound Lore)
Fronted by beast-throated growler Craig Pillard, this Jersey quintet crafted a cold, lumbering behemoth of a record that nevertheless invited compulsive replays.
9 New Zion Trio, Fight Against Babylon (Veal)
What could have been a cheesy genre-splicing experiment ended up as a textural odyssey—so artfully chill, it could slow your metabolism—equally indebted to and unbound by murky dub, understated jazz and impressionistic classical.
10 Ben Allison, Action-Refraction (Palmetto)
Bassist Allison wrote only one of the pieces on his tenth full-length, but his guitar-and-keyboard-driven versions of works by Donny Hathaway, Samuel Barber, PJ Harvey and others felt wholly personal, like an ingeniously curated gallery exhibit.
Paul Motian’s death
He may have enjoyed a good, long run, but the passing of this jazz-percussion mystic and irreplaceable NYC fixture at 80 still came as a blow.