End of the year music.
I'm constantly late to the party, and I tend to like stuff by people who are dead or don't live on the same continent or stuff that came out last year that I just got around to checking out. There were a lot of albums where I loved maybe three or four songs but I couldn't get through the whole thing without skipping and therefore they don't make the cut. Here's what did.
Jimi Hendrix - Valleys of Neptune
Usually I'm wary of posthumous releases of "unheard material" which usually means junk from the vaults snatched up by nostalgic boomers that stayed buried for a damn good reason. Hip-hop fans are also guilty of this syndrome as well (hello Tupac!).
Still, while most of these are demos and such, the release is incredibly solid (even though I would have loved to hear vocals on 'Sunshine of Your Love') and having his watercolor paintings in the liner notes is a nice touch and it makes me remember how tight his band was and the guitar playing that is still stunning and incomprehensible. "Valleys of Neptune" is more mellow but stands up to the best of "Are You Experienced?" and the wailing guitar on "Bleeding Heart" and the instrumental "Lullaby for Summer" give me the shivers down my spine that all good music should.
Gil Scott-Heron - I'm New Here
I can't do Gil justice, but his first album in forever but his now aged and craggy voice reminds me of old blues records and the dark minimalist production fits it perfectly. It doesn't sound anything like "Whitey on the Moon" or "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" but I hope he gets clean and keeps the bleak and beautiful coming.
Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid
I really don't know who to compare Janelle to, but there's so much in here that I can't even classify it, the classic retro feel with the sci-fi concept album that namechecks Phillip K. Dick, and gets pigeonholed into a genre known more for slick videos and no sonic substance.
Even Diddy couldn't screw up this sprawling epic that bounces from classical interludes through some amazing pop songs that would be on Top 40 radio in a perfect world, not to mention the Fela Kuti-esque funk of "Dance or Die," psychobilly freakout of "Come Alive," the deliriously trippy "Mushrooms and Roses," and the Renaissance sounding "57821."
Bonobo - Black Sands
This got some serious play on my show this past year, sounding incredibly good at 5 in the morning and also painting late at night. For those of us who miss trip-hop, this could be construed as background noise but I love the mixture of organic and electronic, violins, and ethereal yet soulful female vocals that also makes it a formidable live act.
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - I Learned the Hard Way
This was a crazy year for me, starting out with having to kick someone out of my apartment, a hefty dose of unrequited love (or crush at least), a serious bout of depression, and then my youthful indiscretions/creative aspirations landing me in court, and then watching my living situation implode in a matter of weeks. There was a whole lot of crash and burn that happened this year. In the meantime, the song below became an anthem of sorts for me, a kiss-off and catharsis all in one, to not let lousy people ruin my life.
Charles over at My Mind's Eye hooked me up with tickets to see her live with some friends and their grandma and not only was it a fantastic show, but the antics of drunk suburban crackers on their one night out just made it even more amazing.
Honorable mentions go to the Roots - How I Got Over, Vieux Farka Toure's live album, Bassekou Kouyate's 'I speak Fula," and probably others that I can't think of right now...