A round-up of five very different albums from 2011 worth giving and keeping, including the latest from Drake, Wild Flag, and more
Drake, Take Care. It’s rare that an album this commercial is this good. Drake’s second album plays as a direct descendant of Marvin Gaye’s scorched-earth ode to marriage, Here, My Dear. It’s filled with a little bit of love, a lot of confusion, and remarkable beats. “Marvins Room,” for example, works around an ex-flame dismissively putting off Drake’s come-ons by asking, “Are you drunk right now?” “Too many drinks have been handed to me,” he admits. The knock on Drake was initially that he worked best focusing on R&B, but songs like “Over My Dead Body” and “Lord Knows” should lay to rest any doubt about his rap abilities. And frankly, even if Drake isn’t your cup of tea, Take Care is still worth a listen. The quality of the guests assembled here—from Rihanna’s heart-grabbing duet on the album’s title song to Rick Ross’ zealous gloating (“only fat nigga in the sauna with Jews!” a sly allusion to Drake’s heritage) to Andre 3000 just plain showing off his skill on “The Real Her”—are strong enough that they could form their own spin-off. And the tone of Take Care, thanks to producers like Noah “40” Scheibb and The Weeknd, is positively ghostly: This is what fear of success, sex, money, managers, and everything else will sound like in the future.
Wild Flag, Wild Flag. It’d be easy to say Wild Flag’s debut is a throwback to something, but good luck trying to figure what that is. A comeback for four musicians who never really left, Wild Flag’s debut takes teasing, defiantly fun lyrics into the realm of sonic exploration, with guitarist Carrie Brownstein’s impossibly raucous riffs meeting Rebecca Cole’s delightful keyboard. Mini-epics abound, from the head-nodding singalong “Glass Tambourine” to the pure-and-true shredding found on “Racehorse.” The entire album feels like a celebration of a lost feeling, a love letter to the type of loud music that oldies stations would play if they weren’t soulless corporate commodities. “We love the sound/ the sound is what found us/ the sound is the blood between me and you,” they sing on their lead-off calling card, “Romance.” It’s impossible to listen to Wild Flag without dancing, even just a little bit.
Yuck, Yuck. A 1990s revival was inevitable, so we’re lucky it sounds this good. It would be easy to deduct indie-rock band Yuck points for originality, but let’s be honest: When was the last time you put on your Dinosaur Jr. or Sebadoh records? Not as often as these kids from England, New Jersey, and Japan, I can promise you that. Fuzzed out guitars and shoegaze-y monotone lyrics about love and pain (“I’ve had enough of being young and free,” sings Daniel Blumberg) rule the day, and listening to enough of their debut album can bring about a positively tranquil bliss. The guitar solos on “Holing Out” and all-encompassing feedback on “Rubber” would surely make J. Mascis smile. Like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart before them, Yuck is proof that imitation can be a good thing, especially since it’s been too long since we’ve heard the original. And “Suicide Policeman” syncs up perfectly with Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, thus bumping off Pink Floyd-Wizard of Oz for coolest music-movie thing of all time.
Sonne Adam, Transformation. Sonne Adam (Hebrew for “Hater of Man”) turned heads in the death-metal scene this year when the group was signed to Century Media, a label not known for associating with the darker elements in hard, hard rock. Because let there be no doubt: Sonne Adam’s debut album, Transformation, comes from a very dark place: Israel. Hailing from what they refer to as the “sane” part of Israel (Tel Aviv), Sonne Adam plays filthy, Norwegian-style, head-banging guitar music that calls to mind lava destroying an innocent village. Transformation is brutal yet crisp, and its sound is fresh, thanks in part at least to the guidance of the label: Sonne Adam never loses focus, even in its heaviest moments. Finally, proof that death metal doesn’t need to be lo-fi to be taken seriously. Track titles like “Through Our Eyes Hate Will Shine” and “We Who Worship the Black” let you know what you’re in for. It’s a shame that Judaism doesn’t have a Devil, because Sonne Adam makes you want to worship at his unholy alter.
Fucked Up, David Comes to Life. Jewish or not (and we’re counting it as Jewish, considering singer Josh Zucker goes by the nickname “Concentration Camp”), Fucked Up’s David Comes to Life is the album of the year. The Toronto band’s third album—a momentous rock opera—audaciously combines 1980s hardcore punk purity with a seemingly never-dying indie/millennial/DIY optimism. The result takes big ideas, layers over louder guitars, and tops it with a gruff voice howling about love. (Lead singer Damian Abraham’s voice might sound abrasive to the uninitiated, and that’s because it is.) Like the best punk singers, his commitment to the vision he’s laid out is unwavering, except in this case it happens to be a post-modern love story of radical political activists in Thatcherite England. Heady stuff, but it somehow becomes crystal clear on unstoppable freight trains like “Queen of Hearts” and “Serve Me Right.” And if you can’t make out all of Abraham’s lyrics (something he jokes about in the band’s punk-utopia concerts), the point is this: On “Truth I Know,” he growls, “I could feign stories of regret and woe but morals implore me to share the truth that I know.” Fucked Up is mad about a lot of things, but the unadulterated joy of imagination that comes through on every riff—on every track of David—marks it as classic, that one album from 2011 that people will be listening to in 50 years. Get on it now.
To listen to a compilation of music from these albums on Spotify, click here.
Two recent books consider whether Jewishness is a religion, a culture, a race, or some combination of the three. The answer may be none of the above.