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Best of New York Music in 2011: Bands, Albums and More

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Best of New York Music in 2011

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New York Band of the Year: Titus Andronicus

Last year they released The Monitor, one of the best, most visceral, literate and ambitious rock albums made in the last several years. Apparently Patrick Stickes and company don't believe in staying home and watching a DVD when there's a show to play, as the group has played New York at least 10 times this year, at venues ranging from Terminal 5 (with both The Pogues and Okkervil River) to a last-minute Occupy Wall Street benefit show at Shea Stadium. Even the loss of fan favorite feminist blogger/guitarist  Amy Klein didn't slow them down for long. Simply put, Titus Andronicus were everywhere this year, and never failed to give a leave-it-all-onstage performance that reminded you why you ever cared too much for rock 'n roll. They might have formed in New Jersey, but after 2011 they're officially New York royalty. -- Michael Tedder

Best New New York Artist: Harvey Eyeballs

If Fox Schwach is the given name of a Bed-Stuy weirdo-rock crooner, his alias better be something ridiculous as Harvey Eyeballs. Schwach finally brought Harvey to life Dec. 3, playing his first show at Local 269 on the Lower East Side. This confirmed, with a full band, Harvey's much more than the dial-it-in Automat of the Vomit Pop debut, the non-sequitur keyword troping “E.G.G.S.”or the cheese-whiz chutzpah of "Hipster Babe" -- all of which I lapped at, over and over. Whatever guise Harvey dons goes beyond just doing no harm -- he only does good, proving the fringe isn’t all mutiny and bad-natured burns. In 2011, Harvey turned his influential inheritance inward-out, morphing the ubiquitous "hipster" quip from a blunt instrument to a sharp one. --Dale W. Eisinger

New York Show of the Year: LCD Soundsystem, April 2, Madison Square Garden

Or we're assuming, anyway. Couldn't get tickets. The second-to-last show two nights beforehand, though, was as emotional as you would expect. Reggie Watts showed up. "I Can Change" almost made me cry when James Murphy's voice broke and "All My Friends" took me the rest of the way. They did the cover of Harry Nilsson's "Jump into the Fire" I always wanted to see them do. And now I finally feel old enough to relate to the narrator in "Losing My Edge." -- MT

Runner Up: Our Band Could Be Your Life Tribute show May 22, Bowery Ballroom.

You've watched that video of St. Vincent covering "Bad Penny" a million times now, understandably. But that was just one highlight in a night with an embarrassing amount of highlights. From Dan Deacon completely bodying dudes in the pit while Wye Oak and Merrill Garbus deftly backed him up on Nirvana's "Negative Creep" to Craig Finn, dressed as a cop, and Titus Andronicus going off on The Replacements "Kids Don't Follow," to tUnE-yArDs tribal take on Sonic Youth's  "The Burning Spear," it was a night of Moment after Moment. But perhaps the best was Our Life our author Michael Azerrad's stage dive near the end, a fitting tribute for a hard-working man who became the literary embodiment of the Do It Yourself and (do it hard) spirit that, in part thanks to this work, continues to resonate with young artists today. -- MT

Runner Up Part Two: F***** Up/Titus Andronicus, Nov. 15, Le Poisson Rouge

Act like ya know. -- MT

Best "Kids Today" Video: Azealia Banks, "212"

You kiss your mother with that mouth? Also, nice Interpol cover. --MT

Best New York Label: Sacred Bones

The unrelenting 2011 PR model was all about first impressions. Bands, labels and blogs felt pressure from above to “work on brands” with hope to fleck some bleach on this over-dyed market. No label handled this with such outward, unobtrusive ease as Sacred Bones. Online or off, it’s become impossible to avoid a second glance at any stylized Sacred Bones LP. Their roster packed some doozies: Amen DunesPsychic Ills and The Men each had a significant release. Zola Jesus, Gary War, Crystal Stilts, and so many others gave us records that fell just a little more flat. (I don't know. I liked that Zola joint. -- MT) Even so, when the bar’s set as high as that of Sacred Bones, excellence accounts all around. The label putting all its trust in big beautiful vinyl instead of #trending cassette says something as well. There's a quality of sound here that only grooves can handle. --DWE

Best Socially Irresponsible Hook, New York edition: "Drunk driving on a Wednesdaaaay." Mr. Muthaf***** eXquire, at your service. -- MT

Best Thing to Happen to Glasslands since Popgun: 285 Kent Moving in Next Door

Or maybe that new stage. As it were. --DWE

Best Feeling Cheated Moment: Watch the Throne, Madison Square Garden, Nov. 11

Yeah, it was great and everything. But they only did "...In Paris" three times for the encore. At their recent tour closer in California, they did it 10 times in a row. Do you know what it was like to read that? Don't they know how much I paid? I demand they come back to New York and perform that insanely catchy song 30 times in a row, and bring Will Ferrell in to recreate his dialogue from "Blades of Glory" for each performance. And also bring me a diamond-encrusted watch, as long as i'm making demands. -- MT

Best Hey Do More of These Event: Brooklyn Night Bazaar

The Brooklyn Night Bazaar gathered some of the biggest names in New York music (James Murphy, Titus Andronicus, The Hold Steady) and some of our finest makers of high quality hot dogs, silk-screen t-shirts, buttons that play albums, baked goods, coffee and anything else you might like to eat or purchase in a cavernous warehouse for some last-minute holiday shopping with an amazing soundtrack. They need to do one of these every season, and in the same location, as the warehouse space soaked everything in a natural echoing reverb that made all the musicians sound stadium sized. -- MT

Best 2011 Albums:

St. Vincent -- Strange Mercy

The cover of Mercy is a screaming face doing its best to break through an unnervingly beautiful gauze. That's about right. Toning down the ornate production of Actor just a tad, St. Vincent pits the part of her that writes crafty art-pop songs loaded with layered meaning against the part of her that is a guitar beast that wants to burn away everything away with discordant riffs. They both win. So does the listener. -- MT

Hunters – Hands on Fire EP

I think straightaway Hunters make apparent how the quartet never fronts. The Brooklyn band never pretends to be what it's not. Sure there was Total Control and Liquor Store and Thee Oh Sees and Jeff, The Brotherhood and vanloads of other guitar-driven garage-pop in and outside the city. But to see or hear Hunters play now exemplifies an honest inertia not building in a lot of super-hyped 2011 acts. Apply a guy-girl couple willing to talk about their relationship in song to a detuned scientific pop formula and intersect with two of the most beautiful people you've ever seen. Sidenote: James Iha produced while Nick Zinner mixed. Ears matter, guys. --DWE

Das Racist -- Relax

The funniest smartypants in the rap game, now available at retail, now outfitted with the catchiest beats and choruses they've yet worked with, now toning down, slightly, their metatextual taunts about what it means to "joke" so that everyone can have a dance party while unpacking their missives about race, culture and why they're exactly like Michael Jackson. --MT

The Psychic Paramount – II

New York’s bashers The Psychic Paramount cut another round of epiphanic bursts on the reliably titled II. Where similar stamina-stretchers Liturgy took the poetic route, The Psychic Paramount stayed centrist to a fault, achieving musical prose by staying mum. Elsewhere, similar rhythmic slipstreams were passing around the excellent Russian Circles LP Empros. And yet that didn't hold our attention quite as sporadically and insistently as II. Each track feels like a series of flashbangs, bright and white-hot briefly, pumping adrenaline straight to brain. --DWE

Liturgy -- Aesthethica

Apparently this Brooklyn metal band are now considered deplorable sell-outs in the "extreme" (whatever that means) metal community, which is apparently what happens when you ditch the face paint and write a decent melody. As always, you're not getting anywhere until the puritans get uptight. -- MT

Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

Post-hip-hop, avant-rap, space-art-prog-hop, call it what you want, no label changes Black Up. Skirting the carnivorous press cycle, MC Palaceer Lazaro -- given name Ishmael Butler, aka Digable Planet’s Butterfly, Seattle-by-New York ex-pat -- managed the album’s Sub-Pop release without delving much at all into histrionics. For the better: autonomy dominates the LP, an exploration of individualism sounding unlike anything else. Shabazz Palaces shaped a shadow world equal parts riddle, technicality and groove. Opener “Free Press and Curl” presents the thesis, over reverse strings and loping percussion: “catchy, yes, but trendy, no…don’t compare my beat to his…I never heard of none of that…I’m free.” And it is, at the forefront, liberated, liberating music you can bop to. --DWE

TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light

The hype cycle sure is unforgiving these days. The Best American Rock Band of the Last 10 Years (you heard me) take it down just a notch, add a few more ballads than you're used to and people want to act like they've fallen off. Balderdash. "Stop/and drop/do the now future" is the dance anthem this year called out for, and the post-millenial blues quiet storm ballad "You" is one of the most devastating songs of the year, an anthem for everyone who can't keep from getting it wrong, again and again. -- MT

Skeletons – People

Who knew “Booom! (Money!)” -- an 11-minute deep-cut on Skeletons’ 2009 album Money -- would become rubric for the band’s forthcoming best. There and on this year’s People, Skeletons picked up the slack left by Seattle’s art-jazz lyricists The Dead Science, after 2008’s thoroughly misplaced Villainaire. By embracing their obvious knowledge of jazz and with the cajones to test the compositions in full live, Skeletons stayed way below any radar I was watching. This held true even after the Ridgewood DIY venue Silent Barn was raided and closed -- Skeletons were some of the space's first tenants. That facet and this album seemed to pass everyone by. But there the core trio was, churning groovy, improv out-funk into avant-protest think-pieces. Wholly provocative and wholly New York. --DWE

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart -- Belong

Pure pop for now people. Now pop for the pure at heart. The sound of believing that a great melody can solve everything, especially if there's enough reverb to fill it out and it kind of sounds like Teenage Fanclub. "I can tell you're strange like me," is the type of empathy we need more of  today. -- MT

Matana Roberts -- Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens De Couleur Libres

Debates between the visceral and cerebral at large raged in 2011; Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens De Couleur Libres melded guttural punch and impressionist polemic on a single LP. In a year where just showing up and doing the thing live became a liability, this superb, to-a-crowd recording showcases Matana Roberts’ seamless composition, with the help of an 18-piece ensemble made from winds and strings and brass. The first of 12 chapters, Gens De Couleur joins Ornette Coleman on the edge of chance music and improvisation. In breaking down mechanisms of language, noise, instrument and song, Roberts kaleidoscopes an inextinguishable heritage in eight parts, clocking in right at one hour. Jewel after jewel move out of colliding Gershwin barrel rolls, excellent Blakey-by-Coltrane pumps, straight Ellington big band and cooling field hollers. What comes out the looking glass is a jazz album about jazz albums, the "Inception" of a new jazz, a High-Low jazz that I've otherwise never encountered. It’s not the easiest or most fun at all times. But why must anything worthwhile be all fun? Times are far too dire to believe like that. --DWE

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