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SN&R’s music editor shares his 2011 favorites

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I don’t have the luxury of sitting around the office all day devouring records and going deep down the rabbit hole for new music. I do, however, savor the time I get to dig into fresh sounds. Here is the stuff I listened to the most in 2011—plus some other confessions, for good measure.

Outstanding local album

Watered Lawn by Raleigh Moncrief

“Local” can be a frustrating label, I’d imagine. Because, really, how much does geography impact a recording? In this case, I have no clue, but Watered Lawn is the local record I listened to most this year. Anyway, Moncrief’s compositions—at once awkward and gruff and bassy and tender—bury the hooks at first, but upon multiple listens, they slowly reveal, such as the main beat on “Cast Away for Days” and the soft, ramshackle groove on “Don’t Shoot.” Instrumental “In This Grass,” meanwhile, perhaps best captures the album’s curiosity, gorgeous compositions and off-kilter beats.

Best future sounds

Ghost People by Martyn

Deejay and producer Martyn really put an innovative, futuristic spin on dirty, bassy dance with this Brainfeeder release. It’s not wildly experimental like Flying Lotus, but that’s why I like it: You can move to a track like “Masks,” the D.C.-based producers spin on British dancehall, or the title track, “Ghost People,” which is shockingly accessible with its minimal groove. It’s a sound so few local deejays—DJ Whores exclusively, maybe?—are driving forward, but it is the future of dance and bass music, hopefully.

Ultimate party album

Glass Swords by Rustie

Glasgow electronic producer Rustie’s debut full length is so uncompromisingly throwdown it at times make you laugh. There’s a moment in “Ultra Thizz” where the track nearly stops, giving way to a patter drumroll, and then finally unleashes an epic New Year’s Eve explosion of bass, Vocoder melody and unrelenting synths. But, really, it’s not just this track: The entire damn record shakes the floor. And “Surph” may be the crescendo-climax of the decade. Don’t be ashamed to split ears when bumping.

Best hip-hop release

The Return of 4eva by Big K.R.I.T.

Southern rap doesn’t really translate to the West Coast, but Mississippi-born Big K.R.I.T.’s knack for storytelling harkens back to when California rappers actually used to have a yarn to spin. “Dreamin’” is a classic hip-hop coming-of-age story, told over minimal production. And “My Sub” is quintessential dirty bass (dirty south bass?) production done right. It’s a mixtape, though, and runs the gamut, K.R.I.T. doing his best to showcase his skills across every rap genre. Looking forward to him zeroing in on his sound.

Favorite California album

Who Kill by Tune-Yards

I don’t do big crowds, but at this year’s Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, Oakland-based Tune-Yards grabbed a 4,000-person mob by the ears and had them levitating. The band’s live set—minimalist beats, hot bass, African vibes—was so infectious, I had to go back and revisit the NPR-approved Who Kill. Especially the debut single “Bizness,” whose video might be the second best of 2011 (after Death Grips’ “Guillotine (It Goes Yah),” of course).

Ideal album for tripping out

Tomboy by Panda Bear

Panda Bear’s sophomore release wasn’t embraced with the fervor of his debut, Person Pitch. This is probably because it’s a creeper album. Songs such as “Alsatian Darn” are slow to catch on—the proverbial “You don’t see where he’s going until ‘Boom!’” argument—and the jams, such as the main beat on “Slow Motion” are hijacked by odd samples and, at times, inaccessible time signatures. But that’s no biggie: It’s an album to “go deep” on, and I’m told Sacramento area medical-marijuana patients give it a four out of four cannabis leaves.

Most addictive single

“I Seen That Light” from I’m Gay by Lil B

It was one of the more memorable and regrettable work days of the year. I was a guest on Capital Public Radio’s Insight radio program, sharing my favorite new music with former host Jeffrey Callison. And, because it’s the jam of the year, I brought this Lil B track. And, of course, the track plays a bit too long and a few N-words and “bitches” too many to get some radio play. Sigh. Anyway, hate away on Lil B’s flow—that’s easy!—but you can’t deny the Berkeley producer’s instinct for the jam.

Guilty pleasure

“Ni**as in Paris” from Watch the Throne by Kanye West and Jay-Z

“Ni**as in Paris” is the kind of song white people work out to at the gym. Or, while driving, singalong to and unabashedly drop N-bombs. I won’t cop to either of the latter—because I don’t do either—but at the same time I won’t betray my affection for this very mainstream jam. It’s Kanye’s best song ever and the most memorable Jay-Z track since “Change Clothes.” That said, I’m sure it has a ceiling—as in, you can only play it such-and-such number of times before it has to be retired. And, admittedly, I’m approaching that maximum.

Most listened to guitar album

Days by Real Estate

Upbeat and optimistic, the new Real Estate record never crosses the line when it comes to being saccharine or overly glossy. Instead, there are hints of mystery, such as the outro jam on the final track, “All the Same” or the wayfaring melody on “Three Blocks,” that keep you coming back. What impresses me most is how the band—straightforward drums, guitars, bass, vocals—so dangerously tiptoes being indie-rock redundant, but ultimately comes off as fresh and memorable. Perhaps that’s a testament to good songwriting: Easy-going, masterful and susceptible to being overlooked.

Favorite S.F. export

Carrion Crawler/The Dream by Thee Oh Sees

I played the hell out of The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending A Night In, Thee Oh Sees’ psychedelic 2008 cruncher. I imagine I’ll double-down on this year’s release, a straightforward garage-rock bruiser recorded here in Sacramento by Chris Woodhouse at The Hangar Studios. There’s just something about the crushing velocity of these jams, especially the nearly-seven-minute title track “The Dream,” which is so damn hot you can’t help but flail about wildly, even if you’re laying down rocking headphones. This is a band riding a huge peak.

Banger of the year

“Trouble On My Mind” from Fear Of God II: Let Us Pray by Pusha-T featuring Tyler, the Creator Bumping, ominous, in-your-face—Pusha-T of Clipse dropped this single in July and instantly branded 2011 as the year bangers, or hit singles, took a turn for the dark. The track, featuring non-radio-friendly verses by Tyler, the Creator of Odd Future—“I want to fuck the world but not a fan of using condoms”—speaks to a young generation of hip-hop enthusiasts who don’t even flinch at the gnarliest and most-wicked, cynical worldview. In fact, they embrace it, brand it as their own—and bump it loud. Production by The Neptunes is Darth Vader-minor-key epic.

Best foreplay jam

“The Party & the After Party” from House of Balloons by The Weeknd

People need fucking music. And, in the spirit of 2011, the modern bedroom should include deep bass and R&B flourishes—not unlike R. Kelly, I suppose, but perhaps something a bit less obvious than “Bump N’ Grind.” Or maybe not; ’90s pop has its place in the bedroom still, no? Anyway, this jam by 21-year-old Canadian Abel Tesfaye is from The Weeknd’s first of three free mixtapes unleashed this year. The song pitters-out after a few minutes but is a requisite inclusion if you’re the kind of creep lover/suave player who makes boner-jam mixtapes.