For New York City, 2011 was the year local musicians proved that RSS feeds didn’t kill old-school ideals like “scene” or “community.” Every great band seemed to come tied to three or four like-minded bands you could love for the same reasons, often on the same bill. Maybe we read (and wrote) enough trend pieces to believe it ourselves. Maybe bands are just using Facebook connections to write the narrative before writers could. Maybe retromania has led us to think everything is back in a big way?
Don’t get too excited. Bloggos still continued to rally deep and hard around the cleverest, firstiest mash-ups of hypester runoff micro-genres (good luck in 2012, A$AP Rocky, Light Asylum, CREEP and Caveman). But while so many jockeyed for positions and pixels, larger stories emerged that felt refreshingly like the street-level phonecall-and-flyer scenes of yore. As, I wrote in SPIN the new hip-hop fraternity of Das Racist, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, Action Bronson, Despot and a newly keyed up El-P represent the most energizing force in New York indie-rap since Def Jux’s heyday. And as I wrote in the Voice, a beercan-ducking, sweat-gushing, feedback-obsessed swarm of new pigfuck bands have been laying waste to 285 Kent, including The Men, White Suns, Pygmy Shrews and Pop. 1280. Often pushing the boundaries of what modern metalheads can play and wear, there was a downright onslaught of forward-thinking, critically acclaimed extreme metal releases (Liturgy, Tombs, Krallice, Hull, Batillus), which helped turn New York into the most important metal scene in the country for maybe the first time ever. Hell, if record labels still had the money to fly people out here, they’d be swarming!
Below, the 2011 edition of our annual Yes In My Backyard mixtape—this year’s encompasses 18 tracks, over nearly 80 minutes—which collects this year’s greatest music from New York City.
Village Voice, Sound Of The City, and Yes In My Backyard present Generation: YIMBY’s Best Local Music Of 2011 (click title to download) [79:44]
1. Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire ft. Despot, Das Racist, Danny Brown and El-P, “The Last Huzzah (Remix)” [Mishka]
We didn’t have room to include tracks from all of these guys, so you’ll have to settle for this barnburner posse cut. First and foremost a throwback to [insert your favorite “when people actually rapped” year here]; but mostly a showcase of unique flows: eXquire’s slurry scumbag tales, Das Racist’s metatextual mischief-making, Despot’s playful-yet-stern gymnastics and scene founder El-P back to his labyrinthine word games.
2. Making Friendz, “Situation” [Last Bummer]
The type of bubbling-under “single” the internet was invented for. Making Friendz, a self-described “punk ‘n’ b” dance riot, drags the glittery disco blips of electro into the No Age age via euphoric, no-fi joymosh. Says mastermind Tami Hart, “‘Situation'” is about my friends in L.A. who all hung out at The Smell, and how they were in bands that were doing really well, and how I was drinking too much. I pretty much ripped off No Age’s “Boy Void”… at least I think I did.”
3. The Death Set, “Can You Seen Straight” [Counter/Ninja Tune]
Brooklyn loft-show firestarters the Death Set are a post-modern pizza party: the tireless punk-o grind of an ABC No Rio bubblecrust band, the whizzing ghosts of New York electro (and electropunk), and the pounding 808 boom of classic hip-hop and modern crunk. “Can You Seen Straight” is a divine piece of fractured Buzzcocks sugar filtered through summertime slush. Says frontman Johnny Siera, “It was about trying to marry melody with as much energy as possible. A tune you would want to whistle after you heard it, but go crazy when you see it live.”
4. The Men, “Bataille” [Sacred Bones]
New York’s most unlikely sorta-crossover story, The Men are nearly indescribable, mixing krautrock rhythms, charred noise, Wipers-ready melodies, and whatever else they feel like into rabid post-punk smile-grinders. “Bataille,” is inspired by the French writer’s Story Of The Eye, rides a pug-ugly joy-punk riff into voice-cracking oblivion. Says bassist Christopher Hansell, their album Leave Home was “the first time we’ve recorded on tape and I don’t think we’d ever look back.”
5. White Suns, “Skin Deep” [ugEXPLODE]
Noize-fuck headache-pounders somewhere between the self-annihilating dirges of early Swans, the grey-hued aggro-pound of Pissed Jeans, and the gurgling power-glop of Wolf Eyes. Says vocalist/guitarist Kevin Barry about “Skin Deep”: There is an expectation of employees to work towards the goals of their employer, regardless of one’s personal moral ideology or political positions. This song is about avoiding the insanity of this — essentially, living a lie — by refusing to participate in activities that are antithetical to your beliefs.”
6. Liturgy, “Generation” [Thrill Jockey]
The centerpiece of Liturgy’s game-changing Aesthetica counters their transcendental black metal with the jarring, head-fucky rhythms of math-rock–think Don Cab or Oxes played at hallucination-inducing speeds. Better yet, think a band maturing from Branca blear to Stravinsky stabs. “The kind of eddies of jolted repetition in [Stravinsky] really shaped the way I feel music, what I want and expect from it,” says frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix. “He creates these moments of ecstatic frenzy that are strangely glitchy, these wild stabs, but composed out very carefully. Dionysiac experience created using Apollonian technique.”
7. Matana Roberts, “Pov Piti ” [Constellation]
Five of the most arresting minutes from Roberts’ “Pov Piti,” showcasing her lyrical sax pyrotechnics, her Godspeed!-gone-Sun Ra 16-piece ensemble and one far-beyond-intense scream solo. “When I first [performed] this piece back in 2006, it would take me about two to three days to recover physically,” says Roberts. “Coming from a line of people that sometimes had to scream inside as well as out, I just wanted to know what it felt like. It’s a lovely contradiction, incredibly taxing, but at the same time wonderfully freeing.”
8. Winter Family, “Shooting Stars” [Sub Rosa]
Israeli vocalist Ruth Rosenthal and Parisian pianist Xavier Klaine pack a two-ton punch with little more than meditative keyboard drifts and delicate vocals; their second album a meditation on the small things in the shadow of the big things. Says Rosenthal, “The song is about the fragility of ‘real’ life. Especially for a little girl… When we started performing with the song I was pregnant and I knew my baby will move whenever we get to these shouts.”
9. Kool G Rap, “G On” [Fat Beats]
A living legend flying under the radar in his 25th year in the game. You may recognize his multisyllabic, hyper-assonant style in rhymers like Cam’ron and Roc Marciano. This track in particular makes him seem like a contemporary instead of a forebear.
10. Action Bronson + Statik Selektah, “Not Enough Words” [DCide]
Obsessed with sex, food and tricky Wu-styled wordplay, Action Bronson was a critical smash in 2011. This track is from his second album released this year, a collabo with producer Statik Selektah and a prefect juxtaposition of an gorgeous A.M. Gold sample with Bronson’s inspired pottymouthery.
11. Household, “Go Away” [Wild Isle/Dull Knife]
Household is the taut, jittery rhythmic propulsion of vintage art-pulsers like LiLiPUT and Delta 5, with a gorgeous, infectious layer of minor-key harmonies taken from the first wave of ’90s twee. Guitarist/vocalist Talya Cooper says the kiss-off “Go Away” is about some dude. “I always write these not-angry-just-disappointed lyrics fully intending to rewrite them to be about sandwiches or something but have never succeeded.”
12. Pregnant, “Help” [BurnBooks]
Bubblegum-bashers rolling deep in the ickiest, grimiest pigfuckiest loft parties in Brooklyn, but their music is sticky-sweet sugar-pop euphoria. Frontman Kevin Manion calls the searing, two-minute “Help!” “probably our catchiest song,” and it’s not small talk: It’s taut, Kaiser Chiefs-style psycho-jangle filtered through Brooklyn’s most dangerous asphalt pockmarks. “It’s obviously been a song title chosen by the most famous band in the world,” says Manion. “It worked for them, so why not us?”
13. Hunters, “Deadbeat” [self-released]
Brooklyn bubblegum-sludge bashers Hunters are the bastard children of Lollapalooza 1996, a perfect blend of Boss Hog cheer and Melvins churn. This track (produced by James Iha!) is a two-and-half-minute workout of caveman drumming and a gloriously plodding two-note riff. Says guitarist/singer Derek Watson about recording the track, “We made sure our drummer had his top popped the entire time.”
14. The Psychic Paramount, “N5” [No Quarter]
The doomier, shroomier edge of New York City psych: From the ashes of Laddio Bolocko comes Psychic Paramount: The virtuosic attack of math rock, the build-and-explode of cosmic psych, the grizzled grimness of sludgo art-metal, and the endless grooves of Krautrock. Says guitarist Drew St. Ivany, “Music takes more effort than drugs, but of course the two go well together. Both are addictive and can ruin your life.”
15. Tombs, “To Cross The Land” [Relapse]
Brooklyn’s blackened mushmakers Tombs make expansive, transcendent, sun-scorched heavy metal that sounds like a jet engine blast of glorious, heart-warming misery. Tombs’ second album, Path Of Totality, is 57 minutes of skin-crawling agony seen through comforting blear and inviting whoosh.
16. Driphouse, “Chompers World” [Root Strata]
A dizzying cumulus cloud of leapfrogging electronic squelch courtesy of Daren Ho, formerly of Iowa City psych-noise institution Raccoo-oo-oon; you can find “Chomper’s World” on an edition-100 cassette swaddled in an absolutely gorgeous negative-space-on-white letterpressed J-card. “My grandmother was walking in circles with one of those walkers with the tennis balls on the end through the whole house and into the bedroom I was staying in when I was recording,” says Ho. “In some way this could also be a tribute to my grandmother’s dementia, music for walking in circles over and over and over.”
17. Oneohtrix Point Never, “Replica” [Mexican Summer]
Somewhere between haunted house soundtrack, chillax-culture antidote, VHS italo-horror and Bubble-Tape-chewing ’80s nostalgia lies this bubbling, uneasy gurgle from Daniel Lopatin, the hardest working man in the Videodrome business. “I wanted to take the idea of ‘mellow jazz” and do something a little different with it,” he says. “A kind of circular, droning piece where everything is a little off. Distorted tape, overt tape splices, overdriven kotos, that sort of thing.”
18. Nicholas Jaar, “Keep Me There” [Circus Company]
If Nicolas Jaar makes “house music,” it’s downright agoraphobic; though you wouldn’t tell that to the sold-out crowd bouncing off the walls of his sold out Music Hall of Williamsburg show. The sleepy-eyed “Keep Me There” murkily floats through glitch crackle, wounded dub limp, and mournful jazz wail… So what inspired it, exactly? “I made it at the Marcy Hotel in Brooklyn. The space is really creepy and dark when you’re alone in there,” says Jaar. “It’s probably that and the headless rats our cat was hiding around the house.”
19. Escort, “Caméleon Chameleon (Club Remix)” [Escort]
The truffle-decadent 17-piece disco orchestra has been force of nature for three years running. The club remix of their Thriller-informed “Caméleon Chameleon” turns a song about a French serial imposter into euphoric glitterhouse. “That song has the most simultaneous tracks of the entire record,” says Escort’s Eugene Cho. “We have literally days worth of audio for that song.”