Hard to believe the canonization of Odd Future happened so fast. It feels like years ago that Tyler, The Creator and Hodgy Beats blitzed through a performance of “Sandwitches” on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, absolutely shocking the system—that image of Tyler hanging on Fallon’s back while Mos Def hysterically shouted “SWAG” into the camera, lingered for weeks afterwards (months later a similar impression would be left at the MTV VMAs), and sat side by side with the brilliant “Yonkers” video. And that was just the first sector to glow from Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, a radical young collective of alt hip hop skaters, famed by the controversy regarding their violent, horrorcore-like lyrics and outrageous on-stage/off-stage behavior. Then there was R&B wonder Frank Ocean, another amazing occurrence separate from all this, but associated at the same time. MellowHype, and so on. Simply too much to handle for one blurb.
[Badge num="4" class="eleven"/] [BoxTitle]Yuck [/BoxTitle] [MusicVideo]http://heavy.com/music/music-video/indie-music-videos/2011/03/yuck-get-away/[/MusicVideo] [Spotify target="blank"]http://open.spotify.com/artist/6l3BRLCpzfC8yxqf9thWAg[/Spotify]
Simultaneously, on the other side of the hip hop revolution and all this genre-bending, was something far more classic: a return to the grunge-y, shoegaze-y spirit of 90s guitar rock. It wasn’t as progressive, but didn’t overly retread either. Many bands added to the sound, but none glimmered as bright or as loud as London’s Yuck. Their self-titled debut oozed with coolness, showcasing a real knack for pop structure, and an ear for what made past greats (Dinosaur Jr, Pavement, Sonic Youth, etc), so great.
[Badge num="3" class="eleven"/] [BoxTitle]Shabazz Palaces[/BoxTitle] [MusicVideo]http://heavy.com/music/music-video/hip-hop-music-videos/2011/12/shabazz-palaces-black-up/[/MusicVideo] [Spotify target="blank"]http://open.spotify.com/album/6xmJwIZr8GXrSTiYa9UYXG[/Spotify]
In all their time, seminal Seattle-based record label Sub Pop had never signed a hip hop act until Shabazz Palaces. That says something right there, why would they start now? Because the label has a reputation for recognizing when something matters, when there’s an intersection of sound that could effectively change current status. Hip hop underwent a big shift this year, and Shabazz Palaces, led by former Digable Planets man Ishmael Butler, had a lot to do with it. Their debut LP Black Up met instant critical acclaim, celebrated for its avant approach—a unique warp of afro-jazz, straightforward flow and heavy spirituality—and would top many end of year lists, including another somewhat unlikely figure known for spotting game-changers, Gorilla Vs. Bear (who’d been saying it all year).
[Badge num="2" class="eleven"/] [BoxTitle]Grimes[/BoxTitle] [MusicVideo]http://heavy.com/music/electronic/2011/06/grimes-vanessa/[/MusicVideo] [Spotify target="blank"]http://open.spotify.com/artist/053q0ukIDRgzwTr4vNSwab[/Spotify]
With two LPs in 2010, Claire Boucher would have been on last year’s list if we (and the basic buzzsphere consciousness) had been more hip to her. While both albums were well received in small circles it wasn’t until Boucher stepped out from the shadows to perform regularly, and star in a few music videos, that people really started to get transfixed. Part of the appeal was in persona; she’s distant and dark, but also cute like a Bjork-ish forest pixy way, which naturally placed her atop the ever fashionable mysticism movement in electronic music. More so though, it was the sounds—her child-like coo hitting Mariah Carey octaves while feathering through a gothic chamberhouse of effects. A crossover hit was found in “Vanessa”, and later in “Oblivion”, both giving a taste a pop-ier things to come, as did her touring spot with Lykki Li.
[Badge num="1" class="eleven"/] [BoxTitle]The Weeknd[/BoxTitle] [FreeDownload]http://heavy.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/zpo3e2daqv0p.zip[/FreeDownload]
In a year defined by unclassifiable blends, no other artist dominated the new music conversation like The Weeknd. Over a trilogy of mixtapes, the mysterious Abel Tesfaye of Toronto revised an R&B angle not taken since Jodeci, replacing those innocently suggestive 90s lyrics and glossy beats with intensely sexual content and a black fog of anything-goes production. The week House of Balloons arrived (free, as a zip file on a landing page) the chatter started immediately and never really stopped, all heightened with links to Drake and an eventual nomination for the prestigious Polaris Prize (Canada’s finest album). Just when the dust would settle, another mixtape would drop, each with nine more variations waiting for Twitter dissection or a game of what’s that sample/cover/reference. The smartest run viral campaign in 2011 happened to be rooted in real talent, and that made for a perfect storm.