Exclaim's Year in Review 2011

I wrote some bits for Exclaim’s Year In Review which appeared in both print and online. NOTE: While I participated in the nomination process, the albums I ended up writing about were not necessarily the ones I picked :(

Pop & Rock

Diamond Rings Special Affections (Secret City)
Buzzed about since forever, Toronto glam-pop-rocker Diamond Rings (aka the D’Urbervilles’ John O’Regan) made his glitter-streaked debut with Special Affections. With nine tracks of devastatingly awesome hooks, innocuously introspective lyrics and smart electro-dance production, it’s an ambitious debut from the David Bowie-Ian Curtis love child. Backed by established hits “All Yr Songs” and “Show Me Your Stuff” Special Affections was a promise delivered with charm, nuance and lots of shimmer.

Hip-hop

Black Milk Album of the Year (Fat Beats)
It might seem a bold claim but Album of the Year isn’t necessarily a titular brag by Black Milk ― it represents a year of the Detroit rapper/producer’s life when death and disease were afflicting close friends and family. But instead of innervisions and mourning, AOTY is more like an exercise in joyful catharsis. While he’ll still be a better beat maker than rapper to many, Black Milk’s flow and content show significant improvement and his production has an invigorating, sophisticated, psych-rock edge to it. Don’t fret ― the neo-soul funk sound of the D is still there, Black Milk’s just working it out.

R&B

Bilal Airtight’s Revenge (Plug Research)
More restrained and less brazen than his previous work, Airtight’s Revenge is Bilal’s real world opus. An ultra-contemporary R&B album (thematically, sonically and conceptually) Airtight’s Revenge doesn’t pick up where Bilal left off ― the neo-soul world of the early ’00s. Instead, he takes the opportunity to make a definitive statement, about frustration, mistakes and modern day mind control. Complex, dense arrangements pair well with Bilal’s to-the-point, honeyed vocals; instead of focusing on lyrical complexity, he lets the production get outré ― what R&B should be in 2010.