The People's Key
Conor Oberst has reached a precarious stage in his career, where, understandably, he no longer seems willing to indulge his every potentially embarrassing, soul-baring musical or lyrical whim. On The People's Key, he wasn't writhing around on bathroom floors or even railing against Republicans, which is fine: lots of people stop doing those things after a while. The great ones figure out how to do something else, though. Oberst isn't there yet.
The King of Limbs
If nothing else, Radiohead seemed to answer one very important question this year: Exactly how low-key can an album be while still technically even counting as music? The King of Limbs, which you might recall came to exist suddenly, over the course of a weekend or something, is minimal and repetitive and, yes, occasionally endearingly twitchy and nervous. But it's also lacking the big Radiohead moments we've come to expect. And really, the falsetto thing is suuuuper annoying.
Given the record label squabbles that preceded the release of the Chicago MC's third record, it seemed impossible that Lasers could live up to the standards set by his previous albums. Against our better judgment we remained optimistic, and were met with a jumble of overproduced gloomy Pop futurism. We are all losers.
Cymbals Eat Guitars
Lenses Alien isn't a terrible album by any means, but it failed to make good on the promise of the Staten Island band's 2009 debut, Why There Are Mountains. Their undying respect for the Monsters of Guitar-Based 90s Indie Rock remains the driving force on Lenses Alien, but they let a little too much studio-sheen creep in and it knocked things off-course just enough that they couldn't be salvaged. In a year where we saw the emergence of Yuck, not to mention reissues of actual albums by the Archers of Loaf and Superchunk, this just didn't cut it.
Maybe if the expectations weren't so high after he released one of 2007's most beloved gems with Person Pitch. Maybe if he didn't seem so tense. Maybe if he'd indulged the Brian Wilson melodies we assume occur naturally within him. Maybe if he had made all the songs sound like "You Can Count on Me" (which is actually quite good), then maybe Tomboy wouldn't have been such a bummer.
Tha Carter IV
If this is what sober Weezy sounds like, well, we kinda wish he'd get off the wagon already. Because aside from the astounding early single "6 Foot 7 Foot" and the so-cheesy-it's-irresistible follow-up "How To Love," there's spectacularly little worth listening to here.
To be fair, we weren't the biggest fans of the Antlers' debut, Hospice, either, and everyone certainly seemed to love the shit out of that. But now that they've released a follow-up, Burst Apart, that's at once colder and more cloying, we find ourselves longing for the old days (of, er, 2009), when things were lush and dreamy, but also spiked with some jagged edges throughout. Burst Apart is so smooth it goes unnoticed.
Wasn't this supposed to be the album that hurtled The Strokes back into the spotlight? The album that made up for the kinda spotty First Impressions of Earth? The one to re-establish Downtown cool as the premier cool? To steal back some of Brooklyn's limelight? In the end we got a half-baked dance-rock album made by a band grasping to reinvent themselves, and not any of those other things.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
In 2011, the shabby-but-lovable production quality that CYHSY made the Brooklyn scene's go-to sound six years ago is nearing the end of its cycle, and, suddenly, Alec Ounsworth's expressive vocals just come across plain whiny. Worse yet, Hysterical sounds fussy, built on complicated arrangements rather than the memorable melodies that made their debut shine, even through the fuzz.
Wounded Rhymes was an album that people tried very hard to like. After all, Li's got things going for her—a distinctive voice (think a toddler with black lung), and she's cool-looking without being too pretty in an obvious way. But the album's biggest problem was that its songs were mostly about being sad, and yet they didn't sound like they came from a person who knows what it feels like to be sad.