50 Unheralded Albums from 2011

50 Unheralded Albums from 2011

In just one more trip around the sun, another swarm of immensely talented but under-recognized musicians has harnessed its collective talents and discharged its creations into the void. This list is but one fraction of those dedicated individuals who caught our ears with some serious jams.

Talib Kweli

Beats & Rhymes: Talib Kweli’s Gutter Rainbows

Each Monday, Beats & Rhymes highlights a new and notable hip-hop, rap, DJ, or electronic record that embraces independent sensibilities.

Talib Kweli: Gutter RainbowsTalib Kweli: Gutter Rainbows (Javotti Media, 1/25/11)

Talib Kweli: “Cold Rain”

[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/talib_kweli__cold_rain.mp3|titles=Talib Kweli: “Cold Rain”]

There’s a certain sternness to Talib Kweli‘s rapping. It’s a constant in his music, and it makes you listen a little harder to differentiate where he’s going from song to song. He tends to give his work an intimidating surface, though at heart it’s accessible, unrestful, richly stimulating hip-hop, fiery in spirit and not prone to corny messages. Since the 1998 collaboration Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star, he’s delivered his words with a bold shove forward.

Kweli doesn’t sound humbled or chastened on the new Gutter Rainbows, nor does the bass line that smoothly slams the bolts home on the title track. He says in the liner notes that “this is my second album (after Liberation) that the music industry did not help me create.” This fact cuts both ways. There’s a different producer on nearly every track, but nearly all of them (from M-Phazes to Oh No to Ski Beatz) somehow connect back to the warm instrumentation (flute, guitar, swirly soul vocals) of 88-Keys‘ intro track, “After The Rain.” It’s a busy and collaborative 14 tracks, but thoroughly solid.

Morrow vs. Hajduch

Morrow vs. Hajduch: Grand Pianoramax’s Smooth Danger

Scott Morrow is ALARM’s music editor. Patrick Hajduch is a very important lawyer. Each week they debate the merits of a different album.

Grand Pianoramax: Smooth DangerGrand Pianoramax: Smooth Danger (ObliqSound, 5/3/11)

Grand Pianoramax: “Roulette” (radio edit)

[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Grand_Pianoramax_Roulette_radio_edit.mp3|titles=Grand Pianoramax: “Roulette” (radio edit)]

Morrow: Conceived as something of a live piano-and-drums experiment, Grand Pianoramax is the principal project of pianist Leo Tardin.  Once “a New Yorker from Switzerland” and now “a Berliner from America,” Tardin uses a small arsenal of instruments — grand piano, Fender Rhodes, K-Station, harmonium, Phillichorda — to achieve a diversity of sounds for his duo’s spacey, funky, classically infused music.

Smooth Danger is the duo’s third and newest album; released overseas last fall, it sees a US release in a few months.  Though it doesn’t depart much from its predecessors, it cuts back a bit on guest vocalists, allowing the duo’s music to better stand on its own.  And it deserves to, thanks to its combination of killer melodies, synthesized grooves, and classical piano that overlay tight, rapid rock and boom-bap beats from new drummer Dominik Burkhalter.  (The former drummers, by the way, were no slouches: Deantoni Parks [The Mars Volta, Meshell Ndegeocello] and Adam Deitch [Talib Kweli, John Scofield].)

J Rocc

The Groove Seeker: J Rocc’s Some Cold Rock Stuf

On a weekly basis, The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

J Rocc: Some Cold Rock StufJ Rocc: Some Cold Rock Stuf (Stones Throw, 3/8/11)

J Rocc: “Play This (Also)”

[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/08-Play-This-Also.mp3|titles=J Rocc: “Play This (Also)”]

One of the most important figures in DJing and turntablism over the past two decades, J Rocc is finally releasing his debut effort of original cuts titled Some Cold Rock Stuf.  Original in all senses of the word, J Rocc has amazed audiences from Los Angeles to Tokyo with a distinct style that began by co-founding the landmark DJ crew the Beat Junkies in the early ’90s with Melo-D and Rhettmatic.

Along with fellow beat junkie Babu, and the likes of Mix Master Mike and Q-Bert of the Invisible Skratch Piklz, J Rocc was a part of the pioneering scene that brought respect back to the DJ, establishing the turntable as instrument while forging a new path towards instrumental hip hop.

100 Unheralded Albums from 2010

Among the thousands of under-appreciated or under-publicized albums that were released in 2010, hundreds became our favorites and were presented in ALARM and on AlarmPress.com. Of those, we pared down to 100 outstanding releases, leaving no genre unexplored in our list of this year’s overlooked gems.