Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Idol Threat's Top 10 Free Albums of 2011


Even though it felt like I posted more this past year than I did in my first it turns out that I actually posted a lot less. This meant that there were too few downloads to choose from when I was making my top 10 list. Last year my Top Free Albums List was all pulled from posts that I made, but because of the lack of 2011 posts I decided to open up the list to any album that was released for free in 2011 regardless of whether I posted about it or not. I noticed that there were alot more Hip Hop albums in my list than my Top 20 Albums of 2011 list (coming soon I swear!) which is probably due to the fact that so many Hip Hop mixtapes are released every year. Each artist and title heading is also a clickable link to where you can download the album for free and at the very end is my Top 5 Free EPs [or Fre(EP)s] of 2011. So without further ado here is Idol Threat's Top 10 Free Albums of 2011. Click the jump for the full list. Enjoy:

Thurz - L.A. Riot
When Thurz originally released L.A. Riot it gained a lot of praise but didn’t quite reach the number of people it should, so DJBooth decided to team up with the L.A. emcee to re-release this project (previously only available on iTunes) for free so that it could reach as many heads as possible. It’s a good thing too because this album is a fucking BANGER! Every single beat on here is dope and just when I thought I heard my favorite track the next one would come on and change my mind. I haven’t heard much about Thurz before this album but apparently he came out years ago as a co-founder of the now defunct group U-N-I. Though he is a relatively new MC he is still able to hold his own on this solo debut even against veteran guests like Black Thought of The Roots and Strong Arm Steady. Dope beats and being able to rhyme doesn’t always equate to a great album however, but luckily Thurz knows how to craft a good song and come up with subject matters more interesting than your everyday raps about drugs or girls (which should be pretty evident once you realize that this is a concept album about the 1992 LA Riots.) You can download this for free or pay for a high quality version but I highly suggest paying. Music like this deserves to be heard in the best way possible.

Rational Animals – Bock Rock Parade
Rational Animals may be a new band from the east coast but they sound an awful like an old one from the west coast. This Rochester, NY group takes their worship of Black Flag and mixes it with a heavy dose of rock and somehow manages to not make it sound dated. I’m definitely not complaining mind you, if you’re going to choose a band to emulate you’d be hard pressed to find a better band than Black Flag. Bock Rock Parade proves that everything hasn’t been done to death yet and becomes one of my favorite hardcore releases of the year in the process. Despite their obvious influences this album still sounds fresh & unique and shows some growth from their previous EPs, so I have no doubt that their next one will be even better. This is another free album that really deserves to have some money thrown at it so when you head over to their site to download it consider picking up the vinyl as well.

Dead Neanderthals – “Grindcore Karaoke Trilogy”
Dead Neanderthals are a sax/drums duo from the Netherlands who play grindcore-inspired jazz, alternating between bursts of jazz-fusion and free jazz. You’d be hard pressed to categorize them as metal but the under-a-minute tracks are definitely an attempt to emulate the intense brevity of grindcore, which is probably why their releases have been picked up by J. Randall’s Grindcore Karaoke bandcamp label. Grindcore Karaoke have put out 3 of their releases including the self-titled album, The V-Shaped Position and The Saw EP. I decided to include all 3 for this single slot on the list since they were all released this past year and when combined clock in at just under 27 minutes, which still makes it shorter than most full-lengths. The horns and metal slant may bring comparisons to bands such as fellow duo Ettrick and Rhode Island trio Bellows, but they sound much more structured and less lo-fi than the black metal-tinged blast beats of Ettrick and understandably less full and more spastic than the doom/drone “breath metal” of Bellows. Dead Neanderthals just may be my favorite of the 3 bands however and these releases have me salivating for their upcoming 20 minute, two-track “proper” release.


The Weeknd - "Mixtape Trilogy"
Artist Abel Tesfaye (aka The Weeknd) released not one, but THREE free mixtapes this past year and every single one was solid. His first mixtape “House of Balloons” garnered him a ton of hype and of course with that hype also came some hate (instead of addressing this I will instead point you to this incredible article that describes how I feel way better than I ever could: "You Say Hipster R&B, I Say Nappy Headed Pop.") With comparisons to fellow newcomer Frank Ocean, The-Dream and even Drake you would expect a slightly more traditional sound from The Weeknd but he sounds way more unique than the aforementioned artists. The Weeknd shares more in common with UK electronic artist Burial, and the atmosphere his album evokes is more akin to the melancholy of Portishead than anything else. Even when talking about “normal” pop R&B tropes such as strippers and money he doesn’t come off as decadent or trite and he somehow manages to make the subjects sound way more human and vulnerable than it should. Instead of sounding whiny or pitiful he comes off rather relatable and extremely mature for such a young artist. R&B as a genre has been stale for quite some time besides a talented crop of revivalists so we need more artists like The Weeknd who are willing to experiment if the genre is going to grow.

Elzhi – Elmatic
Usually trying to cover or tamper with a classic is a blasphemous task to undertake, at the very least it’s a difficult to pull off with any positive results. Elzhi is one of the few with the skill and humility to accomplish such a feat successfully and he does so by re-recording NaS’ classic debut “Illmatic.” Its hard to imagine anyone other than NaS on these tracks but El sounds right at home over these Premier and Large Professor beats, and for a short while we can forget how the original songs sounded – which is probably the best compliment any cover can get. The Will Sessions band’s reinterpretations of the album’s legendary beats also help give a fresh spin to this well-worn classic. Elzhi proves once again that he’s one of the best lyricists out with this homage to NaS and if he keeps releasing quality albums like this he may reach even greater notoriety than he did when he was with Slum Village.

A$AP Rocky – LiveLoveA$ap
I’ll have to admit, I almost didn’t even listen to this mixtape. Swag rap? Purple stuff? Beats from the producer for Lil’B & Soulja Boy? There were many reasons for me to avoid this release and the recent hype behind A$AP Rocky and this new wave of similar artists wasn’t helping either. I’m lucky I changed my mind because this has been one of the most addictive albums I’ve listened to this year! Most of this is because of the production, specifically the beats made by Clams Casino who I probably wouldn’t have given the time of day if he just stuck to making beats just for Lil’ B & Soulja Boy. Clams’ dark & hazy ambient beats are the perfect backdrop for A$AP’s southern-influenced (and sometimes Bone Thugs sounding) flow. A$AP has gotten some flak for sounding so Southern despite being from Harlem but I don’t see any problems considering how many other regions have been influenced by NY since Hip Hop’s inception (Southern rapper Jay Electronica especially comes to mind.) A$AP Rocky by contrast may not be the best lyricist around but he knows how to ride a beat and this mixtape has not only introduced me to him but has also opened me up to the great production of Clams Casino whose instrumentals are good enough to stand on their own.

Robocop - Robocop II
This is the second band from Grindcore Karaoke to be featured on my list proving that J. Randall’s internet label continues to be one of the best sources for extreme music on bandcamp. The band is named Robocop and they’re from Maine and have a song called ‘Maine Is The Bastard.’ That alone should make you download the fuck out of this album but there’s more to this band than clever names. The production has a wonderfully explosive and decayed sound and the multiple vocals are almost suffocated in the mix, which only intensifies the hatred seething from their throats. The intro and outro sludge tracks are especially filthy and the 2 noise songs on here are better than a lot of the full-on noise releases I’ve heard this year. Robocop moves from power violence, sludge and noise with uncanny ease making this album really stand out from the rest of the average grindcore pack. There’s still plenty here to keep grind purists happy however and you can even find the obligatory “You Suffer” cover on the tracklist! Robocop II has everything I could ever want in an album and the only bad thing about it is that it leaves you wanting more, but you can always just play the album over again, and again, and again...

Death Grips – Exmilitary
It should come as no surprise to see Exmilitary on this list with all the praise I heaped on this release when it was originally posted. There’s not much more I can say about this mixtape so I’ll just post an excerpt from my original review instead: “If I was being simplistic I would say that this is what Anti-Pop Consortium mixed with the high energy Hip Hop from the South would sound like. If I were being hyperbolic [which I almost NEVER am] then I would say that this is the sound that I never knew I was always looking for. If I were making comparisons I'd say that this is reminiscent of Saul William & Trent Reznor's Niggy Tardust project, Wu-Tangs foray into dubstep, or the dark soundscapes of Dälek but even those examples fall somewhat short of describing their sound. Hip Hop Cali collective OFWGKTA may be the current media darlings but if Wolf Gang is the sound of the 'odd future' then Death Grips is the post-apocalyptic after party.

Wormrot – Dirge
This trio from Singapore makes a huge sound despite only consisting of one guitar and drums, which is a testament to how heavy the insane drumming and infectious riffs are once you realize that its all done without a bass. Hype from their early releases had some people hailing them as the second coming of Nasum and also helped them reach the ears of legendary death/grind label Earache who snatched them up quicker than you can say “You Suffer, but why?” (yeah that’s right, TWO You Suffer references in one post. Deal with it!) You can hear from their music that they are much more than hype however, and they further proved it with the insane touring schedule they embarked on soon after the Earache signing. They even went to tour in Malaysia despite being certain that they would be arrested due to the strict Islamic laws of the country (this was the country that was shaving all the heads of kids who looked “too punk.”) Now that’s dedication! All of the tracks on Dirge are under 2 minutes with the entire album being barely 18 and a half minutes long at 25 tracks. This also makes it 3 minutes shorter than their debut full-length Abuse despite being 2 tracks longer. Their songwriting is only getting sharper and more potent which has me both scared and excited to hear what they do next.

Jean Grae – Cookies or Comas
Before I decided to include free music I haven’t posted yet on this list I was scrambling to post as many year-end hopefuls as I could and there’s a reason I chose Cookies or Comas to be one of the first. There was no way I was making a year end list without this freebie on board, I still can’t believe this was just a mixtape! Jean is fast becoming one of my favorite MCs and while most rappers tend to sound the same throughout their career she’s one of the few that’s grown in leaps and bounds with every release. Even on tracks with amazing lyricists like Pharoahe Monch and Royce da 5’9” (another MC who’s become more skilled with time) she still can hold her own. It's sad that it's still refreshing to see a female MC with ACTUAL skill who doesn't talk about her ass and tits, but until it isn't we still have women like Rapsody, Eternia and Jean Grae to listen to. Plus Jean has some of the best in-between song banter in the biz. Marzipan.

Top 5 Fre(EP)s of 2011:

ShowYouSuck - One Man Pizza Party EP

Krallice – Orphans EP

No I.D. – Cocaine 80s EP

Immolation - Providence EP

Curren$y & Alchemist- Covert Coup EP

2 comments:

  1. FYI, Rational Animals has been a band for over 5 years.

    Cool list!

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  2. Thanks! I meant new in the sense that this is their first full length and by comparison to Black Flag they are extremely new! Plus it wouldn't have sounded as good if I wrote "Rational Animals may be a SEMI-NEW band from the east coast but they sound an awful like an old one from the west coast."

    ReplyDelete