Vignettes: Favorite Acts Of 2011

As we look back on the controversy-riddled year that was 2011, there is one thing we should all be able to agree on: it was a great year for music. Fans have been given an astounding amount of good music from the year’s outset, and that fact is sure to put a smile on the face of any listener. With that being said, we would like to give our two cents on our favorite acts of a year which has seen talented artists such as Frank Ocean, Childish Gambino, and Adele make huge waves in the industry. Here are The Listening Magazine’s favorite acts of the year.

As is to be expected, Kanye West has been a huge force in music in the past year. West released My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to critical acclaim in late 2010. As is the case with most fourth quarter releases, Dark Twisted Fantasy’s true value was recognized in the year following its release. The levels of quality and replayability remain high for the album, and the sound influenced a large amount of subsequent projects. Also, West’s collaboration with hip hop mogul Jay-Z entitled Watch The Throne has made a tremendous impact on music this year. While the project is not a grand opus for either artist, Watch The Throne is an enjoyable, adventurous album which provides touches of socioeconomic commentary while simultaneously bringing the essential element of fun back to rapping. Hell, whenever you can perform a song nine times in a row at a sold outStaplesCenter and have fans going crazy each time, you’re doing something right.

Mississippiemcee Big K.R.I.T. has proven that 2010 was no fluke. Following his rise to fame last year (which included the release of a critically acclaimed free album and a contract with Def Jam), K.R.I.T. went on to do more great things in 2011. He began the year by being named one of the freshmen of the year by XXL Magazine, a title which is coveted heavily by up and coming rap artists. He went on to release Return Of 4Eva, another free album to follow up his 2010 effort K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. Return Of 4Eva was arguably met with more acclaim than Wuz Here, ending up on the year-end lists of several notable publications. If 2011 was any indication, K.R.I.T. will continue to make outstanding music for many years to come, shattering southern rap stereotypes in the process.

K.R.I.T.’s fellow XXL freshman class member Kendrick Lamar is the voice of Generation Y. The Compton, California emcee released one of the best albums of the year this summer in Section 80, a project which speaks heavily on many of the socioeconomic issues plaguing those of use growing up in the internet age. Beyond his astounding lyrical abilities, what makes Kendrick special is his message. Section 80 has a highly political context, and tells stories which resonate with listeners from all walks of life. This makes Kendrick’s music relatable to a very wide audience, which will hopefully allow his message to spread even further in years to come.

2011 is also the year we fell in love with J*DaVeY, a Los Angeles music duo consisting of vocalist Jack Davey and producer Brook D’Leau. While the tandem has not had a large amount of mainstream success, they have a highly supportive fan base which has grown substantially in 2011. After being unable to release a project in 2010, the duo released the Evil Christian Cop: The Great Mistapes EP in early 2011 to much critical acclaim. The EP showed a distinct growth in the genre-bending sound of the group, and sparked a summer tour which included bookings around the country and internationally. Tapping into the strength which is their dynamic live performances, the pair used this tour to promote their long-awaited debut studio album New Designer Drug. The oft-delayed album was finally released in November to largely favorable reviews. With the monkey finally off of their backs, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for J*DaVeY.

Another act which was a highlight of the summer is rock band Elevator Fight. The band is based inPhiladelphia and is led by vocalist Zoë Kravitz, daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet. The group consists of Kravitz and band mates Joe Baldacci (drums), Dominic Angelella (guitar), Khari Mateen (guitar), Nick Bockrath (guitar), and Rick Friedrich (keys). They have been together since 2009, releasing songs here and there and performing at several notable festivals such as The Roots Picnic and South By Southwest. The group’s sound is lo-fi and psychedelic, and while they have yet to release an actual project, the live shows serve as a tremendously energetic showcase for the music. From first hand experience, it is very captivating to see the small songstress tossing back beer as she leads the group in a raging performance. That moment grabs a hold of you effortlessly.

Detroitemcee Danny Brown is another up-and-coming artist who has made great strides in 2011. After signing to label Fool’s Gold, Brown dropped one of the best releases of the year with his free album XXX. In commemoration of turning 30 years old, the project showcases Brown’s free-flowing lyricism and eccentric delivery. Everything about his style is highly unique and original, which gives him huge potential for success in the industry. Brown is also associated with producers (the most notable being Black Milk, with whom he released an EP this year) that provide back drops which fit his style perfectly. Brown has traveled a rough path for numerous years, and it is satisfying to see his recent success in the music business.

Last, but certainly not least, The Weeknd has crash landed onto the scene and made a huge impact on the industry. Singer Abel Tesfaye released a trilogy of free albums (House Of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes Of Silence) that have made his rise to stardom one of the fastest in recent memory. Tesfaye, along with producers Doc McKinney and Illangelo, has created a distinctly lush and atmospheric sound that is influencing the R&B genre before our eyes. The strong songwriting, atmospheric soundscapes, and detailed story arcs give The Weeknd the total package and provide an excellent experience for listeners. It seems as though Tesfaye is poised for tremendous success in the near future, with plans to re-release the “Balloon Trilogy” in a re-mastered retail form during the coming year.

We at The Listening Magazine have thoroughly enjoyed the music brought to us during the year 2011, and are extremely excited for what 2012 has to offer. We will surely be listening…

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Album Review: The Weeknd – “Echoes Of Silence”

Rhythm and blues sensation The Weeknd has done it again. For the third time in 2011, singer Abel Tesfaye has released a nine track album for free download on the internet. The newest of these albums, titled Echoes Of Silence, is the final installment of the Canadian artist’s “Balloon Trilogy” (Echoes Of Silence was preceded by the projects House Of Balloons and Thursday). The series has made Tesfaye one of the year’s most acclaimed newcomers, and Echoes will only serve to add to his massive buzz.
Echoes Of Silence is filled with content that fans of The Weeknd have grown to expect from him. Tales of drug use, alcohol abuse, sexual escapades, and relationships with women are a few of the themes which Tesfaye chooses to focus his songwriting prowess on. The writer shows that he has not lost a step after crafting two solid projects this year prior to this one. On his last project (Thursday), Tesfaye used his abilities to pen a strong storyline reminiscent of a concept album. The first album of the trilogy (House Of Balloons) showcased Tesfaye’s ability to write memorable, monumental music en route to crafting one of the year’s most impacting records. Echoes showcases the sweet spot which Tesfaye has found with his writing, as he is able to find a balance between the two ends of the spectrum. The writing which made the songs on Balloons so memorable was not up to par on Thursday. On the flipside, Thursday was able to convey a story arc in a better fashion than Balloons did. Tesfaye begins to put it all together on Echoes, creating a few loose story arcs while crafting monumental records that fans will remember.
These vividly detailed stories are told over the simultaneously lush and lo-fi backdrops provided by producers Doc McKinney and Illangelo. The cold keys, pounding 808s and kick drums, strong synths, and reverberations form a very atmospheric sound in which the listener can become engulfed. These productions are a part of a sound which has become extremely popular this year in R&B (largely due to the success and acclaim of House Of Balloons), and provide the perfect framing for the intricate images painted by Tesfaye’s high-pitched, sultry vocals. While Echoes sees the production team creating the atmospheric instrumentals they have become known for, there are some obvious additions to the instrumentation and influences in comparison to the first two projects. McKinney and Illangelo find a way to stretch their sound without compromising it, a tremendous feat in itself. For instance, the opener “D.D.” sees Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” flipped as the production team covers the record while making it their own. Tracks like “Outside” and “Same Old Song” show influence from what seem to be oriental music genres, with the strong use of gongs and other traditionally Asian instruments. The album’s single “Initiation” is a testament to the engineering of the album, as Tesfaye’s altered vocals constantly fluctuate from high pitches to low ones creating a very interesting and distinct sound for the track. “Montreal” is reminiscent of the mellow production heard on a Sade album, while “The Fall” gives producer Clams Casino a chance to put his own twist onto The Weeknd’s sound. Echoes shows new found expansion and variety within the patented sound, which gives fans hope for more innovative work in the future.
Simply put, Echoes Of Silence exemplifies growth. Tesfaye’s writing is maturing and coming together quite nicely, as he is able to tell stories using monumental, memorable records. McKinney and Illangelo have expanded their patented sound, a feat which should not be overlooked. While Tesfaye is the main attraction, the production is just as important to the success of The Weeknd. Any properly executed innovation should be welcomed with open arms, as it increases the ability to keep the music fresh (nobody wants to hear redundant music). While the project doesn’t finish as strongly as it starts, the overall body of work is tremendous and none of these records are bad or skip worthy. Now that the trilogy is over, it will be interesting to see what the next move is for this talented team of people. Whatever that move is, the world is sure to be anticipating it. And rightfully so.

Pros: +Tesfaye’s songwriting skills are coming together nicely
+A new take on a similar sound
+Collaboration with outside entities (Clams Casino)
+Favorites: “D.D.”, “Outside”, “Initiation”, and “Same Old Song”

Lows: –Although none of the songs are bad, the project doesn’t finish as strong as it starts
Dislikes: N/A

Rating: 4.5/5