Published Dec 21, 20117. Niggas With Guitars
Following a pile of CD-R and cassette releases, Oakland's Niggas With Guitars finally lived up to all the project's early promise with their first long-player Ethnic Frenzy. Yet despite this release getting pressed up by the taste-making Digitalis imprint early in the year, it seemed to fall by the wayside. And that's a shame. Like some other inclusions on this list, Niggas With Guitars succeeded by combining an unlikely combination of musical influences and Frankensteining them into something truly jaw-dropping. With Ethnic Frenzy, you get everything from Glenn Branca-esque guitar-drone epics, to spa-friendly new age, to way-out-there hip-hop and R&B. The results are heady, to say the least, and blew our minds more than a few times throughout 2011.
nwg - ethnic frenzy by smokeland
6. Christina Vantzou
Brussels-based composer Christina Vantzou has already made some waves with her own compositions alongside her time in the Dead Texan and as a touring member of Sparklehorse. Over three years, Vantzou worked on her debut album and the result is No. 1. A ten-track symphony built from synthesizers, samples and voice was rounded out with a full orchestra courtesy of Magik*Magik. The final product is a stunning, ethereal work that solidifies Vantzou's place as one of the most exciting artists emerging in neoclassical composition. At once spacious and spacey, No. 1 is a remarkable first move in what is sure to be a fascinating solo career.
5. Key Losers
P.W. Elverum and Sun
Best known as a member of the Pacific Northwest indie folk project Dear Nora, Katy Davidson took a bit of a left turn with her debut as Key Losers. Released by Mount Eerie's Phil Elverum and recorded with a supergroup that included Karl Blau and Nick Krgovich in Anacortes, WA, you probably have a decent idea of how this sounds without even needing to hear it. Still, California Lite is packed with fantastic songwriting and left-field arrangements that, as the album title suggests, lean heavily on soft rock. There's a lot to love about California Lite. Don't just take our word for it, though. Give the album a chance below.
"California Lite" by Key Losers by P.W. Elverum & Sun, ltd.
Slow Motion Soundz
In the year of Internet rap, Atlanta duo G-Side already had a solid effort in the bank with January's The One... Cohesive. In November, however, they snuck out another top-notch release with iSLAND. The record, which continues the group's winning streak, offers up more of their choice beat selections and confessional raps like "I've been having nightmares of being broke at 30." Unfortunately, this came out around the same time as some other confessional rapper with a penchant for weird beats, so it didn't really get the credit it was due. That doesn't mean you should sleep on it, though.