Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The year in music: best free albums

Posted By on 12.28.11 at 03:10 PM

TheWeeknd_HouseOfBalloons.jpg
Thanks to several converging factors—the elevated profile of the rap mix-tape format, the decreasing cost of digital recording, the Internet—it's become common for musicians to not even bother charging money for their albums. In fact you could probably keep up a pretty solid rotation of new music and not spend a cent, even without touching the untold gigabytes of material illicitly uploaded to Mediafire. After the jump I share some of my favorite free albums of 2011.

The Weeknd
House of Balloons, Thursday, Echoes of Silence

Frank Ocean
Nostalgia, Ultra

Let's just get these out of the way. Yes, they're among the most critically fawned-over albums of the year and yes, it's perfectly fine if you never want to read another word about them for the rest of your life. But if you haven't listened to them yet, you're missing out on some of the most genuinely satisfying music of 2011, and a couple of crucial clues as to where pop music's heading in 2012.

Terius Nash
1977

Nash is best known for the work he's done under the name The-Dream, which includes cowriting "Umbrella" and "Single Ladies" as well as recording three solo albums of his own that easily rank among the best R&B records of the past decade. He's also pretty well-known for leading a turbulent romantic life, and 1977 has "turbulent romantic life" written all over it in bold, 64-point type. The two standout tracks are "Used to Be," a detailed post mortem of a terminated relationship, and "Wedding Crasher," which has to be the jauntiest, most accessible pop song ever made about getting wasted on tequila and showing up at your ex's nuptials.

Tiger Bones
When You Die

Just as this local group started building a little momentum, personnel issues put its future into question. I haven't heard yet whether the band is going to continue after the departure of guitarist Nick Hagen, but it would be a shame if they let this set of adventurous oddball garage rock go unpromoted.

Stagnant Pools
True Lies

I initially got into this band because I was impressed by the size of the booming, echo-laden, shoegaze-inspired noise they could create with only two members, but after going back to True Lies a number of times I realized that the real draw is the foundation of clever pop songwriting that all of those effects pedals are stacked on.

Danny Brown
XXX

It was a really good year for rap mix tapes, but no one was able to top the sophomore full-length solo effort by this Detroit eccentric. Though the "rap album as bloggy account of struggles in the rap game" gambit has become a total cliche, Brown reinvigorates the conceit with a dose of unsettling honesty and desperation, painting a self-portrait as an Adderall-popping 30-year-old at the end of his rope looking to get big or very literally die trying.

ASAP Rocky
LiveLoveA$AP

Gucci Mane & Waka Flocka Flame
Ferrari Boyz

Waka Flocka Flame
LeBron Flocka James 3

Death Grips
Exmilitary

Nikki Lynette
Roses N' Guns 2: The Badder Assed Mixtape That Rocks

Mr. Muthafuckin' Exquire
Lost in Translation

Iggy Azalea
Ignorant Art

Starlito & Don Trip
Step Brothers

I wasn't kidding when I said it was a really good year for rap mix-tapes.

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