I confess I underrated House of Balloons when I first heard it. Discovering its potential and beauty in full took me few listens but I am not going to make the same mistake with Echoes of Silence, the third and last part of The Weeknd’s aka Abel Tesfaye’s game-changing cryptic R&B trilogy. It happens that The Weeknd is the real saviour of music as his ideas did not end with the brilliant House of Balloons. What is more, Echoes is his most coherent and solid release (and whisper it, probably the best). The pace comes tamed yet do not fear: the album bursts with great tracks. D.D. is a powerful cover of Dirty Diana by Michael Jackson. It seems now that all the comparisons to King of Pop were not out of place. Outside is way more introverted and is the finest of the string of four majestic songs that make up the core of the record. It has a great xylophone part that just fantastically collates with a deep bass. XO / The Host means a double eargasm. Initiation finds the singer dramatically striving against his demons. Finally, the beat of Same Old Song could be played for all eternity. The aura of darkness envelops those Echoes making the voice of Abel the light to happily get through.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: D.D., Initiation, Outside, Same Old Song, XO / The Host

Listen to Outside: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umvomiY7804

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You do not expect a polite language from a rapper but Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome line is pretty hardcore. Goblin, the second LP by Tyler, The Creator (the leader of OFWGKTA, the alternative hip hop collective), is full of venom, (self-)hatred and frustration. Lyrics of bitches giving blow jobs and killing various individuals like stabbing Bruno Mars in his esophagus are as common as hunger in North Korea. Tyler raps over some spendid beats and drumming and does not spare anyone. The opening Goblin is pitiless but demands another listen. Transylvania sounds as if it had been produced by Count Dracula himself. Meanwhile, AU79 is a great instrumental interlude. And I do not have to introduce Yonkers, one of the key black music songs of the last 12 months. This album is dark and depressive but also weirdly enjoyable. Homophobic? Yes. Misogynic? Yes, sir. Very good? You should check for yourself.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: Analog, AU79, Fish / Boppin’ Bitch, Goblin, Transylvania, Yonkers

Watch Yonkers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSbZidsgMfw

James Blake was undoubtedly one of the most acclaimed artists of the last year. No wonder a lot of people went crazy when it had been announced that he would make a track with Bon Iver, another critics’ favourite. The latter did even better in 2011: his album climbeb to number 2 in the US, received some bloody-fokken-awesome reviews across the globe and the singer-songwriter himself got 4 Grammy nods. Finally, Enough Thunder EP gets a release and… a lot of people simply shrug it off. Wrong! The fourth EP by Blake is not as exceptional as his debut but feels as a natural successor to it. If you liked (or loved, like me) James Blake, Enough Thunder will satisfy you. The opening Once We All Agree is a perfect introduction to this rather dark micro-universe. The instant power of this slow jam comes from a brilliant piano and electronic noise haunting like an echo. It breaks unexpectedly to give us We Might Feel Unsound which is more adventurous (still pretty gloomy, though). Not Long Now explores a similar ground. The mentioned collaboration with Bon Iver comes next. I find it charming, strangely getting close to folk at times. All those auto-tune objections are as lame as they are ridiculous. Fans of Feist’s Limit to Your Love should listen to songs four and six. The first one is another cover (Joni Mitchell this time): straightforward and not as forgettable as the closing track. 

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: Fall Creek Boys Choir, Not Long Now, Once We All Agree, We Might Feel Unsound

Watch A Case of You: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IG2E3qyFqsw&ob=av2e

After releasing three exceptional albums, Broadcast made the fans wait few years for what would be their magnum opus. Trish Keenan and James Cargill turned to Julian House of The Focus Group (responsible for artwork of Broadcast’s records) for help on this one and the result was less a standard LP, more an experiment. Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age is the least straightforward (and naturally the most difficult) offering by the band but it was named by The Wire as the greatest release of 2009 for a reason. Let yourself in and discover an unbelievable sonic collage that is an homage to the ’60s and the fascination with paganism and drugs/mind relationship, and an exercise in limitlessness of music at the same time. The word “radio” does not appear by chance. Listening to this album is like turning the knob and getting various radio waves: sometimes it is a strange mansion party, the other time – a ritual chant. Broadcast and The Focus Group collected a vast collection of haunting samples. For, mostly, Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age feels like a soundtrack to a forgotten horror. Think of The Wicker Man or Rosemary’s Baby yet with its 23 tracks the mood is rather changeable. One is for sure: it will haunt you for a long time. The best moments come with Trish singing. The Be Colony opens with spooky Ra ra ra and turns into a demonic mantra. It is not hard to imagine naked ladies dancing for their black master soundtracked by this tune. I See, So I See So is one of the lightest tracks as it deals with solar matters. On the other hand, Libra, the Mirror’s Minor Self is mysterious and has that kind of evil burnt on it that at first lures you and then enjoys making you suffer. Make My Sleep His Song bewitches with fantastic organ. The song feels like a lost soul lament. Finally, the last song reuses The Be Colony motif to glorious effects. It is time to wake up from the nightmare but to enter Broadcast’s final vision to date simply make the disc spin again. All Broadcast fans should also hear Mother Is the Milky Way EP (In Here the World Begins is highly recommended), a limited CD from the last tour of the Birmingham dreamers.

hydrameter: 5/5

Key Tracks: I See, So I See So, Libra, the Mirror’s Minor Self, Make My Sleep His Song, The Be Colony, The Be Colony / Dashing Home / What on Earth Took You?, What I Saw

Watch The Be Colony: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqINetENovg

Although Katy B plays with electronic and pop music, that girl just rocks. Her stunning debut On a Mission deserves all the accolades as it feels infinite on singles: catchy as hell, emotional and intelligent tunes ready to sweep out the club. Dubstep may be dominated by men but it is a 22-year-old girl from South London who has delivered one of the most danceable records of this year. Damn, she is too good. Katy does not waste any time and attacks with Power on Me just as the album kicks off. It is like when you enter a nightclub and that cool song is being played to introduce you to the general mood. Katy on a Mission, a huge hit in the UK, may be the best track here. Katy sings This right here I swear will end too soon and it is sad but true. Witches’ Brew is built around some video game beats and finds the singer at her most adventurous. Movement feels rather like a swagger and has got funny voice mutation. The emotional centre of the LP is undoubtedly Broken Record, a fresh recipient of Pitchfork’s one of The Top 100 Tracks of the Year title. Easy Please Me is the best of three songs produced by Magnetic Man. Finally, Hard to Get closes this gem giving you a feeling of shaking off from a great gig.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: Broken Record, Easy Please Me, Hard to Get, Katy on a Mission, Movement, Power on Me, Witches’ Brew

Watch Broken Record: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oES929aenGc&ob=av2e

This delicious mixtape by Frank Ocean of the alternative hip-hop collective called Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (or simply OFWGKTA) should show all those idiots what R&B is capable of. nostalgia, ULTRA. is powerful and clever in an unprecedented way but bear in mind that Tyler, The Creator is one of Ocean’s mates. Over samples (or rather full songs) from the likes of Radiohead or Mr Hudson, Frank takes us on a journey back in time. So, get into that orange 1980s BMW, fasten the seat belt and enjoy. Strawberry Swing begins the album with a sentimental note yet Ocean exceeds Chris Martin’s performance easily. Novacane, the lead single accompanied by a great video, finds superb vocals supported by even better beats. It is one of the finest moments in black music in 2011. Songs 4 Women has a joyous bleep straight out of Kirby video game. The mood changes with LoveCrimes on which the character played by Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut by Kubrick speaks of millions of years of evolution next to security, and commitment, and whatever the fuck else. American Wedding borrows from… Eagles’ Hotel California but the result is a seven minute long tale of love and sadness. Deep shit. The closing Nature Feels is the second highlight from nostalgia. It would be impossible to outdo Electric Feel by MGMT so Ocean croons and adds some female oohs and aahs and, voila, a star is born.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: American Wedding, LoveCrimes, Nature Feels, Novacane, Songs 4 Women, Strawberry Swing

Watch Novacane: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMfPJT4XjAI&ob=av2e

Of all Blake’s EPs, Klavierwerke comes most closely to his proper studio album (even the cover shows the same picture for both releases, though in different colour). Expect piano, intimate beats, ghostly vocals and echoes. A bunch of phanthoms inhabit the first track like haunting memories. I Only Know (What I Know Now) is a mystery that just Fever Ray may unravel. Don’t You Think I Do witnesses something, to cite other sonic experimenters Wild Beasts, equally elegant and ugly trying to get out. Klavierwerke loses with The Bells Sketch and CMYK but it’s easy to tell why James Blake chose to explore this particular direction.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: Don’t You Think I Do, I Only Know (What I Know Now), Klavierwerke

Listen to Klavierwerke: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbylI4ld5VE

The cover of the second EP by James Blake says “In order to dance”. That short phrase best sums up the four-track CMYK. The opening title track is a delirious and delicious variation on R&B, apparently about some red coat. It’s also one of the best tunes of the fellow Londoner to date. The crystalline beats of Footnotes are meant to permeate through your skin and make you move. Finally, Postpone innocently drives at post-dubstep female-voiced quirkiness.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: CMYK, Footnotes, Postpone

Listen to CMYK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LA-lOywYGic

Eleven months before the release of his magnificent self-titled debut album, James Blake’s first EP The Bells Sketch emerged to dazzle the listeners and the critics. It consists of just three tracks: two are superb and one is very good. The Bells Sketch opens this extended play with a certain mystery and may be compared to a gospel from the distant future. Blake plays with his voice to supernatural effects. Buzzard and Kestrel seems less serious: it’s a catchy and twisted fairy tale and you know why the artist chose the word “bells” as an umbrella for the whole work.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: Buzzard and Kestrel, The Bells Sketch

Listen to The Bells Sketch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6csogEBPuEM

Baths makes electronic music, Björk is his favourite singer and he’s gay. What’s there not to love about him? Pop Music / False B-Sides isn’t really his second album but a collection of post-Cerulean songs. His debut was fantastic and I’ve got two news concerning this release. The bad news is there is no masterpiece such as Lovely Bloodflow but to outdo it seems quite hard (well, he’s talented and he’ll figure this out). The good news is, however, that Will’s latest offering surpasses Cerulean. His sound is more polished and less chopped this time. Almost half of the LP is instrumental and there is a refreshing sense of space given to these tracks. The opening Pop Song is still glitchy and serves as an anchor to the Baths’ past. It’s also a distant cousin to Atlas Sound’s Quick Canal, another pretty loud song. Nordic Laurel, on the other hand, is more glo-fi and suits Will just fine. Computer music is more about sounds than words yet Iniuria Palace is a truly striking story with a moral that All the classical music in the world / Cannot weep as deeply as a brokenhearted teenager. Elsewhere, there are links to The xx (Tatami) or Flying Lotus (Flux). Singing is another highlight, Baths operates his voice at ease. I’m happy that Will decided to gather all those gems.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: Iniuria Palace, Nordic Laurel, Pop Song

Listen to Pop Song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILYSmIzKuXI