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

It may be a little hard for Missy Elliott to regain the crown for the Queen of Hip-Hop taking into account the current star status of Nicki Minaj. Pink Friday performed extremely well and became one of the most talked about rap albums in a while. Yet, full of A-list appearances (Drake, Eminem, Kanye, Rihanna, and others) and perfectly produced, it disappointed some people. It is just they expected something different. The cover depicting the Trinidadian-born rapper as a Barbie did not come as ironic. Indeed, many of those tracks are of bubblegum nature as the whole LP turns in pop direction way too often. There is nothing wrong with sweet beats: Super Bass is simply excellent and no wonder it became Minaj’s signature tune. However, as almost any hip-hop album, Pink Friday is long and that dose of electropop makes it feel sugary and ultimately sickly. Still, Nicki begins strong with high spiritis of I’m the Best which is followed by even better Roman’s Revenge. On this fierce tune Minaj morphs into Roman Zolanski, one of her alter-egos. Roman is gay, lunatic and raah, raah, like a dungeon dragon – I can only wish he would come by more often. Surprisingly, Eminem’s lines (here as Slim Shady) are not irksome; his anger suits the song perfectly. On the other hand, there are two powerful ballads on Friday that demand extra attention: the drum’n’bass Save Me and the brilliantly Annie-Lennox’s-NoMoreILoveYou’s-sampled Your Love. If you want to buy this record, make sure you’ll go for the deluxe edition as it contains the mentioned Super Bass (the best thing here) and Muny whose electric guitar intro is especially appreciated. It is a shame that those tracks were pushed out in favour of some mediocre tunes from the second half of the LP.

hydrameter: 3/5

Key Tracks: I’m the Best, Muny, Roman’s Revenge, Save Me, Super Bass, Your Love

Watch Super Bass: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JipHEz53sU&ob=av2e

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

After scoring a rather splendid album at the beginning of the year, Toro Y Moi added another release to his spotless collection. Freaking Out EP is a straight-to-dancefloor five-track haven for all those not tired of New Year’s Eve. Bundick did his best to make disco beats ooze from every second of his latest offering. However, I miss the experimental and psychedelic nature of his two albums. All Alone and Freaking Out can get you sweat yet they seem too obvious. Sweet, on the other hand, is a completely different story. Toro Y Moi chops his voice to gorgeous effects. The true showstopper is the final track, I Can Get Love. It is a trance-like club meditation on love that gives the middle finger to the sceptics.

hydrameter: 3/5

Key Tracks: I Can Get Love, Sweet

Listen to I Can Get Love: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYxtd9naca4

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

The most awaited longplay from Blessthefall showed up this autumn. Awakening, because that was the album’s title, was supposed to be the twin sister of Witness from 2009 A.D.. Well, there is a lot of similarity between those two albums, but I can’t shake off this feeling that Blessthefall chose a shortcut instead of taking a HIGHway. Sure, there are some polished, dynamic guitar riffs, Beau’s vocals mixed with Jared’s screams and everything else what makes Witness a great album. However, like everywhere in life, there are BUTs. First of all, the songs are predictable. Yeah, we’ve heard all of it on Witness. Is it bad or good? You should answer yourself. Certainly there is an evident lack of creativity. Secondly, I really like Jared’s vocals. Really. And it hurts me that he plays (vocally) less important part than before. Beau’s vocals are clean, but (for me) a little chafing. Thirdly, Blessthefall can’t write memorable and powerful choruses. Chorus is (right next to the instrumental base) the core of the song. It decides of song’s popularity and, be honest, often is the reason why it plays in our speakers (and minds) repeatedly. It’s been a while since I listened to Awakening and, frankly, I remember like three choruses (from first three songs excluding the self-titled Awakening). The rest is annoying (again too much Beau’s vocals) or dry as dust. The biggest BUT applies to lyrics. Let’s just say that 40 Days… sounds like one of Bieber’s “works of art”. On some songs I can’t find logical relations between the verses and how they relate to the song as a whole. It feels like some of them were written only to fill the gaps. The only lyrics that really appeal to me are those from Meet Me at the Gates. To sum up, Awakening includes all the virtues of Witness but it also shallows them. If you like their previous release, you most certainly like the new one, but if you are tired of the same schemes and search for something new, you will be very disappointed. It looks like Blessthefall got stuck in one place with no intention of moving on.

YES! : I’m Bad News, in the Best Way, Bottomfeeder 

NO! : 40 Days…, Don’t Say Goodbye

Earned C-

Listen to Bottomfeeder: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWbLNOHtYWA

Laurel Halo is an electronic music producer (which should not come as a surprise considering the EP’s cover) from New York. She may be compared to Oneohtrix Point Never but she very rarely reaches for the depth of Lopatin’s sound. The only exception is the second track titled Constant Index. It has an Eastern chant feel and simply asks for another listen. And another, and another… Nevertheless, there is a potential in Halo and, who knows, one day she might flourish.

hydrameter: 2/5

Key Track: Constant Index

Listen to Constant Index: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2UP21Hnys4