Words: James Passarelli, Asif Siddiqi, & Ryan Waring

EPs:

3. James Blake – CMYK


Blake’s time-release approach to his solo projects didn’t keep him relevant in 2010. What kept him relevant (and will continue to do so) was the magnitude of each EP. Out of gold, frankincense and myrrh, the R & B equivalent to Frankenstein’s monster, CMYK slightly stood out among the three releases. The title track’s heavily modified Kelis sample highlights an EP that toys with negative space so well you’ll constantly doubt your instincts. – RW

2. Freddie Gibbs – Str8 Killa EP

Parents, try to get over the expletives.  This is the future of rap.  In one of the most enjoyable interviews of the year, Freddie Gibbs told IF’s Doug Knickrehm, “I don’t gotta ride no coattails to get my spot in this game,” and For Gibbs, life and the rap game are inextricable, and he is winning by a landslide.  With eight robust tracks, Str8 Killa probably qualifies for a full album, but Gibbs assures us it is just a flavor of what is to come.  Block Beattaz’s ethereal production elevates Gibbs’ smooth lyricism on “Personal OG” and the punch that “National Anthem (Fuck the World)” packs is enough to knock anyone from there to Gibbs’ hometown of Gary, Indiana. – JP

1. How to Destroy Angels – How to Destroy Angels

It’s hard not to be suspicious of the husband and wife duo who decide that the world needs to hear them make music together. John and Yoko, Paul and Linda, you know the drill. So when Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor announced that his “new” band How To Destroy Angels (named after the 1984 E.P. from Coil) included his wife Mariqueen Maandig, you could forgive us for thinking that this was going to be more double fantasy than, you know, daydream nation. But Reznor, Maandig and third collaborator Atticus Ross (who contributed to the stellar The Social Network soundtrack) really deliver. With six songs meandering through industrial pop, they create a mood that is less angry a la NIN than just ominous. Yes, it largely sounds like a NIN record with female vocals (without the head-on-the-wall jackhammer drums), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The songs are exquisitely constructed and one “A Drowning,” an electronic dirge full of vague regret, is worth the price alone. – AS


Live Album:

Bill Callahan – Rough Travel for a Rare Thing

Leave it to Bill Callahan to give a perfect name to his first live album.  The musician, not the coach.  The artist formerly known as Smog follows last year’s laudable Sometimes I Wish I Were an Eagle with a recording so flawless that its live setting is only apparent during applause.  Not to mention the immanent value of hearing the songwriter perform extended versions of “Bower” and “Bathysphere,” among other songs, complete with drums and strings. – JP


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