Like music fans everywhere, I enjoy the ritual of sitting down at the end of the year and ranking my favorite releases of that year and then comparing my list to my friends’ list. My friends and I even created a “music club” that began as an excuse to get together, eat pizza, drink beer, and listen to mixtapes created around our respective “best of” lists. But it is maybe even more fun to create multiple lists based on different sets of parameters in addition to your “best of”: i.e. ‘Top 5 EPs’, or ‘Top 20 Singles,’ etc. So this year, I’ve created my ‘Best Free Mixtapes/Albums of the Year’ list. In light of the fact that a significant portion of the best hip hop to be released in 2009 was free – I tend to think this is a pretty great list. Anyways, the name pretty much speaks for itself: these are all albums that were made officially available as free downloads this year. Check them out:
10. PC Muñoz – What Happened?!
When I originally reviewed this album, we described it as successfully “cohesive” with “a wry, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.” Described as a “mash-note to hip hop” by Muñoz, “What Happened?!” is a collection of remixes, bonus tracks from his prior album, and instrumentals, accapellas versions. Pick up a copy here.
9. Coldplay – Left Right Left Right Left
I still find it amazing that Coldplay chose to release Left Right Left Right Left as a free download from their website. Sure it is a glorified bootleg, but I think there is no serious question as to whether they could have made this into an official (a.k.a. “for profit”) live album in an effort to milk hardcore fans of a little more $$. Most bands would have. Sorry Billy Corgan fans, but it is hard to imagine Smashing Pumpkins going this route. So serious kudos to Coldplay. Download LRLRL here for free.
8. Young Coyotes – The Basement E.P.
Denver, Colorado’s Young Coyotes’ Basement E.P. is still one of my favorite finds this year. Acoustic strumming, hand claps, glockenspiel chimes, and multi-layered, harmonic howling lead the way on Basement‘s opening track “Momentary Drowning.” The basic arrangement (acoustic guitar, glockenspiel, multi-layered harmonies), anchored to earth with slow, steady percussion, serves as a basic blueprint for the entire EP. And despite the dark lyrical content of many of its songs, Basement‘s overall feel is giddy, earnest and a warm earthiness. A free download the Basement E.P. is available from the band’s website.
7. Kid Cudi – Dat Kid From Cleveland
I can’t say I’m surprised Kid Cudi came out an released one of the year’s best mixtapes – again. Cudi branches out more as an MC and offers even better tunes than on his first mixtape. If you liked his previous mixtape, you’ll love this one too. You can pick it up at DatNewCudi.
Kid Cudi – She Came Along (feat. Sharam)
6. Tor vs. Sufjan Stevens – Illinoize
This is a free mixtape put together by Montreal-based producer Tor using samples from Sufjan Stevens’ various albums matched up with rhymes by a number of indie’s best hip hop MCs: Aesop Rock, Gift of Gab, Outkast, Brother Ali, and more. And it is good. What else do you need to know? Get it here.
5. Iron & Wine – Fall 2007 Demos
These are essentially stripped down, acoustic demo versions of a number of tracks from Iron & Wine’s lush Shepperd’s Dog. We loved the final version of the album, and where I loved the richness of the official album, I find these demo versions to be equally enchanting for their simplicity. Theses were made available as a free download from the Iron & Wine website.
4. Xaphoon Jones – The Xaphoon Jones Mixtape, Vol. 1
Xaphoon Jones is possibly better known for his work producing the beats for Chiddy Bang, but he has been getting plenty of props for his “solo” work. He’s released his own mixtape that features a number of exciting mash-ups and mixes. You can snag that one at Pretty Much Amazing.
3. Wale – Back to the Feature
Again, like Kid Cudi, I can’t say that I’m surprised that Wale released another one of the year’s best mixtapes. He did it in 2008, and he did it again in 2009. Intelligent lines with catchy samples and featuring quality, substantive guest appearances. If you like hip hop, you’ll definitely want to add this to your collection. Pick it up over at RCRDLBL.
2. Theophilus London – This Charming Mixtape
“This Charming Mixtape” indeed. As I noted when I originally reviewed the album, “mixing hip-hop, rock and electro, London crafts something that feels very new and unique.” This is an eccentric album that includes standouts such as an amazing remix of the classic track “Ain’t No Sunshine”; the energetic “Ultraviolent” which is reminiscent of an 80’s rock track; and the quirky, upbeat song “Crazy Cousins”–which features some really out there samples. And I still love the album art recreating Elvis Costello’s classic album, “This Year’s Model.” Download the album here.
1. Chiddy Bang – The Swelly Express
Chiddy Bang have pretty much been the toast of hypem.com this year. You would have been hard pressed to find a week where they weren’t in the top 10 most popular tracks on hype following the release of the The Swelly Express. It isn’t hard to figure out why, as
we noted in our review, they combine great rhymes with beats based around the year’s most popular indie tracks. Of course, the secret is that the whole album is good, and some of the best tracks don’t rely on well-known samples. Swelly Express is available as a free download from their website.