60 Favorite Albums of 2011: #40-21
And on we go. Be forewarned that the artwork for album #29 is less than SFW.
40 :: The Field | Looping State of Mind
Almost exactly four years ago I listened to From Here We Go Sublime for the first time and felt my idea of what music could do expand a not insignificant amount. Yesterday and Today is an underrated album but attempted no conceptual feat so ambitious as the ascension toward sublimity. So it was with great delight that I discovered that this third LP marks Axel Willner’s return to conceptual brilliance. These seven expansive offerings are more sonically diverse than Sublime, but they all focus on loops and the mighty, hypnosis-inducing power of repetition.
>>>Key track: “Looping State of Mind”
39 :: Megafaun | Megafaun
In which some very nice men with beards and broken-in voices let many of their more experimental tendencies slide away, write some new songs but sing them like they’re hundreds of years old, record them in a wooden room, and please a whole lot of people like me who secretly have very simplistic taste in music.
>>>Key track: “Everything”
38 :: Frank Ocean | Nostalgia, Ultra
So, the most acclaimed and successful work released under the OFWGKTA guise is the album that’s the least representative of their aesthetic as a whole? Funny how that works. Rising star Ocean packed his free debut with highly replayable silky jams and, against all odds, convinced legions of hipsters that there is plenty to enjoy about “Hotel California.”
>>>Key track: “Novacane”
37 :: Paul Simon | So Beautiful or So What
Ways To Remain Relevant: Possess a voice that sounds as young as ever while being 70 years old. (!!!) Remind people that you’re one of the only people alive that can sing about beauty, death, faith and doubt without being ham-fisted. Write melodies that would make The Grinch’s heart grow three sizes. And keep experimenting with new styles and textures, no matter what.
>>>Key track: “So Beautiful or So What”
36 :: Jamie Woon | Mirrorwriting
It’s been well over 5 years since FutureSex/LoveSounds, and it’s time to start looking for Timberlake replacements. Other than those deathly smooth vocals, JT and JW don’t actually sound much alike, but Mirrorwriting is the best cutting-edge, progressively-minded R&B we’ve gotten lately. Call it a FS/LS for the dubstep era.
>>>Key track: “Lady Luck”
35 :: Iron & Wine | Kiss Each Other Clean
Sam Beam spent three albums and a handful of EPs building the Iron & Wine sound up from a 4-track basement whisper into The Shepherd’s Dog’s pan-global sound party. So where to turn next? Into forgotten (like, really forgotten) 70s-radio sounds and used record bins. But no matter the sonic decorations, his delicate songwriting touch and near-perfect voice will always shine through.
>>>Key track: “Half Moon”
34 :: Nicolas Jaar | Space Is Only Noise
If you only glance at the cover of Nicolas Jaar’s debut quickly, it looks like that baby stroller is sitting on the surface of the moon. It’s a great analogy for his unclassifiable music, which takes snippets of blues and funk and maroons them in a desolate lunar landscape of downtempo minimal electronica.
>>>Key track: “Keep Me There”
33 :: Saigon | The Greatest Story Never Told
Overly elaborate backstories can be a burden on a musician, but ones as powerful as this one just can’t be ignored. Visit Wikipedia and read up on it. What’s more, origin myth hype will never overshadow a release as strong as Saigon’s debut, which plays like an epic autobiography composed of his endless, dexterous rhymes over a prime selection of Just Blaze beats.
>>>Key track: “Come On Baby (ft. Jay-Z)”
32 :: Junior Boys | It’s All True
Geeky-sexy. That’s the contradiction at the heart of this deeply engrossing album by two scruffy Canadian dudes. It’s slinky, warm “dance music” that sounds buttoned-up and seductive at the same time.
>>>Key track: “Itchy Fingers”
31 :: Radiohead | The King of Limbs
It may be Radiohead’s smallest, least friendly, knottiest, most elusive album ever, but it’s still a goddamn Radiohead album. These guys pretty much figured out music on In Rainbows, so it was time to shake things up a bit. If its slightness is your only complaint, bundle it up with the great singles they released this year, like “Supercollider” and “The Daily Mail” and you’re golden. Read my review here.
>>>Key track: “Lotus Flower”
30 :: DJ Quik | The Book of David
Quik doesn’t sound like most rappers from this year, or even this decade. There’s something almost nerdy about his off-kilter taunts and straightforward delivery. It’s wonderful how he sells it, though — with the help of his beats, in which that same nerdiness manifests in timeless funk- and soul-infused joints that sound like they’re from no era of hip-hop in particular.
>>>Key track: “Hydromatic”
29 :: Handsome Furs | Sound Kapital
On their third and best LP (by leaps and bounds), husband-and-wife duo Alexei Perry and Dan Boeckner craft raw, gloriously garish keyboard-core that bursts at the seams with human compassion. Springsteen with synthesizers.
>>>Key track: “Repatriated”
28 :: Bill Callahan | Apocalypse
In which our protagonist with the somber baritone twists and turns in the clutches of personal demons, musical tradition, and forces larger than himself, and, on the masterful “One Fine Morning,” comes out the other side with some kind of peace.
>>>Key track: “Riding for the Feeling”
27 :: Holy Ghost! | Holy Ghost!
May I present to you the heir apparent to the DFA throne and our best bet to carry the live-band-dance-party torch in the wake of LCD Soundsystem. (Sorry, Juan MacLean.) “Jam For Jerry” is no “Someone Great,” but give them a couple more LPs and they could be doing that emotional-resonance thing as well as The God Murphy Himself.
>>>Key track: “Some Children (ft. Michael McDonald)”
26 :: Julianna Barwick | The Magic Place
On 2011’s best and most original ambient release, the heavenly-voiced Barwick seemingly went to the world’s most resonant cathedral, cloned herself 100 times, and tried to replicate the sound of rays of sunlight breaking momentarily through a cloud bank. Remember the wonderful “Boy 1904” from Riceboy Sleeps, that song that used the recording of the last known castrato? Well, it turns out that the next-best person to deliver to us the music of angels is still alive, and she’s just getting started.
>>>Key track: “White Flag”
25 :: Fucked Up | David Comes to Life
Trying to sort through the insanely convoluted mythology surrounding this album would give anyone a headache. Sitting down, shutting the fuck up, and listening to this 79-minute tribute to the eternal power of guitar and drums will also give you a headache, but a headache of the best kind. The kind Damien “Pink Eyes” Abraham gets from smashing bottles against his head on stage. Mr. Abraham casually discusses leaving the group, but Fucked Up just wouldn’t be the same without him muscling his way through their triple-pronged guitar assault like a bull in a china shop.
>>>Key track: “Queen of Hearts”
24 :: Kate Bush | 50 Words For Snow
If you’ve been trying to track down the year’s best song about having sex with a snowman, look no further. As bold as it is to pen a (relatively) straight-faced song on such a subject, the real triumph is that this song and all of its potentially-ridiculous fellows (characters include a yeti, a snowflake, and a ghost girl looking for her lost dog) sound lush, empathetic and elemental, not stupid. For chrissakes, the title track does nothing but count down said 50 words (many of them made-up), and I still get goosebumps when the male guest vocalist exhales #50: “Snow.”
>>>Key track: “Snowflake”
23 :: Action Bronson | Dr. Lecter
Pure cartoon villainy, just like the cover. It was hard to read about NYC newcomer Action Bronson this year without seeing Ghostface Killah mentioned in the same breath, but other than the timbre of their voices, the similarity doesn’t run deep. Where Ghost leans forward with bug-eyed intensity, Bronsolino steps back and smirks, delivering the best verses about food, weed, and good living to be found in 2011, over an impeccable collection of beats from virtual unknown Tommy Mas.
>>>Key track: “Larry Csonka”
22 :: Kurt Vile | Smoke Ring For My Halo
The perennially road-weary Vile took things down a notch here from previous LP Childish Prodigy and discovered that, guess what, everything’s just as fucked up whether you’re howling or mumbling. Almost no one sounded as beaten-down as this guy in 2011, and yet almost no one else on this list experienced the same surge of popularity.
>>>Key track: “Runner Ups”
21 :: tUnE-YaRdS | w h o k i l l
The typographically-challenged Merrill Garbus experienced one of 2011’s biggest success stories. BiRd-BrAiNs, her very good but too-weird-to-crossover debut, turned out to be the perfect lead-in to the ambitious and widely beloved w h o k i l l, which has catapulted her to the position of one of indie’s biggest rising stars. Like Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca, it is a worldly album that seems to exist at that magical, elusive, perfect crossroads between experimentation and pop.
>>>Key track: “Bizness”