2011 IN REVIEW: The Blurt Top 50 Albums

Nevermind the Drake-Adele mainstream bollocks,
here’s the good stuff. Waits nabs best album; tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill
Garbus, best artist; also Isbell, PJ, Keys, Wild Flag…

 

BY THE EDITORS

 

It was the best of years,
it was the… er, well… yeah. It was the best of years. Funny though –
could swear we’ve heard that somewhere before. Maybe it’s because 2010 was the
best of years too! Seriously; at this stage in the game, there are so many records
released each year, and in every genre and micro-genre imaginable, that you’re
either hopelessly ADD-derailed or just plain lazy if you can’t find 10, 20 or
even 50 titles worth hollering each year.

        So as we wrote 12 months ago in this
space, please feel free to slap that person standing next to you who is griping
about not hearing anything good this year. Then ask us sometime about trying to
pare down a list of some 200-odd worthy new releases (and that 200 was trimmed
from the more than 3,000 CDs – we don’t count digital files; there were
probably another 1,000 of those – sent to BLURT in 2011) into a manageable Top
50. Okay, technically it’s a Top 51, because we’ve got a separate Album of the
Year and Artist of the Year.

        We’ve tried to factor in the fave raves
of our 50+ contributing writers, the best-album picks from our readership in
our informal year-end readers’ poll, and sundry less-quantifiable measures that
our highly skilled team of office interns employed in order to arrive at that
Top 50/51. But in the end, we don’t take it all that seriously, because we’ve
been doing this year-end stuff long enough to know that (a) our list is prone
to change within five minutes of publishing it; and (b) the only folks who read
these lists are the ones who write them, music publicists trawling for content
for their next press releases, and maybe an aggregator or two. The artists
themselves are too busy thinking about their next projects, their upcoming
tours, paying the rent, etc., to worry about whether or not they land in someone’s ephemeral year-end roundup.

        Bottom line: no excess navel gazing
here; no what everything means, maaan… from
your friendly neighborhood BLURT. Here’s our list – let’s do this. (Fifteen Honorable
Mentions appear at the end.)

 

[See also, tomorrow: Revenge of the Writers, wherein the BLURT staffers
and contributors submit their individual lists of 2011 picks ‘n’ pans. And if
you want to compare these lists with last year’s, check out our Top 50 of 2010, or (if you dare) our Writers’ Picks for 2010.
]

 

***

 

ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Tom Waits – Bad As Me (Anti-)

Contributing Editor A.D. Amorosi writes: Ever since Tom Waits dropped the jazz-bo Small Change piano man routine, his work has become a cheap carnival of souls haunted by
chain-rattling characters as brashly disturbing as his claustrophobic
arrangements and melancholy melodies. On Bad
As Me
his songs find their center
immediately and stick like a record’s skip. The insistent mess of percussive
banjo, oinking guitars and huffy harmonicas that is
“Chicago”; the wheezing organs, steel wool drums of “Raise Right Man”; the
tinkling ghost piano and whammy bar’s bend on the softly spun “Talking at the
Same Time”; onto these Waits coughs and wheedles while espousing his delirious
gospel’s daily absolutions.

 

 

 

 

        Meanwhile, for “Get Lost” a vocally
trembling Waits and company (which includes Keith Richards and Les Claypool)
re-imagines “96 Tears” as a Suicide song. Speaking of Keith Richards, there’s a
Stones-namechecking “Satisfied.” And as with every great Waits album, there’s a
softly Irish seasick shanty as heartbreaking as a Montgomery Clift glance and as melodic as any Sammy Kahn ballad-here,
album closer “New Year’s Eve” which quotes “Auld Lang Syne”
so seamlessly, it’s as if Waits penned it himself.

 

 

 

 

ARTIST OF THE YEAR: tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l (4AD)

Contributor Max Blau
writes:
It’s hard to imagine how Merrill Garbus could’ve had a better 2011.
The tUnE-yArDs frontwoman released an eclectic-pop masterpiece with her
sophomore effort, grew tremendously as a performer and garnered a reputation as
one of indie-rock’s most dynamic figures around. Not bad for someone who not
too long ago resisted the idea of a career as a professional musician.

        In some
ways w h o k i l l feels
like a culmination of what she started with 2009’s BiRd-BrAiNs, in terms of properly recording her work. And as
dynamic as tUnE-yArDs is on record, the live show has this whole other
powerful component to it. It’s almost like watching a song be constructed
in the moment during a concert. Yet
even with all the year-end accolades, she believes that there’s plenty of work
left to be done. That’s not to say she remains unhappy about her progress, but
rather she’s trying to take the good and the bad in stride when reflecting upon
her work. (Read Blau’s interview with Garbus here.)

 

 

 

—————ALL THE REST——————

 

 

2: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Here We Rest
(Lightning Rod)

WE SAID:  As Here We Rest unfolds, it’s
hard not to think of an earlier, equally complex meditation on how people feel
and act when they find themselves at the ends of their ropes during troubled or
desperate times – Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness At the Edge of Town.
This is not to overstate the case by saddling Isbell with the fatal “young
Springsteen tag” (much as The Boss himself was hyped, early in his career,
as yet another “young Dylan”); despite certain key age/résumé
similarities between the two men at their respective stages of development, the
2011 musical milieu remains vastly different from that of 1978. But the Isbell
record is, in a word (or several), a huge artistic achievement, and on multiple
levels: the lyrics are evocative, emotional, and multifaceted; the music
itself, deftly arranged, in archetypal tight-but-loose fashion; and the whole
thing resonates and lingers in the mind long after the disc has spun. You’ll
want to play it over and over and over.

 

 

 

 

 

3: PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Vagrant)

WE SAID: Things are
bad. Worse than they were when she was whipping her hair around her face
screaming “Sheela-Na-Gig” back in ‘92. The key to Let England
Shake
is that you must think something when you walk away from it. It’s
her least passive listen. For all its saxophone’s honk (the only low end here),
floating high-voiced whispers and thrumming autoharp-filled tones touched by
oddly funny sampled riffs (“Istanbul,
Not Constantinople”? Really?!?), the boldest vision within its
stark white walls – her choice in cover art – is that Harvey has finally opened
herself up to the un-scrubbed society at large; the political ramifications of
war and the ages-old ruminations on peace.

 

 

 

 

 

4: Wild Flag – Wild
Flag (Merge)

WE SAID: Take two-thirds of Sleater-Kinney, add the helm of
Helium and a key role player from the Minders and you have Wild Flag. But
although they may have cut their teeth in the nineties, their project doesn’t
sound like an attempt to reclaim
past glories. While the kick of recognition of the distinctive styles and
contributions of each member is part of the pleasure, the album sounds like the
product of a group, of a powerful force of equals. And it’s all the better for
it.

 

 

 

 

 

5: Black Keys – El Camino (Nonesuch)

WE SAID: There are
(producer) Danger Mouse noises to contend with, but nothing gets in the way of
the fast danceable pulse and staggeringly messed up guitar-and-vocal attack
arranged by Dan Auerbach as if he were taking Savannah (by way of Tiger
Mountain) by siege. Auerbach talks as much trash as he plays, and El Camino offers, like they say in Spinal Tap, black, lean mean T-Rex-ish blues
party pop that spirals nearly out of control.

 

 

 

 

 

6: War On Drugs – Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian)

WE SAID: Singer/songwriter/bandleader
Adam Granduciel seems to be less concerned with individual tracks than with
creating a holistic atmosphere, a tactic not often played in the current
climate of blog-friendly one-offs. Once
again, The War on Drugs have crafted an album built not upon flash or novelty,
but a new take on traditional rock and roll that is always pushing forward.

 

 

 

 

 

7: Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes (LL
Recordings/Atlantic)

WE SAID: Emotional
lows and highs, mirrored by the bipolar quality of the music swinging
restlessly between light/airy and dark/heavy, carry the listener along through
his or her own catharsis. When it arrives, in the form of a musical and lyrical
coda that’s like a smirking punchline, it’s profound, and profoundly
unsettling. Wounded Rhymes will leave you exactly that – wounded.

 

 

 

 

 

8: Charles Bradley –
No Time for Dreaming (Daptone)

WE SAID: Brooklyn-based soul man Bradley had to wait until
he was in his ‘50s and walk a long, hard road to get to his debut. It’s a
record top heavy with anxiety, pain, heart-ache and loss, Bradley’s voice big,
rough and deeply soulful. It’s not a pretty soul voice – no Otis Redding, Smokey Robinson or Stevie Wonder here – but it
perfectly fits and embodies his material.

 

 

 

 

 

9: Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica
(Software/Mexican Summer)

WE SAID: Synth wizard Daniel Lopatkin injects a sense of
rhythmic play into Replica, turning the boundless, water-colored
landscapes of last year’s Returnal, just like that, into kinetic sculptures. There’s a dose of the otherworldly in these
evocative tracks, but laced, in all but a few cases, with recognizable bits of
ordinary life. Ultimately, a hint of transcendence emerges, pure rays of
sensation shining through an inchoate world.

 

 

 

 

 

10. Beastie Boys –
Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 (Capitol)

WE SAID: The interpersonal tragedy of death and disease is
met with a cream pie, fart riddles and the band’s most innovative sounding
record in years. The rhymers head back to the old school to wreak lyrical havoc
atop the sort of dense grooves that made Check Your Head swing and
analog electro-synth kicks that made Hello Nasty do the Robot.

 

 

 

 

 

11: JC Brooks &
the Uptown Sound – Want More
(Bloodshot)

WE SAID: JC Brooks and the Uptown
Sound are finding their own place in the soul revivalist pantheon of recent years.
They keep the party rolling with some sizzling dance grooves, some swooning
falsetto vocals, some short and impeccable guitar breaks, and a whole lot of
energy. Want More delivers some fine goods, but also lives up to the
title; the best songs here leave us wanting more like them.

 

 

 

12: The Ettes –
Wicked Will (Fond Object/Krian/Fontana/Sympathy)

WE SAID: The Nashville-based band imprints its own
distinctive, tuneful personality on every track. Moving back to the
quick-and-dirty presentation of their early work (a by-product of frontwoman
Coco Hames’ busbabe’s holiday in the Parting Gifts with the Reigning Sound’s
Greg Cartwright, perhaps; the album also finds them reunited with British
producer Liam Watson), the Ettes keep Wicked Will simple and memorable,
no matter which of their musical facets they choose to flash.

 

 

 

13: The Roots – undun
(Def Jam)

WE SAID: Their tenth proper LP, and finest work since Things
Fall Apart
, contains the Roots’ most challenging and soulful jams yet, a
foray into concept album territory.
Anyone who wants to hear the graceful way by which hip-hop can age should add
it to their collections right away.

 

 

 

14: Jesse Sykes &
the Sweet Hereafter – Marble Son (Station Grey/Thirty Tigers)

WE SAID: They fold layers of gauzy acid folk, swirling
psychedelic guitar noise and haunted atmospheres into Sykes’ droning Americana,
as if she discovered LSD while hanging out with the art metal overlords in Sunn
0))) and Boris. For all the new sonic waves undulating through this record,
however, the band’s distinctive identity still shines – there’s no mistaking Marble
Son
for the work of anyone else, and it’s the ability to evolve while
still remaining true to core values that makes this group great.

 

 

 

15: Femi Kuti –
Africa For Africa (Knitting Factory)

WE SAID: His sociopolitical stance is right out front in the
title, and that’s before you get to blunt songs like “Can’t Buy Me,”
“Bad Government” and “Politics in Africa.”
And like his father, Femi has mastered the art of Afrobeat, his jazzy, guitar
and horn-driven trance funk riding the groove of undulating bass, percolating
percussion and liquid melodies all the way to the Shrine.

 

 

 

16: Feist – Metals
(Cherrytree/Interscope)

WE SAID: Metals is not her rock move, but it is
certainly more intense and at times percussive than either 2004’s Let It
Die
or 2007’s The Reminder… a surprising fascination with drums
pumped to the forefront of the mix, sometimes disruptively.
The album is interested in dualities: the good and the bad, the loud and the soft, the bitter
and the sweet.

 

 

 

17: Panda Bear –
Tomboy (Paw Tracks)

WE SAID: Throughout the Animal Collective releases, Noah Lennox
has nurtured his newest vocal style – all adjectives synonymous with
“soaring” – and it’s no surprise he’s still infatuated with it on Tomboy.
And though stripped-down in terms of sampling, each song is still heavily
doused in reverb: the formula remains cosmically sweet.

 

 

 

18: Warren Haynes –
Man In Motion (Stax)

WE SAID: Haynes has long demonstrated a deeply soulful side
to him, particularly in the evolution of his vocal style, with touches of
Memphian funk and gospel, Muscle Shoals R&B and N’awlins gumbo frequently
evidenced. Those music meccas figure prominently – spiritually – on the album,
which is hotwired from start to finish.

 

 

 

19: Arrica Rose and
the …’s – Let Alone Sea
(pOprOck)

WE SAID: Warm, natural, casually excellent, this LA
songwriter’s third full-length feels as soft and worn-in as an old tee-shirt.
Her dusky alto is sure and true, fluttering a little at the edges, and there’s
an Americana
ease to these melodies, a bit of twang and blues slipped into their clean pop
contours, though all that is layered over with a dreamy bit of gauze.

 

 

 

20: The Joy
Formidable – The Big Roar (Atlantic)

WE SAID: The Big Roar expands the sonic range of
the Welsh group’s eight-song mini-album, A Balloon Called Moaning. Yet
despite the trio’s robust attack, there is something singer-songwriterly about
its music: Ritzy Bryan’s cryptic,
personal lyrics.

 

 

 

21: Bonnie ‘Prince’
Billy – Wolfroy Comes To Town (Drag
City)

WE SAID: A private air hangs over these Americana-toned
reveries, the guitar notes picked out of the air, thoughtfully but
provisionally, as if others could have come just as easily, the voices twined
casually. Spareness in the arrangements only accents the songs’ mournful,
self-examining tone, as Will Oldham ponders man’s evil, life’s shortness and
God’s evident absence.

 

 

 

22: Reigning Sound –
Abdication… (Scion/AV)

WE SAID: A digital-only album from the Asheville, NC,
garage kings, who this time around emphasis their pop and soul roots, mainman
Greg Cartwright additionally “reining in” his signature vocal scream for a
sleeker delivery. But don’t worry, longtime fans – there’s plenty of Nuggets-worthy moments to be gleaned
within the grooves. Nobody’s abdicating nothin’ here.

 

 

 

23: Destroyer –
Kaputt (Merge)

WE SAID: A slickly elegant sound indebted to late ‘70s /
early ‘80s bands like Steely Dan, Prefab Sprout and the Blue
Nile. Everything’s awash in undulating synths, fretless bass, horn
solos drenched in reverb, and post-disco rhythms, often programmed. It’s all
very pretty, very accessible, very elegant, very quiet storm. And very
surprising on a Destroyer album.

 

 

 

24: Those Darlins – Screws Get Loose (Oh Wow
Dang)

WE SAID: While the [female-rock] doo wop revival has become
increasingly contagious the past few years (Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls,
Frankie Rose and the Outs), there’s something decidedly different in the strain
borne by Those Darlins’: a feverish southern swagger that’s as un-coifed as it
is manageable. It’s one of those interspatial borderlines that keeps listeners
guessing.

 

 

 

25: Wilco – The Whole
Love (dBpm)

WE SAID: It’s key to note that these aren’t mere Xeroxes of
previous Wilco eras. Everything about the band on The Whole Love is
tucked tight in the pocket: the songwriting feels laser-focused; the playing is
professional and evocative; the arrangements and accents
compelling, judicious and always in service of the song.

 

 

 

26: Tinariwen –
Tassili + 10:1 (Anti-)

Known as masters of the indigenous North African genre
called “Touareg,” the group invited members of TV on the Radio, Wilco
and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to guest. Yet the album isn’t a homogenized take
on Third World folk traditions. Playing off
some spare native instrumentation, trademark chants, and songs sung in their
native tongue, it’s an exotic aural adventure.

 

 

 

27: Beirut – The Rip
Tide (Pompeii)

WE SAID: The
Rip Tide
is moderate in ambition. But it portrays a single, glowing
moment, and it seals over that “world music” pigeonhole. Two birds
with one stone, one album with nine tracks. Few chords, few lines, and few
concepts: simplicity is the ultimate
sophistication, right?

 

 

 

28: Real Estate –
Days (Domino)

WE SAID: Though they’ve only existed since 2009 (when member
Martin Courtney, who is also in Titus Andronicus, returned to his native New
Jersey after college and joined some high school pals), Real Estate have slowly
carved out their own mark with discerning pop music fans via low-key,
intelligent songs. Days is a fine batch of bittersweet pop songs that
are nearly impossible to ignore.

 

 

 

29: Black Joe Lewis
& the Honeybears – Scandalous (Lost Highway)

WE SAID: Like Albert Collins trapped in James Brown’s body,
Black Joe Lewis dishes up heaping hot helpings of dirty funky-butt blues on Scandalous.
The Austin
singer/guitar slinger’s second album bypasses the brainstem and beelines
straight for the hips and gut, letting the grooves and guitars carry the
message.

 

 

 

30: Bon Iver – Bon
Iver (Jagjaguwar)

WE SAID: By adding a full band, Justin Vernon creates a
rich, melodic depth that
demonstrates a positive departure from his previous acoustic dependency. The
new arrangement lines up almost seamlessly with the overall lyrical tone of the
album, as Vernon’s
soft, falsetto cry seems to echo a universal internal struggle and longing for
escape from oneself.

 

 

 

31: The Kills – Blood
Pressures (Domino)

WE SAID: “Take no prisoners” has been the message and the mantra
in The Kills’ evolution thus far, yet for Blood Pressures a kindler/gentler
Kills surfaces in places. It’s a deliciously schizoid traipse through the duo’s
record collection, dipping into everything from motorik trance-rock
and glutinous glam to ‘80s-throwback New Wave and mutant girl-group pop.

 

 

 

32: Howe Gelb & A
Band of Gypsies – Alegrias (Fire)

WE SAID: Giant Sand’s Gelb collaborates with various Spanish
Flamenco guitar players and you can feel the Spanish heat [on certain tracks].
Elsewhere, the beauty lies in the contrasts – luminous nylon-string runs, a
fuzzy Crazy Horse feedback implosion, jazz chords over subtle beats.

 

 

 

33:
Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost (True Panther Sounds)

WE SAID: Girls perfect a graphic sophomore effort with the
literary intricacy of Nabakov and the lovelorn, Texas-Panhandle rock ‘n’ roll
flavor of Buddy Holly.  Rooted deeply in
cold hard reality, vocalist Christopher Owens’ existence trumps any work of
fiction and makes for wonderfully wound-up storytelling throughout.

 

 

 

34: HTRK – Work
(Work, Work) (Ghostly International)

WE SAID: In an unlikely mesh of lo-fidelity production and gripping headphone
playback, HTRK (pronounced “hate rock”) explore muddled electro/organic
noisepop. Vocalist Jonnie Standish partly talks, partly sings, with both
configurations coded in watery delay on this droning, comely record. Dark,
lingering and beautiful.

 

 

 

35: Tommy Keene –
Behind the Parade (Second Motion)

WE SAID: Keene’s almost casual mastery of post-‘60s/postpunk
melodies and hooks, smart, humanist lyrics and janglecrunch guitar wizardry
means his signature sound is intact on his tenth LP – it would be too
predictable if it didn’t always sound so fresh. Behind the Parade lobs
another handful of Keene
klassiks into the katalogue.

 

 

 

36: Drive-By Truckers
– Go Go Boots (ATO)

WE SAID: The Truckers have once again turned to their
hometown for inspiration, tipping their hat to the country soul made famous by
Muscle Shoals while covering two songs by the late Eddie Hinton, one of the
town’s greatest talents. It’s perhaps their most well-rounded effort since The
Dirty South
and further solidifies their place among America’s best rock bands.

 

 

 

37: My Brightest
Diamond – All Things Will Unwind (Asthmatic Kitty)

WE SAID: Bravery may be a recurring theme on My Brightest
Diamond’s newest release, fitting considering the woman behind the project,
Shara Worden, knows a thing or two about valor. Only a few, the gifted few,
could courageously puree together a blend of cabaret, orchestra, and highbrow
lyricism in a world still so heavily dependent on the basic rock-drums-bass method.

 

 

 

38: Foo Fighters –
Wasting Light (RCA)

WE SAID: On the Foo Fighters’ seventh record, Dave Grohl and
band have created a near perfect rock record for every Generation X kid now
settled into life as a mature adult burdened with a mortgage, kids and the mind-numbingly
mundane job they swore they’d never have. Though the band has made some solid
albums in the past, Wasting Light is nearly spot-on from the opening
track to the very end.

 

 

 

39: Wooden Shjips –
West (Thrill Jockey)

WE SAID: When San
Francisco psych-rockers plug in, they set the controls
for the pineal of the sun, and shift into interstellar overdrive in their
ongoing quest to prove Professor Reed’s theory that electricity comes from
other planets. The Wooden Shjips are the real deal, and West gets
about as good, and as far out, as it gets.

 

 

 

40: Atlas Sound –
Parallax (4AD)

WE SAID: As the original outlet for Deerhunter’s Bradford
Cox, Atlas Sound has always leaned toward the strange, fuzzy and abstract.
Though Cox maintains his signature subtle desolation, he’s more self-assured
than ever this time. Gentle introspection – instead of the outright melancholy
he often exudes – paired with sway-worthy melodies make Parallax the
most listenable Atlas Sound album to date.

 

 

 

41: Anika – Anika
(Stones Throw)

WE SAID: [Reminiscent at times of Portishead’s] Dummy,
the overall musical feeling here is downtown NYC sometime around the late ’70s
and early ’80s, or perhaps The Clash’s experiments in disco and dub, or PIL’s
early deconstructed punk rock. Whatever the case, Anika’s Nico-esque vocals,
vaguely foreign accent intact, are appealing as she intones over a bevy of
minimal beats. The songs are complex in their emotion and unique in their
construction.

 

 

 

42: Josh T. Pearson –
Last of the Country Gentlemen (Mute)

WE SAID: Comprising mostly country-folk acoustic
balladeering, it’s not as sonically apocalyptic
as former band Lift To Experience’s The
Texas Jerusalem Crossroads,
but it’s no less devastating, emotionally
speaking, featuring complex Buckley-meets-Fahey numbers and violin-strewn
antebellum folk.

 

 

 

43: Mountain Goats –
All Eternals Deck (Merge)

WE SAID: The Goats set emotional unease to driving acoustic
rock, lush pop, dynamic piano rock and John Darnielle’s standard folk/pop. What
sets Darnielle apart from other misery-mongers is both his superior sense of
songcraft and his conviction that all will be well – or at least better – if
you work through things.

 

 

 

44: Otep – Atavist
(Victory)

WE SAID: An utterly uncompromising melange of nü-metal and
21st century Prog, the 5th album from these L.A.-based
pyro artists still manages to throw a curveball by way of a riveting Doors cover. Which
makes sense: charismatic, howling/growling frontwoman Otep Shamaya is all about
challenge. Further, her poetry,
fierce populism and political activism marks her a role model in 2011 as surely
as Patti Smith was decades ago.

 

 

 

45: Tycho – Dive
(Ghostly International)

WE SAID: Tycho’s Scott Hansen explores the warmest corners
of electronic music, using well-worn vintage synths to float dreamy melodies
over insistent stutters and clatters of percussion. He splices organic sounds –
scratchy acoustic guitars, the distant boom of bass, human voices – into seamless,
otherworldly soundscapes.

 

 

 

46: Iceage – New
Brigade (What’s Your Rupture?)

WE SAID: This 12-track typhoon is exactly the kick in the
ass our sorry punk community needs in the wake of Jay Reatard’s untimely death.
It’s the sound of a band in the center of a sonic peninsula where English
post-punk, Eastern European goth and North American hardcore meet.

 

 

 

47: Dengue Fever –
Cannibal Courtship (Fantasy/Concord)

WE SAID: It retains everything that has made Dengue Fever so
distinctive – the chattering garage-influenced guitar licks, the
Farfisa-sounding keyboards, the minor-key horn charts, the intricate yet
perfectly accented rhythms, and of course the ethereal vocals of Cambodian
vocalist Chhom Nimol. But it sounds entirely contemporary in a world in which
indie rock bands can win Grammy Awards.

 

 

 

48: David Kilgour and
the Heavy Eights – Left by Soft (Merge)

WE SAID: Beautifully understated, tinged with psychedelic
colors and harmonies, amplified to rock volume, but relaxed to the point that
you might miss how well it is put together, Left By Soft is another
milestone for the New
Zealand artist. He has a way of wrapping
well-structured songs in clouds and auras of atmosphere, so that their hooks
and melodies dawn on you gradually, rather than slapping you across the face.

 

 

 

49: Fleet Foxes –
Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)

WE SAID: While their contemporaries often dabble loosely
with the nü-folk tag, Fleet Foxes re-imagine those sepia trappings without
wholly redefining them. The inherent orthodoxy of their approach finds acoustic
strumming, fiddles, mandolin and dulcimer fleshing out the arrangements… Such
is the mesmerizing quality of these songs and the spectral treatment they’re
accorded. Credit the band’s ability to offer reverence and circumspect even
while etching a spectral aura all their own.

 

 

 

50: Wild Beasts –
Smother (Domino)

WE SAID: Hayden Thorpe’s falsetto flutters like a
hummingbird, swoops and curls like a multi-colored kite in the wind. Smother is the Wild Beasts’ most restrained, refined effort yet, paring down hot-house
atmospheres to lush essentials… and finding ways for Thorpe’s wild fantasias to
work as artistry rather than oddity.

 

 

 

*****

 

15 HONORABLE MENTIONS:

 

MekonsAncient and Modern (Sin/Bloodshot); Dennis CoffeyDennis Coffey (Strut); John
Wesley Harding
The Sound of His Own
Voice
(Yep Roc); Crooked FingersBreaks In the Armor (Merge); Floating ActionDesert Etiquette (Park The Van); Bevis
Frond
The Leaving of London (Woronzow); SBTRKTSBTRKT (Young
Turks); SiskiyouKeep Away the Dead (Constellation); Dawes Nothing Is Wrong (ATO); Megafaun Megafaun (Home Tapes); Neon IndianEra Extrana (Static Tongues); Vex
Ruffin
Crash Course EP (Stone’s
Throw); The Baseball ProjectVolume 2: High and Inside (Yep Roc); Ry CooderPull Up Some Dust and Sit Down (Nonesuch/Perro Verde); Paper Tiger Me Have Fun (Boy Girl Recordings)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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