BEST OF 2011: Albums | Songs | EPs/Singles | Discoveries | Photos | Bootlegs
20. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
No album offered a better side this year than St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy. Its first four songs are the best the musician has ever done, an intricate weave of molten guitar work and spider-web synthesizers pierced by her dagger of a voice. Then it drives of a cliff, or at least beyond this writer’s tastes. If Clark can sustain the first half’s brilliance over a full LP, she could be the finest working artist we have; as is, Strange Mercy‘s close enough.
REVIEW | “Cruel”: MP3
19. Jill Andrews – The Mirror
The former Everybodyfields singer’s proper debut is what you’d expect: gentle, lovely alt-country that knows when to pick up the tempo. Her voice is as stark and blue as a Midwestern sky, and as equally ready to cloud over with sudden storms.
REVIEW | “Blue Sky”: MP3
18. Toro Y Moi – Underneath the Pine
Chaz Bundick’s too much the cipher, too seemingly pleased to be here to betray the artistic demons that haunt colleagues such as Bradford Cox; whether he has a record like Parallax seething inside him, it’s hard to know. But Underneath the Pine (and the spastic Freaking Out EP) reveals a musician intent on making progress, as equipped to translate ’70s pop and folk (see “How I Know,” perhaps the best Rundgren tribute since Jon Brion’s “Meaningless”) to the Spotify era as he is a voracious seeker of electronic groove. He feels like he’s on the verge. In the meantime, I’m not going anywhere.
REVIEW | “How I Know”: MP3
17. Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know
This list feels littered with imperfect records, but I’d rather have the mountainous highs of Marling’s third release than 12 tracks of oatmeal competence (No offense to oatmeal, I’m probably eating some right now). A Creature I Don’t Know leans too far into obscure mythology and bleak English trad-balladry to make this fulfill its rich Laurel Canyon potential, but when she arrives at the stunning Joni-esque gallop of “I Was Just a Card,” just try to keep up.
16. Puro Instinct – Headbangers in Ecstasy
Headbangers is indeed an ecstatic record, a 45-minute swirl that feels like forever in the best way. (The best way is drugs.) If the band oddly lost some of its luster in the hyper-competitive buzz rat race in recent months, that doesn’t dim the twinkling psychedelia of “California Shakedown” or “Stilyagi.”
“Lost at Sea”: MP3
15. Craft Spells – Idle Labor
It took the Captured Tracks approval stamp to get me through the early spins, but Idle Labor‘s plug-and-play melodies and bedroom ’80s vibes were well worth the effort. It’s dorky like John Cusack in Better Off Dead and just as lovelorn.
LIVE | “You Should Close the Door”: MP3
14. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lenses Alien
In a digital-dominated year when “guitar” almost sounds like a dirty word, Cymbals Eat Guitars have strapped on their axes and soldiered on. Lenses Alien touches on the ferocious influence of At the Drive-In alongside Elliott Smith and Modest Mouse even as it showcases the evolution of their own impressive sensibilities. Rock ‘n’ roll, you should know by now, will never die.
INTERVIEW | “Definite Darkness”: MP3
13. Geotic – Mend
Mend may be a throwaway freebie from a musician who wouldn’t even put his proper name on it, but Baths’ Will Wiesenfeld’s decaying guitar loop daydream is the most beautiful album I’ve heard all year.
REVIEW | “Find Your Peace”: MP3
12. Wild Beasts – Smother
Few bands seemed as sure of themselves this year as Wild Beasts, whose Smother feels as heavy and inexorable as a battle cruiser. To their credit, the band used its considerable prowess (and the powerful interplay of its dual frontmen) to finally make the sexy record Thom Yorke promised us almost a decade ago.
LIVE | REVIEW
11. Atlas Sound – Parallax
I think Bradford Cox always saves his best stuff for Atlas Sound, where it can live and breathe outside the padded walls of Deerhunter’s critical observation chamber. Under any name, his brilliance is undoubtable. Parallax is an ode to broken connections delivered in the universal language; what could be more artful than that?
REVIEW | “Te Amo”: MP3
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