Ed McMenamin: Best records of 2011, so far
We’re half way around the sun, again, folks. It’s a distance that has an uncanny affect on music nerds: We feel cosmically possessed to chronicle which albums provided the best space-travel music.
Here, in order, are my favorite records of the year so far:
1. Tune-Yards “W h o k i l l”
Merrill Garbus takes a gimmick (sampling and looping her own voice) and built actual songs with killer horns, Afropop percussion, ukulele, bass and guitar to make the half-year’s best and most original album.
2. Yuck “Yuck”
UK brats use equal parts Teenage Fanclub, Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. for their debut, throwing back to a decade we all wish it still was: the ’90s.
3. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart “Belong”
Twee American boys and girls move from the ’80s noise pop (The Jesus and Mary Chain, Black Tambourine) of their debut to make an album indebted to the Smashing Pumpkins, without losing their earnest vulnerability. Hey, remember Silversun Pickups? This is better.
4. Fleet Foxes “Helplessness Blues”
Singer-songwriter Robin Pecknold averted a sophomore slump by ditching a whole batch of songs originally penned for this album. His band kept fans on ice with the three-year gap between records, but it was worth it — “Helplessness Blues” overflows with folk mysticism and powerful vocal harmonies.
5. Smith Westerns “Dye it Blond”
Mott the Hoople’s poppy brand of glam-rock is the obvious reference point for these young Chicagoans’ hazy second LP.
6. The Decemberists “The King is Dead”
Portland’s folk-rock institution ditches their temporary foray into concept albums and prog-rock to turn in their tightest set, finding inspiration in early R.E.M, Tom Petty and country.
7. The Antlers “Burst Apart”
Like “Hospice,” the band’s 2009 opus on loss and coping, “Burst Apart” is an atmospheric slow-burn built around swirling keyboards, subtle guitarwork and singer Peter Silberman’s heartbreaking falsetto. It’s best enjoyed with headphones.
8. Toro Y Moi “Underneath the Pine”
Chaz Bundick brings the disco-and-funk indebted dance jams via live instrumentation, largely leaving behind the synthesizers of his debut.
9. Kurt Vile “Smoke Ring For My Halo”
Scraggly singer-songwriter Kurt Vile has a knack for burrowing in over time, and he is lucky to inherit the quiet sneer handed down by Bob Dylan and Lou Reed. This record’s a grower, but you’ll keep coming back once the melodies reveal themselves.
10. F----- Up “David Comes To Life”
Pink Eyes and crew turn out another set of intelligent hardcore. The new record is a concept album, and, like the best concept albums, the individual songs don’t collapse under the weight of the central conceit.
The best of the rest
Wye Oak “Civilian”
J. Mascis “Several Shades of Why”
Radiohead “The King of Limbs”
Panda Bear “Tomboy”