The Top 25 Albums of 2011

12/21/2011 4:01 AM |

The Rip Tide
Key track: “Goshen”

We all like to think of Zach Condon as the 21-year-old kid consumed by wanderlust, but the truth is, he’s grown up, a fact reflected here by the refinement of the “more is better” philosophy that informed his earlier work. On paper, The Rip Tide is simply less: the arrangements not quite as fussy, the baroque instrumentation toned down, the reliance on piano raising the elegance quotient. But there’s still so much damn heart in his voice, proving that “refined” doesn’t have to mean boring.

Fleet Foxes
Helplessness Blues
Key Track: “Helplessness Blues”

In discussing the music of Fleet Foxes, people are forever invoking the band’s fondness for beards and their ever present flannel shirts, even before they invoke their acoustic guitars. The point of this is to drive home the idea that they produce a warm, comfortable and vaguely old-timey brand of folk-pop, and while this is no doubt true, it’s also not telling the whole story. Not anymore, anyway. Their second album, Helplessness Blues, is as warm and inviting as their debut, but it’s also grander in every way: the arrangements are more elaborate, the harmonies more intricate and the subject matter—figuring out one’s place in the world, basically—a good deal heavier. You thought they couldn’t improve, but then they did.

Wye Oak
Key Track: “Civilian”

It’s always exciting when a young band puts everything together. Traces of greatness could be heard on If Children and The Knot, but it wasn’t until this year’s Civilian that Wye Oak, made up of singer-guitarist Jenn Wasner and drummer-keyboardist Andy Stack, made their first fully formed record. A sense of dusty, shoegaze-like darkness hangs over the songs, while the husky-voiced Wasner sings of the world’s “terror quiet calm.” It’s a hauntingly beautiful album, half-whisper, half-howl, but all masterful.

w h o k i l l
Key Track: “Killa”

Aside from possessing sheer powerhouse vocal chords, Merrill Garbus (aka tUnEYArDs) made an album this year that brilliantly burst open wry, itching politics from a piñata of thrilling, rhythmic pop. Garbus is often described as having a “child’s sense of play,” which is fair but does little to communicate the extent of her genius—the looping, the timing, the lyrical content, the flights of jazzy dissonance.
w h o k i l l, from its stomping and howling down to its own sweet sensuality, easily makes one of the most thrilling albums of the year.

Eleanor Friedberger
Last Summer
Key Track:“Owl’s Head Park”

One half of the Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor Friedberger has more than enough swagger to make it on her own. She sing-talks her way through her first solo effort, breathlessly telling stream of consciousness stories over a writhing pulse of funky, melodic bass. She narrates what seems like a daily log of Brooklyn life, using understatement, weird space sound effects, and unsubtle injections of reverb to illustrate a personal time at once optimistic and unsettling. And it sounds relatable, to boot, which could be the most audacious thing about it.

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