There’s no doubt that list-making in music criticism has gotten a little bit out of control. (If you have any doubt, check out Largehearted Boy’s aggregation of the end-of-year lists for 2010 here.)
Still, what’s a better vessel for letting someone know of a few albums he/she should check out than putting them in a list? And, hey, making “best of” lists is pretty damn fun.
So, here’s a completely subjective round-up of the best records of the year, so far. The first week of July is the cut-off for releases, otherwise the new Pictureplane or Zomby could easily be here.
Check ‘em out and feel free to big-ups your favorites of 2011 in the comments section below.
1. Bill Callahan, “Apocalypse” (Drag City) – There’s no window dressing on this one. Callahan has crafted a minimalistic record for these austere times: a man’s ocean-deep voice and his guitar rule the proceedings, sometimes with the aid of a couple percussive hits or a key flare. All the while, his lyrics are perplexing, unexpected, literary and enthralling.
2. Tune-Yards, “w h o k i l l” (4AD) – In one fell swoop, Merrill Garbus’ singular experiment has gone from eccentric freak show to bashing pop explosion. Surveying a vast soundscape, “w h o k i l l” is accessible enough but still bounces off of a feral, far-out psychedelic fringe. A William Burroughs novel as music.
3. Cass McCombs, “Wit’s End” (Domino) – McCombs, here, is the Van Goghian tortured genius. Whether coasting through a spare “County Line” or tickling the baroque keys of “Memory Stain,” something is gloriously twisted within this cat. The results are as gratifying as they are puzzling.
4. James Blake, “James Blake” (A&M / Atlas) – The best track on James Blake’s self-titled, spare dubstep debut might just be his cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love.” It says something: Blake knows how to manipulate sounds to his — and by extension, our — benefit, whether original or not.
5. Wye Oak, “Civilian” (Merge) – As substantial and capacious as the dead tree from whence they procured their band’s name, Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack’s rock ‘n’ roll has been overlooked long enough. Wasner’s weathered, adroit croon is worth investigation alone.
6. Battles, “Gloss Drop” (Warp) – Battles lost Tyondai Braxton in the past year, but the group hasn’t lost its jumpy, jagged math-rock prowess. As if passing the torch, Gary Numan even shows up for a hot minute.
7. Fucked Up, “David Comes to Life” (Matador) – A rager with nuance, the latest effort from everybody’s favorite sweaty Canadians is as epic as punk can get. The conceptual “David Comes to Life” partakes in a storied lineage from Hüsker Dü’s “Zen Arcade” to Titus Andronicus’s “The Monitor,” from last year.
8. Lia Ices, “Grown Unknown” (Jagjaguwar) – Ices basks in the mysterious, from her name — taken from a Brooklyn gelateria — to her sultry and whimsical vocals. Her sound feels expansive yet intimate at the same time.
9. The Antlers, “Burst Apart” (Frenchkiss) – Peter Silberman and his crew aptly named its new one, which spreads its wings past his stark, dark 2009 album, “Hospice.” “Burst Apart” showcases songs with different directional coordinates that all wind up crossing the finish line at beauty.
10. Panda Bear, “Tomboy” (Paw Tracks) – This one doesn’t touch 2007’s “Person Pitch,” but not much does. “Tomboy” excels in its heavy rhythms and kinetic ruptures. Check out “Afterburner” if you haven’t had the pleasure yet.
Click here to view another list — “The 11 best marijuana moments in music history.”