Best of 2011! Several months later

Hello all! We figured we’d throw out a much-belated ‘best of 2011’ kind of list. It is nice to figure out what music from 2011 really rocked out, with enough time for it to settle in and really prove itself, as much as an extra 6 months will allow. So, here are our picks, in no particular order:

Brown Bird – “Salt for Salt”:  The now-RI duo really know how to crank into a full-on, heavy gypsy groove with their new(ish) lineup. MorganEve and David (plus the occasional friend/relative) form as tight a unit as any duo we’ve seen, and even though they’re waaaay off the radar – and the tempo’s not 100% on a song – the music here is so different and diverse, we guarantee you’ll be aching for more. If you can’t appreciate the dark color of “Bilgewater” et al, then perhaps you should stop listening to teenybop and just grow up already. This is what grownups listen to.

St. Vincent – “Strange Mercy”: This is what grownups listen to when they want to impress other grownups. On her third full-length, “Miss Vincent” has tamed some of her wilder electronic bizarr-ity and throws in a small handful of so-called “pop” genre into the mix. One of the results is “Cruel,” which is the kind of song we sink our teeth into: a blipping, blasting electronic fuzz that’s fun, catchy, and singable. We absolutely love that “Strange Mercy’s” lineage comes from weird songwriting (the opener is titled after an old French film) and conquers that vague space of “pop/rock” from what should be an impossible angle. Incredibly fresh.

Gillian Welch – “The Harrow and the Harvest”: Just plain gorgeous. Rest of review: Welch here is a master of simple, pared-down folk. Without a doubt. The fact that a banjo, guitar, and two voices captivate us on everything from “Hard Times” to “Tennessee” is simply astonishing. The music is low-key, very understated, and grabs your heart and soul. It begs experience to appreciate it. It ages like wine. Our only regret is not rating it higher than we did.

Middle Brother – “Middle Brother”: They’ve hit it here. It’s perfect. It’s fantastic country. That is to say, it swaggers: it’s arrogant and insincere and touching and deep. It’s that annoying a-hole who lives in the bar, and this album is that one night you listen to him and understand him for the hour. Vasquez, McCauley and Goldsmith complement each other like fire complements ice complements some other basic, essential element. It is important music of the decade, and it’s so enjoyable that you’ll probably not notice how brilliant it really is.

Wilco – “The Whole Love”: We didn’t review this one. We tried desperately to get it. So we’re going to break our “end of the year” rule and throw it in the top albums – it isn’t, after all, the end of the year anymore. Some other music review stated that it was their best album since “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” and even though they’re as trustworthy as a music review service (think “used car salesman”), they’re absolutely right. “The Whole Love” is Wilco’s best album since “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” We’re not positive this latest one is a classic (you know, a classic), but considering that our favorite song on here is the devastating 12-minute closer, just give it a couple years.

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