**Notes: The following list is presented in alphabetical order. A longer, ordered Best Of list will be presented at the end of the year**
James Blake---James Blake
The perfect answer to anyone who would accuse electronic music of always being without heart, James Blake's self-titled first-try takes the bombast that people often associate Dub-Step and replaces it with space and subtlety. Blake, a 22-year-old Brit, has always had quite the buzz swirling around him, but his earlier, sample-heavy offerings like CMYK have always been easier for me to appreciate than enjoy. Imagine my surprise, then, when Blake's self-titled debut turned out to be one of the greatest singer-songwriter albums to come out for quite some time. The White boy has soul, the achingly true feeling of his vocal delivery bolstered by a variety of forms of auto-tune, soaring falsetto flying high above each track's minimal, hypnotizing beat. The album as a whole sounds something like if Bon Iver's Justin Vernon lent his vocals to the sparse, night-time instrumentation of The XX, all cycled through the lap-top beats of Thom Yorke's The Eraser. If that sounds like excessive praise, then you probably haven't heard the album yet. Pretty easily the best debut of 2011 thus far.
The world at large didn't go as crazy over this One as I did last April, but who needs them? I've got no problem sticking with my guns, especially when it concerns such a lush, imaginative, involving album as Tomboy. Like much of Animal Collective's catalogue, Tomboy makes a virtue out of its ability to immerse, echoing sounds bouncing off of psychedelic walls, intermixed with Noah Lennox's ever-warm and inviting croon. It's a disc that stays in the same sonic world from start to finish, but but manages to explore a plethora of different locations within it. If you don't believe me, check out the juxtaposition between the opening Two tracks: Opener You Can Count On Me has the warm glow and feeling of being hugged by a long lost friend, whereas follow-up Tomboy is an utterly militant march with throbbing sounds and grinding guitars. As always, any Animal Collective output is going to be most enjoyed by those with a taste for the trippy, but there's simply no denying that peppy, heartening bound of Last Night at Jetty, or the sea-soaked affirmation of Surfer's Hymn. Yeah, I pretty much love this One from start to finish, and nobody is going to convince me otherwise.
Smith Westerns---Dye It Blonde
One thing that the world of music can never get enough of is a killer guitar riff. How lucky we are, then, that Dye It Blonde can honestly claim to having One per track. Smith Westerns is a band that needs no abundance of explanation: They are a particularly great incarnation of a sound we're all familiar with. Their simple tunes are immediate and ridiculously catchy, a slimmer, less epic version of some classic rock bands like Zeppelin and Cream. Dye It Blonde literally waits less than Three second before launching into its first glorious axe-led melody, the whistle-ready guitar part for Weekend being matched in ear-worm readiness by just about everything that follows. If you like old fashioned rock and roll, be sure to give this a spin or Two.
TV on the Radio---Nine Types of Light
Contrary to popular belief, growing old doesn't always have to mean becoming lame, a fact that TV on the Radio's newest can readily attest to. Sure, Nine Types of Light is noticeably less ambitious than any of the band's other albums, but it's quite possibly their most immediately accessible. The party starts right away with Second Song, a celebratory number complete with blaring horn section and dance-floor-ready pulse. From here, it's One killer track after another, championed by the earnest and surprisingly effecting love ballad Will Do. The band is showing its age, no doubt, but they're doing it with much more grace than your average rock outfit. Nine Types of Light doesn't just bode well for the future of TV on the Radio, it sounds great right now.
The Weeknd---House of Balloons
If you take nothing else from this post, know this: If you like R&B music, this one is a must. Singer Abel Tesfaye's voice could readily be described as mind-blowing, seemingly unaware of any note too high or any wail too heartfelt. Underneath his stellar croon lurks beats dark, haunting, and yet surprisingly danceable. Be sure not to burn the album for your Mom; House of Balloons is purely Rated-R, full of sexual imagery and rampant drug use, but the twisted undertones of the music are part of what makes it so immediately singular. If R. Kelly upped and decided that he wanted Burial to do the beats on his next album, this would likely be the outcome, though it's hard to imagine that those two would dream of repurposing Two different Beach House tracks for their beats. What's better? This Nine-track collection is available for free download via the group's own webpage, http://the-weeknd.com/. If you're the type who likes a little creepiness with their baby-making music, you're not going to want to miss this.