40. In the Grace of Your Love---The Rapture
Like a time machine back to a gaudy, fun yesteryear, In the Grace of Your Love is occupied by one 80's-leaning ear worm after another, simple hooks and guitar parts that stick in you head for days. Many songs impress, but its their epic single How Deep is Your Love? that does the real heavy lifting.
Despite their ability to pen a truly sturdy tune, it becomes clear from time to time that the boys from Destroyer just like to jam, and there's nothing wrong with that. Those who disagree would be wise to lend an ear to the breakdown at the end of Suicide Demo For Kara Walker, or just about any point in the title track, both fully loaded with guitars, synths, brass, and even some flute. Almost as goofy as it is groovy, and that's saying something.
38. Eye Contact---Gang Gang Dance
Gang Gang Dance is a strange band, and they're not even close to apologizing for it. From opening their latest with an 11:22 song (the glittering, enormous Glass Jar), to naming three of their tracks only with symbols (∞, ∞ ∞, and ∞ ∞ ∞), they're an ensemble focused on throwing one curve ball after another, the divisive voice of lead singer Lizzi Bougatsos right at the center of everything. The disc opens up with a voice declaring that, "It's everything time," and that description fits Eye Contact like a glove.
37. Badlands---Dirty Beaches
My very favorite 2011 entry into the strangely popular, 'Intentionally Poorly Recorded Rock,' sub-genre that's born such acts as Wavves and Times New Viking. You wouldn't get Dirty Beaches mixed up with those bands, though; They've got their own thing going on, highlighted by one-man-band Alex Zhang Hungtai's Elvis-esque croon, fuzzy and distantly buried underneath tons of glorious old-timey rock 'n' roll sludge.
36. We're New Here---Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie XX
It's a strange pairing: Young upstart Jamie XX, producer and member of The XX, remixing the final album of the late, great Gil Scott-Heron. Considering the audacity of the project, its a marvel how often it comes off just right, Jamie's killer beats chugging away under poignant and singled-out vocal samples from 2010's Scott-Heron disc I'm New Here. Listing to Jamie's youthful energy juxtaposed against Scott-Heron's time-tested truths gives the album a feeling of near transcendence, which is awfully high praise for a series of remixes.
35. Strange Mercy---St. Vincent
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Strange Mercy is one member of a 2011 four-pack of women who used their pens, guitars, and voices to attest to this fact (You'll have to wait to read my other three later in the week). Annie Lennox might be a small, fragile-looking lady, but one time hearing the massive chorus of Cheerleader will obliterate that notion, as will the damaged, cutting lyrics that run through-out the disc. Even if she has, in her own words, "Told whole lies with a half-smile," it sure doesn't sound like she's fibbing anymore.
34. Nine Types of Light---TV on the Radio
So, yeah, in hindsight, I can see that I over-rated this one a bit upon its release, but that doesn't mean the latest from TV on the Radio is anything less than a total winner. Though less experimental in nature than the band's past efforts, the more obvious song structures allow for simple tunes with earnest, loving sentiments, such as the lovelorn Will Do, or the swooning, warm You (please forgive the extended, albeit kind of awesome, introduction attached to the link). If this group has to begin showing their age, let's celebrate the fact that they're doing it gracefully.
33. The Whole Love---Wilco
After two straight disappointments (Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (The Album)), Wilco returns with their finest effort since 2004's A Ghost is Born. The Whole Love is not a particularly consistent listen, but its shining moments can be astounding, such as on opening wonder-track Art of Almost, or the jovial pop of I Might, Dawned on Me, and Born Alone. Throw is the unending beauty of a closer that is One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley's Boyfriend), and you've got a batch of songs that can sit proudly amongst the banner work of one of America's premiere bands of the last decade plus.
32. Dye it Blonde---Smith Westerns
Are you ready for fun? Because Smith Westerns sure is! Over the course of ten tracks and about five bajillion impossibly nifty guitar licks, Dye it Blonde establishes itself as one of the most purely joyful albums of the year, straight-forward, perfectly-streamlined Pop Rock that is nearly impossible to resist. Every song on here could be a single, and they all line-up, one after another, marching us into catchy axe-lick heaven.
31. Conatus---Zola Jesus
Singer/Songwriter Nika Roza Danilova has a magnificent voice: Powerful, strange, and singular, her bellowing intonations are enough to make just about any song a winner. Conatus wraps Danilova's striking roar in a series of head-turning beats, each more angular and foreboding than the last, pounding opener Avalanche and synth-wall-boasting Hikikomori attesting to both Danilova's savvy production choices, and weighty chant.