Jeff McCord’s Top 10 Picks for 2011
Friday 8:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.
1. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
The slow decline of an empire, told with grit, brutal honesty, and bone-quaking guitars – and that’s just the first song. A few more tracks in, “The Words That Maketh Murder” delves into scuttled diplomacy while channeling Eddie Cochran. After a couple of well-intentioned missteps, Polly Jean Harvey has, in her eighth (!) album, made a record every bit as compelling as her first; the best album ever made about war.
2. Washed Out – Within and Without
Lush, intense, and possibly the most wondrous pop album of the year, from an unemployed Library Science major hailing from Perry, Georgia. Ernest Greene mixes an aural cocktail with a real kick, but it’s heady and not visceral. Imagine My Bloody Valentine without the ear-splitting hangover. Gorgeous and highly addictive.
3. Sarah Jarosz – Follow Me Down
After the acclaim of her post-high school debut, the young Wimberley prodigy enrolled in music school, a move that, to be honest, has traditionally produced as much good music as bad. But Jarosz made all the right moves. Expanding beyond simple roots music, she embraces complex harmonics, rhythms, and more mature thoughts, and makes it all sound like, well, Sarah Jarosz. She’s not about to be pigeonholed, and to underscore the point, the album includes the best Radiohead cover ever. A lot of early bloomers end up being flash-in-the-pans, yet with Jarosz’ bold growth as a writer and performer, her sophomore release makes it clear she’s here to stay.
4. Yuck – Yuck
This UK punk-pop outfit mines a popular garage rock strain on their debut, but pulls off energy, excitement, even (dare I say it?) vulnerability with an uncommon confidence. The guitars lay on thick, but it’s the surprising songs that emerge and keep you coming back for more.
5. Amir ElSaffar – Inana
No kicks here against modern jazz. Few projects combine hypnotic beauty and intensity as magically as this one. Iraqi-American trumpeter, vocalist and composer ElSaffar bridges cultures and genres, reminding you of the best work from the Art Ensemble, Randy Weston, even Mingus, all conceived with a wholly modern aesthetic.
6. tUnE-YarDs – w h o k i l l
Merrill Garbus’ first release was unique enough to peak interest for her second, but I doubt anyone fully anticipated this mind-blowing sound collage. Like other hyper-creative artists (St. Vincent comes to mind), Garbus packs too many good ideas in these short tracks (as if all of pop culture was shredded and thrown into the air), almost overwhelming the material. But her wicked since of humor and playfulness keeps things centered. Never has chaos been so danceable. Or fun. “Gansta” is easily the wildest ride of the year. A headphone album if ever there was one.
7. Ocote Soul Sounds – Taurus
What began as a side project for Antibalas’ Martin Perna and Grupo Fantasma’s Adrian Quesada has, over the years, grown into a full-fledged recording act. The concept – blending everything from soul, funk and Cumbia with sixties pop and psychedelia (and some socially conscious lyrics to boot) has been attempted by others, but no one blends it as seamlessly. Stone grooves from a wholly imagined place and time.
8. Charles Bradley – No Time For Dreaming
A vivid reminder of all the untapped raw talent out there, the Florida soul belter gets his big break at age 63 with this remarkable debut, courtesy of the Daptonestable and the Menahan Street Band. Maybe he’s not dreaming, but he’s definitely making up for lost time.
9. The Gourds – Old Mad Joy
After an uncountable number of DIY affairs, Austin’s most endearing (and enduring) band hires an actual producer, records in Levon Helm’s studio, and dissects, arranges and deliberately refashions their music. The result? All this messing about has somehow come closest to recreating the live magic they have displayed for over a decade. Go figure.
10. Dodos – No Color
You gotta love a band that constructs all their songs around their drummer, pounding out relentless Burundi-like patterns over power chords and vocals. This Bay Area group has been flailing around for some time, but this time out, they’ve grounded their sound in bedrock.