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Through sheer quirk of fate and possibly my own fatally quirky tastes, the top spots for my four favorite records of the year were given to two separate EPs by two different bands. I'm going to start my Top 20 of 2011 list with a cheat; combining two albums for placement at #1 and #2. Just to obnoxiously make you utterly vigilant of it: the first two spots are taken up by two separate releases, but they're EPs that if combined with each other, tie with/become one release.
Oh, and I'm keeping all hype to 20 words to mirror the Top 20 list. And then I cheat again by having the first two releases described in 40 words, a combination of two 20 word reviews. (No, I haven't been studying Kabbalah with the Wu-Tang Clan.) Also: Mostly in order, but ask me again tomorrow. (The Damien Jurado could be anywhere on this list, for example.) And regional preference takes precedence (call that "fanzine love").
1. Shabazz Palaces, Shabazz Palaces & Of Light EPs
Cracked, uncanny hip-hop collages of unsettling mind-movies, Clockers meets Company Flow. "Juxtapositions of the digital and analog, hard drum-machine beats set against softer bongos or the resonant sweetness of an mbira." -- Jon Caramanica, The New York Times
2. Parenthetical Girls, Privilege l & ll EPs
Portland skrokers' first two four-song slices of Privilege, a series of five limited-edition 12" EPs. Eight timeless, transcendent, perverted pop songs ecstatically despairing, rendered as fine as Jenny Mörtsell's cover art. Comes hand-numbered in the blood of band member Rachael.
3. Terri Tarantula, s/t
Terri Moeller, internationally well known in The Walkabouts & Transmissionary Six released resonant, gorgeous, Kali-on-bliss electro-folk blues debut this year.
4. Math and Physics Club, I Shouldn't Look As Good As I Do
Ten brilliant singles. About love and togetherness and love and loss -- then things get more lyrically detailed and urgent.
5. Reggie Watts, Why S#!+ So Crazy?
Giggles in several dimensions as we chew on him, vision-soaking like PK Dick making Screw mix-tapes playing chess with God.
6. Thee Emergency, Cracka Slang
Black power angel's sweet voice, with acoustics, strings, keys, shit-kicking anarchy through the transcendental closer. 2010 vaporizer-packed 1960s strength.
7. Can You Imagine?, s/t
Psyche-beat-pop: Michelle, Rachel, and Sue: sweet, speedy girl-group vocals with Misters Fisk and Bagge, mixing-up British Invasion and punk influences.
8. Sufjan Stevens, All Delighted People "EP"
Power-folk Presbyterian-psyche EP longer than most favorite punk LPs. The eleven minute masterpiece title track is song of the year.
9. Damien Jurado, Saint Bartlett
Creates dragoon of hooks while getting under the skin; scaring listeners away just as masterful stories pull them in.
10. New Pornographers, Together
Described as "...the true story of a woman that returned to her husband decades after he disfigured her with acid." (--PR)
11. Perfume Genius, Learning
Want to sneak a peak at his journal after somebody smokes him out while he sings my wife to sleep.
The Other Nine To Make 20 (Cheating Again, etc.):
The Young Evils, Enchanted Chapel
Best Seattle debut album of the year.
The Thermals, Personal Life
Impeccably played, perfectly enjoyable, massively conflicted passion plays.
Villagers, Becoming A Jackal
Best Scottish debut album of the year.
Wehrwolve, Interstellar Spaceports Lost
Here come the drugs. Here come the drugs. Here come the drugs. Here come the drugs. Here come the drugs.
Jaill, That's How We Burn
More kudos, Sub Pop! Fast-moving slow-burner joyously tangled up with haunting hooks and hilarious imagery.
The Shondes, My Dear One
Some people ache to hear ex-lovers burn them in song. The smoke and flames make them feel alive. This band makes a blaze for that purpose.
Dum Dum Girls, I Will Be
When you come crashing down and for the next eight hours need to talk at a seven inch record whilst you grind your teeth.
The National, High Violet
The core of this album is like finding an empty, abandoned mortuary in New York City and using it to stare into the eyes of the most beautiful girl you could possibly lure there.
Wavves, King Of The Beach
Yes, I know his earlier, glitchier shit is much better. There go the drugs.