Discover new music, take this time to update your music collection. Spin Magazine went through hundreds of new releases to bring you the absolute best of 2011 so far. See their picks and find out why they chose them. Do you agree? We’ve added videos to a few of our favorites, let us know.
Foo Fighters/Wasting Light (Roswell)
On their seventh album, Dave Grohl and Co. offer their most memorable set of songs since 1997′s The Colour and the Shape by adapting a back-to-basics vibe. Recorded in a garage with Nevermind producer Butch Vig, the Foos crank out three-guitar riff bombs (“Bridge Is Burning”), bluesy power ballads (“I Should Have Known,” featuring Krist Novoselic on bass), heavy-metal muscle (“White Limo”), and snatches of Kurt Cobain’s poisoned-pop frenzy (“Back and Forth”).
PJ Harvey/Let England Shake (Vagrant)
Over nine albums, the British songwriter has never been an easy one to pin down, whether she’s celebrating the joys of love (2000′s classic Stories From the City, Stories from the Sea) or revisiting modern-ancient balladry (the quietly mysterious White Chalk). The artist’s shape shifting continues with Let England Shake, one of her most political records yet. Backed by longtime collaborators John Parish, Mick Harvey, and producer Flood, Harvey weaves woozy ballads (“Written on the Forehead”) and arch tunes powered by Auto-harp (“Let England Shape”) into a sharp declaration about the terrors of war.
Fleet Foxes/Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)
In an era of incessant social broadcasting, the bearded Washington folkies offer a much-needed escape from all the digital clutter — the band’s second album is pure indie-folk Nirvana. Frontman Robin Pecknold’s voice has never sounded sweeter or brighter, and his band’s hooks and arrangements are by turns soft and ambitious. Psych-folk pioneers like Pentangle and Fairport Convention are obvious touchstones, but on cuts like “Helplessness Blues,” Fleet Foxes deliver the sort impeccable vocal harmonies worthy of Simon & Garfunkel.
Bon Iver/Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)
On his 2008 debut For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon delivered spare, emotionally-charged folk tunes that chronicled a messy break-up. The album earned him no shortage of fans — most notably, Kanye West, who featured the elusive Wisconsin-based singer on last year’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. On his second set, Vernon has upped the ante and expanded his circle to include ace session whizzes like pedal-steel player Greg Leisz. Once again, Vernon scores big by cultivating enchanted atmosphere, gorgeous melodies, unique textures, and beautiful singing. And his idiosyncratic gift for lyric-writing only adds to the album’s sonic mysteries. “Armour let it through/Borne the arboretic truth you kept posing”? It’s the kind of couplet that would trip up even the most accomplished of Joyce scholars.
Big K.R.I.T./Return Of 4eva, (Cinematic Music Group)
On his second near-classic full-length in less than a year, the Mississippi rapper ropes in a variety of top guests (Ludacris, David Banner, Raheem DeVaughn) for his boldest set yet. Despite his bigger ambitions, K.R.I.T. keeps his focus while delivering socially aware confessionals (“Another Naive Individual Glorifying Greed and Encouraging Racism”) that deliver visceral intensity without seeming preachy.
WATCH: Big K.R.I.T., Ludacris, Bun B, “Country Sh*t (Remix)” (Behind The Scenes Footage)
Arctic Monkeys/Suck It and See (Domino)
Five years since taking the U.K. by storm, the Monkeys have now hit a remarkable mid-career groove that most bands their age will never see. Which isn’t to say they’re coasting. Suck It and See mixes the sludgy Josh Homme-aided production of 2009′s Humbug with fleet-footededness of their 2006 debut, and the title track may live up to being the loveliest song they’ve ever recorded.
Beastie Boys/Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (Capitol)
Starting with 1992′s Check Your Head, the New York rappers have juxtaposed the aggro of their hardcore roots with their increasingly metaphysical lyrics. Their long-in-the-works follow-up to 2007′s The Mix-Uppacks the attitude of their punky beginnings — although on tracks like the funked-up opener “Make Some Noise” and “Long Burn the Fire,” MCA, Ad-Rock, and Mike D. prove they can still slay sucker MCs in their sleep.
James Blake/James Blake, (Atlas/A&M)
The British singer-songwriter broke out with his viral cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love,” but on his hyped debut, the 22-year-old explores far darker terrain, offering haunting, impressionistic takes on dubstep and reverse-engineered R&B. At moments, Blake indulges in an emo boy’s tendency to overshare, but his harmonies are to die for — gospel by way of D’Angelo and Jamie Lidell, with a twinge of acid house’s alien overtones.
WATCH: James Blake, “Lindisfarne”
There’s a reason it’s one of the biggest-selling records of 2011: Adele’s follow-up to Grammy-winning 19 finds the British soul bird wailing harder and writing bolder on carefully crafted tunes helmed by OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, Rick Rubin, and other studio pros. Throughout, Adele picks up the pieces of a devastating heartbreak, vows revenge, and wonders if she’ll ever fall in love again. If you’re looking for a record that’ll make you wanna trash your beloved’s belongings and have make-up sex amid the ruins, 21‘s your jam.
WATCH: Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”
Fucked Up/David Comes to Life, (Matador)
The Canadian hardcore group have always been challenging, from their unfit-for-print name to their raucous live shows, where gargantuan frontman Damian Abraham can often be found, shirtless, bonking his head until it bleeds. They continue their maximalist approach on their third album, a quasi-rock opera whose insanely complex plot even confuses the band at points. But it’s the music that rings loud and clear. Loaded with crystalline guitar wails, balls-to-the-wall rockers, and all manner of lyrical twists and fake-outs, David Comes to Life is one of the most overly complicated hard-rock records of the last ten years — and also one of the best.
Elbow/Build a Rocket Boys! (Fiction)
On the British group’s fifth record, singer Guy Garvey brings plenty of his pashmina-smooth vocals to tracks that land somewhere between So-era Peter Gabriel and Radiohead’s OK Computer. But where Elbow’s past albums reveled in dour tales that mirrored their gloomy Manchester hometown, here they deliver their most uplifting album yet, particularly on the glorious “With Love” and the spiritual hymnal “The River.” Expansive yet intimate, ornate yet seductive, this is capital-A Art rock without pretense, and with tremendous heart.
TV on the Radio/Nine Types Of Light, (Interscope)
Over the last decade, Brooklyn’s finest art-rockers have been many things, including arty a cappella reductionists (2003′s Young Liars EP) and politically ravaged anthemists (2006′s Return to Cookie Mountain). On Nine Types of Light, the boys have settled into pre-middle-age satisfaction and delivered a stunning collection of lover’s rock, from the torchy, plainspoken “Will Do” and the dazzling jam “Second Song,” to the laid-back electro-ballad “You,” where singer Tunde Adebimpe confesses, “You’re the only one I’ve ever loved.” It’s the type of album they couldn’t have pulled off five years ago.
WATCH: TV on the Radio, “Will Do”
DJ Quik/The Book of David (Mad Science/Fontana)
Iconoclastic rapper-producer DJ Quik wanted his eighth record to sound like missing tapes from funk-soaked 1991. Instead, it’s from an incredible year that never existed, blending baroque ’80s roller jams, velvety ’90s slow-rides, contemporary Dam-Funk swooshwave, and a breakdown with the late P-Funk guitarist Garry Shider.
WATCH: DJ Quik feat. Gift, “Luv of My Life”
Kurt Vile/Smoke Ring for My Halo (Matador)
The Philly singer-songwriter’s fourth record is his best yet — an 11-track blur of acoustic psych-folk and plugged-in drones that split the difference between Stooges’ shambolic punk, gorgeous Harvest-era Neil Young balladry, and J. Mascis’ zonked-out slacker rock. Sonic Youth producer John Agnello’s ace production adds a warm, enveloping vibe; it’s like getting sucked into a 48-hour bong-smoking marathon in your college dealer’s dorm.
tUnE-yArDs/w h o k i l l (4AD)
Merrill Garbus brought plenty of no-fi pop-folk weirdness to her 2008 debut album BiRd-BrAiNs. On her second disc under her tUnE-yArDs alias, however, she cleans up her wild art-rock collage yet doesn’t skimp on the quirk. Backed by bassist Nate Brenner, w h o k i l l is one of the year’s wildest LPs — and also long on ear-wormy melodies you should end up humming.
The Strokes/Angles (RCA)
After tackling the perils of celebrity on 2006′s First Impressions of Earth, the Strokes’ Angles reminds you why they were so irresistible in the first place. There’s echoing electro-pop (“Games”), bright new wave (the Cars-y “Two Kinds of Happiness”), and insouciant rockers that rank up there with classic songs like “Last Night” and “New York City Cops.” But perhaps the biggest surprise is that, despite the inter-band conflicts that reportedly plagued these recording sessions, the Strokes still somehow come on like wide-eyed kids.
Lykke Li/Wounded Rhymes (LL/Atlantic)
When she arrived with her 2008 debut Youth Novels, Lykke Li seemed to be an adorable little thing, singing and shimmying with gumption on icy tracks produced by Peter Bjorn and John’s Björn Yttling. Her second record is far chillier — the singer’s chronicle of despondence and fury over a scotched relationship. It’s not all weepy confessionals — on “Get Some,” Li conflates herself with a prostitute over heaving tribal drums — but the Phil Spector-ish “Unrequited Love” may be saddest, prettiest song of the year.
WATCH: Lykke Li, “Sadness is a Blessing”
Smith Westerns/Dye It Blonde, (Fat Possum)
On their second CD, the Chicago teenagers teamed with producer Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beach House), who adds glossy production to the group’s fuzzed-out garage-rock sound. The Smith Westerns haven’t shied away from their love of Bowie and T. Rex; on Dye It Blonde, the boys end up worshipping their heroes in the most devout way possible — by trying to top them.
Panda Bear/Tomboy (Paw Tracks)
When Animal Collective’s Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox released his sublime, bedroom-crafted 2007 album Person Pitch, he presaged his group’s breakout success with Merriweather Post Pavilion and inspired a host of up-and-coming electronic indie musicians. On his fourth solo outing, Lennox scales back, proffering succinctness rather than sprawl, exchanging samplers for sequencers, achieving added warmth and intimacy.
Lady Gaga/Born This Way (Streamline/KonLive/Interscope)
One of the year’s most anticipated pop events, Gaga delivers a gloriously weird album, applying her ’80s pastiche to throbby grooves and sentimental tunes that’ll pierce the hearts of both Little Monsters and heartland moms. The 25-year-old proves she’s also evolving into our most surreally brilliant star. The proof? Closing track “The Edge of Glory,” which sounds exactly like its title, uniting all of Gaga’s contradictory impulses in an ecstatic, anthemic, five-minute lunge to the finish line.
The Weeknd/House of Balloons, (The-Weeknd.Com)
Canadian singer Abel Tesfaye, a Drake-approved newcomer, works plenty of changes on classic R&B, adding spaced-out atmosphere, dubstep, and minimal keyboards to slo-mo ballads that sound like the score to a post-rave comedown. Tesfaye samples contemporary acts like Beach House as easily as old-school Siouxsie, and Odd Future’s Frank Ocean brings some added starpower. But it’s his high, keening croon that’s the most compelling. When he sings, “I’m the drug in your veins” on standout “What You Need,” it’s hard to tell if it’s intended as a threat or a comfort — but it’s memorable either way.
WATCH: The Weeknd, “Birds (Part 1)”
EMA/Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)
On her debut, Erika M. Anderson (abbreviated to EMA), a former member of noise-folk group Gowns, delivers a collection as intensely accomplished as PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake — and Anderson is only 28-years-old. She unleashes everything from tinnitus-inducing, reverb-soaked guitar drones to light-as-air acoustic ditties and pseudo-industrial bangers. But it’s her emotionally raw confessionals that bind these nine tracks. When she croons “I bled all my blood out,” on the static-drenched kiss-off “California,” girl means it.
Yuck/Yuck (Fat Possum)
These five twentysomething Londoners, featuring members of short-lived act Cajun Dance Party, have unleashed one of the year’s most refreshing forces of melodic riffage by looking into the past. Their self-titled debut is a killer collection that bites from the ’90s alt-rock playbook, mixing heavy Dinosaur Jr. guitars with blissed-out shoegaze textures worthy of Jesus and Mary Chain.
Alela Diane/Alela Diane & Wild Divine, (Rough Trade)
Following up the mesmerizing, occasionally grave psych-folk of 2009′s To Be Still, the California songwriter brings brighter, sunnier textures to Alela Diane & Wild Divine. It’s not pop, but it’s getting closer, and if Diane’s songs are more accessible this time around, they’re still not easy, creating theInception-like sensation of wandering around in someone’s overheated brain, where urgency and a lack of clarity intertwine to disorienting effect. Fearful listeners need not apply.
This Huntsville, AL, rap duo are like OutKast’s plain-spoken cousins, yet Yung Clova and ST 2 Lettaz’ no-bullshit, no-excuses preaching is bolstered with songs that are so breathtakingly symphonic, it’s like the sleekest R&B without the corny pandering.
WATCH: G-Side, “Inner Circle”
Posted by:: JR§