Aurelio, Laru Beya : The Honduran pop/politics>"/>
Please enjoy a sample from (almost) every one of my favorite records of 2011 (in alphabetical order):
Aurelio, Laru Beya: The Honduran pop/politics star's first album for Sub Pop's world music imprint, Next Ambiance, is instrumentally familiar, but lyrically mysterious. You don't have to speak the language to be moved by these jams. Must hear: "Mayahuaba"
James Blake, James Blake: I don't typically cotton to singer-songwriter fare pumped through heavy machinery (see Beach House). But Blake elicits a warmth to the synthesizer the way others might from a cello.
Must-hear: "I Never Learnt To Share"
Bobby Charles, Bobby Charles re-issue: Seattle's Light In the Attic dusted off this gem and re-issued it (with Rhino handmade) in hardcover (seriously), with a book's worth of liner notes by our own Brian J. Barr. So many artists have emulated Charles' singer-songwriter R&B cool, you'll swear you've heard it all before.
Must hear: "I Must Be In A Good Place Now"
Brother Dan, The Orb: Every now and then you hear a song that you swear has to be a cover that you just can't place. I was sure -- and am still not completely convinced otherwise -- that The Orb included a handful of acoustic Zeppelin covers that I just hadn't heard yet. Brother Dan -- aka Daniel Kerr -- is a Boise, Idaho kid with an incredible sonic range. This is my most-played album of the year. The kid doesn't have a record deal or any distribution to speak of. But if want your mind blown, spend the next 48 minutes listening to this record on Bandcamp.
Must Hear: "Heads North," "Igor Pops," "Dying Bed," Ok, fine, you must listen to the whole damn thing!
Fergus & Geronimo, Unlearn: This record would still make my list if it only included the punky-pop gem "Baby Don't You Cry." This record neatly encompasses the lo-fi garage rock that's been percolation at Seattle clubs, and, in this case, its labels (Sub Pop imprint Hardly Art).
Must hear: "Baby Don't You Cry"
Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues: As I've said recently, this one's the real deal. Though it's success -- and that of its self-titled predecessor -- can be blamed on the proliferation of campfire-worshiping pluck-rockers.
Must hear: "Montezuma"
Wanda Jackson, The Party Ain't Over: Jack White's guitar is as distinctive a voice as the pipes of Willie Nelson or Tony Bennett. And when he enlists it to elevate a great, formerly top-of-mind artist (see Loretta Lynn), he has the ability to introduce them to his substantial, ravenous audience. Jackson, the pretty lady with the nasty voice, couldn't have asked for a better partner on a record that swings between rockabilly and gospel.
Must hear: "Rum and Coca-Cola"
Mathieu Santos, Massachusetts 2010: Here's another tinkerer who caught my ear this year. Santos is one of the rare contemporary artists who understands the power of an instrumental (or mostly-instrumental) track. He pieces together one great idea after another in one of the most encouraging releases of the year. I can't wait to hear what comes next.
Must hear: "(I Just) Need to Know"
Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What: Paul Simon is masterful. He doesn't hit the same notes as he once did (which isn't saying a whole lot; there's a reason Garfunkel exists). But, as a songwriter, I'm not sure that he isn't peaking.
Must hear: "Dazzling Blue"
Jesse Sykes & the Sweethereafter, Marble Son: On the band's best album yet, Sykes' voice is employed as just another instrument in this brilliant piece of big sky psychedelia.
Must hear: "Hushed By Devotion"