25 Favorites: From F—— Up To Julianna Barwick

If you're looking for the best of 2011 in virtually every major musical genre, here's a good starting point. The list of our 25 favorite albums of the year (so far) continues with Jill Scott and more artists from F to J.

25 Favorites: From F----- Up To Julianna Barwick

Cover for David Comes To Life

F----- Up, 'David Comes to Life'

  • Song: Queen of Hearts

In my interview with F---- Up's drummer, Jonah Falco best summed up the band's sprawling, 78-minute rock opera, David Comes to Life: "I think it's indicative of the people crafting the project that even in our attempt to simplify, we've made something complex, confusing and frustrating." Of course, the best musicals are anything but simple productions, and like the band's stage inspiration, David Comes to Life is lush and ebullient. Its sonic touchstones include jangly '80s Britpop and punk, essentially rewriting the pop songbook with Damian Abraham's gruff bark musing on love and questioning God. (Lars Gotrich)

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  • "Queen of Hearts"
  • Album: David Comes To Life
  • Artist: F----- Up
  • Label: Matador
  • Released: 2011
 
Cover for The Lost and Found

Gretchen Parlato, 'The Lost and Found'

  • Song: Winter Wind

You may have heard, perhaps even from this website, that Gretchen Parlato is a "different," or "new" type of jazz singer. True, her featherweight, susurrant delivery isn't exactly that of the classic jazz divas. But that's an issue of craft, not art. The most interesting thing about The Lost and Found, Parlato's third and best album so far, is that she plays well with others — that she can marshal this original sound within a real band. It's catchy, tuneful stuff that vibrates with the pulse of modern music — by which I mostly mean the strains of R&B into which hip-hop has dug deep roots — while retaining the real-time interaction and harmolodic richness of jazz, circa 2011. (Patrick Jarenwattananon)

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  • "Winter Wind"
  • Album: The Lost and Found
  • Artist: Gretchen Parlato
  • Label: ObliqSound
  • Released: 2011
 
Cover for James Blake

James Blake, 'James Blake'

  • Song: To Care (Like You)

At 22, London producer James Blake re-invigorated electronic music this year with the release of his self-titled debut. Blake has studied piano and voice since the age of 6, and taken music classes at Goldsmith University, where he started DJing and creating remixes. On this record, Blake takes the underground dance style dubstep and simplifies it, rendering it warmer and slower. Then, influenced by artists like Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell and Bon Iver, he sings sad ballads in a soul style, every note hanging beautifully on the edge of destruction. (Michele Myers, KEXP)

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  • "To Care (Like You)"
  • Album: James Blake
  • Artist: James Blake
  • Label: Republic
  • Released: 2011
 
Cover for The Light of the Sun

Jill Scott, 'The Light of the Sun'

  • Song: All Cried Out [Redux]

On "All Cried Out (Redux)," Jill Scott turns a Doug E. Fresh beatbox and a touch of ragtime piano into the bottom of a breezy kissoff song, in which she sounds more free and brazen than she has in years. It's not as if she ever really had a frivolous phase, but on The Light of the Sun, which will be released June 21, Scott sounds whole, composed. She calls herself a "motherf—— G" in a spoken-word track called "Womanifesto" toward the end of her fourth studio album — and destroys all doubt that she's anything less. (Frannie Kelley)

You can pre-order this album from iTunes.

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  • "All Cried Out [Redux]"
  • Album: Light of the Sun
  • Artist: Jill Scott
  • Label: Blues Babe Records
  • Released: 2011
 
Cover for The Magic Place

Julianna Barwick, 'The Magic Place'

  • Song: Bob In Your Gait

One of the most alluring and elusive albums of 2011, Julianna Barwick's The Magic Place is a meditative musical journey, equally spiritual and haunting. Barwick crafts her songs alone, sitting cross-legged on her bed, singing into a lone microphone processed through a few effects, a loop pedal and a laptop. But don't mistake this for an introverted bedroom project. Her gorgeously resonant voice is meant to be heard filling the rafters of some ancient cathedral. Barwick sings each vocal part with purpose, each slowly unfurling and overlapping until they swell into a room-enveloping chorus of otherworldly voices. With minimal instrumentation and no decipherable lyrics, it's up to us, the listener, to affix our own meanings and interpretations for ourselves. Still, The Magic Place is a euphoric record intended for searching, for self-reflection, and ultimately for getting lost in its subtle charms. (Mike Katzif)

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  • "Bob In Your Gait"
  • Album: The Magic Place
  • Artist: Julianna Barwick
  • Label: Asthmatic Kitty
  • Released: 2011
 

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James Blake

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  • Album: James Blake
  • Artist: James Blake
  • Label: Republic
  • Released: 2011
 

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