Discussion: The Year's Best Music (So Far)

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1 hr 12 min 38 sec
 
Clockwise from upper left:  Madeline Fallin and Brian Oblivion of Cults, Adele, Julianna Barwick, James Blake and Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs.

Clockwise from upper left: Madeline Fallin and Brian Oblivion of Cults, Adele, Julianna Barwick, James Blake and Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs. Courtesy of the artists hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the artists

Around this time each year, the All Songs Considered gang pauses to marvel at how quickly the months are passing, and to reflect on some of the memorable music that's come out so far. What have been some of 2011's biggest surprises? Who are some of the best new artists? NPR Music editor Stephen Thompson and reviewer Ann Powers join co-hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton to share some of the songs and albums they think have helped define the first half of 2011. Listen to the discussion, then check out our listener poll to vote for your favorite new releases this year.

The Year's Best Music (So Far)

Cover for Yuck

Rubber

  • Artist: Yuck
  • Album: Yuck

Best New Artist: We've talked a lot about the garage-rock revival of recent years, and this is a band from London, a bunch of kids who do the garage-rock thing, but also have this wonderful drone to their music that I can listen to for hours. I just like how sloppy, messy and loud it is. --Robin Hilton

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Song
Rubber
Album
Yuck
Artist
Yuck
Label
Fat Possum Records
Released
2011

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Cover for House of Balloons

House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls

  • Artist: The Weeknd
  • Album: House of Balloons

Best New Artist: [This record] reminds me of an R&B version of one of my favorite records of all time, from the '90s, Afghan Whigs' Gentlemen. There's an interesting thing happening in hip-hop and R&B right now on the down-low, grassroots Internet level where it's very dark. Often transgressive. And this record is really about the consequences of bad sex, bad drugs, bad partying, which is kind of what the Afghan Whigs were all about, too. --Ann Powers

You can download this album at The Weeknd's website.

Cover for James Blake

The Wilhelm Scream

  • Artist: James Blake
  • Album: James Blake

Best New Artist: We talk about young, we talk about dark, we talk about haunting music — James Blake, I've seen him in a small club with about 100 people doing this stuff, and it really works. It all feels like it's about to fall apart at any moment. --Bob Boilen

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Song
The Wilhelm Scream
Album
James Blake
Artist
James Blake
Label
Republic
Released
2011

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Cover for Arrows

We Sing In Time

  • Artist: The Lonely Forest
  • Album: Arrows

Best New Artist: Really fun band. It kind of reminds me a little bit of Jimmy Eat World, in that wonderful point in time when Jimmy Eat World was making incredibly melodic, wonderful, fun records. It taps into that same smart and super-catchy sound. --Stephen Thompson

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Song
We Sing In Time
Album
Arrows
Artist
The Lonely Forest
Label
ILG/Trans Records
Released
2011

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Cover for The People's Key

Firewall

  • Artist: Bright Eyes
  • Album: The People's Key

Biggest Surprise: It's an album full of great riffs, lots of wisdom. You hear a lot of growth in Conor Oberst as an artist. It's been a long time since I've connected with a record as completely as I have with this one. --Robin Hilton

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Song
Firewall
Album
The People's Key
Artist
Bright Eyes
Label
Saddle Creek
Released
2011

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Cover for New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges

Red Horse (Judges II)

  • Artist: Colin Stetson
  • Album: New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges

Biggest Surprise: I think the thing when I listen to the record is the fact that A) It's all live; and B) there are no electronic effects, other than a series of 20 microphones in a room and his movement around the room. There are no overdubs on this record. --Bob Boilen

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Song
Red Horse (Judges II)
Album
New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges
Artist
Colin Stetson
Label
Constellation
Released
2011

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Cover for The Magic Place

Flown

  • Artist: Julianna Barwick
  • Album: The Magic Place

Biggest Surprise: Julianna Barwick makes these beautiful choral records where she loops the sound of her own voice and creates a little bit of a religious experience. Just a cathedral of sound. It's very mind-opening. --Stephen Thompson

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Song
Flown
Album
The Magic Place
Artist
Julianna Barwick
Label
Asthmatic Kitty
Released
2011

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Cover for King of In Between

Coney Island Winter

  • Artist: Garland Jeffreys
  • Album: King of In Between

Biggest Surprise: This guy, 67 years old, was picked by Rolling Stone magazine as the best new artist in 1977. This record is as good a classic roots rock record as you're going to hear from anybody this year. And I don't care if Bruce Springsteen puts out a record this year; I'm standing by my statement. --Ann Powers

You can learn more about this release at Garland Jeffreys' website.

Cover for The King Of Limbs

Bloom

  • Artist: Radiohead
  • Album: The King Of Limbs

Best Album (So Far): Nobody makes records like Radiohead. [King of Limbs] is a true work of art. I think it's their best [album] since Kid A. Everything in Radiohead's world is off. They're never right in the center with anything. And it's so wildly experimental, but always accessible, tasteful and never contrived. --Robin Hilton

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Song
Bloom
Album
The King Of Limbs
Artist
Radiohead
Label
TBD Records
Released
2011

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Cover for w h o k i l l

Bizness

  • Artist: tUnE-yArDs
  • Album: w h o k i l l

Best Album (So Far): [Merrill Garbus] is political. She's blending African influences with funk and dub and hip-hop and indie rock, and she's saying a lot in these songs, even when you might not be able to catch the meaning right away. Mostly it's just joy. But it's the whole world in an exploding container. --Ann Powers

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Song
Bizness
Album
w h o k i l l
Artist
tUnE-yArDs
Label
4AD
Released
2011

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Cover for Civilian

Civilian

  • Artist: Wye Oak
  • Album: Civilian

Best Album (So Far): This record is about the pursuit of fitting into your own skin — the pursuit of normalcy in a way that the band equates with comfort. It's the pursuit of just being a person. --Stephen Thompson

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Song
Civilian
Album
Civilian
Artist
Wye Oak
Label
Merge Records
Released
2011

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Cover for Diamond Mine

Bubble

  • Artist: King Creosote & Jon Hopkins
  • Album: Diamond Mine

Best Album (So Far): [King Creosote and Jon Hopkins] worked on this record together for seven years, so some of the songs are older and reworked. This has so much power to it. I'm curious whether this will hold to be my favorite album of 2011 by the end of the year, but it sure is the most beautiful thing I've heard this year. --Bob Boilen

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Song
Bubble
Album
Diamond Mine
Artist
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins
Label
Domino Records
Released
2011

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Cover for The Unfazed

Country Clutter

  • Artist: Dolorean
  • Album: The Unfazed

Best Song (So Far): This is one of my favorite kiss-off/breakup songs that I've heard in a long, long time. There's a quiet defiance to this song that I love. It's the slowest-moving anthem of bummerocity. --Stephen Thompson

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Song
Country Clutter
Album
The Unfazed
Artist
Dolorean
Label
Partisan
Released
2011

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Cover for 21

Someone Like You

  • Artist: Adele
  • Album: 21

Best Song (So Far): There's one story in pop music this year that doesn't start with a "G" and have another "G" and end with an "A," and that story is Adele. This is a career-making record. I think we have a singer for the ages in her. --Ann Powers

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Song
Someone Like You
Album
21
Artist
Adele
Label
Columbia
Released
2011

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Cover for Helplessness Blues

Helplessness Blues

  • Artist: Fleet Foxes
  • Album: Helplessness Blues

Best Song (So Far): My 20s were just one long existential crisis, and this song is all about coming to the understanding that your life doesn't have to be remarkable to be fulfilling. You don't have to build a rocket ship and fly it to the moon or invent a cure for cancer to have a meaningful, important life. This song should be required listening for all twentysomethings who may be dealing with these same issues and questions. --Robin Hilton

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Song
Helplessness Blues
Album
Helplessness Blues
Artist
Fleet Foxes
Label
Sub Pop Records
Released
2011

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Cover for Cults

Abducted

  • Artist: Cults
  • Album: Cults

Best Song (So Far): This is creepy and beautiful. Cults have a passion for people like Jim Jones and Charles Manson, and many of the creeps of our culture, the scariest people of our culture who often say beautiful things. These are very happy, shiny tunes, but just listen to what they're about. --Bob Boilen

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Song
Abducted
Album
Cults
Artist
Cults
Label
Columbia
Released
2011

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