Fighting Over Our Favorite Albums Of 2011 (So Far)When NPR Music made a list of its 25 favorite albums that came out in the first half of 2011, there were a bunch of great recordings that didn't make the cut. Half a dozen members of the team speak out on behalf of a few of them.
Yeah, we know. When we made a list of our favorite records of the year so far, we left offHelplessness Blues and The King Is Dead. Among the other casualties: Let England Shake, So Beautiful or So What, Tomboy, Nine Types of Light and The King of Limbs. Good albums by musicians to whom we've shown no shortage of love, and yes, albums that had vocal supporters within our little group.
So why did they get left behind? Simply because there was enough music we're excited about to make 25 slots seem tiny. Inevitably, there were disagreements, so we're using this space to give members of the team whose favorites didn't make the cut a chance to air grievances.
Was making the big list easy? No. (Did you notice we left off Helplessness Blues and The King Is Dead?) But it was fun, even when we didn't agree.
The Ones We Fought Over
by The Antlers
No matter how good Burst Apart ended up being, it was inevitable that it would live in the shadow of The Antlers' last record. A work singular in thematic and melodic focus, Hospice was a crushingly exposed glimpse of grief and loss, but one so stirring that it will likely stand as the band's high-water mark for some time. Still, as a follow-up, Burst Apart is an exceptional step forward. The music aches with the same haunting beauty, yet trades claustrophobia for catharsis. While The Antlers still address heartache, in the closing moments of "Putting The Dog To Sleep," Peter Silberman sings "Put your trust in me / I'm not gonna die alone, I don't think so," as if saying we're not alone even when times get tough. As hopeless and isolated as the songs on Hospice felt, on Burst Apart, Silberman has finally found a touch of peace. (Mike Katzif)
'Cornershop and the Double-O Groove Of'
When the new Cornershop album arrived in the mail, I didn't read the press release. I just popped it into my computer, threw the files on my iPod and placed it in the "ripped" pile. When album came up unexpectedly a few weeks later in a playlist, I couldn't believe what I was hearing — specifically, the heavenly lyrics of vocalist Bubbley Kaur. For those unfamiliar with Cornershop, the band had a huge Britpop hit in the late 1990s, "Brimful of Asha," sung by bandleader Tjinder Singh. But there was nothing Britpop about what I was now hearing. "United Provinces of India," the lead track on Cornershop and the Double-O Groove Of, was sung by Kaur in Punjabi with a funky ektara accompaniment that I couldn't get out of my head. The rest of the album follows the same sort of a template, which is to say, it's easily one of my favorite albums of 2011. (Otis Hart)
'Past Life Martyred Saints'
Sometimes the most worthwhile albums are ones that shake you up, that grab you by the shoulders and drag you somewhere you didn't expect to go, that make you almost afraid to listen to them again because you're not sure if you're ready to go back. EMA's Past Life Martyred Saints is that kind of album. In its cathartic centerpiece, "California," Erika M. Anderson delivers an arresting stream-of-consciousness monologue about damaged lives and "love in the form of tragedy" over a drum track that sounds like a field recording of distant explosions. Like the rest of the album, it's a minefield of volatile emotions and spooky ellipses, suspended somewhere between terror and wonder, beauty and devastation. It's also a stunning, thought-provoking artistic statement, unsettling in the best sense of the word. (Rachel Smith)
LANGUAGE WARNING: Song lyrics contain some profanity.
Born This Way by Lady Gaga
'Born This Way'
by Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga sold 1.1 million copies of Born This Way in a single week. Beat that, Julianna Barwick. But enormous popularity does not mean unequivocal love, and Born This Way's nomination for our list was met with a range of cheers, boos and outright ambivalence. But someone should speak up for disenfranchised dance pop at NPR. This twisted disco throwback is one of my most-played of the year, revealing itself to be surprisingly more heartfelt with each listen. While I can't ultimately disagree with the album's exclusion from our list (my postmodern feminist rearing can't get past the biological determinism), I'll challenge my colleagues to go to the edge of glory any day. (Amy Schriefer)
'The King of Limbs'
Nobody makes records like Radiohead. Everything in the band's music is off-kilter in the most artful and beautiful ways. It's experimental and conceptual, but not contrived or overly aware of its ingenuity. The King of Limbs shows how magnificently the band can redefine the sweet spot in its own music, as well as the incomparable care the group takes to orchestrate an intricate, mesmerizing world of sound around it. (Robin Hilton)
by Vieux Farka Touré
This third album by blazing Malian guitarist and vocalist Vieux Farka Toure has so much going for it: the amazing, thoroughly African dance energy of "Sokosondou" and "Borei," the wonderful loping rhythms of "Lakkal" and the anthemic, pretty "Amana Quai." Moreover, the title track includes the last cut ever recorded by Vieux's dad, Ali Farka Toure, whom Rolling Stone named, with good reason, one of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time." Vieux is very much his father's son. Did my colleagues dismiss this album out of some form of reverse-nepotism? Or because of the guest appearances by some commercially huge but critically not-quite-adored artists? (Dave Matthews. Ahem.) My suggestion for the skeptics: Skip a couple of tracks if you insist, but dig heartily into the rest. (Anastasia Tsioulcas)