When our sister paper The Village Voice publishes the results of its annual Pazz & Jop poll next February, there will be three or four albums that invariably get a nod on every ballot. See: Fleet Foxes' Helplessness Blues, Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne, and Girls' Father, Son, Holy Ghost. Those are all arresting pieces of music to be sure. But let's show a little more imagination with our purchases.
We've established that Cults and M83 are great, that Justin Vernon has an innovative falsetto, and Wild Flag rock really hard. But for whatever reason, the ten albums below haven't garnered as much praise from the critical peanut gallery -- but they all deserve it.
Arrange, Plantation: When I interviewed Malcom Lacey in June, the 18-year-old told me that he'd imagined his debut as an open letter to his child-molester father. Lacey's high school years were irreversibly damaging -- he spent most of them either strung out on prescription pills or incarcerated in a teen wilderness program -- and Plantation bears the pain of that period, with lots of teeth-gnashing vocals and beatnik prog-rock.
Active Child, You Are All I See: August's You Are All I See is the debut from trained opera singer Pat Grossi. Full of lo-fi R&B that sounds as if it were recorded deep in an echo chamber somewhere, the record makes womblike isolation sound impossibly romantic.
Andrew Jackson Jihad, Knife Man: The sneery Phoenix natives are back with another helping of whimsical folk-punk raunch. If the Mountain Goats weren't so fucking depressing, they would sound not unlike Andre Jackson Jihad.
Balam Acab, Wander/Wonder: However you'd like to classify this jarring, intimate breakthrough from teenage New Yorker Alec Koone (trip-hop, 2-step, ambient), Wander/Wonder is a bedroom masterpiece.
Danny Brown, XXX: In case you haven't gotten the memo yet, hip-hop in 2011 is very, very strange. If Mr. Muthafuckin' Xquire can rhyme about driving drunk in his rusted Mazda and Lil B can title an album I'm Gay, why can't Danny Brown write songs about vaginal odor or abusing stimulants? The self-proclaimed Adderall Admiral is in rare, remorselessly satanic form on his latest mixtape.
Gross Magic, Teen Jamz: For whatever ungodly reason, people seem convinced that '90s indie rock was really great. One of them is precocious young Brit Sam McGarrigle, whose new EP revives the fuzzy garage sounds of Pavement and the Pixies. Unlike those bands, though, McGarrigle can write a hook that actually sticks.
Juliana Barwick, The Magic Place: Taking her cues from Bon Iver circa "Woods," Barwick goes acapella for the duration of her trippy, near-mystical debut.
SpaceGhostPurrp, Radio Blackland 66.6: A brain-fried 20-year-old from Carol City, Florida, SpaceGhostPurrp's hobbies include listening to "Mosh Pit"-era Three 6 Mafia and rolling on E with his scuzzer girlfriend. Radio Blackland 66.6 is full of crunk-style chants, metallic Casio textures, and surprisingly grounded meditations on the perils of condomless sex ("Suck a Nigga Dick for 2011").
Neon Indian, Era Extraña: Mexican immigrant Alan Palomo offers up waves of battered electronics on his sophomore effort. Like Ariel Pink before him, he re-imagines the analog sounds of 1980s radio with superlative accuracy.
What Laura Says, TALK: One of two local bands on this list, these proto-psychedelic flower children offer the usual good vibrations on their spring EP.
Ten great songs:
1) Cold Cave, "Confetti" 2) Sun Airway, "Wild Palms" 3) Balam Acab, "See Birds" 4) Burial, "NYC" 5) Unknown Mortal Orchestra, "FFunny Friends" 6) Gauntlet Hair, "Top Bunk" 7) The Weeknd, "Rolling Stone" 8) Lloyd featuring Trey Songz and Young Jeezy, "Be the One" 9) Jamie Woon, "Lady Luck" 10) Ford & Lopatin, "World of Regret"