Adam Costa’s Top 3 of 2011

Panda Bear – Tomboy

Panda Bear – Tomboy

No. 3: Panda BearTomboy

Back in April when Noah Lennox’s Tomboy finally hit shelves after months of delay, I was practically gushing about its imminent placement on the inventory of 2011’s finest albums.  I was not alone; after the success of 2007’s Person Pitch and the overwhelmingly positive response to Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion in 2009, the man known as Panda Bear was at or near the top of most critics’ lists of modern music demigods.  Indeed, the hype and critical adoration surrounding Tomboy seem to have abated in the past eight months as new records by the likes of Bon Iver and Wilco have stepped to the fore, but Tomboy’s technicolor pastiche of sequenced guitars, thrumming grooves, burbling drones, and subterranean echo are as dazzling now as they were upon release.  Listen to the densely layered harmonies of tracks like “Surfer’s Hymn” and “You Can Count on Me,” and you understand why Lennox might be the heir apparent to Brian Wilson.  Delve into the hypnotic panorama of “Alsatian Darn” or “Benfica,” and you’ll hear just how the genre known as chillwave came to fruition.

Wye Oak - Civilian

Wye Oak - Civilian

No. 2: Wye OakCivilian

There’s something uniquely satisfying about hearing a scarcely populated band – in this case, a duo  – attack their music with the surging urgency of a group two or three times the size.  Such is the case with Baltimore’s Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack, whose output under the moniker of Maryland’s honorary state tree splits the difference between tender intimacy and brooding catharis.  On Civilian – their third LP for Merge Records – Wye Oak juxtaposed gently percolating melodies and textures (“Two Small Deaths” and “Fish”) with raucous fuzzed-out freak outs (“Dogs Eyes” and “Holy Holy”).  For a couple of friends who just happen to be fairly adroit with guitar, keyboard, and drums, the emotive landscape was breathtakingly vast.  Like the lyric in album highlight “The Alter,” Wye Oak has a penchant for music that undulates with “a terror quiet calm,” examining life’s darker chapters with spectral sublimity.

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

No. 1: St. VincentStrange Mercy

I can recall seeing Annie Clark in concert for the first time – in 2008, as the opening act for Death Cab for Cutie on their Narrow Stairs tour.  In those days, Clark (pseudonym – St. Vincent) had only one proper album to her name, but even then it was undeniable that it would only be a matter of time before her alternately disconcerting and consoling pop tunes would attract a larger audience.  As you might expect from someone who has logged hours with figures that include such disparate figures as Glenn Branca, the Polyphonic Spree, and Sufjan Stevens, Annie Clark has as many palpable skills with barbed guitar solos and nauseous fits of the avant-garde as she does somnolent melodies and sophisticated ambience.  Nowhere is this more apparent than on this year’s Strange Mercy, where we find Clark attacking the gamut of the human condition with both the lush splendor of orchestral strings and the woozy warble of discordant synthesizers.  You can hear it all – and Clark’s prowess with a six-string, too – on “Surgeon,” which begins as a mollifying slowburner but quickly morphs into a cantankerous dancefloor jam.  At the other end of the spectrum is “Champagne Year,” where our heroine uses her deepest vocal range, gossamer keyboards, and astral guitar motifs to will herself onward after desires and expectations go unfulfilled.  “It’s not a killing / but it’s enough to keep the cobwebs clear,” she sings knowingly.  After Strange Mercy, Clark’s situation is likely to undergo some changes.

Top 10 Albums of 2011:

  1. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
  2. Wye Oak – Civilian
  3. Panda Bear – Tomboy
  4. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact
  5. The Antlers – Burst Apart
  6. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
  7. Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital
  8. Wilco – The Whole Love
  9. Explosions in the Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
  10. Radiohead – The King of Limbs

Top 5 Songs of 2011:
The Antlers – “Putting the Dog to Sleep”
Handsome Furs – “Bury Me Standing”
Fleet Foxes – “Helplessness Blues”
St. Vincent – “Champagne Year”
Panda Bear – “Alsatian Darn”

Most Underrated Album
Explosions in the Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

Best Debut Album
Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place