Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My favorite albums of 2011, numbers 30 through 21

Posted By on 12.28.11 at 09:00 AM

The countdown continues.

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30. Nils Berg Cinemascope, Popmotion (Hoob Jazz) Superb Swedish reedist Nils Berg builds beautiful jazz pieces from songs he finds in amateur YouTube clips from countries around the globe—including Japan, Ghana, and India. Berg and his cohorts, drummer Christopher Cantillo and bassist Josef Kallerdahl, deliver pitch-perfect performances of his resourceful compositions that sound utterly natural despite their convoluted origins.

29. Ty Segall, Goodbye Bread (Drag City) Bay Area garage-rock prophet Ty Segall grows dramatically as a songwriter and singer without polishing up his raw sound. It's not hard to find a fun, raunchy garage album these days, but not one this year has stayed with me longer or given me more pleasure than Goodbye Bread.

28. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop) I realize that this Seattle band's huge boner for the vocal harmonies of 70s folk rock has made them a favorite object of obsession for self-appointed indie aesthetes, but that's not enough to keep me from admitting that I adore this record. It's improved over the band's first album in some tangible respects—Robin Pecknold and company have expanded their instrumental palette modestly and made the songs more dramatic—but the way their heavenly voices shape the tunes is still what keeps me mesmerized.

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27. Deerhoof, Deerhoof Vs. Evil (Polyvinyl) I can't think of another rock band that's pushed itself into awkward corners as often as Deerhoof yet maintained an instantly recognizable sound all the while. I suppose the sweet, chirpy vocals of bassist and singer Satomi Matsuzaki have something to do with it, but it's taken more than that for Deerhoof to maintain its position at the top of the high-level experimental pop-rock pile—namely the colliding guitar ideas of Ed Rodriguez and John Dieterich and the massive, side-splitting drums of Greg Saunier.

26. Bill McHenry, Ghosts of the Sun (Sunnyside) This airy postbop session, led by one of New York's most sophisticated saxophonists, happened five years ago—around the same time the group cut its first album, Roses. Joined by bassist Reid Anderson, guitarist Ben Monder, and brilliant drummer Paul Motian—whose death has been one of the music world's biggest losses in 2011—McHenry balances weightless abstraction with extraordinary melodic warmth.

25. Jeremiah Cymerman, Fire Sign (Tzadik) New York's Jeremiah Cymerman has composed some wonderful music, both for string quartet and for solo clarinet (his favored instrument), but on Fire Sign he's mostly behind a computer "making art of garbage" (his phrase). The source material he uses is stuff he mostly recorded live during a stint as concert presenter of improvised music (played by such folks as Peter Evans, Nate Wooley, Tom Blancarte, and Harris Eisenstadt), and he edits and transforms it to create mind-numbing works driven by their own clear logic and sense of drama.

24. Nils Okland & Sibjorn Apeland, Lysøen—Hommage à Ole Bull (ECM) A devastatingly beautiful, meditative, and austere tribute to Ole Bull, a colorful, often forgotten Norwegian violin virtuoso and paragon of romanticism. Violinist and Hardanger fiddle master Nils Okland and pianist and harmonium player Sigbjorn Apeland gaze upon the master through the dual lenses of traditional folk music and improvisation.

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23. Jeremy Udden & Plainville, If the Past Seems So Bright (Sunnyside) Reedist Jeremy Udden further refines his singular take on country-flavored jazz, sculpting slow-moving, pastoral meditations and reveries that bring a folksy charm to postbop improvising. His scrappy rhythm section—and this band's guitarist and banjo player, Brandon Seabrook—offsets any sentimental sweetness with cragginess and grit.

22. Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Wolfroy Goes to Town (Drag City) Will Oldham has become so deadly consistent and strong that it seems like many people take him for granted. Don't make that mistake. This is another stunning collection of folk-rock with superb singing (by Oldham and Chicago's own Angel Olsen), excellent musicianship, and alternately twisted and poignant lyrics.

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21. Greg Kelley & Olivia Block, Resolution (Erstwhile) A dazzlingly rich slice of sound art from radical Boston trumpeter Greg Kelley and Chicago sound artist Olivia Block, further animated by a jagged, nonlinear narrative. The album creates an evocative collage from extended trumpet and piano techniques as well as sounds recorded at a garbage-processing and recycling facility (among other sources). Listen and let your imagination run wild.

Today's playlist:

Do Drugs, Do Drugs (ILK)
Zezé Motta, Negra Melodia (Joia Moderna)
Mah Damba, Mali: In the Shadow of the Great Baobab (Buda)
Toshi Ichiyanagi, Michael Ranta, and Takehisa Kosugi, Improvisation Sep. 1975 (Phoenix)
Maria Farantouri, Maria Farantouri Sings Taner Akyol (Enja)

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