It’s almost 2012 – so naturally, it’s time for a roundup of the best music that 2011 had to offer. Here are the Top 10 albums of the year (and the best in the classical category) according to The Globe’s music critics. Tell us what you think of these picks - and add your own - in the comments section.
ROBERT EVERETT-GREEN’S PICKS
1. Metals, Feist, Arts & Crafts
Success hasn’t insulated Feist from the sharp edges of life. This lean and lonesome record stokes a slow-burning fire through 12 tough-minded songs about the people we lose, and the things that rot away as we cling to them.
2. Strange Mercy, St. Vincent
Annie Clark’s third album turns her light voice, wicked guitar skills and flair for stylistic mash-ups toward the scarred battlefield of the heart. Her truths, hidden behind sleek Hollywood facades or in snarling synthesizer breaks, are puzzles that won’t accept simple solutions.
3. Castlemusic, Jennifer Castle
The visionary yet sharply realistic world of this superb collection of songs has many more dimensions than three. When Jennifer Castle tells a story in song, she makes you feel the place of its happening, as a smell in the air, a silent warmth, a desperate chill in the heart.
4. Rome, Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppe
Musicians are usually fans of other musicians. Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) and Daniele Luppe express their love for old spaghetti-western soundtracks by making a fresh soundtrack for a film that doesn’t exist. Great tuneful stuff, heavy in atmosphere, with fab cameos by Jack White and Norah Jones.
5. Let England Shake, PJ Harvey
PJ Harvey’s songs of war explore the subject via first-person accounts of First World War troops at Gallipoli. Harvey’s delicate tunes and quiet home-front arrangements – she mostly trades her guitar for jangling autoharp – confront the horror with devastating understatement.
6. Smoke Ring For My Halo, Kurt Vile
Vile’s latest solo album makes everything spare and simple while blowing it up in your face. His ragged, strong tunes circle through your mind like recurring dreams, juiced with 1,000 volts, and sparked with lines such as “If it ain't workin, take a whiz on the world / an entire nation drinking from a dirty cup.”
7. Native Speaker, Braids
This breakout release by the Montreal-based quartet builds delirious layers of patterned sound under its blunt and often randy lyrics, sung in a child’s field-holler style by Raphaelle Standell-Preston. A great melodic bouquet with plenty of thorns included.
8. Explicit Pictures, We Are Enfant Terrible
I don’t smoke, but I want to light a Gauloise as I listen to Clo Floret sing over bratty propulsive beats ripped from the eight-bit voice boxes of old game machines. English lyrics can’t mask the passionate Gallic coolness of habit-forming songs that sooth the soul as they poke you in the eye.
9. Femmes de Chez Nous, Christine Fellows
Fellows holed up at Winnipeg’s Musée de St. Boniface, and the ghosts of that former convent, hospital and orphanage come alive in her bilingual album of hand-stitched songs about loneliness, silence and endurance. Bonus: a DVD of Fellows performing live with multimedia artist Shary Boyle.
10. Undun, The Roots
The Philadelphia hip-hop crew traces the life history of a fictional 25-year-old whose time on Earth ends just before the music starts. This is the first novel presented in rap and song, and it’s a beautifully realized, groundbreaking exercise.
BRAD WHEELER’S PICKS
1. Metals, Feist
If we didn’t know it already, the artful singer-songwriter Leslie Feist can do so much more than count to four. Her singing is a given, but now the song-craft and moody, lush production – and occasional punchy moments – match a one-in-a-million voice.
2. Undun, The Roots
A Shuggie Otis-y soul symphony and hip-hop statement on the black American experience. No less than a masterpiece.
3. David Comes to Life, F***ed Up
Uncommonly conceptual and uncommonly hard hard-rock, with a central refrain (“dying on the inside, dying on the inside”) that is brilliantly downbeat and uplifting at once.
4. The King of Limbs, Radiohead
Yeah, okay, it’s no In Rainbows. Get over it. The twitchy electro beats intrigue, and Thom Yorke is as underrated a soul singer as breathes.
5. So Beautiful or So What, Paul Simon
The former, without a doubt. Genius songwriting and subtly eclectic arrangements win, almost always.
6. James Blake, James Blake
The British boy wonder of post-dubstep invents himself with an intriguing and heartfelt new music. Incomparable.
7. Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes
Thoughtful, scenic and harmonic – bearded indie-folk has a new standard.
8. Wild Flag, Wild Flag
Courtney Love goes Go-Gos, and, with one song ( Endless Talk), the Cars reunion is made superfluous.