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Sean Daly reflects on his 10 favorite albums of 2011

this will be one of the few tops in 2011 pop wraps you read that won't have Adele's 21 on it. Maybe it's a "guy" thing; maybe it's because I'm just a no-good scoundrel, the kind of dude she bombastically laments. The Brit neo-soul singer is a tremendous talent, and I'm glad the world has fallen head over heels for her. But although I enjoyed her sophomore smash — and ooh mighty, can that girl wail — I liked the following 10 LPs more.

There's a certain gloom, an edge to this batch of records, a vibe that might mirror the state of the nation. With the exception of Kanye and Jay-Z's braggadocio blowout Watch the Throne and the Black Keys' groinal guitar on El Camino, there's also a thread of longing, of subtle human despair. Paul Simon ponders the Pearly Gates on So Beautiful or So What. Bon Iver ventures into the gauze looking for peace on Bon Iver. The late Amy Winehouse goes 12 rounds with heartache on Lioness.

These are fantastic albums, but they're often fantastically sad, too. So fair warning, young lovers — it can get rough out there. Herewith, in random order, are my 10 favorite albums of 2011.

The Vaccines, What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?

These British scruffs blend dignified punk with tender-boy hooks, resulting in songs a la the breakup sucker-punch A Lack Of Understanding.

Miranda Lambert, Four the Record

Mrs. Blake Shelton is the gutsiest, craziest and flat-out best artist currently setting Nashville ablaze. One minute she's singing about cross-dressers, the next she's snarling a fuzzed-out come-on, the next she's using Samsonite as a weapon. But wait, there's more from Miranda.

Pistol Annies, Hell on Heels

In the side-project surprise of the year, Lambert and harmonizing cowgirl pals Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley put out this retro-country '70s spin, about tough times and tougher women.

My Morning Jacket, Circuital

They don't come hairier or dreamier than Jim James and his exceptionally bearded Louisville trip-rockers, who can space out to the far reaches of the head shop or be just as cool cooing the soul-kissed Holdin on to Black Metal.

Jay-Z and Kanye West,

Watch the Throne

The Butch and Sundance of rap, Jay and 'Ye deliver an over-the-top, totally paranoid gem about aging rhymers fighting off younger guns — all while remaining fabulous.

Bon Iver, Bon Iver

It's mandatory that music critics adore Justin Vernon of Eau Claire, Wis., the slightly cracked brain trust of Bon Iver. If Simon and Garfunkel wrote April Come She Will today, it would probably sound like this, space-folk for the masses.

The Black Keys, El Camino

My hero Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley fame) produced this one from the Akron, Ohio, noisemakers, but there's nothing neo about it. It's a grinding, randy guitars-and-drums white-boy-blues stomp made for fake-wood-paneled basements and beatup cars.

Amy Winehouse,

Lioness: Hidden Treasures

The late beehived Brit makes us miss her even more with these B-sides and rarities showing off a jazz-soul vocal that phrased words in head-spinning but heartfelt ways. Her take on Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, produced by Mark Ronson, is as gut-wrenching as anything by Adele.

Paul Simon,

So Beautiful or So What

Father Time can't tame the innate percussive derring-do of 70-year-old Paul Simon, the master of merging quirky, thoughtful poetry with complex rhythms — and turning it all into a foot-tapping fiesta.


The King of Limbs

The next time someone at a party says they're waiting for Radiohead to abandon obtuse songs and return to the art-rock grandeur of The Bends and OK Computer you tell them that's what Thom Yorke & Co. just did. Welcome back, weirdos.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@ or (727) 893-8467.

Sean Daly reflects on his 10 favorite albums of 2011 12/23/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 23, 2011 2:30pm]
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