Albums of 2011: Colin Stetson, The Last Hurrah!!, St. Vincent, tUnE-yArDs

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Colin Stetson – New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges

A prominent contributor to the likes of Arcade Fire, Tom Waits and LCD Soundsystem, Colin Stetson’s solo work – on NHW2, a series of primal pieces for bass saxophone – is a different kind of achievement. Aside from the unfamiliar screeches and grunts he elicits, what’s most impressive is that the constant streams of music are recorded live without overdubs – the heard assault rests on intensive circular breathing. Occasional vocals by Laurie Anderson and Shara Worden add colour to a visceral, seemingly apocalyptic, listen.

The Last Hurrah!! – Spiritual Non-Believers

Listening to the debut album from Norwegian hit-man HP Gundersen’s psychedelic folk venture isn’t unlike sliding between the stations on a shortwave radio. It opens as if being tuned in, then freely skips between melodic segments, which are held together by the narrative story at its core and a “drone guitar” style influenced by Stephen Stills. In effect a single continuous track, it’s not exactly through-composed, but as an infectiously fun journey through a wacky series of musical fragments, it’s one of the undiscovered gems of 2011.

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

In the same vein as her former collaborator Sufjan Stevens’ effort last year, Annie Clark’s latest is a dense, audacious and occasionally bewildering musical achievement. Without altering her basic songwriting style, the development comes from her most daring orchestrations yet, which combine hints of her previous chamber pop arrangements with guitar noise and outlandish effects. As well as being a lavish end in itself, John Congleton’s co-production provides a colourful backdrop to Clark’s brilliant technical guitar playing.

tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

It’s impossible to assume much about Merrill Garbus’ creative process, but the sheer number of genres people attach to her work illustrates both the breadth of her influences and the impossibility of pigeonholing her music. In inventive spirit, her music strongly resembles that of Micachu. On w h o k i l l, she builds on the acoustic style of 2009’s lo-fi debut in only good directions; her bellowed vocals can be startling, whereas the brash arrangements for percussion, bass, vocal loops and horns are never less than extremely catchy.

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