My favorite albums of 2011, numbers 40 through 31 | Bleader

My favorite albums of 2011, numbers 40 through 31

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Starting today I'll be counting down my 40 favorite albums of 2011. My top ten choices will run in the Reader's Year in Review issue, which ought to hit the street Wednesday evening. I truly love all this music, but take the rankings with a grain of salt—and please bear in mind that I'm not trying to be definitive. OK, let's roll.

40. Tom Waits, Bad As Me (Anti-) The rheumy, dyspeptic cartoon Tom Waits plays on his albums has become predictable on recent efforts, but on Bad As Me the songwriting and performances maintain the upper hand over the theater.

39. Julia Holter, Tragedy (Leaving) One of the most uncategorizable things I heard this year, Julia Holter's Tragedy mixes music concrete, synth-pop, noise, ambient collage, and art-folk in a melange that keeps pulling me in and challenging me to solve its vast mysteries.

38. Burkhard Stangl, Hommage à Moi (Loewenhertz) This wittily titled three-CD set surveys two decades of the compositions of Austrian guitarist Burkhard Stangl, a former sideman of Franz Koglman and a founding member of Polwechsel and the Magic I.D. Free improvisation, electronic experimentation, and modern takes on several centuries of classical music collide brilliantly.

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37. Vladislav Delay Quartet, Vladislav Delay Quartet (Honest Jon's) Following on his relatively organic work in the Moritz von Oswald Trio, innovative Finnish producer and percussionist Vladislav Delay (aka Sasu Ripatti) teams up with fellow Finn Mika Vainio (Pansonic) and improvisers Derek Shirley (bass) and Lucio Capece (reeds) to produce dense, harrowing, glacially evolving 3-D soundscapes.

36. Susanna Wallumrød, Jeg Vil Hjem Til Menneskene (Grappa) Susanna Wallumrød (of Susanna & the Magical Orchestra) sings in her native Norwegian, setting the poetry of Gunvor Hofmo to sophisticated pop-rock melodies with instrumental support from Ståle Storløkken (Supersilent) and guitarist Hans Magnus Ryan (Motorpsycho), among others.

35. Hedvig Mollestad Trio, Shoot! (Rune Grammofon) This resourceful young Norwegian guitarist delivers a killer jazz-rock fusion, recalling the scrappiest of Sonny Sharrock's comeback material infused with tones and riffs from postpunk and hard rock, and she pulls it off with an incredibly light touch, avoiding both excess and shtick. She's one to watch for sure.

34. Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Rhízoma (Innova) On her debut album, this Icelandic composer uses graphic notation to create nuanced drones and ominous, turbulent moods that unfold with a rare grace and assurance, balancing light and dark with breathtaking precision.

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33. yMusic, Beautiful Mechanical (New Amsterdam) This chamber group of young New York classical musicians served as Shara Worden's backing band on the superb My Brightest Diamond album All Things Will Unwind (Asthmatic Kitty), and its members have been trusted collaborators of everyone from Nico Muhly to Bon Iver. On their debut they perform new work from equally young, genre-averse talents like Worden, Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent), Sarah Kirkland Snider, and Judd Greenstein, proving that "pop" doesn't necessarily mean "dumbed down."

32. Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone, Departure of Reason (Thirsty Ear) A folksy informality remains at the heart of this long-running collaboration between guitarist Mary Halvorson and violist Jessica Pavone, but on their fourth album the compositions have taken such a qualitative leap that it's hard not to hear this as the record where the project leaves behind its low-key beginnings.

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31. Chris Speed's Endangered Blood, Endangered Blood (Skirl) This killer quartet led by reedist Chris Speed—featuring drummer and eternal collaborator Jim Black, bassist Trevor Dunn, and fellow reedist Oscar Noriega—brings a rich variety of approaches to the arrangements of his sturdy tunes. By using salty-sweet harmonic contrasts as well as juxtapositions of unison with counterpoint and fluidity with disruption, Endangered Blood delivers a sharp distillation of what's great about New York's jazz underground.

Today's playlist:

Tyler Blanton, Botanic (no label)
Zeena Parkins, Between the Whiles (Table of the Elements)
Indigo Trio, Anaya (Rogue Art)
Lord Luther, I Am the Lord! (Ace)
AC/DC, For Those About to Rock We Salute You (Atco)

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