Best of 2011: New Music

This was easily the most difficult category for me. So many amazing albums came out that it’s pure folly to limit myself to only five. So I haven’t (but six was still tough).

DC Fontana – La Contessa — For me, this group had the hands-down best album of 2011. The near-perfect La Contessa brings together elements of highly charged Northern Soul, and fronts it with the lovely and lively Karla Milton, a worthy successor to Julie Driscoll‘s late-sixties work. To call this music thrilling is no overstatement. If this doesn’t make you move, like the man said, Jack, you’re dead.

Agony Aunts – Greater Miranda – They might or might not even appreciate the nod, since Agony Aunts is but one of many side-projects from the Bay Areas pop cottage industry operating under the Mystery Lawn Music banner. But this effort — with members of the Corner Laughers and The Orange Peels – is consistently endearing and entertaining. And if you dig it, most everything else from this crowd is nearly as splendid.

Dennis Coffey – Dennis Coffey – One of the legendary Funk Brothers, Coffey’s distinctive guitar lines graced many a 70s funk, soul and rock album out of Detroit. After a number of years’ low profile, Coffey roars back with this incendiary set. Dennis Coffey is that rarest of creatures: an album where the guest spots actually make sense.

The Penguin Party – Sex Furniture Warehouse – In film, comedy is much tougher to pull off than drama: while most agree what’s dramatic, opinions differ widely as to what’s humorous. Which isn’t to say that The Penguin Party’s latest is a comedy album: more properly it’s described as as and honest musical look at middle-aged life that happens to be funny as hell.

Blackfield – Welcome to My DNA – That this one made my list surprises even me. While I’m a huge Steven Wilson fan, Wilson’s involvement with this album (he’s a busy guy) is well below the 50% mark. And in general I’m no huge fan of Aviv Geffen‘s highly Israeli-accented voice. And — in contrast to earlier Blackfield releases — this is much more a Geffen project than a Wilson one. But the songwriting and playing on Welcome to My DNA are so uniformly amazing that I had to include it. It’s more accessible, in the end, than Wilson’s own 2011 solo release, the also-excellent Grace for Drowning.

Special Bonus Mention: Ben Craven – Great and Terrible Potions – This one falls into the “classic prog” genre. With production, songwriting, playing and arrangement that recall the heydays of progressive rock, Ben Craven’s one-man release is a tour de force.

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