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The best music of 2011

Our top 20 releases of the year in no particular order

Photo: Jenn Sweeney, License: N/A

Jenn Sweeney

Anna Calvi Anna Calvi

All you people stacking your year-end lists with PJ Harvey’s album really missed out on the true heir to Polly Jean’s throne. Anna Calvi’s throaty, expressive voice is all drama, all the time, with a noir-rock soundtrack to back it up. Powerful stuff. –JF

NewVillager New Villager

Despite its market ubiquity, R&B is largely worthless nowadays, a free-flowing but grossly devalued currency. But new Brooklyn art band NewVillager is the most intriguing and convincing act to emerge with a truly forward-looking psych-pop take on the once-proud form. And this debut is a fresh and, well, fresh take on soul. – BLH

Moon Duo Mazes

The grungy, lysergic offshoot of the already plenty-psychedelic Wooden Shjips made an album that gave Shjips’ own 2011 entry a brain-melting run for its money. – JF

Britney Spears Femme Fatale

It’s news to nobody that the popular-music industrial complex has whittled down the necessity for pop stars – and the personalities, tabloid red-meat relationship dramas and rehab stints that inevitably come with them – to a nubbin, the better to bottom-line their output as mere product. But modern pop listeners accept that as the consequence of danceable junk food and should be able to alter their standards accordingly. Femme Fatale, the seventh album by factory product-in-absentia Britney Spears, was the apotheosis of female bot-pop, a massively enjoyable, end-to-end candy store of treats that mostly shoves aside its blond figurehead to make way for super-producers like Dr. Luke, Max Martin and especially Swedish duo Bloodshy and Avant. The result was bubblegum-flavored gold. – JS

Gypsyblood Cold in the Guestway

This debut from Chicago is one compelling and tasty cocktail. Their merge of shoegaze and off-kilter indie rock is like the very handsome offspring of the Jesus & Mary Chain and Archers of Loaf or perhaps Pavement. It’s got both deliciously woozy melodies and wonderfully chewy, fuzzy texture. – BLH

The Weeknd House of Balloons

Overhyped or underappreciated? Soulful or cynical? Woozy or lazy? Yes. –JF

Principally poetic

Could Eminem rap his way into a laureateship?

by Justin Strout

This year, for the first time in my life, I felt as though I couldn’t afford to listen to hip-hop anymore. Of course, monetary braggadocio has always been inextricably tied to the genre, but there’s a landmass of difference between Bronx rappers comparing gold chains in the ’80s or Cash Money in the ’90s and real-life President Obama BFF Jay-Z’s chillingly credible threat off this year’s Watch the Throne that, if he were to, say, murder you, between his private jets, five passports and connections, “asylum can be purchased.” In 2011, luxury rap was in, and if you didn’t know who Martin Margiela or Michael Kors were, you didn’t belong at the party.

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