The best (and worst) music of 2011: Marley Lynch's picks

Tune-Yards produced the year's bravest, most challenging record.

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  • Tune-Yards, Whokill

  • Cut Copy, Zonoscope

  • St. Vincent, Strange Mercy

  • Adele, 21

  • Florence and the Machine, Ceremonials

  • The Kills, Blood Pressures

  • Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne

  • Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring for My Halo

  • Feist, Metals

  • Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi, Rome

Tune-Yards, Whokill

The best albums

1 Tune-Yards, Whokill (4AD)
Thorny lyrics, an electrifying ukulele, melodies borrowed from African traditions and layers of syncopated rhythms resulted in the most inventive and challenging record of the year, one that revealed more with each listen. 

2 Cut Copy, Zonoscope (Modular)
The Aussie synth masters reached new heights in subtlety and complexity, concealing tense exercises in yearning behind deceptively blissful, shimmering dance-floor grooves.

3 St. Vincent, Strange Mercy (4AD)
Annie Clark made a disturbing and completely enchanting art-rock record, comprising her unsettlingly eerie lullaby voice, dramatic organ-inspired synths and lurching guitars.

4 Adele, 21 (XL)
You actually hoped that this young Londoner would continue to have her heart broken, so poignant and soulful were the ballads on 21—one of the only Billboard chart-toppers that deserved to be there.

5 Florence and the Machine, Ceremonials (Universal Republic)
How do you face the challenge of following up a near-perfect debut? You do as Florence Welch did: bigger, darker, more dramatic. "No Light, No Light" was a hair-raising, heart-twisting powerhouse that showcased Welch's voice at its most mystical.

6 The Kills, Blood Pressures (Domino)
Though Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince strayed from their roles as Kills members during the past few years—she as Jack White's so-obvious counterpart in the Dead Weather, he as the newlywed Mr. Kate Moss—those distractions were undetectable on the duo's most mature, direct work yet.

7 Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
That these two hip-hop tycoons made a brilliant album was not so surprising, but their offering still blew minds with its brilliance and vicious, visceral catchiness.

8 Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring for My Halo (Matador)
Proving just how much one dude with a guitar can do, Kurt Vile created a mega-album of timeless songs—it's as if he'd channeled Bob Seger in that hazy, intimate moment between sleep and waking.

9 Feist, Metals (Cherrytree/Interscope)
It took this reluctant star-in-the-making five years to return to the studio. If this quietly gorgeous album of tender and dynamic musings was any indication, it's where she belongs.

10 Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi, Rome (Capitol)
This long-awaited collaboration, in which lush instrumentals alternated with swinging vocals from Jack White and Norah Jones, formed an intimate, cohesive narrative belonging to no particular film, but instead becoming an audacious brand of symphonic pop.

Listen to tracks from Marley Lynch's Best Albums of 2011 on Spotify

The best single

Tune-Yards, "Powa"
Merrill Garbus took great risks with her sultry slow-builder "Powa," powerfully navigating the spectrum from deep snarl to impossible falsetto while disclosing the most intimate of truths about herself. The returns were even greater.

The worst

Amy Winehouse's death
Beyond the music that this British soul divinity never got to make and the albums we'll never hear, losing such a talented, feisty young woman to alcohol, drug abuse and depression was beyond troubling. If only she could see the posthumously released Lioness: Hidden Treasures topping the charts—it's a comeback that came too late.

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