35 Washed Out Within and Without
Ernest Greene’s first full album as chillwave auteur Washed Out is a spectacular 40-minute wooze cruise–its ear-tickling beats, cresting harmonies, and cascades of synths unrelentingly lap at listeners’ pleasure centers (with the focus on live instru-mentation over samples). Animal Collective producer Ben Allen helped escort Greene out of the comfort of his bedroom and into the plush beauty of opener “Eyes Be Closed.” Luckily for us, Greene issued himself an additional caveat: “Ears be opened.”C.G.
34 St. Vincent Strange Mercy
As sure as a rose has its thorns, Annie Clark pairs the purity of her soprano with the poison of her own exquisitely shredding guitar. Her third solo album is terrifyingly beautiful, with well-manicured art-pop labyrinths betraying serpents beneath the soil. Favoring masks and well-turned lyrical abstractions over bared skin, Clark revels in the paradox of revealing herself through concealment: “I always had a knack with the danger,” she concludes, the album’s sole self-evident truth.BARRY WALTERS
33 Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues
When most of us first heard frontfox Robin Pecknold’s gilded voice three years ago, the young folkie focused intently on the world around him, specifically the idyllic rivers and hills of his native Pacific Northwest. Something changed. Helplessness Blues marks the moment the singer began grappling with the first person, and a new, though no less vast and majestic, landscape emerges. The result is a sinewy, often stormy album of ’70s-centric folk rock that sparkles even when cast in shadows.DAVID BEVAN
32 Hayes Carll KMAG YOYO (& other American stories)
Perhaps the best part of Hayes Carll’s third album is its cover: The singer mugs in an ill-fitting American-flag sweater, cowboy boots kicked off his feet. If this were a comic, he’d get curb-stomped by Toby Keith in the next panel. Elsewhere, the subterranean homesick title track is the best movie ever made about the War on Terror, while the Cary Ann Hearst duet “Another Like You” gives you hope that all blue-state/red-state acrimony might resolve itself in a boozy hotel-room romp.STEVE KANDELL
31 Yuck Yuck
Beyond all the ’90s throwback folderol, Yuck were 2011’s favorite waste of time–or mixtape crush–due to their radiantly drowsy melodies, riffs that scrungily sparkled and/or fizzled, and lyrics that huddled on the hyphen between passive and aggressive. As a frontman, Daniel Blumberg was a cuddly inaction figure, cooing epically powerless power-pop. The deluxe edition added six ace songs that were as undeniable as, say, Buffalo Tom on Episode 12 of My So-Called Life.C.A.