Hail the Women of St. Vincent and tUnE-yArDs, Creators of Some of 2011's Best Music

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tUnE-yArDs, left, by Jason Stoff. St. VIncent, right, by Kiernan Maletsky
The annual apocalypse is nigh, wherein critics celebrate the end of the year with a debaucherous amount of self-important analysis on the previous twelve months in music. I am among the many to rank my favorite records, if only because our culture tells us it's what people who care do every December. The two records atop my list are w h o k i l l by tUnE-yArDs and Strange Mercy by St. Vincent. Both have already appeared on some early birds' lists and are certain to show up on many of those not yet published or posted.

I found it difficult to place one above the other, but ties are for the weak in music journalism (tUnE-yArDs eventually won in my book. That is not the point.). In the macro and micro sense, the similarities between w ho k i l l and Strange Mercy are bountiful. Both come from singular artists who perform under a moniker (tUnE-yArDs = Merrill Garbus, St. Vincent = Annie Clark). Both are pop records at heart, masked by bruised skin. Both are sonically astounding. Both offer a liberal dose of the saxophone. Both artists played jaw-dropping shows in St. Louis this year. Both even have a song that makes reference to a loved one suffering from police brutality -- "Policemen shot my baby as he crossed right over my doorstep" (tUnE-yArDs' "Doorstep") and "If I ever meet that dirty policeman who roughed you up, oh I don't know what" (St. Vincent's "Strange Mercy").

The most obvious commonality is that Merrill Garbus and Annie Clark are both female. This should matter the least, and it probably does to some. But not to me. This is the first year that my two favorite albums were made by female artists. I'm not sure what this means for me as a music lover or human. I feel dismissive saying this is completely insignificant, but trying to construct an epiphany makes me feel like I'm overcompensating, like one of those guys who references the amount of Kanye on his iPod as proof that he's not racist. The true meaning is probably somewhere in the middle.

More than any releases by female artists before, gender has little to do with how these albums affect me as a listener. The last thing on my mind when spinning w h o k i l l or Strange Mercy is gender politics or the fact that I'm hearing music from the opposite sex. I can't say as much for some other artists I enjoy. Feist and Mirah work loosely in a template that female artists have employed for ages -- Joni Mitchell comes to mind for both -- and while neither plays up their femininity, they tend to write from a traditional girl-to-boy perspective. Garbus or Clark toy with the same motifs, but always put some demented twist on the formula. It isn't cute, it's terrifying.



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3 comments
The Wiser
The Wiser

WHoKill was the most orginal sounding album i heard all year and the best. Such amazing energy on the album, Merrill Garbus is such an unique artist from here quirky ukulele playing, crazy vocal loops, and such a range with here vocals she truely deserves recongnition for her skills. Strange Mercy was such a great album too these girls blow Lady Gaga, Rihanan, andKaty Perry out of the water as artists. They deserve the spotlight.

voice o'reason
voice o'reason

I know how much you, Ryan, and the rest of the staff there, like this tuneyards.  I'd like to voice a dissenting opinion:This tuneyards music is terrible.  It is absolutely vile, I'm-new-to-music-and-effects-pedals garbage.  It is low-rent, college freshman performance art nonsense.  Give it some time, I think you'll agree.

I defy anyone to watch the following live performance, and look through the internet and into my eyes, and tell me this is good:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

voice o'reason
voice o'reason

I know how much you, Ryan, and the rest of the staff there, like this tuneyards.  I'd like to voice a dissenting opinion:This tuneyards music is terrible.  It is absolutely vile, I'm-new-to-music-and-effects-pedals garbage.  It is low-rent, college freshman performance art nonsense.  Give it some time, I think you'll agree.

I defy anyone to watch the following live performance, and look through the internet and into my eyes, and tell me this is good:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

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