Best Albums of 2011

I read on a music site that 2011 lacked the important albums of past years.  While I cannot disagree, I did find this year to be, surprising.  There was a lot of great new music that came out and even the mainstream acts produced solid and very listenable music.  My pick for #1 is one that has stuck with me all year.  It’s by no means a surprise pick in that it has appeared at the top spot on numerous lists.  Here it is dear friends, the 50 best records of 2011.

And for a 2nd and 3rd opinion, scroll down for Thom and Travis’s picks.  Thanks boys.  Enjoy everyone.

1)  Bon Iver- Bon Iver

The year’s best album was the one that resonated with me from the moment I heard it.  Justin Vernon has created not only one of the most beautiful heartfelt albums in a long time but one that can immerse itself into the mainstream.  Painstakingly personal.

2) The Vaccines- What Did You Expect?

As I read all the music sites and journals for their year-end best of I am stunned that this perfect indie pop album hasn’t registered at all with any of them.  Stunned I tell you.

3)  M83- Hurry Up We’re Dreaming

As this was one of my anticipate albums of 2011 it’s no surprise that it made the list.  The fact that it was 2 discs of beautiful hazy dream pop made it twice as good.

4)  Real Estate- Days

2nd full length from Jersey boys, Real Estate.  Minimalistic in sound but full-bodied in tone.

5)  Wye Oak- Civilian

While I liked the last record, The Knot a lot this new record has been on repeat since its release.  The 2 members have an extraordinary way of harmonizing their music and vocals.

6)  Austra- Feel It Break

Katie Stelamis the singer behind Austra sounds similar to Kate Bush or to some extent Zola Jesus.  Pretty and hazy with drums and sound that compliment her range.  Listen to the track, ‘Lose it’ and you can hear it.

7)  Dirty Beaches- Badlands

Again, a record that since I heard it early in the year has been on repeat.  Dirty Beaches is Alex Zhang Hungtai and on this record he does something that I can’t remember hearing.  He channels not only a young Roy Orbison or even a young Elvis, but what that era was all about.

8)  Tune-Yards- Whokill

Tune-Yards has been billed as a one woman show (namely, Merrill Garbus) and she tells you that from the first track.  What the record is however is an impressive display of musical prowess.  You can hear the influence of jazz, afro-punk, lo-fi and so on.  The most original album on this list.

9)  Girls- Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Man, this band can really make music.  So far, they have released 2 outstanding albums and one equally outstanding EP in just over a few years.  I said this last year, if this band continues to make the quality of albums they have then we are looking at one of the best bands of the decade.

10)  The Drums- Portamento

In my opinion, the most underrated album of 2011.  Their first album ranked 16th in 2009 but this is so much better.  What was Kinks-lite has matured into a band that has found their sound.  They did lose a guitarist and the songs are way more about death or dying or loss but they have hit their highest point with Portamento.

11)  Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues

Another great record from the kings of folk-rock that has in recent years really hit the mainstream.  Deeper in tone yet more relaxed.

12)  Tim Hecker- Ravedeath, 1972

I didn’t know much about Tim Hecker until I read a review on his newest album.  Picture all the sounds that complement your life and put them together to make music.  That is what I feel when listening to this.  “Digital garbage” as he describes it.

13)  Smith Westerns- Dye It Blond

Just some good ol’ fashioned kick ass rock n roll.

14)  Fucked Up- David Comes to Life

Hyped as the essential punk rock opera.  It is however a full blast, visceral and intense hard rock classic.  If you’re interested the album is a complicated story of David Eliade who falls in love with a woman named Veronica Boisson.  There’s a lot more to it.  Read Pitchfork’s spot on review here:

15)  Other Lives- Tamer Animals

Dreamy and enchanting lyrics make up most of the previously unknown (to me) guys of Other Lives.  Cinematic and perfectly arranged.

16)  Telekinesis- 12 Separate Lines

Perfect indie pop from Michael Lerner and Telekinesis.  I like this band cause they sound like the great indie pop bands of the 90’s (Teenage Fanclub, first and second album Weezer, Velocity Girl).

17)  Atlas Sound- Parallax

Is Branford Cox the most prolific man in music?  If not then his name has to be on a short list of those that are.  The man’s got a gift.

18)  EMA- Past Life Martyred Saints

High octive in feel but serene and melodic in sound this is a girl on the rise.  Looks to have the total package, set of chops, great sense of how to compose an album and a looker.

19)  Cults- Cults

Pretty and fun is the best way to describe this début.  I’m a real sucker for the 2 person (guy/girl) band.

20)  The Weeknd- House of Balloons

Another free released mix tape that came out earlier in the year.  Sensual and sexual at both times he reminds me of a better sounding Drake (who I don’t care for).

21)  Panda Bear- Tomboy

Much has been written that the new album from the genius known as Panda Bear is that it disappoints.  I think he’s just way beyond everyone else in making music.  All said and done, he is going to be one of the most talented musicians of all time.

22)  Jamie Woon- Mirrorwriting

I think I could be down with this whole smooth singing soul sound that is making a comeback.  Loved this record.  And his voice is killer.

23)   Youth Lagoon- The Year of Hibernation

Boise, Idaho’s own Trevor Powers is the brainchild of Youth Lagoon.  8 great, hushed and intimate tracks.

24)   Craft Spells- Idle Labor

Another lush, beautiful record this one from Craft Spells out of Stockton, California.  I can’t recall another record where the album’s cover mirrored the sound.

25)  Beyonce- 4

Not sure if you’re familiar with this artist.  Her best record.  Easily.

26)  The Joy Formidable- The Big Roar

So, I listened to this record all year.  Why doesn’t it rank higher on the list you ask?  Because last year I placed their A Balloon Called Moaning at #37.  This record has a handful of songs from that plus more.  I still haven’t tired of either.

27)  Okkervil River- I Am Very Far

One of my favorite bands currently.  Disappointing only because their past albums rank so high on my favs.  It sill contains some of the best songwriting and composition of their career.

28)  JAY Z & Kanye West- Watch the Throne

A perfect combination of sounds of 2 of the biggest hip-hop stars of our time (and probably ever).  They work so well off each other that they never seem to get in each other’s way.  It must be tough for 2 top of their game artists to collaborate on something and for it to sound authentic but this really does.

29)  Lykke Li- Wounded Rhymes

She’s just awesome.  I love listening to her voice.

30)  James Blake- James Blake

Another artist that made the list last year (under EP’s) that is getting stronger and stronger each album.  Not only that, but he releases EP’s like all the time.

And the rest…

31)  Frank Ocean- Nostalgia. Ultra.

32)  PJ Harvey- Let England Shake

33)  Parts and Labor- Constant Future

34)  Wild Beasts- Smother

35)  Pepper Rabbit- Red Velvet Snow Ball

36)  Nurses- Dracula

37)   Zola Jesus- Conatus

38)  Male Bonding- Endless Now

39)  Thurston Moore- Demolished Thoughts

40)  Adele- 21

41)  The Kills- Blood Pressures

42)  Hooray For Earth- True Loves

43)  Cut Copy- Zonoscope

44)  Atari Teenage Riot- Is This Hyperreal?

45)  Washed Out- Within and Without

46)  Shabazz Palaces- Black Up

47)  Neon Indian- Era Extrana

48)  Yuck- Yuck

49)  The Dodos- No Color

50)  Lady Gaga- Born This Way

But easily my favorite release of the year is the re-issue of Icky Mettle by The Archers of Loaf.  It’s 1993 (maybe ’94- Thom?) and after seeing the video for ‘Web in Front’ on 12o Minutes, the boys and I hop in a car and head to all of the local record stores trying to find this c.d.  Finally we find it at the great Slipped Disc.  Arguably the album that shaped not only my music tastes but everything that has shaped me since.  One of the most underrated albums ever (and Web in Front is one of the all-time great indie rock songs) this album was re-issued with an additional e.p.  Oh, and yes, they are the namesake of my 2 month old son, Archer.

Favorite EP’s (alphabetically):

Beach Fossils- What A Pleasure

Dirty Gold- Roar

Dom- Family of Love

James Blake- Enough Thunder

Jens Lekman- An Argument With Myself

Tape Deck Mountain- Secret Serf

TV Girl- Benny & the Jetts

Young Brother- Young Brother

Worst album of the year:

Das Rascist- Relax

Just plain silly and not funny at all.

Most anticipated of 2012 (alphabetically):

1)   The Big Pink- Future This

2)   Dirty Projectors- title tba

3)   Lana Del Rey- Born To Die

4)   Miike Snow- Happy To You

5)   Phoenix- title tba

6)   Santigold- Master Of My Make Believe

7)   Sleigh Bells- Reign of Terror

8)   The Shins- Port Of Morrow

9)   Spiritualized- Sweet Heart Sweet Light

10) The xx- title tba

Thom’s Best of…

1)  PJ Harvey- Let England Shake

A timely, masterpiece by an artist who has made a few before.  Don’t let “concept album” angle scare you.

2)  The Fall- Ersatz GB

Another in a recent spate of great albums by possibly the prolific band on the planet.

3)  Anthrax- Worship Music

Why is it that Metallica can no longer do what Metallica does great but Anthrax can make an Anthrax album that can hold its head high with ‘Among The Living’?

4)  Atari Teenage Riot- Is This Hyperreal?

11 years since their last album, Alec Empire and co. returned with ear-shredding manifesto on an ever more fucked up world than they could have imagined when they originally disbanded.  Glad they are back!

5)  JAY Z & Kanye West- Watch The Throne

People complained of lack of substance but this is like watching a homerun contest between Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.

6)  Gruff Rhys- Hotel Shampoo

The great Super Furry Animals frontman delivers an amazing solo effort.

7)  Ryan Adams- Ashes and Fire

Revisited this one after his recent amazing performance at Carnegie Hall.  Critics tend to hate him.  They are wrong.

8)  J. Mascis- Several Shades of Why

This man is one of my true musical heroes (see Dinosaur Jr.) but his solo stuff, which is generally more stripped down, completes the picture of what a great musician he truly is.

9)  Das Racist- Relax

Only really checked this out because the great El-P (see, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead) produced some of the tracks.

10)  Spank Rock- Everything Is Boring and Everyone Is a Fucking Liar-

Loved the first album, waited several years for the follow-up.  Love this album.

11)  Terius Nash- 1977

Terius Nash is better known as the massively successful writer, producer, etc. The Dream…Though technically released as a mixtape under his own name due to record company nonsense this album strips away a lot of the posturing and layers inherent in modern R&B/Hip-Hop leaving a very personal, very rewarding album.

12)  Tyler the Creator-Goblin/Frank Ocean- nostalgia, Ultra.-

Sure, OFWGKTA are by far the most over-hyped, over debated story in recent music.  However, the fact remains that the collective is made up of several varied and talented artists.  As history tends to repeat, they have had a lot of the same criticisms leveled against them that The Beastie Boys did early on.  We shall see…

Travis’s Best of

1)  Sneaky Sound Systems- From Here To Anywhere

2)  Lady Gaga- Born This Way

3)  Monarchy- Around The Sun

4)  Robyn- Body Talk Part. 3

5)  Friendly Fires- Pala

6)  Holy Ghost!- Holy Ghost!

7)  Britney Spears- Femme Fatale

8)  Kimbra- Vows

9)  Class Actress- Rapproacher

10) Penguin Prison- Penguin Prison

11) Florrie- Experiments EP

12) Selena Gomez & The Scene- When The Sun Goes Down

13) Beth Ditto- EP

14) Rihanna- Talk That Talk

15) Cut Copy- Zonoscope