60 Favorite Albums of 2011: #60-41

Sorry for the delay on this post! I messed up on the publish dates for all of these Best Of posts when I scheduled them. (Shouts to Ian for noticing my mistake and notifying me.) Accordingly, I’ll shift everything by a day, with the whole shebang running Tuesday through Sunday.

On this list: I tried to trim it down to 50 albums, I really did. But I just couldn’t bear to leave off a number of releases that I legitimately love. I listened to more music than ever this year (tired of hearing that yet?) because, like every year, a musical universe that already seemed to be infinite in 2010 continued to expand in 2011. (Hey, just like the actual universe!) There seemed to be shockingly little critical consensus on year-end lists, which is a good thing but it can feel very overwhelming if you’re someone who attempts to maintain an “edge” on what’s going on in music.

So, because of that, I think I have a satisfyingly diverse list here, but I still find myself wishing the same things I have the past two years: I wish there were more women on this list. I wish there was more hip-hop on this list. I wish there was more ambient and experimental music on this list. I wish there was more cutting-edge dance music on this list. (Though dance music historically thrives on singles more than on albums.) As my musical journey continues in 2012, I’ll keep trying to branch out, not only across current genre pools, but into the past as well — which almost definitely means sacrificing some of the new-music-listening I did this year.

Until then, here are my 60 favorite albums of the year. More so than ever, these are “favorite” and not “best” or “top” — I thought a great deal about the deep subjectivity of music evaluation this year, in part because of the album that lands at my #1 spot, so this list is anything but objective. Just a list of splendid music to check out if it sounds up your alley from my descriptions. The “key tracks” are my guess at a good starting place. Sometimes they’re my favorite on the album, sometimes they’re the most representative of the album as a whole, and sometimes they’re what you could call the album’s “signature” song. All of them are keepers. No Youtube links because you can do that shit yourself.

60 :: Akron/Family | Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT

If it weren’t for the pre-release stunts – the album’s nonsensical title, muddled origin story (something about recording in a shack on an active volcano), and the fake noise leak with gibberish track names – I might not have detected the permeating weirdness lurking beneath Akron/Family II‘s three-part harmonies and other flat-out beautiful folk-stuff. But it’s that marriage of the pretty and the weird that makes Akron/Family’s releases worth returning to.
>>>Key track: “Silly Bears”

59 :: Future Islands | On The Water

I never tire of hearing Sam Herring growl his way around Will Cashion’s bass and Gerrit Welmers’ keyboard arrangements with that singular, gremlin-like voice, especially as On the Water finds the group constructing the most nuanced, mature, and unforcedly tuneful songs of their career.
>>>Key track: “Balance”

58 :: A Winged Victory For The Sullen | A Winged Victory For The Sullen

Adam Wiltzie (a.k.a. one half of ambient drone godheads Stars of the Lid) teamed up with pianist and composer Dustin O’Halloran to deliver this fine album of sweeping, stately, classical-infused ambient.
>>>Key track: “Steep Hills of Vicodin Tears”

57 :: Youth Lagoon | The Year of Hibernation

On first listen, I could practically hear the detractors lining up to shit on Trevor Powers’ debut – on the castrato vocals, the overpowering bedroom intimacy and the little-kid simplicity of the arrangements. But open up to it and it’s those same qualities that make The Year of Hibernation great.
>>>Key track: “July”

56 :: Ryan Adams | Ashes & Fire

Just in time, Mr. Adams shook off the blistering Cardinals release pace, the pizza-adorned EPs, the fake metal nonsense, and the inevitable career fatigue to deliver his most consistent album of straight-up songwriter material in years. Expertly recorded with Glyn Johns’ vintage-sounding touch, Ashes & Fire is some of the year’s best musical comfort food.
>>>Key track: “Dirty Rain”

55 :: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah | Hysterical

In which one of 2005’s coolest bands makes a defiantly traditional, markedly uncool record filled with the sort of meat-and-potatoes indie rock no one is making right now and gets roundly dismissed by pretty much everyone that matters. I gave Hysterical some patience and another spin or two and Alec Ounsworth’s drunken nursery rhymes (as well as CYHSY’s focus on songcraft rather than atmosphere) got under my skin in a big way.
>>>Key track: “Same Mistake”

54 :: Oneohtrix Point Never | Replica

Sound-worlds build and unfold themselves with engrossing musical complexity on Replica, which scans like a digital update of Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land for the Age of the Sample.
>>>Key track: “Replica”

53 :: The Pains of Being Pure At Heart | Belong

Hard to turn down a fresh pot of 90s Blend (grunge guitars, new wave rhythms, roller-rink synths, radio-ready choruses) when POBPAH whip it up with this level of ambition and clarity.
>>>Key track: “Heart In Your Heartbreak”

52 :: Tiger & Woods | Through the Green

The ultra-taut, sample-based disco jams on Through the Green are so irresistible that I’ll have to forgive Tiger & Woods their stupid name and the fact that they picked the wrong giant cat for their album cover. Try not to dance, I quintuple-leopard dare you.
>>>Key track: “Gin Nation”


51 :: Active Child | You Are All I See

Slotting Pat Grossi in with other “PBR&B” white boys trying and failing to get their groove on (cough, How To Dress Well) is missing the point. (It doesn’t help that he invited HTDW’s Tom Krell onto the single.) Such a classification belies this album’s real magic: that otherworldly atmosphere that arises from looped harp, huge synths, and Grossi’s theatrical falsetto.
>>>Key track: “Hanging On”

50 :: Peter Bjorn and John | Gimme Some

The haters are right, those bongos on “Dig A Little Deeper” do reek of a Carnival cruise conga line. But there’s some wonderfully classic pop quality (a Swedish specialty) to those melodies that Peter Morén sings, and that jolt of garage-y energy they injected into this LP shuffled things up just enough. Read my review here.
>>>Key track: “May Seem Macabre”

49 :: Mogwai | Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

Goodbye Mogwai Young Team, hello…Mogwai Middle-Aged Team? Gone are the “Fear Satan” days where a cloud of deafening distortion could be lurking a few bars up ahead. They aimed to recapture that danger on The Hawk Is Howling and it wasn’t a good look, like an older dude trying to rock young dude clothes. So they risked being cheesy and ended up with a crazy-listenable album of soaring, melodic post-rock.
>>>Key track: “How To Be A Werewolf”

48 :: Abigail Washburn | City of Refuge

To create these dusty, windswept tunes, banjo queen Washburn surrounded her dexterous plucking and gorgeous, breathy vocals with male harmonies and lush arrangements. What resulted is arguably the best straight-up folk release of the year.
>>>Key track: “Bring Me My Queen”

47 :: Nicholas Szczepanik | Please Stop Loving Me

Over the course of a single, 48-minute track, this ambient newcomer bends and twists his drone into all kinds of beautiful and engrossing shapes before locking into a single chord (lasting the final 10 or 15 minutes) that’ll leave you breathless.
>>>Key track: The only one.

46 :: Africa Hitech | 93 Million Miles

What the hell is this album? Most of these tracks would leave dancefloors with raised eyebrows, and they refuse to be slotted into any of the extremely narrow categories for electronic music that are currently in circulation. Let’s just call it something like the lovechild of bass music and math rock and let our ears do the rest.
>>>Key track: “Light the Way”

45 :: White Denim | D

It takes some special sauce to get the hipster blogosphere to embrace a release this unabashedly classic-rockin. The rapidly ascending career arc of this Austin four-piece peaks with D. And the ingredients of that special sauce are catchy songwriting, razor-sharp arrangements, and some of the most insane chops you’ll hear outside of a jam band festival.
>>>Key track: “Anvil Everything”

44 :: G-Side | iSLAND

The third release by this prolific and delightfully unusual Huntsville, Alabama duo sounds like the work of a group with quite a well-formed identity. They embrace many of the best qualities of Southern rap while following their idiosyncratic vision into uncharted territory.
>>>Key track: “Cinematic”

43 :: The Middle East | I Want That You Are Always Happy

Who would’ve thought an Australian band named The Middle East would make one of the finest Americana albums of the year? These up-and-comers wind their way through a sprawling and largely desolate collection of tunes and almost never hit a bum note.
>>>Key track: “Dan’s Silverleaf”

42 :: Beyoncé | 4

The fourth (and best) LP by Queen B does, as some have pointed out, feel more like a collection of singles than an album proper. But lo what a collection of singles it is. My favorite keeps changing (“Let’s Start Over” right now), but taken together it’s the most thrilling pure pop made in 2011.
>>>Key track: “Countdown”

41 :: Beirut | The Rip Tide

The Rip Tide, or, How Zach Condon Saved Beirut From Becoming Tiresome. Stripping his craft down to its essence, shedding some of its frillier European affects, and releasing his most concise album yet, Condon reminds us why we love him: because dude’s got a golden voice and he can write a damn solid pop tune. I’d argue this is his best LP to date.
>>>Key track: “Santa Fe”

Best of 2011 home | Onward to #40-21


~ by toren on January 3, 2012.

3 Responses to “60 Favorite Albums of 2011: #60-41”

  1. […] Back to #60-41 | Best of 2011 home | Onward to #20-1 Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

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  3. […] 60 Favorite Albums of 2011 :: #60-41 :: #40-21 :: #20-1 […]

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