TOP 20 ALBUMS OF 2011

Alright, here it is. You thought I wouldn’t get it done, and neither did I, but guess what! I did it. New Years Resolution: be more productive. Check. Time to nap until 2013. I actually had a hard time narrowing this list down to 20, and usually I struggle to come up with an arbitrary 10. With that said, there are a few gaps in this list, and it’s not perfect. It’s a favorites list more than a best of.

The first gap that may be apparent is a lack of hip hop, save for one album. That’s why it’s a favorites list. I generally sway toward plaid-laden folky dudes, and you’ll all just have to deal with that. But, I also feel bad for ignoring it. The artists I didn’t include on here but have really enjoyed are Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z & Kanye’s Watch the Throne. Other omissions include The Head and the Heart and Fitz & the Tantrums, which I discovered early this year but their albums came out in 2010 and I’m sticking to the real date. Also, just a note: album that most people liked that I don’t understand: Girls. Sure, there are a few good songs. But best album of the year? I’m missing something.

Again, I’ll post an arbitrary song to give you a sense of the artist, but really you should look into the albums as a whole. The top 20, if you dare, are one click away.

Click “Continue Reading” to finish the article.

#20

Radiohead – The King of Limbs

Being me, I couldn’t leave this off the list. Each Radiohead release makes me nervous in two ways: one, because I love them and I’m always excited about it, and two, upon first listen it always sounds like a let down. However, the albums always prove, upon further listens, to be just as beautifully complex as the last, even if they don’t make another Bends or OK Computer again. I particularly like the second half of the album, because I particularly like sad bastard music. Find “Codex” above.

#19

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo

This was an album I discovered late in the year after reading about it on a ton of other sites, and I can assure you it’s not overhyped. It’s American guitar music blended with a look into a man’s basement or bedroom: intimate lyrics and mumbles of verses that make it sound like you overheard a secret he was telling himself. “Baby’s Arms” is above.

#18

Seryn – This is Where We Are

I have no idea how I haven’t posted about this band before. They fit firmly into my folky ensemble band niche I so love. This 5-piece band is from Texas and has a comforting quality I can’t think of a great word to describe. Maybe it’s because I’m getting tired, or maybe because it’s just indescribable. It’s probably because I’m tired. “We Will All Be Changed” is above.

#17

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow

This is the first but definitely not the last male/female duo that will show up on this list. Composed of Joy Williams and John Paul White, The Civil Wars have been nominated for Grammys this year for Best Folk Album and Best Country Duo/Group Performance, and I’ll say it’s one of the only Grammy nominations I understand and agree with (seriously, how far behind are the Grammys in new music?). “Poison and Wine” is above, but look into “20 Years” as well.

#16

Childish Gambino – Camp

Behold, the only hip hop album on the list. And yes, it’s Donald Glover. While his EPs and mixtapes seemed like a well-funded hobby, this album proves he’s for real. Sure, he may have got his name from a Wu Tang name generator, but his album is no joke. It’s fantastically produced, catchy, smart and surprisingly (in a great way) just all-around good. He said in “Freaks and Geeks” that “having an Emmy just wasn’t enough,” and I think this album is proof that he not only thinks he deserves more, but actually does deserve more. I should post “Heartbeat,” but I’m really into “Hold You Down” right now. Check it.

#15

Cults – Cults

My friend Ryan sent me “You Know What I Mean (above)” early on in the year when it released as a single, and I instantly loved it and then instantly forgot about Cults. It wasn’t until later, months after the album came out, that I put two and two together. Their album has a confidence to it, similar to Sleigh Bells’ debut, that I find really appealing from an artist. Mix that with surfy, poppy rock and you have Cults. They’re fun and they know it.

#14

Florence & the Machine – Ceremonials

I should say that at about this point I’ll admit that numbers 11-20 are fairly arbitrary in their ordering. I spent a lot of effort squinting and sighing at my top 10, so by the time I got to 11-20 I was burnt out. There’s a lot to say about Florence Welch. Such as: she’s a 25-year-old phenom, her voice is incredible, she’s on par with the likes of Celine Dion, etc. etc. etc. I was honestly surprised that she beat Mumford & Sons to the sophomore album, but she really brought out the big guns. It’s dark, hard-hitting and epic. The only possible problem with it is that every song is dark, hard-hitting and epic, so you don’t get much time to really soak into the album. However, it’s great and she’s great. Check out “Shake it Out.”

#13

The Antlers – Burst Apart

Much like Kurt Vile, this is an album that I was very pleasantly surprised to find late in the game. I knew from the first track, “I Don’t Want Love (above)” that it was going to be great, and I was not disappointed. In fact, it took a while to get to the rest of the album because I think I played “I Don’t Want Love” about five times in a row before allowing myself to move on to track two. It was all downhill from there. They have a sort of quiet passion to them that I think more people should listen to. As a bonus, “Kettering” off their 2009 album is also a great song.

#12

The Black Keys – El Camino

There can’t be enough written about The Black Keys. They’re fantastic. They just dissed Nickelback and all of modern popular rock in their upcoming Rolling Stone cover interview, and I couldn’t love them enough for it. I just want to hug them. Thickfreakness, their 2003 album and the first one I heard, basically revitalized the belief in my sixteen-year-old self that rock & roll was still alive. Thank god they haven’t changed since then.

#11

TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

I listened to this album non-stop for at least a few weeks when it came out last spring, and I can assure you that this album, along with Stafucker’s Reptilians, was the sole reason I stayed awake on the drive back from Coachella from about 3am-5am. “Will Do” made it onto Dres’ Favorite Tracks list, and rightfully so, because it’s fantastic. I’m posting “Second Song” because it’s also amazing. I can’t believe that in compiling this list I almost forgot about the album. It has a great flow and they’re a truly awesome band.

#10

James Blake – James Blake

Alright, people. Top ten. I realize this probably should have a better ranking on the list, but alas, it’s a favorites list, and one of my criteria is strictly the amount of listens. This is a great album, and Blake is an impressive and innovative artist. The truth is, I didn’t listen to it as much as the rest of the world seemed to. I acknowledge how great it is, but I feel like I’d be lying if I made it top three or something. And I don’t want to lie to you people. Too much, that is…

#9

Tennis – Cape Dory

I wrote about Tennis back here, and they’re the other male/female duo rounding out the list. Much different than The Civil Wars, but equal in greatness and listenability. “Marathon” is an incredibly catchy track that sets the tone for the album, and I couldn’t be more excited about their sophomore follow-up, which has Nickelback-dissing Patrick Carney from The Black Keys at the producing helm. Look out for Tennis next year. The band, not the sport.

#8

Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Animal

I can’t say enough about these guys right now. I love this album, plain and simple. They sound a ton like Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes… if they weren’t dirty hippies, but are different enough to make me love their own unique sound. I have a thing for brass sections, which, sidenote, has got me excited about a couple new tracks Mumford & Sons are working on, and this song above by Of Monsters and Men (“Little Talks”) only furthers that love.

#7

tUnE-yArds – w h o k i l l

Typing that out correctly was the most effort I’ve put into this post so far. Merrill Garbus is, in a word, incredible. I liked the album when it came out, as a sort of island-infused experimental rock that takes a few listens to really get into. And, by that, I mean the more insane tracks like “Bizness” and “Gangsta.” I realize Merrill’s style isn’t for everyone, but when you get into it and see what she’s doing, and more importantly, how she’s doing it alone with a loop machine and her voice is, again, incredible. For those who believe tUnE-yArds isn’t for them, I challenge you to listen to the more mellowed-out “Powa” above. Embrace the ukulele.

#6

Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

Drawing a comparison again to Kurt Vile, Youth Lagoon is a look into singer/musician Trevor Powers’ diary. It’s an intimate collection of honest songs, each of which is a literal slow build from the opening to the crescendo. The best part of this album is that I kept finding new favorites; it never got old. Above find “17,” which states powerfully and innocently, “When I was seventeen / My mother said to me / Don’t stop imagining / The day that you do is the day that you die.”

#5

Portugal. The Man – In the Mountain, In the Cloud

Portland band. You knew I was due for it. Much like The Black Keys, Portugal. The Man manages to put out music that sounds like it could’ve been made in a different era: an era where rock & roll was still thriving the way it was in the 60s and 70s. There are honestly too many good songs to choose from to just post one, but you can find “Senseless” above. Check out our first post ever to find another.

#4

NewVillager – NewVillager

Say what? An album in my top four that not one of the major music blogs has mentioned in their top lists? I’m not trying to just beat the curve here. NewVillager is a band that I’m shocked, surprised and disappointed isn’t on everyone else’s list. They are deserving of this spot because they’re one of the bands whose album I’m still playing on repeat and don’t see myself getting sick of any time in the near future (or ever). Bonus, I’ve seen them live three times since this summer. Once in Pasadena, once at the Troubadour and once at the Mondrian. They’re fantastic live, especially due to Ben’s hilariously enthusiastic facial expressions. Listen to “Lighthouse” and try to tell me you don’t already want more.

#3

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

Anthony Gonzalez is a French god. He described Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming before its release as a culmination of his career up to this point; a culmination of every other M83 album. He sure wasn’t kidding. It’s an album of epic proportions: both literally in size (double LP) and sonically. It sounds like a movie score while still maintaining moments of lyrical fun and moments that make you want to get up and dance. See his breakout single “Midnight City” for proof.

#2

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

This is another album that I wore down with a ton of listens earlier on in the year and then set aside, only to revisit it recently and remember just how great it is. “Helplessness Blues” is one of my favorite tracks of the year. Top two without a doubt. Pecknold said of the song that he wanted to write a topical song, but from his perspective as a guy who doesn’t know about the crises of the world until they’re already happening and struggling to find his part or place in the world. And that’s just one song.

#1

Bon Iver, Bon Iver

I know, I know. Typical, right? I already told you I liked beardy flannel singers, so why are you surprised? Is it because I talked about picking things that other people hadn’t before? Well, too bad, because Justin Vernon is just too good. Much like Fleet Foxes’ first album, I absolutely loved For Emma, Forever Ago. I remember the first time I heard that album, when my friend made me lie on her floor in silence and refused to speak to me until I listened to “Skinny Love” in its entirety. I can’t thank her enough for that, by the way. But as much as I wanted to say he couldn’t make an album as good as For Emma, it’s not about that. He will never be able to make another album just like that one. It’s impossible just based on sheer circumstance. But what he did with Bon Iver is elevate what he created with his first album into something bigger: a name that’s here to stay regardless of circumstance. And thus, the self-titled album is that much more resonant. “Holocene,” according to Dres, is the best track of the year. I agree one hundred percent.