Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Top Albums of 2011

Happy New Year! I finished writing up this list while I was home in Chicago last week, and have just been very tardy in posting it. Apologies. I would resolve to be a more regular blogger this year, but I fear that it will become a failed resolution pretty quickly, so I'm not making any promises.

After much internal struggle and debate, and attempts to not be overwhelmed/influenced by the zillion other year-end lists... here are my top 10 albums of 2011. If you had asked me 6 months ago, or even 3 months ago (3 days ago?) this list would have looked different. I can't exactly say that this was the same sort of slam-dunk, easy choice as I had last year. Essentially, my problem has been neatly summed up in an AV Club article about Good Records vs Important Albums. Way to be generally, evenly enjoyable, 2011.

10) Noah and the Whale | Last Night On Earth  - A standby ever since it came out, getting consistent plays during my subway commutes to work and appearances on various mixes.

9) The Antlers | Burst Apart  - I should call this section of the list "your last album was impressive in how it was depressing, but this one was happier and I still liked it." Not that this album is particularly joyous, but at least it isn't about watching someone die of cancer.

8) Wye Oak | Civilian  - The title track on this album is one of my favorite songs of the year, too. I listened to it constantly before realizing that I might also like/want to purchase the rest of Wye Oak. It's highly representative of the type of music that I listened to all year, and was a really great album over all.

7) Adele | 21 - Oh, here we go. Here's the depressing/breakup album. You'd think I was chronically plagued by heartache. (I'm not). Something about that process drives musicians to write songs, and sometimes those songs end up being whole albums, and on rare occasion those albums are really great. This is one of those rare times. Clearly appreciated by the music-buying population this year, I think it's well-deserved.

6) TV on the Radio | Nine Types Of Light  - while I sit at work all day, I have a lot of TVoTR-fueled (seated) dance parties. The album just makes you want to wiggle around in your chair (inconspicuously, of course). It has a similar appeal to the other albums they've put out, so it was a solid outing if you already enjoy TVoTR.

5) Childish Gambino | Camp  - if my love for Donald Glover isn't clear yet, then you're not reading closely enough. 2011 has been the year of Donald Glover love around here: meeting him at MSG, seeing him in concert twice, endless dance parties and bike rides on his namesake two-wheeler (yes, my bike really is named for him.) As a person, Donald Glover is smart and hilarious. As a rapper, Childish Gambino is smart and witty, and a little bit gross. But in a good way. He continues his previous themes of loving Asian girls and being a nerdy black kid. He makes more references than Gilmore Girls, and when you can catch them all it's ah-may-zing.

4) The Black Keys | El Camino  - the tour schedule for this album says more about it and the evolution of the Black Keys than anyone could put into words. They're playing an arena tour (Madison Square Garden in NY; the United Center in Chicago; etc). They've gotten big both in popularity and also in their sound. When did it become such mainstream-accessible Rock? Regardless, I spent a solid chunk of time watching the Lonely Boy teaser video for the album before it came out, and the rest of the album managed to also carve out a place into this mix.

3) Bon Iver | Bon Iver  - There is so much talk about Justin Vernon lately with all this Grammy stuff and the Bushmills ads and being friends with Kanye. But I really don't care about any of that. Whether he's writing in complete isolation or giving titles to songs which confuse people unfamiliar with Midwestern geography, his music is what stands out. And once again, it's beautiful.

2) Fleet Foxes | Helplessness Blues  - I often associate certain bands or albums with different seasons. However, having gone through most of the seasons with this album now, I feel that it transcends seasons. And you know, it's full of "I'm in my mid-20's" poignant lyrics.

1) St. Vincent | Strange Mercy  - In trying to create this list, I noted all of the songs on every album which seemed like standouts to me. The types of songs that I get a hankering to listen to or put on mixes, the ones that get stuck in my head from time to time. The songs of Strange Mercy overwhelmed the pack, making it my clear #1 for the year. Annie Clark is a bit odd sometimes, but in an undeniably captivating way.

Other "Good Records" - aka, the honorable mentions this year could easily have all been #11...
Honorable Mentions: Watch the Throne12 Desperate Straight Lines,  Angles (it pains me as a Strokes fan to bump you down here, but let's be at least moderately objective), No Color, Yuck.

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