Monday, December 26, 2011

The Top 20 Albums of 2011

No, hipsters, your oversized, ironic eyeglasses do not deceive you: you've found the one "best of" album list that doesn't include that maddeningly terribly Bon Iver record or Destroyer's pleasant but snore-inducing Kaputt. Hurry up and click somewhere else! Save yourself!!

To you non-hipsters who have stayed, allow me to present my favorite albums of 2011. I already covered several records in July's "Best Of...So Far" post, so you can find more info on some of the selections there.

20. Kiss Each Other Clean, Iron & Wine

19. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
This year saw yet another battle between the Gallagher brothers, when both released their new bands' albums. Although I liked Liam's first single with Beady Eye ("The Roller"), it was just another reminder that Liam really, really, REALLY wants to be John Lennon instead of the whiny Neanderthal that he is. And while little brother's claim that Noel's new record has "no attitude" may be true, Noel's still a better songwriter, and that's what counts. And I may be in the minority, but I like his voice better, too.

Listen to: "If I Had A Gun"

Other choice cuts: "AKA...What A Life!," "AKA...Broken Arrow," "Dream On"

18. Early In The Morning, James Vincent McMorrow

17. Ukulele Songs, Eddie Vedder

16. The Old Magic, Nick Lowe
Possibly Lowe's best album since 1985's The Rose of England, this one is a toe-tapping mix of Rat Pack-style smoothness, old school country and Sun Records-era pop rock. It may not be as exciting as punk or New Wave, but who wants to hear a 62-year-old guy still claiming to be half a boy and half a man?

Listen to: "Checkout Time"

Other choice cuts: "Stoplight Roses," "Somebody Cares For Me," "I Read A Lot"

15. Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, M83
This is just the first of many records on my list that is keeping the '80s alive and well. Everyone has praised the hell out of this record (especially the hit single, "Midnight City"), and while it is good (otherwise it wouldn't be here), it probably could have benefited from some editing. This really didn't need to be a double album. At some point, all the dramatic synths and ethereal, unintelligible vocals get to be a bit much, and it would be nice if that point didn't occur before "Steve McQueen," one of the best tracks, buried all the way down at #19.

Listen to: "Reunion"

Other choice cuts:
"Midnight City," "Steve McQueen," "OK Pal"

14. Torches, Foster the People
So, this album may not be the most brilliant or most original (it's essentially The Bee Gees-meets-MGMT), but it beats Hurry Up, We're Dreaming because it's short, sweet and enjoyable from beginning to end. And if you think their breakout hit is the best Foster the People has to offer, you obviously haven't heard either "Helena Beat" or "I Would Do Anything For You," both of which kick "Pumped Up Kicks" in the ass.

Listen to: "I Would Do Anything For You"

Other choice cuts: "Helena Beat," "Call It What You Want," "Waste"

13. 21, Adele

12. What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?, The Vaccines
Occasionally, I get emails from music publicists who think I'm a lot more important than I really am. And occasionally, I actually end up liking the artists they are pimping out. Unfortunately, this only happens, like, 30% of the time. So when Press Here sent me the demo of The Vaccines' "If You Wanna," I didn't expect much, but was pleasantly surprised to find the kind of bouncy guitar rock that I can never resist. The rest of the new UK darlings' debut album offers much of the same—an album that's prompted plenty of apt comparisons to The Ramones, The Strokes and The Jesus and Mary Chain. If there's a misstep on the record, it's "Blow It Up," which shamelessly nicks the melody of The Beatles' "I Should Have Known Better."

Listen to: "If You Wanna"

Other choice cuts: "Wetsuit," "Post Break-Up Sex," "Wolf Pack"

11. Skying, The Horrors
Aside from a couple of songs here and there, I never really got The Horrors. They always seemed to me a bit like a goth parody band. But they've finally gotten rid of the Addams Family vibe (and their ridiculous pseudonyms, like Faris Rotter and Coffin Joe) and grabbed my attention with their best and most consistent album. What's great about this record is that while the band's influences are obvious—everything has a hint of The Jesus and Mary Chain, Echo and the Bunnymen and Simple Minds—there are no straight-up rip-offs here. Just a lot of great melodies. (Pointless trivia: Bassist Tom Cowan's brother Freddie is The Vaccines' guitarist, which could explain both bands' Jesus and Mary Chain fixation. Or maybe it's just because they're British and pretty much every modern British band is influenced by JMC.)

Listen to: "Dive In"

Other choice cuts: "Still Life," "Endless Blue," "You Said"

10. No One Listens to the Band Anymore, The Damnwells
Truly an album "for fans," The Damnwells' latest was made possible by donations through the fundraising website PledgeMusic. The band (or I should say singer/songwriter Alex Dezen and whoever he has playing his music these days) isn't exactly breaking new ground, but this record is one of the most instantly catchy collection of songs I've heard in a while. Luckily, The Damnwells have some of the street cred and under-the-radar presence that comes from being a long-struggling indie outfit, otherwise, this album would have been raked over the coals on Pitchfork and other snob sites as the WORST THING IN THE WORLD: pleasant pop.

Listen to: "Feast of Hearts"

Other choice cuts: "No One Listens to the Band Anymore," "Werewolves," "She Goes Around"

9. Ashes & Fire, Ryan Adams
I've always kind of thought that sobriety was responsible for Aerosmith's suckage in the late '90s and beyond. And I believe that Fleetwood Mac never made an album better than Rumours, when they were at their self-destructive best. So, I was all prepared for Ryan Adams—now off the sauce and married to a former pop princess—to start his backslide into shitty territory. Happily, that's not the case, and this is another strong record from Adams, whom I still love even though he apparently dissed Neil Finn...a big no-no in my book.

Listen to: "Invisible Riverside"

Other choice cuts: "Lucky Now," "Kindness," "Rocks"

8. Welcome to Condale, Summer Camp
While this may not have been my favorite album of the year, it was my favorite discovery. When I heard it, I started to wonder if there was an '80s spring break movie/soundtrack I had actually never seen/heard. Of course, having watched a ridiculous amount of USA Up All Night, I knew that could never be the case. But the UK duo of Elizabeth Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley do such a totally rad job of bringing my beloved decade to life that it would be easy to trick, say, a Gen Y-er into believing that their 2011 debut really is an obscure album from 1982. (Added bonus for me: the snippet of dialogue from The Boy in the Plastic Bubble that opens "I Want You.")

Listen to: "Brian Krakow"

Other choice cuts: "Better Off Without You," "Down," "Done Forever"

7. This Modern Glitch, The Wombats

6. Born This Way, Lady Gaga

5. Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Girls
Thank God for my discovery this year of, which has introduced me to a ton of new and previously unheard music. Girls is one of those bands I'd never checked out before, despite the praise that had been heaped on them upon the release of 2009's Album. I decided to give their latest a spin one day while I was at work and, as tends to happen, I was busy and only half-listening to it until around track 5, when I just stopped what I was doing and was like, "Whoa...I need to start this over...and turn it up." Luckily, it was a day when my boss wasn't in the office, so I got away with cranking the volume up a bit. On this record, Girls takes a variety of different influences (from the Beach Boys to Pink Floyd) and a variety of styles (from power pop to gospel) and expertly blends them all into one unique and delicious musical cocktail.

Listen to: "Magic"

Other choice cuts: "Vomit," "My Ma," "Just a Song"

4. Yuck, Yuck

3. Middle Brother, Middle Brother

2. El Camino, The Black Keys
Re-activating my weird crush on Dan Auerbach is The Black Keys' latest—a sexy, bouncy, fun as hell album that I can't stop listening to. Pitchfork's Rob Harvilla described El Camino as, "[The Black Keys'] best and (not coincidentally) goofiest album, a veritable frat-worthy "Pimp 'n' Ho" party in which T. Rex has somehow been tricked into serving as house band." Now, I would normally NEVER quote Pitchfork. But, holy shit, that description is so dead-on and better than anything I could come up with that I must.

Listen to: "Sister"

Other choice cuts: "Lonely Boy," "Gold on the Ceiling," "Stop Stop"

1. Suck It and See, Arctic Monkeys

Honorable mentions: Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes; The Whole Love, Wilco; Mission Bell, Amos Lee; Codes and Keys, Death Cab for Cutie; House of Balloons, The Weeknd

Best album cover: Zonoscope, Cut Copy

Biggest disappointments: Circuital, My Morning Jacket; All You Need Is Now, Duran Duran


Brahm (alfred lives here) said...

I love the Adele album, my fave of this year and several years. Check out my faves blog later this week -- my suckage 'worst of' blog is up now (subtle plug).

Of your list, my 12-yr-old nephew introduced me to Foster the People and I am now a fan, and also loved the Ryan Adams album as I usually do. He actually did a good job with Mandy Moore's last album, which shocked me.

And yes Duran Duran blew...

McGone said...

You'll be happy to know I got my way and managed to have "Ukulele Songs" playing in its entirety during the dining portion of our wedding reception. Though it wasn't even Veddermas yet, our union was blessed by Eddie himself.

Billy said...

It's amazing how our tastes criss-cross so delightfully. Even as we can find albums upon which we wildly disagree (see: Foo Fighters, The Wombats, Eddie Vedder), so much of what we love in music hits the same notes.

Maybe it's a generational thing. Something about growing up slightly outside the mainstream in the '80s.

And damn you, you have added four more albums to my eMusic Saved list...

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Nice combination of hipster and non-hipster offerings! We will likely share a couple of choices, if I ever get around to making my list.

bloody awful poetry said...

I could have sworn I left a comment here, and it never showed. Does it need your approval first? I didn't notice if Blogger told me anything of the sort.

Anyway I just came back to say that I very much approve of you awarding Arctic Monkeys with the top spot on your list. That album just gets more gorgeous every time I listen to it.

Foster the People, in addition to be being super fun and catchy, is also a ridiculously attractive band. I'll be seeing them live in a couple of weeks, and I honestly cannot wait. What a feast for the ears and the eyes!


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