Top Albums of 2011


Dic 31 2011, 20:22

I think this year I need to put a disclaimer on my Top 10 list:
My musical tastes change. If you had asked me to make this in the beginning of December, Codes and Keys wouldn't have even made it onto the list. It's very hard to write these and not want to change your mind months later. I looked back at my 2010 list before I made this and saw that I put The Suburbs by Arcade Fire in an Honorable Mention. Whoops. Then again it was truly because I couldn't get away with making a Top 11 of 2010. Looking back though, I should have probably swapped it for MGMT's Congratulations.

Anyway, this is, of course, completely my opinion. I tried to be as objective as possible, ranking them based on not only which ones I enjoy the most but which ones perhaps just have better musical merit than the others.

[10] Bon Iver - Bon Iver

Bon Iver has finally been recognized by the mainstream media, albeit in the form of an out-dated "Best New Artist" Grammy nomination. No matter, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon has been working hard since 2008's For Emma, Forever Ago and deserves the recognition. It's too bad the nomination isn't for his newest album though; his self-titled sophomore venture takes everything that worked for him in his debut and works upwards. The occasional background rhythm section gets more notice, as does secondary instruments such as brass and piano. Vernon's haunting voice remains untouched and unaltered, just as fans of the first album remember.

Key Song: Calgary

[09] Black Lips - Arabia Mountain

I really have to give some of the credit to why I rank this album so high to producer Mark Ronson. I had always loved the raw, gritty edge to the Black Lips, like a garage rock revival that wouldn't think twice about slamming your head into said garage door. However, I had always found listening to them to not be a challenge, but more like a triathlon between over-driven guitars, pseudo-surf beats and slightly unintelligible lyrics. However, I would go as far as to say that Arabia Mountain is their cleanest dirty album to date. It's not only well-written and performed, but listening to it is as enjoyable as the songs themselves.

Key Song: New Direction

[8] Adele - 21

You knew this was coming. No self-respecting best-of-2011 list is complete without Adele, don't lie to yourself. Adele is a big voice with big plans for the future, and she's not stopping any time soon. Sure, you may be tired of hearing Rolling in the Deep on every radio station on constant rotation, but you have to admit that it is what it is: a catchy, well-crafted song done by a talented singer. Adele has a powerful voice and knows how to use it to her advantage. So, if you don't like her you have two options: change your mind and enjoy what she has to offer, or buy a solid pair of earplugs because she's here to stay.

Key Song: Someone Like You

[7] The Strokes - Angles

It took long enough, but the Strokes came back this year and thank God it didn't sound anything like First Impressions of Earth. Angles was a throw-back to the sound that made the Strokes famous, all the way back to Is This It. However, it was as if someone miscalculated their Delorean because tracks like Machu Picchu sound like they were pulled straight out of New York 80's New Wave. Not that it's a bad thing.

Key Song: Taken for a Fool

[6] Arctic Monkeys - Suck It and See

If there was a Grammy award for an album that was most obviously influenced by another musician and/or musical endeavor, Arctic Monkeys would have won it hands-down. After Alex Turner came back from writing, recording and touring with Miles Kane as The Last Shadow Puppets, Suck it and See was what came out. More jangly, poppy, and Beatles-sounding than any other Arctic Monkeys album, Suck it and See was a swift departure from the harder, indie-fueled Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. However, it was a return to Turner's somewhat confusing, yet masterfully crafted, lyrics that hadn't really been heard since their hit Flourescent Adolescent.

Key Song: Suck It and See

[5] The Dear Hunter - The Color Spectrum

Red. Orange. Yellow. Green. Blue. Indigo. Violet. White. Black. The Color Spectrum is just that - nine four-song EPs that each revolve around a certain color. The red EP sounds like the Foo Fighters, raw and hard-rock; orange is bluesy and powerful almost like Muse; yellow is sunny and poppy; green is exactly what a picnic in a lush field sounds like; blue is, well, sad; indigo feels like you've been doing yoga and staring into a mandala too long; violet is strangely happy; white feels like you've died and gone to heaven; and black is like you've died and gone to hell. All these moods, songs, and themes were crafted by one single band, but mostly by one man - Casey Crescenzo. The rest of the Dear Hunter's catalog is progressive rock, but it's amazing to see that a band can venture into so many other genres and sound like they meant to sound this way all along.

Key Song: There's no way to pick one song, just listen to the whole thing and pick your favorite color.

[4] The Black Keys - El Camino

The Black Keys are like that primordial goop that first came out of the deep - they started as a two-man gritty blues band that just kept growing and evolving, acquiring more instruments and even some backing vocals. Now they have a legitimate full-band and an even fuller sound. They haven't lost that catchy edge though; opening track Lonely Boy and Gold on the Ceiling should come with a warning label that you will be singing them hours later when you think no one else is around. Either that or you'll find yourself acting out the video for Lonely Boy when you think no one else is around. If the Keys continue to grow exponentially in the way they have been, we can expect orchestral accompaniment by 2013. Or, maybe they'll realize that they've reached their own apex of cool on this album and that they really don't need all those tubas.

Key Song: Gold on the Ceiling

[3] Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys

Now, I was not a big fan of Death Cab's last album, Narrow Stairs. However, this is not a Narrow Stairs review, so I will keep that to myself. Now that I've mentioned that though, I am free to say that I believe this is Death Cab's best album to date. Like most of the other albums on this list, Death Cab is a band that knows what it's good at and sticks to it. Some bands prefer to experiment with new ideas and risk losing a part of their audience. Death Cab on the other hand knows that by sticking to what works, and maybe even improving on it, everyone is happy and it's good enough to attract more fans. Codes and Keys has the slightly sad, slow moments (St Peter's Cathedral) for fans of the older, sadder Death Cab as well as more upbeat and happy moments (Portable Television) for fans of the more recent Death Cab. Like I said, these guys know exactly what they're doing.

Key Song: Stay Young Go Dancing

[2] Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Other than being one of the most awkward album titles to write or type out, Helplessness Blues plays like a steaming mug full of a Hot Toddy - it's warm, inviting, and a little bit intoxicating. The harmonies are flawless, just as they were on their first album, but the application feels more mature; it's as if they had to ration their harmonies and only saved them for the moments they knew would produce the most goosebumps. Don't miss out on the flawless storytelling either, especially the heart string-pulling tale of Montezuma.

Key Track: Helplessness Blues

[1] The Decemberists - The King Is Dead

Call me biased that I put my favorite band at number one, but until you've listened to what this band can do when they're tucked away on a farm for months I would suggest giving it a chance. This was definitely the Decemberists' year, and it all started when The King is Dead debuted at #1, something that has never happened to them before. And now, they're nominated for two Grammys for Down by the Water. They also got a helping hand (or two) from R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck on tracks like Calamity Song. The album sways like a stalk of corn in the breeze between odes to pastoral beauty (June Hymn), down-on-the-farm knee-slappers (All Arise), and their trademark songs about old-timey people doing old-timey things and possibly dying in the end (Rox In The Box). And, like Hazards Of Love did before it, the album ends on a litmus test to determine whether or not you have functioning human emotions (Dear Avery)

Key Song: The whole thing. Really. It's not a cop-out because I couldn't choose one. Just listen to the whole thing.

And, of course, the honorable runners-up:

David Lynch - Crazy Clown Time

Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean

Explosions in the Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones

Kasabian - Velociraptor!


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