Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Favorite Albums Of 2011

The new year is here and I take a moment to finally look back at my favorite albums of 2011. This list is more comprehensive, and slightly revised, from the one published on Stereo Subversion a couple weeks ago. Clicking on the artist/title links will take you to a sample video from that album. So if there is something you are unfamiliar with, I highly recommend checking out the video. There are some hidden gems on my list that definitely deserve more recognition. Here is my top 25, and let's start at the top and go down...

Can anyone else make a album about World War II that is even remotely interesting? Only PJ. In the year when America was reminded of its own era of terror in marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11, PJ Harvey delivered a look at England's moment of pure panic. In a career filled with remarkable albums, this ranks among the top. 

The former Butterfly, Ishmael Buttler, returned to the hip-hop spotlight with a groundbreaking album that—like his former Digable Planets persona— expanded the boundaries of black music. 

Doom folkstress Chelsea Wolfe’s sophomore album was more polished than her debut (released late 2010), but still retained the grit and frightfulness that makes her one of the most exciting new artists of the last year. 

Tell Me was a giant step forward for Ms. Mayfield. No longer just playing the sullen girl, her songwriting has taken new avenues. Backed up by Dan Auerbach’s most pop friendly production, the two remain an impressive collaboration. 

The biggest surprise was this dark folk offering that is possibly the most lusciously gorgeous album of the year from beginning to end. There is not a single moment on here that doesn’t come off as brilliant. 

Of all the indie bands of the past year, Bon Iver would be the last I would expect to have some sort of a commercial/pop culture crossover. But they did. And I can’t argue when it’s with an album this elegant.

A late addition to my favorites list, The Roots delivered a grand opus of an album. Personally, this ended a question I had been asking for a while: With close to 20 years under their belt, have the Roots become the greatest group in hip-hop history? Easily the answer is now YES!

It’s odd how an Okkervil River album that is not meant to be a concept album (when most of them are) can still come off sounding like a concept album. It begins with a death, ends with a waking, and in between explores a dreamland of myths and self-realization. 

It was pretty much expected that following the divorce of Ivan and Kelly this would be a breakup album. It was actually heavier and sadder than that; a breakup album that doesn’t even directly address the breakup. Indeed it was a complicated dance move. 

Jenn and Andy have been on the fringe of an indie rock breakthrough since their first album. Their third LP finally achieved that for them and gave us the spectacular title-song, which is one of the best tracks of the year. 

Erika M. Anderson sounds like someone rising out of ruins. Her songwriting reminds me a lot of Courtney Love, which (if you know me) is a massive complement. With plenty of anger and self-loathing, Anderson’s solo debut hits all the right punk rock goddess cords.    

50 Words For Snow has a 13 minute long song about an affair with a snowman, one sung from the prospective of a falling snowflake, and one in which she literally counts down 50 different words for “snow.” All of these things should make it ridiculous, but it actually is the total opposite. This is pure beauty. 

Truthfully all three installments of the self-released (and free!) mixtape trilogy belong on this list. By default I’ll just include the first and best one. This project from Canadian producer/vocalist Abel Tesfaye still has a lot of mystery to it, so most blogs and webzines choose to focus on his Drake connection. Yet the Weeknd far outshined that particular artist, and pretty much all other R&B released in 2011. 

This album sounds like early RZA hooked up with early Portishead to do an old school soul throwback. Adrian Younge scored the best soundtrack for a movie that doesn’t exist. 

The secret left untold on the first Dum Dum Girls album was that fontwoman Dee Dee Penny actually had a powerful set of singing pipes on her. So for this, her first outing with a full band, Dee Dee finally turned down the fuzz and allowed her vocals to shine. 

and the rest in alpha order (the way an iPod alphabetizes)...

1 comment:

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