2011 was a pretty terrible year for me in general, but a great year for music. Unlike the last few years, there was no clear choice for best album; my top five are essentially tied for that honor. I decided to give the nominal top spot to Youth Lagoon, for which I’ve been meaning to write a review since right after posting the one for HtDW. It’s a beautiful, vulnerable, and poignant album and I really hope Trevor Powers keeps up the good work.
I get sort of tired of ranking things around number 25, so I cut the list off there and I have another 10 “honorable mention” choices. I quite liked all of these albums, but they’re “just” solid offerings as opposed to sock-rocking statements of musical prowess. Without further ado, here they are in alphabetical order:
Black Lips – Arabia Mountain
Des Ark – Don’t Rock the Boat, Sink the Fucker
Feist – Metals
Gobble Gobble – Neon Graveyard
Mastodon – The Hunter
Phantogram – Nightlife
Radiohead – The King of Limbs
Terius Nash – 1977
YACHT – “Shangri-La”
Zola Jesus – Conatus
And now the top 25, in reverse order for heightened suspense.
25. Nacho Picasso – For the Glory
24. Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread
23. James Blake – James Blake
22. Austra – Feel It Break
21. Action Bronson – Dr. Lecter
20. Battles – Gloss Drop
19. Frank Ocean – nostalgia,ULTRA
18. Cults – Cults
17. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
16. Grouper – A I A: Alien Observer/Dream Loss
15. Foster the People – Torches
14. A$AP Rocky – LIVELOVEA$AP
- He got a bunch of money, and then he put it right where his gold grill is and dropped the most interesting rap debut in recent memory.
13. Wild Flag – Wild Flag
- It’s not Sleater-Kinney, but it’s pretty damn good.
12. Watch the Throne – Watch the Throne
- This was a bit of a weak year for rap. I vacillated (and still do) on which record was the better between this and Rocky’s, but in the end I decided Watch the Throne’s cover was apt because anything Kanye West touches actually does turn into gold.
11. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
- I am one of the apparently few people who didn’t particularly care for their first album, but this one is a different story. It’s a bit more polished, but the Foxes clean up nicely.
10. Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
- This one was hard to place. It’s such a well-crafted experience, but at 78 minutes it’s almost too much of a good thing. It probably deserves to be a few spots higher.
9. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l
- This totally scratches my itch for weird indie pop/rock. Bird Brains was weird and interesting; this is just weird and awesome.
8. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints
- This gets better every time I listen to it. From soft and whispered to arena-worthy rock, Erika is always on point. It’s kind of disturbing how catching a song about slashing wrists can be.
7. The Rapture – In the Grace of Your Love
- I was not much of a Rapture fan before this album, but as far as I’m concerned this is a perfect distillation of the post-LCD DFA sound. I want more.
6. Purity Ring
- Ok, so they didn’t actually put out an album yet. This is purely based on the 3 (yes, just 3) tracks they’ve released, and the others which they played live. I do what I want.
5. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
- This came out way back at the beginning of March, and it’s hard for me to compare things that came out so long ago with stuff that I’ve been excited about much more recently. However, this was a significant step up from her first album, and it’s been near the top of my mental list all year.
4. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
- Yes, it’s good. I don’t really need to say much else here.
3. The Antlers – Burst Apart
- This was the sleeper hit of the year for me. I wasn’t that high on it right when it came out, but that has obviously changed. One track is particularly resonant for me, but whole thing is rife with emotional power.
2. The Weeknd – House of Balloons / Thursday
- The Weeknd are the breakout internet stars of 2011 and poised to be the breakout commercial stars of 2012, fresh off their collaboration with Drake and a great Florence and the Machine remix. Thursday doesn’t come close to the raw power of House of Balloons, but it’s still a worthy addition to the canon. Expectations for Echoes of Silence are immense.
1. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation
- This is ostensibly a small and personal record, but its almost child-like wonder and blossoming melodies are infectious. It’s all up in my brain, and that’s fine with me. Call me a Youth Lagoon zombie.
I usually end up modifying my list a bit after checking out other year-end lists (like this one, or this one, or this one, or this one, or the impending pitchfork list) and finding things that I overlooked during the course of the year, so I may post an update at some point. I also caught up with some older releases for the first time this year. I had never bothered to check out the Black Keys’ catalog, because I had apparently confused them with another band that I didn’t like very much which had a similar name, but it turns out they’re pretty ok. After a couple of listens I think El Camino is their weakest release, but the older material is nice. I also discovered Murder City Devils (thanks Ameni) and American Nightmare/Give Up the Ghost (thanks internet) this year, to my enjoyment. I’m also really going to be looking out for more stuff produced/remixed by Clams Casino. He’s the new hotness. And with that, I’ll close. Bring it on, 2012.