The 50 best albums of 2011

Friday, December 16th, 2011, 2:57 am by Ben Salmon

It’s well-documented that I’m a huge, hopeless music geek, and I love lists. So even though I spent three pages in The Bulletin’s GO! Magazine pontificating about my favorite records of 2011, I still can’t resist the urge to (A) rank them, and (B) get them all in one place online. So here we are.

Below, find my best effort at a list of my 50 favorite records of the past year, with a few words about several of them. For some, you’ll see no words where it looks like there should be words, and maybe I’ll fill those in sometime, but for now, I’m all typed out.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading. And truly: I could talk about this kind of stuff all day, and would love to hear from you in the comments!

50. Holcombe Waller, “Into the Dark Unknown” (Napoleon)
49. White Fence, “Is Growing Faith” (Woodsist)
48. Wilco, “The Whole Love” (dBpm)
47. Telekinesis, “12 Desperate Straight Lines” (Merge)
46. Chris Thile & Michael Daves, “Sleep With One Eye Open” (Nonesuch)
45. The Very Best, “Super Mom” (self-released)
44. Mogwai, “Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will” (Subpop)
43. Jonny, “Jonny” (Merge)
42. Gui Boratto, “III” (Kompakt)
41. Ryan Adams, “Ashes & Fire” (Pax Am)

40. Grails, “Deep Politics” (Temporary Residence)
39. Beyonce, “4″ (Columbia)
38. The Felice Brothers, “Celebration, Florida” (Fat Possum)
37. Das Racist, “Relax” (Greedhead)
36. Jovontaes, “Things Are Different Here” (Hello Sunshine)
35. Big K.R.I.T., “Return of 4Eva” (self-released)
34. Veronica Falls, “Veronica Falls” (Slumberland)
33. Real Estate, “Days” (Domino)
32. Wooden Shjips, “West” (Thrill Jockey)
31. Givers, “In Light” (Glassnote)

30. Clams Casino, “Instrumentals” (self-released)
As underground hip-hop’s current “it” producer, Mike Volpe is the man behind the syrupy sound of Lil B, A$AP Rocky and other rappers du jour. But on this free mixtape (and his “Rainforest” EP), those guys are nowhere to be found, giving Volpe’s ambling beats and blurry samples space to unfold in slow motion and mushroom into the staticky sky.

29. Com Truise, “Galactic Melt” (Ghostly International)

28. Tim Hecker, “Ravedeath 1972″ (Kranky)
Canadian ambient adventurer Tim Hecker’s 2011 album is a sonic monument to the quickening battle between warm, organic lifeblood — music — and the cold, digital sheen that envelops it more completely every day. At first listen, “Ravedeath” is a rippling wash of synthesized noise, sometimes sublime, sometimes harsh. But beneath the studio effects lives an Icelandic church organ that swells and sighs proudly and beautifully, as if trapped under ice and fighting to breathe.

27. Apex Manor, “The Year of Magical Drinking” (Merge)

26. Serengeti, “Family & Friends” (anticon.)
Buzzy and a bit bent, Serengeti’s introspective, observational rap style and warm, poppy beats fly in the face of hip-hop conventions: They feel like a welcoming hug and a long, deep conversation.

25. F–ked Up, “David Comes to Life” (Matador)

24. Peaking Lights, “936″ (Not Not Fun)
Sprawling and viscous, this husband/wife duo gently drifts through opiate dub-pop jams for the terminally chill. Just when it feels like they’re going nowhere, you’re there.

23. AgesandAges, “Alright You Restless” (Knitting Factory)

22. Pistol Annies, “Hell on Heels” (Columbia)

21. The Psychic Paramount, “II” (No Quarter)
Six years after its previous album, this New York City trio returned to deliver 2011′s most relentless slab of noise. From the opening seconds to the final salvo, “II” is a pummeling exercise in rhythmic experimentalism, where wave after wave crashes into your subconscious. If you can keep your head up, though, there’s beauty to be found in the spaces between.

20. Ringo Deathstarr, “Colour Trip” (Sonic Unyon)

19. Cahalen Morrison & Eli West,
“The Holy Coming of the Storm” (self-released)

It takes a vibrant spark to make old-time music sound fresh and contemporary in 2011, which may be this Seattle-based duo’s greatest strength. And that’s saying something, because Morrison and West showcase an abundance of skills on their excellent debut album: unconventional melodies, dazzling bluegrass picking and rich, intimate atmosphere that somehow feels both throwback and modern.

18. Street Gnar, “Poking the World With a Stick” (Night-People)
Lo-fi burbles, cyclical guitars, gritty garage rock and spaced-out grooves, all filtered through the carefree perspective of Kentucky skate kids with nothing but cool on their hands. Street Gnar sounds like the Millennial update of Pavement’s “Gold Soundz.”

17. Other Lives, “Tamer Animals” (TBD)
Other Lives’ sound is intoxicating. The Oklahoma band’s beautiful blend of spectral melodies, lush harmonies and elegant orchestral Americana sounds like it was taken straight out of some decades-old heartland hymnal, bound in worn leather, of course.

16. David Mayfield Parade, “The David Mayfield Parade” (9th Grade)
Pity the live-music lover who classifies David Mayfield as a novelty becuase of his hyper, comedic live show. In fact, the songs here reveal a man with his heart on his sleeve and a finely tuned ear for classic pop music, usually sung with a twang and glazed with a retro vibe. “I Just Might Pray” and Mayfield’s cover of “Sea of Heartbreak” are terrific, while the stunning “Breath of Love” is one of the prettiest tunes of the past few years. It will surely stop you in your tracks.

15. Jeff the Brotherhood, “We Are the Champions” (Infinity Cat)
Remember Weezer’s “In the Garage,” where Rivers Cuomo played guitar and felt safe? This scuzzy, fuzzy, Tennessee duo sounds like that garage’s house band.

14. Adele, “21″ (XL)
My 20-month-old’s favorite dance soundtrack. For that reason alone, it should be here. Also: It’s really, really good. But you already knew that.

13. Foo Fighters, “Wasting Light” (RCA)
America’s best mega-rock band returns to form by going back to basics (recorded in a garage, analog gear, Butch Vig on the knobs). “Wasting Light” is a wall-to-wall, arena-sized slugfest where the only thing bigger than the hooks is the bombast. Best effort in 14 years from the mainstream’s most affable bros.

12. Shabazz Palaces, “Black Up” (Subpop)
After dropping two game-changing EPs from the shadows in 2009, Palaceer Lazaro’s first full-length steps into the light just long enough to send soul-shuddering bass down the spines of conventional rap cats everywhere. Smeared synths, subterranean beats, otherworldly vocals and Lazaro’s vanguard style come together to form a vision of hip-hop’s future.

11. The Vaccines, “What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?” (Columbia)
This new English band’s debut album is packed with exhilarating and fully formed guitar pop, an airtight approximation of what would happen — besides hysterics at the NME — if The Strokes jammed with Jesus and Mary Chain. Also home to “If You Wanna,” the catchiest song of 2011.

10. Hauschka, “Salon Des Amateurs” (FatCat)
For years, German pianist Volker Bertelmann — aka Hauschka — has composed exquisite avant-classical music on “prepared” pianos, with all manner of items — corks, aluminum foil, paper clips, tape, bottle caps, etc. — modifying the instrument’s guts. The result is playful, lively and inventive. On “Salon Des Amateurs,” he goes a step further, tightening tones and quickening the pace until his songs morph into organic dance music, replete with quirky melodies and a powerful sense of locomotion. It’s as if Bertelmann’s piano is a heaving heart, pushing pulsing hyper-rhythms straight to your ears.

9. White Hills, “H-p1″ (Thrill Jockey)
Here’s a quick peek behind the curtain: White Hills’ “H-p1” was the final album added to this Top 10, and only after nosing out The Psychic Paramount’s “II” for noise-rock supremacy in 2011. In the end, it was this New York power trio’s equal penchant for thick, lumbering globs of heavy psych and glittery astral jams that gave it an edge. At 72 minutes long, “H-p1” is a heavy lift, and its concept — the evils of consumerism, corporate control and our disconnect from humanity — doesn’t lighten the load. But when White Hills digs into another deep, narcotic groove, you’ll forget about all that stuff anyway.

8. Washed Out, “Within and Without” (Subpop)
After the blown-out warble of his excellent “Life of Leisure” EP helped spur the chillwave movement/backlash, Ernest Greene’s first full-length (for indie-rock giant Subpop, no less) faced both high expectations and a gang of digital haters dying to scoff. “Within and Without” exceeds the former and lays waste to the latter. It’s everything great about Washed Out — pulsing beats, chiming synths, shapely melodies done dispassionately — polished and fortified for repeated spins, but not stripped of the breezy, buoyant aesthetic that makes those repeated spins so irresistible.

7. Yuck, “Yuck” (Fat Possum)
Depending on your perspective (and perhaps age), the four fresh-faced navel-gazers in Yuck are either well-versed revivalists of ‘90s indie rock or shameless rip-offs with a dearth of ideas baiting nostalgic thirtysomethings. The answer: Who cares? The songs are there. Sure, the band sounds like a wax-museum stand-in for Dinosaur Jr.’s squealing solos, Kim Deal’s bouncy bass lines, Teenage Fanclub’s gorgeous choruses and Steve Malkmus’ detachment. But if you’re going to build a Frankenstein, why not use the best parts? Yuck has all the best parts, and gloriously fuzzy guitars to deploy them.

6. Patrick Stump, “Soul Punk” (Island)
Welcome to the makeover of the year. Patrick Stump Version 2.0 is sleeker than he was as the frontman of emo hitmakers Fall Out Boy, a 21st century pop star if pop music valued huge, crunchy hooks over huge, sugary synths. “Soul Punk” is Stump’s solo debut (he wrote and played every note), and it’s a powerful, densely packed set of 10 relentlessly catchy tunes that recall early-’80s Michael Jackson and bounce back and forth between encouraging optimism and world-weary, but upbeat, gloom. (Greed is a favorite target.) No matter the subject, however, “Soul Punk” oozes pure fun from top to bottom.

5. The Decemberists, “The King is Dead” (Capitol)
Listen closely to the sixth album from Portland’s beloved Decemberists and you can almost hear the whoosh of a pendulum speeding past. “The King is Dead” is Colin Meloy and company’s finest album in at least five years (maybe eight), and it’s an obvious retreat from the ostentatious 2009 prog-opera “The Hazards of Love.” Here, the band focuses on what it does best: Freshly cut, folk-based story songs spilling over with vibrant acoustic strums, Meloy’s distinctive voice and soaring melodies, and acres of rustic charm. “King” is endlessly and effortlessly listenable.

4. Kendrick Lamar, “Section.80″ (Top Dawg Entertainment)
Hip-hop saw a surge of young, talented MCs this year, but none showed more promise than Compton, Calif.’s next big thing. Kendrick Lamar’s greatest strength is his rapping: pliable and compelling at low speeds, freakishly fast and laser-guided when he hits the gas. His rhymes are tight, too; see the cinematic tragedy “Keisha’s Song” or the moral dilemmas in “Kush & Corinthians” for examples. But Lamar’s most underrated skill may be his impeccable beat selection, which gives “Section.80” a hazy, mellow, old-soul feel. Street smart with an exposed heart, “Section.80” is 2011′s best rap record by far.

3. Moon Duo, “Mazes” (Sacred Bones)
What a year it was for Ripley Johnson. The hirsute psych icon’s best-known band, Wooden Shjips, drew rave reviews for its fine new album “West,” while Moon Duo — his gig with keyboardist Sanae Yamada — made an even better (if lower profile) record. “Mazes” is 44 minutes of blackout bliss, a slowly spinning swirl of brain-clouding psychedelia that perfects the nexus of stoney drones, frazzled echo-pop and steady, motorik throb. At once both stubbornly experimental and totally accessible, Moon Duo provides the ultimate, heady soundtrack for the eternal head-nod.

2. Frank Ocean, “Nostalgia, Ultra” (self-released)
When 2011′s hype machine focused on shock-rapper Tyler, the Creator and his Odd Future hip-hop crew, it allowed the group’s resident crooner to fly a bit under the radar. Self-released on Ocean’s Tumblr, “Nostalgia” is a smooth and slyly addictive slice of ultramodern R&B, powered by both original beats and hit tracks by MGMT, Coldplay and The Eagles. Melodically, Ocean is mellifluous, and lyrically, he’s infinitely more interesting than the loudest mouths in his crew, tackling emotionally charged themes (morality, insecurity, mortality, etc.) with confidence, vulnerability and a sharp wit.

1. Fleet Foxes, “Helplessness Blues” (Subpop)
The second album from Seattle’s Fleet Foxes is a peek into Robin Pecknold’s mind, where surprising success has put his brilliance and self-doubt at odds. Against sweeping ‘60s folk-rock and honeyed harmonies, Pecknold takes on the burdens of maturity and expectation; he decries his own selfishness, longs to become “someone you’d admire” and dreams of being a useful cog rather than a unique snowflake. Good luck with that, Robin. The fact is, no young songwriter working today matches Pecknold’s mix of talent, ambition and perfectionism, traits that should reward listeners for decades.

Tags:

12 Responses to “The 50 best albums of 2011”

  1. matt says:

    no bon iver? or war on drugs? or iron and wine? (the song “walking far from home” is my favorite of the year)
    maybe you’re a contrarian music geek. bon iver is the most beautiful, forlorn thing out there. makes fleet foxes seem like kids music.

    • Ben Salmon says:

      Not a contrarian, matt … I just find Bon Iver to be mind-numbingly boring. I’m not sure I can think of a more overrated musician going these days, honestly. But that’s just me. Obviously lots of people love him. And he’s bringing attention to one of my favorite songwriters, Kathleen Edwards, so … well, that can be good and bad. Hope her new album is good.

      As for Iron & Wine, I loved the first two records, but he lost me with “The Shepherd’s Dog.” I think I prefer my Sam Beam lo-fi and acoustic, not puffed up with all kinds of other instruments and studio glaze. I streamed “Kiss Each Other Clean” once, thought it sounded like another step backward, and never went back. Granted, one listen is not enough to form a good opinion about an album, but there’s so much music and only so little time, you know?

      The War on Drugs … yeah … they probably should’ve made the list, somewhere in the second half, 26 through 50. I like that record. Don’t love it, but like it. Think it could be a grower. Probably an oversight to leave them off of here.

      Finally Bon Iver vs. Fleet Foxes … we will just have to agree to disagree. :) To me, Pecknold’s a genius and FF is one of the best bands on the planet, while Vernon/BI is … not. But as I said, to each his own and all that.

      Thanks for the comment, matt! I really appreciate it and love talking music.

      • matt says:

        i’ve been on the fence about iron & wine as well, but you need to listen to “walking far from home” again to appreciate how the other instruments are adding to such great lyrics — ie, when the drop dub bass kicks in halfway thru the song; the off beat pitter patter of brushes first on the right side and then on the left; and, finally, the harmony at the end. True brilliance.

        my problem with fleet foxes vs bon iver is this: ff is a 6 piece band making music that is obviously influenced thru a 60ish haze — especially the harmonies (number one rule: if you’re gonna steal, dont try to put a different “take” on it, make it your won — like yuck). bon iver is basically one guy that sounds totally different from anything else, even if it gets kinda old after a whole record (but what doesnt?) You’re right about the overhype but that doesnt disqualify the beauty of the songs. so, retro rehash vs innovative one-off? I lean more to the guy in the bedroom making music all by himself than the 6 people on stage emulating their influences.

        other albums that missed the cut i guess: wild flag, t u n e y a r d s, st vincent, explosions in the sky, and girls

        peace

      • Ben Salmon says:

        matt: I will take your advice and listen to that I&W song. I believe in him as a songwriter, but just think he went too far once he had access to an actual studio and a budget. Same goes for, like, Wilco’s “Summerteeth” — great songs that are dragged down by overproduction. (Though “Summerteeth” is still better than any post-”Naked” I&W in my opinion.) But I will give it a spin and pay attention to the things you mention.

        I agree to an extent that Bon Iver sounds different than just about anything, but my problem is this: I just don’t hear any meat there. It sounds to my ears like a guy mumbling and mewling over some average music. (For the record, I feel pretty much the same way about James Blake.) I need MELODY, man, and I thought there were a couple of catchy melodies on “For Emma,” but mostly it sounded like sad guy mumbling in a cabin. Whereas Fleet Foxes has melodies (not to mention harmonies) for days.

        Is Fleet Foxes a retro rehash? Maybe. Certainly what they’re doing has been done, and done well, and I don’t necessarily think they’re doing much different with it. But I also don’t see Bon Iver as super innovative. And ultimately, I’m a song/melodies kind of guy, and I think Pecknold’s better at writing songs and melodies than anyone right now. But I felt that way after the first album, too, so it’s obvious that FF really hits a nerve for me.

        Let’s see … Wild Flag rocks, and I want to like them, but I just struggle with Carrie Brownstein’s voice … Tuneyards: not for me … St. Vincent: didn’t hear it, saw her open for The National a few years ago and really disliked it, so haven’t gone back … and you’re probably right, again, about EiTS and Girls. I really liked both those albums. I just ultimately listened to these 50 albums more than the EiTS, and I got the Girls album like days before I had to wrap this up. (I do like it *so* much more than their debut, which is encouraging.)

  2. Andy Z says:

    WHAT NO WAR ON DRUGS BOOOOOOOO

    Actually, good list. I still need to listen to that Ringo Deathstarr album.

    • Ben Salmon says:

      Hey I acknowledged my War on Drugs deficiency!

      You and matt are crafting #s 51-60: War on Drugs, Girls, EitS … probably Open Mike Eagle, XRay Eyeballs, The Parson Red Heads …

      Probably should’ve put The Head & The Heart somewhere in the 30s, too … although that was a reissue and, thus, a grey area.

  3. matt says:

    hey man, dont want to beat the dead horse here, but i think the idea of “melody” between bon iver and fleet foxes comes down to instrumentation, tuning, and mood. my point earlier about 6 vs 1 was this — ff writes their songs in standard tuning mostly in 4/4 and follows the path that many have already blazed for years. and while they do so in an earnest, self-conscious fashion, the melody are not original, and neither are the arrangements and it takes way too many of them to do it. b.i. uses effects and not standard tuning and not normal rhythm patterns to make original music all by himself. but like you said, this is a matter of taste when it comes to the final product. i would say to you, if this was my blog, i would think about history, and where each artist will stand in the eyes of the future. who (and which album) will influence more people? twenty years from now, which will one be perceived to be the more important record in its time?

    this is the same problem i had with your list last year. i understand that we live in the upper northwest and that you want your blog to highlight and represent that, but for the last 2 years your #1 album (if i remember correctly) were within this locale. didn’t you proclaim band of horses had the best album last year? maybe i’m old school alternative (bob mould/sonic youth/r.e.m.) but that album sucked compared to the national’s “high violet” in terms of the history of music, the national’s songs will outshine band of horses by miles — through the lyrics, the production of the songs, guitars versus guitars, drums, song structure, relevant contemporary themes — it’s “adult” to the core.

    as you suggest about bon iver its just some guy “mumbling” in a cabin but if i understand correctly that’s what you like about early iron and wine. what it comes down to is this: do you like early miles davis or his crazy bitches brew stuff? you talk about “melody” like its the bees knees — case in point, f-d up’s album: love the music, even like the lyrics (and how they’re phrased) but I cannot get past the singer’s voice! he’s RUINING the songs (and maybe that’s the point of the band!!!) — AND isn’t this why you “struggle” with wild flag? (someone once told me they didnt like led zep because of robert plant’s voice — are you kidding me?) maybe bon iver is playing stuff that you just dont get and dont want to.

    it’s your list and your blog. one thing: it’s kind of esoteric. how many people do you think have heard all these records? (especially in this itune track world?) you come across kind of like those guys back in the day (in “college” radio) who would come out with these best of the year lists with bands that NOBODY had heard — thinking that they were cooler than everybody else because they had heard them first. and then you complain about production and include beyonce on your list? i dont mean to nit pick, but c’mon man!
    if you want to all genre inclusive, be so! little wayne and the weeknd and the beastie boys and drake and others all had better records. but maybe you have thing for beyonce.

    later

    • Ben Salmon says:

      matt! Sorry i didn’t respond more quickly. Hope you’re still out there, but understand if you’re not.

      Obviously we’ll agree to disagree on FF vs. BI. You like one, I like the other. I appreciate your position, and I can tell you that when I consider your questions about influence, standing and importance in 20 years, I feel perfectly comfortable in mine. To me, there is no comparison, really. One artist/band is making sturdy and compelling folk/pop/rock music that will sound vital and vibrant to my grandchildren’s ears, and the other is … not. But hey, that’s me.

      By the way, I just came across a couple of articles on Slate that sort of crystallize my feelings on BI, so I’ll link here:

      1) http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/the_music_club/features/2011/music_club_2011/best_music_2011_bon_iver_is_unlistenable_.html

      Key passages: “I see the appeal of Justin Vernon’s traffic-stopping falsetto and deft arrangements, but I can’t handle the overbearing self-seriousness, which seems to obviate the need for the music to have any kind of forward momentum, melodically or rhythmically—his songs not only don’t go anywhere, they don’t seem to start out anywhere.”

      “Vernon generally sings as if he’s afraid he might bruise a word by articulating it, so many listeners might miss how strained and awkward his poetry-class-stoner lyrics are.”

      2) http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/the_music_club/features/2011/music_club_2011/best_music_2011_bon_iver_florence_welch_beyonc_.html

      Key passage: “Justin Vernon can obviously make pretty sounds, but his marble-mouthed singing, and the drooping-wet-sock formlessness of his songs, are maddening. As for the lyrics, they’re gibberish: (I’ve cut the lyrics here, you can read them at the link.)

      When I hear that song—and I do, most mornings, at my local espresso joint—I wonder: Is Vernon the worst poetaster in the history of popular music? Is he simply incapable of writing a lyric that makes sense—that tells a story, conveys a recognizable human emotion, in English or Elvish or any other language?

      Maybe, but you have to hand it to the guy: He’s gobbeldygooked his way to glory. I don’t understand, though, how critics can give Vernon a pass—can fail to demand a semblance of meaning from songs delivered with such shuddering self-importance.”

      Anyway … enough about this dude. On to other topics:

      –I love The National too. “Alligator” and “Boxer” were actually fighting for one spot on my Top 10 of the 2000s list. (I ended up putting “Alligator” at #5, FWIW.) “High Violet” is a very good record and I wouldn’t argue against it. Nor would I argue against someone who disliked the Band of Horses album. It’s a simple, easygoing collection of tunes that don’t do much to push folk/pop/rock music forward. But boy were they easy on the ears. And that’s what I loved about them.

      Also, Band of Horses started in the Northwest, but has been based out of South Carolina since before “Cease to Begin.” To that point…

      –I don’t try to skew my lists (or tastes) toward the Northwest, at least not on purpose. But I/we do live relatively close to the Portland and Seattle music scenes, and it just so happens that I think those are two of the best music scenes in the country. Is that opinion and my proximity related? Probably a little. But I admired those two scenes when I lived in Kentucky, too. Anyway, point is: I’m sure being close to those cities affects my opinion a bit, but believe me, if a band from London or NYC or Sydney, Australia or Zimbabwe or anywhere else put out what I thought was the best record of the year, I’d say so. I certainly wouldn’t boost a Pacific Northwest band to the top of the list just because of where I live.

      –Fair point about melody vs. the F’d Up album, but I heard this take from a lot of people this year, and I feel the exact same way: Hardcore vocals are not normally my thing, and they grate on me a bit, too, but the music on “David Comes to Life” is *so good* and the overall concept of the record is *so good* that it just carries me through Damien’s voice. I don’t know what else to say … I’m with you, except I CAN get past the voice. You can’t. I guess that’s how it goes.

      –As for my list being esoteric, I mean, there are some oddball choices and some stuff few people have heard (Street Gnar comes to mind), but ultimately, my Top 10 (minus White Hills and probably Moon Duo) pretty much looks like it could’ve been on NPR or something. To be honest, I’m a little bummed that my list this year is a little boring. Fleet Foxes, Washed Out, Yuck, The Decemberists: all “big indie” faves. Frank Ocean’s a breakout star working with Jay-Z and stuff. Kendrick Lamar’s a little more underground, but certainly well known and making these lists all over the place. Patrick Stump was in Fall Out Boy, for crying out loud. Even Hauschka’s a known quantity *in his world*. White Hills and Moon Duo are probably a little under the radar, I’ll give you that. But then just outside the Top 10 we have the non-OFWGKTA indie-rap buzz act of the year (Shabazz), NME’s hot new band (Vaccines) and freakin’ Foo Fighters and Adele. After her is where it starts to veer off into esoterica, maybe. Otherwise … I’m just not sure that this list is the one to criticize for being too hip, too obscure, too cool, etc.

      –Finally, that Beyonce record rules. Solid songs top to bottom, with one exception. I can’t stand Lil Wayne or Drake (though I would be willing to give “Take Care” some time), thought the Beastie Boys record was good not great, and find The Weeknd laughable. I tried to listen to “House of Balloons” and barely got through it twice. Queen B stomps them all, no joke.

      matt, as I’ve already said, I truly appreciate your feedback, the discussion, your passionate defense of your positions, etc., etc. Truly, truly! Feel free to keep going … or stop if you’d like. I know, it’s gotten quite wordy! And regardless, take care.

  4. Chris says:

    I thought the BEST part of your list was the absence of Bon Iver. I didn’t really want to go negative and point it out in your comments, but since you are getting a bit of heat for it…I agree completely.

    For the life of me, I can’t understand comparisons between Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes.

    As far as omissions, I thought Portugal. The Man’s album was GREAT.

    • Ben Salmon says:

      Thanks, Chris. The guy is certainly polarizing and engenders strong opinions in people, so he’s doing something right. More power to him.

      My biggest problem with him is I’m worried he’s going to ruin Kathleen Edwards. But I guess we’ll see about that.

      I didn’t hear the Portugal. The Man record this year. Heard and liked “The Satanic Satanist” but kinda lost track after that. Too much music, too little time…

  5. scott halvorson jr says:

    I do have one glaring issue with the list which you’ll see coming a mile away, but i have to say it anyway; DUDE!! No Mike Watt – Hyphenated Man!?!?!?!?!?!

    Runner up tie: Fleet Foxes album and Wormrot’s Noise. As much as I dig Fleet Foxes, Wormrot is just fantastic.

    Wormrot is grindcore from Singapore. Kinda like early Nasum, but leaning more towards the crust punk side of things. (Odd trivia note; they were just arrested in Malaysia for hanging out with female friends they weren’t married to. Luckily, they were found not to be doing anything untoward and were released immediately.) That Wormrot release can be downloaded for free from Toyota Scion’s website. http://scionav.com/collection/794/Wormrot—Noise-EP As long as you’re there, you can pick Immolation’s latest ep, Providence which is a corker in its own right.. (And no, I have no idea how in the blue hell we ended in a world where Toyota is giving away music from the underground’s best and brightest.) In my host humble of, Wormrot is grindcore’s brightest hope, absolutely where it’s at.

    There are still a good handful of things from the year I haven’t heard yet, (I particularly need to check out the new Gourds and Southern Culture on the Skids releases) but also of note;

    the new Amebix album Sonic Mass is pretty good. I don’t like it as much as most of their fans do, it’s a bit melodromatic, but I do like it, it’s nice having Amebix back.

    I like the new Skinny Puppy and Ohgr albums although I can’t help but think that they could have done some trimming and made one really good album.

    A-Plus’s Pepper Spray is an absolute hoot.

    Autopsy – Macabre Eternal; long story short, many years ago, they released an album called Mental Funeral which still holds its reputation for a certain vibe; I haven’t seen one single mention of that album that didn’t use the word diseased. Filthy, grimy, doom, nihilistic and greasy generally come up as well. I’ve always been wildly amused that a simple setup of voice, guitar, bass and drums, like any other rock band uses can create such a creaky, smelly atmosphere. Autopsy reunited after some years, and while this isn’t as good as Mental Funeral, they somehow managed to recapture that old atmosphere. I can see Autopsy appealing to people who don’t generally go for death metal just for the pure joy of wallowing in the mud and the artistic value that they manage to succeed in creating this feel.

    Brutal Truth – End Times is a fine release. Not quite as good as Evolution Through Revolution; a bit more towards their experimental side which is cool with me, but the songwriting isn’t as tight. Still absolutely worth checking out.

    The Day Everything Became Nothing – All For Death. Yeah, yeah, some of the bands I enjoy don’t always have the rosiest outlooks. Still, top shelf grindcore.

    Putridity – Degenerating Anthropological Euphoria. They might be shooting themselves in the foot by having an album title that sounds way too much like a Dimmu Borgir title which would be the wrong comparison. Well played without being overly technical. Exists for no other reason than to be really heavy, bludgeon, get the job done and get out. Sounds boring, but these guys do it so well and with such verve, this is actually one of my favorite death metal albums I’ve heard in recent years.

    Defeated Sanity – Chapters of Repugnance. And yet more heavier than thou death metal. Can’t help it. I love this sort of thing, and these guys are great at it.

    I generally consider myself a big Wilco fan, but for some reason I can’t get in to The Whole Love at all. It just seems, I dunno, distant. I can’t really connect to it to get any feel or opinion. That might just mean I haven’t listened to it enough times. I expect that it will grow on me, I’ve gotten something out of everything Wilco’s released this far.

  6. David Skelton says:

    Although, I think the Fleet Foxes album is good… I can’t believe this list does not include Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys. This is one of the best albums I’ve heard in years! This is my pick for best album of the last ten years… not just 2011!

    Also missing on this list… Where is “Wild Flag? I can’t believe the energy that radiates from every track of this album.

    Honorable mentions: St. Vincent- “Strange Mercy” & Destroyer – “Kaputt”.

    It’s obvious that we’re all listening to strange and divergent albums, but that’s the beauty of living in 2011. We’re entering another “Golden Age” in music. Some of the albums released in 2011 will be with us for decades to come.

    Best show in Central Oregon for 2011 – Ray Lamontagne. He showed us that sometimes all you have to do is stand there and sing one great friggin’ song after another! 2nd Place – Lo & Behold/Fairchildren/Gregory Alan Isakov at the Poet House… OMG… you had to be there on this magical night, but if you google AC Sound, you can hear the concert all over again via their streaming.

    Best local band of the year… Not sure if anyone claimed the title this year. If our local music dives keep disappearing then we’ll all be making the rounds from one band’s garage to another to hear some diverse local music… unless you just wait for the Roots Festival. Bands that surprised me the most this year – The Autonomics, Death of a Hitman, Broken Down Guitars and I’ll shamelessly plug my band, The Dream Symphony. All of these band’s tunes are available on Reverbnation.

    Best local CD – A Tribe of Broken Whales – Bridge http://atribeofbrokenwhales.bandcamp.com/ This is by far the most experimental and adventurous album I’ve heard all year.

    I’m looking forward to 2012… thanks for the article!

Leave a Reply