Here’s guest podcaster turned guest blogger Will Cleveland’s list of best albums of 2011. He’s a bit more sincere and straightforward than I am, which is why these are presented in countdown fashion. Click here for the Spotify playlist with a bunch of songs from both of our lists.
I present my top 10 albums list of 2011. (And yes, I realize that 12 is not 10, but I really, really couldn’t see myself eliminating any of the albums on this list. Each were important or memorable to me for various reasons that will be explored/expounded upon shortly . . . )
12. Wye Oak, Civilian
Wye Oak’s The Knot is one of my pantheon albums. It’s one of those albums that I will always come back to no matter what. To say that I was eagerly anticipating Civilian would be a huge understatement. And when the album was released, I was very pleased, but it didn’t blow me away like their previous two full-lengths. But this album is a grower and after repeated listens, I can honestly say that it is a bold step forward for the Baltimore duo. I can’t wait to see what the future brings.
11. Florence + The Machine, Ceremonials
I loved Lungs, but I love Ceremonials even more. The subject matter and content are darker. It represents a bold step forward for Florence Welch. Just listen to “Shake It Out.” That is an epic song in every sense of the word. And then listen to The Weeknd’s dark, twisted remix of the same song. It’s a wonderfully weird and twisted marriage. Florence + The Machine excite me like few other pop artists today. The sound is big and symphonic and this record delivers on all of those fronts.
10. Bill Callahan, Apocalypse
I was late to the Bill Callahan/Smog bandwagon. Now that I am there, I am all the way there. Apocalypse is completely brilliant. It’s Mr. Callahan at his best. His striking baritone has never sounded better, and at a brief seven songs, this album delivers. “America!” is one of the most badass songs of the year, while “Drover” tells an unforgettable tale. Callahan is a truly gifted storyteller and this album feels like a gift that just keeps on giving.
9. The Drums, Portamento
I had a natural inclination to hate this album. I didn’t really love the first release from these guys, because I was completely bugged by the buzz and incessant hype they received. My first reaction in a case like this is to completely write something off before even experiencing it. I greatly detest hype. The Drums obviously didn’t become a victim of their own hype. Behind the sunny, 80’s-influenced sound, there is a real darkness that I appreciate on this album. It’s one of the darkest pop albums of the year.
8. Jay Cue, Pyramid Life
Jay Cue was my gateway drug. He was my entry into the weird and wonderful world of Georgia hip-hop collective Nobody Really Knows (NRK). And avid readers of this blog (Ed. Note: Not Three Percent, but some other wacky blog the Will Cleveland writes for) are already aware of this (from the countless introductions and interviews I did with the various group members). To be blunt (pun intended), these dudes scare me shitless. They are all waaaay younger than me and they are already delivering incredibly thought-provoking artistic statements. Hal and Jay’s production on this album is stellar. The collection of beats are really unrivaled and all this awesomeness grabbed me at first list. Listen to album opener “Pyramid Life (Intro)” and I guarantee you will catch the damn disease. I am unbelievably excited to see what comes next from NRK. Tyler Major, Hal, Murdock, Gloomy, Luwees, Andre, Jay, Quince, Mables, KC, Foreign, and even Lynard, I can’t wait to see what comes next. And that’s not a tax. #Smugtweet
7. M83, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
Simply put, this is the most epic album of the year. And it’s not even close. There is nothing that rivals Anthony Gonzalez’s masterpiece. “Midnight City” and “Steve McQueen” are two of the best songs of the year. At 22 songs, this album feels like an event. It’s one that you need to blast in your headphones and then get lost in its grandiosity.
6. Tom Waits, Bad As Me
I randomly had a friend introduce me to Tom Waits in high school. He said his dad was a huge fan. Never before, I had heard something so weird. And that voice. Holy shit! There is nothing like that. With his first studio release in seven years, Mr. Waits added another incredible brick to his already strange and wonderful building.
5. The Weeknd, House of Balloons/Thursday
Toronto R&B artist The Weeknd (also known as Abel Tesfaye) dropped House of Balloons randomly and without warning on my birthday in March. It felt like one of the greatest birthday presents ever. Never before had I heard music so slinky, creepy, sexy, and utterly (can’t find the proper adjective here). Listen to these albums and you feel like a dirty voyeur. We are all complicit.
4. Frank Ocean, Nostalgia, Ultra
I became an Odd Future junkie during the summer of 2010. I downloaded all of their mixtapes off their Tumblr and I fell in love with the careless attitude and the fearlessness. And then I heard Frank Ocean sing the chorus on MellowHype’s “Hell.” He offered a completely different aesthetic and he showed me that it was lazy and pointless to try to categorize/pigeonhole OFWGKTA. (Ocean even retweeted me once.) And when he got fed up with the record business, he dropped his debut randomly on his own Tumblr. This album features him crooning smoothly over Coldplay and The Eagles. And then he offers up his own soulful brand of R&B.
3. A.A. Bondy, Believers
Mr. Bondy’s first two albums were nice and somewhat forgettable for me (and I am not sure why). But this third album, released in September, just hit the right spot, the right nerve. Bondy has an unmistakable delivery and voice.
2. Drake, Take Care
I know I probably shouldn’t like this album as much as I do. His previous effort, last year’s laughable Thank Me Later, is a steaming pile of horseshit. It delivered on none of the promise he showed on his wonderful mixtape So Far Gone. This album, his second proper release, delivers. Drake’s frequent collaborator, producer Noah “40” Shebib offers a wide range of understated beats that perfectly blend with Drake’s singing/rapping combination. The album is all about vulnerability and confusion, but at the same time, it is about excess and fame. It’s an intoxicating blend, especially on songs like “Marvins Room,” “Make Me Proud,” and “Cameras.”
1. WU LYF, Go Tell Fire To The Mountain
This album was a happy accident for me. And that’s the best kind of musical discovery. At its core, WU LYF present and represent an extremely silly anarchistic aesthetic. And for some reason, I totally buy in. I should be smarter than this. I shouldn’t like this album and this corny message as much as I do. These guys are my Bieber. This album moves me like few others ever had and it hits me in an extremely emotional way. And for that simple reason, this is my favorite album of 2011.
And in the words of Selena Gomez, don’t forget to dream out loud!
Although the “Best Albums of 2011” was my fault, I actually sort of hate putting together strick top 10 lists for music. Given the opportunity, I could list 20+ albums that I liked from this year, including ones from Bon Iver, I Break Horses, Mark McGuire, Matthew Shipp, Portugal. The Man, Thao & Mirah, tUnE-yArDs, Deaf Center, DJ Shadow, Thurston Moore, Talkdemonic, Blue Sky Black Death, and Braids.
Since we were artificially limited to ten though, I decided that the best way to approach this was to create ten equally artificial categories and fill those in. You can listen to songs from all these albums via this Spotify playlist. Enjoy, and feel free to argue your hearts out in the comments section below.
Best Indie/Synthpop Album:
Handsome Furs, Sound Kapital
I love everything about this album, from the country-tinged opening to the distorted end in which Dan Boeckner howls “feelings no . . . feelings no . . . feelings” over and again. It’s an album that fits together, and that is influenced by their tour through Eastern Europe and Asia. There’s something about this that aligns in my mind with the Occupy Movement, especially in the songs “Serve the People” and “Cheap Music.”
Album with the Best Ending:
Gang Gang Dance, Eye Contact
I saw Gang Gang Dance play here in Rochester a few years back, and it was easily one of the best shows I’ve ever seen live. The drums, vocals, danceable yet haunting hooks, the completeness of the set—all so good. I was really psyched about the new album, and it’s grown on me all year. That said, what I mostly love is the very ending, where, after almost an hour of drifting electronic noise and polyrhythmic beats, a woman’s voice closes it out by whispering “live forever.” Best experienced on headphones. Late at night.
Foster the People, Torches
Sure, Top 40 radio pretty much wrecked Foster the People by playing “Pumped Up Kicks” way, way too much, but over the past year, whenever I want to hear something simple and catchy and poppy and wonderful, I would find myself putting this on. “Helena Beat,” “Houdini,” “Warrant”—all excellent songs to bounce around to. And I like the slight disconnect between the cheery music and the somewhat dark lyrics.
Most Hypnotic “Trip Math Rock” Album:
Battles, Gloss Drop
Nate coined the “trip math rock” term because there’s no good way to describe the music of Battles. (One of the Last.fm tags for the song “Futura” is “my space ship crashes into the sun,” which is about right.) I was a bit nervous about this album, since Mirrored is so god damn good, and since Tyondai Braxton left Battles to create an excellent solo album. But not to fear! “Ice Cream” is fantastic (and in a car commercial) and the rest of Gloss Drop is remarkably similar to their earlier albums. Very easy to drift off to these songs and let the strange rhythms infect your brain . . . One other interesting thing: when my daughter first heard “Ice Cream” she loved it, declaring that it’s “a really fun song!” Just goes to show that children are open to basically anything . . .
Best Album to Listen to Under the Influence:
Akron/Family, S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT
No, I have no idea WTF is up with that title. I do know that the promo material for this album was all jacked, talking about how they wrote it on a volcano in Hawaii and recorded it in some abandoned building in Detroit . . . Also, they leaked totally fake versions of the album that were all chopped up schizophrenic noise as a way of tricking all the torrenters and blog nerds. (I think that is genius.) I’ve never been an Akron/Family fan (although “Ed Is a Portal” is a kick ass song) because of their weird godhead worshiping, freak folk vibe, but this album is pretty diverse and stunning with quasi-electro-hippie jams (“Silly Bears”) and expansive, Animal Collective-informed odes to summer (“Light Emerges”). It’s fantastic and worth listening to when your mind is in a certain space . . .
Best Metafictional Punk Album:
Fucked Up, David Comes to Life
I didn’t think there was any way I would like this album. The lead singer is way too screechy, and it’s been ages since I was really into the punk thing. (Yes, once upon a time. When I had purple hair.) Anyway, this “punk rock opera” is so damn ambitious that it drew me in . . . In short, it’s an album about David, who meets Veronica, who wants to stage a sort of revolution. Bad shit happens, the other shoe drops, etc. But what makes this metafictional is when “David” rebels against the narrator of his story . . . That’s intriguing enough for me, and the music itself is so, so catchy in that jagged sort of punk way. As I said on the podcast, it’s a great album to listen to while out for a bike ride. Oh, and be sure and check out the videos for “Queen of Hears” and “The Other Shoe”—they manage to tell part of the story in a cool, cinematic way while also emphasizing the meta nature of it all.
Album That Takes Me Back to High School:
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Belong
There’s something admirable is so perfectly capturing a particular time and place. Belong is the early-90s all day long. It’s buzzy and poppy and filled with high school concerns and nods to Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine and all that things that make nostalgia (for me) all warm and fuzzy. I can imagine dancing to this at a post-football game dance. Alone. Wishing for the “Girl of a 1,000 Dreams” to dance with me . . . Or something like that. Man, high school SUCKED.
Album with the Most Juvenile Lyrics:
Fight Like Apes, The Body of Christ and the Legs of Tina Turner
I can’t exactly explain why I like Fight Like Apes (and Los Campesinos!, a similar sort of band with juvenile concerns) so much, but I do. I think it’s the poppy hooks in their songs mixed with the aggressively direct lyrics that often involve B-movies or sci-fi stuff. Mostly, I’m including this here because it contains the best insult of 2011: “You look like a hairstyle / You look like a boy named Kyle.”
Best Double Album of Epicness:
M83, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
I would put every song from this on the Spotify playlist if I could. Such an amazing piece of art. Earlier M83 albums are pretty good (especially Saturdays=Youth), but this is such a complete statement. It’s broad and epic and grand and is responsible for the most awesome video of 2011. (How can you go wrong with glowing blue eyes and telekinesis? You can’t.) I’m noticing that there are a couple things running through my list: grandiosity, electro-whatever, and nods to earlier eras. (In this case, the 80s.) Anyway, listen to this whole thing. It’s 100% brilliant. Oh, and French!
Best Pre-2011 Discovery of 2011:
Dan Deacon, Bromst
I have no idea how this album made it past me. It’s so perfectly in my sweet spot of crazy, fucked up noise. I love music like this—hyperactive, complicated, singular. (After listening to this album, I asked my parents to get me a synthesizer for Christmas.) To me, this isn’t just music, but sound architecture. Loops build and drop out, new noises fade in, rhythms change abruptly . . . It’s more of a journey than a collection of songs. And as I said on the podcast, I think “Snookered” is the most exacting representation of what the inside of my head is like.
In this week’s podcast we take a break from that books thing to talk about the best music of 2011 according to me (Chad W. Post) and guest host Will Cleveland. Nathan Furl and Six (aka Elizabeth Mullins) also throw in their opinions about a ten artists, including Handsome Furs, WU LYF, M83, Battles, A.A. Bondy, Frank Ocean, Fucked Up, and others.Read More...
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