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!
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .