11 Albums of 2011

By: Max Burke

Well this is a bit late.  And technically, it should be titled “11 + 2 Albums of 2011”, but that’s neither here nor there.  Although 2011 did not yield intstant-classics like 2010 had (Dark Twisted Fantasy, This is Happening, The Suburbs), the 11th year of the new millennium did produce its fair share of memorable albums.  Here are a few of them, listed in alphabetical order of the artists’ names:

UPDATE: Here’s a playlist with a a song from each album

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

You would be hard-pressed to find an album from 2011 that contained such concise, yet deeply textured songs as those on Bon Iver.  Justin Vernon knows how to create expansive and ambitious sounds, but simultaneously reign them in with his acute pop sensibility.  Just listen to “Calgary” or “Holocene” the next time you’re laying in bed, attempting to sleep, and you’ll know what I mean.

Destroyer – Kaputt

Stylistically, nothing from this past year sounded as effortless as Kaputt‘s jazzy synth-grooves and singer Dan Bejar’s nearly-nonchalant singing/speaking.  Although Bejar’s dream-like tales of girls, drugs and time-travel are incoherent at times, they’re full of such wit and humor that one cannot help but be enticed.  And that they’re so easily blended into an equally dreamlike sound environment only makes the experience that much better.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

On Helplessness Blues, Washington state natives Fleet Foxes expand upon and enrich the folksy sound they had utilized so well on their self-titled debut.  The stories are again laced with Tolkienish, whimsical language, but they manage to reveal a more relatable and mature storyteller than before.  Surrounded by soulful melodies, Robin Pecknold’s songs touch upon all of the coming-of-age themes: love-loss, settling down–yet nostalgic for the past–and one’s inevitable mortality. He has gained wisdom, yet he’s wise enough to know there is more to learn: he finishes the album with the line, “I will wake one day, don’t delay me/Wide eyed leaver, always going.”

Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

For someone who grew up on rock form the seventies and sixties, this album had nostalgia written all over it.   Girls can adeptly channel the hard-rock of Deep Purple (“Die”), the screaming, celestial-tinged ballads of Pink Floyd (“Vomit”), and the upbeat surfer rock of the 60’s (“Honey Boney”).  It’s a excellent package all around, even if the lovelorn themes can wear a little thin at times.

Radiohead – King of Limbs

Deadmau5’s endorsement of his favorite album of the year: “The chord progressions, the way the melodies on songs like ‘Codex’ and ‘Bloom’ are resolved or not resolved, are so cool…it’s fucking art, dude.”

Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

Hip-hop witnessed a creative revival in 2011 when artists like A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, and Shabazz Palaces pushed boundaries thematically, poetically and musically.  Much like King of Limbs, and most Radiohead for that matter, Black Up is not immediately digestible–it’s unorthodox and bizarre at times.  But again, much like Radiohead’s best work, something resonates with the listener.  It’s something unique; something profound.  Whatever it is, it keeps one coming back for more.

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

Taylor’s take on Strange Mercy sums up my thoughts fairly well.

The Field – Looping State of Mind

To refer to something as background music might be seen by some as an insult.  But what if it is really good background music?  This is the case with The Field’s third album Looping State of Mind.  Beautifully crafted electronic arrangements and layered loops fit perfectly between the listener’s ears as he or she cleans, studies, exercises or surfs the interwebs.  And in the midst of one’s activity, the music somehow moves from the background to the foreground.  It’s captivating, but not overwhelming.  For those seeking a seriously good instrumental album, Looping offers a pleasant alternative to the evergrowing genre of spaced-out chillwave.

The Weeknd – House of Balloons

As with hip-hop, Rhythm & Blues had an artistic reinvention this past year.  The Weeknd’s House of Balloons was arguably the most successful R&B release of 2011, and for good reason.  For my review on Echoes of Silence, I had written that Abel Tesfaye and crew “create perpetually hazy, yet frequently captivating soundscapes.”  The same sentiment could be applied to Balloons, but, unlike Echoes, this album does not feel as suffocatingly hedonistic and tormented.  Too be sure, Tesfaye loves singing about his drug-fueled sexcapades, but blissful moments exist here too.

tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

What could be said about tUnE-yArDs that hasn’t been said on this site already?  I’ll direct you to our other editorials: Live Review,  Justin’s Best of 2011Coachella Spotlight.  If you needed more coaxing, The Village Voice‘s annual music poll of hundreds of music critics, Pazz & Jop, placed w h o k i l l as the number one album of the year.

TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

I have often told friends that Tunde Adebimpe of TV On The Radio is one of the best–certainly the most poetic–lyricists of this generation.  Nine Types of Light has reaffirmed that conviction.  But it’s not just the lyrics that are enticing.  It is also TVOTR’s eclectic, yet robust rock sound.  While this album is arguably weaker than their previous two, it is possibly the most accessible for a greater audience.

Honorable Mentions

Cut Copy – Zonoscope

I know, I know: “Cut Copy is recycling 80’s synth-laced pop,” “The lyrics are so corny,” “The crescendos are predictable.” But damn is it euphoric!  The next time you walk somewhere on a sunny day, I dare you to listen to “Need You Now” and not feel like you could conquer anything.   Even if Zonoscope is not wholly original, it’s catchiness is irresistible.

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

See the Cut Copy review above.  (Also, has anyone else noticed that “Intro” seems like a condensed, sped-up version of “Lower Your Eyelids to Die with the Sun”? Not that that’s a bad thing.)

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