• Category Archives Top 50 Albums of 2011
  • Top 50 Albums of 2011: 41-50

    50.  CLASS ACTRESS- RAPPROCHER

    Buy Rapprocher – Class Actress

    Buy RapprocherAmazon

    “Rapprocher” is the full length debut by Brooklyn based electro-pop duo fronted by Elizabeth Harper, she of hot looks and beautiful voice.  Class Actress combines the polished sheen of 80’s synth-pop with the hazier, more left of center chillwave of now- catchy enough for radio but weird enough for hipsters.  Though the album can get a bit samey feeling at times there are enough knockout tracks to make it worth your while.  It’s easy to image tracks like “Weekend” and “Keep You” on the radio and best of all is the slow burning closer “Let Me In”.  Class Actress is still pretty unknown but they seem to slowly be gaining some traction at least according to a handful of comments on this blog.

    Buy Let Me In – Rapprocher

    Buy Let Me InAmazon


    Buy Weekend – Rapprocher

    Buy WeekendAmazon





    49.  JOHN MAUS- WE MUST BECOME PITILESS CENSORS OF OURSELVES

    Buy We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves – John Maus

    Buy We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of OurselvesAmazon

    John Maus got his start years ago working with the Godfather of chillwave, Ariel Pink, who was his college friend.  If anything Maus’s music might be even weirder than Pink’s.  Maus’s music sounds haunting and dystopian and his vocals may remind you of a futuristic version of Ian Curtis of Joy Division.  Though Maus is certainly inspired by the 80’s as so many electronic musicians are, he doesn’t sounds retro.  Even the moodiest of his stuff carries with it a deep beauty, even including my favorite track “Cop Killer”, which is not an Ice T/Body Count cover but seems to reference it.  “Hey Moon” and closing track “The Believer” are other standout tracks.

    Buy Cop Killer – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves

    Buy Cop KillerAmazon


    Buy Believer – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves

    Buy BelieverAmazon







    48.  CULTS- CULTS

    Buy Cults – Cults

    Buy CultsAmazon

    After a handful of web only songs in 2010, including the great “Go Outside” (also included on this album), which placed prominently on my 2010 best of mixes, the Cults debut album finally arrived in the spring of 2011.  Though in my opinion, the group fails to reach the pop perfection of “Go Outside”, the debut is still made up of a bunch of mighty fine tracks.  Cults style is 60’s girl group with Phil Spector0-like kitchen sink production meets modern indie pop.  The recording sounds lo-fi, but the recording budget is major label.  Bugged out spooky sounds and audio samples from actual cult leaders are added to give the music mystery, which contrasts with the sunny melodies of the songs.  Some tracks can wear thin but the album is more than half great.

    Buy Go Outside – Cults

    Buy Go OutsideAmazon


    Buy Abducted – Cults

    Buy AbductedAmazon









    47.  MY MORNING JACKET- CIRCUITAL

    Buy Circuital – My Morning Jacket

    Buy CircuitalAmazon

    After a slight misstep with their last album “Evil Urges”, “Circuital”, Louisville, KY’s My Morning Jacket’s 6th album, is a bit of a return to form.  Though I don’t think it’s as good as their best stuff, “Z” and “It Still Moves”, “Circuital” is much more consistent than “Urges” while still maintaining the previous album’s experimental spirit.  MMJ has a well-earned reputation as one of the best live acts in rock and has a very rabid fanbase as a result, but the band does not seem content to sit still and repeat themselves.  While they worked out some kinks with “Urges”, they may have just pointed themselves a way forward.  The humorous and catchy “Holdin’ Onto Black Metal” has become a minor hit and the beauty of tracks like “You Wanna Freak Out” and the title cut could cross them over into a whole new legion of fans.

    Buy Holdin On to Black Metal – Circuital

    Buy Holdin On To Black Metal Amazon



    Buy Circuital – Circuital

    Buy CircuitalAmazon







    46.  THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART- BELONG

    Buy Belong – The Pains of Being Pure At Heart

    Buy BelongAmazon

    “Belong” is the follow-up to the Pains excellent lo-fi 2009 self-titled debut and finds the band trumping up the production considerably, sounding now more like a descendent of the Smashing Pumpkins than of early 90’s twee pop.  Though ultimately I like this record less than the debut, it’s mostly because the album is so top loaded.  Outside of “Too Tough”, the 2nd to last song, the first three tracks are by far the best on the record and the quality dips after that.  The good news is that those three songs are some of the very best of the band’s young career, including “Heart In Your Heartbreak”, which is my favorite and one of the catchiest damn songs of the year.  “Belong” sounds like vintage Pumpkins, but the dream-pop Pumpkins of “Gish” rather than the area rock of their later years.  It’s clear that the Pains know their way around a hook and have now shown the ability to rock the hell out.  If they can consistently produce great rock songs over the course of a full album then they’ll really be onto something.

    Buy Heart In Your Heartbreak – Belong

    Buy Heart In Your HeartbreakAmazon


    Buy Belong – Belong

    Buy BelongAmazon








    45.  THE ROOTS- UNDUN

    Buy Undun – The Roots

    Buy Undun [Explicit] [+Digital Booklet]Amazon

    It’s tough to think of any other rap group like the Roots. They’ve been together since the early 90’s and have released a slew of albums. They are the house band for the Jimmy Fallon show and the only major rap group I can think of that plays all live instruments. After all these years together, they still are not content to sit still. “Undun” is a concept album about a fictional composite character who is a drug dealer from the mean streets of New York City. The chronology of “Undun” is set in reverse- from the character’s death to his birth and focuses on the peak moments in his life that contributed to his downward slide. It’s a heavy concept for sure and one that I think will bare more fruit upon repeated plays. A few great tracks like “Kool On” and “The Other Side” make the middle of the album absolutely bang, though I hear less standouts here than on a typical Roots album. “Undun” is over in under 40 minutes and the last 5 minutes is an instrumental suite inspired by genius indie artist Sufjan Stevens. Give the Roots for widening their circle and pushing the envelope. These dudes are an inspiration and are a perfect example of how to manage a career in rap music with longevity and integrity.

    Buy Kool On (feat. Greg Porn & Truck North) – Undun

    Buy Kool On [Explicit]Amazon


    Buy The OtherSide (feat. Bilal Oliver & Greg Porn) – Undun

    Buy The Other Side [Explicit]Amazon






    44.  THE BELLE BRIGADE- THE BELLE BRIGADE

    Buy The Belle Brigade – The Belle Brigade

    Buy The Belle BrigadeAmazon

    The Belle Brigade are an L.A.-based brother/sister combo Ethan and Barbara Gruska, who are the grandchildren of composer John Williams (of Star Wars fame and countless other films).  Their music carries on in the tradition of the seventies Laurel Canyon scene and they actually sound like a new millennium Fleetwood Mac.  The absence of any and all hip hop and techno beats make them sound fresh even if there aren’t exactly very original.  About half of the songs on the album are absolutely great and there are no total duds.  The music comes off sunny & warm with a slightly country rock vibe and plenty of melody and beautiful harmonies between the two siblings.  Barbara got her start as a backing musician for fellow L.A. musician Jenny Lewis and the group invites many of their fellow L.A. cohorts to guest on the album giving it a fun, communal vibe.  “The Belle Brigade” is a very promising debut album.

    Buy Where Not to Look for Freedom – The Belle Brigade

    Buy Where Not To Look For FreedomAmazon



    Buy Losers – The Belle Brigade

    Buy LosersAmazon








    43.  ARCTIC MONKEYS- SUCK IT AND SEE

    Buy Suck It and See – Arctic Monkeys

    Buy Suck It And SeeAmazon

    Though the Arctic Monkeys have never made a bad album, I’ll go ahead and call their 4th album “Suck It and See” and return to form after the slightly lackluster “Humbug” from 2009.  Frontman Alex Turner still writes with great wit and the band comes up with a bunch of great songs most of which get better with repeated spins.  The Arctic Monkeys are the prime example of a band who is way bigger in their native U.K. than they are in the U.S., a modern version of a band like the Jam.  But they are one of the better and most consistent bands going right now.  If this release lacks the excitement of some of their previous albums, it’s probably due to the lack of a killer single ala “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor”- but who knows, maybe this fine album will grow some legs and hang around longer than anyone originally anticipated.  Tracks like “Reckless Serenade” & “That’s Where You’re Wrong” have hit potential.

    Buy That’s Where You’re Wrong – Suck It and See

    Buy That’s Where You’re WrongAmazon



    Buy Reckless Serenade – Suck It and See

    Buy Reckless SerenadeAmazon







    42.  WASHED OUT- WITHIN AND WITHOUT

    Buy Within and Without (Bonus Track Version) – Washed Out

    Buy Within And WithoutAmazon

    First full length album by one of the original holy trinity of chillwave groups is a winner and sticks more to original mellow, hazy sound that his compadres Toro Y Moi and Neon Indian.  Washed Out’s first EP released in ’09 contains “Feel It All Around”, which you may know as the current theme song to IFC’s hilarious “Portlandia”.  “Amor Fati” is the track that comes closest to “Feel It All Around” in quality, but the album is best listened to a whole.  Perfect for a lazy summer day spent on a deck or near a swimming pool, it’s sure to bring you to a slumber but you’ll be smiling as you drift off into the abyss.

    Buy Amor Fati – Within and Without (Bonus Track Version)

    Buy Amor FatiAmazon


    Buy You and I – Within and Without (Bonus Track Version)

    Buy You And IAmazon










    41.  RADIOHEAD- KING OF LIMBS

    Buy The King of Limbs – Radiohead

    Buy The King Of LimbsAmazon

    Every Radiohead album release is an event.  At this point they are one of the biggest bands on the planet, at least among music geeks- not necessarily the masses.  “King Of Limbs” is the most minor and shortest album of the band’s career, but because it’s Radiohead the album has been quite polarizing.  Radiohead’s last two albums, “In Rainbows” and “Hail to the Thief” were more rock oriented than anything they had done since their 1997 masterpiece “OK Computer”, but “KOL” drifts back into the atmospheric, glitchy techno influenced territory of “Kid A” and “Amnesiac”.  But “KOL” has little of the boldness of those two albums.  Though the album was a bit of a disappointment on first listen when it was released last February and it certainly has not rank as one of the weaker moments of this great band’s career, “KOL’s” beauty and subtleties come out upon repeated listens.  “Little by Little”, “Lotus Flower”, “Give Up the Ghost” and “Codex” are all great songs.  And that’s half the album right there.  Most every other band out there wishes that “King of Limbs” would be one of their weak moments.

    Buy Lotus Flower – The King of Limbs

    Buy Lotus FlowerAmazon


    Buy Codex – The King of Limbs

    Buy CodexAmazon






  • Top 50 Albums of 2011: 31-40

    40.  FORD & LOPATIN- CHANNEL PRESSURE

    Buy Channel Pressure – Ford & Lopatin

    Buy Channel PressureAmazon

    Ford & Lopatin fit right in with the modern Chillwavers and other electronic/electro pop inclined artists like M83 and Ariel Pink.  They re-appropriate great 80’s electro-funk & hip hop sounds along with cheesy 80’s R&B and smaltzy pop and the sound effects from an Atari 2600.  “Channel Pressure” is a concept album about a teenager from the future named Joey Rogers who is manipulated by voices from his television set while he’s asleep.  The concept is dense and confusing but it does go along with the vibe of the album, which takes the outdated sounds and twists them so they sound futuristic- like a show like Star Trek or Jetsons from 50 years ago coming up with its own space age bachelor pad music.  At least half the songs are catchy as hell including “The Voices”, “Too Much Midi (Please Forgive Me)”, “I Surrender” & “Channel Pressure”.  If you want to dig deeper check out Lopatin’s other headier electronic instrumental project Oneohtrix Point Never who also released the stellar album “Replica” in 2011.

    Buy Too Much MIDI (Please Forgive Me) – Channel Pressure

    Buy Too Much Midi (Please Forgive Me) [Instrumentals Only]Amazon


    Buy Emergency Room – Channel Pressure

    Buy Emergency RoomAmazon





    39.  TY SEGALL- GOODBYE BREAD

    Buy Goodbye Bread – Ty Segall

    Buy Goodbye BreadAmazon

    I just got this album.  Up until two weeks ago the only thing I had heard from Ty Segall was one track off of his last album, which I liked but didn’t bowl me over or anything.  I’m truly surprised at how much I like this and it keeps growing on me more and more.  Cali-based Segall is a D.I.Y. singer/singwriter in the same vein of someone like Jay Reatard (R.I.P.).  His music is lo-fi, loose and ramshackle.  He sounds like the heaviest of the 60’s garage rockers and early punk rock and plays with the swing of the Stooges.  The music could be compared to very early Black Keys except less blues-based and more psychedelic, with totally unhinged but at times brilliant electric guitar playing and sneaky good song writing.  Is this dude a mad genius?

    Buy Goodbye Bread – Goodbye Bread

    Buy Goodbye BreadAmazon


    Buy You Make the Sun Fry – Goodbye Bread

    Buy You Make The Sun FryAmazon







    38.  YUCK- YUCK

    Buy Yuck (Deluxe Version) – Yuck

    Buy Yuck (Deluxe)Amazon

    Any modern generation resorts to a level of nostalgia for the pop culture of their formative years once they pass the college/partying/going out years and enter the start a family phase in their lives.  If you’re around my age, even if you are keeping up with the current trends in music, you certainly have a friend or 50 that are wallowing deep in 90’s nostalgia.  Well if those friends were slightly left of center and liked indie guitar bands like Pavement, Dinosaur Jr. & Sonic Youth then Yuck is the band for them.  Yuck are a 4 piece from London that really does sound straight out of the 90’s.  Fortunately their songwriting chops are strong enough that they don’t sound like a mere carbon copy.  Songs like “The Wall”, “Operation” and especially “Get Away” rock as hard as a long long Archers of Loaf track.  “Yuck” is the band’s debut and they temper the rock tracks with just as many slower tracks which are effective as well if not quite as eye opening.  Will be interesting to see where this band goes next.

    Buy Get Away – Yuck (Bonus Track Version)

    Buy Get AwayAmazon


    Buy The Wall – Yuck (Bonus Track Version)

    Buy The WallAmazon






    37.  LYKKE LI- WOUNDED RHYMES

    Buy Wounded Rhymes (Deluxe Version) – Lykke Li

    Buy Wounded RhymesAmazon

    “Wounded Rhymes” is the follow-up to the very promising debut “Youth Novels” three years ago by the young, sexy Swedish Lykke Li.  “Rhymes” is darker, more aggressive, more mature and all around better than the debut- it’s forceful where “Youth Novels” was cute.  Though she could easily appeal to fans of 90’s singer songwriters like Tori Amos and Sarah Maclaughlan, she really has more in common with Bat for Lashes or St. Vincent.  She blends indie rock, electronic music along with garage rock and girl group and Doo Wop harmonies from the 50’s and 60’s to create a mishmash of strange but exciting music.  I can see her eventually having crossover hits in the future but she doesn’t seem the type to let the music machine swallow her whole.  The first part of “Wounded Rhymes” is near perfect and the 2nd half loses steam.  If she can put together an entire album like the first half she could land in a future top 20 of mine without a problem.

    Buy Youth Knows No Pain – Wounded Rhymes

    Buy Youth Knows No PainAmazon


    Buy I Follow Rivers – Wounded Rhymes

    Buy I Follow RiversAmazon







    36.  WILCO- THE WHOLE LOVE

    Buy The Whole Love (Deluxe Version) – Wilco

    Buy The Whole Love (Deluxe Edition)Amazon

    “The Whole Love” is Wilco’s 9th studio album and by 2011 then fine themselves as one of the most reliable rock bands in music, handed the backhanded compliment of being “Dad Rock” and thought to have made their best music years ago.  While it’s true that their last two albums were their safest and most middle of the road, they both held various pleasures and a band should be commended for keepin’ on keepin’ on rather than going into epic failure mode like the Rolling Stones or arguably U2.  “The Whole Love” is not Wilco’s best album, but it’s safe to call it a return to form or at least a left turn in the progression of the band.  It’s far more experimental than the last two and not as erratic as “Ghost Is Born”.  The single “I Might” is a straight up jam and the seven minute album opener “Art of Almost” is one of the best long jams of Wilco’s career and a showcase for the great guitarist Nels Cline who has been a bit underused since joining the band.  Don’t give up on this band yet- they have a lot left in them.

    Buy I Might – The Whole Love

    Buy I MightAmazon


    Buy Art of Almost – The Whole Love

    Buy Art Of AlmostAmazon






    35.  TOM WAITS- BAD AS ME

    Buy Bad As Me (Deluxe Version) – Tom Waits

    Buy Bad As Me (Deluxe Version)Amazon

    “Bad As Me” is the legendary Tom Waits’s first album release in 7 years and his best since at least 1999’s “Mule Variations”.  Where most of Wait’s albums in the past 20 years have been very lengthy, conceptual affair, “Bad As Me” is stripped down to a normal running time of 45 minutes with no song over 5 minutes and most of them between 3 and 4.  Waits collaborates again with his wife Kathleen Brennan and brings in famous guest musicians like Flea, Les Claypool and Keith Richards.  The great Marc Ribot once again handles the bulk of the guitar work.  Waits can certainly be an acquired taste- his vocals can sound like a cross between Howlin’ Wolf and a carnival barker gargling nails.  As he has gotten older he has exaggerated those vocals to bigger extremes.  You either get him or you don’t, but once you do there’s no going back.  The music on “Bad As Me” runs the gamut between gutbucket blues, rockabilly, jazz & torch ballads.  His always brilliant lyrics take on the American war machine as well as the greed of our corporate overlords.

    Buy Hell Broke Luce – Bad As Me

    Buy Hell Broke LuceAmazon


    Buy New Year’s Eve – Bad As Me

    Buy New Year’s EveAmazon







    34.  MASTODON- THE HUNTER

    Buy The Hunter (Deluxe Version) – Mastodon

    Buy The Hunter (Deluxe Version) [Explicit]Amazon

    Atlanta based Mastodon is my modern metal band of choice.  “The Hunter”, their 5th studio album, has been bemoaned by many of their fans for not being heavy, prog or conceptual enough.  They certainly have ditched the themes of their last three albums as well as the 10 + minute epic prog jams but there is still plenty of experimentation on “The Hunter” and the band to me sounds as heavy as ever.  Mastodon, as usual led by otherworld drumming of Brann Dailor absolutely pummels and it’s fun to listen to the write and play under a tighter context.  “The Hunter” may not reach the heights of “Crack the Skye” or “Blood Mountain”, but it’s still the best pure metal album I heard all year and it gives me my fix when I need it.

    Buy Curl of the Burl – The Hunter

    Buy Curl Of The BurlAmazon


    Buy Spectrelight – The Hunter

    Buy SpectrelightAmazon





    33.  THE RAPTURE- IN THE GRACE OF YOUR LOVE

    Buy In the Grace of Your Love – The Rapture

    Buy In The Grace Of Your LoveAmazon

    “In the Grace Of Your Love” is the 4th studio album from Brooklyn’s the Rapture.  The band’s second album “Echoes” and the great lead single “House of Jealous Lovers” was at the very forefront of the Brooklyn’s dance punk scene in the early oughts.  “Lovers” may just have been the scenes defining anthem.  After a very underrated follow-up album “Pieces of the People We Love”, lead singer Luke Jenner got married, became a father, lost his mother to suicide and converted to Catholicism.  And co-writer and bassist Matt Safer left the band.  “Grace” is a beautiful album, concerned with the ‘spirit’ and grappling with life’s biggest questions- birth, marriage, children, death, rebirth & redemption.  Though it may not hit as hard as hard musically as their last two albums it’s their deepest and most powerful to date.  Though it can be sad, not surprising considering all that Jenner has been through, it’s also joyousand their most club focused album.  Single “How Deep Is Your Love” is one of my favorite tracks of the year and can sit alongside “House of Jealous Lovers” as the best of their career.

    Buy How Deep Is Your Love? – In the Grace of Your Love

    Buy How Deep Is Your Love?Amazon


    Buy Children – In the Grace of Your Love

    Buy ChildrenAmazon





    32.  JAY-Z & KANYE WEST- WATCH THE THRONE

    Buy Watch the Throne (Deluxe Version) – JAY Z & Kanye West

    Buy Watch The Throne (Deluxe Edition) [Explicit]Amazon

    “Watch the Throne”, a collaboration of arguably the two most famous rappers not named Eminem, was an event upon its release last summer and it does not disappoint.  Though it does not reach the quality of Kanye’s perfect “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” from 2010 it’s far better than Jay-Z’s last record “The Blueprint 3”.  Kanye’s huge, stadium-ready beats inspire Jay-Z to be in peak form and it’s a last to see these two rap heavyweights go at it.  A few weak tracks drag the album down but the highlights are many- best of which are the first two singles “Otis”, featuring a prominent sample of “Try A Little Tenderness” chopped up to Kanye-perfection, “N**gas In Paris”, one of my favorite rap songs of 2011, and “That’s My Bitch” which breathes new life into the overused “Apache” sample.  Not a flawless album for sure, but still pretty damn great.

    Buy Ni**as in Paris – Watch the Throne

    Buy Ni**as In Paris [Explicit]Amazon


    Buy That’s My Bitch – Watch the Throne

    Buy That’s My Bitch [Explicit]Amazon






    31.  NEON INDIAN- ERA EXTRANA

    Buy Era Extraña – Neon Indian

    Buy Era ExtrañaAmazon

    Follow-up to Alan Palomo’s great debut album “Psychic Chasms” is less hazy and lo-fi. It’s better produced and even a bit more rockin’.  Palermo is not content to be defined and sucked up by the chillwave scene and by moving on and above it he helps to expand the definition of it.  Nothing here caught me immediately like “Deadbeat Summer” or “Should’ve Taken Acid With You”, but there are a bunch of winners.  They just take a bit longer to settle into your brain.  The album outside of the last track “Arcade Blues” is focused on falling in and out of love, lust, ecstasy & heartache, which is fitting for someone still in his early 20’s.  The polish, pop smarts and cohesiveness of “Era Extrana” show that the extremely talented Palomo should be making great music far into the future.

    Buy Polish Girl – Era Extraña

    Buy Polish GirlAmazon


    Buy Arcade Blues – Era Extraña

    Buy Arcade Blues (Single)Amazon



  • Top 50 Albums of 2011: 21-30

    30.  BEYONCE- 4

    Buy 4 (Deluxe Edition) – Beyoncé

    Buy 4 [+Digital Booklet] Amazon

    By now most people recognize Beyonce as one of the biggest pop stars on the planet and she has been a proven hitmaker now for over a decade- even since the late  90’s with Destiny’s Child.  Each of her four solo albums have contained at least 2 or 3 stunners, but her albums can be a wildly uneven affair.  Her latest “4” is to me her 2nd best album next to 2006’s great “BDay”.  Where “BDay” contained almost all bangin’ club jams, “4” is much more varied with some 80’s throw-back production and strange sequencing- the album starts with a slow burning love song that ends with a fiery guitar solo- that makes it sound antithetical to all other modern pop.  I don’t love every song but the hit to miss ratio is solid.  Outside of the album opening ballad “1 + 1”, are radio hits “Love On Top” and “Best Thing  I Never Had”, as well as one club banger “Countdown”, which can rival “Crazy in Love” or “Single Ladies”, and “Party” featuring Andrew 3000 which sounds better every time I hear it.  Beyonce is my favorite pop star of the last decade and “4” only solidifies that for me.

    Buy Countdown – 4

    Buy CountdownAmazon


    Buy 1+1 – 4

    Buy 1+1Amazon





    29.  FRANK OCEAN- NOSTALGIA, ULTRA

    Free Download http://www.urbaneverything.com/2011/03/frank-ocean-nostalgia-ultra-full.html

    Frank Ocean has been kicking around the R&B scene for a few years, co-writing tracks for Justin Beiber, John Legend, and Brandy and basically being ignored by his label Def Jam.  He fell in with L.A.’s buzzworthy Odd Future crew (see: Tyler, The Creator) and like so many rappers these days decided he would counteract the record company’s lack of movement by dropping a mixtape on the public which he did last February.  Well it obviously worked, as Ocean is now one of the most sought after voices in R&B and is well on his way to becoming a solo star.  “Nostalgia, Ultra” is anything but your typical R&B.  Ocean often sings over indie and even classic rock songs see: Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing”, MGMT’s “Electric Feel” and the Eagles “Hotel California” on his great “American Wedding” and references stuff like Radiohead, Coachella & Stanley Kubrick.  Ocean’s voice is a thing of beauty, his lyrics show munor, self awareness and a goft for storytelling- the whole mixtape is a blast.  I’m new to all but two of the tracks on it and wouldn’t be at all surprised if “Nostalgia, Ultra” continues to grow on me the more I hear it.

    Top Songs         Novacane                   Songs for Women





    28.  COLD CAVE- CHERISH THE LIGHT YEARS

    Buy Cherish the Light Years (Bonus Track Edition) – Cold Cave

    Buy Cherish The Light Years (Bonus Track Edition)Amazon


    Cold Cave is a beautiful mix of synth-pop, goth and indie rock bringing to mind bands like Depeche Mode, New Order, Siouxsie & the Banshees & Sisters of Mercy.  Like the New Wave goth of the Cure but more danceable and with heavy guitars.  Every track sounds huge and anthemic and it wouldn’t at all be surprising to find them on rock radio.  It’s strange to me that “Cherish the Light Years” didn’t find more traction this year.  For anyone who likes to rock out to catchy music that’s a weird and a little gloomy.

    Buy Icons of Summer – Cherish the Light Years (Bonus Track Edition)

    Buy Icons Of SummerAmazon


    Buy The Great Pan Is Dead – Cherish the Light Years (Bonus Track Edition)

    Buy The Great Pan Is DeadAmazon






    27.  THE DECEMBERISTS- THE KING IS DEAD

    Buy The King Is Dead – The Decemberists

    Buy The King Is DeadAmazon

    Portland’s the Decemberists have become one of the most consistently rewarding bands in indie-rock, which is strange for such an oddball band.  “King is Dead” is their most normal sounding record, veering toward a country folk sound inspired by groups like R.E.M. (guitarist Peter Buck actually guest stars) and away from the 10 minute sea shanties of their first albums and the prog-metal of their last one.  “King” is 10 songs long and almost every track is very good.  It’s the most straight forward and commercial album yet and contains some of their best and beautiful songs yet including “January Hymn”, “June Hymn” and “This Is Why We Fight” along with radio hit “Down By the Water”, which helped the band to its best sales of their career.

    Buy June Hymn – The King Is Dead

    Buy June HymnAmazon


    Buy This Is Why We Fight – The King Is Dead

    Buy This Is Why We FightAmazon






    26.  ADELE- 21

    Buy 21 – ADELE

    Buy 21Amazon

    “21” is far and away the biggest success story in music in 2011.  During a time of music industry implosion and stagnation, it has managed to sell over 5 million copies in the U.S. alone, totally unheard of in this era and doubling its closest competition.  Adele is mainstream music at its best.  Blue-eyed British soul with more than a touch of heartache, every woman I know seems to relate to it and it appeals to all ages.  Adele’s vocals show both power and emotion and belie her youth.  “21” along with ubiquitous singles “Someone Like You” and “Rolling in the Deep” are a surefire bet to sweep this year’s Grammy awards and after a year “21” shows no signs of slowing down.  A hear enough other singles on it to give it legs for another year at least, including “Rumor Has It”, “Set Fire to the Rain” and the great “Turning Tables”.  Adele’s a fun one to root for.

    Buy Someone Like You – 21

    Buy Someone Like YouAmazon


    Buy Rolling in the Deep – 21

    Buy Rolling In The DeepAmazon







    25.  TORO Y MOI- UNDERNEATH THE PINE

    Buy Underneath the Pine – Toro y Moi

    Buy Underneath The PineAmazon

    And the winner of the 2011 Chillwave sweepstakes is Chaz Bundick of Toro Y Moi by a nose.  It turns out that the scene that has received so much scorn and dismissal has a lot more legs than anyone would have guessed.  The leaders of the scene, Washed Out, Toro, & Neon Indian all came out with worthy efforts in 2011 that showed musical growth.  “Underneath the Pine” both travels more outward into disco club territory and more inward at time taking on a very jazzy focus.  Vocals are more prominent than on “Causers of This” and “Pine” is much hookier while losing none of the experimentation of before. The super funky “New Beat” is the most pop song on either album and “Still Sound” is the best.  And dig that crazy album cover.

    Buy Still Sound – Underneath the Pine

    Buy Still SoundAmazon


    Buy New Beat – Underneath the Pine

    Buy New BeatAmazon






    24.  REAL ESTATE- DAYS

    Buy Days – Real Estate

    Buy DaysAmazon

    Real Estate are from suburban, northern Jersey, not too far from where I live.  “Days” is a very promising 2nd album.  The band has been heavily hyped since their debut, which I enjoyed but didn’t love.  This is breezy, nostalgic leaning jangle pop played by young adults just barely out of college looking back on their youth.  It’s mellow music but not pastoral.  It’s about the beach rather than the mountains.  The album can be enjoyed as pleasant background noise, but bits hooks and subtleties don’t come out unless you listen close.  “It’s Real” is already a minor hit but “Green Aisles” is the true gem.  There are a handful of other highlights on the album.  “Days” is a true grower.

    Buy Green Aisles – Days

    Buy Green AislesAmazon


    Buy It’s Real – Days

    Buy It’s RealAmazon







    23.  KURT VILE- SMOKE RING FOR MY HALO

    Buy Smoke Ring For My Halo (Deluxe Edition) – Kurt Vile

    Buy Smoke Ring For My Halo (Amazon Exclusive Version)Amazon

    Philly singer-songwriter is yet another example of the hardest working stoner in the business.  His vocals and temperament sound like ‘Slacker Incorporated’ but look at his output and he’s ridiculously prolific and writes memorable and interesting lyrics and melodies.  I’ve only heard a few of his tracks previously, but by all accounts “Smoke Rings” is his cleanest sounding, most well-produced and best album to date.  Vile comes off like a lo-fi, acoustic J. Mascis (of Dinosaur Jr. fame).  He oozes irony and malcontentedness, but is wry and humorous throughout.  He sings “f**k the world” in the form of a beautiful lullaby and from the comfort of his own couch.Look for his star to continue to rise in the coming years.  He’s a real talent.

    Buy Jesus Fever – Smoke Ring for My Halo (Bonus Track Version)

    Buy Jesus FeverAmazon


    Buy In My Time – Smoke Ring for My Halo (Bonus Track Version)

    Buy In My Time (Album Version)Amazon






    22.  EMA- PAST LIFE MARTYRED SAINTS

    Buy Past Life Martyred Saints – EMA

    Buy Past Life Martyred SaintsAmazon

    I had no prior knowledge of EMA before last spring but she was apparently formerly in a band called the Gowns and EMA stands for the initials of her first name Erika M. Anderson.  Her music is raw and confrontational, bringing to mind early PJ Harvey and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth.  It can veer quiet and gentle to loud and abrasive but it is never dull or merely pleasant.  “Last Life” is a hell of a debut and along with St. Vincent & Ms. Harvey, EMA gives us three great female singer songwriter/guitarists in 2011. EMA is not always easy to listen to and any conservative minded listeners will likely despise her, but for anyone who likes music in-your-face and challenging will be justly rewarded.

    Buy California – Past Life Martyred Saints

    Buy CaliforniaAmazon


    Buy Marked – Past Life Martyred Saints

    Buy MarkedAmazon







    21.  SHABAZZ PALACES- BLACK UP

    Buy Black Up (Bonus Track Version) – Shabazz Palaces

    Buy Black Up [Explicit] Amazon

    Debut album by the mysterious Pacific Northwest rapper Shabazz Palaces, who turns out to be Ishmael Butler (Butterfly) from the shortlived by awesome early 90’s jazz-rap collective Digable Planets.  “Black Up” is miles away by the positive, conscious rap of Digable or the Native Tongues groups like Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.  Shabazz’s beats are dark, murky & psychedelic.  It’s the most original music I’ve heard in rap since Madvillain or J Dilla in the middle of the last decade.  Flying Lotus and Gonjasufi are its closest counterparts, but Shabazz in still hip hop no matter how out there it is.  This is not a beat driven album and though every track is worthwhile there are no singles.  The stark music draws further attention to Butler’s heady lyrics which will make you both trip out and hopefully learn something.

    Buy Swerve… The Reeping of All That Is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding) – Black Up (Bonus Track Version)

    Buy Swerve… The Reeping Of All That Is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding) [Explicit]Amazon


    Buy Are You…Can You…Were You? (Felt) – Black Up (Bonus Track Version)

    Buy Are You… Can You… Were You? (Felt) [Explicit]Amazon



  • Top 50 Albums of 2011: 11-20

    20. Cut Copy- Zonoscope

    Buy Zonoscope (Bonus Version) – Cut Copy

    Buy ZonoscopeAmazon

    “Zonoscope” is the 3rd full length release by the Australian indie-electronic dance rock band Cut Copy.  Their 2008 album “In Ghost Colours” was their breakout and one of my favorite albums of 2008.  “Zonoscope” is clubbier, more expansive and less singles oriented than its predecessor.  If the songs are not quite as tight as before, Cut Copy still knows their way around a hook and many  tracks on “Zonoscope” are standouts including “Need You Now”, “Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat”, “Where I’m Going” & “Take Me Over”.  “Zonoscope” proves that their last album was no fluke and Cut Copy sounds like New Order or Depeche Mode for a new generation, if not quite as dark as either of those groups.

    Buy Need You Now – Zonoscope

    Buy Need You NowAmazon


    Buy Where I’m Going – Zonoscope

    Buy Where I’m GoingAmazon






    19.  PJ HARVEY- LET ENGLAND SHAKE

    Buy Let England Shake – PJ Harvey

    Buy Let England ShakeAmazon

    PJ Harvey’s now officially been at it for two decades and she continues to make challenging music, never repeating herself, like only a true artist can.  “Let England Shake” is her eight album and easily her best since 2000’s “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea”.  Surprisingly to me it has absolutely dominated the 2011 year end critic’s lists, particularly in her native U.K., finishing first by over 100 points (at least by my tallies).  Though more song oriented than her last few albums, it’s not like these songs are made for radio, but they have obviously struck quite a nerve in a time when many in the U.K. are questioning the status quo & the nature of empire.  Harvey has never been this political, focusing her attention on England, war and various injustices.  She uses the same high vocal pitch that she did on her previous album “White Chalk” and the music is mostly soft and quiet though much catchier than on the stark and barebones “Chalk”.  The title cut, “The Words that Maketh Murder” & “Written on the Forehead” are all among the best songs of the year.

    Buy The Words That Maketh Murder – Let England Shake

    Buy The Words That Maketh MurderAmazon


    Buy Let England Shake – Let England Shake

    Buy Let England ShakeAmazon





    18.  JAMES BLAKE- JAMES BLAKE

    Buy James Blake – James Blake

    Buy James BlakeAmazon

    Next to tUnE-yArDs, James Blake’s debut album may be the most unique release of the year.  After releasing a series of instrumental EP’s on 2009 and 2010 that set the blog world on fire, Blake moved to adding vocals on his first full length.  Blake has a startlingly soulful voice though he often electronically manipulates his voice like Thom Yorke in latter day Radiohead releases.  Only about half of the album is really song oriented & I still have a hard time wrapping my head around Blake’s most experimental work, but there are enough absolute standouts on “James Blake” to push the album into top twenty territory.  Blake’s cover of Feist’s “Limit To Your Love” and “The Wilhelm Scream” are two complete jaw droppers.  Blake’s music may be soft and quiet, but it’s also deeply beautiful and quite intense.  I’ve never heard anything like it.  And he is only 22 years old.

    Buy The Wilhelm Scream – James Blake

    Buy The Wilhelm ScreamAmazon


    Buy Limit to Your Love – James Blake

    Buy Limit To Your LoveAmazon






    17.  DRAKE- TAKE CARE

    Buy Take Care (Deluxe Version) – Drake

    Buy Take Care [Explicit] [+Digital Booklet]Amazon

    After just an EP released in 2009 and an album released last year, Toronto’s Drake became one of the biggest stars in the rap game.  His second album “Take Care” is an 80 minute long, epic blockbuster.  Though I am normally against albums this long, particularly rap albums, I have to say that grows on me rather than wears on me the more I listen to it.  Drake has been so prolific this year that he released a great standalone single called “Dreams Money Can’t Buy”, was heavily featured on the rap anthem of last summer “I’m On One” and has made numerous other guest appearances on tracks by Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne & the Weeknd among others.  “Headlines”, “Make Me Proud, “Lord Knows” & “The Ride” are all fantastic jams and even if the rest of the album were trash, they would make it a worthwhile purchase, but there are really very few duds.  “Take Care” lags a little bit in the final third of the album but then it gathers steam again at the very end.  Drake, of mixed race who actually got his start in showbiz in the show Degrassi High, is a new kind of rapper, one who follows in Kanye West’s footsteps.  He may not have the most amazing flow, though he has certainly gotten better, but he is self-aware, rapping intelligently about his feelings and unconcerned with posing as street or as a drug dealer.  He grew up upper-middle class and is now filthy rich. But he doesn’t seem necessarily happy about it.  Like West he is unafraid to expose his own hypocrisies- anything to help him find the meaning of life.

    Buy Lord Knows (feat. Rick Ross) – Take Care (Deluxe Version)

    Buy Lord Knows [Explicit]Amazon


    Buy The Ride – Take Care (Deluxe Version)

    Buy The Ride [Explicit]>Amazon






    16.  TV ON THE RADIO- NINE TYPES OF LIGHT

    Buy Nine Types of Light (Deluxe Version) – TV On the Radio

    Buy Nine Types Of Light (Deluxe Version)Amazon

    Why is TV On the Radio no longer getting any love?  Their fourth proper album “Nine Types of Light” was released last spring to considerable fanfare, but seemed to disappear soon thereafter.  While not as in your face as their last couple albums, I hardly see their latest release as a misstep.  It’s a continuation of the mellower sound that TVOTR developed on their last album “Dear Science”.  The band may be more focused on love now than anger and politics. “Nine Types” may just be the band’s most beautiful album to date but it can also be funky as hell at times and tracks like “Caffeinated Consciousness” and “No Future Shock” show that TVOTR can still rock out with the best of ’em.  In the future, when TVOTR’s entire discography is studied, this album is way too good to just be a blip on the radar screen.  If you are already a fan of this band you should love “Nine Types of Light”.  If you’re not it’s never too late to start.

    Buy Will Do – Nine Types of Light

    Buy Will DoAmazon


    Buy Second Song – Nine Types of Light

    Buy Second SongAmazon






    15.  FLEET FOXES- HELPLESSNESS BLUES

    Buy Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes

    Buy Helplessness BluesAmazon

    Fleet Foxes self-titled debut was my favorite album of 2008.  Their follow-up album, “Helplessness Blues” doesn’t quite reach those heights for me.  There aren’t as many ear worms here and many of the songs take a number of listens to truly settle in.  The Foxes gorgeous harmonies are back (every band member can sing!  Well!), and the band adds jazz & avant garde passages to the folky music to create a weirder, more experimental vibe than they ever had previously. There are instruments I’ve never even heard of in the song credits- what is a marxophone?  A harmonium? For anyone who loves folk-rock acts like the Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel & Crosby, Stills & Nash, Fleet Foxes are well worth a listen, but Fleet Foxes does have their own distinctive sound. In no small part to lead singer Robin Pecknold, who is one of the best and most beautiful singers in modern music.  Fleet Foxes may remind you of yesterday’s music but they are no carbon copy.  Their one of the best bands going today.

    Buy Helplessness Blues – Helplessness Blues

    Buy Helplessness BluesAmazon


    Buy The Shrine / An Argument – Helplessness Blues

    Buy The Shrine / An ArgumentAmazon




    14.  ATLAS SOUND- PARALLAX

    Buy Parallax – Atlas Sound

    Buy ParallaxAmazon

    Atlas Sound is thought of as lead singer Bradford Cox’s side project off of his main group Deerhunter, who released my 2nd favorite album of 2010.  But Atlas Sound is becoming increasingly relevant and should not be relegated to also-ran status.  Though both groups are on the more experimental side of indie-rock, Deerhunter veers a bit more to the rock side, while Atlas Sound is hazier, mellower and more stoned.  “Parallax” is a true headphones album.  When I listened to it the first few times at work it didn’t make much of an impression, but when I paid close attention and drowned out the rest of the world the beauty and nuances in the music came out. Nearly every song on “Parallax” is good.  Several like “The Shakes”, “Mona Lisa” and “Angel is Broken” are as pop as anything Cox has done before.  Those are all good songs but I like the slow, sad stuff the best here- “Modern Aquatic Nightsongs” and “Terra Incognita” are two of their best songs yet.  I liked Atlas Sound’s last album just fine, but I’m really surprised I like “Parallax” as much as I do.  It really snuck up on me.  Give it some time and maybe it will do the same for you.

    Buy Modern Aquatic Nightsongs – Parallax

    Buy Modern Aquatic NightsongsAmazon


    Buy Terra Incognita – Parallax

    Buy Terra IncognitaAmazon




    13.  F**KED UP- DAVID COMES TO LIFE

    Buy David Comes to Life – Fucked Up

    Buy David Comes To LifeAmazon

    A nearly 80 minute hardcore rock opera from a Canadian band called Fucked Up?  I thought I’d heard it all.  And apparently “David Comes to Life” might be the punk/prog/metal outfit’s last full length release so hear them while you can.  This band is certainly not for everyone.  Gargantuan singer Pink Eyes comes off as a hybrid between the cookie monster and the dude from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and his guttural roar can overpower the music when you’re first listening to the band.  But if you have a high tolerance for punk or metal and can stick around long enough to give the album a few listens the rewards are abundant.  There are crazy good guitar riffs everywhere, and plenty of hooks to be found amongst the screaming.  The concept is about a blue collar working stiff who meets and falls in love with a revolutionary only to see her later die in a terrorist bombing.  The plot is obviously way thicker than that and it gets more fun to unravel it with each listen.

    Buy A Little Death – David Comes to Life

    Buy A Little DeathAmazon


    Buy Ship of Fools – David Comes to Life

    Buy Ship Of FoolsAmazon




    12.  THE BLACK KEYS- EL CAMINO

    Buy El Camino – The Black Keys

    Buy El Camino [+Digital Booklet]Amazon

    I don’t think anyone thought that the Black Keys would turn into rock stars when they first emerged on the retro garage rock scene in the early oughts along with other bands like the White Stripes, the Hives & the Kills.  But years later here we are.   The Keys just released their seventh album “El Camino”, in December, it sold hundreds of thousands out of the gate, the band appeared for the 2nd time on Saturday Night Live and have a huge radio hit with the “Lonely Boy” single.  I have enjoyed all of the Keys’ albums, some more than others, but “El Camino” may just be their most satisfying.  2010’s “Brothers”, which was their breakout album, had great moments, but was too long and laden with filler.  “El Camino” is over in 38 minutes and doesn’t have one misstep.  “Gold On the Ceiling”, “Money Maker” and “Little Submarines” are particularly great.  Super producer Danger Mouse is back at the helm.  He had previously produced 2008’s “Attack and Release”, an interesting if disjointed album.  With “El Camino” he really nails it by streamlining the experimental flourishes and keeping his eyes on the prize- keeping the Black Keys sounding like the meat & potatoes blues-rock band that they are, but delivering with them their most pleasing set of songs yet.

    Buy Money Maker – El Camino

    Buy Money MakerAmazon


    Buy Little Black Submarines – El Camino

    Buy Little Black SubmarinesAmazon



    11.  GIRLS- FATHER, SON, HOLY GHOST

    Buy Father, Son, Holy Ghost (Bonus Track Version) – Girls

    Buy Father, Son, Holy Ghost (Amazon MP3 Exclusive)Amazon

    Girls 2nd album “Father, Son & the Holy Ghost” is one of the best reviewed indie-rock records of the year.  Like Fleet Foxes I dig it a ton but it falls short of their debut for me.  “The Album” made my top 40 of the whole decade (from 2000-2009) so their follow-up had a lot to live up to.  The essence of what made the band great is still here- singer Chris Owens heartbreaking Buddy Holly meets Elvis Costello hiccup of a voice that always bleeds pure emotion.  The band’s loose playing and mishmash of styles and their ability to perform a long, drawn out ballad one minute and rock out hard the next.  “Father, Son” is a longer, more well-produced and experimentally bolder album than either their debut or the follow-up EP from 2010.  Girls add monster guitar solos, flamenco guitar and even a “Dark Side of the Moon”- esque gospel chorus on the most epic track here “Vomit”.  They aren’t afraid to explore soft rock, psychedelic music & full on heavy metal ala “Die”.  It’s a lot to take in all at once and I’ve found that some of these tracks sound better as individual songs than as part of the album.  But there is a lot of great stuff here and along with Girls very good EP, the San Francisco band is now batting three for three.

    Buy Vomit – Father, Son, Holy Ghost (Bonus Track Version)

    BuyVomitAmazon


    Buy Alex – Father, Son, Holy Ghost (Bonus Track Version)

    BuyAlexAmazon



  • Top 50 Albums of 2011: 1-10

    10.  DESTROYER- KAPUTT

    Buy Kaputt – Destroyer

    Buy KaputtAmazon

    “Kaputt” is the 9th album from Dan Bejar’s Destroyer and represents quite  a left turn for the eccentric artist, who also moonlights as a member of the New Pornographers.  The sound of the album is dominated by saxophones, mixing cocktail jazz and early eighties adult contemporary sounds.  Bejar comes off as a coked up, but overeducated cad- like the 21st century’s answer to Bryan Ferry- actually the best album to compare “Kaputt” to is Roxy Music’s “Avalon”, but “Kaputt” comes off more skeezy and  less romantic.  I have about half of Destroyer’s albums and all are interesting but “Kaputt” is by far my favorite.  The title track is one of the best songs of the year and the shape shifting 11 minute “Bay of Pigs” (originally released in 2009 as a standalone single) is another absolute standout.

    Buy Kaputt – Kaputt

    Buy KaputtAmazon


    Buy Song for America – Kaputt

    Buy Song For AmericaAmazon






    9.  IRON & WINE- KISS EACH OTHER CLEAN

    Buy Kiss Each Other Clean (Deluxe Version) – Iron & Wine

    Buy Kiss Each Other Clean (Deluxe) [Explicit]Amazon

    Miami-based Iron & Wine are still batting 1.000.  After releasing various EP’s, compilations & collaborations as well as three full length, they have still yet to disappoint and “Kiss Each Other Clean” is no exception.  Their first two albums were little more than lead vocalist Sam Beam and his acoustic guitar.  “Kiss” builds on their last effort “The Shepherd’s Dog” in that it’s more of a band release, with lots of additional instrumentation, taking Iron & Wine’s sound into the vintage 70’s rock territory of groups like Crosby Still, Nash & Young and singer Gene Clark.  It’s amazing that Iron & Wine could change their original sound so drastically, receive little to no airplay, but still sell in good numbers and maintain their original fan base.  They are a true throwback band and we are lucky to have them.  But are we taking their consistently great output for granted? “Kiss Each Other Clean” didn’t land on a single year-end top ten list out of over a hundred of them- including radio stations, blogs, magazines and newspapers. What’s up with that?  I’m going to go ahead and call this the most underrated album of 2011.

    Buy Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me – Kiss Each Other Clean (Deluxe Version)

    Buy Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For MeAmazon


    Buy Me and Lazarus – Kiss Each Other Clean

    Buy Me And LazarusAmazon





    8.  WILD FLAG- WILD FLAG

    Buy Wild Flag (Bonus Track Version) – Wild Flag

    Buy Wild FlagAmazon

    Damn does it feel like we needed Wild Flag.  Ever since the breakup of Sleater-Kinney in 2005 it feels like there has been a void of straight up kick-ass rock music- particularly made by females (Jemima Pearl of the late Be Your Own Pet excepted).  Wild Flag is comprised of 2/3 of Sleater-Kinney- singer/guitarist Carrie Brownstein and the amazing drummer Janet Weiss, one of the best in the biz, as well as singer/guitarist Mary Timony & organist Rebecca Cole from the lesser known former groups Helium & the Minders.  Wild Flag does not sound identical to SK, the absence of the shrieking vocals of Corinne Tucker are missed but also makes the band more accessible.  However, “Wild Flag” does seem to to take off right where SK’s last album “The Woods” left off.  It’s lower on angular punk and heavier on rawk jamming.  Cole’s organ gives the band a fuller sound than SK ever had and connects them to the great heavy bands of the 70’s as much as the riot grrrl bands of the early 90’s. Brownstein and Timony split the singer and songwriting and while Brownstein is the star of the show both women have their great moments on the album and the diversity is welcome.  “Wild Flag” is a hell of a debut and exhibit A for anyone who thinks that indie music has become too sedate in the new decade.

    Buy Short Version – Wild Flag (Bonus Track Version)

    Buy Short VersionAmazon


    Buy Romance – Wild Flag (Bonus Track Version)

    Buy RomanceAmazon






    7.  ICEAGE- NEW BRIGADE

    Buy New Brigade – Iceage

    Buy New BrigadeAmazon

    And here is exhibit B!  Previously unheard of before 2011, Danish punk band Iceage is made up of youngsters all between the ages of 18-20.  Their music is a grab bag of the best of 70’s British punk, early 80’s American hardcore, goth, post-punk & early Joy Division.  Where Wild Flag are celebratory, Iceage are morose- “New Brigade” sounds like a soundtrack for the end of the world.  It rocks harder than anything else I heard this year outside of maybe F**cked Up, and is straight up motherf**king punk rock unlike anything  of recent memory outside of No Age or Off!.  And Iceage leaves any experimentation to the other bands- “New Brigade” is 12 tracks, 25 minutes long, every song is great and only one last over 3 minutes.  They have injected a sorely needed dose of adrenalin into punk music and despite their obvious influences, have a distinct sound.

    Buy You’re Blessed – New Brigade

    Buy You’re BlessedAmazon


    Buy Broken Bone – New Brigade

    Buy Broken BoneAmazon





    6.  BON IVER- BON IVER, BON IVER

    Buy Bon Iver (Deluxe Edition) – Bon Iver

    Buy Bon Iver [+Digital Booklet]Amazon

    Bon Iver’s second album is a band effort as opposed to the great debut, which was singer Justin Vernon and his guitar in a snowy cabin in the woods in the middle of a Wisconsin winter.  Though “Bon Iver” is not as spare as the debut it still feels very intimate, which is mostly attributable to Vernon’s heartbreaking falsetto.  Like Destroyer, Vernon and Bon Iver add outdated production flourishes to the music, particularly to polarizing closer “Beth/Rest” which bring to mind artists like Bruce Hornsby & Howard Jones.  Somehow it all works, and incredibly the album has become perhaps the most critically celebrated release and even garnered several Grammy nods.  Meanwhile Vernon himself has become in demand, working with the likes of Kanye West on his brilliant 2010 album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”.  I’m not even sure I like this album better than their debut, but I can say it grows on me with every listen and has moved up at least seven or eight spots on this list in the past month.  Songs like “Perth”, “Towers”, “Holocene” and “Calgary” are as good as anything on the debut and the rest of the songs fill in the spaces to allow the standouts to shine.

    Buy Holocene – Bon Iver

    Buy HoloceneAmazon


    Buy Calgary – Bon Iver

    Buy CalgaryAmazon






    5.  THE SMITH WESTERNS- DYE IT BLONDE

    Buy Dye It Blonde – Smith Westerns

    Buy Dye It Blonde (Amazon MP3 Exclusive)Amazon

    This is another underrated and unfortunately mostly overlooked kick-ass rock record from the beginning of 2011.  Smith-Westerns are youngsters from Chicago who showed some promise a few years ago with their self-titled debut.  I wasn’t overly enamored with them then and just considered them another above average indie band.  Well there second album “Dye It Blonde” better the debut by leaps and bounds.  It’s close to a perfect record and I actually loved more songs on it than any other record in 2011- the only reason it didn’t place even higher is its lack of one or two truly mind blowing tracks, though the anthemic “Weekend” does come close.  The band combines of early 70’s glitter rock ala Bowie & T. Rex with the 80’s L.A. Paisley underground scene as well as shoegaze and brit pop of the early 90’s to form their sound.  While not exactly unique Smith-Westerns sound like a breath of fresh air in 2011.  If this band gets any catchier I wouldn’t be surprised to hear them on the radio and see them selling in big numbers in a few years.

    Buy Weekend – Dye It Blonde

    Buy WeekendAmazon


    Buy All Die Young – Dye It Blonde

    Buy All Die YoungAmazon




    4.  ST. VINCENT- STRANGE MERCY

    Buy Strange Mercy – St. Vincent

    Buy Strange MercyAmazon

    Well this one REALLY snuck up on me.  I had enjoyed St. Vincent’s first two albums quite a bit and liked “Strange Mercy” even more on first listen, but it wasn’t until my 4th, 5th & 6th helpings that the album’s brilliance shined through for me.  St. Vincent is led by the beautiful and talented Annie Clark, who can sound like a typical, if eccentric female singer-songwriter like Kate Bush, Tori Amos or Regina Spektor, but who also has serious electric guitar chops. Every track carries surprises along with Clark’s restlessness.  Though her voice and music can be quite gorgeous, she’s not singing about puppy dogs and ice cream.  The emotions of her songs run the extremes of praise and kindness to cruelty and violence and her voice along with the production and instrumentation on the record reflect that.  “Strange Mercy” is both her catchiest and ballsiest collection of songs yet.  “Cruel” sounds like a hit and “Surgeon” and the title track are not far behind.  No track is too much like the other and further listens to “Strange Mercy” make each one stand out the more.  When music history is again re-written Clark and St. Vincent may end up playing quite an important role.

    Buy Cruel – Strange Mercy

    Buy CruelAmazon


    Buy Surgeon – Strange Mercy

    Buy SurgeonAmazon





    3.  M83- HURRY UP, WE’RE DREAMING

    Buy Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. – M83

    Buy Hurry Up We’re DreamingAmazon

    It takes gumption to release a double album during a time when the music industry is in a huge slump and the album itself is considered passe’.  Especially when you are a fairly obscure electronic music maker from France who up to this time has released mostly instrumental music.  But what do you know, the epic “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”, M83’s 5th proper album is his (M83 is a 1 man group featuring Anthony Gonzalez) most sonically diverse, song driven, most critically heralded and best release yet.  And it’s selling, which is proof that eventually the cream does rise to the top.  I normally turn up my nose at albums this long.  90% of them could have been edited better to get rid of bloat but “Dreaming” is exactly as long as it needs to be- it allows Gonzalez to realize his ambition and include the instrumental passages that give his music such a cinematic feel, while including two handfuls of standout songs, whereas on past albums he would have 3 or 4 at best.  M83 sculpts his sound from elements of space rock, techno, 80’s synth-pop and cheese rock & the Beach Boys.  With “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” he has managed to hone that sound down to increase accessibility while losing none of the experimental edge that made him great in the first place.  And track “Midnight City”, already an underground hit, is turning up as one of the songs of the year on a number of year end polls.


    Buy Midnight City – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.

    Buy Midnight CityAmazon


    Buy Reunion – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.

    Buy ReunionAmazon




    2.  THE WEEKND- HOUSE OF BALLOONS

    Download for free at http://www.the-weeknd.com/

    The Weeknd is certainly one of the music stories of the year.  Up until last winter, they were a mysteriously anonymous R&B group from Toronto championed by fellow Canadian rapper Drake and they released a series of three free mixtapes throughout 2011.  “House of Balloons” was the first and by far the best of the mixtapes.  The Weeknd’s sound is unlike anyone else’s in the R&B world.  It is a sleazy, hazy, psychedelic music.  The vocals are both smarmy and desperate and the lyrics are overly drug and sex focused.  The overall vibe is sinister, desperate and self-loathing rather than celebratory.  The singer sounds like he could be the embodiment of evil and he is clearly using the women in the songs and putting them in compromising positions, but he sure sounds unhappy about it.  I’ve never heard anything remotely like this music and I don’t think I’ve though about another album more all year.  For a mixtape the production on “House of Balloons” is top notch.  The singing itself is excellent and definitely straight up modern R&B but the music owes more to chillwave and indie-rock than it does hip-hop or soul.  One track features a prominent Beach House sample.  The Weeknd’s stock is definitely rising. They appeared on the latest blockbuster Drake album and will be re-releasing all three mixtapes with bonus tracks commercially in 2012.  It will be fun to get to the bottom of their story but it’s also nice to add a bit of mystery back to music.


    Best tracks        House of Balloons         High for This

    Download for free at http://www.the-weeknd.com/





    1.  TUNE-YARDS- WHOKILL

    Buy Whokill – Tune-Yards

    Buy W H O K I L LAmazon

    My favorite album this year was a tough call.  The top 5 wasn’t an strong as it has been the last several years, although the top 50 was consistently stronger.  A year with more depth but less standouts.  No one album stood high above the rest of the pack like Kanye last year and Animal Collective the year before.  But in the end I had to go with “Who Kill” by tUnE-yArDs.  It’s not a perfect album but it’s so wildly creative and unique that it may just play a big part in point ing the way forward for music over the next decade.  tUnE-yArDs is Merrill Garbus.  She is young, female, eccentric and unbridled and chameleon-like.  Her voice is an incredibly powerful and dextrous instrument.  She can hit seemingly impossible notes but manages to never overpower the song.  She can sound  lo-fi, bluesy and androgynous at times, while at other times sexy and decidedly female.  At all times she sounds powerful, demanding and must be paid attention to.  The rest of the production is as bonkers as her voice.  She puts new wave, techno, Afropop, hip-hop & Jazz in a blender and draws from whatever she pleases.  The music is busy and noisy- multi-tracked vocals, clattering drums and horns all over the place.  It’s exciting as hell but certainly not soothing and probably not for everybody.  With her lyrics Gaubus takes on the big issues & challenges the American status quo at every turn.  She and her music are in your face and to me perfect for these times.

    Buy Gangsta – Whokill

    Buy GangstaAmazon


    Buy Bizness – Whokill

    Buy BiznessAmazon


    15 HONORABLE MENTIONS:


    KENDRICK LAMAR- SECTION .80

    LOS CAMPESINOS- HELLO SADNESS

    CURREN$Y- WEEKEND AT BURNIES

    DJ QUIK- BOOK OF DAVID

    HANDSOME FURS- SOUND KAPITOL

    DAS RACIST- RELAX

    PANDA BEAR- TOMBOY

    BIG K.R.I.T.- RETURN OF 4EVA

    MALE BONDING- ENDLESS NOW

    YOUTH LAGOON- THE YEAR OF HIBERNATION

    KATY B- BROKEN RECORD

    THE FOO FIGHTERS- WASTING LIGHT

    THE JUNIOR BOYS- TELL ME

    DANNY BROWN- XXX

    FOSTER THE PEOPLE- TORCHES




  • 4 GREAT EP’s of 2011

    TRASH TALK- AWAKE EP

    Buy Trash Talk – Trash Talk
    Buy AwakeAmazon

    Hardcore album of the year, unless you count Iceage. 5 songs over in 8 minutes. Thrashing! Any fans of Off! will love this.

    Buy Awake – Awake – EP
    Buy AwakeAmazon



    TORO Y MOI- FREAKING OUT EP

    Buy Freaking Out – EP – Toro y Moi
    Buy Freaking OutAmazon

    Great companion piece to “Underneath the Pine” full length. Takes the neo disco of “New Beat” to happy extremes.

    Buy Saturday Love – Freaking Out – EP
    Buy Saturday LoveAmazon



    THE FRESH & ONLYS- SECRET WALLS EP

    Buy Secret Walls – EP – The Fresh & Onlys
    Buy Secret WallsAmazon

    SF scenesters that sound like the spaciest of the 60’s Nuggets bands and early Syd Barrett era Floyd. Can’t wait to check out more of their stuff.

    Buy Secret Walls – Secret Walls – EP
    Buy Secret WallsAmazon>



    DUM DUM GIRLS- HE GETS ME HIGH EP

    Buy He Gets Me High – EP – Dum Dum Girls
    Buy He Gets Me HighAmazon

    Stop gap ep that pointed the way out of the garage for the Dum Dum Girls. First two tracks are two of the band’s very best. And pretty cool Smiths cover too.

    Buy Wrong Feels Right – He Gets Me High – EP
    Buy Wrong Feels RightAmazon