Over halfway through January, I am finally writing about my top albums of 2011. I think I'm a little slow. Feel free to agree (or disagree) with me in the comments. It lets me know that there are people reading.
20. Okkervil River - I Am Very Far
For the most part, a little more mellow than their past couple albums. But they're able to keep it interesting throughout the entire album. They have a lot of things going on in their songs. I find I hear something new with this album everytime I listen to it.
Favorite song: "Mermaid"
19. Gemma Hayes - Let it Break
I've seen Gemma described as "folk-pop", and I guess that's somewhat accurate, but it doesn't quite describe her. Her songs are beautiful and complex. She does have a folk-pop vibe about her, but she also experiments with electronics and ambience. But she also sounds equally fantastic when it's just her and a piano. She has a terrific voice.
Favorite song: "Fire"
18. Korey Dane - Loomer
A cool little folk album, that delves into bits of jazz and blues from time to time. Most of the songs are lovely...his voices plays very well off his female counterpart.
Favorite song: "Blue (Kids on the Weekend)"
17. Radiohead - The King of Limbs
Something a little different from them (but what else is new). They mix their brand of rock in with some different beats, and, in the case of "Feral", bass that could very well destroy a house. It took me a little longer to really "get" this album than normal, but I really like it.
Favorite song: "Little By Little"
16. TV On the Radio - Nine Types of Light
Sleek, polished, and extremely well produced, this album picks up exactly where Dear Science left off. This album can be soothing one minute and abrasive the next.
Favorite song: "New Cannonball Run"
15. Florence + The Machine - Ceremonials
There is less experimentation with musical styles this time around. There's nothing like the in-your-face punkness of "Kiss With a Fist". Everything feels like it should be an anthem of some sort. Big drums, building choruses, and Florence's voice rising above it all.
Favorite song: "Bedroom Hymns"
14. Frank Ocean - Nostalgia, Ultra
I'm not a huge fan of most R&B, so it took me a little while to really like this one. But, once it clicked, I couldn't stop listening to it. His voice is amazing...smooth, soulful, and a little menacing at times. This being a mixtape, he will occasionally sing over existing songs (Coldplay's "Strawberry Swing" and The Eagles "Hotel California" being the most notable tracks), and that can be a little distracting, but he brings his own sound to the entire album. There's a little something for everyone on this album.
Favorite song: "Swim Good"
13. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
This album is a big step up from their previous album. It is able to maintain the intimacy of the first album, while also making a much more polished album. It sounds pristine...like an album recorded in another era, but with today's recording equipment. The entire album sounds clear as a bell, but there's also something kind of dusty about it, like it's meant to be listened to on vinyl while you're sitting on the dirty floor of a cabin. It's a magnificent folk album.
Favorite song: "Helplessness Blues"
12. EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints
In this album, EMA creates a world that is simultaneously violent and beautiful. She builds soundscapes that envelope you. All you want to do is turn the music up louder and let it fill the room. It took a while for this album to click, but, once it did, I couldn't turn it off. It's definitely not for everyone, but, if you're looking for something a little different, give this one a spin.
Favorite song: "Marked"
11. Feist - Metals
There are some beautiful pop songs on this album...which really isn't a surprise, given her past work. The instrumentation is gorgeous and lush, with songs at times exploding into clanging and chants. Every time I listen to it, I find something else to like about it.
Favorite song: "Undiscovered First"
10. Rihanna - Talk That Talk
This is her best album. It's a concise 11 tracks, with no filler. She mixes R&B with dance, hip-hop, pop, and rock. It's a fantastic listen, start to finish. And the closer ("Farewell") is absolutely perfect.
Favorite song: "Drunk on Love"
9. Zola Jesus - Conatus
Like a mixture of Bjork and Bat For Lashes, Zola Jesus mixes tribal and dance beats with dark synths to create a groove-filled and dark sound. I was amazed at how much I loved this album.
Favorite song: "Vessel"
8. The Roots - undun
This is probably my favorite Roots album since 2004's The Tipping Point. While they have guests on this album, there aren't nearly as many as there have been on their recent efforts. But, more importantly, this feels more like a cohesive album than anything they've done in a while. It's short, sweet, and to the point. It's a laid-back album: something to throw on late at night, sit back, and relax to. It's still an exciting album, but there's a definite laid-back vibe to it.
Favorite song: "One Time"
7. Tom Waits - Bad as Me
Waits brings his unusual mixture of rock, blues, ballads, and unique storytelling ability to this album. It's a strong set of songs, with a great opener ("Chicago") and closer ("New Years Eve"). It's Tom Waits at his finest.
Favorite song: "Hell Broke Luce"
6. Eisley - The Valley
I loved the first Eisley album, and, while I liked the second, there seemed to be something missing. Something had changed in their sound that didn't quite work out. But they returned to form with this album. It's a little dark, but they still maintain their same charm and energy that they brought on the first album. It's a little more driven, but it's still terrific. After repeat listens, this may be my favorite album of theirs.
Favorite song: "Mr. Moon"
I'm cheating a bit with these next two. But they're both by Action Bronson, and they sound similar enough that I feel like I can group them together.
5. (Tie) Action Bronson - Dr. Lecter
He borrows his sound pretty heavily from Ghostface Killah. Between his voice and the musical style (soul samples and electric guitars), he's practically a dead-ringer for Ghostface. Not in a bad way, of course. There's still something new about it, and he has an energy that can't be denied.
Favorite song: "Chuck Person"
5. (Tie) Action Bronson & Statik Selektah - Well Done
Bronson teamed up with producer Statik Selektah on this album, which means less soul samples. But Bronson is so good you barely miss those samples. He's able to meld his vocals to any style of music and make the transition seamless. If there's any justice in this world, he should be blowing up very soon.
Favorite song: "Stay Off the Grass"
4. My Morning Jacket - Circuital
I've always kind of liked My Morning Jacket, but never really saw what the big appeal was. This album won me over. It's a great album...a perfect mixture of rock, pop, folk and country. There's not a bad song on this album.
Favorite song: "Slow Slow Tune"
3. Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver
One word: beautiful. It's a perfectly realized album. At times it's lush and atmospheric. At times it's sparse. At times it's Bruce Hornsby. But it's always beautiful. I wasn't sure if he could top For Emma, Forever Ago. But this album is so different that it's hard to even compare the two. They're both amazing, but for entirely different reasons. I can't wait to see what he does next.
Favorite song: "Holocene"
2. Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes
This is a dark, slinky album. All bass grooves and synths and her voice. That voice. There's a lot of depth to her voice. Whether she's singing "I'm your prostitute" over a tribal beat or "Oh sadness I'm your girl" as part of a reverb-soaked tale of heartbreak, she really gives her all on every line. She's an amazing talent, and she's only getting better.
Favorite song: "Sadness is a Blessing"
1. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
It's hard to find words to describe this album. The songs are complex, driven by the layers of guitars and synths, all running over the deep bass and grooving drums. Like EMA's album, this is one that I just want to turn up louder to get the full effect. Every song has so much going on in it that I just want to drink it all in. Even on a slower song like "Champagne Year", the instrumentation keeps me interested. It's an album that is so amazingly interesting that I can't see myself ever getting sick of it.
Favorite song: "Strange Mercy"