2011: The Year in Music

 For those of you who actually have something invested in my yearly music hierarchy, my apologies for not attending to this task in more rapid fashion.  For some reason, I’m just not feeling it this year.  Some of that stems from the fact that, overall, I’ve experienced it as a fairly weak year music-wise.  Additionally, I’ve probably just downloaded far too much music this year, creating a situation where I feel overwhelmed by the number of albums that I’ve either not gotten around to or simply failed to give the kind of attention they deserve.  Regardless, there have certainly been some kickass records released in the past year and I encourage you to use the links, hop over to Amazon, and take a quick listen to some snippets from all of them.  As someone who often gets located as, and sort of revels in, being enigmatic, I always prefer my end of the year list to be varied in terms of genre.  This year, I have failed in that regard.  But honesty trumps variety and, for better or for worse, these are the 20 best records I’ve heard this year.  Folk/acoustic/americana/countrified recordings certainly dominate this years list (Black Keys, Middle Brother, Decemberists) and, in terms of past lists, there’s a whole mess of usual suspects (Destroyer, Iron & Wine, Mountain Goats).  At the end of the day, what does it for me, does it for me.  Here’s hoping some of it does it for you:

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

20. Cage the Elephant- Thank you, Happy Birthday

http://www.amazon.com/Thank-Happy-Birthday-Cage-Elephant/dp/B0049JPUCQ/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1327610553&sr=8-3

Despite the unfortunate band name,  it seems quite possible that their music is representative of what a cage full of pissed off elephants might sound like.  This album always makes me want to snarl and cause trouble.

19. Fleet Foxes– Helplessness Blues

http://www.amazon.com/Helplessness-Blues/dp/B004X0XA82/ref=sr_shvl_album_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327591844&sr=301-1

I gotta say, the first album had me awfully flummoxed at what people loved so much about these guys.  I was blind, but now I see.

18. Paul Simon– So Beautiful or So What

http://www.amazon.com/So-Beautiful-Or-What/dp/B004V7EXO2/ref=sr_shvl_album_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327591826&sr=301-1

I had completely accepted that Rhythm of the Saints was the end of Paul Simon’s brilliance- nope!

17. Darwin Deez- Darwin Deez

http://www.amazon.com/Darwin-Deez/dp/B004XRMBN0/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1327632728&sr=1-1

If Beck, Fleetwood Mac and Napolean Dynamite had an orgy, I’m fairly certain that this guy is the offspring.

16. James Blunt– Some Kind of Trouble

http://www.amazon.com/Some-Kind-Of-Trouble/dp/B004HV0T0O/ref=sr_shvl_album_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327591787&sr=301-1

My shame around my love of this man’s music is intense.  Every cell in my music-snob body screams that I should loathe him, but damn- he makes me swoon.  There, I said it!

15. The Head and The Heart- The Head and The Heart

http://www.amazon.com/Head-Heart/dp/B004IXWI6E/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1327633091&sr=1-1

Harmonies fit to pump serenity through every active nerve in your system.

14. TV on the Radio– Nine Types of Light

http://www.amazon.com/Nine-Types-Of-Light/dp/B004UJPO3U/ref=sr_shvl_album_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327591744&sr=301-1

As this brilliant collections of musicians slowly let go of being esoteric and cool, their albums get better and better.  Viva la middle age!

13. Bon Iver– Bon Iver

http://www.amazon.com/Bon-Iver-Digital-Booklet/dp/B0054JURZA/ref=sr_shvl_album_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327591714&sr=301-1

Upon first listening, with expectations built on his last album firmly implanted in my mind and heart, I found this record maddeningly disappointing.  Thank goodness, I’ve learned to invest less in my knee-jerk reactions.

12. Kurt Vile– Smoke Ring for my Halo

http://www.amazon.com/Smoke-Ring-Amazon-Exclusive-Version/dp/B004MWL7L8/ref=sr_shvl_album_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327591691&sr=301-1

The strange, skinny, quiet goth dude who used to spend all his time in the school parking lot, smoking cigarettes and  looking tortured, finally puts his thoughts to music.

11. The Mountain Goats– All Eternals Deck

http://www.amazon.com/All-Eternals-Deck/dp/B004S85HRQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327591606&sr=8-1

Why John Darnielle and his guitar and his endearingly, psychotic voice and his poetic lyricism keep being so awesomely fascinating album after album is one of the great mysteries of the current music scene.

10. The Weeknd– House of Balloons

http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/15264-house-of-balloons/  (link on the pitchfork review allows you to download this for free)

Dark freaky beats, foreboding lyrics, atmosphere dripping from every chord- best free treat of the year.

9. Tom Waits– Bad As Me

http://www.amazon.com/Bad-As-Me-Tom-Waits/dp/B005IGVX0M/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1327591557&sr=1-1

What can I possibly say about the coolest man on the planet’s new record?  Just this: No one is as bad as him… NO ONE!!

8. Destroyer– Kaputt

http://www.amazon.com/Kaputt/dp/B004I2GDZ2/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1327591537&sr=1-1

I suppose, to some end, Dan Bejar, has been heading toward this record all along.  To some end, I miss some of his stranger quirks- but the easy listenability of this offering is indisputable.

7. Iron & Wine– Kiss Each Other Clean

http://www.amazon.com/Kiss-Each-Other-Clean-Iron/dp/B004EQCO5U/ref=sr_1_3?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1327591507&sr=1-3

I would have bet my left foot that Sam Bean bettering The Shepherd’s Dog with his new record was an impossibility.  And so I would be hobbling.

6. Middle Brother– Middle Brother

http://www.amazon.com/Middle-Brother/dp/B004PUFHLI/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1327591489&sr=1-1

The Black Keys better not too comfortable on their young, white, blues-genius throne; cuz’ Middle Brother is number two with a bullet.

5. Adele– 21

http://www.amazon.com/21-Adele/dp/B004EBT5CU/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1327591456&sr=1-1

As this album continued growing in popularity throughout the year, I so craved to start hating it.  No such luck.  She’s incredible.

4. Manchester Orchestra– Simple Math

http://www.amazon.com/Simple-Math-Manchester-Orchestra/dp/B004T8IPNS/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1327591438&sr=1-1

These guys pulse and pound with the best loud/quiet/loud schematic since The Pixies.  Manchester Orchestra.  They are neither form Manchester, nor are they an orchestra: discuss.

3. Sean Rowe– Magic

http://www.amazon.com/Magic-Sean-Rowe/dp/B004GHYC2A/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1327591416&sr=1-1

I don’t know where he came from or where he’s been, but the pain-peppered baritone of this man makes my knees weak.

2. The Decemberists– The King is Dead

http://www.amazon.com/King-Dead-Decemberists/dp/B0049OSQ18/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1327591394&sr=1-1

After their last two or three efforts, I was quite sure these guys had severely jumped the shark only to find that they had just found their stride.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

 1. The Black Keys- El Camino

http://www.amazon.com/El-Camino-Black-Keys/dp/B005URRCUY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327591362&sr=8-1

How, in God’s name, do these geeky little white boys keep putting out such filthy, grimy, balls-out blues gems?

HONORABLE MENTIONS (Missed the list, but well worth your time)

  1. Art Brut– Brilliant! Tragic!
  2. Architecture in Helsinki– Moment Bends
  3. Big K.R.I.T.– Return of 4Eva
  4. Blitzen Trapper– American Goldwing
  5. Brett Dennen– Loverboy
  6. Cake– Showroom of Compassion
  7. The Cars– Move Like This
  8. The Chain Gang of 1974– Wayward fire
  9. Charles Bradley– No Time for Dreaming
  10. Childish Gambino– Camp
  11. The Civil Wars– Barton Hollow
  12. Eulogies– Tear the Fence Down
  13. The Duke & The King– Nothing Gold Can Stay
  14. Foster the People– Torches
  15. Frank Turner-EnglandKeep my Bones
  16. Girls– Father, Son, Holy Ghost
  17. The Head and The Heart– The Head and The Heart
  18. Holy Ghost!– Holy Ghost
  19. James Blake– James Blake
  20. Lykke Li– Wounded Rhymes
  21. Noah and the Whale– Last Night on Earth
  22. OkkervilRiver-I am Very Far
  23. PJ Harvey– Let England Shake
  24. Portugal. The Man– In the Mountain, In the Cloud
  25. The Postelles– The Postelles
  26. The Pretty Reckless– Light Me Up
  27. Robbie Robertson– How to Become Clairvoyant
  28. Sons & Daughters– Mirror, Mirror
  29. The Vaccines– What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?
  30. They Might Be Giants– Join Us

 

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS (Good artists who made mediocre albums)
  1. The Airborne Toxic Event– All at Once
  2. The Beastie Boys– Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2
  3. Bright Eyes– The People’s Key
  4. Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah– Hysterical
  5. Das Racist– Relax
  6. Jay Z & Kanye West– Watch the Throne
  7. Jeffrey Lewis– A Turn in the Dream-Songs
  8. John Vanderslice– White Wilderness
  9. Kate Bush– 50 Words for Snow
  10. Laura Marling– A Creature I Don’t Know
  11. Lucinda Williams– Blessed
  12. Radiohead– King of Limbs
  13. The Strokes– Angles
  14. White Lies– Ritual
  15. Wilco– The Whole Love
  16. William Elliot Whitmore– Field Songs
THE “PLEASE PACK IT INS” (a.k.a. Why, in the name of all that is holy, are you still recording music?!)
  1. Alice Cooper– Welcome to my Nightmare
  2. Barenaked Ladies– Snacktime!
  3. Blink 182– Neighborhoods
  4. Blondie– Panic of Girls
  5. Duran Duran– All You Need is Now
  6. Bush– The Sea Memories
  7. Def Leppard– Mirrorball
  8. Duran Duran– All You Need is Now
  9. INXS– Original Sin
  10. Jane’s Addiction– The Great Escape Artist
  11. Journey– Eclipse
  12. Korn– The Path of totality
  13. Lenny Kravitz– Black and White America
  14. Limp Bizkit– Gold Cobra
  15. Michael Bolton– Gems: The Duets Collection
  16. Moby– Destroyed
  17. Red Hot Chili Peppers– I’m With You
  18. REM– Collapse Into Now
  19. Skinny Puppy– HanDover
  20. Soundgarden– Live on I-5
  21. Snoop Dogg– Doggumentary
  22. Stevie Nicks– In Your Dreams
  23. Steve Miller Band– Let Your hair Down
  24. Vanilla Ice– WTF
  25. Whitesnake– Forevermore
  26. Yes– Fly From Here
  27. Ziggy Marley– Wild and Free
THE MOST MIND-BLOWING DISASTER OF THE YEAR AWARD
Lou Reed and Metallica– Lulu
THE “YOU WERE BARELY INTERESTING ON THE DAMN SHOW” AWARD (Tie)
Daughtry– Break the Spell
Susan Boyle– Someone to Watch Over Me
Lauren Alaina– Wildflower
David Cook– This Loud Morning
Scotty McCreery– Clear as Day
THE “AREN’T YOUR FIFTEEN MINUTES UP YET? AWARD (Tie)
Lady Gaga– Born This Way
Justin Bieber– Under the Mistletoe
THE ANNUAL ENYA “OH, ANOTHER ALBUM THAT SOUNDS EXACTLY LIKE THE LAST ALBUM” AWARD
Sigur Ros– Inni
THE “I THINK THE FIRST TWO ALBUMS WERE MORE THAN ENOUGH” AWARD
She & Him– A Very She & Him Christmas
THE “FOR A WHILE IT WAS KIND OF QUIRKY AND IRONIC, NOW YOU NEED TO BE PUT DOWN LIKE A DOG” AWARD
William Shatner– Seeking Major Tom
THE COOLEST BAND NAME AWARD (Tie)
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin– Tape Club
Cymbals Eat Guitars– Lenses Alien
We Were Promised Jetpacks– In the Pit of the Stomach
Banjo or Freakout– Banjo or Freakout
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