Top 10 Albums of 2011

2011 was a weird year. There was a ton of great material, some of it easier to find than the rest. It was harder to sort this list because I felt the best records were all quite comparable in enjoyability. Nonetheless, I did my best, and the result is as follows.

I decided to abandon the classification of non-top-10 things in favor of a straight-up list. Most titles are linked to my reviews from throughout the year if you want to learn more.

from the bottom:

22: Cake – Showroom of Compassion
21: The Strokes – Angles
20: Beirut – The Rip Tide
19: Mates of State – Mountaintops
18: Death Cab for Cutie – Codes & Keys
17: Radiohead – The King of Limbs
16: Noah and the Whale – Last Night on Earth
15: M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
14: The Dodos – No Color
13: The Vaccines – What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?
12: Cults – Cults
11: Crooked Fingers – Breaks in the Armor

the top 10

10: Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Belong

Dreamy yet driven indie pop from up-and-coming this talented New York group. It’s the stuff of a John Hughes movie, were it made in 2011.

The Body
[ mp3 ♫ ]

9: The Kills – Blood Pressures

Rhythmic, dark, and sultry, the Kills continue to prove ever-relevant in the low-fi indie-rock-scape. It’s music that I’m glad not to hear on the radio because it’s too good to share with other people.

Future Starts Slow
[ mp3 ♫ ]

8: The Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing

Admittedly this record serves a similar purpose to last year’s Sign No More, but it ultimately proves to be a far more raw and explosive an album than the Mumford and Sons effort. Points given for hitting the ground running and not stopping until the final note.

[ mp3 ♫ ]

7: The Sounds – Something to Die For

Truly this selection betrays one of my most fundamental biases, but I’m man enough to be up front about it. Soaring arena rock-pop, made in Sweden, iced with synth, is just a thing I like. Everyone else is perfectly welcome to join me.

The Best of Me
[ mp3 ♫ ]

6: Bon Iver – Bon Iver

If you don’t know this record by now, just listen to it, and pay more attention next year. If you do know it, then suffice to say that Justin Vernon is a master of his art-form, and this record is the final word on that. Pure serenity from start to finish.

[ mp3 ♫ ]

5: The Wombats – This Modern Glitch

Clever pop built on an 8-bit foundation; if you’re not either smiling or dancing while you listen to these tracks, the argument could be made that you’re not doing it right. Cut it with some nostalgia, and suddenly the record’s got some dimension and gravity, which propel it to this surprisingly high position in the list.

Our Perfect Disease
[ mp3 ♫ ]

4: The Decemberists – The King is Dead

The Decemberists prove their records need not be ‘epic’ to be ‘awesome’. A genre-crossing effort that is a real breath of fresh air in terms of texture, and a lot of fun to boot.

Rox In The Box
[ mp3 ♫ ]

3: Bright Eyes – The People’s Key

Bright Eyes produced a remarkably coherent album in The People’s Key. Oberst’s philosophical musings weave perfectly into this bittersweet collection of tracks, punctuated by big-guitars and a more electronic direction for the band.

Jejune Stars
[ mp3 ♫ ]

2: Future Islands – On The Water

Future Islands is like a magic black box that takes sorrow and synthesizers as inputs, and returns forlorn gut-punching tracks that force you to feel melancholy as all hell.

The emotional content alone makes the effort worthy; that you get to bob your head and sing along is an added bonus.

Before the Bridge
[ mp3 ♫ ]

1: Florence + The Machine – Ceremonials

A bigger and darker record than Lungs is EXACTLY what I wanted out of now-mega-famous Florence + The Machine, and they delivered.

I don’t think she can further improve on this sound, and while that makes the future a little grey, it means that Ceremonials was a perfectly timed effort that stands alone as the best record of 2011.

[ mp3 ♫ ]

With that, another year is over! Hope you enjoyed the tracks and found something you enjoyed. Look out for the likely Errata series coming in January, where I outline stuff that wasn’t on this list, but should have been. If you’d like to get a sneak-peak of upcoming albums scheduled to drop in 2012, check the Music Calendar.