Top-Ten albums of 2011

It dawned on me that I’ve bought a lot of albums this year to support me during a long commute to work. Since I bought more than 10 records, I’ll try for a top-ten list. Here are some of my favorite albums from 2011 and some other thoughts on the music of the year.

Top 10 albums of 2011

1. Wilco The Whole Love – NPR promoted the heck out of this album, which probably helped to shape my love of this album more than anything else. Wilco brings back some barely controlled chaos and layered textures and misfit electronic sounds that surprise and blend at the same time. The songs on this album are well ballanced and a joy to hear after many listens.

2. Paul SimonSo Beautiful, So What – Listening to Paul Simon always seems to lighten the spirit – even moments sorrow somehow teem with love and grace on this latest album from the poet-and-one-man-band.

3. Bon IverBon Iver – This “band” (fronted by Justin Vernon) is getting more and more of the attention they deserve (They’ll be on SNL in early 2012). It’s been a few years since the last heartbreaking, acoustic, falsetto, climbing-out-of-sorrow-fest from Bon Iver (From Emma, Long Ago). And they are soaring out of the swamp with plenty of mud (and maybe whisky) still on their wings. Horns, guitar, and drums are more prominent on this latest album, as is the influence of 1980s Casio pensiveness. Oh…just go listen to it.

4. Coldplay Mylo Xyloto – I’m a reluctant sap-sucker for this gushy pop-group. Truth be told, I listened to this album as much as I did the new Wilco one.

5. Tom WaitsBad As Me – A Tom Waits album always arrives like a bolt of lightening. This one finds Tom belting out more tough-guy solipsistics, those great red herrings line after line which usually call attention to the tenderest, fragile crevasses of a battered male heart.  Tom croons and soothes and barks and broods and delivers jabs of wisdom, like the grandest of gestures in the fragilest of packages: “I fight off the snow/ I fight off the hail/ Nothing makes me go/ I’m like some vestigial tail/ I’ll be here through eternity/ If you want to know how long/ If they cut down this tree/ I’ll show up in a song/ I’m the last leaf on the tree/ The autumn took the rest but they won’t take me/ I’m the last leaf on the tree.”

6. Kele GoodwinHymns – OK, this album actually came out at the end of 2010, but I got it in 2011 and loved it for the whole year.  I kept coming back to it. Kele’s website says that his music comes straight from the bone marrow.  It is like that. These are stripped down folk songs, intensely personal and emotional. Timeless music that has strayed miles away from whatever folk bandwagon it might have come from. And Laura Gibson lends her delicate bird-like voice on it so I was there. It had me with the album title.

7. The DecemberistsThe King is Dead – Yay! An album of self-contained songs from the mighty Portland band, The Decemberists. This may be their last. Great music to wash the dishes by. These songs will be covered by hip bands and “folk smartists” for many centuries to come.

8. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues – These guys put out my favorite song of 2011. Lots of folky bands out there with 10-part vocal harmonies. These guys are the real thing. Mature hearts on sleeves.

9. The Strokes Angles – The reincarnated Velvet Underground does it again. They are good at what they do. There are trippy 80s-style variations of the norm here and a little bit of exploration technically, but mostly the jang-jang-jang guitar is still what brings me to it and gets me bopping my head.

10. RadioheadKing of Limbs – Radiohead is as focused and precise and confident as ever. Lyrics that capture deterioration, moodiness, zeitgeist, and European dubstep trends. Is rock and roll dead? The question is dead. Radiohead moved on like a river moves on: gravity pulling it across a landscape over and under and through whatever is in the way, shaped and shaping, fluent and fluid, deep and wide.

Other favorites:

R.E.M. – Collapse into Now
Gillian Welch The Harrow and the Harvest
P.J. HarveyLet England Shake

  One particular disappointment:

Panda BearPanda Bear – While his first album Person Pitch was delightful, energetic and cinematic, Panda Bear’s new self-titled album drones along in a sparse landscape with few variations, changeups, or surprises. Only a couple of tracks stand out above the rest.

Some 2011 Releases I’d like to hear:

  • Tune Yards – Who Kill : I wasn’t drawn in on the first listen.  I’ll have to give it another try.
  • Girls Father Son and Holy Ghost – I thought this was just some kind of poppy emo band, but maybe there’s more depth there than I thought.
  • St. VincentStrange Mercy  – Maybe I should listen to more than just the first 10 seconds of every song on Amazon.
  • Metallica and Lou Reed – Lulu – I’ll put this on hold at the library out of a sense of duty and maybe be as surprised that it isn’t stinky poo-poo as I was when it I heard that it existed.
  • Eddie VedderUkelele Songs 
  • Sufjan Stevens – Oh that’s right, he didn’t have an album last year.


One thought on “Top-Ten albums of 2011

  1. Looking forward to checking out some of this music, and enjoyed some of the things you listed this year as well, though I found myself going back to some of my old favorites this year for some reason.

    I am an UNASHAMED Coldplay fan. I can't help it.


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