Introduction: Two of our band members – lead singer, Griffin Taylor, and drummer, Ian Cunningham – have each picked their 20 favorite albums of 2011.
As music reviewing becomes more and more of a dismal science, I attempt to assemble a comparative list of albums I considered delicious this year.
20. Gardens & Villa – Gardens & Villa
19. Arctic Monkeys – Suck It and See
18. The Strokes – Angles
17. Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde
16. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation
15. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
14. The Antlers – Burst Apart
13. Cults – Cults
12. Paul Simon –So Beautiful or So What
11. Radiohead – King of LImbs
10. Various Artists – Stroked
09. The Decemberists – Long Live the King
08. Washed Out – Within and Without
07. Real Estate – Days
06. Blind Pilot – We Are the Tide
05. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
04. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne
03. White Denim – D
02. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
01. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
20. Gardens & Villa- Gardens & Villa–
This debut came replete with cool synth work and geeky sci-fi themes. Highlights like “Orange Blossom” and the obvious “Star Fire Power” are evidence of this band’s capacity to create well-polished, catchy songs and prove they will be a band worth keeping on your list.
19. Arctic Monkeys- Suck It and See
Suck it and see why this album was way better than Humbug and on par with their sophomore effort. At any rate, England’s best selling indie-poppers gave it a good shot this year, showing us why they might be Ezra Koenig’s only competition for most random inclusion of bizarre nouns in a song.
18. The Strokes- Angles
Look, The Strokes will never top Is This It, we get it, but let’s be honest: Angles is still a hell of a lot better than 90% of the other shit that was released this year. Julian gave up his autocratic reigns to give his cohorts a chance to shine, which made for a more collaborative writing process that didn’t warrant the most memorable parts of the album. Anyhow, there’s still quite a few of them (“Two Kinds of Happiness” and “Life is Simple in the Moonlight”) that should be good enough to partially satisfy the ravenous appetites of Strokes fans.
17. Smith Westerns- Dye It Blonde
Not ones to over complicate things, Smith Westerns conceded just enough room for beautification to allow this record to shimmer and allow themselves to show what they do best: write quick, catchy rock n’ roll songs without too many tricks.
16. Youth Lagoon- Youth Lagoon
Another example of what lonely, bored, white kids do when they’re trapped in rural America with lots of musical instruments. Youth Lagoon’s self-titled debut is actually quite listenable, and despite its hushed tones, the subtlety doesn’t burke the hooks.
15. St. Vincent- Strange Mercy
Let’s face it: Annie Clark is the charmingly hot and incredibly talented pixie of indie rock. These facts are manifested on Strange Mercy, whose quirky but sensible arrangements are punctuated with buzzing guitar lines and graced with Annie’s sensual tone.
14. The Antlers- Burst Apart
Emotional, industrial, melodic indie rock a la Brooklyn. ‘Nuff said.
13. Cults- Cults
Taking cues from seemingly every chick singer throughout the cannon of recorded music, this guy-girl duo show enough talent to escape being blamed for such a stereotypical model.
12. Paul Simon- So Beautiful or So What
Twenty-some years after his Graceland, Paul Simon is just as capable of writing stimulatingly witty lyrics and great songs. The mood and themes addressed are much more heavy now, dealing with the afterlife, fighting the good fight, and making a solid effort to find some kind of peace of mind in all of it.
11. Radiohead- King of the Limbs
Although it’s not the brilliant sequel to In Rainbows that everyone was waiting for, new musings from this heavy hitter are always worth listening to.
10. Various Artists- Stroked
First off, the artists selected by Stereogum to perform the songs were not at all who anyone would have guessed or wanted, but their ability to completely rearrange and morph the songs into something completely unique was astounding. As a result, we get a sultry delivery of “Trying Your Luck” from Angel Deradoorian, a quasi-electro rendition of “Last Night” from the Morning Benders, and an exquisite classical taste of “Hard to Explain”. Above all else, this project evinces the staying power of Is This It by proving that its songs are still amazing even when turned on their axes.
9. The Decemberists- Long Live the King
Recovering from the grandiose nature of their last embarrassing record, Colin Meloy and gang decided to return to modesty. In my opinion, it was their best yet. The vocals are more straightforward and less syllabically exaggerated, the tenebrous English folk-tales are abandoned for more conventional and familiar tunes, and best of all the music is drastically more aurally enjoyable.
8. Washed Out- Within and Without-
The album that is just as good at providing ambiance (when driving, running, making out, etc.) as it is at providing a more active listen. Ernest Greene expanded his dialect of chill-wave from his Life of Leisure EP into soaring tunes like “Amor Fati” and “Eyes Be Closed” which combine with softer jives in “A Dedication” and “Soft” to create the perfect 40 minute mix of sounds and moods. This record also wins Sexiest Album Cover of the Year.
7. Real Estate- Days
Another waltz through sleepy hometown neighborhoods, suburbs, and winding green aisles with our favourite Jersey boys. This time around is much more vivid, thanks to the heightened production measures, and much more impressive thanks to a more lively display of their brand of surf tinged guitar rock.
6. Blind Pilot- We Are the Tide
This year’s dark horse candidate, Blind Pilot expanded on the barebones simplicity of their hushed debut and delivered a brilliant expansion. After cultivating their sound in the years since their first record, lead singer Israel Nebeker’s acoustic strums have been completely invigorated by swirling trumpets, cooperative harmonies, and even an electric guitar without compromising their heartfelt lyrical character. The result of this metamorphosis is a beautiful folk record that is just as exciting as it is soothing.
5. Bon Iver- Bon Iver
The eponymous title is incredibly fitting in that it debuts the true Bon Iver sound. Vernon experimented with soundscapes instead of more conventional songwriting, which created a very cosmopolitan and synthetic atmosphere in the album. Thanks to this, Bon Iver has become more of a Phil Collins than another acoustic strumming bearded crooner.
4. Jay-Z and Kanye West- Watch the Throne
As hip-hip/rap continues to take victory laps around rock, artists like these show why it’s happening. Their attention to detail (in production as well as lyrics) and ability to incorporate a range of topics into their work is astonishing. Jay-Z’s authoritative style contrasts with Kanye’s more humourous verses in a way that proves why so many other artists are watching their throne. Also responsible for coining “that shit cray”, a phrase that you can’t help but repeat a hundred times.
3. White Denim- D
Take one part late-60’s San Francisco guitar work, mix it with one of the most precise and intricate rhythm sections of today, and add a couple pinches of psychedelia and you have White Denim, who goes on as 2011’s most underrated band. Responsible for some of the most rocking tracks of the year, it’s also the kind of album that gives you something new to appreciate with each listen. So, go listen to it.
2. Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues
When thinking of the perfect sophomore record a band could aspire to make, this would be it. Robin Pecknold’s eagerness to shake off more commercial tendencies is evidenced by the left field presence in the album (Sim Sala Bim, The Shrine/An Argument) but didn’t eliminate the baroque beauty of their debut (Bedouin Dress, Battery Kinzie). The lyrics again evoke rather pastoral scenery, but they are joined with elements from Robin’s experiences with love and loss that off a kind of puerile wisdom that remains to be rivaled (Montezuma, Lorelai, Someone You’d Admire). Fleet Foxes have proved and earned their status as one of the frontrunners in contemporary music.
1. Foster the People- Torches
YEAH FUCKING RIGHT!
1. M83- Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
All double album stigmas aside, M83’s fourth album delivers an epic, melodic, and effervescent dance through Gonzales’ idyllic childhood. His knack for brilliant soundscapes is multiplied here, given the supply of anthems (“Claudia Lewis”, “Midnight City”, etc.) that make you feel like you’re piloting some kind of spacecraft. As he revisits the better parts of 80’s music, it’s clear he’s not merely mimicking it, but channeling it to create his own masterpiece.