Favorite Albums of 2011

What a ridiculous year this has been for music! I suspect that there will not be a ton of overlap on people’s lists this year just because there was so much to choose from.

I could not limit myself to a top ten and had to do a top twenty. Here’s my list, starting with my favorite album of the year and working down. There was a 5 way tie for my 6th favorite album so the order on 6-10 are pretty arbitrary.

  1. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar <–( Album titles are clickable Spotify links for all albums that appear on Spotify)

My obsession with this album borders on the unhealthy. The Joy Formidable is a three person punk group from Wales and this album has been in almost constant rotation for me all year. Sometimes I have a heard time picking between my top two or three but this year it wasn’t even close.

Standout tracks: The whole album is great but Whirring is the song that first sucked me in.

Whirring <–(track titles link to Youtube)

  1. J Mascis – Several Shades of Why

J Mascis put out a mostly acoustic album this year and, just like the last two Dinosaur Jr albums, it’s phenomenal.

Standout track:

What happened

  1. The Decemberists – The King is Dead

One of the first new releases of 2011 was also one of the year’s best surprises. I fucking hated the Decemberists’ last album, Hazards of Love, with a burning passion. It was a rambling overly self-indulgent prog-rock mess. (Author Warren Ellis accurately described it as Jethro Tull without the flutes.) Then along comes The King is Dead and it’s a tightly written gem of indi-folk goodness. In a year where another one of my favorite bands released an album of artfully dull ambient sound (Radiohead this year, Spoon last year) it’s nice to see that the trend sometimes reverses itself. Hooray for songs!

Standout tracks: Pretty much every song but…

Rox in The Box
Down by The Water

  1. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints

I don’t know what it is about this album that I like so much. Hell, I don’t even know how to describe it. Neo-psychedelic folk? Whatever. Erika M Anderson’s first solo album is hard to classify but it’s haunting and beautiful. Thanks to whoever recommended it on these boards.

Standout tracks:


  1. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

I found myself penalizing this album because it’s Noel-fucking-Gallagher but, you know what, this is not a list of the best albums of the year – it’s my favorite albums of the year and I love this album. It helps that I am an unabashed Oasis fan (up to and including The Master Plan). If there was ever any doubt that Noel Gallagher’s genius is what made Oasis great, it has been laid to rest this year. The remaining members of Oasis (everyone except Noel Gallagher) put out a thoroughly mediocre album under the moniker of Beady Eye. Noel’s solo album meanwhile is an amazing throwback to early Oasis.

Standout tracks: Every song on this album could stand on it’s own as a single but my two favorites are

If I Had a Gun
Stranded on the Wrong Beach

  1. Apex Manor – The Year of Magical Drinking

Ross Flournoy’s former band, The Broken West, released one of my favorite of 2007 with “I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On.” Unfortunately, their second album was a bit of a disappointment and the band broke up shortly there after. Apex Manor’s Year of Magical Drinking is the followup to that first Broken West album I was hoping for. Power pop perfection.

Standout tracks:

Under The Gun
Southern Decline

  1. We Are Augustines – Rise Ye Sunken Ships

Expectations are a funny thing. Rise ye Sunken Ships was originally intended to be the second studio album for one of my favorite bands, Pela, but, a series of mishaps led to their breakup and the album was shelved. I’ve been looking forward to it and searching vainly for a leak for close to two years. Finally, the key members of the band reformed under a new name and re-recorded the album. By the time it was released I had heard most of the songs in one form or another so it became really hard for me to judge the album objectively and that may have affected the ranking of this album. Do I love these songs or am I just intimately familiar with them?

In any event, front man Billy McCarthy is one of the most heartfelt singers I’ve ever heard and the subject matter of this album is deeply personal. The result is an album of songs that are as beautiful and moving as they are catchy.

Standout tracks:

Book of James
Chapel Song

  1. Sons and Daughters – Mirror Mirror

An amazing return to form for this rock band from Scotland. I like to think that if Johnny Cash had been born 40 years later in Scotland, this is the sort of music he’d be recording.

Standout track: Rose Red

Rose Red

  1. Wilco – The Whole Love

For some reason, Wilco never clicked with me. It’s one of those bands that people are always raving about but I’ve never been able to get into them. Until this album. Stylistically this album is all over the map but somehow it all works.

Standout track: I Might

I Might

  1. Of Monsters and Men – My Head is An Animal (Not on Spotify yet!)

I feel like I should be embarrassed by this album based on the overly precious lyrics and vocals but damn if the music doesn’t just hit a sweet spot for me. They’re like a twee Mumford and Sons.

Standout track:

Little Talks

I won’t do full write ups for 11-20 but I’ve included linky goodness…

  1. Sarah Jarosz – Follow Me Down Standout track: Ring them bells
  2. Yuck – Yuck Standout track: Get Away
  3. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Hysterical Standout track: Same Mistake (Also check out The Witness’ Dull Surprise on Spotify
  4. Radical Dads – Mega Rama Standout track: Recklessness (I couldn’t find it on Youtube but also check out ‘Alondra Rainbow Under Attack’ on Spotify)
  5. Mara Carlyle – Floreat Not on Spotify but fans of Fionna Apple should track down this great album. Most of it is up on Youtube. Here’s a typically quirky track, The Devil and Me
  6. Brett Dennen – Loverboy (no spotify) Standout track: Sydney
  7. Florence and The Machine – Ceremonials I suspect this album will grow on me the way her first one did but nothing on the album quite lived up to the single they released in advanced, What The Water Gave Me
  8. Adele – 21 (No Spotify) Insert haters.gif. I realize this album got played into the ground to the point that even I am sick of it now but I was a big fan of her first album and this one is even better. Someone Like You
  9. Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital Standout track: Repatriated
  10. Gillian Welch – The Harrow and The Harvest (Not on Spotify) Standout track: Hard Times

Honorable mentions to follow…

I have a shit-ton of honorable mentions. A lot of these spent time in my top ten this year and even as I was typing this up I was like, “Shit, how could I have left this out of the top twenty?” 'So much great music this year, it’s sick.

  1. The Felice Brothers – Celebration Florida
  2. Wild Flag – Wild Flag
  3. Caveman – Coco Beware
  4. Givers – In Light
  5. Heidi Spencer and The Rarebirds – Under Streetlight Glow
  6. Okkervil River – I Am Very Far
  7. Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread
  8. Boston Spaceships – Let it Beard
  9. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
  10. Foster The People – Torches
  11. Real Estate – Days
  12. The Mountain Goats – All Eternal’s Deck
  13. Klaxons – Surfing The Void
  14. Lifeguards – Waving At The Astronauts
  15. Lykkie Li – Wounded Rhymes
  16. The War on Drugs – Salve Ambient
  17. The Low Anthem-- Smart Flesh
  18. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
  19. Walk The Moon – I Want! I Want!
  20. Nicholas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise

Would have made my list if released in 2011:

  1. The Head and The Heart – The Head and The Heart (2010)
  2. Lissie – Catching a Tiger (2010)

Great list, RB!

Here’s my top 10 list, plus Spotify links. I hereby reserve the right to edit my post to add track links and pithy, holier-than-thou music criticism. I hereby also reserve the right not to. But for now, just the albums.

#1 with a bullet) Real Estate DAYS
4) Destroyer KAPUTT
5) Caveman COCO BEWARE
8) Radical Dads MEGA RAMA
10) Julianna Barwick THE MAGIC PLACE


In no particular order and subject to expansion, deletion, and review:

True Widow - As High As The Highest Heavens And From The Center To The Circumference Of The Earth

Fucked Up - David Comes to Life

Circle of Ouroborus - Eleven Fingers

The Haxan Cloak - S/T

Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers - Teenage and Torture

Jesu - Ascension

Prurient - Bermuda Drain

Possibly the new Kate Bush album and that Pajama Club record that triggercut was on about, but I haven’t spend enough time with them.

Though it’s not a new album, Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, remixed and remastered for the 40th (!) year anniversary is my favorite album of the year. Simply an amazing experience to hear this old classic given such a lovely new polish. Any fan of Tull must check this out.

love these. Shilpa is great!

My favorite album of the year was White Hills’ “H-P1”. Drugged-out psychedelic space-rock whose riffs limits one’s vocabulary to words like "epic, “sweeping”, “colossal”, “extinction-level event”. It had an unfair advantage in that the first time I heard it, I was driving on one of Indiana’s perfectly flat highways during an overcast day where the clouds were a terrifying contrast of bright and dark grey while being blown by incredibly strong winds - the apocalyptic interludes “Movement” and “Monument” were perfect background noise to that, making me think I was driving directly towards the end of the world.

Other stuff I greatly enjoyed this year:

A$AP Rocky - The Live Love (I dig this almost only because of the beats, Beautiful Lou and Clams Casino are awesome)
Bad Meets Evil - Hell: The Sequel (Royce da 5’9" and Eminem are tag teaming again, the end result being the opposite of A$AP as I am all about the rhymes here)
Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (they rocked it, 'nuff said!)
Black Tusk - Set The Dial (by now we know the drill with these guys, their sludge-metal is rather formulaic but it’s damn fun still)
Class Actress - Rapprocher (best sleazy sultry pop I’ve heard in a while)
Common - The Dreamer, The Believer (best hiphop release of the year, sadly that wasn’t saying much in 2011 so instead I’ll say it’s Common’s best effort maybe since Like Water For Chocolate)
Cut Copy - Zonoscope (not amazing overall, but “Corner Of The Sky”, “Pharoahs & Pyramids” and “Sun God” were more than worth the price of admission, holy wow)
Earth - Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light I (slow drawn-out grim lovely atmospheric rock ohhhhhhhh yes)
Freedom Hawk - Holding On (bomb-ass desert rock, fans of Kyuss, Truckfighters, Fu Manchu et al will feel right at home)
The Go! Team - Rolling Blackouts (the MC still can’t be heard over the beats but really who gives a shit)
Idle Warship - Habits Of The Heart (can’t find vids, so head here for samples of this fine r&b/hiphop collab of the mighty Talib Kweli and the lovely amazing Res)
Kanye West & Jay-Z - Watch The Throne (don’t even try to tell me you didn’t like this or the equally great “No Church In The Wild”, come on now)
Luger - Concrete Light (manic and joyous electronic/space rock)
M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (a double-LP that doesn’t suck? and in fact is mostly great? how the hell did anyone ever pull this off)
Monkey3 - Beyond The Black Sky (thundrous desert/space rock-strumentals, this boasts beats and riffs that could slay gods)
Raekwon - Shaolin vs Wu-Tang (I can never understand Rae’s rhymes and I never care)
The Roots - Undun (I’m now convinced they are literally incapable of falling off, they’re just too damn good
Teddybears - Devil’s Music (Breaking Bad usually features good artists and it definitely didn’t fail me here, this is hyper-fun electronica-pop from start to finish)
Three Dimensional Tanx - self-titled (whoooooooa, this is psychedelic almost to a fault kind of one-note but kind of wonderful anyway)
TV On The Radio - Nine Types Of Light (might be unabashed TVOTR fanboyism making me love this so much at this point, they’re simply my fav act in “indie rock”)
Verma - S/T II (why yes I’m a space-rock addict, why do you ask? S/T II is good overall and “Space Is Open” in particular builds up so gloriously, oh my)

And what might be my fav song of the year is from an album I otherwise couldn’t get into: Neon Indian’s “Suns Irrupt” off of Era Extrana. Felt like I had to give it an honorable mention. It was a very bright spot on an otherwise “enh” album. Normally they just feel too light and airy for me, but not here. Way the HELL not here. Loved this.

Is it uncool to like El Camino?

I dunno, I am uncool among my friends in that the Black Keys do nothing for me in general. I don’t hate them or anything, I just don’t feel anything when I listen to them.

The album I played more than any other this year is 1,2,3’s New Heaven.

Jason Isbell’s Here We Rest was 2011 album I listened to most this year, roughly an order of magnitude more than the DBT’s Go-Go Boots. Also got a fair number of spins out of Lindsey Buckingham’s Seeds We Sow, Paul Simon’s So Beautiful or So What, and VDGG’s A Grounding in Numbers.

I also recognize that I once had someone break into my car, refuse to steal the music I had in there, and rearrange it neatly for me, which sort of hammered home that my tastes may not be everyone’s.

I don’t always get around to buying albums the year they were released. And even when I do, they don’t always click for me when I first pick them up. This list isn’t representative of albums released this year, but instead represents albums that best represent my personal year in music. If you were to create a sound track for my life, for the year 2011, it would look like this:


  1. The Dillinger Escape Plan:[/b] Option Paralysis.
    My best purchase in the last two years. This album hits so many of the right spots, and continues to blow me away every single time I put it on, I just can’t think of another album that has received so much playtime in the last 12 months. The music can be described as caustic, and at times seemingly chaotic, but for the trained ear (it’s an acquired taste) it delivers. This is D.E.P. at their best, offering both quality songwriting in addition to skillfull and impressive wanking and showboating.

Where technically savvy bands like Dream Theater sometimes forgets to write actual songs to tie together all their wanking, D.E.P. delivers.

2. Regina Spektor: Her entire catalog
I discovered her earlier this year while looking for good alternatives to Fiona Apple, who releases music so infrequently it could be argued she retires after every new album.

Regina tends to be a bit childish with her lyrical content, but her voice more than makes up for it. Even the music isn’t anything special, but that voice. I don’t keep track of the hours put into listening to specific albums, but I’m willing to bet she’s beating out other typical staples in my catalog. She gets a listen every single day.

3. Radiohead: King of Limbs
This album was a pretty big disappointment for a lot of fans, with people claiming it had to punch, no hooks – and rightly so. it works for me though, and it works well. It is by no means an album that grabs hold of the listener, but I wouldn’t call it an album you’d need to work at fully enjoying and appreciating either (like math metal or something). Instead, this album will wrap you up in its gossamer tendrils once you stop looking for the good stuff, and just let it come to you. Listen to the album, go about your business, and you’ll find there’s a quality recording here, but it’s like the opposite of a Chinese finger puzzle/traps, the harder you work at it the less likely you are to get what you want out of it. You gotta approach it on its own terms, and leave expectations behind.

I can understand where people are coming from when this approach just doesn’t gel for them, but this is a favorites list.

4. Between the Buried and Me: The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues
I hate Between the Buried and me. I hate everything in their catalog. And their music sounds derivative, and has no redeeming value to me. Their back catalog sounds like a bunch of teenage boys wanking just for the sake of wanking, giving no thought to actual songwriting except to mix and mash odd genres with a standard progressive death metal backdrop.

However, this E.P. stands out; not just as BTBAM’s best work, but at one of the best albums of 2011. The kids are growing up, and they’re finally churning out music worthy of their practiced talent. This E.P. is almost 30 minutes long, just about as long as Slayer’s best albums, and like those albums, there’s almost no fluff to be found. Every minute is crucial, and offers a sense of urgency in the music. This is a lesson best learned by other, bigger, progressive acts that so easily get lost in the wankery.

BTBAM has an extensive back catalog, offering titles most of their fans can point to and brand as ‘classic’, but if you were to ever listen to BTBAM for the first time, and wanted to know where to start, the answer would be found here. Once this EP makes you a fan, only then should you consider journeying backwards and exploring the rest of their work. You’ll better appreciate what you’ll find there.

5. Strapping Young Lad: City
This one seems to demonstrate just how blatantly I’m shitting all over the whole “of 2011” part of the topic, but again, I’m writing about my favorites of the year, not necessarily my favorites released this year!

I’ve been hearing about this band called Strapping Young Lad for years now. it’s been turning up in best-of and favorites lists as long as I’ve been reading the internet. I just couldn’t ever get past Devin Townsend’s vocals (shame on me), and perhaps I’ve always approached it when my head just wasn’t in it (since I’ve always been into cookie monster type vocals with this type of music, and devin delivers a truly unique experience). It wasn’t until this year I really put in an effort to appreciate this band (now defunct) that I’ve been hearing about for the better part of the last decade.

Strapping Young Lad is a band that fashions themselves as the next step in a brand of music previously occupied by the likes of Fear Factory, it’s explosive (like, there are literally explosions in many songs by both bands). Unlike Fear Factory, Strapping Young Lad isn’t bound by one specific theme, with which they infuse all of their music. If anything, STL is more concerned with telling people to fuck off than telling any particular story. Much like Regina Spektor, the lyrical content and the insights provided by this band are a bit on the cheesy side, but the music, and the sheer power of Devin’s voice more than make up for any thematic transgressions. Still, on occasion I find myself shaking my head and thinking “How can a grown adult write this stuff?” It’s like the band went out of their way to appeal to teenage ragers, but I suspect it’s much more genuine than that, Devin just thinks in those terms, at least he probably did at the time of the album’s production anyway.

And speaking of Fear Factory, so much alike are certain aspects of this music, both drummer “The legendary” Gene Hoglan (I don’t think you can just say Gene’s name without appending that particular title to the front of it) and bassist Byron Stroud have been recording and touring with Fear Factory since their last album (Byron Stroud has been a touring member of FF since 2004). Now, I’m not saying that if you like one band you’ll like the other, but in the diverse variety of metal to be found in the world, these two deliver an experience that is best turned up to 11, and allowed to smash into you with it’s sheer bombastic delivery.

I’ll stop here and pick up where I left off in another post sometime in the next few days or so.

I really only listened to four new albums this year…

  1. Wye Oak - Civilian

  2. The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar

  3. Sam Roberts - Collider

  4. The Black Keys - El Camino

I really hated El Camino my first two or three listens but absolutely love it now. That said it isn’t really as good as their last outing and the other three albums are better. Except maybe Collider.

I swear you guys are just making like 80% of this shit up.

Not sure I listened to too many new bands this year, but plenty of new music. It wasn’t an intensely exciting year all things considered, but there was a few I’d consider good enough to include on a year-end list. Here are ten albums, not in order of greatness just in the order I thought of them:

Also greatly enjoyed The Bats Free All The Monsters, Crystal Stilts’ In Love With Oblivion, Mogwai Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will, Zomby Dedication & Cloud Nothings Cloud Nothings.

Hey, thanks for the reminder! I forgot they were releasing a new album.

(No kidding)

Best of the year, in no real order:

Fucked Up - David Comes To Life - Canada’s hardest working band finally releases the classic record they’ve been threatening to make for years now. A post-hardcore Zen Arcade. If there was a better guitar record this year, I didn’t hear it. Seriously, you should click the shit out of that link.

Tom Waits - Bad As Me - Tom’s collection of new material in years is also a high-water mark for his kaleidoscopic post-Swordfishtrombones career, while giving the occasional nod to the old jazz troubadour persona he ditched somewhere back in the Reagan administration. The rockers rock, the ballads weep, and sometimes whatever’s going on in Tom’s head collides into whatever this is. A keeper.

Yuck - Yuck - Tied with Ringo Deathstarr for the “Great Band, Shitty Name” award for 2011. Yuck turns back the clock on indie-rock to 1988; slacker vocals, waves of distortion, fuzzed-out melody lines that instantly worm into your subconsciousness. If it sounds sometimes like a band made up of J. Mascis’ kid brothers, well, more people should sound like J. Mascis. Pick to click: “Get Away”.

Wooden Shjips - West - I was happily on board for the previous Wooden Shjips records, but this one totally smoked me this year. A psychedelic drone masterpiece, proof that if a riff is great for one minute, there’s no reason it can’t be great for five. The guitar solos are like Helios Creed covering Sterling Morrison, and if you understood the first part of this sentence, you should totally listen to this. Pick to click: “Lazy Bones”.

M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming - Given the hilarious musical maximalism exhibited by previous M83 albums, where no keyboard is too loud and no melody bombastic enough, a double-album from them was bound to happen eventually. M83 really take the time to stretch out in some interesting directions while buffing the 80s pop sheen of Saturdays=Youth until it blinds. Pick to click: “Claudia Lewis”, especially when the slap bass comes in at 1:17.

Mastodon - The Hunter - One of the last remaining metal bands that seem to be enjoying themselves, they dial back the ambition of Crack The Skye to just rock the fuck out for a dozen or so songs. Betcha they had a blast naming the songs, too. Pick to click: All of it, but I especially love the Crack The Skye-ish “Stargasm”.

Skeletonwitch - Forever Abomination - I’ve always leaned more towards the death metal than the black metal, but this year I really started digging into the blackened end of the spectrum. For such an extreme form of music, black metal sure does cross-pollinate well, from the folk-tinged Agalloch to Liturgy’s no-wave experiments. Skeletonwitch really mixes it up, welding black metal to thrash to create a furious Frankenstein monster of metal that totally shouldn’t work but totally does. I wish I could go back in time and give this to my 14-year old self. Pick to click: “Choke Upon Betrayal”.

The Ettes - Wicked Will - I freely admit that half of the reason that I love The Ettes is I have a massive Susanna Hoffs-size crush on Coco, the lead singer. Luckily, the album kicks mighty ass. The Tom Scharpling directed video for “Excuse” doesn’t hurt, either.

Ringo Deathstarr - Colour Trip - Jesus God, I hate the name of this band, but I listened to “So High” for like three days straight when I first heard it. Dripping with shoegazing goodness from the poppy, Lush end of that particular spectrum, it gets in and out in two minutes and change - a perfect pop song, in other words.

Madkevin, did you get a chance to listen to YOB’s - Atma? I thought that sounded surprisingly fresh.

No, but I’m listening to it now on Youtube - damn, that’s some Torche-level drop tuning. Nice find, Gabe!