Anyway, on to the list, I love having these for posterity’s sake, so look back on years from now and laugh at some of my choices.
#20. Yuck – Yuck
I didn’t know how to categorize Yuck. The album starts with the track “Get Away” and you are convinced this is a very good new band in the vein of Dinosaur Jr or Pavement. Then you continue through the album and hear tracks like “Suicide Policeman” or “Stutter” – more tender songs, and you are all-together left without a label. I think that’s a good thing.
Listen: Yuck – Operation
Download Yuck here
#19. Middle Brother – Middle Brother
A “supergroup” comprised of members from Delta Spirit, the dude from Deer Tick, and Dawes.
They all take turns penning and singing lead on a great bunch of what I could only describe as dive bar folk country rock. What a horrible description, but the music speaks for itself. Think Neil Young mixed with the un-poppy country side of Ryan Adams, Wilco and maybe a little Exile On Main St.
Every track on here is great, and this is quickly becoming one of my most played albums. Thanks to my friend Charlie for pointing it out to me. I like Delta Spirit and Deer Tick, but I really like this collaboration. There isn’t a bad time of day or mood for this album, but it goes especially well with a glass of whiskey and friendly bar.
I did a small write-up on this album here
Listen: Middle Brother – Portland
Download: Middle Brother
#18. Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX – We’re New Here
Gil Scott-Heron was a soul/jazz/spoken word artist coming up in the 70s. He recorded an album last year titled I’m New Here. This album is a completed reworked/remixed version of that album done by Jamie Smith aka Jamie xx from the indie group XX, who I absolutely love. What I didn’t know was that Jamie is a hell of a producer/DJ/remix artist, though I probably should have after falling in love with the XX remix of Florence and the Machine, and more recently, Jamie’s remix of Adele’s Rolling In The Deep. i have to be honest, I really love this album for the remixes and production more than anything else. Unfortunately, Heron passed away in May of 2011.
Read my full review here
Listen: Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX – My Cloud
Download: We’re New Here
#17. Araab Muzik – Electronic Dream
If this album wasn’t littered with “You’re Now Listening To Araab Muzik” drops on almost every song it would be even higher on my list. Every since the early days of me heading down to the Ruggles subway station on the Orange Line to pick up the latest DJ Clue mix tape, I hated the “DJ Clue!” drops he threw in all over the place. Anyway, this album is a bunch of solid beats and samples.
Listen: Araab Muzik – AT2
Download Electronic Dream here
#16. SBTRKT – SBTRKT
This must be the year of self titled albums for my favorites list. Debut album from UK producer SBTRKT featuring guest vocals from a few great contributors. Mix between dubstep, bass, electronic, and a few other genres I know little about, this album has a little of everything. Great contribution from Yukimi Nagano from Little Dragon on the track Wildfire.
Listen: SBTRKT – Wildfire
Download SBTRKT here
#15. Charles Bradley – No Time For Dreaming
When I first heard this album, I thought to myself, man, another great album I can dust off from the Stax catalog from before I was born. Even when I saw the album cover. I had to do a triple take when I saw this album was from 2011. Great soul, R&B, funk album with an amazing sound, backed by none other than the Menham Street Band. I really really enjoy this record. If you are a fan of soul music, especially soul music from the 60s and 70s, you will dig this record. Dig it!
Listen: Charles Bradley – Stay Away
Download: No Time For Dreaming
#14. The Barr Brothers – The Barr Brothers
The Barr Brothers were two parts of the jazzy jam bandy indie band The Slip, one of my all time favorites. This project brings together the two brothers Andrew and Brad Barr with harpisst Sarah Page and Andres Vial. Mostly quiet, slow building acoustic sounds with stand up bass and other classic Slip sounds thrown in. This album kind of reminds me a bit of Billy Breathes, but more folky. Then all of the sudden at track 7, this turns into a Black Keys album with the track “Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Crying”. It’s not a horrible song, but just really throws me off every time I play this album, it really doesn’t belong with this collection of songs. Maybe they were hoping to sneak in a car commercial deal or something. Sorry, that was mean.
Listen: The Barr Brothers – The Devil’s Harp
Download The Barr Brothers here
#13. Cave Singers – No Witch
I didn’t discover the Cave Singers until late 2011, but I’m sure glad I did. Seattle based “Americana” sometimes folky sometimes bluesy music, not too far off from fellow Seattle natives Fleet Foxes. Vocals are very different – instead of lush harmonies and the deep timbre of Fleet Foxes vocals, Cave Singers lead man Pete Quirk sings mostly alone with a perfect raspy scratchy nasally voice that works very well with the music.
Listen: Cave Singers – Black Leaf
Download No Witch here
#12. TV On The Radio – Nine Types of Light
Another really solid effort from TV On The Radio, definitely my favorite release to date. Full of songs where this band really found their groove. Really tough and sad loss of their bass player Gerard Smith in April of 2011 to lung cancer. I always thought the drums and bass line are what really made these guys stand out for me.
I did a small write up on this album earlier in 2011 here
Listen: TV On The Radio – Will Do
Download Nine Types Of Light here
#11. Low Roar – Low Roar
Haunting melodies, beautiful chilling vocals over slow building folk songs with sparse electric guitar accompaniment and non-folk hints electronic tinged production. People have been comparing the sound to the softer Radiohead songs or Sigur Ros. I don’t either very much. I do know it’s very good though. Low Roar is the project of Ryan Karazija, who picked up and moved from San Francisco to Iceland, where he has been living, and wrote these songs. At times bone chilling and disparate, it feels like the aural version of watching ice crystals form in fast motion film.
Listen: Low Roar – Nobody Else
Listen: Low Roar – Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
Download: Low Roar
#10. The Strokes – Angles
Listening to the Strokes is fun, plain and simple. I fell in love with The Strokes the very first time I heard “The Modern Age” back at the start of this century, and haven’t stopped loving them since. Some people have fallen out of love with them over the years, but not me. Love them or hate them, they really brought in a new genre to modern rock in my opinion. Even it was a slightly recycled one from time past. The Strokes to me are a modern day Cars, they might not like that comparison but that’s how I see it anyway. I will probably love every Strokes album I get here on out as well. Angles finds The Strokes doing what they do best, making catchy hooks in their classic style, and probably my favorite of their albums since Room On Fire.
Listen to “Two Kinds Of Happiness” and tell me that doesn’t have a Cars feel to it. Listen to “Gratisfaction” and tell me it’s not Thin Lizzy.
Listen: The Strokes – Two Kinds Of Happiness
Download Angles here
#9. War On Drugs – Slave Ambient
Somehow this band has flown under my radar for four years. Formed primarily by Adam Granduciel (from my home state of MA) and Kurt Vile (who has since left the band and has a decent solo career going), this band is widely described as Americana. I guess that’s a pretty accurate description. From song to song I can go through and hear different influences on every song, especially from Bruce Springsteen (tracks like “Baby Missles”), Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan (tracks like ”Black Water”). Of course these are just influences, they certainly add their own style, and some more Wilco-esque experimental/ambient sounds to them. If there was one album on my list I would guess my co-author would like, it would be this one. I listened to this album a lot in the summer of 2011. Pretty much once a week every time I mowed my lawn it was either this album, Bon Iver, or Fleet Foxes. You will like this album, I can almost guarantee it.
Listen: War on Drugs – Baby Missiles
Listen: War On Drugs – It’s Your Destiny
Download Slave Ambient here
#8. Radiohead – King Of Limbs
I really struggled with my top 10 albums this year, any of them at one point or another have probably been revered as my favorite of the year. Radiohead’s 2011 release King Of Limbs continued to see them expand upon their sound, as they always do. I wouldn’t say this is a giant leap forward for them, but that’s not always a bad thing. Heading more and more down the path of the dubstep influence. Wish this had a few more songs on it, but sometimes quality is better than quantity. Some of them are even a nice throwback to tinges of earlier OK Computer Radiohead like “Little By Little”. Really enjoyed this album.
Read my full review here
Listen: Radiohead – Give Up The Ghost
Download King Of Limbs here
#7. James Blake – James Blake
Boy this album took me by surprise. Dubstep/electronic production and beats really turn James Blake’s intimate vocals and song writing into something truly original and unique. Really original sound from an artist that I expect we will continue to see adapt and create new styles as he progresses. I had a really hard time picking a song to highlight on this review, they are all amazing, so I picked two.
Listen: James Blake – Wilhems Scream
Listen: James Blake – To Care (Like You)
Download James Blake here
#6. Roadside Graves – We Can Take Care Of Ourselves
How did I just now find these guys? I do that way too often – too hard to keep track of all the great music out there. Thank God for other more prolific music blogs. I think I found these guys on My Old Kentucky Blog, or one of those great music blogs.
I find myself using the “Americana” label more and more, which I hate, as I hate all labels. I wish I were better at descriptors. Folk-Rock? Who knows. The lines get blurrier by the day.
Listen: The Roadside Graves – Glory
Listen: The Roadside Graves – Double Feature
Download We Can Take Care Of Ourselves here
#5. Clams Casino – Instrumental Mixtape 2011
Instantly became my favorite producer when I first heard these beats. Completely original, one of the best ears and talents for making beats that go way beyond a kick drum and a bassline. Really has a unique ear for sampling and layer together musical compositions that result in deep, haunting beats. Amazingly, I don’t really care for many of the artists that have used his beats either with permission or without. I expect big things from Clammy Clams.
Listen: Clams Casino: Motivation
Download Clams Casino Instrumental Mixtape for free
#4. Washed Out – Within and Without
Listening to Washed Out can make you feel like you’re doing something you shouldn’t – it almost has that too good to be true feeling – kind of like some illegal substances, without the comedown. Kind of has that same feel as the song Wicked Game by Chris Issac. That may be a lame reference, but I really digged that tune (and the video). I got to see these guys and girls live at the Paradise in early 2012 – I really wish they could have mixed his vocals a bit stronger at the show. You may be familiar with Washed Out if you’ve seen the intro to Portlandia, that’s his immortal song “Feel It All Around” from his first EP. This full length from Washed Out is no let down, almost every track is a knockout. This is a great album to throw on for almost any occasion, from a summer party to a chill drive at sunset.
Listen: Washed Out – Soft
Listen: Washed Out – Within and Without
Download Within and Without here
#3. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Helplessness Blues starts off with the line “So now I am older, than my mother and father, when they had their daughter, what does that say about me”. This song contemplates pretty much every topic that is currently spinning through my crazy head. As I reflect upon getting older, giving my very selfishly held life over to a wife and upcoming child, and what happens when my time runs out, I could never in a million years have put it as eloquently as opening track “Montezuma” does, while remaining bittersweet, and tongue and cheek. “Oh man what I used to be, oh man oh my oh me.” Could be both a reflection on how much of a major left shift it is when turning over your life to raising a family, or possibly a posthomous reflection on just how much you can do and acquire over a lifetime, and how it could matter so little when the lights go out.
But enough about me. This whole album is a giant leap forward for Fleet Foxes. I’ve always liked their music but this album made them much more listenable front to back for me, hurdling them forward towards my favorite bands club (everybody is dying to get in).
Listen: Fleet Foxes – Montezuma
Listen: Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Download Helplessness Blues here
#2. Real Esate
Love, love, love, love this record. Did I mention I love this record? Breezy, dreamy, mellow, jangling indie tunes. I liked a few tracks from Real Estate’s last album, but their 2011 LP Days absolutely blew me away. The ONLY reason this album is not number one for this list is because Bon Iver has to go and make another amazing album and screw Real Estate over. They absolutely nailed this album, every song back to back is incredible. I really hope you get a chance to enjoy this album if you haven’t already.
Listen: Real Estate – It’s Real
Listen: Real Estate – Easy
Download Days here
#1. Bon Iver
I’m sure it’s no big shocker to anyone that knows me, that this album is top of my list, it was, in short, my most listened to album in 2011. Bon Iver is a very polarizing band, most people love them, some people hate them. I’m in the love camp, and I think I managed to convert a few of my friends when I took them to see him live, he puts on a great show. This album is perfect from front to back, nobody else is making music like this. I love some of the small influences I sometimes hear in his music: Peter Gabriel, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Hornsby to name a few.With only two full LPs under his belt as Bon Iver, Justin Vernon is slowing becoming one of my absolute favorite musicians of all time, I’m hoping for many more to come.
Listen: Bon Iver – Minnesota, WI
Listen: Bon Iver – Beth, Rest
Download Bon Iver here