Tk’s Top Ten Albums of 2011
I love the number 10. I mean, think about it. It comes before 11 and after 9. It has both a 1 and a 0. It rhymes with ‘hen’ but doesn’t rhyme with ‘rooster.’ What’s not to like? The biggest reason I love the number 10, though, is that is always seems to attach itself to people’s favorite albums of the year. I never have 14 favorite albums. Always 10. Always more than 9 but fewer than 11.
Below you will find my TEN favorite albums of 2011. There is some electronica, rock, pop, and avant-garde. Countries represented include America, Germany, England, and Canada. This list is the result of listening to about 100 albums over the course of the year… ones that were either well-reviewed or released by artists that I follow or piqued my interest in a unique way. I didn’t thoroughly enjoy as much new music this year as years past, but I absolutely loved each of these 10 albums.
10. Big Black Delta – BBDLP1: Jonathan Bates of Mellowdrone has been churning out electronic rock in the vein of M83 and Nine Inch Nails for just over a year now, but there’s about 0 ounces of amateur at work here. BBDLP1 is sonically effective, venturing between the atmospheric noise of “PB3” and the blistering pop heights of “Huggin & Kissin,” which probably should have torn apart the Top 40 charts. LISTEN TO: Huggin & Kissin’
9. Bon Iver – Bon Iver: No intriguing (and tiresome) backstories here about cabins or isolation or caves or sensory deprivation. This is Justin Vernon showing the world that he can write big (and sometimes small), important, memorable pop-rock songs built to last. After listening to Bon Iver’s latest, it’s plain to see that he is in not going away anytime soon. LISTEN TO: Beth/Rest
8. Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong: Isn’t that, like, an emo band for high schoolers? That’s what I thought because of the slightly obnoxious name but I was full of wrong. Pains are noise pop / nu gaze who borrow heavily from the worst decade of music (the 90s) and the second worst decade of music (the 80s). Lucky for me, they tap into the better parts of those decades – most notably from My Bloody Valentine and The Cure. The result is sing-along fuzz-bliss that I listened to on repeat for most of the spring. LISTEN TO: Even in Dreams
7. David Lynch – Crazy Clown Time: The most aptly named album in recent history! It sounds like just that: crazy clown time. ‘Crazy’ because it’s Lynchian cinematic strangeness bottled and poured into a new medium. ‘Clown’ because most people think clowns are creepy (I don’t agree, but that’s for another blog post) and nearly all of these tracks have a creepy underbelly. ‘Time’ because it’s just plain long. What works best is not Lynch talking about transcendental meditation through a vocoder (!) but, rather, the visceral and unhurried element of cowboy horror that’s plastered all over the album. LISTEN TO: Crazy Clown Time
6. Future Islands – On the Water: Maybe I’ve been looking in all the wrong places but, so far, I am startled at the absence of On the Water on year-end lists. Baltimore synthpop with roots in the Wham City scene (Dan Deacon also subscribes), Future Islands have a self-assured, Bowie-esque sound. Samuel T. Herring growls the words in his distinctive voice with a layer of synthesizers and guitars supporting him. It will get under your skin and demand multiple listens. LISTEN TO: Before the Bridge
5. Apparat – Devil’s Walk: I love ambient music. The problem is that sometimes it just doesn’t go anywhere. Many ambient albums are filled with sounds, not songs, leaving the listener with nothing more than a new mood. Apparat is a German electronic musician who has crafted an ambient album filled with actual songs. They rise and fall, ebb and flow. He gives us a dynamic hike through the Sierra Nevada wilderness with valley floors and mountain peaks alike, rather than an insipid stroll through a dark forest. LISTEN TO: Sweet Unrest
4. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: This guy plays a mean bass sax. New History is an avant-who-knows concept album with sputters and wallops of thick saxophone. Stetson’s playing is moody – sometimes melodic, sometimes rhythmic, sometimes spastic – and was recorded in single takes live in studio. LISTEN TO: The righteous wrath
3. Destroyer – Kaputt: What to do with intentional schmaltz? It makes people uncomfortable and causes many to disregard the output as pretentious or overly concerned with irony. Destroyer gives us Canadian indie pop that dabbles in all things schmaltz. Similar to Bon Iver’s “Beth/Rest,” though, I have had no choice but to embrace it because it sounds so damn good. Sax solos and smooth ballads and sometimes-clunky lyrical play and a froggy-small voice that feels only half sung. All of this adds up to a delicious joy and how Bejar manages to pull that off is the very reason he’s #3 on my list. LISTEN TO: Kaputt
2. Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place: Haunting, atmospheric New Age from a girl raised up in church choirs of Louisiana. She now lives in Brooklyn (what was wrong with the scene in Louisiana, huh?) and crafts an enveloping sea of looped and layered voices. Its repetitive and trance-like and a wee bit off kilter. She is often compared to artists that live in different musical universes, like Enya and Bjork, but don’t let those comparisons scare you away. Let Barwick take you to the magic place. I had to say it. LISTEN TO: White Flag
1. James Blake – James Blake: Blake entered the new year with a few things in his favor. He was riding a wave of media and internet hype, while his genre of choice, dubstep, was finally exploding in regions outside of London. The stage was set for an easy slide into breakout success with his debut full-length album. However, Blake is a musician’s musician – the Socrates of the electronic realm, who could be a glorified king but instead challenges his followers right out of the gate. Curious listeners expecting dubstep (as I was) were left scratching their heads upon encountering a slow-paced soul album with only a few hints of ‘electronica’ via simple, programmed beats, waves of synth, and some vocoder to boot. The only safe move here is covering a Feist song with low-end wobble infusing the mix. A stellar debut that has put Blake on the map as someone to take seriously and who demands a suspension of expectation. LISTEN TO: Unluck
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Tags: apparat, big black delta, bjork, bon iver, colin stetson, cure, dan deacon, david lynch, destroyer, enya, future islands, james blake, jonathan bates, julianna barwick, m83, mellowdrone, my bloody valentine, nine inch nails, pains of being pure at heart, ten