Favorite Albums of 2011

Said the Gramophone yesterday released their annual list of the year’s best songs. I put the 70 that were available on Spotify onto a playlist, which you can find here (assuming you have Spotify installed).

SoG has long been my favorite mp3 blog, and I was pleased to see many of my favorite 2011 albums made appearances on their list (except, inexcusably, my #1 pick). I’ll emphasize that these are my “favorites”–I make no claim that they are the best. But they are the ones I most enjoyed in the last 12 months.

The Joy Formidable, “The Big Roar”: Earlier this year I was itching to catch a show, and saw that The Joy Formidable”, an unknown-to-me band, was coming to the Crocodile Cafe the following week. I picked up their one and only disk, but got sidetracked for a while and neither listened to the album nor attended the concert. When I finally put on “The Big Roar”, I could feel my heart sinking with every track: craaaap, that show must have been fooking amazing! Given the reception The Joy Formidable has received since that missed opportunity in late April (e.g.), tickets to their next appearance won’t be twelve bucks, that’s for sure. Ah, regrets …

Destroyer, “Kaputt”: You kids today may not remember this but, back in my day, when you bought an album and discovered that you didn’t really like it much you would nonetheless listen to it a bunch in the hopes that it would grow on you, because you just blew all your allowance on this stupid “Glass Tiger” cassette and it wasn’t like you could just go download something else. That, thankfully, is not something I have to do anymore. And yet I did it with “Kaputt” nonetheless. I was underwhelmed with my first few listens, but people with better musical judgement than I (which rules out no one) assured me that the album was terrific. Really? Well, if you say so. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point I stopped listening to Kaput to make myself like it and started listening to it because I already did … a lot.

The Head and the Heart, self-titled: I probably listened to this album more than any other this year as it was a favorite of both myself and my eight-year-old son, something we could play in the car as a compromise between Lady Gaga and Elliott Smith. (Who prefers which I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader …) This is the first album from the band, but the consistently high quality of the material is of “Best of” compilation caliber.

Lykke Li, “Wounded Rhymes”: I went a little bananas for Swedish pop music this year, starting with Peter Bjorn & John’s “Gimmie Some”, then moving on to Lykke Li’s “Wounded Rhymes”, and then … well, actually, I just stuck with Wounded Rhymes, and have listened to it every week or so since. Featuring simple melodies and emotionally resonant lyrics, tracks like Sadness is my Boyfriend manage the neat trick of being both catchy and contemplative.

Wild Flag, self-titled: Since the breakup of Sleater-Kinney in 2006 I have followed the various members in Quasi, The Corin Tucker Band, and the TV show Portlandia. Now in Wild Flag, Carrie Brownstein’s newest venture, we have the closest approximation of that classic S-K sound. Their live performance of “Romance” from SXSW earlier this year is well worth watching.

M83, “Hurry Up We’re Dreaming”: Now that LCD Soundsystem has closed up shop, M83 may become my go-to electro rock band (although they may have to duel for my affection with MGMT). In an era when so much emphasis is placed on the single, “Hurry Up We’re Dreaming” is a nice throwback to the days when bands crafted albums instead of individual songs, something to listen to in its entirety when you’re able. I have a fond memory of hearing Raconte-Moi Une Histoire for the first time while driving around, and totally cracking up at the kid’s narrative. It would be great, right?

Kurt Vile, “Smoke Ring for My Halo”: When I asked my friends for music recommendations early in 2011, Kurt Vile’s debut album was the most oft-provided suggestion. I’m trying to figure out a way to describe it without using the the word “sensuous” and failing so I guess I’m not describing it.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, “Belong”: You’re not going to find this album on a lot of “Best of 2011″ lists I reckon, but I am a total sucker for that 80′s synthpop sound. (See also: The Killers, Ladytron, and, lord help me, Chromeo). It’s as if they distilled my “Jesus and Mary Chain” Pandora station down into ten tracks.

The Decemberists, “The King is Dead”: Colin Moloy was kind enough to contribute a post to my Infinite Summer project, and he then based the video for “Calamity Song” off a chapter of Infinite Jest, so I would be predisposed to like this album even if it wasn’t awesome. Which it is. Awesome.

(A close second for “My Favorite Music Video of 2011″ is the only other one I saw all year, Robyn’s Call Your Girlfriend. Love it. Perhaps because of the aforementioned Swedish pop music mania, but still.)

Fleet Foxes, “Helplessness Blues”: I put neither Adele’s “21″ on this list nor PJ Havey’s “Let England Shake”, but would be remiss to forego the “best albums of 2011″ triumvirate entirely. So here ya go: Helplessness Blues by the Fleet Foxes, the sort of album that you can listen to intently while wearing headphones or put on as background music to a dinner party.

You can find a sampler of these albums below and on Spotify.

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5 comments.

  1. I also really like Wilco, “The Whole Love” & Bon Iver.

  2. I saw The Head and the Heart open for Death Cab here – amazing. So was Death Cab, which I have to say I wasn’t really expecting. ;)

    Two thumbs up also for Fitz and the Tantrums and Neon Trees – though now that I think about it, those may have come out in 2010. Anyhoo, still good.

  3. Have you watched the video of Peter Bjorn & John completely owning Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness”? It’s one of my favorite performances of the year. Makes me want to see these guys live.
    http://www.avclub.com/articles/peter-bjorn-and-john-cover-try-a-little-tenderness,53056/

  4. I caught Joy Formidale at the El Rey here in Los Angeles a couple of months ago. They were as amazing as you suspected, and probably even a bit better than that. I see a lot of shows, and that was the best one I’d seen in a while. You might want to give Russian Circles a chance if you like Joy Formidable. Kind of in the same vein, but really heavy.

  5. Welp, i am officially out of the loop. Though I know some of the artists, I have not heard any of these albums. *puts on old man hat*

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