20 BEST ALBUMS of 2011
20 Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
For as much as Lykke Li looks to the 1960s for her inspiration, Wounded Rhymes sounds thoroughly modern. With Björn Yttling’s (of Peter, Björn, and John) aid, Li sends bubblegum pop melodies through the prism of garage rock, and the result is music as muscular as it is moving. Wounded Rhymes is a leap forward for Lykke Li, and perhaps, a stepping-stone to an unqualified masterpiece.
19 Drake – Take Care
In more ways than I can count, Take Care is a farewell to the up-and-coming mixtape Drizzy and the beginning of a 25-year-old veteran having full command of his verbal arsenal.
18 Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation
With The Year of Hibernation, Trevor Powers establishes Youth Lagoon as an innovative new voice in dream pop. His ability to directly tap his emotion and nostalgia into unique, considered, and beautiful music that’s at once sublimely cathartic, intimately confessional, and effortlessly catchy is truly stunning.
17 JAY-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne
Watch The Throne had the potential to be a victory lap for Kanye West and Jay-Z, and to some extent it still is. This album is built on two cults of personality and two larger-than-life personas. Yet in execution it is remarkably intimate, noteworthy more for eschewing grandeur than for exalting it. Gold cover and pompous title aside, Watch The Throne furthers the legacy of Jay-Z and Kanye West in an unexpected way, displaying the artists in a more laid-back setting than anticipated. In retrospect, it all makes sense; the album’s final couplet is a fitting one. “We victorious. They’ll never take the joy from us.”
16 PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Let England Shake is almost too good at being suffocating. It is the dark twin of Stories from the City, the War to its Love. And just as the latter forever invites you to return to its joyful city streets, the former dares you to confront the wreckage of its battlegrounds. Let England Shake is PJ Harvey’s love letter to England and all that she has endured, an album easier to admire than to stomach.
15 TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light
Nine Types of Light is a tricky album, one that sneaks up on you and slowly grows, until it has found a place within the TV on the Radio canon that you might have, at first blush, excluded it from. Although it lacks some of the sheer studio awesomeness of the band’s first three full lengths, it replaces that urgency with a closeness and familiarity previously unseen, as if the band turned down the “Compelling” knob on the mixing board and compensated by dialing up the “Comforting” channel. Nine Types of Light isn’t a departure so much as the evolution of a group that has seen – and listened to – a little more of the world since they first joined forces.
14 Lady Gaga – Born This Way
Bombastic and schmaltzy, brimming with lyrical howlers, and all wrapped up in a ludicrous Heavy Metal cover-art package, Born This Way is as tasteful as teased hair and acid wash Daisy Dukes. Pop music is rarely this patronizing and emphatic. The blaring monotony of the album wears you down. Which is a shame, as Gaga can be her most emotive when she’s alone with her piano. But here’s the thing. Born This Way succeeds through sheer force of will, even with its flaws. Lady Gaga has created fourteen incredible pop songs that manage to survive her ambition and execution.
13 Radiohead – The King of Limbs
There are no songs on King of Limbs that sounds like anything other than Radiohead – the band hasn’t lost its muchness. But from the center of its established sound, these songs unroll like feelers, connected but experimental, resulting in a record that is, paradoxically, cohesively disconnected. It doesn’t have the technical purpose of OK Computer, or the ideological vigor of Hail To The Thief, but it manages to sound familiar and new simultaneously. King of Limbs finds one of the greatest bands we have ever known pushing their sound into a new sphere, remaining relevant at the risk of alienating some fans, rather than slipping slowly into the comfortable fog of repetition and compromise.
12 Cults – Cults
Clocking in at a few ticks past half an hour, Cults takes the airy vibe of the band’s attention-catching single, “Go Outside,” and develops it into fuller form, coaxing it in different directions and establishing an updated signature sound. The result is an album full of comfortably similar songs, but with an underlying complexity that renders the record an easy one to fall for. Looking to lyrically analyze a falsely cheery album that is full of self doubt and confusion? Look no further. But, weirdly enough, this album fits the bill for a play-in-the-background summertime record just as well. Cults is fun, strangely deep, and endlessly familiar. Singer Madeline Follin’s heavily reverbed voice is playfully presumptuous, imbued with both entitlement and mirth.
11 Florence + the Machine – Ceremonials
On the album’s transcendent final track “Leave My Body,” Florence Welch gives up the ghost and escapes her mortal coil and her past at once. It’s a fitting conclusion: Ceremonials does the same. For every harp glissando, choral incantation, hammering drum, celestial dalliance, unselfconscious moment of sincerity, and most of all, nod backward, Ceremonials is at its core a stellar pop album draped in exquisite and perplexing cloths. Naked underneath is a major new Artist who is worthy of that capital A. Her remarkable Album is too.