10 BEST ALBUMS of 2011
10 Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
With Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Girls have crafted an album that is built around injecting universal melodies with their unique cocktail of insouciant lyrics, playful time schemes and the innate ability to warm all of our broken hearts right before they shatter them all over again.
09 The Antlers – Burst Apart
Burst Apart is a portrait of The Antlers as young artists, getting through heartbreak step by step, and painfully exposing that process to the world. This isn’t a happy album, but it’s a hopeful one, and its honesty is evident in every syllable of the record. Here we see Peter Silberman, to use his own words, “pulled together but about to burst apart.” It’s beautiful.
08 James Blake – James Blake
James Blake’s self-titled debut is a paradox. Somehow, this icy, minimalist electronic album oozes warmth and swells to an immense size that seems impossible. It gives a face to the anonymous dubstep sound pioneered by Burial. James Blake is ethereal music that makes you feel.
07 Panda Bear – Tomboy
Serious music, meaning music that is worthy of serious consideration, is usually categorized by the false antipodes of fleeting decadence and existential dread. Panda Bear makes serious music, no doubt, but he offers a third way: he acknowledges the ills of the world, but never succumbs to them. It sounds like self-help for the indie crowd, and maybe that’s true. But it’s amazing how kind and true words can suddenly become palatable when they’re presented this expertly in song.
06 St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
Strange Mercy is Clark’s most whole, poignant work to date. It’s an exciting evolution for St. Vincent’s sound — a visceral album full of beauty and chaos. And, perhaps most exciting, it sounds like Annie Clark is still just beginning.
05 Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
As odd as the music is, alternating between spacious and heady to dense and dark, Black Up is straight hip-hop. It’s singularly concerned with technically great rapping and hard-hitting beats. It’s hard to recognize it as such, though, because it doesn’t sound like any other hip-hop album ever made.
04 Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
If there is one coup on Bon Iver, Bon Iver that stands above the others, it is Justin Vernon’s ability to fluidly evolve his sound without losing himself in the process. So many variables have shifted since For Emma, and yet Vernon has managed to keep himself grounded. Perhaps the best example of Vernon’s growth comes on the album’s third track, “Holocene.” The song’s introduction bears strong resemblance to an earlier Vernon track, “Hazelton,” off of a 2006 EP, but gone is the wounded sharpness in his voice. Instead, the song thrives on subtlety, tying together three disparate tableaus – an alcoholic Halloween in Milwaukee, Vernon’s years in Eau Claire, and a shared joint on Christmas night – with a deft touch that was only hinted at on Vernon’s earlier releases.
03 Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Helplessness Blues, like Fleet Foxes, is mixture of folk, mountain music, country, and Celtic blues, but never dismiss it as “Americana.” Fleet Foxes make a particular kind of mongrel music, by which I mean music that is thoroughly American. No other band today can take an abstraction that wide and fraught and make it seem so authentic and intimate.
02 tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L
Complex and introspective, W H O K I L L explores highs and lows with a high powered beam – it turns over stones that, frankly, are being left undisturbed by the vast majority of artists out there. But it manages to do so with such a deft hand that it nearly goes unnoticed amid forty plus minutes of enjoyable and innovative music. W H O K I L L is a stunning album from an artist who seems to find sounds in the corners where no one else is looking.
01 Nerves Junior – As Bright As Your Night Light
It’s a bit scary to see a band release this fully realized masterpiece so early in their career. Scary in the sense that they might fall into the same sophomore slump that has plagued nearly every promising act of the past decade (the list is rather long). What gives me hope that Nerves Junior won’t ensnare themselves in this self-fulfilling prophecy, is the fact that they are very aware of themselves and don’t let their own sound suffocate them, but instead use it as a vehicle for the “mapping of countries yet to come”. Regardless of their future endeavors, As Bright As Your Night Light is timeless — a template for those to follow and never quite replicate.