(full list of Top 30 Albums with MP3s below comments)
A recent New York Times article (sent to me by my friend Lindsey) sizes up the “mainstream rock music” in 2011 and concludes that “2011 may well be remembered as the most numbing year for mainstream rock music in history.” To be honest, I’ve thought that every year since the nineties were bad years for mainstream rock.
Although mainstream rock has grown boring, 2011 was a fine year for everyone else in pretty much all genres of music (including indie rock). So with that in mind, my list isn’t only a reflection of the best albums of the year, but a celebration of the diversity of great new music released this year.
For me there was no question that House of Balloons was my album of the year. I listened to it more than any other album released during 2011, and I’ve been ending the year incessantly listening to his latest mixtape, Echoes of Silence (which was nearly as good as House of Balloons in my opinion, but only omitted because I dislike including two albums by the same artist). When considered abstractly, it is hard to believe this was my favorite album of the year. After all, one of my favorite bands, Radiohead, released a new album. The two biggest superstars of hip hop, Jay-Z & Kanye West, teamed up for an album. And yet the most memorable album of the year was this free mixtape offered as an introduction to the salacious R&B of Toronto-based The Weeknd.
Of course it wasn’t the only great album released this year. If you want rock that is memorable and exciting, tUnE-yArDs’ w h o k i l l is certainly unique and hard to forget. If you’re a fan of beeps, bloops and and heavy bass (as opposed to guitars), James Blake‘s self-titled debut was a stunning and beautiful study of sparse electronica. It’s hard not to listen to “Wilhelms Scream” or his cover of Feist’s “Limit To Your Love” and not feel the hairs on your arms begin to stand on end. Beirut’s The Rip Tide turned out to be a slow grower that gave back the more time you put into it. Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues is a near masterpiece of lush, orchestral-folk.
Feist, who has long been one of TK’s favorite songwriters, unsurprisingly released the most mature and thoughtful album of the year. Widowspeak‘s debut record was a favorite for its smoky ambiance. Charles Bradley proved that you are never too old to release your debut album having brought back the old-school soul and funk with No Time For Dreaming (the man is in his 60s). St. Vincent kept rock and roll abstract and cerebral without sacrificing the visceral edge that all rock should offer. And Girls continued to surprise fans with a grandiose rock record that exceeds everything they had done on their debut.
A couple of overachievers delivered, not one, but two great records this year: Motel Beds (Sunfried Dreams & Tango Boys) and Cass McCombs (Humor Risk and Wit’s End). If you wanted something new then you were probably pleased with the awesome debuts released by Mikal Cronin, Cults, Loch Lomond, Saintseneca, Gardens & Villa, and Other Lives. If you wanted some beats to keep things cool then Evenings, Clams Casino and Com Truise had your back. Similarly good hip hop was released by Drake, ASAP Rocky and Shabazz Palaces – (the Jay-Z & Kanye album gets honorable mention). Meanwhile, Radiohead, The Black Keys, The Decemberists, The Antlers and Washed Out padded their already impressive catalogs with excellent new music.
The bottom line is this: if you weren’t impressed with the music released in 2011, then you weren’t looking in the right places. Honorable mentions go to M83, SBTRKT, Watch the Throne, White Denim, Steffaloo, Puro Instinct and Peaking Lights.
01. The Weeknd – House of Balloons :: The Weeknd – What You Need
02. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l :: tUnE-yArDs – Bizness
03. James Blake – James Blake :: James Blake – Wilhelm’s Scream
04. Beirut – The Rip Tide :: Beirut – East Harlem
05. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues :: Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
06. Feist – Metals :: Feist – How Come You Never Go There
07. Charles Bradley – No Time For Dreaming :: Charles Bradley – The World (Is Going Up In Flames)
08. Widowspeak – Widowspeak :: Widowspeak – Harsh Realm
09. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy :: St. Vincent – Cruel
10. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost :: Girls – Vomit
11. Motel Beds – Sunfried Dreams / Tango Boys :: Motel Beds – Milquetoast Discovery
12. Real Estate – Days :: Real Estate – It’s Real
13. Mikal Cronin – Mikal Cronin :: Mikal Cronin – Apathy
14. Clams Casino – Instrumental :: Clams Casino – Motivation
15. Evenings – Lately :: Evenings – [Lately] See You Soon
16. Radiohead – King of Limbs :: Radiohead – Give Up The Ghost
17. The Black Keys – El Camino :: The Black Keys – Lonely Boy
18. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up :: Shabazz Palaces – Swerve… The reaping of all that is worthwhile
19. Cults – Cults :: Cults – You Know What I Mean
20. Washed Out – Within and Without :: Washed Out – Amor Fati
21. Cass McCombs – Humor Risk / Wit’s End :: Cass McCombs – The Same Thing
22. Com Truise – Galactic Melt :: Com Truise – Brokendate
23. Bon Iver – Bon Iver :: Bon Iver – Calgary
24. ASAP Rocky – LiveLoveASAP :: A$AP Rocky – Palace
25. Drake – Take Care :: Drake – Dreams Money Can Buy
26. The Antlers – Burst Apart :: The Antlers – Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out
27. Saintseneca – Last :: Saintseneca – Acid Rain
28. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead :: The Decemberists – January Hymn
29. Other Lives – Tamer Animals :: Other Lives – For 12
30. Gardens & Villa – Gardens & Villa :: Gardens & Villa – Black Hills
*Lead picture used via Creative Commons license courtesy of Alex Dram.