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Turntable Kitchen :: Top Albums of 2011

(full list of Top 30 Albums with MP3s below comments)

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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.

The Full List & MP3s

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.

Posted by Matthew Hickey

MattNekoRecords

Matthew is the music editor and co-founder of Turntable Kitchen. He’s addicted to vinyl records, pour over coffee, craft beer, small batch bourbon, and pan roasting pork chops.

  • http://www.keyproduction.co.uk/ cd replication

    for me it has to be the Black Keys their album made it on to so many best of 2011 lists.

  • lazyness

    great list! i discovered a lot of great new tracks

  • http://www.turntablekitchen.com Matthew

    Thanks! I’m glad to introduce some new music!

  • http://www.turntablekitchen.com Matthew

    El Camino is definitely a great record!

  • http://everybodylikessandwiches.com/ Kickpleat

    Quilt was my favorite new record and band of the year!

  • dave

    my sleeper picks would have to be braids, papercuts, and future islands. for me though st. vincent was just head and shoulders above everything else this year. love that record.

  • http://www.turntablekitchen.com Matthew

    I hear ya. I’m still listening to that album a LOT.

  • Brian

    2011 was just bursting at the seems with good music. There’s still a ton of stuff that I haven’t heard or revisited.

  • http://dailynibbles.com/ Sarah

    Awesome list. Love your blog! I enjoy listening to music while cooking, so this is PERFECT.

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