2011 has been amazing year full of great record releases. Who could forget The Weeknd’s Mixtapes, Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Suck It And See’, Chad Valley’s EP, The Kills, M83, Neon Indian, St. Vincent and many many more. We’ve put together a list of our 20 favorite albums. Check the countdown after the jump!
#20. Com Truise - ‘Galactic Melt’
When hearing the artist name Com Truise (born Seth Haley), one may assume that the music behind the name may be quite laughable, hence the comical slip of the tongue (or tip of the slung as Com Truise might say). However, when listening to even one of his boldly retro tunes, any doubts are shot down with the matured conceptions of analog synth work and and pop-friendly grooves. Somewhere in-between the Logan’s Run soundtrack and the ending scene of your favorite 80s flick, Com Truise’s signature sound emerges. —Rebel
#19. Youth Lagoon - ‘The Year Of Hibernation’
The Year of Hibernation is about retreat from the world for a reason. It’s a deeply anxious record, one that channels into Powers’ fears, even as he crowds them with tones we generally find relaxing. Opener “Posters” shows this perfectly. The first half of the song features dreamy keys surging in the background while Powers bleats out his feelings. “I used to be outspoken,” he admits. “Do anything for anyone’s attention.” He sings this with a charge to his voice, but then he falters. Things have changed. “You make real friends quickly,” he then says, and with a wobbly whisper he adds, “But not me.” —Pop Matters
#18. Arrange - ‘Plantation’
Some albums are truly a cinematic experience. While perhaps this descriptor is most often relegated to concept albums, Arrange’s Plantation proves such should not always be the case. For Plantation, created by Floridian Malcom Lacey, unfolds itself song by song much like a film does scene by scene. And also much like a movie, the listener discovers something previously unnoticed (and therefore unappreciated) with each replay. Thus, Lacey has achieved with Plantation what most artists cannot in a career: to create an album that betters itself with each listen. —Lost In The Sound
#17. Wild Flag - ‘Wild Flag’
Wild Flag covers familiar territory, but whilst a simplified analysis of the record as a more accessible take on Sleater-Kinney’s spiky hard rock wouldn’t be far off the mark, it would be wrong to dismiss Timony and Cole as the band’s ‘other two’. Whether strutting her sassy stuff on lead or offering breathy backing harmonies, Timony’s vocal style couldn’t be more different to the visceral shriek of Brownstein’s former foil Corin Tucker, but it’s a contrast that works perfectly; her Helium-honed song-writing skills are essential too, providing many of the album’s poppiest hooks and softening the edges of psych-tinged numbers like ‘Glass Tambourine’. Dark horse Cole, meanwhile, may well be the band’s secret weapon: chunky low-end keys mean the absence of a bassist goes pretty much unnoticed, while her swirling, stabbing organ riffs – most notably the Morse code punch in the face that drives ‘Future Crimes’ – evoke Nuggets proto-punk as well as New Wave’s nervy urgency. —The Quietus
#16. Little Dragon - ‘Ritual Union’
The triumphant notes that open Little Dragon‘s Ritual Union are really sort of misleading, all things considered. They come out of the gate with what could possibly be their strongest song to date–the title track to this album, incidentally. “Ritual Union” is all kinds of catchy, with Yukimi Nagano’s vocals sounding distinguished and solidified over a perfectly balanced sea of down-tempo bliss. And, given their increase in status over the past two to three years in the music world, this is really how they should be sounding at all times. —Consequence Of Sound
#15. Active Child - ‘You’re All I See’
If R. Kelly, Bon Iver and Sigur Ros had an imaginary three-way and birthed a prodigy, his name would undoubtedly be Active Child (aka Pat Grossi). His knack for mixing sensual R&B lyrics, haunting falsetto and impeccably sequenced strings is downright devastating, all unneeded sexual imagery aside. In fact, this whole album is one tragic love ballad. We may not always fully understand what Grossi is saying, but his drowned out desperation is the only touchstone we need. The one artist that immediately came to mind when I heard his voice for the first time is the post-modern moans of Scott Walker (of The Walker Brothers fame). Princeton featured Grossi in their video of The Walker Brothers “The Electrician”. It jumps back and forth between a lonely ballerina practicing in her warm insulated room while Grossi is pummeled to a bloody mess by the fuzz. Maybe this is how he imagines his musical world, one where beauty always triumphs over the beast. —Pretty Much Amazing
#14. Young Galaxy - ‘Shape Shifting’
Shapeshifting is a further stretch for Lissvik as producer, who was supposedly given a finished album and license to rework it as he saw fit. Unlike Taken By Trees, which is at its core just singer-songwriter Victoria Bergsman, Young Galaxy is (now) a three-piece consisting of guitar, bass, and keyboard with vocal duties split across multiple members. Thus it’s difficult to tell where the band ends and Lissvik’s work begins, or what of the band’s original arrangements, beyond vocals, actually survived this tear-down and rebuild. Regardless, the finished product caters well to Studio fans, though that band’s headier explorations are traded here for concise synth-pop to often-good effect. —Coke Machine Glow
#13. Cults - ‘Cults’
In the throes of puppy-eyed passion, music holds a peculiar sway over lovers, coaxing out insufferable sweet nothings. Not to mention the heinous idea of an “our song”. Of course, when you find yourself catapulted out the arse-end of a “serious relationship”, that heady cocktail of sound and memory that once inspired lusty reverie will inevitably turn sour. Yet, for all the rose-tinted flashbacks you’d probably rather forget, there’s a very private joy to be had in collecting these musical trinkets over the years. As debut albums go, ‘Cults’ is a veritable swoonfest of the things. —NME
#12. Toro Y Moi - ‘Underneath The Pine’
The strongest moments on Underneath the Pine come when Bundick’s voice takes center stage. Songs like “Still Sound” and “New Beat” depend on their vocal harmonies as much as on their tight arrangements, and Bundick’s croon evokes a sense of time and place that’s vague enough to feel nonspecifically retro, in the best sense of the word. When the vocals escape the spotlight, the songs feel less focused; “Light Black”, lacking a strong melodic anchor, simply meanders along for three minutes, propelled only by superfluous bursts of psychedelic keyboard and overbearing drumming. These weaker moments are at least partially salvaged by Bundick’s excellent production, which is just lo-fi enough to coat the record in an appealing haze. And besides, Bundick has some tricks up his sleeve; the penultimate track, “Good Hold”, at first seems to be a staid piano ballad, but then it hits a vocal peak and filters out, panning to one side for a crucial moment. It’s a bit of a shock to listen to at first, almost extreme enough to make one feel physically uncomfortable, but it makes sense; written and recorded shortly after Bundick attended a funeral for a friend, the song is quiet and melancholy, and its production flourish provides a moment of catharsis. —Sputnik Music
#11. The Black Keys - ‘El Camino’
Music supervisors nationwide are surely hoping that, come the inevitable licensing, “Lonely Boy” and the ten other blues-pop shots on the irresistibly gaudy El Camino will make you feel very much like I do. No doubt the Akron-bred, now Nashville-based duo planned it that way. The album is the band’s seventh, but their first since 2010’s gold-certified, Grammy-winning Brothers boosted them from journeymen to stars. That ascent was largely the result of having an honest-to-goodness hit, the hook-laden “Tighten Up,” the only track on that LP produced by Danger Mouse. He produces everything on this one. The numbers are easy to crunch.
The bottom line is a catchier, glitzier, ballsier BKs. Pre-release, Auerbach and Carney cited the Clash and the Cramps as inspirations, and you can hear their spirit in the speedy blitz of Camino’s “Dead and Gone” and “Money Maker,” the latter a stellar addition to the songs-about-crafty-hookers canon. But the new songs are far more tricked-out than any of the recordings by those aforementioned bands, or “Tighten Up,” or anything on 2008’s Attack and Release, a far more reserved full-length Mouse-Keys collabo. —SPIN
#10. St. Vincent - ‘Strange Mercy’
Strange Mercy’ is sparse and beautiful; woodwind, brass and even a clavinet are utilised with deftness to create a sense of light and space around Clark’s mesmeric vocal and experimental arrangements. Reunited again with the ubiquitous knob-twiddler John Congleton, opening track ‘Chloe In The Afternoon’ is both inviting and sinister - pulling like the tremulous voice of a siren - while both the luminous balladry of the title-track and the haunted lament of ‘Champagne’ showcase Clark’s rich virtuosity. A fabulous album, confirming St. Vincent’s status as a deeply talented artist. —Clash Music
#9. Neon Indian - ‘Era Extrana’
In the first few seconds of Era Extraña, we hear the sound of swirling 8-bit particles rapidly coming to a celestial boil. What follows seems to resemble what the birth of the universe must have sounded like had the Big Bang occurred inside the original Nintendo Entertainment System. This is the world in which Alan Palomo sets his sophomore release under the chillwave moniker Neon Indian.
The opening track, “Heart: Attack,” is the first installment in an instrumental trilogy that runs throughout the album, tying it together. This cohesiveness is something that sets Era Extraña apart from its predecessor immediately. That’s not to say that 2009’s Psychic Chasms was disjointed, but it was certainly fragmented. The intention to create a fluid record was there, particularly with the sample from “6669 (I Don’t Know If You Know)” resurfacing in the finale “7000 (Reprise),” for example. But with his second run, Palomo gets it right. —Paste Magazine
#8. Washed Out - ‘Within And Without’
Ben Allen, who helped beef up Animal Collective’s sound for Merriweather Post Pavilion, produced the album, and while Within and Without isn’t too shiny or expensive, the more professional approach rewards multiple listens. There are delicate, lasting production flourishes like the cracking snares on “Echoes” and the impenetrable web of fashion-show synths on “Before” that give way to an agitated disco-like jerk. Drums are bold and complex, reflecting the almost Pete Rock-aping found on Washed Out’s tour-only Untitled EP, and live instruments are used for atmosphere the way samples were before. One of the most chilling, affecting moments of Within and Without happens when cello swings through “Far Away”. —Pitchfork
#7. Panda Bear - ‘Tomboy’
Beginning with the heat-dazed hymns of 2004’s Young Prayer and culminating in the swirling, sample-based saturnalia of 2007’s masterful Person Pitch, Panda Bear has been the only member of his band of astral experimentalists Animal Collective to establish his solo presence on a similar scale. Fittingly, Person Pitch’s success—it was hailed as one of the most formative indie LP’s of the oughts and cited as the blueprint for much of the increasingly stale “chillwave” scene (we won’t hold it against him)—has had a rather daunting effect on Panda’s resolve to craft a follow-up.
The result is one of the more protracted album releases in recent memory. Following the debut of embryonic material at the Pitchfork Festival and elsewhere last summer—which even much of his adoring public described as shapeless meandering, and often, simply awful caterwauling drone—the last ten months or so have seen a series of seven-inch singles on labels from Domino and FatCat to A-Co’s own Paw Tracks and techno stalwart Kompakt as teasers for the eventual release of Tomboy. Panda Bear even drafted Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3 fame to mix the single versions into those that appear here, now finally, on Tomboy. —Resident Advisor
#6. tUnE-yArDs - ‘who k i L L’
Those who complain that the more experimental side of indie-rock lacks wit or a point of view will be challenged—and possibly confused—by Tune-Yards’ second album, Whokill. Merrill Garbus plays with a jolly violence rare in artists who crib from world and dance music, backing up her minimal chunks of reggae, African, and hip-hop beats with stinging lyrics. On “Doorstep,” she repeatedly coos that “policemen shot my baby,” and on “Gangsta,” she mockingly asks, “What’s a boy to do if he’ll never be a gangsta?” Whokill’s occasional synth and horn accents push beyond the constraints of 2009’s cheaply self-recorded Bird-Brains. But Garbus doesn’t need much instrumentation as long as she can loop and overdub her vocals. “Bizness” starts with her voice acting as a busy rhythm part, then flowing through graceful half-raps on the verse and punctuating the melody with slashing wails on the chorus. On “Gangsta,” her voice emulates both a siren—again, serving as a percussion instrument as well as the lead one—and the menacing bark of a hardcore rap hook. Whokill’s sonic imagination outlasts the novelty of Tune-Yards’ debut, and even better, its lyrical persona is as playfully warped as the rhythms punching away behind it. —AV Club
#5. Destroyer - ‘Kaputt’
Kaputt may be one of the most indefensible albums of all time. But it’s also a masterpiece. Shrugging off the rich cultural cache he has established for himself through nine excellent albums of “European blues,” Daniel Bejar here indulges in some of the most poorly regarded pop genres of all time: smooth jazz, new age ambient, easy listening, and white disco. Think Kenny G meets Style Council. The album is full of sleazy sax riffs, plunky electronic keyboards, acid-jazz breakdowns, and empty washes of synth. Musically, it seems to emerge from some late-night hotel dance lounge in decline, where men pretend to chase women in order to chase cocaine, and women disappear into back rooms in order to disappear forever. And yet, through all this, the album is full of both beauty and intelligence. Bejar fully immerses himself in the sonic aesthetics of the 1980s to create a seamless dream vision of an America that could have — and perhaps should have — never been. He convinces you that you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, that this abandoned moment, in all its decadence, holds the key. As he sings on the title track, “Sounds, Smash Hits, Melody Maker, NME,
all sounds like a dream to me.” In true Destroyer fashion, Bejar’s got all his references in a row, and no matter how superficial and cheap, they come together here as one gorgeous vision of pop grace. —Tiny Mix Tapes
#4. Bon Iver - ‘Bon Iver’
Most startling about the new tracks is the band’s refined ensemble sound. Ditching the acoustic solitude, Vernon has marshaled a considerable company of musicians (his summer tour is featuring an eight-piece band) to add texture to his familiar sounds of isolation, accenting his contemplation with an array of horns, strings, organs and soaring electric guitars. A first spin through the songs, carefully curated to create an emotional progression, reveals the poignant peaks and troughs — the bombastic horns of “Perth,” the delicate howls of “Holocene,” the electronic pulses of “Hinnom, TX” and the delicate piano-and-strings requiem of “Wash.” —Time
#3. Fleet Foxes - ‘Helplessness Blues’
Though Fleet Foxes sounded wise beyond their years on 2008’s self-titled debut, Helplessness Blues finds age creeping up on singer Robin Pecknold. “So now I am older than my mother and father when they had their daughter,” he sings for the album’s opening line. “Now what does that say about me?” The nature of his question says a great deal about Pecknold’s band, which wrestled with its identity along the way to Blues. Wide-eyed self-searching is this record’s predominant mode, which Fleet Foxes do both lyrically and sonically, reveling in the process of discovery. —AV Club
#2. M83 - ‘Hurry Up We’re Still Dreaming’
every new and increasingly colossal M83 studio record has led to widespread crowdsourcing of synonyms for “epic.” What exactly was he promising other than simply another album?
Well, throughout the past decade, the 30-year old Gonzalez has honored the tremendous impact of growing up during the golden age of CD buying by implicitly serving as a patron saint for those who treat the weekly trip to the record store as a pilgrimage and still covet the album as a physical proposition: His output always comes stylishly packaged, with cover art worth obsessing over and credits that need to be scoured in order to spot the guest appearances. Unsurprisingly, he ups the ante here by aspiring to what is still the paradigm of artistic permanence, both in terms of legacy and tactility: the double album, that occasionally ambitious, usually decadent, and almost always fascinatingly flawed endeavor of musicians convinced (rightfully or otherwise) that they’re at the peak of their own powers. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming might be all of those things, but above all else, it’s the best M83 record yet. —Pitchfork
#1. PJ Harvey - ‘Let England Shake’
Let England Shake leads with its as-heard-on-The Andrew Marr Show title track, adding a toytown symphonia of saxophone, trombone, xylophone and Mellotron to Harvey’s autoharp, and dropping the Four Lads sample. Harvey perhaps felt it was too obvious a cue for what follows. Her album-length consideration of her nation is, as it turns out, set almost exclusively in those forever English corners of foreign fields – with particular reference to the Gallipoli campaign of 1915, a misbegotten, grotesquely botched attempt by the allied forces to seize Constantinople, now Istanbul. Three of the twelve tracks (“All And Everyone”, “On Battleship Hill”, “The Colour Of The Earth”) are explicitly placed amid what Harvey accurately describes as this “death’s anchorage”, and several others could be.
It’s an odd choice of setting. The Gallipoli disaster has been so completely subsumed into the founding mythologies of Australia and New Zealand that the British contribution to the body count – somewhere north of 30,000 – is largely forgotten. Harvey’s focus on it might, perhaps, be the influence of her long-time Australian collaborator, former Bad Seed Mick Harvey – who, to judge by the lyrical command of locations and detail, may have pressed upon Polly a copy of Australian writer Les Carlyon’s magisterial history, Gallipoli (Mick takes a turn at lead vocals on closing track “The Colour Of The Earth”, inhabiting a veteran mourning a friend lost charging from “the Anzac trench”). It’s just as likely, though, that Harvey perceived Gallipoli’s echoes in more recent misconceived military adventures in the Middle East. The thread she picks up unravels to “This Glorious Land”, in which a citizen of some modern-day host of imperial hubris laments their lot (“Our land is ploughed by tanks, and feet marching”) and “Written On The Forehead”, a skilful evocation of the chaos of conquest (“Date palms, orange and tangerine trees, and eyes were crying for everything.”) —Uncut