While there were certainly some notable releases this year, 2011 is not going to be remembered as a particularly strong year for music (at least as far as the mainstream indie post-alternative contemporary music that makes for the majority of my playlisting goes). We seem to be on an every-other schedule with 2010 being packed with good stuff after a rather weak 2009. Regardless, there were a few real hits, including a couple albums that could end up on my best of the decade list. It was the 5-20 that was just a bit murky. But I was able to whittle out a Top 10, and here it is without further ado:
Note (aka further ado): I’m not a music critic, I’m a film critic. I say this to make it clear I didn’t make much of an attempt to search out all the music that was out there in order to curate a comprehensive Top 10. Instead, this is my list of favorite albums that found their way to me in one way or another. If you are one of those ways or another, I thank you for sharing. Please let me know if there’s something I may have missed that I’ve just gotta hear.
10. Trail of Dead – Tao of the Dead
Tao is another solid album from one of mainstream rock’s most underrated acts. Trail of Dead has put out seven LPs, all excellent. While I rank Tao somewhere behind So Divided and Worlds Apart, it is still good enough to squeak in at number 10.
9. TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light
Although it’s a far cry from 2008’s Dear Science (white liiiight!!), any year with a TV on the Radio release is a good one. I’m looking forward to seeing one of rock’s greatest live acts again as soon as possible.
8. My Morning Jacket – Circuital
MMJ continues to evolve and the latest step in that evolution includes a few real gems – especially the title track.
7. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Fleet Foxes have managed to deftly avoid the sophomore slump with this fantastic album. My top song is most certainly title track Helplessness Blues – and while it isn’t quite Blue Ridge Mountains good, it’s still one of my favorite songs of the year.
6. Feist – Metals
I’ve been listening to Canadian songstress Feist’s latest pretty much nonstop since its October release and it is still growing on me. This is a must have.
5. The Antlers – Burst Apart
As soon as I found this album it shot to the number one spot on my bed time playlist. I’ve probably heard the first two and a half songs 100 times. The rest of the album is fantastic too!
4. Washed Out – Within and Without
Much thanks to Addy for the strong rec of this Sub Pop debut album from Chillwave artist (seriously, that’s what they call it on Wikipedia) Ernest Greene. I caught him live (with band) a few months ago and it was even better than I’d hoped.
3. Cold War Kids – Mine is Yours
I’m an unapologetic Cold War Kids fan and their latest is their strongest and most mature work yet. I love that surf guitar sound. While the CD is loaded with hits, it doesn’t get much better than Nathan Willet’s powerful vocals on Bulldozer.
2. Portugal, The Man – In the Mountain, In the Cloud
Wow! The ‘where did they come from’ award this year goes to this Alaskan quartet (that’s where) whose 6th LP finally broke through the log jam (thx Rob!). I was lucky enough to catch them a few months back and can easily say they put on one of the best shows I’ve seen in years. With a bit of an Arcade Fire vibe and a great light show, these guy are a can’t miss band next time they play near you.
1. Cut Copy – Zonoscope
It was actually kind of close with the strength of Portugal, The Man, but the vaunted spot as top album of 2011 goes to Cut Copy’s third full length Zonoscope. I was a huge fan of their last album In Ghost Colours and was instantly smitten when Zonoscope arrived at the beginning of the year. Seeing their ridiculously energetic live show at Coachella (vid) cemented them at the top of the summer party playlist, especially favorite song of the year Blink and You’ll Miss a Revolution. 15 minute balearic closer Sun God shows that Cut Copy isn’t just a one trick pony. As good as their Coachella show was, their Palladium show in October proved they still have a bit to learn about building the audience energy to a boiling point – but as long as they keep making albums this good, I’ll most certainly be on board.
Honorable mentions go to the Danger Mouse and Danielle Luppi collaboration Rome, Bon Iver‘s self titled follow up to his unbeatable debut, and perennial faves The Decemberists‘ latest The King is Dead.