Oh man, what a year it has been. I won’t keep you long, as I know you are very busy, but I just want to let a few things be known before you read ahead. Firstly, for songs of the year, I have a one song per artist rule, so deal with that. Also, I am following in the very smart Dave Greenwald’s footsteps by acknowledging that the lists below do not represent the best of this year in any real way, but instead are my favorites. It seems obvious, but let’s not pretend I am claiming ultimate critical authority by saying these are the best things and no one can disagree. So any mention of “best” from now on means “favorite.” It just sounds better. Feel free to disagree in the comments, or on Twitter, or on Facebook, or come into my house in the middle of the night and wake me up to tell me how wrong I am. That is the preferred method. Enjoy.
Oh, one last thing. I got some crap on my last real list (best of the decade) for including mainly indie-rock. Well, that’s what I like. No one seems to give a shit when a hip-hop fan or a pop fan includes mainly those genres on their lists, but because I like indie-rock I am supposed to be some grand connoisseur of all genres? Please, I barely had time to listen to these albums. So with that disclaimer, please read on.
Top Albums of 2011
30. Real Estate – Days
29. Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire
28. The Horrors – Skying
27. Wye Oak – Civilian
26. Death Cab for Cutie – Codes and Keys
25. Kevin Devine – Between the Concrete and the Clouds
24. Okkervil River – I Am Very Far
23. The Bony King of Nowhere – Elenore
22. Middle Brother – Middle Brother
21. R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now
20. The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck
19. Bright Eyes – The People’s Key
18. Dawes – Nothing is Wrong
17. Wilco – The Whole Love
16. Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
15. The Drums – Portamento
14. Destroyer – Kaputt
13. Say Hi – Um, Uh Oh
12. Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Belong
11. Girls – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
10. Antlers – Burst Apart
9. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
8. Chad VanGaalen – Diaper Island
7. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
6. Tom Waits – Bad As Me
5. Yuck – Yuck
At once brash and delicate, abrasive and tender, synonym and antonym, Yuck is the first revivalist band I can think of to actually capture the dichotomy of the late-80s/early-90s sound. From the simple and strong “The Wall,” to the utterly beautiful “Suicide Policeman,” it’s like Yuck entered the room by kicking down the door, and then did all the chores around the house because you’ve had a long day.
4. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
It took a few years, but M83′s Anthony Gonzalez is just writing pop songs now, and guess what? He’s super good at it. Sure, it didn’t need to be a double album, but it is, and in a weird way, the length forces you to take it as an album rather than a bunch of songs, which is always great. Even though, if it weren’t for my one song per artist rule in the top songs, “Steve McQueen” would be right along side “Midnight City.”
3. Fionn Regan – 100 Acres of Sycamore
On his third album (2nd to be released in the US), Fionn Regan proves what his two biggest strengths are: consistency and variety. He’s got an album of gothic folk, one of raucous Americana-rock, and now one filled with beautiful string-laden ballads. Fionn comes across as The Tallest Man on Earth’s more comely kin (and rivals him in fingerpick-man-ship), but surpasses him in sweeping, pure, soft, beauty.
2. Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See
This album sat at #1 for most of the year. Honestly, if you rank this based on the most listened to albums of the year, this thing wins by a landslide. Suck It And See is the perfect guitar-rock/pop record every “The” band has been striving to make for the last 12 years. SIAS flows back and forth from Queens of the Stone Age-esque rock (“Library PIctures,” “All My Own Stunts”) and straight up pop-rock (“She’s Thunderstorms,” “Suck It and See”) but the real star here, as always, is Alex Turner. With age (though he’s still only 25) has come vocal maturity, and Turner’s croon is more in control than ever. And lyrically? Well, that would put this album at #1 as well (see the awards below). But while this album had nothing wrong with it, the #1 record had something this album had a little bit of, but it had it ten-fold.
1. We Are Augustines – Rise Ye Sunken Ships
What put this album at #1 can be put into one word really: heart. This album has so much heart, that when you really immerse yourself into it, it can be hard to handle. The heartbreak, loss, defeat, and triumph that is stated and under-stated perfectly at every turn. The story of the band has been well-documented (and can be read on their website), but to come back from a band break-up, the death of a family member, and crushing financial and emotional depression to make an album so full of spirit, promise, and hope is one hell of an achievement. Congratulations boys, you earned it.
Top Songs of 2011
25. The Bony King of Nowhere – Hear Them Calling
24. Arctic Monkeys – Piledriver Waltz
23. Adele – Someone Like You
22. Wye Oak – Civilian
21. Destroyer – Chinatown
20. Okkervil River – The Valley
19. Fleet Foxes – Grown Ocean
18. Dawes – A Little Bit of Everything
17. The Drums – Days
16. Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Belong
15. The Strokes – Under Cover of Darkness
14. Lykke Li – I Follow Rivers
13. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
12. The Antlers – Putting the Dog to Sleep
11. The Joy Formidable – Whirring
10. Girls – Honey Bunny
9. Bon Iver – Perth
8. Chad VanGaalen – Peace On The Rise
7. Jay-Z and Kanye West – N***as In Paris
6. R.E.M. – We All Go Back To Where We Belong
5. The National – Exile Vilify
Yes, it is a song from a video game, but everything that makes The National so great is on full display in this one. Following up last year’s production-flawed High Violet, “Exile Vilify” joined “Think You Can Wait” as the band’s only real output this year, and both songs hint to more consistent quality from one of the best bands around. Also, it ain’t too shabby live.
4. Yuck – Suicide Policeman
On their rookie-release, Yuck seamlessly go from Dinosaur Jr. to the Beach Boys. The gentler-poppier side is out in the open on this stand-out track. Between the muscle and crunch, there is a little tenderness, and it shines through perfectly.
3. Middle Brother – Blood and Guts
Since first hearing Dawes at last year’s Newport Folk Festival, Taylor Goldsmith’s songs have grown more and more interesting to me. On the surface a breezy portrait of California, many of Goldsmith’s songs hide heartbreak, angst, and hopelessness. On “Blood and Guts,” all of those things are in the forefront. “Blood and Guts” is singularly the most desperate and successfully angry song of the year.
2. M83 – Midnight City
There really isn’t anything I can say about “Midnight City” that hasn’t been said, other than the sax solo has to be seen live to really be heard. Also, Anthony Gonzalez is in really good shape.
1. Rihanna – We Found Love
It was a late entrance into the fold, but any song that makes me overcome my usual massive distaste for radio pop deserves a high spot on the list. For anyone out there who scoffs at this pick, go ahead, I don’t care. But if you’re scoffing because it’s not a cool pick, let me say this, if it was on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming it would have been your #1 too.
The 2011 Listies
(Which are completely fictional and made-up, because that’s what fictional means)
The Stealers Wheel Award for Song Placement in Film: I’d give it to the entire Drive soundtrack if I could, but my own rules say I can’t, so this goes to the gorgeous use of The National’s “About Today” in Warrior.
The Billy Bragg award for dude who needs to make another album STAT who is not named Billy Bragg: Bloc Party / Jamie T / Rilo Kiley (no shot)
The Maury Povich Award for Musical Paternity of the Year: Dinosaur Jr., you ARE the father of Yuck.
The Julian Casablancas award for best Distorted Vocals of the year: Basically all of David Comes to Life by Fucked Up.
The Impossible Soul Award for best Incredibly long song of 2011: Wilco – “One Sunday Morning”
The Annie Clark award for Indie Crush of the year: Annie Clark. I mean, just COME ON.
The Joaquin Phoenix award for Performance Art of the Year: Jay-Z and Kanye West, for closing shows on the Watch the Throne tour by playing “N***as in Paris” upwards of ten times. That shit cray.
The Clarence Clemons award for Saxophone Achievement: Destroyer – Kaputt. But really all of 2011 deserves respect here.
The Mary Elizabeth Winstead award for Most Beautiful album: Fionn Regan – 100 Acres of Sycamore. Seriously, this dude can’t be stopped.
And finally, The Steven Patrick Morrissey Award for Lyrical Achievement: Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys) for the entire album Suck It And See, but specifically this part of “Love is a Laserquest”:
Do you look into the mirror to remind yourself you’re there
Or have somebody’s good-night kisses got that covered
Well I’m not being honest, I’ll pretend that you were just some lover