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Listmania 2011: Best Albums Of The Year 20-11

As pop culture aficionados, your friends at Culture Blues are not immune to the end-of-year lists currently overwhelming the internet. Welcome to Listmania, where Culture Blues ranks their favorite shit in a handful categories. Today we bring you the first half of the best albums of the year.

By most critical accounts 2011 was a below average year for musical releases. Over the last month or so, you’ve read my musical pundit brethren try to explain the year’s shortcomings, and in some obsequious cases even make excuses for it. Of course a given year’s deficiencies mean absolutely nothing to critics when it comes to making end of the year rankings. It’s the duty of the sonic-analyst (it’s a new title I am working on) to spend countless hours plugging unquantifiable variables into elaborate (read: imaginary) algorithms, and then use those calculations to formulate infallible end of the years lists. I personally allocate nearly twenty hours a week to the charts, graphs, computer simulations, runes, and entrails that comprise my ranking process, constantly reevaluating and refining my list, and now she is ready for you to consume, consider, and hopefully not condemn. 2011 has been a long and at times decent year, and here are its twenty best records.

(20) The King Of Limbs - Radiohead

If you would have told me that Radiohead’s 2011 release would only be twenty on my year end Best Of list, I would have guessed that somehow the order of numbers had changed, and now "twenty" was in fact "one." Don’t get me wrong, The King Of Limbs still manages to pack some sublime music into its far too few (eight) tracks, but I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that it needed more. Nevertheless, the album is still a exquisitely produced and composed work, which was crafted by the world’s best band, and for that we should be grateful (I write as a single tear rolls down my cheek).

(19) Take Care - Drake

Because I am an honest and open person, I will freely admit to all of you that I have a serious man-crush on Drake. Maybe I like his flow, maybe I like the cut of his jib, maybe my infatuation with him is just the newest manifestation of my love of Toronto. Whatever the reasons are, every time I hear a note of his work I feel compelled to stop, listen, and enjoy. Take Care is Drizzy’s second full-length LP, and it’s a nearly eighty minute long love letter from Drake to himself. From the opening cut’s first verse we find a Drake who knows how great he was, but is more interested in letting you know how great he is... The thing is, he’s right, but don’t take my word for it. Try asking your girl, your sister, or, yes, even your mom.

(18) Slave Ambient - The War On Drugs

With Slave Ambient, The War On Drugs released a record that managed to have one foot firmly entrenched in the musical splendors of  classic American rock, and the other on a shimmering plane of futuristic psychedelia. This record is both comforting and adventurous in an effortless and thrilling way, which makes you question why this band isn't more popular. Take its opener, Best Night, for example: the music slowly takes form from its scattered beginnings, and lulls you into its depths, before Adam Granduciel's voice tricks you into thinking its Tom Petty’s and you find yourself thinking... Have I heard this before? You have and you haven’t, and that is the beauty of Slave Ambient.

(17) Strange Mercy - St. Vincent

One of 2011’s best musical trends was without a doubt the impressive frequency of strong releases from female artists. There were a staggering amount of solid records from women this year, and the first to make this list belongs to the angelic St.Vincent. Strange Mercy is a sensual, moody, and diverse record full of haunting vocals, sonic surprises, and exemplary guitar playing (though admittedly not your father's guitar playing). Annie Clark’s sound is taken to new places on this record, and her listeners reap the benefits, as tracks like Northern Lights, Surgeon, and (one of 2011’s best songs) Cruel show off a myriad of the Texas native's considerable talents.

(16) Whokill - tUne-yArDs

Merrill Garbus is as singular an artist as exists within the current musical pantheon. For the last three years she has been releasing music as tUnE-yArDs, and crafting an unquestionably unique and peculiar sound that was perfected with her sophomore release, Whokill. There will be few records on this list which possess fascinating intricacies like those that make up this album’s ten tracks. Simply put, nothing else out there sounds like Bizness, Powa, or the ridiculously enjoyable Gangsta, and those tracks are just the tip of Whokill’s tremendous, and quirky iceberg.

(15) XXX - Danny Brown

Danny Brown is as new and exciting a voice as hip-hop has these days. The Michigan-born emcee dropped his debut record, XXX, back in August and from the moment it hits the streets the rap world took notice. Brown is yet another example of a new breed of emcee which is attuned to the trappings, vices, and complexes of the modern generation (and thankfully he is not a part of Odd Future). The "Adderall Admiral" exposed the world to the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde like duality of his psyche on XXX, as imaginatively deranged cuts like Die Like A Rockstar and Monopoly exist side by side with grittier “message” tracks like Party All The Time and Scrap Or Die. I hope desperately that this debut is just a hint of the greatness to come from Mr. Brown.

(14) Bon Iver - Bon Iver

I am sure there are some of you out there who are surprised with this record’s placement on my list. After all, there are some major outlets (cough: Pitchfork) who have proclaimed it Album Of The Year. The thing is... It’s just not. Bon Iver’s self-titled second record is definitely a great album, which immaculately displays the incredibly otherwordly voice of Justin Vernon. Furthermore, there is no doubt that it has some beautiful songs on it - Holocene, Calgary, and Perth are definitely examples of that - it’s just a little monotonous. Honestly, if I had my way I would have rationalized a way to NOT put it on this list, but this isn’t about me, and in reality Bon Iver put out one of the year’s best records.

(13) Tomboy - Panda Bear

When Noah Lennox released Person Pitch back in 2007, most of the cool kids didn’t know who he or Animal Collective were, let alone the mainstream. Since that time, he and his Maryland cohorts have literally become music’s vanguard, and the expectations for his latest solo record, Tomboy, were sky high. Luckily for Lennox, his fans, and music in 2011, Tomboy was a superbly solid record (not Person Pitch, but still quite good). Because this record was basically all Lennox it displayed a more serene and heavenly quality than most Animal Collective stuff, and the departure from the heavily sampled sound of his preceding record was both welcome and effective.

(12) Kaputt - Destroyer

Fans of Dan Bejar are well aware of the self-contained Universe that his songs have given birth to. They are also familiar with his elegant voice, and the distinctive singing cadence he tends to employ. What they didn’t know was that he could take a left turn like he did on Kaputt and still put out a graceful and charming record. I found myself humming and singing this light, breezy record more than any other on this half of the list, as songs like Chinatown, Blue Eyes, and A Savage Night Of The Opera would make their way into my head and never leave, thankfully... I didn't want them to anyway.

(11) Yuck - Yuck

Every now and again a band comes along and puts out a debut record which makes me wish I was both young and one of their members. It used to The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, but they put out a record this year and it didn’t make the list. My current dream is to be in Yuck. Hailing from London, this fresh faced quartet put out a fuzz-drenched, obscenely catchy, and truly stellar self-titled first record. From the second Get Away makes your ears explode with it’s phased-out distortion and angular lead lick, this record sinks its hooks into you and refuses to let go, with songs like Georgia, The Wall, and downtempo numbers like Suicide Policeman, serving as heralds of the band's fresh and new awesome.

That’s it for now kids, check back on Monday for the top ten!

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2 Responses »

  1. the king of limbs wasn't bad, but i enjoy four tet's other records a bit more. less moaning.


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