Best Albums of 2011

I’ve had a bad cold for the past week and haven’t been riding my bike much. So when Dottie suggested we entertain the blogosphere with our own Best of 2011 lists, I was on board. Using the terribly scientific method of “which list is easier to come up with” we’ve decided to do albums first. So without further ado…here are our lists.

Dottie’s Favorite Albums of 2011

Night of Hunters by Tori Amos – Making classical compositions her own with fresh arrangements and poetic lyrics, Tori creates a modern song cycle about a shattering relationship. Gorgeous, lush, heartbreaking, and simmering with darkness, this album is as dense and rewarding as a great novel.

The Old Magic by Nick Lowe – How his voice can sound both weathered and smooth is a mystery, as is his ability to write lyrics that feel familiar but are totally free of cliche.  While some may call the sound retro, to me it’s a breath of fresh air.

The King is Dead by The Decembrists – Sometimes I need toe-tapping, foot-stomping music.  This album gives me that in a brilliant package.  I grow weary of bearded indie rock music that currently dominates, but The Decembrists get a free pass for being the best, always.

Wild Flag by Wild Flag – Fun, energetic, loud, guaranteed to get me thrashing around my living room.  They’re always in total control of their tight sound.  Riot grrrl forever.

Bad as Me by Tom Waits – Dude, it’s Tom Waits.  That voice!  Those beats!  Weirdness!  Usually, you either love him or find listening to him impossible.  Guess which side I’m on.

Ceremonials by Florence + the Machine – This is even better than her smashing debut, an addictive combination of STRONG vocals and mesmerizing rhythms.  I keep playing it over and over again.

Biophilia by Bjork – Gorgeous, creative, playful, like nothing else out there.  Sounds like it could have come from a different universe, in a good way.  Planet Bjork.  This is my favorite album of hers in 10 years.

Passenger by Lisa Hannigan – I almost swept this one off the list because it’s so calm and unassuming, but then I listened to a bit of one song, then another, then another, etc., and realized that every song triggered a slightly different feeling in me, all positive.  So this quiet beauty stays on my list.

The Light of the Sun by Jill Scott – Smart, engaging, and smooth.  Starts with some great uptempo songs before easing into a long series of slow, thoughtful songs.  While the album as a whole is somewhat melancholy and less playful than her previous albums, it’s never maudlin.  I always feel better after a listen.

50 Words for Snow by Kate Bush – Pure strange beauty.  The sound is like soft snow falling all around, a magical snow that warms instead of freezes.  The shortest song is 7 minutes and the longest is over 13 minutes – one of many indications that she pandered to no one, least of all music executives, staying true to her own artistic integrity.  Thank goodness.

Favorite bonus release of the year: Box Set by Neutral Milk Hotel – The band’s last release, 1998’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, which I discovered in 2008, is one of my all-time favorites, behind only Tori Amos’s Boys For Pele.  Listening to it affects me more than any other album, novel, movie, painting, or poem.  So one of the highlights of my year was news of a new Neutral Milk Hotel box set with several unreleased tracks.

 

Trisha’s Favorite Albums of 2011

So Beautiful or So What by Paul Simon. What can I say about the genius of Paul Simon that hasn’t already been said? This really is his best album since Graceland. The harmony on “Dazzling Blue” is right up there with classics like “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.”

Oh Land by Oh Land. This first U.S. release from the Danish singer/songwriter is polished, fun and smart, full of interesting musical riffs that will make you want to move. The rare album where I’m never tempted to skip a single track.

Wounded Rhymes by Lykke Li. OK, I have a thing for Scandinavian pop, although the Swedish Li’s album is much darker and weirder than Oh Land’s. From the danceable “Get Some”—one of my favorite songs of the year—to the eerie “Sadness is a Blessing” and the wordless “Ladies’ Love,” the tracks on these albums are varied, complex and show influences from Bat for Lashes to Kate Bush to Bjork.

The English Riviera by Metronomy. Fun, ’80s inspired electronic pop that doesn’t feel dated. I also love bands who swap out their lead singers. Check out the amazing dissonant harmony on “Everything Goes My Way.”

Torches by Foster the People. By the time I figured out what “Pumped Up Kicks” was about, it was already entrenched in my head. If tapping your foot to a song about a high school shooting is problematic for you, try one of the other equally addictive songs from Torches, like “Helena Beat.”

Bon Iver by Bon Iver. No surprise here, but damn he’s good. I wore out his first album and this one is equally listenable, moody and haunting.

21 by Adele. Another obvious selection—but another rare case where hype matches the quality of the work. I loved 19 and saw Adele in concert here in 2008. It made me a lifelong fan; her voice is just as beautiful in person. This album is even better than her first.

A Creature I Don’t Know by Laura Marling. Folk musician Laura Marling is just 21, but her beautiful voice and intelligently constructed albums and songs seem to belong to someone quite a bit older. She sounds like no one you’ve heard before, and her albums (this is her third) are the type that reward repeat listens.

The Head & the Heart by The Head & the Heart. More folk! Full of beautiful harmonies and creative arrangements that range from spare to orchestral, this first album is a keeper.

Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars. Another album that’s been in the spotlight this year, for a reason. The title track is my favorite, but they are all standouts. One of the reasons I love Americana and folk so much is that it usually emphasizes vocals—namely harmony—over raging guitar solos and the like. Joy Williams and John Paul White’s voices were made for each other. Can’t wait to hear them at the Ryman in January.

Honorable mention: A few songs I’ve loved this year whose albums aren’t on the list. “Lights” by Ellie Goulding; “Begging Me” by Florrie (from an EP); “Bluebird” by Christina Perri; “Another Like You” by Hayes Carll; “Shell Games” by Bright Eyes.

 

Share your top 10 list or fave album of the year in the comments—part of the reason we’re doing this is to discover new favorites!

20 thoughts on “Best Albums of 2011

  1. Dave says:

    I agree that Biophilia is sheer genius. I love Bjork, and I loved Vespertine and Medulla, but was not so into Volta… but Biophilia is right up on my favorites list. Also, not too often you see in the liner notes of an album something like “All custom instruments based on designs by Bjork.” :)

    The King is Dead was fantastic as well, such a new sound for them, and I loved the inclusion of Gillian Welch and Peter Buck on the album. Also such a switch from The Hazards of Love, which was really rock-driven for them, and a huge song cycle, as opposed to the short folksy tunes on The King is Dead.

    Love Oh Land and Adele as well. Hopefully going to end up with “21” on vinyl soon :)

    I’ve personally been getting really into Rap/Hip Hop lately, so I’ve been listening to a lot of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Eminem, Outkast, Lauryn Hill, Gnarls Barkley, Broken Bells, etc. It’s a whole new thing for me, and it’s been exciting to dig into a new genre and find some really fantastic stuff.

    *edit* Oh, I should also mention All Things Will Unwind by My Brightest Diamond. She is an absolute genius, and this is a fantastic album.

    • LGRAB says:

      I will put My Brightest Diamond on my list of artists to check out! I need to listen to the new PJ Harvey, too, because I’ve been hearing great things about it and the one song I heard was pretty amazing. Her previous album didn’t click with me, so I didn’t bother to buy this latest one when it came out.

      I need to explore different genres of music, too. Obviously, I listen mostly to women indie rock/pop. Broken Bells was one of my favorite albums of 2010. Oooh, also, Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid, not only a best of 2010, but one of the best albums ever made. Truly amazing. You should check that one out, if you haven’t already. ~Dottie

      • Dave says:

        Yes – I have heard some Janelle Monae, and I really liked her, though we haven’t bought anything of hers yet. Thanks for the reminder!

        Dangermouse, who is 1/2 of Broken Bells, is also 1/2 of Gnarls Barkley (along with Cee Lo Green), and also did a mashup of Jay-Z’s The Black Album with The Beatles White Album (http://grooveshark.com/#/playlist/The+Grey+Album/63711501), which was pretty awesome. He’s also apparently producing a new album for U2.

  2. Mamavee says:

    yay music. I ma out of it b/c I did not know of Bjork’s new album and I am a bjork freak. So I must get that ASAP. I saw Lykke Li this Nov in TX and didn’t realize she has a new album too. This is the problem with listening to Pandora- I am not getting the newsy commentary about new albums and am just listening and it seems pandora is in a rut with me- a good rut- but it plays the same stuff now and I need it to play NEW things so I know whats up!!

    • LGRAB says:

      There’s been so much great music released this year, it’s hard to keep up! You should try Spotify to break you out of the Pandora rut. :)

  3. cris says:

    I’m also a fan of the Florence+The Machine, Tom Waits, Foster The People and Bjork picks. Others I would add: The new PJ Harvey “Let England Shake” and Sarah Jarosz’s “Follow Me Down” (bluegrass — but she does covers of Radiohead and Tom Waits). Aside from that, most of the rest of my 2011 listening has been ‘new to me’ music from the likes of Jose Gonzalez and Feist.

    well, that and a lot of dubstep on the opposite side of the specturm.

    • LGRAB says:

      I have heard realy good things about the Harvey album and have been meaning to check it out. Very intrigued by the Jarosz rec. To Spotify! ;) ~Trisha

      • cris says:

        yeah, I’d say that my top music ‘thing’ of 2011 is just drifting through playlists in Spotify. It’s actually getting hard to think of notable ‘albums’ that I’ve listened to this year because of cloud-based music.

        • LGRAB says:

          I discovered Spotify just this week. Amazing! The full albums for all of my picks are availalbe there, so it could be condusive to album listening, if one can resist the urge to “channel surf.” I anticipate that I’ll use it mostly to look up specific albums and artists that I read about on blogs or in magazines.

          I almost always listen to full albums. Sometimes I put my iPod on shuffle, but I don’t like how moods can shift so radically with every song.

        • LGRAB says:

          To clarify – the comment directly above is from me, Dottie.

  4. Dave says:

    I also somehow managed to forget The King of Limbs by Radiohead, which, although not my favorite Radiohead album, has some great tracks on it.

    • LGRAB says:

      I am a longtime Radiohead fan and In Rainbows is my second-favorite album of theirs (OK Computer is first), but I haven’t been able to enjoy King of Limbs. I tried again last night because it seemed wrong to leave Radiohead off my list of favorites, but I couldn’t make it past the first song. Maybe I need to skip ahead. Which tracks are your favorite?

      • Dave says:

        Well, I’ll just start by saying Kid A is my favorite album of theirs – though probably followed by In Rainbows (I really love everything from OK Computer through In Rainbows). Anyway, I really like Bloom (the first track), actually – Morning Mr. Magpie, Lotus Flower, and Codex are probably my favorite tracks from the album.

  5. Jennifer in Scotland says:

    My favourite album of the year is by Birdy. Her cover version of ‘People Help the People’ gives me goose-bumps. Just beautiful. Thanks for the recommendations.

  6. Dottie says:

    Trisha! We need to talk more about music together! After listening to the three Oh Land songs on your playlist here, I immediately bought their album (only 7.99 on iTunes). A perfect album for riding a bike, developing film, or waiting in the cold all day to meet Tori Amos. ;) I’m also really digging Laura Marling and The Civil Wars.

  7. Ray Ochitwa says:

    “Orchard” by Jess Hill. I’ve listened to it on almost every bike ride and every time I’ve gone soaring this year.

    Lots of other stuff too, including some of your picks but that’s the one that towers above all the rest for me this year.

  8. Nath says:

    Nice diverse lists here. I see we share a few favorites.

    I had somehow missed the Neutral Milk Hotel Box Set – will definitely be on the hunt for a copy of that.

    Here’s my list if you fancy a peek :

    http://active-listener.blogspot.com/2011/12/active-listeners-top-twenty-albums-of.html

  9. I absolutely LOVED Florence Welch’s album, her singing is so beautiful.

  10. Howdy this is somewhat of off topic but I was wanting to know if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with
    HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding experience so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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