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.
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!