The Best Albums of 2011
I certainly can’t write a Best Albums of 2011 post because I frankly haven’t had the time to listen to all of them that would/should be in consideration. That said, I know what I liked this year, there were some really great records and some merely good ones. Here were my faves (in no particular order):
The King is Dead – The Decemberists I’m not officially ranking them but The King is Dead might’ve been my fave album overall this year. It came out early in 2011 and I kept it in heavy rotation for the last 12 months. I couldn’t help it, it’s just such a bright, shiny record — despite the fact that, thematically speaking, it’s all kind of post-apocalyptic. Colin Meloy and the boys keep this album tight, with regular-length songs and a nice departure from the more operatic stuff they’d done on their previous two releases (Hazards of Love and Crane Wife). Standout Tracks: “This is Why We Fight” might be the band’s best song ever and the R.E.M.-inspired “Calamity Song” actually features R.E.M.’s Peter Buck on guitar, which is awesome.
Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 – Beastie Boys I’ll be honest, this album was going to make my list no matter what, even if it sucked, because I basically think about the various phases of my life in terms of what I was up to around each Beastie Boys album since Licensed to Ill in 1986. But this one doesn’t suck and it’s probably twice as good as To The Five Boroughs, which most of the fans hated for various reasons. Hot Sauce finds the Boys doing their usual but in a hyper-evolved way, I love it and it’s always in regular rotation. Standout tracks: “Make Some Noise,” “Too Many Rappers,” “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win.”
Collapse Into Now – R.E.M. I have a pet theory as to why R.E.M. broke up this year, it goes something like this: The band makes one of its best albums in years – perhaps in a decade – and nobody notices it. The record is packed with songs that in a different era would be smash hits on college rock radio stations and even the Top 40 pop charts. But no one hears them. So fuck it, if we put something out this great and no one cares, why bother anymore? This is a great R.E.M. record, too bad you numbskulls didn’t buy it. Now look what you’ve done! Standout tracks: “Uberlin,” “Alligator_Aviator,” “Oh My Heart,” “Mine Smell Like Honey,” “It Happened Today.”
Watch the Throne – Jay-Z and Kanye West Haters gon’ hate, but let’s face it, this was a solid Hip Hop album. Sonically interesting and lyrically tight, every song ranks high on the repeat listens scale, and how many rap records can you play straight through these days without skipping? I would rather have three copies of this CD on a desert island than have a variety pack that includes the new Drake disc and that flaming pile of garbage Tha Carter IV from Lil Wayne this year. The only miss on WTT is that track with Beyonce on it, ugh, they could’ve left that off, it makes no sense at all. Standout tracks: “N***as in Paris,” “Otis,” “That’s My B*tch.”
The Dark Side of the Moon (Original Recording Remastered) – Pink Floyd Pink Floyd released new remasters of each of their albums this year. I grabbed Dark Side out of all of them and I wasn’t disappointed. The clarity is amazing on this remaster and what I’m most happy about with this edition is that all they give you is the album itself, not all those stupid alternate versions or demos or b-sides and the other superfluous stuff that typically clutters a reissue. You probably have this album in some format or another, but if you want to upgrade, this year’s edition gives you a great excuse. Standout tracks: “Us and Them” still sounds amazing but that album-ending progression from “Brain Damage” (“the lunatic is in my head…”) to the crescendo of “Eclipse” (“All that you touch All that you see …”) still gets me every time.
Mylo Xyloto – Coldplay Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. But I don’t care, this is a great album. It’s very easy to hate this band and Chris Martin’s pretentiousness and his elitist wife’s embarrassing oeuvre of snotty comments and accidentally hilarious Oprah-isms. But truthfully, had I blindfolded you and just played you this record and you didn’t know who it was by, you’d say it was fantastic. Brian Eno, the man behind the best work of Coldplay progenitors U2, is billed in the liner notes as being in charge of “Enoxification” right alongside the drummer and the guitarist. And it’s true, these songs have been thoroughly enoxified. Clearly, the tracks here are aiming for radio airplay, and you know what — what’s wrong with that? They want to do a song with Rihanna, what do I care? As long as it sounds good. Standout tracks: “Charlie Brown,” “Paradise,” “Us Against the World.”
Rave On Buddy Holly – Various Artists What? You didn’t hear the Buddy Holly tribute album? Go get it right now if you’re a music fan, it’s really cool. Before there was The Beatles or the Rolling Stones or The Who there was Buddy Holly. With the exception of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis and Chuck Berry, no one was more important to the establishment of the Rock Star concept. Holly was goofy and fronted a three piece that featured a standup bass, but he was a mindblowing talent, an amazing songwriter and performer who was snatched away from us by that fateful plane crash in February 1959. Anyway, Paul McCartney gets the rights to his music and recruits some of your favorite (and not so favorite) current artists to cover his hits. Standout tracks: Kid Rock’s “Well All Right,” Fiona Apple’s “Everyday,” She & Him’s “Oh Boy,” Graham Nash’s “Raining in My Heart.”
Pickin’ Up the Pieces – Fitz & the Tantrums Fine, technically this album came out in 2010 but nobody heard it until 2011 when the appearances on Conan and Jimmy Kimmel began. And technically this is my blog so its inclusion is my call at the end of the day. This is a monster of an album made by one of the few bands that is piano-driven in a sea of guitar rock. The way to think about Fitz & the Tantrums is that they’re making pop music that is informed by the Motown and soul influences of the band members. The songwriting here is top shelf and the result sounds both familiar and like nothing you’ve ever heard before at the same time. I love this album, it can be played on repeat all day long. Standout tracks: “Don’t Gotta Work It Out” and “MoneyGrabber” are probably the two songs you’ve heard in commercials or TV shows this year without realizing who’s they were. Now you know.
I’m With You – Red Hot Chili Peppers Not their best but far from their worst, this is a solid record from a band that’s been pretty solid overall throughout their 20-plus year career. Coming off the double album pomposity of Stadium Arcadium, you can tell that the band is desirous of getting back to its alternative roots here. Rick Rubin is back behind the boards for his sixth straight producing gig with the Peppers. If you’re a fan, you’ll like this record. Standout tracks: “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,” “Monarchy of Roses,” “Happiness Loves Company.”
Codes and Keys – Death Cab for Cutie Death Cab doesn’t break any new ground here, which is just fine with me and most of the fans. They have an inimitable style that’s all their own, you either feel them or you don’t. And I do. Codes and Keys is a substantially better record than the disappointing Narrow Stairs and has several songs that became 4 star-rated in my iTunes upon the first or second listen. Standout tracks: “St Peter’s Cathedral” has that repetitive sing-song refrain thing going on that we first fell in love with on Transatlanticism, the instrumental intro for “Doors Unlocked and Open” is so kickass, too.
Wasting Light – Foo Fighters This is a rock record, period. The band enlisted producer Butch Vig to take things back to the way they used to be. The whole record was recorded dirty, just like Nirvana’s masterpiece In Utero record. Stripped down, raw and more rock than most of what now qualifies as rock music these days. There are some great songs here but nothing written specifically to crack the Top 40. Gone are the power ballads and software and studio production tricks, this one’s for fans of the old Foo Fighters and not for the casual listener. And did anything rock harder than White Limo this year? I think not. Standout Tracks: “Rope,” “White Limo.”
For the Record – Torae Oh snap, an old school banger. Torae is the little-known Brooklyn MC who could. At least he thinks he can, his ambition is all over this record, as are incredible beats from legendary producers he managed to pull in for this project like DJ Premier and Pete Rock. For the Record sounds like a mid-90′s East Coast rap album, and that’s a compliment at a time when we’re daily assaulted with ringtone rappers, R&B snoozefests and a whole lot of down south pretenders who are better at getting an album deal than actually making an album. Most of my hip hop listening this year has come courtesy of free mixtape downloads – but this one I bought. Standout tracks: “Shakedown,” “For the Record.”
Honorable mention to the following albums I’ve started listening to but have not fully digested just yet:
El Camino – The Black Keys
The Whole Love – Wilco
Green Naugahyde – Primus
Sky Full of Holes – Fountains of Wayne
Torches – Foster the People
What albums did you like, love or hate this year?
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