I found this year’s list to be harder than ever to compile. I’ve listened to a ton of music in 2011, but with so many huge life changes (a brand new baby, move to a new house, an office move, etc) and so much to listen to, I didn’t get as much time with some albums as I’d like. That said, I think this year produced more “good-to-really-good” albums than any other year I can remember. Here are my picks, in order.
1. Bon Iver – ‘Bon Iver’
Wow, I seriously can’t believe this is my pick, but it’s just so fucking good. I loved the first one, but I’d have bet a million dollars that this one would be a flop. I was wrong.
2. Lee Noble – ‘Horrorism’
I had been buying Lee Noble’s tapes since his first-ever release, so when I heard his dark drone slowly morphing into weirdo, outsider pop, I immediately knew it was going to turn into something great. I remember writing him an email about a year ago, right before his tape came out on Moon Glyph, saying something like “keep doing this shit, it’s SO good, you are onto something special”. Luckily, Lee is twice as smart and talented as I could ever hope to be, so he was already well on his way to creating the sound that would spawn this year’s second-best album. If you latch onto one artist that we’ve covered and follow their rise, let it be Lee, the dude deserves it hugely.
3. Oneohtrix Point Never – ‘Replica’
A brand new sound from the drone/synth/ambient underground’s fucking king. Not to be taken lightly. So exciting, so fresh, his new album will once again spawn countless imitators. Always one step ahead…
4. Ash Borer – ‘S/T’
Ash Borer is my favorite thing about black metal. A furious, youthful injection into a scene that can get bogged down in nostalgia, opinion, and politics.
5. Tim Hecker – ‘Ravedeath, 1972′
It’s only fitting that Tim Hecker created a classic, timeless drone record….AGAIN. This guy can do no wrong, and Ravedeath represents his best material yet. Heavily textured and hugely rewarding on repeat listens.
6. Locrian – ‘The Clearing’
We’ve always felt that these guys deserve to be bigger than they are, and this album just might push them up a few notches. This one is their opus so far, let’s hope they’ve not peaked yet.
7. A$AP Rocky – ‘LiveLoveA$AP’
Better than Odd Future, better than every commercially-released rap album in 2011, and my favorite hip-hop release of 2011, period. The dude could stand to grow up a bit, but damn, this is a mixtape for the ages.
8. Washed Out – ‘Within and Without’
I pretty much try to listen to ‘Life of Leisure’ for a good chunk of time every summer, but ‘Within and Without’ knocked it right off my turntable this year. Perfect production and songwriting, I can’t say enough good things about it.
9. Dirty Beaches – ‘Badlands’
This one should be on EVERYONE’s list. Alex Zhang Hungtai is creating music so achingly smart and beautiful, it’s a wonder he isn’t being paraded as the “next big thing”.
10. Nicolas Jaar – ‘Space Is The Only Noise’
NPR’s Sami Yenigun introduced me to Nicolas Jaar’s debut via All Songs Considered, and I thought “shit, this is why I listen to podcasts, I might have missed this one otherwise”. The best house music release in years. Plus, his singles since the album dropped are even better. Keep an eye out.
11. The Weeknd – ‘House of Balloons’
I didn’t get caught up in the whole hipster r&b thing that happened with The Dream a couple of years ago, but this anonymously (and freely) released album won me over HUGE. The subsequent two are good, but didn’t quite match this one, so start here.
12. Motion Sickness of Time Travel – ‘Luminaries & Synastry’
I really, really love what Rachel Evans’ has done for experimental music. She’s injected an exciting, fresh-faced enthusiasm to the scene that has helped everyone progress. If you’ve ever met her, you know just how genuinely passionate she is about the entire scene. She and her husband (Grant Evans aka Nova Scotian Arms) are some of the nicest, purest people in the world. That’s half the reason they’re so successful. We feel proud just to know them.
13. Atlas Sound – ‘Parallax’
Bradford Cox, how do you keep doing it? If this was from a new band, it’d be number one on everyone’s list, but at this point it’s almost expected that Cox will deliver a timeless classic with every release. Zero disappointment.
14. Balam Acab – ‘Wander/Wonder’
This album pretty much represents music in the internet age…a young, reclusive electronic producer releases an album that is so brilliant, so well-versed, that it becomes a million times bigger than the bedroom it was made in. Don’t take this shit for granted.
15. M83 – ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’
A ton of hype was built around this album before it dropped, and shit, it was well-deserved. I still like ‘Saturdays = Youth’ a bit more, but that goes for pretty much everything.
16. John Maus – ‘We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves’
A few months ago, this record would’ve been in my top ten for sure. It doesn’t hold as strongly as I’d like on heavy repeat listens, but it’s still amazing and better than any other retro-pop shit out there.
17. Kanye West & Jay-Z – ‘Watch The Throne’
Some of you might hate this pick, but these dudes really pulled it off. Song-for-song, it is ridiculously strong, something that you don’t often see from collab/gimmick albums.
18. Panda Bear – ‘Tomboy’
The only thing holding this one so low is that it came out so early. Most of these songs had leaked in 2010, so by 2011, it already seemed like a record from last year. That said, it’s still one of my favorite psychedelic records of the past decade.
19. Andy Stott – ‘Passed Me By’
This dude’s vinyl is always almost impossible to find, and that’s frustrating, but this album sounds like something completely new for the techno genre…and that doesn’t happen every day.
20. Peaking Lights – ‘936’
This husband-and-wife duo from nearby Wisconsin continues to get better and better. They will get huge, they’re too good not to.
Honorable Mentions: Iceage, Grouper, Frank Ocean, The Field, Radiohead, Thundercat, Samiyam, Quiet Evenings, Nova Scotian Arms, Main Attrakionz, etc.
Music Video of the Year:
Film of the Year: