10 Best Albums of 2011
Published: Thursday, January 5, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 07:01
The musical climate was just as weird as the field of GOP candidates in 2011. The DJ boom and rave craze took the heat off sweater-wearing folk musicians. Not to mention, American black metal artists also infiltrated the masses with their reformed ways.
And although it was an unnatural Doppler shift for some of us, there were some great new artists in the studio and out on the road. That said, we hope you aren't discouraged by a Top 10 list full of established musicians.
We also recommend you don't get up in arms because the artists who brought you "Pumped Up Kicks" or "Super Bass" aren't immortalized this year on the hallowed pages of College Times.
Conditions of My Parole
Everything about this album is an homage to Arizona – more literally in songs like "Green Valley" than "Toma" – and we love that it brought English singer Carina Round to the forefront of our cerebral cortexes. The wordplay in songs like "Man Overboard" is marginally provocative and musical influences jockey between lone banjo, '80s boopity bloops and industrial rock.
The album is both theatrical ("The Rapture") and humble ("Monsoons") – and, we appreciate the way Round's vocals really lighten up honorary Arizonan Maynard James Keenan's performance. No simple feat.
Wolves in the Throne Room
We almost gave this spot to Mastodon's The Hunter, but that'd be too easy. The last installation of Wolves In The Throne Room'sTwo Hunters trilogy is a far better representative of this year's metal scene – and more specifically, this growing interest in music played at warp speed paired with incoherent vocals.
Celestial Linege was recorded in a studio the organic farming and eco-conscious Aaron and Nathan Weaver built, and played on mostly vintage equipment. While cool, what we love is the pairing of thrashing riffs and throat-shredding demonic growls with cathedral-worthy, angelic vocals and tinkling bells. It's a face-off of perceived good and evil in an album we understand as the soundtrack of the Apocalypse – in "Permanent Changes in Consciousness," we're on a dock, monks are chanting and there's the sound of sharpening metal.
No other two-man band could have created such a cinematic and profoundly imaginative and frightening record as Celestial Lineage.
It's not really that shocking the Top 50 lists this year have ignored the soulful, yet poppy Van Morrison of our generation. But we're tired of seeing the nice guys finish last. Especially because this gangly ginger's fourth album marks a departure from his singer-songwriter style to a much more lush and creative one.
In many ways, Brett Dennen is a different artist and may be overlooked because of it. The album often blends East and West Coast palates in a single song: "Queen of the Westside" is glorious urban reggae, "Frozen in Slow Motion" is rich John Mayer-y R&B, while "Surprise, Surprise" and "Sydney (I'll Come Running)" are sugary morsels of sunshine rock. Loverboy was the most uplifting, free-spirited album of 2011.
Jay-Z and Kanye West
Watch the Throne
The tracks in Watch the Throne are a collage of African-American musical greats, from Otis Redding to Nina Simone and James Brown, produced with the help of some of the best in the biz and featuring two of the most celebrated American rappers. It's a superstar album and there's no ego famine on the front. Every song is tied together with careless helpings of ego, but there's something in us that enjoys every minute of their verbal strut and scepter measuring.
It's an album that never gets boring – "Gotta Have It" is like being in an Indian bungalow. "H-A-M" and "Ni**as in Paris" have operatic samplings. If this is an album about American monarchs, there's a song for every flavor in the melting pot of subjects. It's an album that preserves culture. Priceless.
I'll admit that I didn't own more than three songs by the Foo Fighters before picking up Wasting Light. I initially only bought it because Butch Vig, who produced Nirvana's Nevermind, produced it and I was curious.
And although Dave Grohl and Co. kept things commercial rock per usual, I wasn't getting bored with tracks as quickly as I had on past albums. In fact, I was uncharacteristically hooked on first listen to songs like the acidic "White Limo" and "Arlandria." I wish I could say as much for my beloved Red Hot Chili Peppers, but this album is a pretty great musical statement.
Grohl may seem like a lovable, no bullshit prankster, but Wasting Light makes it seem like he's had some built-up, decades-old voltage he finally released this year. We're glad he did.