Top 1o albums of 2o11
1 | Bon Iver by Bon Iver
Bon Iver’s self-titled second release was inevitable. It’s so good that at some point it had to happen, otherwise what was the point of all that other music? An album this singularly good had to come along one day, and here it did.
This is an album that woke up one morning and looked in the mirror and, nervously but with conviction said, “Okay, album, today is the day.” The album opens the top drawer in his bureau and reaches way in the back to grab his best pair of pants. This album takes 10 extra minutes getting dressed and runs a comb through his hair two times before he walks down to the bank.
This album is applying for a home loan.
And in this rough economic climate where even good people with good credit still get turned down for mortgages, this album got approved for one – and this album wasn’t even a human, it was an album. Collections of songs seldom apply for loans.
This album walks out of the bank and down to the street to the department store. This album buys a goddamned handsome suit, drags a comb through his hair one more time, and walks out of that store smelling like like an expensive leather chair and pine trees and all kinds of other smell-good stuff. And he walks down a few more blocks and that album meets with a real estate agent. And even though it’s just a group of musical recordings this album was sold a house. And this house was next to houses owned by neighbors such as, oh… Abbey Road, Dark SIde of the Moon, OK Computer, (), and other really, really amazing albums.
That is what this album is doing.
It’s one of the best albums ever. I don’t even have to describe anything about it because it’s so good that no matter what you’ll like it and you’re wrong if you don’t.
And Holocene? That song is good. That song is bleeding good. I kind of like Wash. a little more (which, incidentally, contains this album’ss best single moment, from 2:32 – 2:56) but Holocene is one of the best songs in 100 years of music. And Beth/Rest? Are you kidding me? How the fuck does he pull that off? He’s all like, “Yeah, I’m going to make a cheesy 80’s song.” AND THEN HE PULLS IT OFF AND IT BECOMES ONE OF THE BEST SONGS YOU’VE EVER HEARD.
But even still… with his new suit and his new house, this album is still sad.
2 | Mammal by Altar of Plagues
Yeah, I put a black metal album in the second spot. Because this album is absolutely amazing, but also because I think something special is going on in the genre of black metal. It’s something that needs to be taken a little more seriously because I think what some of these bands are doing is imperative. Here’s a review I wrote about it in which I took myself too seriously…
When Profound Lore Records introduced Mammal via Twitter, they did so saying that this was their “Marrow of the Spirit” of 2o11. Referring to Washington State’s, Agalloch’s massive and exquisitely executed 2o1o album of the same label. It’s a fair comparison: both are interesting studies into a bleak and desolate world. Mammal‘s approach, however, is crushing, swift, and with a singular instinct, like a prehistoric animal. Its 18-minute opener moves in like thick fog, and from that opaque mist emerges a hulking shadowy figure who continues to shift into various silhouettes; all of them as crushing as they are eerie.
3 | House of Balloons by The Weeknd
I don’t care if it’s a mixtape: it’s well curated and well remixed. It’s poignant, fresh, and extremely legitimate. The Weekend tells you ‘yo, I’mma fuck you right‘ and then it totally delivers on its promise. Here’s more things I had to say about this album when it first came out:
Building on Beach House, Siouxsie and the Banshees, etc., tracks by pouring glacial amounts of reverb into them and punctuating them with slow jams beats from an 8o8, The Weeknd has created dreary, dark, and despondent songs, are juxtaposed against his R&B falsetto. The songs are focused on four main things: drug abuse, strippers, doing it; and the remorse therefrom. I’m by no means endorsing these things, but the allure is he’s going where one shouldn’t go. “You bring the drugs, baby, I can bring my pain.” The inherent vocal swagger of Tesfaye is belied by what are actually sad, remorseful lyrics. ”Just say that you love me, only for tonight, even though you don’t love me.“
4 | Burst Apart by The Antlers
Following on their virulently painful debut, Hospice, The Antlers bring Burst Apart which succeeds conquering the sophomore slump. However, where Hospice’s best moments were in marrying the thematic opera with building crescendos and pinched, mournful vocals, Burst Apart’s best moments are subtle and un-inquisitive. Taking cues from The Flaming Lips and Boards of Canada, The Antlers put narrative in the back seat and focus more on steady beats and comfortably repetitive guitars that become hypnotically enchanting. This album feels like the drugged, lethargic aftermath of Hospice.
5 | Eye Contact by Gang Gang Dance
Eye Contact is an odyssey that probably can’t be as well experienced in individual tracks. While St. Dympha had transcendent moments in the fusion of odd world-music and synths, Gang Gang Dance demands more of the listener with Eye Contact. However, with decent effort come pretty decent things and Eye Contact holds up its end of the bargain. Taking them through psychedelic bazaars of sounds, offered up in every shape and stripe, they let the listeners drift in warm night air, mixing with opium, incense and exotic dirt, levitated by whimsical shrieks and bizarre twists of a synth knob. From that daze Gang Gang aptly pulls that listener in throughout the album as they bear down on solid beats and catchy, erratic hooks.
6 | Go Tell Fire to the Mountain by WU LYF
World Unite, Lucifer Youth Foundation (WU LYF for short) put the right channels to work for them. Hustling their image through sold-out shows and maintaining gauzy air of mystery as to their background, and it’s garnered them plenty of street cred. This album was recorded in an abandoned church whose volumetrics are heard through the depth of scraping shouts rubbing against room fulls of organs and shimmering, silvery guitars. Coming in somewere between early Modest Mouse and later Explosions in the Sky, World Unite recorded a legitimate album of anthems and a unique sense of energetic malaise.
7 | Emika by Emika
Czech-born and Bristol-raised, Emika waited tables when she was 17 to save up enough money to buy a Mac and a license for Logic. Like a girl on a mission to carry the torch of her Bristol heritage, where Portishead and Massive Attack gave birth to several offshoots of electronica, the least of which are dubstep, bass and IDM. Blending seamlessly between sensual whispers-in-your-ear to burlesque, bottom-of-the-diaphram moans, Emika keeps all of her work well under control- like a professional. And to that end, she’s a chanteuse with interesting observations on prostitution and stripping that compliment the dark and devious synths on top of her her swollen, undulating bass-heavy beats.
8 | The Year of Hibernation by Youth Lagoon
If the tenor of Youth Lagoon’s debut, The Year of Hibernation, is any indication, living in Idaho sounds pretty lonely – especially if you’re the socially awkward and hyper romantic frontman, Trevor Powers. With an overridingly pastoral undertone, Youth Lagoon sing somber, mousey songs that never fail to build into a soaring coda with a hooky piano line. If there is a fault, it’s that timidity is tiring. While often triumphant, the roads the songs take to get there can be as drab and depressing as the roads of rural Idaho.
9 | Take Care, Take Care, Take Care by Explosions in the Sky
2oo7’s All Of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, a concept album about the floods in Louisiana, was missing the epic moments of The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place or Those Who Tell the Truth… were entirely built around. I can understand wanting to change the formula up, but I was always surprised that EITS decided to keep it so small on All of a Sudden… Thankfully, Explosions in the Sky have figured out a way of keeping themselves new, while still providing the build-and-release they are so apt to deliver.
Spotify URI for Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
1o | David Comes to Life by Fucked Up
Earlier this year, this album was in the number one spot. That is, before I heard Bon Iver and before I listened to it for the 24th time. David Comes to Life has been touted as the most epic punk album, and rightfully so. I have never seen a punk band bite off such an ambitious concept. Staged around two star-crossed lovers in Reagan-era America, they tell the tale of David, a sad office worker who goes through the travails of love only to have to eventually kill(?) his beloved -all told in four acts. From “The Other Shoe,” which defined much of my summer with its catchy, back-of-the-throat chorus- to the very aggressive “I Was There,” Fucked Up made magic out of only most of the 18-tracks and 8o minutes. However, and this is totally silly, but the very last track, “Lights Go Up,” is a handicap to the entire album. It’s so sappy in its summarization of everything-that-just-happened that it stains the rest of the album upon further listen. Still a totally brilliant album though.