Who am I to say what’s the “best” of anything in any particular year? And yet, at the same time, the inner urges of music nerd-dom compel me each year to reflect on my media intake and even rank them. Lists are handy when there are people whose taste you trust. They help us discover not only new media but people with similar tastes. Lists help you remember the mood of a particular year. The music we listen to tells a lot about us.
The reality is that our year-end lists say more about us than they do about the artists we highlight. They are a window into the list-maker’s taste, and by extension, personality. So what does my list of favorite 2011 music say about me? You decide.
I was actually a little disappointed this year that my list looks like so many others. Is that arrogant? Probably. Or it could just mean that there were some really good albums this year that a lot of people agreed were good. That’s a good thing, right?
30) Cass McCombs: Wit’s End
29) Explosions In the Sky: Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
28) Ramsay Midwood: Larry Buys A Lighter
27) Hauschka: Salon des Amateurs
26) Reigns: Widow Blades
25) Colin Stetson: History of Warfare Volume 2: Judges
24) Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy: Wolfroy Goes To Town
23) Centro-Matic: Candidate Waltz
22) Miracles of Modern Science: Dog Year
22) The Necks: Mindset
21) Alabama Shakes: Self-Titled EP
20) Wilco: The Whole Love
19) Josh T. Pearson: Last of the Country Gentlemen
18) Tom Waits: Bad As Me
17) Dawes: Nothing Is Wrong
16) Over the Rhine: The Long Surrender
15) Joe Henry: Reverie
14) Youth Lagoon: Year of Hibernation
13) The Cave Singers: No Witch
12) Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring For My Halo
11) Balam Acab: Wander / Wonder
10) Arrange: Plantation
A devastatingly beautiful record that is almost overwhelming at times. Malcolm Lacey lets the listener in as he deals with the wreckage his abusive father left behind. Get it for free here.
09) tUnE-YaRdS – W H O K I L L
An incredible mish-mash of styles that is invariably held together by Merrill Garbus’ strong and confident voice. A fun record dealing with all sorts of serious issues while moving you to tap your feet.
08) Panda Bear: Tomboy
Noah Lennox continues channeling The Beach boys through lots of reverb to find beauty. Making the avant garde accessible, one melody at a time.
07) Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues
I didn’t give this record a chance until quite late in the year. But, oh my goodness, when I did, it grabbed me quickly. Soaring harmonies.
06) M83: Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
Tickles my never-ending love for New Order. Hooks galore. “Epic” is going to be over-used when it comes to this (double) album, but it just might be appropriate.
05) Shabazz Palaces: Black Up
I don’t listen to much hip hop and I don’t like having to be forced to explain the “n word” to my oldest son because he hears a rapper use it. However, This album, featuring an ex Digable Planet is just off-kilter enough that I found myself returning to it over and over again. It’s rare to describe much new music as truly “creative,” but this stuff is just that.
04) The Field: A Looping State of Mind
Just like hip hop, I don’t listen to a lot of electronic music. But this album kept finding its way back to my ears. Yes, it’s minimalistic at times and explores Reich-ian repetition but it works. This, more than any other album this year, accompanied me while studying.
03) Bon Iver: Bon Iver
I love this album. It’s Bon Iver with “more.” The only reason it didn’t make the #01 spot on my list is because I didn’t have quite the same emotional bond with this album that I did with my #02 and #01 albums. It is the perfect follow-up to Forever For Emma Ago.
02) Chris Bathgate: Salt Year
Another emotional wreck of an album. You’d think from all the mellow and heavy albums in my list that I had a melancholy year but that’s just not true. Bathgate sings with understated power and plays with subdued beauty, bringing the listener in to reflect on past hurts and future hope with him. In all fairness, once I saw Bathgate live, I knew the album would be near the top of my list, if not my favorite of the year.
01) Seryn: This Is Where We Are
An album that really came out of nowhere for me and defined much of the year. Sweeping harmonies, intricate instrumentation, and sincerity up the ying yang (yes, that’s a good thing). All of that was simply magnified being able to meet the band and see them live (once in my living room!). Great people making great music. What’s better than that?