This is in all likelihood the last of the best of 2011 lists to be coming out, and it is in fact my second. As it turns out, I had overlooked some great releases in my original list, and the new additions are in bold.
The Keepers (25-11)
These are the albums that one ought to have in his or her collection. Multiple listens for these superb albums are a must.
25. Yuck – Yuck
In this debut, Yuck channels the best influences in noise pop—which it is at times: much friendlier and more approachable than the shoegaze label this album attracts. More than most acts, Yuck embraces their influences, and they do it just well enough to reach relevancy by themselves.
24. Section.80 – Kendrick Lamar
Section.80, the work of Compton’s Kendrick Lamar, is an album that has both the technical/production aspects of a quality a microhouse artist with mature rapping of someone who sounds like they’ve been at work much longer than 23 years.
23. Helplessness Blues- Fleet Foxes
Robin Pecknold, Skyler Skjelset, J. Tillman, & crew are almost too good at what they do. Their harmonies and melodies are jaw-dropping. And Helplessness Blues is a near-perfect album. In the vein of 1960s folk rockers, this album achieves more than they ever did in terms of grandiosity and beauty.
22. Goodbye Bread – Ty Segall
With this album Ty Segall ditches the gristle found on his former releases (and 2011’s Singles 2007-2010) for a refined sound. But he does not ditch what makes his music so refreshing and simple, that throwback garage rock/psych punk sound.
21. Electronic Dream – aarabMuzik
aarabMuzik’s Electronic Dream is a not an album I’m prepared to write about, but I have listened to it enough times to recommend its soulful, excellently produced hip-hop/electronica sound.
20. Kaputt – Destroyer
With his ninth LP, Destroyer may achieve his finest work in chamber pop/rock. It is a rich and deep musical piece that has mainstream appeal and keeps Destroyer’s essential lush guitar & jazz influences.
19. Space is Only Noise – Nicolas Jaar
With Space is Only Noise, American/Childean/Brown University student Nicolas Jaar creates his own musical universe, and he invites you into it. I recommend you take up his invitation. Space is Only Noise is a near-indescribable sound experience with, taking minimalist techno to warm, enveloping places—does that make sense? Anyway, listen to the album.
18. Year of Hibernation – Youth Lagoon
Youth Lagoon was a year or two off from having the album of the year. The swaying vocals and warm synth rises are simple and compelling. The songs of Year of Hibernation capture the best aspects of chillwave. Listeners walk away from this album somehow changed, struck by the catchy, nostalgic beauty of his tunes.
17. w h o k i l l – tUnE-yArDs
Merrill Garbus is a wonderful, bright, and pleasant person. Her music is wonderful, bright and pleasant. W h o k i l l’s experimental afro-beat is beguiling enough to have you putting on war paint and dancing in a circle. This album is an excellent refinement and expansion of her previous work, a primal pleasure.
16. Apocalypse – Bill Callahan
Bill Callahan is my revelation of 2011. His music evokes the best of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, with a distinctive voice that jokes and mourns and hopes and introspects over this 40 minute album. The folk and rock accompaniments are superb. If I had heard of him before, I’d probably say this is the best of his 14 albums, but not having listened to them, well, I’ll get back to you. What’s for certain is that this album has among the year’s most striking folk and Americana rock tunes.
15. nostalgia/ULTRA – Frank Ocean
Odd Future man Frank Ocean displays maturity and insight beyond his crewmates in this album, and he does so wrapping his lyrics in metaphors and analogies, crafting stories within his songs. It’s a dark album with the soulful neo-R&B that ought to get several listens. Also, Frank Ocean’s voice is pretty, pretty sweet.
14. Past Life Martyred Saints – EMA
Behind lyrics focusing on vulnerability, lays raw yet drugged-out guitar and folk-noise that is one of a kind. Past Life Martyred Saints is not immediately approachable—it’s not friendly—but when one learns to embrace the grunge-y sound, EMA opens up all its beauty.
13. Days – Real Estate
Days is the year’s ultimate chill album. It’s good. I’m not sure why it’s so good. It doesn’t try hard to be good. It just is. Listen to it.
12. Take Care – Drake
I’m not one for lyrical depth, but this album has no shortage of it. It also has no shortages of dark, smooth R&B and excellent rapping by Drake. Appearances by The Weeknd, Rihanna, and even Nicki Minaj add to excellence. Overall, a superb sophomore album by Drake, one that ought not be minimized by his mainstream appeal.
11. Looping State of Mind – The Field
Back in 2011 with Looping State of Mind, the Field does what The Field does best, and maybe more so. His minimalist disco style of repetition requires patience to appreciate, but the experience of following a truly developed synthesized sound is exhilarating.