What a great year for music. We were more than satisfied with the releases this year and making a list was very difficult. There were a lot of things we had to leave off our lists and some that did make the list were very close to not making it. Overall, great year for electronic music and some stuff we can’t even classify. We hope you discover something in these lists, we worked hard on them. Enjoy!
30. Soundtrack to Drive – Cliff Martinez
29. Smart Flesh – The Low Anthem
I’d call this a throw back but, to be honest, I don’t think Charles Bradley ever really left. The 63 year old “Screaming Eagle of Soul” is roughly in the same age group as Al Green, Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye (R.I.P.) and the other masters of this somewhat vacant genre. This album belongs up there alongside the rest of them. I just find it that Charles Bradley is doing this as some retro tribute. He’s still living it!
This was in a stiff competition with Dawes for the most lyrically impressive album of the year. The seasoned Ohio veterans delivered a penetrating and highly emotional masterpiece. They never go over the top with their sentiments, but instead maintain a striking subtly that really makes them one of the best kept secrets in music.
Portugal The Man is one of those workhouse bands that seems to put an album out every fifteen minutes. Until now, they had done very little to catch my attention, but In the Mountain In the Cloud sucked me in from the first couple of dreamy notes. From there, they rode out an immensely diverse set of artistic exploration, poppy catchiness and a relentless instrumental inclusion that never stops.
I really wish that this album had come out just a few weeks earlier so I had enough time to really digest it. However, I can’t really complain since this did come out a mere eighteen months after what I considered to be their best album. El Camino took on its own concept of sorts by blasting out a gorgeous homage to early 70s rock and culture. The packaging came with a tiny sticker instructing us to “play loud;” trust me, it helps.
The small indie duo went about as big as you can for their second studio album. From the beach rock opening track to the organ/choir laced “Vomit” and doo-whop tribute “Love Like a River,” they succeed massively at everything they tried. They brought together an eclectic indie sound with stadium rock size. Any type you can draw comparisons to Dark Side of the Moon, I’d say you did alright for yourself.
I still get the impression that Ty Segall just went out to his garage one afternoon and recorded all of these songs in succession, but believe me when I say that that hunch does not hinder the album at all. I don’t know if he was just in the zone or what, but he seriously wails from start to finish. It’s an awesome grungy medley of deadpan lyrics, kickass riffs and the occasional moment or two where he somehow sounds Lennon-esque… in a garage of course.
I don’t know if a band has ever had a more impressive debut in my book. If the usual trend of a band taking two or three albums to really find their groove holds true, then Cults is in contention for my favorite band of all time. Behind the girlish vocals of Madeline Follin and insidious thrashing guitar of Brian Oblivion (Coolest. Name. Ever.), the duo delivers a synthesis of bubble-gum 50s vocalizers and indie rock. The songs are so catchy that you can hum them all day long but not so pop that you have to feel guilty about it.
I loved this album from the first time I heard it but it wasn’t until about the tenth time around or so that I realize how diverse a product Samuel Beam really offers. On the surface, it appears to just be a man, a guitar and ten folk-rock songs. But it is oh so much more. The supplementals are done at peculiar yet fitting times so that they enter into the equation without you realizing (the hidden electric guitar on “Walking Far From Home”, the brass on “Big Burned Hand” and so forth). He’s a great lyricist, too. Every track carries its weight here.
Unlike virtually everyone else in the music community, I kind of liked Evil Urges, so my expectations were pretty high heading in to My Morning Jacket’s latest opus. Even with the bar set high, they delivered and then some. Jim James’ visionary style created an extravaganza that is diverse if nothing else. The album literally has everything; synth-based trips about (what else) lasik eye surgery in “Victory Dance,” eight-minute acoustic ballads in “Circuital,” heavy heavy metal in “Holdin On to Black Metal,” and the gripping stripped down “Moving Away.” It’s rock on all cylinders at its absolute finest.
I couldn’t imagine a world where I had anything else holding this coveted spot. Annie Clark is certainly a musician who marches to the beat of her own drum. Her earlier work is well-done but a little too deconstructed for the passive music fan. On Strange Mercy, she maintains herself but finds ways to suck everyone in. She has a penchant for building her songs on top of themselves by starting with a catchy beat with lounge-act approachability before taking it up a level to a hardened rock song before finally going over the edge into experimental racket. It’s Zeppelin-esque at times, but she finds a way to do it for the perfect length before losing us in the noise. The sheer fact that I’m saying she does something better than Zeppelin is reason enough to grant her this distinguished honor.
The 40th Anniversary edition includes 3 previously unreleased live recordings, in addition to being newly remastered. It’s the definitive edition of one of my favorite albums of all time.
The Roots’ new concept album is familiar territory for the band, which is to say it’s musically original and endlessly enjoyable.
A fun and catchy hip-hop romp from across the pond, Ghostpoet boasts clever lyrics and hypnotizing delivery.
This duo is one-half machinedrum (Travis Stewart), one hundred percent awesome.
Sandro Perri is tough to nail down. This album feels, at its heart, like a prog-rock album, but that doesn’t quite sum it up. It straddles so many genres but never feels incoherent or unfocused.
Repetitive but somehow not the least bit boring.
SBTRKT infuses electronic music with soul.
It’s no Pavement, but it’s the next best thing. Stephen Malkmus is effortlessly cool.
YOU ARE NOW LISTENING TO ARAABMUZIK.
Frank Ocean of Odd Future has managed to make an R&B album that defies the normally lame conventions of the genre. Although it’s ostensibly a mixtape (on american wedding he sings over Hotel California) it manages to stay fresh throughout.
Pure fun from beginning to end.
Danny Brown is the most interesting rapper alive. His intense style would be intimidating if he wasn’t so wacky. There’s clever wordplay on every track, and the production on this free mixtape is awesome.
22 year old Nicolas Jaar’s debut album is a silky-smooth exercise in minimalism. For someone so young this album is frighteningly original. His self-titled Darkside EP (w/ Dave Harrington) released this year is also superb.
Bradford Cox strikes again. Of all his solo releases (there’s a lot) this is by far his most focused and ambitious. It is inevitably reminiscent of Deerhunter, but Cox manages to break away from his band’s sound and it makes for something wonderful.
If you like rock music, you’ll love White Denim. On D, like their past releases, they gracefully toss every flavor of rock music into a blender and pour us a delicious smoothie that sets them apart from every other indie rock act.
The second LP from the folk-rockers was a big step forward for the group. “The Shrine / An Argument” is one of the best tracks of the year.
I admit to being a bit of a heretic when it comes to Tom Waits, this is the only album of his extensive discography I have spent any real time with. I’ve been told it isn’t his best album, but Bad as Me is pretty great.
Jimmy and the Blakes!
Manages to stay accessible even while Annie Clark experiments.
One of the most interesting electronic releases of the year, Rustie imbues every track with infectious energy.
Laden with vocal samples that lend a sort of ethereal but human quality to every track.
On my first listen of Replica, I came away confused but intrigued. It seems sort of incoherent at first, an odd experiment in ambient-ish music. Repeat listens have left me blown away by its composition and emotional depth.
Easily their strongest release, Girls have, as a band, really found themselves since their debut album, Album. They seem to embody everything that was great about classic rock, repackaged and fused with more contemporary influence.
There’s not much I can say about Let England Shake and still do it justice. It packs an incredible emotional punch, and is equal parts exhilarating and sad.
More focused than their (excellent) first album, Days is gloriously laid back, unendingly pleasant. They exude charm at every turn, and the guitar work on display here with their layered melodies and harmonies, is fantastic.
Although most of the songs on this tape were used by rappers elsewhere, Clams Casino’s original instrumentals stand on their own among the most inventive electronic music of 2011.
Radiohead’s releases can be divisive, and The King of Limbs is no exception. Much like Kid A, many a fan cried foul when The King of Limbs was released with little fanfare early in the year. Personally I was slightly disappointed by it at first listen. Throughout the rest of the year, though, listen after listen, I grew to love it like I did Kid A so long before it. Soon it became clear that The King of Limbs is Radiohead’s most ambitious accomplishment to date. They showed themselves once again to be the most innovative and technically impressive rock band currently making music.
Dimlite is an enigma. His music floats between incoherence and insanity at a breakneck pace. The Swiss producer seems to draw influences from any and all directions, creating a hodge-podge of electronic, jazz, and rock style. The end result is hypnotizing.
In a year slightly devoid of any truly earth-shaking hip-hop releases, Shabazz Palaces delivered to us Black Up, a funky, electro-jazz hip-hop odyssey that basically throws all of the conventions of the genre out of the window. Ishmael Butler’s spacey, echoing lyrics are poetic and playful. Songs often transform midway through into something totally different. From beginning to end Shabazz Palaces draw you in and toy with your expectations, leaving you confused but pleasantly, satisfyingly, surprised.
They run shit in this house.
America, Fuck yeah! Seriously though, Callahan’s a great musician, very overlooked too.
Had to give up for ole’ J Verns. A really great album that deserves the praise it’s getting. It’s very different from his debut but even better. Flows really well too. A perfect pop album.
It’s another great album from Annie Clark. She’s seriously talented and this is her best album yet. The songs are all quality and have been created with a variety of influences in mind.
Replica is one surreal experience for sure. The 80s were kinda freaky…
Fuck James Ferraro. Or don’t? I’ve got a love/hate thing with this guy. He makes me angry because I can’t figure him out and yet at the same time I find his music to be very interesting. After listening to this album, I am now 100% certain that James Ferraro is the greatest troll in the music world. I have this feeling he’s just fuckin’ with us. His level of trolling has reached prolific levels with many albums of varying quality and (sigh…) VHS releases. By the end of 2011 he’s seems to only be getting started. Just listen to this album. It sounds like the most pretentious bullshit. It has out dated midi sounds, Wii menu music, samples ranging from Window’s 95 to music that came out earlier this year. And somehow it works. I don’t know why, but it does. This is 2011 summed up in an album. Far Side Virtual is a great piece of art and the ultimate example of what Ferraro is trying to accomplish. I’m onboard with Far Side after multiple listens. This man is up to something. Large coffee, please!
This is a great solo album from Bradford Cox. He’s talented as shit and this album is proof. Honing his style, he created something really cool with this one. There are lots of great parts on this album.
Amazing and unexpected album from the pop-pioneer. Feels like you are wandering around in a snow-covered mountain town and also… having sex with a snowman? What?! How can you even do that?
Classic rock is back in a big way. As a huge classic rock fan and a mild Girls fan I can’t firmly call this a success. Evoking past greats like Pink Floyd, Girls make it known that they are better than I thought. Great song after great song. “Vomit” is the jam.
One talented dude. The spacey funk never stops on this unique album. It’s got a great flow too. Its makes you feel cooler than you are.
After all the hype and “disappointment” over his debut album, I still find myself playing this all the time. It’s vastly different from his excellent and more experimental eps and singles and I really enjoy it. Kinda a shame the over-hyping killed the momentum of this album.
A rock album with hints of Eno and… Kenny G? Oh well, it works. This album’s smoother than smooth. I actually like Bejar’s vocals and his poetic absurd ramblings. The whole ambient rock thing is something I can really get behind as a fan of both those genres. The cheesiest sounding album of the year, in a really good way.
One of my absolute favorite bands really did a good job following up their debut. This album is really awesome and it goes places the other album didn’t have the balls to go. It really pays off for the Fleet Foxes. Nothing but great songs here. Bearded people, you have your dream album. To the woods!
My favorite R&B ever. Mainly because I really don’t like R&B all that much but Frank Ocean does R&B in a way others don’t. Between his seductions he ponders life’s great questions and depression. It’s an honest look at a guy who goes about his music in a different way. This is fresh as fresh gets. I never thought that the singer from Odd Future would be this good, I waited too long to listen to this one. Don’t make the same mistake as me. Oh and it was released as a free mixtape. You can’t go wrong with free.
Araabmuzik is probably the coolest musician I’ve heard in some time. I have only recently begun listening to this album and it has grown on me like crazy. With the exception of the lamest sample ever on “Golden Touch”, this album is a blast. The beats never let up and hit harder than most hip-hop acts. Flipping trance and electro music into gangsta beats, Araabmuzik has created a truly new sound. It’s layered with beautiful ambience that make for a cool atmosphere. And this man is talented as hell. I usually can’t speak of an electronic musician’s ability on an instrument but this dude makes the MPC drum machine his bitch. Don’t believe me? Do a search on YouTube and watch his live gigs. He makes me want to pick up an MPC and at the same time never even try because I will never be as good as him. Jaw-dropping stuff. Oh and, “You are now listening to Araabmuzik.”
Most people wouldn’t call this music and this album is all about questioning what music really is. Hecker is an ambient music veteran but this is his best work yet. Swathes of decaying sound wash over the listener in layers and layers as the album plays. This music sounds fucked and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s all very emotionally engaging and surprisingly listenable from the get go. A real masterpiece and I really can’t say that much about it. Fun for the whole family.
“This is anti-clean rap, nigga where the green at?” Danny Brown is on top right now. Highly original, fun and thought provoking. He’s one weird guy but that’s what it takes sometimes. Rap meets psychedelic weirdness. The Adderall Admiral trashes a lot of the other rappers out there by doing some thinking outside the box. He’ll be around for a while. “That’s why these wack rappers, they never last long. Don’t care about music, just radio songs”
This album was my first introduction to Wait’s music. All I can say is that what an introduction. I’m shocked that a man with so much music (acclaimed music no less) and so many years behind him can make one of the best albums of 2011. This album is just great. It has a variety of songs that all feature the same level of awesomeness. Elvis styled rock and roll to love-lorn ballads, and all out WTF rock (see: “Hell Broke Luce”) are on fine display. Bad As Me is a drunken swagger of an album that appeals to me on many different levels. It’s touching and makes me want to drink whiskey too. I’ll be checking out his back catalogue for sure.
Ole Pj really did a number with this one. Great song after great song. I don’t really know what to say other than its an instant classic and its about England and war… and more England.
Breezy and deep. Real Estate made a great album that has more quality guitar hooks than most rock bands wish they had. The songs are catchy and have lyrics that really dig deep emotionally. The flow is smooth. For kind of ad yet optimistic beach parties. Seriously though, great album.
I once again can’t put into words why I like this album. It’s otherworldly and creepy and at the same time beguiling. Sounds are ripped from pop songs of long ago to create a haunting and unforgettable experience.
“Now, if you talking bout it, it’s a show
But if you move about it, then it’s a go”
this album is a go.
Dance music that goes a whole a lot deeper than most. Its music for your head rather than body although a lot of it very danceable. This album is almost like a pop album at times with chopped up hooks that I can’t get out of my head. The lyrics are really positive and actually have weight to them. The amazing beats are turned into ambience at times and the whole thing is just a blast. Layered and slick. I really can’t stop playing this sometimes. Now U know the deal 4 real.
A strong contender for my album of the year, Glass Swords is audio candy. Hyper and colorful, Rustie has made one of the most fun albums I’ve ever heard. It’s loud, obnoxiously cheerful, and uncompromising. This maximalist masterpiece is at the forefront of electronic music. Once the critical hype had died down the entertainment value of this album hasn’t. It deserves its accolades and your attention. Stop reading this and go download this. Seriously, why are you still here, go do it. You… you don’t know how? How is that even- you know what, forget it, I’ll tell you how. It’s easy, just type it into Google. Or go on iTunes. Or if you can find an actual copy of the CD of this then buy that. Fun for the whole family!
To be honest, I love this album. For me, it ranks up there with some of Radiohead’s best work. I’ve listened to it quite a bit since its release and there has been a drastic change in my opinion with every listen. I was very underwhelmed at first, much like its release it felt hollow and not like the Radiohead I’ve come to know. I had my own idea of what this album would sound like before it came out and that was stupid considering the kind of band Radiohead is. I am not one to wish for their pure rock days so I wasn’t disappointed for that but it felt off.
Fortunately, their 8th album is a huge grower. It takes a lot of time to let the music sink in and reveal itself. It sounds pretentious but its true. This album contains layers upon layers of otherworldly atmosphere and intricacies. For all the reviewers claiming this sounds like electronic blips and bloops, to me this has become one of the band’s most organic sounding albums. Where on Kid A they were robotic, cold, and dissonant, on TKOL they use even more electronics and yet retain a connection to nature. Nothing else sounds like this. The live versions of these songs truly kick ass. This is not easy listening but it is very rewarding to those that try. Give it a chance and you might like it. The King of Limbs is addicting, great and my favorite album in a year full of great music.