Our Favorite Albums of 2011 (Thus far)
We’re at the halfway mark, and it’s safe to say 2011 has been an indisputably great year for music. Between a whirlwind of releases from new artists and a series of blockbuster releases from the alt rock titans, it’s been impossible to not miss the occasional superb new record.
But have no fear. We here at belated, baby have thrown together a list of what infected our respective media players and beckoned frequent use of the “repeat” feature. Some of it you’ve probably heard of; some of it probably slipped you by. But all of it is worthy of a spot on the shelves of your music library, virtual or otherwise.
Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde
The garage indie rock group have come a long way from their decidedly lo-fi eponymously titled debut album. Maybe recording in a studio and not an actual garage helped. Personal favorites are the re-produced version of “Imagine Pt. 3” and lead song “Weekend.” Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable rock album full of the sound that makes the rock genre so great.
Toro y Moi – Underneath the Pine
Toro y Moi makes the kind of “chillwave” electronic music that caresses your ears oh so smoothly with good vibes and leaves them wanting more. “Still Sound” and “New Beat” take the sound of his first album, Causers of This, and brings it to a funky new level.
Nicolas Jaar – Space is Only Noise
Post-dubstep, like post-punk and post-modern and post-almost anything doesn’t mean much, but when placed in the hands of the disgustingly talented current Brown student Nicolas Jaar; it unleasehes a cornucopia of eargasmic possibilities highlighted by “Space Is Only Noise If You Can See” and “Keep Me There.” But to fully appreciate what NicoJaar has created, one needs to ride through the whole album in one sitting. A truly unique musical experience.
The Antlers – Burst Apart
Having “Putting the Dog to Sleep” on this album is reason enough to name it a pick of the year, but the acoustic awesomeness isn’t limited to just this one song and The Antlers prove once again why they’re one of the more underrated bands out there.
The Weeknd- House of Balloons
The Weeknd seemed to come out of nowhere with House of Balloons and their addicting lead-off tracks, “High For This” and “What You Need.” It seems hard to believe that any other r&b album coming out this year could top The Weeknd’s ability of creating beats that are as smooth and sexy as the vocals, a quality lacking in too many r&b groups. Keep tabs on this group, they have two more mixtapes set to release before the year ends.
Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx- We’re New Here
What happens when you take one of the pioneers of hip-hop and a member of brit-indie group the xx and have the latter remix the former? Sweetness. “Running” and “NY is Killing Me” should be seen as paradigms of music production, the seemingly disparate musical styles of the two artists coalesced perfectly together. It’s really a shame that Gil Scott-Heron passed away this year, precluding us of any future collaborations between the two and an overall great human being. RIP
Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
I’m comfortable enough in my masculinity to state that I have a man-crush on Justin Vernon. His voice and gusto in music experimentation makes him one of the musicians I respect the most. With a salient influence from another one of his projects, the cheesy-yet-awesome Gayngs, the Wisconsinite creates a work of art different enough from For Emma, Forever Ago to reel in new fans while retaining the intimacy and poignancy that his fans have come to expect from his music. ‘Perth’, ‘Calgary’ and ‘Beth/Rest’ seem to stand out and as we’ve stated before, ‘Beth/Rest’ is on the shortlist for our song of the year. Gives you that nostalgic feel of the 80s, except without any of the embarrassing artistic trends. Cough*hair metal*cough.
Best album of 2011 so far:
Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
Black Up is the kind of transcendent hip-hop experience that I haven’t felt since my ears first heard Madvillain’s magnum opus Madvillainy and made me fall in love with the genre. It’s the future of hip-hop, a jazzily beat-heavy deconstruction and restructuring of sound and ingenious rhyme. “Swerve..” and “An echo from the hosts that profess infinitum”=too awesome.
Yuck – Yuck
These London-born 20-year-olds are making music that invokes serious introspection (mostly, “What am I doing with my life?”). I once heard someone say rock music is about “getting through”; Yuck will be damned if any obstacle will stand in their way (see: “The Wall”). So messy, so loud, so very good.
Charles Bradley – No Time for Dreamin’
When I first heard “The World (Is Going Up in Flames)”, the opening track on this debut album, I knew what it meant to be blindsided by an enormous fist of funk and soul. 63-year-old Charles Bradley found musical success late in life (that is, very recently), and his songs are oozing the passion and pain of a man who could never channel all he’s seen through any song, yet cannot find it in himself to stop trying. “Heartaches and Pain” is his 3-minute masterwork; listen, and get to know one of the greatest vocal talents whom nearly went unnoticed.
Typhoon – A New Kind of House
Typhoon is a gang of 12 from Portland that you should get to know. This 5-song EP picks up where 2010’s full-length Hunger and Thirst left off, with huge arrangements and fragile-yet-powerful vocals to match. These are songs that celebrate life, its beauties and calamities alike. And a 12-person sing-along of “You’re gonna piss and moan / You let the devil in your home” is a lot of fun to join. Trust me.
James Blake – James Blake
“Wilhelm Scream” is a song of deceptive depth, and one of those rare songs that I became completely infatuated with upon first listen. Anyone can make electronic music; very few can make it feel natural, organic. This, James Blake’s first full-length album, is a post-dubstep piece of art: fragile, soulful vocals over haunting beats that’re cold to the touch and warm at the core.
Tennis – Cape Dory
While the “let’s go sailing” theme isn’t best served in whole album portions, Cape Dory features some wonderfully poppy singles: “Marathon”, “South Carolina” (a song that romanticizes my home state, for a change), and “Long Boat Pass” will not disappoint, especially when taken outside. And Alaina Moore’s vocals are as sultry as any; it’s a shame Tennis is a husband and wife duo.
Radiohead – The King of Limbs
The negative criticism for TKOL: it’s too short, it’s too loop-based, it’s the worst Radiohead album to come down the pipe in a while. The truth about TKOL: it is too short, but Radiohead once again creates a musical space that no other band has, whether for lack of daring or ability. “Lotus Flower” is the obvious banger of a single, but everything that follows on the album afterwards is tremendous. They’re still the best band in the world, and like the honey badger, they’re going to do what they want.
Lia Ices – Grown Unknown
Lia Ices does things with her voice that don’t seem possible; think a more classically-influenced Feist, vocally. “Daphne” perhaps outdoes the myth on which it is based; as over- and improperly used as the word “epic” is these days, “Daphne” is very literally an “epic”, worthy of cinema but perhaps too grandiose. Grown Unknown is not of a style bound for commercial success, but this is raw musical beauty.
Best album of 2011 so far:
Cults – Cults
Another phenomenal debut, Cults literally listens as an album too good to be true. I listened to the 3-song EP released in January far more than any 3-song recording should be listened to in such a short span of time, and was initially worried their style wouldn’t translate to an entire album. I was very very wrong. The schoolgirl vocals and happy-go-lucky 60s rock outs are pure audio candy, but the dark undercurrent is what gives this piece value, believability. In “Oh My God”, the lines “I never wanted a single thing for my life / All I wanted was to know that I had never wasted my time” sum up the urgent, innocent desire to escape that pervades the album. And the album closer, “Rave On”, has the confidence of a band that knows they’ve just done something great, and could probably do the same again very soon. Or so I hope.