year end albums Top 50 Albums of 2011

    At this year’s Record Store Day – the April one, not the November shindig – I felt something that hadn’t occurred to me in probably 10 years. I felt excited to hold a record. Standing in line, clutching the inside of my far-too-thin hoodie (thanks, Chicago wind), I paced back and forth in my mind, thinking, God, I hope I get this album. The item in question? Big Star’s unreleased Third.

    Of course, I didn’t get it. Nobody did. The store didn’t even receive a copy. So, instead, I spent a couple bucks on some singles, bit my lip, and went home somewhat satiated. But, for the 45 minutes prior to that moment, it was something slightly alien, but moreover familiar. There used to be a time when you couldn’t get an album.


    Not everyone can remember that feeling, but they should. Prior to the digital revolution, music was somewhat of a privilege. As a child, you might spend weeks saving up money for something that takes less than two clicks to grab now. Don’t get me wrong — it’s liberating. But value gets partly tossed aside now. It really shouldn’t.

    The album is by far the most integral facet of the music industry. People throw out EPs, toss in singles, but albums really mean something. If it’s even halfway decent, it’s essentially then a collection of perfected thoughts, emotions, and creations that are meant to be consumed, examined, and experienced. This year, we had far too many experiences – seemingly overloaded by an open-door policy of music thanks to Spotify.

    That didn’t stop us, however, from finding 50 albums we thoroughly enjoyed.

    -Michael Roffman


    50. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire

    ryan adams ashes fire Top 50 Albums of 2011

    In 2011, a record like this with precise craft, honest and bare songwriting, and gorgeous, subtle polish seldom gets made. Ashes & Fire is a mainstay because of its demeanor: authentic, exposed, and sublime. It’s a departure from the soaring years with the Cardinals and the rowdy solo work of yesteryear. Instead, Ryan Adams is mellow and content; his voice gleams from artfully sparse production (see: “Dirty Rain”). A tightly focused survey of the remaining ashes of his past, the album subtly questions what to do with all that history in light of a different self and becomes a modern classic in the process. -Liz Lane


    49. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar

    the joy formidable the big roar Top 50 Albums of 2011

    The Joy Formidable may very well be the most appropriately named band to make their full-length debut this year. On The Big Roar, the Welsh trio’s brand of hook-laden guitar pop is a delight to behold as Ritzy Bryan’s urgent delivery transforms song after song into something anthemic. Their swirling layers of guitars and rapid-fire percussion pack enough of a forceful punch to live up to the other half of the band’s name. Full of catchy choruses and relentlessly energetic guitar crunches, The Big Roar is a stadium-sized album amidst a sea of clubs. -Frank Mojica


    48. Astronautalis – This Is Our Science

    astronautalis this is our science Top 50 Albums of 2011

    On This Is Our Science, Astronautalis, aka Charles Andrew Bothwell, sounds as convincing singing about a turbulent relationship on “Secrets on Our Lips” as he does spitting verses on cryogenic experimenter Robert Nelson on “Midday Moon”. But it’s not just for intellectuals: Bothwell duets with Tegan Quinn on “Contrails” and features rapper P.O.S. on the album’s title track, gaining both indie and hip-hop street cred. This diversity catapulted Astronautalis’ fourth album into the iTunes top 10 downloads when it was released. In addition, producer John Congleton’s signature desperate, moody arrangements add emotional depth to This Is Our Science’s largely intellectual material. -Harley Brown


    47. Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread

    ty segall goodbye bread Top 50 Albums of 2011

    At just 24 years old, Goodbye Bread is Ty Segall’s fifth full-length, and again he plays every instrument. The stats are impressive, but this spotless collection of West coast garage tunes handily earns this spot. Less howl-y and punky than previous releases, Segall varies his influences from John Lennon (“I Can’t Feel It”) to smokey blues rock (“The Floor”), all loaded with warm, fuzzy reverb. Songs like “Comfortable Home (A True Story)” show the young artist’s growth into a more personal songwriter, his half-languid falsetto more revealing than ever. It’s mellower, sure, but it’s also some of his most carefully considered output yet, leading to some of his best. And there’s still plenty of stomp and roll. -Benjamin Kaye


    46. Summer Camp – Welcome to Condale

    summer camp Top 50 Albums of 2011

    The cover of Summer Camp’s Welcome to Condale features a woman in a bathing suit doing a keg stand. So appropriate for an album that tempts the imagination, concocting this place called “Condale” where the kids are hot, the music spacey and romantic. The album is jaded Americana (even though the band is from England), conjuring images of the boardwalk, $2 beer specials, and sand in your hair. Their foreign nature only makes their fascination with American culture that much more apparent. This is an album for losing your virginity in the backseat (“Last American Virgin”), getting sunburned by the lake (“Summer Camp”), and smoking your first joint (“I Want You”). It doesn’t attempt to hide the fact that it relishes in the cliché while embracing a nostalgic beauty that makes the frivolity of youth so universal. -Summer Dunsmore


    45. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne

    kanye jay watch the throne Top 50 Albums of 2011

    Watch the Throne, likely the most widely anticipated album of the current decade thus far, sounds exactly like what it is: Two of hip-hop’s most powerful overlords reveling in knowing that they’re just that. In barely 45 minutes, Yeezy and Hov plow through the likes of bionic pop-rap (“Lift Off“), borderline-dubstep (“Who Gon‘ Stop Me“), exotic grandeur (“Murder to Excellence“), and bare-bones soul (“Otis”), all of which is – this cannot be overstated – immaculately produced. Plus, with these two guys constantly playing verbal ping-pong, the whole album is indubitably and nearly incessantly fun. And that’s really all it ever needed to be. -Mike Madden

    44. Yuck – Yuck

    yuck Top 50 Albums of 2011

    Admittedly, every sound on Yuck’s self-titled debut is one we’ve all heard before. Rather than embracing one particular influence, Yuck seamlessly pays tribute to nearly all of indie rock’s greatest legends from song to song (e.g. Pavement, My Bloody Valentine, and Dinosaur Jr.). Sure, there is a revitalization of the fuzzed-out sounds of the late 80’s and 90’s here, but Yuck also taps into the spirit and emotional highs and lows that made those bands so intriguing in the first place. Sometimes, it’s not what you do but how you do it that matters. -Frank Mojica


    43. Mikal Cronin – Mikal Cronin

     Top 50 Albums of 2011

    A few months back, our own Jeremy D. Larson wrote that the tone of Mikal Cronin’s self-titled debut falls “somewhere between Velvet Underground’s Loaded and The White Stripes’ White Blood Cells.” For one, he’s right. Yet moreover, the album exudes this sentimental presence that recalls ’60s mainstays like The Byrds or Jefferson Airplane. It’s a hazy experience that’s quite addicting, like a 151-glazed night in your college heartbreaker’s dorm room. (What? Stay with me, folks.) Check into Cronin’s living room stunner “Hold On Me”, a track that frolics with mousy percussion and cyclical acoustics. It’s a moody think piece. Not moody in the sense that you’re out to scratch the world’s eyes out, but sort of like that welcoming isolation you pine for from time to time. Fact: Sometimes being alone feels better. With a voice and ear like Cronin’s, it’ll always sound better. -Michael Roffman


    42. Kendrick Lamar – Section .80

    kendrick lamar section 80 Top 50 Albums of 2011

    Twenty-four-year-old rapper Kendrick Lamar is a native of Compton, CA, but you’re not likely to figure that out while listening to Section.80. Its beats bear almost nil resemblance to the storied G-funk of the city’s past. Rather, the album is built around electro-tinged, blurry near-boom-bap that gives Lamar more than enough room to do whatever he chooses on the mic, something he takes full advantage of. Plus, his finest verses (found on “A.D.H.D.” and “Fuck Your Ethnicity”) occasionally evoke 2Pac at his least thuggish. No small feat there. -Mike Madden


    41. Washed Out – Within & Without

    washed out within and without Top 50 Albums of 2011

    Two years ago, Ernest Greene was just beginning to take Washed Out beyond a childhood bedroom side project. After a year of Sub Pop signage and this full-length debut, Within and Without, Greene is headed beyond being another chillwave act with synths. This album is devastatingly gorgeous, submerging listeners in Washed Out’s world of dense, warm vocals (“Eyes Be Closed”),  gloomy love songs with strings (“Far Away”), and jaunty pop  (“Before”). Within and Without is a kaleidoscope of discovery, uncovering directions Greene’s counterparts have yet to explore. -Lauren Rearick


    40. The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

    the mountain goats all eternals deck1 Top 50 Albums of 2011

    All Eternals Deck is a marvel, overflowing by turns with apathy, cheerful quirk, barely contained rage, and quiet wistfulness. And that’s just the first four tracks. John Darnielle’s vocal range is on full display here, laid over desperately driving guitars on 13 tracks as varied as they are meaningful. There are so many juicy pockets of lyrical cleverness here (see: “Estate Sale Sign”, “Prowl Great Cain”, and “For Charles Bronson”) that the album requires repeat listens to soak them all in. Fortunately, we’ve had most of 2011 to do just that. -Megan Ritt


    39. Danny Brown – XXX

    danny brown xxx Top 50 Albums of 2011

    The greatest treasure of Detroit rapper Danny Brown’s breakthrough mixtape, XXX (an acronym that alludes to sex, drugs, and Brown’s age), is that it delivers as many ridiculous and hilariously clever lines as any other release this year. A brief sampling: “Sorta like Squidward and his clarinet/I’m in ya bitch mouth,” “You softer than Flanders’ son/Don’t make me put hands on son,“ “I‘m higher than Swizz Beatz’s hairline.” Oh, and the oft-dissonant, largely trimmed-down production has its moments, too (“Blunt After Blunt”, “EWNESW”, “DNA”). -Mike Madden



    38. Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica

     Top 50 Albums of 2011

    Daniel Lopatin has been making progressively bigger waves with each release since 2008’s Russian Minds, but Replica is easily his best, most accessible full-length to date. Rather than the swirling analog haze that colored his previous work, the album sees Lopatin mine the discarded junk culture of yesteryear for a singular, strangely dystopian vision of the future more akin to that of a science fiction author than a musician. From the piano-laden “Power of Persuasion” to the meditative ambiance of “Submersible”, Replica is remarkable music unlike anything else on Earth, or anywhere else for that matter. -Möhammad Choudhery


    37. Real Estate – Days

    real estate days album cover Top 50 Albums of 2011

    Ben Folds chronicled the suburbs with white boy angst. Arcade Fire did it with melancholia. Real Estate takes a more laid-back approach, shrouding their simple, yet relatable, lyrics about suburban New Jersey (the songs have straightforward titles like “It’s Real” and “Wonder Years”) in a fog of hazy guitar solos and precise rhythm that could take place anywhere in the nation, as long as it’s not a city. Like a high school summer, it feels relaxed and alluringly repetitious. And isn’t that the point? -Dan Caffrey


    36. Bill Callahan – Apocalypse

    bill callahan Top 50 Albums of 2011

    For anyone who thought Bon Iver was the definitive impressionistic album of the year, Bill Callahan’s latest proves to be its strictly Americana counterpart. Hell, just look at the cover art. With Apocalypse, Callahan turns the Americana landscape into an ocean of sounds. Over a fiddle, an organ, a pedal steel, and reverb swells, Callahan becomes America’s most forward thinking country/folk singer still making music rooted in those old-time standards. “DC-4-5-0,” Callahan laments in the last moments of Apocalypse.  It’s an interesting sentiment, a powerful statement made without any real words. It’s the record’s Drag City serial number. As Callahan closes the door on yet another chapter in his demented world of horses, gunslingers, and cattle prodding, he is well aware that he’s doing so. It’s the question of where he’ll head next that makes the current state of his affairs all the more fascinating. In the meantime, we’re glad he’s leaving off here. -Drew Litowitz


    35. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra

    umo Top 50 Albums of 2011

    Anonymity and avoiding press in the hyper-mediated blogosphere turns out to be a pretty effective tactic for getting some attention – especially for Unknown Mortal Orchestra, whose music turned out to be as difficult to place on the genre spectrum as it is to put a face on their online presence. With the release of their self-titled debut, the heavy hooks of Bandcamp viral “Ffunny Ffriends” find a home in a tightly performed but cheaply produced space odyssey – an intricate mix of psychedelics, speedy guitar riffs, and otherworldly vocals. Frontman Ruban Nielson’s knack for melody (who can resist “How Can U Luv Me?”) and treating the voice as an instrument proves to be the icing on the cake, validating the weird internet hype and translating the buzz into legitimacy. -Caitlin Meyer


    34. Adele – 21

    adele21 Top 50 Albums of 2011

    A lot of people may roll their eyes at the inclusion of Adele’s 21 to year-end lists, but you can’t deny the staying power and grip the album has had on popular music. Love her or hate her, you couldn’t walk past a stereo or TV that wasn’t playing Adele this year. Being a pop music juggernaut doesn’t mean the album shouldn’t be respected, however. From the infectious “Rolling in the Deep” to the heart-wrenching “Someone Like You” to the vengeful “Set Fire to the Rain”, the album is solid front-to-back. Adele’s voice is a one-of-a-kind, jazzy, smoky, emotional powerhouse, and the fact that she is still topping charts months after the album was released shows she has a complete right to be on everyone’s year-end list. -Nick Freed


    33. Cut Copy – Zonoscope

    cut copy zonoscope Top 50 Albums of 2011

    Leaner, meaner, and with more percussion. That’s the gist of Cut Copy’s excellent (and Grammy-nominated) follow-up to In Ghost Colours. Zonoscope sprawls into epic, tribal sounds and Beach Boys vocal harmonies, retaining its New Order moodiness and evoking sounds of native Australian ’80s new wave. If you went to a festival this summer, chances are you heard one of these hip-shaking beats wafting across a simmering summer vista. Do yourself a favor and listen to them again. Re-live your summer. -Paul de Revere


    32. Gotye – Making Mirrors

    gotye making mirrors cap blackard Top 50 Albums of 2011

    One-by-one the countries of the world are falling in love with Gotye. The Austrailian multi-instrumentalist’s third album, Making Mirrors, has found its way into U.S. playlists in the wake of his video for “Somebody that I Used to Know” featuring Kimba. In it we see Gotye, with the charming anarchistic boyishness of Sting, singing with the heartrending honesty of Phil Collins. Ultimately it’s Collins’ bandmate Peter Gabriel that Gotye gets compared to the most, and for an obvious reason – the album is a musical wonderland of deeply layered and sophisticated pop sounds the likes of which we haven’t heard since So. From the Miracle Mile-like nuclear romance of “Eyes Wide Open”, to the lavish electro-reggae of “State of the Art”, Making Mirrors is sonically diverse, and with Gotye’s disarmingly genuine lyrics, it pulls madly at our heartstrings. -Cap Blackard


    31. Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow

    kate bush 50 words for snow Top 50 Albums of 2011

    The most precious thing Kate Bush possesses is a rather magical way of thinking, and her latest record reflects this through utilizing an array of idiosyncratic collaborators (Elton John, Stephen Fry, her son Albert “Bertie” McIntosh) and characters ranging from a romantic snowman to a Yeti. Snow is a perfect inspirational touchstone for Bush, because when it falls, it makes everything seem more clear and yet retains a dreamlike quality. 50 Words for Snow is the musical equivalent of a long, yearning sigh, with songs like “Wild Man” and (almost 14-minute-long) “Misty” inhabiting a half-lit world that at different turns takes in driving beats, haunting piano, and spoken word to create the kind of unusual, inventive, and expansive sound Bush has become synonymous with, and she remains a sensual metronome of sorts (especially her voice, so unwavering and true) –  comforting and necessary in this increasingly confusing world. -Siobhán Kane


    30. The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient

    thewarondrugsalbumart 1024x1024 Top 50 Albums of 2011

    Despite the subtraction of Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs keep chugging along with their latest effort. Slave Ambient is a 12-track wallop filled with Dylan-esque vocals, instrumentals, and, yes, ambience. Singer/guitarist Adam Granduciel takes us through the rough-and-tumble landscape where we find the catchy, constant stream of “Best Night”, the steady thumping of “Your Love Is Calling My Name”, and the acoustic-driven coda of the elegiac “Black Water Falls”. The guitar play between Granduciel and Dave Hartley is second to no one this year. -Justin Gerber


    29. The Men – Leave Home

    the men leave home Top 50 Albums of 2011

    The Men nailed their demands to the door of the Church of Punk/Hardcore and peaced-out for greener pastures. The melting pot that resulted on Leave Home is an alarm call for purists and tourists alike. It plays like a record-collector’s wet dream with obvious hat-tips to Spaceman 3, Joy Division, The Wipers, and whatever else is in The Men’s milk crates. But there’s no prerequisite to feel the primal churning squalor of  “L.A.D.O.C.H.”, a song specializing in blunt trauma force to the guts-bag. The cocaine-surf instrumentals, relentless noise punk, and post-punk kraut-rock tunes that quake with the words, “Can you push them away?” over and over are all hurled into a storm of angular guitars, walls of drums, knives, fists, and sweat that doesn’t ever let up. This album’s so far from pure that if you snorted it you’d land straight in the ER. Man, that’s what’s so great about it, though. -Jeremy D. Larson


    28. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo

    kurt vile cover Top 50 Albums of 2011

    Smoke Ring for My Halo is probably the easiest album to digest in 2011. That is, if you enjoy a good daydream. With his spidery guitar scales, sunset-staring vocals, and uber-melancholic lyrics, Kurt Vile sucks you in. It’s so easy to get lost here. Right off the bat, “Baby’s Arms” acts as a wormhole, to which you’re sliding into repetition and soul-seeking rhythms. From there it’s pure moonshine. Down quick, hard-hitting. Producer John Agnello keeps things at home, as well, which is where Vile belongs. We like our singer-songwriters close to us, and it doesn’t get any more intimate than this. Looking for a friend? Consider this album your new roommate. Just don’t expect him to do the dishes. Though, he’ll certainly keep you company. Always. -Michael Roffman


    27. Childish Gambino – Camp

    childish gambino camp Top 50 Albums of 2011

    If Drake is the MC who made it cool to rap and emote, then Childish Gambino (aka actor/comedian Donald Glover) helped evolve the style into something far more nuanced and outlandish. Thanks to his comedic background, Gambino peppers his tracks with catchy rhymes and clever quips galore (like the line from “Sunrise”: “I’ve seen it all, like I’m John Mayer’s penis hole”). He’s an MC who understands the power of beats and an appealing production style, which he demonstrates on cuts like the menacing “Bonfire” and the electro-heavy “Heartbeat”. But it’s his wide-open emotional sentiments that make the LP shine outside the confines of its genre. Whether he’s confessing his detachment from the black community in “Backpackers” or sharing the pain of his childhood heartache with “That Power”, Gambino wears his heart on his pink polo shirt, readily rubbing into listeners’ faces at any given moment. Looks like the joke’s on us after all. -Chris Coplan


    26. Wild Flag – Wild Flag

    wild flag wild flag Top 50 Albums of 2011

    Wild Flag aren’t Sleater-Kinney 2.0, and that wound up being a good thing. The highly anticipated debut from the Sleater/Helium/Minders supergroup is a new beast entirely, harder rocking than anything they’ve done before. While Carrie Brownstein and Mary Timony’s voices will stir up a few warm, familiar memories, the overdriven guitars and psychedelic keyboard breakdowns make an outstanding case towards a new era for these musicians. Wild Flag stands as an impressive debut, with or without the band members’ all-star pedigrees. -Austin Trunick


    25. Panda Bear – Tomboy

    panda bear tomboy2 Top 50 Albums of 2011

    The journey of Panda Bear’s latest LP, Tomboy, was more akin to that of a hip-hop album than an indie solo record. After the first single dropped in the summer of 2010, Panda Bear announced a late fourth quarter release for his follow-up to the critically acclaimed, Person Pitch. Like countless rappers before him, Noah Lennox delayed his album again and again, finally releasing it on April 12th. The album is sonically smaller than Person Pitch but not any less ambitious. While wholly longer than its predecessor, the individual songs are short and to the point, resulting in fantastic, succinct blasts of space-age pop like “Last Night at the Jetty” and “Surfer’s Hymn”. -Carson O’Shoney



    sbtrkt Top 50 Albums of 2011

    London artist SBTRKT has swept the world this year with his self-titled debut LP, rocking festivals and small venues alike. A leading proponent of post-dubstep sprinkled with a tad of R & B soul, his sound provides something astoundingly unique for the music scene: pure, unbridled novelty. “Wildfire” is the album’s standout track, its main synth bass line too infectious to ignore on the dance floor. “Living Like I Do” is stylistically different, evidencing more trance-like influences, and it shows the diversity of the album. Singing about love and heartbreak, with beats sometimes dizzying, sometimes morose, the album is an emotional exposition of SBTRKT’s affinity for the music medium. -Summer Dunsmore


    23. The Weeknd – House of Balloons

    theweeknd1 Top 50 Albums of 2011

    The Weeknd really took this year by storm, in case you hadn’t been paying attention. It’s been a hurricane of success – the 21-year-old Toronto native is seemingly unstoppable. But it all started with the twisted allure of House of Balloons. From heavy hitting single fodder like “Wicked Games” and “High For This” to unsung heroes like the mellow “Coming Down”, or the Beach House-sampling “The Party & The After Party”, The Weeknd created a cohesive album equal parts grime and glamor. Multiply some of the tightest production this year by Abel’s pure upper register and you’ve got a winner. Now multiply that sum by uber-enticing lyrics of grotesquely beautiful over-indulgence, and what’s the outcome? An album that goes down smooth, but also leaves your esophagus battered, bleeding, and hurting oh so good. -Winston Robbins



    22. Thundercat – The Golden Age of Apocalypse

    thundercat the golden age of apocalypse Top 50 Albums of 2011

    Super-bassist Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat, is only 27, but he already has the sort of resume most only dream of, logging performance credits with everyone from Snoop Dogg to Erykah Badu, along with a full-time gig as bassist for thrash-fusion legends Suicidal Tendencies. Someone this good could only play sideman for so long, though. After lending his virtuosic talents last year to Flying Lotus’ magnificent beat odyssey Cosmogramma, Lotus returned the favor by producing Bruner’s stellar debut, The Golden Age of Apocalypse. But make no mistake. This is Thundercat’s Golden Age, his smooth bass runs and smoother falsetto starring throughout. The beat-heavy “Daylight” and dreamy rework of George Duke’s “For Love I Come” are obvious highlights, though Thundercat’s distinctly cosmic presence and unparalleled skill make for essential listening from start to finish. -Möhammad Choudhery


    21. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

    girls father son holy ghost Top 50 Albums of 2011

    Christopher Owens’ sweet, puppy dog eyes timbre convinces just about anyone that despite substance problems, scars of a former religious cult, heartache, and anxiety, everything is just alright in the present. Father, Son, Holy Ghost harnesses music’s spiritual characteristics in a conspicuous manor, as Owens and his band mates cleverly balance yearning gospel pangs with snotty, west coast retro rock. There’s paranoia (“Die”), choir loft church organ soul (“Vomit”, “My Ma”, and “Love Like a River”), and an overall smart execution of style no matter what Girls’ carefree fuck-it-all style says (see: “Just a Song”). Their sophomore album shows that Girls have honed in on a truly distinct sound that pulls from past influences, but manages to sound wholly original and really, really good. From poppy, riff-heavy opener “Honey Bunny” to the emotional apexes of the final three tracks, Father, Son, Holy Ghost plays as a complete and fantastic album. -Liz Lane


    20. Tom Waits – Bad As Me

    tom waits bad as me Top 50 Albums of 2011

    How fitting that in the same year as his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, Tom Waits released an album that reminds us precisely why we love and still need the old rain dog. In crisp, vibrant bursts, Bad As Me revisits and revitalizes numerous styles and sounds from across Waits’ nearly 40-year career. But this record is much more than an old beatboxing junkman’s recycling project. Whether it be the tender frankness of lover’s plea “Back in the Crowd”, the cool chill of life’s autumn felt on “Last Leaf”, or the jarring nightmare of wartime romp “Hell Broke Luce”, Waits’ finest songs still shine a brief light upon those who often go unseen and unheard, which is precisely why we need him. Yes, we like to “stomp, whistle, and scream” and “dance with a soldier’s glee” (whatever that entails exactly), but Waits also knows that we need to cry in our beer, howl at the moon, and occasionally have our lives dignified by a stranger sparing a moment to listen to our sad stories. The fact that Bad As Me somehow manages to make it all so goddamn fun is what makes him Tom Waits. -Matt Melis 


    19. Fucked Up – David Comes to Life

    fucked up david comes to life Top 50 Albums of 2011

    From a deceptively quiet beginning roars Fucked Up’s epic punk opera, David Comes to Life. Composed of 18 tracks that form four acts, the eponymous David rises and falls through love, loss, and ultimate redemption, which might not be as notable a project if the entire thing wasn’t screamed into your headphones by Fucked Up’s own Damian Abraham. Fortunately, Abraham and his backing guitars manage to ratchet out many levels of emotion amidst the chaos (and if that’s not the sound of heartbreak, then nothing is), turning David into not just another noisy punk album but a meaningful, moving journey through that most universal of emotions – love. -Megan Ritt


    18. Atlas Sound – Parallax

    atlas sound parallax Top 50 Albums of 2011

    Bradford Cox has never been one for compromises, in performance or on record. Every single release under the Atlas Sound moniker or in collaboration with his fellow Deerhunter bandmates has been a thorough representation of his tenacious artistic vision at the current time. Parallax, though in part an homage to the Neil Young and Patti Smith singer-songwriters of yore, is no exception to this trend, replete with Cox’s trademark creative guitar inventions, alien soundscapes, and queer punk attitude. Dealing with neglect, personal perception, and, yes, romance, the album shelters some of the catchiest (“Mona Lisa”), starkest (“Flagstaff”), and most intricate (“Amplifiers”) songs in Cox’s body of work thus far. It is this exact contrast of the candidly sweet with the unabashedly weird and unexpected – the acoustic noise with the controlled studio work – that makes Parallax and Cox’s music in total the unique gift to modern music that it is. -David DiLillo


    17. The Horrors – Skying

    thehorrors skying Top 50 Albums of 2011

    Skying is a paragon of how to face the pressures of matching initial critical success with a follow-up: Nut up, evolve, and do something people might not expect. The Horrors lock their goth-outlined, post-punk gaze down on their pop-laced shoes and dive into ’80s influences to put together an album encapsulating their progression as a band. Faris Badwan’s vocals have been raised and fleshed out; everything is subtler, tighter, and more atmospheric than 09’s Primary Colours, all of which works to this album’s favor. From the insanely absorbing rumblings and synths of “Changing the Rain” to the spellbinding repetitions of “Moving Further Away”, each track could soundtrack a John Hughes film as easily as a hazy dance scene. By being brave enough to vary their sound, The Horrors are proving to be a band capable of understanding and managing growth – something not every act can accomplish. -Benjamin Kaye


    16. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints

     Top 50 Albums of 2011

    The songs feel more captured than recorded, like the studio just happened to be in the right place at the right time to catch the drones, the noise, the insipidness, and the catharsis. The connection between each of the nine tracks is loose; some howl with feedback and noise, while others play at a grunge revival, and then there’s the cantillation of “California”, a homily so raw it has the congregation squirming in the pews. But the wide palate of Erika M. Anderson is the prize of the record. Her knife is sharp and knows who to cut and where and how and can do it in a hundred different ways to leave someone just as marked as she is. Couple that with the cool breeze of a west coast girl who knows how to write a catchy melody, and the masochism of Past Life Martyred Saints really becomes something very real and addictive. -Jeremy D. Larson


    15. Radiohead – The King of Limbs

    radiohead king of limbs Top 50 Albums of 2011

    Radiohead has attained a status such that every album it releases is expected to reach groundbreaking heights, introducing the world to some new luminous idea that will set the bar for all pop and rock music yet to come. It’s understandable, because Radiohead has done that a couple of times. But while The King of Limbs doesn’t do that, it does nothing to earn unwarranted hostility either. There are several gems that have etched a permanent place in Radiohead’s oeuvre, including the invigorating “Bloom”, the wordless wonder “Feral”, and, of course, “Lotus Flower”. If Radiohead is finished making instant classics, it will be no tragedy if The King of Limbs is a sign of things to come. -J. Harry Painter


    14. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

    fleet fox helplessness blues Top 50 Albums of 2011

    Over 12 spiritually emotional tracks, Robin Pecknold marries his flawless vocals to harmonies and expertly woven instrumentals, all in a rich and satisfying circle. The songs are charged with memorable, soaring melodies, and Pecknold’s observational, first-person lyrics are teasingly profound. On the title track, Pecknold sings, “If I know only one thing, it’s that everything I see/of the world outside is so inconceivable/that often, I barely can speak.” Fortunately, he still does. A hallmark is usually pretty small to the naked eye. When this record is dusted off in 30 or 40 years, you will surely find the word classic etched somewhere discreet. -Tony Hardy