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