Trying to quantify all the best a year has to offer is, if we’re honest, more than a bit audacious. We feel a need to catalogue and rate everything - albums, movies, books, singles, remixes, videos, sports plays, memes, celebrity faux pas - an endless parade of people trying to establish their knowledge of all that is worth knowing in a single year. I’m not here to trash this exponentially growing phenomenon, though - that would be hypocritical of me. I just want to put into words what a “Best of“ list is to me..
I’m not going to pretend that our lists contain everything worth knowing. Making these lists is a personal endeavor. They do not answer “what was 2011?” These lists answer “what was 2011 to me?”
A question that could seem like a copout or a way of hedging our bets even before any criticism is made, but it’s one that is honest about what this is. Unless one is staying within very specific boundaries - say, English horror films or Canadian black metal - it’s impossible to see or hear everything. Without hearing everything, there can be no list that is 100% definitive. It might be 75% or 85% or even the 99%, but we are still undereducated for the task of getting all of the very best.
So what was music in 2011 to you? What will we look back and remember, and what should we remember? As we looked back on Nevermind this year, what album will we be looking back on in 2021, 2031, and beyond? Perhaps we will remember two of the greatest artists of their time uniting to create Watch the Throne, an album and tour the likes of which we may never see again. It could be that this is the year people point to and say, ‘there, there the great hardcore band of their age peaked, that is when Fucked Up cemented their legacy.’ The new albums from Wye Oak, Girls, and tUnE-yArDs can be found topping many lists. Will they last? Or will we find ourselves looking back in ten years, brows knit with a mixture of perplexity and fond nostalgia, wondering how we could possibly have ranked them above the true classics?
What was this year in music to me? It will be a long time until I know for sure. I have always believed a top five is easy, but a top twenty is impossible. Picking a few favorites immediately, those few having cemented themselves indelibly into our minds having conquered all of our objective and subjective criteria, is not difficult. Picking out the differences between numbers eighteen, nineteen, and twenty versus twenty-one and twenty-two, though is a far more difficult task. Long-time favorites - Joan of Arc, The Mountain Goats, and Thursday - released albums that number among their best. Youth Lagoon crafted the heart-rending “Montana,” my favorite song, with a video that made me weep at the combined beauty. Kurt Vile, Girls, Bon Iver, PJ Harvey - all topping lists, all containing at least a few elements I enjoy. Liturgy and Deafheaven either changing or disgracing the black metal landscape, depending on who you ask. M83, Drake, The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown, James Blake, St. Vincent, Wye Oak - none of them are here. The Roots and Common, two more favorites of mine, simply arrived too late in the year. How the fuck do we organize all this (especially for the unfortunate saps that have to work this all around a day job and school - for now).
So this list is what I’ve cobbled together. There are albums I love missing. There are records I have yet to hear lurking. This list could easily change by the time it goes up - it’s an inevitability. This is a picture of my 2011. There may be less Kanye, less dubstep, less of the burgeoning mainstream indie rock, than what was present in the headlines… but that’s the point. This is my 2011, which I would like to share with you. We share our personal years in music so that we can expand our own, learning more about the year even after it is long past. 2011 was a wonderful year for music, and it will only get better with age.
EPs of the Year
- The Golden Filter - Syndromes
- Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate) - Home After Three Months Away
- matt pond PA - Spring Fools EP
- Mogwai - Earth Division EP
- Holy Other - With U
- Jens Lekman - An Argument With Myself
Songs of the Year
- Arrange - “When’d You Find Me?”
- Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi - “Two Against One” ft. Jack White
- Fucked Up - “Serve Me Right”
- German Error Message - “In Comforting”
- The Golden Filter - “Mother”
- The Humans - Sea of Size
- Iceage - “White Rune”
- Joan of Arc - “Love Life”
- Mister Heavenly - “Pineapple Girl”
- The Mountain Goats - “Damn These Vampires”
- The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - “Heart In Your Heartbreak (Twin Shadow remix)“
- Pygmy Lush - “Yellow Hall”
- Shabazz Palaces - “free press and curl”
- St. Vincent - “Cruel”
- tUnE-yArDs - “Bizness”
- True Widow - “Skull Eyes”
- TV on the Radio - “Caffeinated Consciousness
- Yacht - “Dystopia”
- Youth Lagoon - “Montana”
- Young Widows - “Miss Tambourine Wrist”
- Yuck - “Get Away”
- Zola Jesus - “Skin”
Hear (almost) all these songs on Tyler’s Spotify playlist. [link]
Albums of the Year
Arrange - Plantation
As great a place as any to start the list, the music of Malcom Lacey has grown exponentially over the last year. Plantation may sound soft and delicate, but it gave my mind a proverbial slap to the face with how it unexpectedly floored me. The piano sprinkled liberally throughout, vacillating between a deep serenity and a twinkling pretty vision, serves as a tremendous hook for many tracks and as the piece that ties them all together.
Balam Acab - Wander / Wonder
The music of Alex Koone reached the next stage of its beautiful evolution this year, as an artist whose EP generated passionate blog buzz and elicited the same buzzword descriptions everywhere created an album that grew out of all those trappings. Please, leave your genre name-calling at the door - this is more than witch house. The way he takes sounds like the inhuman voices and watery samples and seamlessly weaves them in, creating the fluidity and beauty present here, is something truly impressive. This album is simply rapturous.
Beau Navire - Hours
The ferocity and dichotomies of Hours, the brevity of and the sudden shifts between each track, seem so simple - but they work so well. On Hours, Beau Navire put on a clinic on the ability to simply flip the switch between the subtle and stark, to lull and then shatter. There is something so beautiful about a short, furious burst of emotion that can encapsulate so much more than one would think possible.
Carrion Spring - A Short History of Decay
Fast and heavy, but so vastly different from the album just above. Carrion Spring make use of just the right amount of structure in their songs. Smooth the transitions just a tad, and furious vocal passages, echoing lulls, and guitar-dominant bridges are allowed to run forward without abandon and smoothly as they evolve. The production here is excellent - as raw and real as it needs to be, and each part has equal footing to excel. To sit and hear each instrument work so seamlessly and clearly together with nary a riff or fill being muffled or drowned is startling with its startling freshness. The short interludes, “Selah” I through V, bring moments of brief clarity, a head suddenly breaking free of the surf, looking wildly around, before being pulled to the depths once more. Except, you know, drowning and A Short History of Decay occupy vastly different ends of the enjoyment spectrum.
Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi - Rome
At what point does ‘super-producer’ stop doing justice to what Brian Burton is doing? Some of the biggest artists of past and present are enlisting his services behind the boards, and his collaborative projects continue to impress. While Rome doesn’t have the emotional nuance of Dark Night of the Soul (not surprising, considering the latter was made with Mark Linkous), it’s a soundtrack that stays true to concept, with stellar performances from all the talent involved.
Fucked Up - David Comes to Life
As monstrous as the hype, this thing actually managed to surpass expectations. It’s a true masterpiece that shines throughout, exquisitely composed and executed to the fullest. Despite ambiguous lyrics, the full story is conveyed easily through the monstrous riffs and Abraham pissed off shouts. The technical prowess of all involved is fully utilized: guitars noodle and shred, the bass rumbles, drums and cymbals fill and crash, and the immediately recognizable spit and growl of Abraham litter the record with his signature couplet style. Hefty expectations and scours of skeptics be damned - Fucked Up brushed them aside like so much chaff and created a record for the ages.
German Error Message - After the Warmth
Upon downloading After the Warmth after spotting it on a random, early ‘favorite albums‘ forum post, it immediately showed signs of a number of traits I love: it was free, it was lo-fi, and it was a blend of wonderful bedroom pop and folk traits (“experimental folk” is the rather apt description Paul Kintzing uses, “just to have a name on it”). Put plainly, it was, and is, really good.
“Warmth” is such a fitting word to be in the title, too; this is such intimate, heartening music. What cannot be understated is how level the tone and volume are throughout. A fullness truer than that in many concept albums is present here, surviving even the more emotionally trying moments that are littered throughout. After the Warmth is soft, yet strong. Emotionally stirring, ultimately heart-warming - one of the most beautiful folk albums of the year, without a doubt.
Iceage - New Brigade
With an arrival the echoes of which were heard long before they landed, Iceage took the blogs and venues of America by storm with their destructive punk ethos. “March across the land,” indeed. New Brigade is short, fast, and frankly, doesn’t give a damn.
Julia Holter - Tragedy
Atmosphere is the word for Holter’s interpretation of Euripides’ play Hippolytus. Regardless of what she utilizes - numerous sounds lifted out of ages past, such as foghorn’s and ghostly choirs, or very modern sounding production synth elements - all are pieces in the delicate puzzle she’s fashioned. It felt like a pop-up haunted house to me eerie - and haunting, but also tremendously magical.
Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica
Another of the numerous more abstract albums on this list, Replica. Good abstract instrumental music is full and rich, beautifully composed and produced. Replica is all those things. How do Daniel Lopatin and other similar artists fashion tracks such as the one below? His work on Replica is truly rapturous, whether it be on the delicate, stately march of “Replica,” or with the fusion of vocal loops/percussion/synth fusion of “Up.” Even as I listen to those tracks now, the steady-yet-low-key evolution of each track is just beautiful. It always feels fresh and new, though all part of the same intricate tapestry.
Owen - Ghost Town
In the flood of singer-songwriters that grows stronger with each passing, few will make music as deeply touching and memorable as Mike Kinsella’s work with Owen. It’s as if, simply by playing the opening note of each song, Kinsella opens up a window into the inner workings of a man’s heart and mind.
Pygmy Lush - Old Friends
Pygmy Lush have struck gold once again. They put the folk in folk, and use it to craft songs that are gripping in a way that is earthy and grounded. Dignified throughout, but also able to kick up their heels a bit on a song like “Admit.” I would use a number of the same adjectives and descriptors, but to different effect. The mood and tone of Old Friends are doused in a rustic, grainy coat, an effect that could, done poorly, could create a sense of detachment. However, it is done well here - Pygmy Lush have never felt closer.
Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
Whether considering the murky origins, the esoteric and rarely capitalized song names, or the actual avant-garde hip hop presented here, everything about Shabazz Palaces is different. The most unique album in the genre this year, Black Up showed up with real statements to make, with beats far more austere and jarring that most of what is being presented to the music-consuming public. Most importantly - it’s outstanding.
Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972
I first began listening to Ravedeath, 1972 simply because it seemed to be ambient noise I could relax to. While still technically true, that is such an unworthy, uneducated summation of this album that it is actually a bit insulting. Ravedeath has a power that, once it holds, grips like a vice. I wondered at how I did not immediately notice it; it seems so obvious and overwhelming now. This is why it will stick with me even longer; though I have always had an appreciation for music that was ambient or cinematic or noise, one can sometimes forget to listen properly. After Ravedeath, I don’t think I’ll be making that mistake again.
True Widow - As High As the Highest Heavens and From the Center to the Circumference of the Earth
True Widow have a certain style all their own. Certain similarities can be drawn to the drawn out, emotive overtures of shoegaze, or to the dire dirges of slowcore. However, the music of True Widow has a charm all its very own. Carried by gritty riffs and sad, soulful crooning of Dan “D.H.“ Phillips and Nikki Estill, the album is imbued with a constant tension and a distinctly somber tone that are tremendously effective.
tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l
Who else can do what Merrill Garbus does? Who else can get away with such glorious weirdness - and not only get away with it, to take it to such heights? No amount of praise is too little for w h o k i l l. It is so smart, and vastly unique and different from all else, even in the melting pot that is music today. The confidence in the many idiosyncrasies multiplies their overall quality. Each song is it’s own anthem - punchy and moving, excelling in all realms of intelligence and aesthetic qualities. There are a number of people that get widely referred to as “geniuses;” Garbus is one of the few in music that truly merits that title.
Yacht - Shangri-La
Shangri-La is pure joy somehow bottled up and contained into ten tracks. When the lid is loosened just a bit on any of them, it explodes forth in a cavalcade of positivity and choruses that is irresistable. Though there may be a few aspects that seem a bit cultish, the feeling of community created here is as infectious as a Claire Evans chorus. I’m not sure I’ve ever before been so happy or carefree when told to “let the motherfucker burn.”
Zola Jesus - Conatus
Conatus isn’t the leap forward that Stridulum was - that is the chorus recited in many places. What should be recited is this: Conatus is still a step forward nonetheless. Nika Roza Danilova continues to learn how to harness and unite that absolutely huge, overpowering voice of hers and her improving production. There is so much more nuance, now. She can overwhelm now not only by literally overwhelming with a sweeping chorus, but also with softer, subtler compositions that open listeners up to those waves in ways that just weren’t happening before. She can pull off the industrial clamoring of “Vessel” but also the measured beauty of “Skin,” a simpler piano ballad. Also, one would be hard-pressed to find many artists out there with as much pure potential as Danilova.
- nothingsoundsbetter posted this