The Top Albums of 2011

Posted: January 4, 2012 by vindanton in Music

By Brandon Tuzio

I’d like to start off with some ground rules.

1. This is my list, so please send any complaints to GoMakeYourOwnListIfYouWantToSe@gmail.com. No really, do it. (The remainder of that sentence is “eAllOfYourPersonalFavorites@gmail.com)

2. I take a lot into consideration when compiling a list with such a wide spectrum of options and vastly different styles. But for the most part, I gravitate towards artists I believe are displaying growth from previous releases, or establishing themselves right off the bat as a force to be reckoned with.

3. I abandon my personal opinions to the best of my ability, and seek to recognize the importance of things outside my liking. I dare you to guess my least favorite out of my top 10.

4. 2011 was interesting, and it stirred so much inside of me. A dab of anger here, a bit of happiness there, and a sprinkle of hope on top. As we look back on 2011, see if you can find the common theme…

 

Honorable Mentions:

Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire

tune-yArDs – w h o k i l l

Adele – 21

Iron and Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo

 

10. My Morning Jacket – Circuital

 A great example of a band who just keeps growing. Already recognized as one of the greatest live bands of our generation, their studio efforts continue to make a huge impact. Refer to “The Day Is Coming” for some of Jim James best work to date.

9. Justice – Audio, Video, Disco

What a fun record. In a year where faux dub-step and electro-house dominate the synthetic field, Justice goes ahead and takes it back to the roots. The tones throughout the album are nostalgic yet progressive. I dare you to not at least appreciate the purity of this one.

8. Feist – Metals

 This record is the one that I’ve spent the least amount of time with. And Feist is lucky, because she knocked St. Vincent out of my top 10. I freely admit that I haven’t been a big Feist lover in the past, but I really dig this record (refer to ground rule number 2).  There are so many creative gems here, and look forward to spending more time with this one.

7. Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow

 Holy Moses, this album is gorgeous. And before you skip ahead to see what I write about Bon Iver or Fleet Foxes, you might want to stick around. Because  “50 Words for Snow” is how serene, reflective music is executed to perfection. While both of those artists were releasing sophomore albums that were very good but merely stepbrothers to their debut records, veteran Kate Bush releases her 10th studio album in grand fashion. The album is true to itself front to back, jazzy dark and painting piano guide the songs with Bush’s eerie sung-spoken vocals, accompanied by Steve Gadd on drums. Not for a day of house cleaning or a car ride to work, but a perfect soundtrack to a seamless escape into your soul.

6. Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne/Drake – Take Care

 I know it’s cheating to do this, but I don’t really care. I couldn’t pick one or the other to make it in, and they both are terrific efforts and equally important for the progression of hip-hop, (sorry Weezy, but not really).  The one thing that makes these records stand out is their composition. On “Watch The Throne”, unique instrumentation and odd song form rule, while “Take Care” lays an atmospheric landscape with some really interesting songwriting. Both records heavily rely on braggadocios but clever words and have some terrific contributors who released some stellar albums themselves in 2011 (The Weeknd and break-out man Frank Ocean”

 

5. Wilco – The Whole Love

 I have to say that I was probably looking forward to this the most. The opening track “Art of Almost”, is probably the coolest track Wilco has ever released. “Cool” isn’t a word I normally use to describe a song, but it really is just cool. Glenn Kotche’s drum groove sets the tone in intimidating fashion. Then mounds of strings and synth coming from Mikhael Jorgensen and Pat Sansone bounce between your ears. Once Jeff Tweedy starts with “No! I froze”, the song pauses for a moment, letting the front man confirm himself as rock’s most important man these days. John Stirratt starts in with his plunking bass and Nels Cline does his evil deeds with the guitar in the space that only he can fill so well. Sorry for all of the name-dropping, but I did that to prove a point. Wilco (along with a band coming up soon) are one the greatest bands around these days, and a band is being the sum of all its parts. As for the rest of “The Whole Love”, it’s a terrific Wilco album but I keep finding myself just wanting to hear “Art of Almost” all over again.

 

4. Beyonce – 4

 Beyonce is so refreshing. She’s got a killer voice, she’s hot, she has good pop tunes, she has a sweet name, “Love On Top” sounds like a tune that should have been on “Thriller”, and she’s married to Jay-Z. Okay really, I’m just afraid of her baby becoming the most powerful, creative human being to ever walk this earth and want him to be able to look back and see my cleverness in putting mommy’s album 4 at number 4 on my list…no but really we have to watch out for that kid, and she really is that talented. She co-produced the album and submitted SEVENTY-TWO songs to Columbia records after the recording phase.

3. Tom Waits – Bad As Me

 I am fully aware that many people who seek Tom Waits out for the first time will be taken aback, and that’s perfectly O.K. Tom isn’t for everybody, but for those waiting for some spectacular new material will find exactly that.

2. Radiohead – The King of Limbs (The Daily Mail/Staircase – The Butcher/Suppercollider)

 King of Limbs is very, very good. I can go into detail about what makes each song great, but I’ll spare you. The guitars, (yes people, Radiohead still uses guitars), are so crisp, and have found a new role in the bands direction. But mostly, they are just great tunes, with Thom Yorke’s simple, honest melodies. The four different songs released after the album adds to the aesthetic The Head are going for. I HIGHLY recommend The Daily Mail/Staircase.

1. Paul Simon – So Beautiful Or So What

 Paul Simon apparently discovered magic in his blood in the past few years. In just 10 songs, Paul manages to make up for not releasing an album of this caliber in the past two decades. “The Afterlife” showcases Simon’s uncanny lyrical ability and almost all songs thereafter feature his world-music influenced trademark. While I was in Boston, I had the opportunity to see Paul give a clinic on songwriting and his career, and witnessed a live performance of the song “Questions for the Angels” before it was recorded for this album. The song danced in my memory with an unbalanced momentum, and truly spectacular harmony. Hearing the album cut is pretty mind blowing, the song is dressed in such a haunting fashion: an absolute highlight. The album ends with the title track, and how perfect a spot for it. The groove marches towards you, unrelenting, and you can almost feel yourself backing away slowly. Once you realize it’s fading away though, all you want to do is reach out a grab it. Thank you Mr. Simon, for making something “So Beautiful”…and that’s all.

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