Friday, December 16, 2011

Best albums of 2011, part 1 (50-26)

The results are in, our lists are compiled, and we are ready to present to you our picks for our 50 favorite albums of 2011.

First, a bit about methodology. How did this list come about? First, we each compiled our own individual lists, then combined those lists and ranked our favorites and assigning a point value for each. Each number-one pick received 50 points, number two received 49, number three got 48, and so on down the line. Among our 11 judges this year, no album received votes from all 11, but four albums made it to the ballots of seven judges. Each of us submitted our choices for a minimum of 10 albums and a maximum of 50.

Here are albums 50 through 26. We will post the top 25 a bit later.

P.S. - A partial Spotify playlist of tunes from these albums is linked at the bottom.

50. Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (2 votes, 55 points)

Mogwai gets style points for the album title alone. - AC

This album was one of the first ones I really enjoyed this year. I'd never spent a lot of time with Mogwai before this LP, but it's just such a great background noise album. Certainly worth adding to your list if you're one of those "sit at your desk all-day" types. - RB

Ditto on AC's point. This was my favorite album title of the year. As for the music, Mogwai rarely misses a beat, and this is no exception. Incredible soundscapes and an uncanny ability to blend ambient/noise electronic with elements of post-hardcore. - GR

47 (tie). Danger Mouse & Danielle Luppi - Rome (2 votes, 56 points)

Danger Mouse seems on a concept album kick of late -- first the Dark Night Of The Soul recording with the late Mark Linkous, and now this piece, a kind of tribute to the spaghetti Western soundtrack (the same music that was the backbone of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy.") Ultimately, though, while it's nicely done, it's just not as emotionally satisfying as Dark Night Of The Soul was. - dw

This was one of my top albums this year. Danger Mouse has unquestionably sound musicianship, the concept for the album (spaghetti Western soundtracks) makes for a familiar feel with a unique palette, and multiple collaborations with both Jack White and Norah Jones? Come on. - GR

47 (tie). Social Distortion - Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes (2 votes, 56 points)

While this album sounded more like the Black Crowes than vintage Social D, it worked for me. This had a permanent home in my car CD changer this summer. - MG

Yeah, I can see the Black Crowes here a bit (and I type this just as "Jealous Again" comes in on the background), but it definitely still has the Social D punch. -CD

47 (tie). The Strokes - Angles (3 votes, 56 points)

It was good to hear a new release from these guys. But despite a few strong tracks, as a whole this album didn't hold together very well. - AC

And yet, it somehow made our top fifty while Butch Walker gets shafted. /shakes head sadly -CD

I put Angles in my top list as it was one of the few albums I listened to more than once this year. It's not great, but don't feel like 2011 had that much *great* new music. - JG

46. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy (2 votes, 58 points)

St. Vincent seems to be an acquired taste, and despite giving her 2007 release Marry Me several goes, it's a taste I just haven't acquired yet. - AC

Strange Mercy marks the moment when Annie Clark transitioned from being an ingenue singer/songwriter/guitarist into the best singer/songwriter/guitarist in indie rock, period. The songs are confessional, the guitar playing aggressive and soulful, and the singing, well, she still has one of the prettiest voices in hipsterdom. I was transfixed by this record from the first play. - dw

This album has been growing on me. There more I listen, the more I think I should have ranked it higher on my list. I can't help but hear some Flaming Lips influence in here, from the effects used to song construction. Doesn't sound like Coyne, and co. at all, but it has a pleasant degree of crushed psychedelic blues woven into the fabric. - GR

44 (tie). Blitzen Trapper - American Goldwing (2 votes, 59 points)

It's just good ol' fashioned hipster Americana. Enjoyable stuff. - RB

Blitzen Trapper goes more rootsy, and I like it. Great songwriting and just enough 70s Southern-rock guitar that some of the tracks would seem at home on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack. - MD

44 (tie). Fucked Up - David Comes to Life (2 votes, 59 points)

Fucked Up (along with The Menzingers, and the bevy of great folk-punk artists who are gaining steam) is saving punk rock. This is a must listen. - GR

Punk rock died after London Calling. #justsayin - AC

Yes, London Calling is as good as it gets. That being said, David Comes to Life continues the tradition of rock operas and pushes the envelope with a very listenable effort. - MG

43. Tom Morello (The Nightwatchman) - World Wide Rebel Songs (2 votes, 61 points)

This was an unexpected surprise for me. Here is a protest album in the spirit of the 60's and Morello is a much better vocalist than I expected. This was my soundtrack as I watched #OWS unfold this fall. - MG

I love Tom Morello's Nightwatchman stuff; this ramps it up a notch. Well done. -CD

42. Shabazz Palaces - Black Up (2 votes, 64 points)

The cognitive dissonance involved with a rap album on Sub Pop Records was enough for me to give this one a listen. One of the artists in this group was a member of the 90s jazz-rap group Digable Planets. Space-age beats are tight, the rhymes are generally on point. -RB

40 (tie). Cymbals Eat Guitar - Lenses Alien (2 votes, 65 points)

An album that seems to try to go in a lot of different directions. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Uneven but enjoyable, especially if you like a lead vocalist who sounds like a young Tom Petty with a head cold. - AC

I agree with Andrew in that this is uneven, but it's a somewhat enjoyable album to me and feels somewhat like a mix between Circa Survive and Thrice. - RB

40 (tie). Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What (2 votes, 65 points)

A terrific but uneven album by one of pop music’s greatest poet-philosophers. Still creative after all these years, Simon mixes international rhythms and ambient sounds into his well-crafted tunes. So Beautiful or So What stands on its own as a terrific work by someone who continues to create beautiful music. - AC

39. Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes (2 votes, 66 points)

The latest Scandinavian pop sensation to catch on, this Swedish singer-songwriter’s haunting quality is worth more than a few listens. - AC

I didn't rate this, because I thought it came out last year. But I do enjoy Lykke Li's work. She's consistently raising her game and this LP is no exception. - RB

38. Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee, Part II (2 votes, 67 points)

It's the Beastie Boys. If they made the same record every year, I think I'd buy it. Fresh. - GR

This was number 2 on my list this year. Granted, there's a a bit of nostalgia in the pick -- the Beastie Boys were my first "real" concert when I was 9 years old -- but this is solid all the way through and my most listened to album of the year. To add to the awesomeness, the amazing short film for "Fight For Your Right (Revisited)" brings Will Ferrell with more cowbell. - MD

37. Noah and the Whale - Last Night on Earth (2 votes, 72 points)

I picked this up on a whim at the library; thought it looked interesting purely from the cover. I was really pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. -CD

36. The Antlers - Burst Apart (3 votes, 73 points)

Just an enjoyable set of tracks here. It's very understated and a different sounding output than their 2009 LP "Hospice." In the era of downloading just the tracks you like, you can turn this one and let it play all the way until the end. - RB

35. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost (3 votes, 74 points)

As a pure rock album, this might be my favorite of the year. - dw

A great album

34. WU LYF - Go Tell Fire To The Mountain (2 votes, 75 points)

I heard this late in my voting cycle, but mostly because I'd been avoiding it for months. It's hard to really peg, but I like the sound a lot. - RB

Who are these guys? Where did they come from? Are they a bunch of guys from Manchester who recorded this album in a church, or are they space aliens who heard Dave Mathews and thought, "Oh, we can do better than THAT" and broadcast it back to us? Regardless, this album is equally parts strange and beautiful. "We Bros" sounds like a frat anthem... if the frat you were in was Sigma Alpha Fleet Foxes. - dw

Count me among the Sigma Alpha Fleet Foxes pledges. - GR

33. Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin' (2 votes, 78 points)

A throwback to a different era of R&B music. The former Tony! Toni! Toné! member has done a heck of a job in the 2000s putting his own fingerprint on soul. Stone Rollin' is his best effort yet. - RB

I came on this one late, but I really liked this modern take on classic soul. - MD

32. Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones (2 votes, 82 points)

Tim Nekritz recommended I give this guy a listen. I’m happy that I did. - AC

My favorite discovery of the year also released what I consider 2011's best. Could be best described as a young Billy Bragg with a better voice. The simple-wisdom set opener "Eulogy," hometown paean "Wessex Boy" and rousing "I Still Believe" are among many standouts. The version with a half-dozen bonus tracks is worth it for the stunning "Balthazar, Impresario" alone. - TN

31. Dum Dum Girls - Only In Dreams (2 votes, 83 points)

On their second full-length release, the Dum Dum Girls dial down the noise to let lead singer Dee Dee Penny’s luxurious vocals break through. The result is a cleaner, more luxurious product. But the Girls still have plenty of kick -- evidenced from the opening track, “Always Looking” -- and enough reverb to keep them connected to their lo-fi roots. - AC

Andrew turned me on to this as I'd forgotten about it completely. This is just an entertaining rock and roll effort. In a world where we have no Sleater-Kinney, Dum Dum Girls gives us a good grrrl rock band to hang our caps on. - RB

OK, I'm a sucker for the retro-girl-band-rock sound, and few acts do it better. The Dum Dum Girls deliver the goods with "Bedroom Eyes," "In My Head," "Coming Down" and other tracks that shake, shimmer and shine. - TN

30. The Foo Fighters - Wasting Light (4 votes, 84 points)

I don't listen to much "modern rock" anymore, but I did give the new Foo Fighters album a spin and enjoyed it. - dw

They consistently put out solid radio rock. They did it again. I won't change the station in my car if a track from this album comes on. But that's probably because I'm lazy. - GR

Nothing earth-shattering here, and not necessarily their finest work, but it's solid. (Can't take the Lemmy tune, though.) -CD

29. Yuck - Yuck (3 votes, 87 points)

The spirit of Dinosaur Jr. lives on. - AC

It's as if the 90s never left. - RB

Don't get me wrong, I like Yuck's nostalgic throwback to the days I was a college student jamming to Teenage Fanclub, Sonic Youth, and Dinosaur Jr. It's as warm and comfortable as one of those flannel shirts I wore. But it feels too nostalgic. And it makes me feel damn old. It's dad-rock not because it's something your dad would like, it's dad-rock because I AM A DAD NOW. - dw

I didn't catch this one before I made my list. Wish I had. A throwback to the days when "alternative" rock was actually a legit sound. - GR

26 (tie). Radiohead - The King of Limbs (4 votes, 89 points)

Radiohead's name-your-own-price approach to their previous album, In Rainbows, spoiled me. I listened to a few cuts from this album, but didn't buy it. - AC

If you like Radiohead, worth a listen. - TN

Radiohead was overdue for a dud. - dw

A solid "meh." - GR

Boooooring. -CD

I bought the newspaper album edition and while The King of Limbs is no OK Computer or Amnesiac it's an interesting, experimental record. I still enjoyed it. - JG

26 (tie). Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know (2 votes, 89 points)

I'm really torn on Laura Marling. She's an immense talent, a once a generation folk singer. On the other hand, she still sounds 21 and immature, and she's still not fully translated that immense talent into what she could be. I hate to say she's the Ryan Adams of British music, but I have the same "this is good, now show me great" feeling about her albums. In fact, I wonder what it'd sound like to have them in the same room... oh wait, they have been! - dw

What Dylan fails to mention is that Ryan Adams feels it's the opposite. Disregarding the fact that DW says Ryan Adams is "good but not great" – okay, not disregarding it... Ryan Adams has the respect of a ridiculously large body of legendary musicians and producers, recorded with Elton John, produced a Willie Nelson album, has his music known all over the world even if people still ask "Bryan Adams???", and puts on one of the greatest live shows I've ever seen... has DW listened to Heartbreaker? Or Pneumonia? /rant – at 21 Laura Marling sounds a helluva lot more mature than someone like Adele, writing some of the most haunting heart wrenching songs I've heard from anyone at any age. So much so that Ryan Adams scrapped his nearly finished record to re-record Ashes & Fire because he didn't feel his songwriting compared to Marling's. If anything I would argue that Marling showed us great in 2010's I Speak Because I Can and this year she has given us really good. A Creature I Don't Know is a more than solid record with 3 or 4 pure gold songs like Sophia, Salinas, and All My Rage. If you don't appreciate folk, you won't appreciate this album. And though I don't believe it is her most exciting work, it was the best album – complete album – I heard this year. - JG

26 (tie). Ben Folds - The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective (2 votes, 89 points)

I don't count retrospectives on own my year-end list, but everything Ben does is solid. - TN

This went high on my list because there's a ton of value here, and a ton of stuff you haven't heard. Three-disc retrospective done right. -CD

I was so glad I wasn't alone in including this album. Sure, we've heard much of this before, but this is a great collection for Ben Folds fans. - AW

Spotify playlist


  1. Just learned of your blog today from my Higher Ed social networking sensei, Eric Stoller. Already love it! For the back 25, I'll offer an enthusiastic second to:

    Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi
    St. Vincent
    Fucked Up
    Raphael Saadiq

    All viable candidates for my top 20. I usually wait until New Year's Eve to finalize to give myself the holiday break to catch up on things I may have missed.

    Be well,
    Academic Advisor
    Oregon State University

  2. Kerry - Thanks for chiming in. I had Yuck in my top 20; Strange Mercy was high on Dylan's list; and the others you list all fared well on others' lists that haven't yet been posted. We plan to post the top 25 early next week - probably Monday - and other bloggers in this space will likely post their personal picks soon. So keep checking back. ;)

  3. What Joel fails to mention is only two of us voted for Laura Marling... Joel and me.

  4. What both Joel and Dylan fail to mention is that Laura Marling's album got twice as many votes as Wanda Jackson's. That, my friends, is the true travesty.

  5. And just because I love talking to myself in the echo chamber of the Internet, I will add that Paul Simon's album should be higher in the countdown. I've been giving it a listen again these past few days and it is a beautiful, poignant work. It didn't quite make my top 10, but I think if I were to reshuffle it might squeeze in there, or maybe at 11.

  6. In hindsight, I would have Paul Simon's a few notches higher as well. (I had it at #24)

  7. In hindsight, I merely feel stupid that until this list came out I didn't even realize Social Distortion and Paul Simon released 2011 albums.

  8. I tried to like Paul Simon's record, but just couldn't. I need to give it a few more listens and see if it can grow on me. It just felt lazy to me overall.