Thursday, December 22, 2011

Steve's 25 (26, Actually) Favorite Albums of 2011

First of all, thanks to Andrew Careaga for asking me to participate in this again. This has evolved into a fun challenge yearly and has been especially nice this year with the new faces and very varied musical perspectives. One of the best things about doing this is simply seeing what others listen to and like, so there's a lot of new material that makes its way into my listening queue - for better or for worse.

With that said, below are my favorite albums of 2011, with commentary for the first few. If you're interested, here's a Spotify playlist with one song from each album in the order below. It should be noted that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo soundtrack came out after I created this list, and it's a rather epic (word not used lightly) album, so I've listed it as an asterisk at the end. Enjoy! (or don't!)

1 Puscifer - Conditions of My Parole
Vocal harmonies a'plenty, this album improves on Puscifer’s first in every way. From front to back, it’s a much more interesting listen sonically, both instrumentation and vocals, and Maynard does far more singing. When you’re the best rock vocalist in the world that matters. As you'd expect, humor is sprinkled around here and there, but it's not near as a focal point as before. Most of these songs have some serious themes. My favorite of the year.

2 SONOIO - Red
The biggest difference between Red and Blue (his first album) is Allesandro Cortini’s confidence. He seems way more comfortable behind the mic and that comes across in his melodies and the pop-feel many of the tracks have. His pitch is high, but it works surprisingly well within the context of the music, and the vocal arrangements are excellent.

3 Glassjaw - Coloring Book EP
Though it’s only an EP, this is the best music Glassjaw has ever produced, IMHO, which is why it's ranked this highly. If you can get behind Daryl Palumbo’s voice (not everyone can, but I love it), I think there’s an incredible amount to appreciate here. More experimental than what they’ve done in the past, these songs feel slowed down, even when they really aren’t. There’s a lot of variety within each song but that variety is pieced together to perfection. It’s a different, more mature kind of aggression from Glassjaw.

4 Bon Iver - Self Titled
I think it’s kind of crazy to see this masterpiece number 4 (and behind an EP nonetheless!) but that’s what makes these lists personal. This album is otherworldly and you’ve probably heard all that can be said about this record. Let's just say GREAT. In fact, head to a cabin in the woods to listen to it.

5 Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972
This dreamy instrumental album will take you places that you don’t understand; places that make little, if any, sense. Then again, it could take you somewhere familiar, too. Just be assured you'll travel somewhere, and that can be a very rewarding thing.

6 ††† - EP †
I don’t take including EPs in these lists lightly. It’s certainly appropriate to judge them a little harder given they’re going up against full-lengths. But when the art is great, the art is great. When Chino Moreno dabbled in Team Sleep, I thought the results were mediocre, even boring at times. In his first side project away from the Deftones since then (I think), he’s found something that works and I only hope a full-length is in the works. Dude can sing (but you knew that), and this EP captures what Team Sleep was missing. Several songs have almost power ballad-like melodies.

7 James Blake - Self Titled
I’m not sure if I’m a James Blake fan in the whole scheme of things, but I couldn’t stop listening to this album when it came out and I have the utmost respect for it. I was constantly thinking that I’d never quite heard anything like this before. Such close attention to music detail, plenty of off-timed beats, quirky arrangements, and spacey vocals, all wrapped up in something very raw and stripped down.

8 Tycho - Dive
A headphone listen if I’ve ever heard one, much of this record strongly reminds me of Boards of Canada. There is plenty of thumping that’s easy to bob your head to, but it’s ultimately reserved, and results in a peaceful listening experience from beginning to end.

9 The Horrors - Skying

10 M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

11 Tim Hecker - Dropped Pianos

12 Lights - Siberia

13 Big Black Delta - BBDLP1

14 TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light

15 Animals as Leaders - Weightless

16 Amon Tobin - ISAM

17 The New Regime - Speak Through the White Noise

18 Grouper - A I A : Alien Observer / A I A : Dream Loss

19 The Cool Kids - When Fish Ride Bicycles

20 Washed Out - Within and Without

21 Gold Panda - Companion

22 Does It Offend You, Yeah? - Don't Say We Didn't Warn You

23 Com Truise - Galactic Melt

24 Apparat - The Devil's Walk

25 Radiohead - The King of Limbs

* Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

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