The 10: Best Albums Of 2011…Year Of The Virtuoso

By Mike “DJ Mehalicka” Mehalick, Staff Writer

Despite this feature being in its relative infancy, we can’t help but recognize that ‘tis the season for the mediasphere to unleash their annual ‘Best of’ lists.  So what have we taken away from 2011?  What new trends came to the fore and which artists made strides in their impressive debuts or further works? All in all, when we look at 2011, and what was in music, years from now, what will we remember? Let’s dive in (in random order).

10. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

The mythic woodsman persona of Justin Vernon via Bon Iver extends and matures on the band’s sophomore self-titled release. Attaching sweeping sound-scapes to track titles like “Hinnom, TX” or “Minnesota, WI” Vernon works the imaginary into real life narratives challenging the listener to attach the hazy, falsetto delivered lyrics to their own experiences. Bon Iver is equal parts aspiration and reflection with each new step marked with a reverberating idea. Gorgeous in composition and deft in execution Bon Iver’s second album takes everything that was great about their debut and extrapolates it to magnificent effect.

9. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

When examining tUne-yArDs master mind Merrill Garbus’ approach to songwriting one can’t help but notice the inventive looping and ass shaking percussion of tracks like “Gangsta” or “Bizness”. What makes w h o k i l l a truly great album, however, is the frustrated-youth-by-way-of-21st-century-sociological-pressures ideas that extend throughout. Within that box, the one all young adults currently live in, Garbus examines love, wanderlust, and inequality set to some of the most arresting and progressive arrangements of the year.

8. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Girls front man Christopher Owens must have been listening to a lot of classic rock radio in advance of recording 2nd LP Father, Son, Holy Ghost. Obvious influences are sprinkled all across the “album” from the sunshine and surfer slides on opener “Honey Bunny” to the rolling wave riffs of “Die.” Owens makes the best of his borrowing creating truly moving and excellently crafted guitar oriented songs centered on the dark world he grew up in. We’re not the first to make the Pink Floyd comparison and that’s for good reason.

7. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

When was the last time you saw a synth rock double album? When was the last time such an album turned out to be any good? Hurry Up We’re Dreaming is a constant build/explode wave of musical excess at its very best. From the dreamy squawking intro to “Midnight City” to the almost Rush like composition of “Reunion”, M83 leader  Anthony Gonzalez leaves no stone unturned in sculpting a 22 track conceptual epic.

Continue reading for the rest of The 10: Best Albums of 2011… 

 6. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne

Certainly the most hyped album of 2011, rap icons Jay-Z and Kanye West came together to stick a long, flowing, all black flag into the planet of Arena Rap on Watch the Throne. Naturally Hov and ‘Ye go back and forth about their massive wealth, Maybachs, and getting married at the mall, but sandwiched in-between are truly earnest tracks about fatherhood, murder, and fish filet (we really like “N***as in Paris”). What truly makes Watch the Throne stand out from other collaborative hip-hop projects is Mr. West’s always-improving deftness on the production side of the studio glass.

5. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

In complete rebuke to an album like Watch the Throne, Shabazz Palaces debut LP Black Up is roots rap combined with dark, heavy beats and a mercurial delivery by Tendai Maraire and Ishmael Butler. As if songs with titles like “Swerve… the Reeping of All That is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding)” and “A Treatease Dedicated to The Avian Airess from North East Nubis (1000 questions, 1 answer)” you’d expect smart, considerable lyrics and inspired arrangements. If you were expecting that well…then good for you, you were correct in your assumptions.

4. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

Indulging in a full-band lineup in the studio paired along with the unleashing of Annie Clark’s experimental guitar work, St. Vincent managed to put forth its strongest effort yet on its third album Strange Mercy. Continuity in sound and themes prevail from track to track as Clark’s erratic, yet skilled, soloing highlight hard hitting tracks like “Northern Lights,” while honest, pained tales of lust and love like “Dilettante” show off the singer/songwriter’s hauntingly vast vocal range. Strange Mercy is a bold declaration of Clark’s many talents working in earnest and excellence to express exactly where she is and where she hopes to go in her “Champagne Year”.

3. Fucked Up – David Comes to Life

An 18-song epic in four acts Canadian punk act Fucked Up took the conceptual route on its third LP David Comes to Life smashing old, vanguard rock ideals and turning them on their collective ear. The story of a light bulb factory worker and a girl named Veronica, David Comes to Life offers a bold step forward for the band with large guitars and drums, singer Damian Abraham’s fantastic snarl, and an almost Arcade Fire-set-to-punk sensibility. There’s melodious backing vocals and extended, building bridges between tracks that warrant repeat listens for full appreciation, all on a punk album that shatters norms and expectations with each new power chord chug.


2. Destroyer – Kaputt

Hard to believe, but Kaputt marks the 9th album by indie pop outfit Destroyer. Well, they always say the 9th is the best (right?). It’s hard to put a finger on what it is that makes Kaputt so enjoyable, but beyond the teetering-on-the-edge-of-lite-FM style horns is an inescapable, arresting nostalgia that sweeps along the edges of incredible joy and sadness. Mastermind Dan Bejar tells stories of death and despair as a casual aside given his charmingly relaxed delivery. Kaputt is the product of an artist finding comfort in his talents and extrapolating different ideas into an excellent exploration of sad realities.

1. James Blake – James Blake

It’s hard to believe, but we have reached our first significant output from the post-dubstep movement with British producer James Blake’s eponymous debut full length. Blake with his soulful, eerie voice filling up the remainder, meticulously sets up large spaces of sound. Splashes of accapella and traces of minimalist dub step underscore tender songs featuring a voice on par with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon or Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. A stirring first statement from an endlessly talented producer.

Honorable Mentions:

EMA – Life Past Martyred Saints
Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
My Morning Jacket – Circuital
The Weeknd – House of Balloons
Primus – Green Naugahyde

About rote7123

Chris graduated from The College Of New Jersey in May 2011 with a Bachelor Degree in Journalism and Professional Writing, as well as a degree in Communication Studies. He has held down a position in the Asbury Park Press’ Sports Department since September of 2010 and is a contributor to the outlet's Arts & Entertainment section, and has contributed to The Aquarian Weekly all while being the sole operator of Asbury Park's premier music news outlet Speak Into My Good Eye.
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