For 2011, it felt like I listened to a lot of music. But in retrospect, I didn’t listen to that much. As a result, instead of listing my top forty albums as I did last year (on Facebook, here’s my list from 2010), I have limited this list to twenty-five artists who I feel span a vast array of genres, representing what I feel is the best of the year.
25. Cold War Kids – Mine Is Yours
Though I hadn’t previously heard much of Cold War Kids, I really thought Mine Is Yours was super catchy, singable, and really fun to listen to; it’s a good album for a road trip.
24. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead
With their sixth album, The Decemberists explore a new sound in an effort to push themselves as musicians, Colin Meloy, the main songwriter, even stated “this album took a lot out of me as a musician.” I think all their hard work made The King Is Dead album one of their best.
23. David Bazan – Strange Negotiations
Following one of my favorite Bazan albums, Curse Your Branches, Strange Negotiations was another well planned release on Bazan’s part. Intricately filled with his poetic songwriting style, you can hear Bazan’s aggressive feelings toward God in this emotional record.
22. City and Colour – Little Hell
Dallas Green pours his heart out on this album. Filled with heart-felt lyrics, outstanding vocals, and fantastic compositions, Green sings about his wife’s nightmares, his sister’s mental health problems, and his own deficiencies as a person.
21. Radiohead – The King of Limbs
While I liked this album, it wasn’t nearly as good as anything else Radiohead has released as a band. But, Radiohead is still amazing, and King of Limbs made this list.
20. Ben Folds – The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective
I’m a big fan of Ben Folds, and always have been. As one of pop rock’s piano playing showmen, he’s always fun to watch and great to hear. The Best Imitation of Myself gives the benefit of retrospectively looking back over the best of his career thus far.
19. Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto
It took an extended period to get into this album, but I must confess Mylo Xyloto is lovely. The band banished Chris Martin during the writing process in order to create a new sound, and they certainly achieved it on this album.
18. MUTEMATH – Odd Soul
Composed during a forced lock-down at lead singer Paul Meany’s home studio, the band produced an intricate, well-thought album with great melodies and catchy lines. Also, the music video for “Blood Pressure” is crazy.
17. Black Keys – El Camino
Following their breakthrough album, Brothers, El Camino is a straight ahead rock-and–roll album with raw, driving lyrics and melodies. Largely self-produced, this record is some of the best rock-and-roll around.
16. Iron and Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
This album is Iron and Wine’s newest highly produced electronic album. At first I didn’t like Kiss Each Other Clean, and when Iron & Wine performed it in concert I hated it. But, with further listening, I conclude that there is still good songwriting in the album, even if I miss the old days of simplicity.
15. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Simply put, this album is at least worth a listen. Though it’s not my favorite of the year, and I feel that the band hasn’t really improved or grown since their freshman release, the music is still worthwhile, even if the lyrics aren’t especially well crafted.
14. Explosions in the Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
Take Care, Take Care, Take Care possesses some of the most passionate, and powerful music of Explosions in the Sky’s career. It’s easy to just get lost in the intricacies of the band’s sound. This album is haunting and beautiful.
13. Foster the People – Torches
A previously unknown band, Torches hit the top of the charts quickly. Unbeknownst to most, Foster the People has more songs than “Pumped up Kicks”! However, most of the tracks are similar to one another. But, if you want ten tracks of toe tapping tunes, Torches is for you.
12. Amos Lee – Mission Bell
A very soulful album, Mission Bell is one of my favorites that Amos Lee has released. There are tons of guest artists on here, including Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam and music legend, Willie Nelson. In all honesty, there is no weak track Mission Bell.
11. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
Fusing the visceral and cerebral, the lyrics on this track are simply outstanding. Filled with more intricate guitar parts than her last album, there is an instrumental complexity to Strange Mercy that I felt her last album lacked. Filled with songs of a very personal nature, this album blends huge emotional hits with well-done musicality.
10. Wilco – The Whole Love
I was growing tired of the same old Wilco sound, and then as if the band heard my despair, they released The Whole Love. Wilco pushed themselves and evolved as a band with this record. It’s lyrically brilliant and musically complex. So, give it a listen.
9. James Blake – James Blake
Featuring a blend of the electronically complex and simple songwriting, James Blake has come up with a fusion of styles that surpasses his Dubstep roots.
8. Death Cab for Cutie – Codes And Keys
From what I can recall, Codes and Keys is the only upbeat Death Cab record I have heard. Either it was born out of his days of wedded bliss, or the new desire to actually fill a stadium with sound. At any rate, this album super good.
7. Antlers – Burst Apart
Antlers expand on their last album in this release by exploring highly emotional themes. Simply put, Burst Apart is a beautiful record.
6. Lady Gaga – Born This Way
Look, don’t judge. Get past your snobbery and just face the facts: Lady Gaga is a brilliant songwriter and artist. She’s only twenty five, and writes her own lyrics. There’s emotional depth, catchy lyrics, and overall pure wonderfulness. Born this Way deserves to make this year-end list.
5. Florence + The Machine – Ceremonials
I was blown away by the production in Ceremonials, every snare hit and every guitar string plucked was planned out and made to sound the best it possibly could. This album is pure magic.
4. Beirut – The Rip Tide
I had never heard of Beirut before this album was released, but now I can’t get over this Balkan folk-rock. Wow.
3. Feist – Metals
A beautifully written album which I am convinced is Feist’s best. My favorite track is the opener, “The Bad in Each Other” which begins with the best drum beat ever.
2. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Nominated for four grammy’s, this album is well worth the listen. Most albums produced recently aren’t albums any more, but this one is; it tells a story. Bon Iver is an emotional and spiritual journey that simply moves the soul.
1. Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys!