Wednesday, June 22, 2011

So Far This Year: Kyle's Top 10 Albums of 2011

10. Bright Eyes "The People's Key" - Any new output from Bright Eyes is always exciting. This, in particular, stands as an exquisite blend of his "Digital Ash" days and his newer turns with the Mystic Valley Band. If you add in, of course, a rambling paranoid (Denny Brewer of Refried Ice Cream (please, do yourself a favor and click that link)) and the Oberst's unmistakable voice, you have the makings of a fantastic album.

09. R.E.M. "Collapse Into Now" - As a dyed-in-the-wool R.E.M. fan, I was trembling with excitement with their latest "return to form," having been moderately unimpressed with their last "return to form," "Accelerate". That is not to say that R.E.M. has released a bad album, as they certainly have not, but "Collapse Into Now" is like running into an old friend.

08. Bon Iver "Bon Iver, Bon Iver" - This is the first appearance on the list of an artist's radical departure from his sound. Bon Iver left his steel-bodied guitar in the cabin, packed his bag and met up with Kanye and Rick Ross in the tropics to record another magnificent album drenched in layered harmonies and meticulously arranged soundscapes that is completely new and yet comfortingly familiar.

07. Walk the Moon "i want, i want" - Cincinnati's Walk the Moon debuts with a killer album full of synthy goodness combined with upbeat summer rock and tight world music rhythm. Seeing them live at Bonnaroo was definitely a plus, as it brought the albums raw energy into a live setting and really let them expand upon the sounds they deftly craft on "i want, i want."

06. Akron/Family "Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT" / "BMBZ" - The experimental folk rock blues jam acid trip synth happy trio return with a stellar album AND a Record Store Day release of a solid sonic backdrop to play alongside of it. I have absolutely loved Akron/Family, even back in their straight(er) folk days and am always blown away by the way they continue to develop an enchanting, singular sound.

05. Alexander "Alexander" - Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes frontman Alexander Ebert takes a step back from the group and manages to record a delightful album of tunes that are at once instantly recognizable and somehow unique enough to separate "Alexander" from the Edward Sharpe persona. From rasta-based mellow almost-raps to hopped up hippy-bop, Ebert crafts a truly magnificent album.

04.  My Morning Jacket "Circuital" -This is as pitch-perfect as My Morning Jacket has been. Careful horn arrangements and lingering synthesized beats combines the best parts of their jamtastic rock/folk/blues sounds they've built a fan base on with the electronic wizardry they've experimented with on their later releases, replete with Jame's soaring, reverb-drenched falsetto and amazing lyricism.

03. Fleet Foxes "Helplessness Blues" - Robin Pecknold and the Fleet Foxes released a remarkably constructed self-titled debut in 2008. After listening to that album, it was difficult to believe they'd return with anything that could rival it. Then they released "Helplessness Blues," and immediately jaws worldwide hit the floor as the sophomore slump turned into a sophomore sensation. Fleet Foxes returned with all the harmony-drenched folk splendor that had marked their first album, and brought along enough extra kick to blow their debut out of the water.

02. Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside "Dirty Radio" - Sallie Ford rocketed into my CD player with their debut LP. The mix of a phenomenally tight roots-bop band and Ford's emotionally manic vocals makes for a sound and an album that breathes a fresh new life into a genre with a waxing popularity and an increasingly homogenous sound.

01. Iron & Wine "Kiss Each Other Clean" - When the early rumors surfaced that Iron & Wine's new album would feature a full band and a new, electric sound, I was excited. The loud sounds of an electrified live retooling of Iron & Wine staples on "Norfolk" were no clear indication of what that meant. In what is so far the best album of year, Sam Beam and company mix a swirl of elaborate arrangements with raw emotion.

Honorable Mentions
TV on the Radio - "Nine Types of Light," Adele - "21," The Decemberists - "The King is Dead," Paul Simon - "So Beautiful or So What?," Cut Copy - "Zonoscope," James Blake - "James Blake," Robbie Robertson - "How to Become Clairvoyant," Death Cab for Cutie - "Codes & Keys"

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