Thursday, June 23, 2011

So Far This year: Terry's Top 10 Albums of 2011

10. Bright Eyes - "The People's Key"
Conor Oberst's latest outing under the Bright Eyes moniker is a welcome return to form. Though not his best by any means, The People's Key strikes a balance between the vastly different sounds on two of his most iconic albums: I'm Wide Awake It's Morning, a collection of more traditional folk offerings in the signature Saddle Creek style, and the sparse digital sounds of the bleak Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. The two styles mesh better than expected to create a well-formed album, perfect for inquisitive listeners willing to go below the surface and experience the true depth of Oberst's songwriting.

09. The Mountain Goats - "All Eternals Deck"
There is no such thing as a bad Mountain Goats album. The mad genius John Darnielle has shown time and time again that he is not slowing down any time soon: after making music for two full decades, he still manages to weave albums chock full of punchy, hyperliterate anthems that no other singer-songwriter can quite seem to execute.

08. Manchester Orchestra - "Simple Math"
It's apparent from the very first notes that Simple Math is the album that Atlanta's native son Andy Hull has always wanted to make: densely layered rock ballads with lush string accompaniments with themes of existential anguish and autobiographical storytelling deeply rooted in every melody. Hull's lyrics have never been so crystal clear or hard-hitting, and the band seems to have adjusted to rock stardom fairly well, loading the album with the loud, powerful energy that makes their live show so unforgettable. All in all, Simple Math is a bone crushing rock record with heart and brains to spare.

07. Panda Bear - "Tomboy"
With this long awaited followup to the universally acclaimed Person Pitch, Animal Collective's Noah Lennox treads new ground in his signature style. It seems as though Panda Bear (and most Animal Collective-related material) constantly begs the question: how weird can music get while still actually sounding good? With Tomboy, Lennox has answered the question with a resounding "very." The ambient, seemingly structureless soundscapes somehow manage to remain engrossing throughout, and can at times get pretty damn catchy.

06. My Morning Jacket - "Circuital"
A surprise addition to my list, I was immediately impressed by the latest sojourn from Jim James and crew. It's a psychedelic blast of alt-country that is among the best work we've seen from this band since 2005's Z.

05. Radiohead - "The King of Limbs"
There's not much I can say about The King of Limbs that hasn't already been said; it's Radiohead foraying yet again into the dark, moody electronica that made 2000's Kid A such a landmark album. The Oxford quintet has shown yet again that, even ten years later, they are truly inimitable and still pushing boundaries.

04. Alexander - "Alexander"

Perhaps the most overlooked release of the year is this gem from Mr. Edward Sharpe himself, Alexander Ebert. I found this album infinitely more enjoyable than any of the Magnetic Zeros output, steeped in vintage charm and endlessly replayable. Ebert shows off his vocal range, mustering sounds of everything from reggae and soul to good old fashioned folk to create something completely unique and definitely worth checking out (even if Edward Sharpe isn't really your cup of tea).

03. Fleet Foxes - "Helplessness Blues"
Continuing with the themes presented in their eponymous debut, Fleet Foxes have managed to craft another fantastic folk album. Helplessness Blues shows the band treading new ground in song structure and instrumentation while remaining true to the harmony-driven mountain music that made their first album so viscreal and dreamy. Frontman Robin Pecknold has continued to mature as a musician and wordsmith, and I cannot wait to see where the Foxes go next.

02. Iron & Wine - "Kiss Each Other Clean"
This one probably holds the record for most listens in 2011. I was initially taken aback by the drastic change in sound from Iron & Wine's earlier lo-fi folk, but found myself loving this album more and more with each listen. Instead of acoustic poetry singer-songwriter fare, we have a strange sort of easy-listening pop record that's hard not to love. Once you hear the bizarre blend of 70's funk/soul/R&B with the gorgeous lyrical imagery we've come to expect from Beam, you'll be hooked for quite some time.

01. Bon Iver - "Bon Iver, Bon Iver"
Easily the best record I've heard in 2011 (and among the best I've heard in years), Justin Vernon's second solo album is pitch-perfect down to its core. It's everything we loved about his debut fleshed out with dense instrumentation and intricate composition. It is the work of an absolute master, heartwrenching and awe-inspiring, and I can't recommend it strongly enough. There's six more months left in 2011, but this is definitely contender for album of the year and it'll be a hard one to top.

Honorable Mentions:
21 by Adele, Strange Negotiations by David Bazan, Fingerlings 4 by Andrew Bird, The King is Dead by the Decemberists, Take Car, Take Care, Take Care by Explosions in the Sky, Rare Bird Alert by Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers

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