Ok, it’s finally time for me to make this list. It seems like I out-waited everyone…because this list is obviously the most important. 2011 was a good year for music – not as good as a phenomenal 2010, but still, pretty damn good, with some stone-cold classics for the ages. I changed this list a couple times cuz some albums were just a little better than others – some albums I liked more than other even though it seems as though they were objectively not-as-good – it was tough. But here’s what I’ve arrived at. This is 10-6, tomorrow or whenever I’ll post 5-1. Here they are.
10. Feist – Metals
It was a tight call between this album and Atlas Sounds‘ solid Parallax for the last spot on this list. Though my earlier post about this album lauded it as being better than The Reminder, I’ve since reversed my position because I feel like it doesn’t have as many hugely inspired moments as that album, though I still maintain it holds together a bit better. Unfortunately, the tracklisting tosses the three best songs – “A Commotion”, “The Circle Married The Line”, and “Bittersweet Melodies” – all together around the middle, so whenever I listen to it I feel like I just want to go straight there instead of starting from song one and playing it through; she should have spread those out more. It’s unfortunate, because there are plenty of other great songs on the album…like pretty much every other song on the album. At the end of the day, regardless of the tracklisting of the album, it doesn’t let down in terms of quality: Feist‘s singing and songwriting are as superb and star-worthy as ever. Which is why it beats out the competition to make the list.
9. M83 – Shut Up, We’re Dreaming
This is an example of an album that I’m not going to listen to much, but I can’t deny its brilliance. M83 outdid his already-quite-ambitious self with this double album that takes inspiration from dreams and beautiful fantasies. The lengthy affair never runs out of steam, while songs like “Intro” and “Splendor” break through to whole new realms of musical amazingness, the likes of which Anthony Gonzales has only shown potential for in the past. Despite the fact M83 is technically an electronic act, this album knows no genres or boundaries – only beauty.
8. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
I always respected St. Vincent as a great songwriter and singer, but she was an artist I just didn’t really put into rotation much…until this album. The difference this time around is the emphasis placed on her guitar playing – as every review appears to have noted – but for those who haven’t heard the album, please don’t approach this expecting a lot of soloing and conventional histrionics, it’s so much more than that. I’m not even sure if there is one solo, really, on the album. Instead, the guitars often either provide some chutzpa to songs like “Northern Lights” by virtue of their sound and power, or, better yet, they dance around the melodies and work as accoutrement a la Television and The Strokes in songs like “Cruel” (my favourite), “Neutered Fruit”, and “Dilettante”. And she makes great use of effects pedals to get all kinds of great sounds of out them.
7. John Maus – We Must Become Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves
One of my favourite breakout acts of the year, though John Maus has been making music for a long time now and it just took the rest of us this long to notice it. Admittedly, I think it took him a while to make as good music as he does now, but I don’t really see a huge jump in quality between WMBPCOO and 2006’s Love Is Real. Then again, Love Is Real doesn’t have a standout as obvious as “Believer”, WMBPCOO‘s pop-perfect closer. Or the beautiful little “Hey Moon”, the intimate gem he borrowed (and barely changed at all) from Molly Nilsson.
The rest of the album works great as a thoughtful, and (surprisingly) enjoyable work heavily indebted to the 80s, though Maus apparently wasn’t trying to do an 80s thing. He seems a bit brilliant, a bit weird, but very interesting. Hopefully his next album won’t take too much time in the cooker.
6. Iceage – New Brigade
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Iceage is that they make punk music that isn’t nostalgic or retro-minded – something very hard to find. It’s the punk music of 2011. Not because they use synths and Ableton or whatever – they don’t appear to care about the past, or future, or anything like that. These Danish teenagers just express their anger and frustration in whatever way that they do. And the noise they make is badass. New Brigade is a consistent and perfectly-recorded document of their work. Easily one of the most memorable and exhilarating albums of the year.