2011 Mid Year Wrap Up: Best Albums
- Yuck – Yuck – One of the brightest newcomers and one of the most fun records of the early part of the year comes in the form of early Superchunk and Dino Jr. 90’s guitar-driven alternative indie rock. The UK band is one I’m eagerly awaiting to see this summer.
- Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver – Love it or hate it. This seems to be an ongoing discussion regarding Justin Vernon’s sonic shift from the loneliness and solidarity of For Emma, but for me, Bon Iver, Bon Iver, is everything I could’ve asked for in the evolution of a band that includes one of the most polarizing voices in popular music today.
- John Maus – We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves – Dark, cold, numbing throwback electro-pop from this former Minneapolis musician/composer. The Ariel Pink and Panda Bear collaborator will see a new fan base with this new set of tunes. “Believer” is one of the coolest songs of the year so far.
- Panda Bear – Tomboy – It’s a tall order following up an album as staggering as Person Pitch, but the A.C. member delivered on his latest LP with a collection that flows fluidly and lives up to the hype and lofty expectations.
- Woods – Sun & Shade – Following up their last two terrific LPs, Jeremy Earl’s band returns with perhaps their best release yet. “Pushing Onlys” is currently a front-runner for my favorite song of the year/summer.
- Shabazz Palaces – Black Up – The spaced-out, atmospheric production and cutty verbal onslaught by the former Digable Planets member Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler make Shabazz Palaces’ debut one of the more complex and interesting albums of the year in and out of hip-hop.
- Big K.R.I.T. – Welcome of 4Eva – As one of raps rising stars, Big K.R.I.T. shows off his incredible sonic production and lyrical chops on his best release to date. If you don’t know Big K.R.I.T. or Freddie Gibbs, where the hell have you been?
- Braids – Native Speaker – This Canadian band was one of the best live shows I’ve seen all year. Their debut album is terrific, but their music is fully justified in a live setting, where the walls seemingly melt away and Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s vocals hypnotize even the most casual, fleeting listener.
- Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation – Fuzzy bedroom dream-pop from Boise native Trevor Powers. One of the best breakout artists so far this year. If you don’t know him now, you will in a few months.
10. Cults/Tennis/The Babies – It’s summer, right?
ANTICIPATING: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Male Bonding, The Shins, Pomegranates, Cymbals Eat Guitars, Memory Tapes, Spank Rock, Active Child, Gauntlet Hair
Mike Watton (Haunted House)
1. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo: Perfect for driving down a highway in Nebraska by yourself in the middle of summer. Perfect for sitting in a tenth floor window and looking down on Manhattan in December. Kurt Vile is a universal ass kicker from Philadelphia, and it’s safe to say he understands what makes rock n’ roll good. And that’s one of the highest compliments I can pay a person.
2. Big K.R.I.T. – Return to 4Eva: I really wasn’t sure what to make of this at first, but now it occurs to me that it follows “K.R.I.T. Wuz Here” in a similar way to how “ATLiens” followed “Southerplayalistic” for Outkast. Not as warm sounding, not as catchy, but still excellent.
3. Radiohead – King Of Limbs: I get the feeling that this is the least popular Radiohead album, at least since OK Computer came out. Maybe they’ve been around forever now, and a new release from them just isn’t an event anymore. Or it could be that King Of Limbs just isn’t an easy listen. It really does take time to appreciate it. It needs that “right place, right time” moment. But there’s definitely a lot of quality there to be found.
4. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra: If there’s ever an interior decorating invention that allows completely realistic fake flames to engulf your apartment and make it look like everything is burning, I’d have to think about having this album on my stereo. Except the first track, which is not to be listened to. But after that? Summer chill out fake flames in your not-R&B face.
5. Stalley – Lincoln Way Nights: Just signed with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music because, among other things, he told the boss man that he wanted to buy a farm. You can expect to be seeing more of his name in the next few years. He has a great beard, and a great ear for breezy beats. The guy’s got a sort of Amish hip hop swag. Midwestern, reserved product, facial hair.
6. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact: It’s not “God’s Money,” their 2005 classic, but it’s an improvement over “Saint Dymphna,” their last full length. The songwriting quality lags a bit at times, but they’re trying to do things no other band does, and they manage to make it happen in a listenable and pleasant way. Not an easy thing to do.
7. Sightings – Future Accidents: I have a massive amount of respect for these guys. Not many people are capable of listening to the music they make, and that’s a shame, because Mark Morgan living in a Hollywood Hills mansion is the America that I want. If you’re ever in a position to see them live, do not miss the chance.
8. E-40 – Revenue Retrievin’: Overtime Shift/Revenue Retrievin’: Graveyard Shift: He’s a god in the Bay Area for a reason. And not just because he filled the Yay Area Ambassador of Hyphy role that Mac Dre left behind. The man is an amazing rapper, it’s virtually impossible to find a track he’s on where another rapper outshines him. And he knows how to pick very cool, dirty-ass Oakland/Vallejo beats that fit his style. These two releases probably would’ve been better suited as one super album, but you can do that editing yourself in iTunes.
9. DJ Quik: The real “rap’s Grateful Dead.” He’s never really had the hits his status would suggest. Still, he’s putting out great albums, at a point in his career where the Dead was making the very disappointing “Go To Heaven” and “In The Dark.” He may even be getting more play from suburban white kids now with Pitchfork’s great review of this album. Bob Weir hasn’t even gotten a review on there yet.
10. Wet Hair – In Vogue Spirit: I admit I haven’t always been the biggest supporter of this band, even though they’re Iowan. I may have said things about previous releases such as “I liked this album better when it was called ‘Each One Teach One’ and was performed by Oneida.” But they’re evolving. Not drastically, but it’s working. The tenth best album released during the first half of 2011.
1.Bill Callahan Apocalypse
This year one of my favorite all time artists created possibly his best record yet
2.Juliana Barwick The Magic Place
One of the most beautiful albums I have heard in a long time
3.Nicholas Jaar Space is only Noise
Jaar creates amazing experimental/ambient/jazz compositions
4.Dirty Beaches Badlands
Yeah, so maybe Dirty beaches rips off Suicide. Most artists rip off others in some way or another, and generally the result isn’t nearly this good
5.Tune-Yards Who Kill
This album is light-hearted, forward thinking, and overall a lot of fun.
6.John Maus We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
Underground legend John Maus has created his most accessible work yet
7.Peaking Lights 936
I love the dark, atnmosheric mood this record creates – perfect night hawk music
8.Brute Heart Lonely Hunter
That’s right – a local abnd in the top ten. And its where they deserve to be
9. Anna Calvi S/T
Completely underappreciated but brilliant – this record is an terrific piece of gothic rock
10. Shabazz Palaces Black Up
This one has slowly grown on me – a recent hip hop album that I really like (which for me is increasingly rare)
1.Shabazz Palaces- Black Up
Wildly innovative record that is as enjoyable and perplexing as it was a few months back after my first spin.
2.Peaking Lights- 936
Dubbed out pop bliss….a versatile pop album that unfolds differently each time you hear it.
3.Bill Callahan- Apocalypse
Mr. Callahan does it again with his dark, seven song opus to the U.S of A.
4.Beirut- The Rip Tide
Yep, after only a few days and less than 20 listens, I can say this. Zach Condon is amazing.
5.Mark McGuire- A Young Persons Guide to Mark McGuire
After the amazing Living with Yourself, a much needed collection was put together of McGuire’s older, self-released work.
6.John Maus- We must become the pitiless censors of ourselves
Much like Areil Pink’s Before Today, We Must Become…. is the artistic statement that will bring Maus to a much larger audience. Transfixing electro pop of the highest order.
7.Ty Segal- Live in Aisle Five/Ty Rex/Goodbye Bread
Another solid studio LP, a record of T Rex covers and a scorching live album. Just another year for this prolific 23 year old garage rock stalwart.
Sounding like a charging cousin to the atmospheric synth voyages coming out of Minneapolis, Forma create a commanding album that feels equally organic and pre-meditated. Look for a tape on Moon Glyph soon.
9.Gang Gang Dance- Eye Contact
Confident, stretched out pop music dragged through the warped lense that GGD have mastered over the last decade.
10.Pure X- Pleasure
A soothing, chilled out meditation that wrangles in pop and fuzzy instrumentals into a package that flows from start to finish.
Honorable Mentions (Handsome Furs- Sound Kapital, Woodsman- Rare Forms, Cass McCombs Wits End, Dirty Beaches Badlands, Julian Lynch Terra)
1. Adele “21”
2. Saigon “The Greatest Story Never Told”
3. Random Axe “Random Axe”
4. DJ Quik “The Book of David”
5. Raphael Saadiq “Stone Rollin'”
6. Big K.R.I.T. “Return of 4eva”
7. Panda Bear “Tomboy”
8. Fleet Foxes “Helplessness Blues”
9. The Antlers “Burst Apart”
10. Bon Iver “Bon Iver, Bon Iver”
- Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
- Bon Iver – Bon Iver
- Destroyer – Kaputt
- The Strokes – Angles
- Radiohead – King of Limbs
- PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
- Cass McCombs – Wit’s End
- Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts
- Smith Westerns – Dye it Blonde
- Low – C’mon
1. D Charles Speer & The Helix – Leaving The Commonwealth
2. Young Widows – In And Out Of Youth And Lightness
3. Mike Watt – Hyphenated-Man
4. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo
5. Wire – Red Barked Tree
6. Dead Rider – The Raw Dents
7. US Christmas – The Valley Path
8. The Tunnel – Fathoms Deep
9. Shilpa Ray – Teenage and Torture
10. Death Grips – ExMilitary
- Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
- Kurt Vile – Smoke Rings For My Halo
- Unknown Mortal Orchestra – S/T
- Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
- Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong
- Bill Callahan – Apocalpyse
- Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital
- James Blake – James Blake
- Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest
- Destroyer – Kaputt
Writer / co-founder