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Best Albums of 2011

January 29, 2012

Little late for a best of list, no? That’s the nice thing about having your own blog — you make your own deadlines. Now here was a year defined by albums I didn’t like. Kurt Vile? Pass. Weeknd? Nope. M83? Nah. Wye Oak, Real Estate…not so much. Adele? Please. I’m even more surprised I wasn’t taken by some of my favorites like Wilco and Okkervil River. The albums weren’t bad, but they weren’t great either. And I wish someone would politely ask My Morning Jacket to start making good country-rock albums again. Alas, here you have it:

Departing

1) Rural Alberta Advantage: Departing. From the opening lines, “Two lovers stuck in a sweet embrace” to the very last lines “maybe we might get back together, goodnight” I was mesmerized. Just the type of album I’ve been waiting for all year and I only found it last week. Actually, I did hear one track a month ago, but that was a mistake. This is an album you need to listen to in one sitting from beginning to end – preferably in a cold setting. The album has four key components: Tom Waitsian outlook sprinkled with Arcade Fire emotional integrity sung with a Jeff Mangum-like voice backed by some serious drumming. A chilly, touching album about embraces and what’s left in their wake. Key track: “Two Lovers.”
2) Antlers: Burst Apart. Dark, baroque, and hauntingly beautiful. Shades of Amnesiac. Quite a sophomore effort. Key track: “No Widows.”
3) Caitlin Rose: Own Side Now. Country’s new darling. Following her since her EP a few years back. Golden voice with plenty of attitude and song-writing skills to go along. Add Linda Ronstadt reference here. Key Track: “Own Side.”
4) Typhoon: A New Kind of House (EP). Did this guy just pick an EP as one of the best albums of the year? You’re damn right I did. Deal with it. Like with RAA’s Departing the EP works as one continuous thought — this one being a meditation on space and the idea of home. Bad-ass harmony to boot. Key Track: “The Honest Truth.” Also, watch this.
5) Bon Iver: Bon Iver. Guy who made awesome neo-folk album in cabin in the woods reinvents himself with his second album. Dreamy landscapes and plenty of lush vocals with a whole new sonic dimension and instrumentation you didn’t hear on the first effort.
6) Udo Lindenberg: MTV Unplugged: Live Aus Dem Hotel Atlantic. Yes, I just added a German album to my top 10. What can I say? I’ve got range. I admittedly knew nothing about Hamburg’s version of Bob Dylan until this year. The Unplugged set is a great introduction to the music with plenty of great guest appearances. And yes, it’s in German. Key track: “Cello feat. Clueso.”
7) Decemberists: The King is Dead. Erudite folk-rockers put out a solid sixth album. No epic Welsh poems or rock operas here — just good ‘ole country-folk tunes. Americana at its finest. Key track: “Don’t Carry it All.”
8) Beirut: The Rip Tide. Everybody’s favorite gypsy troubadour, who’s really just a white American middle-class guy, gets back to basics on his third album. Key track: “East Harlem”
9) Black Keys: El Camino.  You might as well just pencil the Black Keys into every top ten list I do from now until the end of eternity. Perfunctory at this point. Key track: “Nova Baby.”
10) Dan Mangan: Oh, Fortune. Canadian singer-songwriter’s third effort. Folksy ballads that are good for the soul with plenty of sweet orchestration to wash it down. Key track: “Jeopardy”

Honorable mentions:
Radiohead: King of Limbs. Just cause its Radiohead. Key tracks: “Codex.”
Middle Brother: Middle Brother. Alt-country superband – uneven, but enjoyable. Key Track: “Blue Eyes.”
Blind Pilot: We Are the Tide. Loved the first effort – this one is a little slick for my taste, but some strong tracks. Key track: “Get it Out.”
Papa: A Good Woman Is Hard To Find. Another great EP – what can I say. Key track: “Ain’t it So.”
Low: C’mon. Another good album from lo-fi royalty. Key track: “Nightingale.”
Alabama Shakes: Alabama Shakes. One last EP for good measure. A whole lot of soul going on here – can’t wait for the LP. Key track: “Hold On.”

Albums I honestly didn’t listen to yet that might end up on this list:
Iron and Wine: Kiss Each Other Clean
Bright Eyes: The People’s Key
Barton Hollow: The Civil Wars
William Tyler: Behold the Spirit
The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient
Other Lives: Tamer Animals

And it goes without saying that my favorite music every year is produced somewhere deep down in the lungs of my girlfriend. Listen to her sing here (and please pass on to all of your Opera house-owning friends)!

See Best of 2010 here.

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