Patrick Wall’s Top Albums of 2011

Patrick Wall is kind of an asshole.

KNEE MEETS JERK: In Which a Beleaguered Music Journalist Attempts — and Fails — to Identify Ten Records Released Between December 2010 and December 2011 That Were Better Than All Other Releases in the Same Time Period. Listed in alphabetical order. Results subject to change.

Richard Buckner, Our Blood (Merge)
The mere act of recording and releasing Our Blood was a seemingly Sisyphean task for songwriter Richard Buckner: False starts, broken gear, stolen laptops and myriad other strange turns — including a murder investigation involving a headless corpse in the charred husk of car — delayed release of the album, Buckner’s first since 2006’s Meadow. But ad astra per aspera: Our Blood is Buckner’s finest since 1997’s stellar Devotion and Doubt, its nine songs comprising a quiet, atmospheric, aural portrait of struggle, confusion, frustration and the inability to surrender. Our Blood is compellingly listenable, a record of tattered, frayed grace in which answers to questions — both past and present, elliptical and enormous — lie just beyond his grasp.

Collections of Colonies of Bees, Giving (Home Tapes)
One of indie rock’s most pedigreed acts — the band is half of Justin Vernon’s Volcano Choir, and was started as a side project for Pele’s Chris Rosenau and Jon Mueller — Milwaukee experimental rock act Collections of Colonies of Bees works not so much in indie rock tropes as delightful little mind puzzles, layering interlocking sections of Kraftwerk motorik and arena-rock guitars, and mapping movements with a bent that suggests a deep interest in Minimalism. Like Battles’ Mirrored, Giving is full of twists and turns, and melds man and machine in propulsive and enchanting ways.

Des Ark, Don’t Rock the Boat Sink the Fucker (Lovitt)
Aimee Argote’s long-gestating second full-length captures her split musical personality — the mouthpiece leading an efficient, angular rock tempest or as the seething, seated singer-songwriter singing and stomping to her own fingerpicked accompaniment — perfectly without any superficial concessions to either. It’s also her most emotionally wrenching record: “Ashley’s Song” is a brutal retelling of sexual assault squall of pugnacious post-punk; the delicate “Howard’s Hour of Shower” boasts multiple guitar and vocal lines that interact as much as they intersect.

Earth, Angels of Darkness Demons of Light (Southern Lord)
There are two schools of guitar playing — the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink method of cramming as many notes into a bar as possible, and then there’s the sparser approach, in which notes and chords are left to bloom and expand. The emphasis in the second school is on making the tones and notes more expressive; it’s at this second school at which Earth’s Dylan Carlson excels. Since reinventing Earth in the mid-aughts, Carlson has further explored texture and timbre with each release, layering skeletal yet pronounced melodies inside Earth’s trademark drones, creating the aural equivalent of vast, utterly empty desert landscapes. Like the film scores of Ennio Morricone, Earth creates tension and a slightly shifting dynamic — the two-chord vamp of “Father Midnight,” the glacially arpeggiated “Old Black” — as the music intensifies but intentionally never breaks it loose, revealing its considerable power with restraint.

Emperor X, Western Teleport (Bar None)
Chad Metheny was (is?) a high school science teacher, which likely explains his penchant for offbeat and often surreal lyrics, as well has his lo-fi experimental bent. (Not to mention geeky: “Erica Western Teleport” references Dr. Who, Tasers and poor firewire connections.) But Metheny’s arrangements — inventive and alluring — are exemplary additions to his quirky tunes, and not, as is far too often taking the crackle-and-feedback bedroom approach these days, a mask for deficient songwriting. And his lyrics, oblique as they might be, are stunningly shrewd and remarkably perceptive.

Tommy Guerrero, Lifeboats and Follies (Galaxia Records)
As a pro skateboarder, part of Powell Peralta’s Bones Brigade in the 1980s, Tommy Guerrero was well-known for his relaxed style of San Francisco street skating. His musical pursuits share that same relaxed vibe, that same carefree, urban spirit, with Lifeboats a perfect soundtrack to a lazy, back-alley, dog-dangling late-summer afternoon.

Tim Hecker, Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky)
There’s a constant struggle in Ravedeath, 1972, a push and pull between the underscoring, violent and disorienting discord (slashing sheets of grating digital noise, swatches of acidic feedback, distant industrial creaks and groans) and soothing bliss (clouds of soft piano strikes, serene reverb trails, arcing organ tone loops) Hecker imbues in his brooding electronic compositions. The balance Hecker strikes is genius: Ravedeath is beautiful but marked with looming darkness, lovely but woozily malevolent, soothing yet utterly unsettling.

Kendrick Lamar, Section.80 (Top Dawg)
Kendrick Lamar hails from Compton (and has a mysterious and tenuous connection to Dr. Dre), but there’s little link to southern California’s low-slung G-funk in his music. Kendrick Lamar is a product of the blog-rap era, a pointlessly hyperactive and introverted loner type who shines a light on his own insecurities and failings, but rejecting of the outright hedonism (see: Tyler, the Creator) and self-effacing braggadocio (see: Childish Gambino) of his supposed peers. If anything, Kendrick Lamar is closer to late-’90s West Coast rap a la Pharcyde: His dizzying rhymes come out lightning-fast, ideas at times stumbling over one another to escape a mind that thinks way quicker than it can, at times, handle. It’s a debut not without its flaws, but its best moments — “A.D.H.D.,” “Kush and Corinthians,” and “Rigamortus,” which more or less flattens any other rap joint from 2011 that’s not Lil’ Wayne’s “Six Foot Seven Foot” (or maybe A$AP Rocky’s “Peso” — point to a voice-of-a-generation rapper in waiting.

Liturgy, Aesthethica (Thrill Jockey)
Let’s forget all about the extravagant lengths to which black metal troll Hunter Hunt-Hendrix gone to ensure the black metal community hates him. Their hate has made him — and Liturgy — powerful: Aesthethica is alive with more labyrinthine ideas than most black metal bands in a career. Taking black metal’s component parts — razor-sharp guitar blasts, thunderously assaulting blast beats, incoherent gurgles — and invigorating them with a conservatory’s neo-classical approach, Aesthethica plays less like a black metal record and more like an exploded reimagining a Glenn Branca guitar symphony. The fanatics might hate Liturgy, but it’s the outsiders that make music evolve.

The Men, Leave Home (Sacred Bones)
The best hardcore bands are not the most technically proficient; the best hardcore bands are the ones that imbue their music with an invigorating amount of ardor and vigor, of furor and might, of noise and power. Not only is The Men’s Leave Home one of the most sonically imposing records of the year, it’s one of the most adventurous, drawing influence from a wide swath — krautrock’s droning motorik, sludgy metal, shimmering shoegaze, lazy surf — to deliver a furious blast of post-hardcore, one where fragile moments of beauty, like a rose through concrete, can be found among the broken, unhinged clamor.

Mount Moriah, Mount Moriah (Holidays for Quince)
Mount Moriah, in the context of its constituent players, is a bit of an anomaly: Frontwoman Heather McEntire led tough post-punk trio Bellafea; guitarist Jenks Miller leads the ultra-inventive black metal badn Horseback. And yet, Mount Moriah owes much more to traditional country and stately Southern jangle-pop wherein Miller’s economical arrangements perfectly befit McEntire’s strong, sharp, succinct songwriting. At times rollicking (“Social Wedding Rings”), at times torturously longing (the elegant “Plane”), Mount Moriah, whether meaning to or not, captures the unique juncture of the New South, where tradition informs innovation.

Shabazz Palaces, Black Up (Sub Pop)
If hip-hop was in need of a capital-D difficult listen — and one can argue it was — Black Up is it. At the same time it rebels against the ongoing homogenization of mainstream rap, Black Up is in tune with underground hip-hop’s minimalist trend: Shabazz Palace’s beats are murky and fractured, reminiscent of the dark space-race rap of acts like Dalek, Cannibal Ox and Kool Keith. Because the beats are so abstract, the rhymes and flow become paramount. Ishmael Butler’s sparkling rhymes, surreal imagery and bizarro flow hold everything together, eschewing street-tough slang and oblique jazz references — the latter a hallmark of Butler’s previous group, Digable Planets — for inscrutable deadpans that are at once provocative and surprisingly relevant.

Colin Stetson, New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges (Constellation)
Yes, woodwindist Colin Stetson can play powerfully while circularly breathing for long periods, can draw multiphonic melodies out of a sax with inexplicable ease, and can command an audience’s attention with his immense focus and improvisational prowess. Big deal. Lots of modern jazzers can do that. But it’s Stetson’s transcendent and muscular ability to layer sound, breath and rhythm in a meditative compositional style that sticks with you, his skronk never purposeless, his white-hot noise never uncontrolled.

Talons’, Songs for Boats / Kamakura EP (Bark and Hiss)
Songs for Boats is an album full of love songs at the end of the world; songwriter Mike Tolans, erstwhile a member of Six Parts Seven, has said as much, these boat songs came into being as he wondered how he would get home from Spain, where he was studying, once the world, as it so often threatens to do, fell apart. The song cycle plays something like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, except these post-folk songs come alive, sway and pull themselves along towards humble, hopeful ends. (The Kamakura EP, also released in 2011, is an interesting instrumental companion listen, if especially minimalist.)

Toro Y Moi, Underneath the Pine / Freaking Out EP (Carpark)
The chillwave backlash was inevitable. The Pitchfork news cycle hype was so inescapable, the Hipster Runoff-coined term so instantly memetic that of course the addled masses would abandon it en masse for the next big thing. (Hey, it happened to hyphy, too.) Whereas Neon Indian and Washed Out this year put out records that respectively romanced and refined the nascent microgenre, Chaz Bundick — thought not to as a reaction to glo-fi haze of Causers of This — distanced himself from it. It would have been easy for Bundick to feel pressured to live up to the expectations of being the forefather and torch carrier for the hordes of lo-fi musicians crafting similarly sun-damaged electro-pop; it would have been easier to crap out another record of hypnagogic bedroom electronica. Indeed, Underneath the Pine puts Bundick lightyears ahead of his chillwave peers, elevating him from electronic wunderkind to funk-pop ubermensch. It strips away the synth-pop sheen of Causers for a widely expanded sonic palette, touching on musique concrète, krautrock, cosmic jazz and French and Italian film score composers. And though it trades gauzy glo-fi for soft-focus funk, Pine still retains an emotional center, one characterized by melancholy and ennui. Companion EP Freaking Out might even be better.

BONUS ROUND: Twenty Songs not From Albums Not on the List
Adele, “Rolling in the Deep” (21)
Ages, “Only a Mother Could Love” (Made in the Trade)
Ahleuchatistas, “Israel” (Location Location)
A$AP Rocky, “Peso” (LiveloveA$AP)
Capsule, “Rylan” (No Ghost)
Childish Gambino, “Freaks and Geeks” (Childish Gambino)
Coma Cinema, “Eva Angelina” (Blue Suicide)
Hammer No More the Fingers, (The Agency)
Iceage, “Broken Bone” (New Brigade)
Idaho, “You Were a Dick” (You Were a Dick)
Into It. Over It., “Pontiac, MI” (Twelve Towns)
Lil’ Wayne, “Six Foot Seven Foot” (Tha Carter IV)
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, “Senator” (Mirror Traffic)
Trae, “Inkredible” (Tha Truth)
Tyler, the Creator, “Yonkers” (Goblin)
The War on Drugs, “Baby Missiles” (Slave Ambient)
Washed Out, “Soft” (Within and Without)
Gillian Welch, “The Way It Will Be” (The Harrow & the Harvest)
Wugazi, “Another Chessboxin’ Argument” (13 Chambers)
Wye Oak, “Doubt” (Civilian)

Honorable Mention/Apologies To: Ages, Made in the Trade; Ahleuchatistas, Location Location; Apache Dropout, Apache Dropout; Arrive, And Then There Was; David Bazan, Strange Negotiations; Big KRIT, Return of 4eva; Braveyoung, We Are All Lonely Animals; Capsule, No Ghost; Crooked Fingers, Breaks in the Armor; Explosions in the Sky, Take Care Take Care Take Care; The Field, Looping State of Mind; Four Hundred Blows, Sickness and Health; The Front Bottoms, The Front Bottoms; Fucked Up, David Comes to Life; Ghostface Killah, Apollo Kids; Hammer No More the Fingers, Black Shark; Helms Alee, Weatherhead; Iceage, New Brigade; Idaho, You Were a Dick; Indian, Guiltless; Into It. Over It., Proper / Twelve Towns EP; Jealousy Mountain Duo, Jealousy Mountain Duo; Glenn Jones, The Wanting; Krallice, Diotima; Low, C’Mon; Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Mirror Traffic; Megafaun, Megafaun; Milieu, S is for Sleep; Mogwai, Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will; Thurston Moore, Demolished Thoughts; My Morning Jacket, Circuital; Lindi Ortega, Little Red Boots; Owen, Ghost Town; Radiohead, King of Limbs; Raekwon, Shaolin v. Wu-Tang; Royce da 5’9”, Success is Certain; Russian Circles, Empros; This Will Destroy You, Tunnel Blanket; Gillian Welch, The Harrow and the Harvest; Tom Waits, Bad As Me; The War on Drugs, Slave Ambient; Washed Out, Within and Without; Wilco, The Whole Love; Wugazi, 13 Chambers; Wye Oak, Civilian

ACCLAIMED RECORDS I DID NOT LISTEN TO
Alabama Shakes, Alabama Shakes
Beyonce, 4
The Black Keys, El Camino
James Blake, James Blake
Bill Callahan, Apocalypse
Davila 666, Tan Bajo
EMA, Past Life Martyred Saints
PJ Harvey, Let England Shake
The Mountain Goats, All Eternals Deck
Frank Ocean, Nostalgia, ULTRA
Josh T. Pearson, Last of the Country Gentlemen
The Roots, Undun
St. Vincent, Strange Mercy
The Weeknd, House of Balloons
Wild Flag, Wild Flag

ACCLAIMED RECORDS I DID NOT CARE FOR
Battles, Gloss Drop
Bright Eyes, The People’s Key
Childish Gambino, Camp
Cults, Cults
Drake, Take Care
Girls, Father, Son, Holy Ghost
Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne
M83, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
Cass McCombs, Wit’s End / Humor Risk
tUne-yArDs, w h o k i l l
Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring for My Halo
Yuck, Yuck

Drew Harkins’ Top Albums of 2011

Andrew S. Harkins is way too smart to be a redneck, and just slightly too redneck to let your daughter escort her to the … oh, wait, who am I kidding? Don’t let your daughter near this guy.

1. Black Lips, Arabia Mountain (Vice)
The worst part about living in Atlanta is that sometimes it feels like you just can’t get the fuck out of town. Now that’s not to say ATL isn’t cool. I mean, Sid Mashburn reps that Southern steez, there’s always hot shit on exhibit at the High, good-looking girls are everywhere, and, OH, even if you’re a hipster, there’s this whole thing called professional baseball that you might think about looking into. But, man, sometimes you just need to get away from the city and do things Dickey-style. Yep. I’m totally talking about going on Lewis-worthy Deliverance missions. (Minus the whole sodomy thing, obvy.)

What sucks is when you find friends who have the same idea in mind, but then spend the crux of your Friday afternoon following some dumb, ass-around-elbow DeKalb shortcut they *think* will properly get you in the woods after business hours.

Hmmm … welp, Big Gulps, ehhh … Anyway, like it or not, as I mentioned, unless you’re Ted Turner, there simply ain’t no easy way out of Atlanta. And why? Because the city that’s “Too Busy To Hate” was apparently too preoccupied growing Delta and Home Depot to consider how its denizens could get the hell out of town. So basically, no matter which direction you strike, it’s guaranteed that you’ll spend at least an hour on the road before you’re finally, truly done with Atlanta.

[Aside — Now, to be fair, simply joking about being some suburban Snake Plissken does presuppose two things — first, you have to consider Georgia suburbia to be some ‘seminal’ part of the proper Atlanta experience, and second, you’re invariably going to be slammed by traffic at some point during your escape (Which, I promise, you will be. At least 38 out of 40 times. If you’re lucky.).]

Once you come to grips with these caveats, you’ll still realize that no matter how you choose to head out of town, you’ll invariably find yourself somewhere smack in the middle of some fucking phalanx of soulless developments, SHAWTY. And naturally, they all have names like ‘Dove Tree’ and ‘Quail Manor’ and whatnot. Well, hell. So many neighborhoods were constructed, I doubt there’s one single quail or deer left in either Gwinnett or Cobb counties. (I know I frolic and detour, but somebody please prove me wrong.)

Again, why? Because they bulldozed all the rolling hills at the tip of the Blue Ridge to house a shit ton of septic tanks that, every day, suck the waste from six million or so shiny, happy, Georgians holding hands. So to get to the point, thanks, Atlanta. Not only for being the ‘Capital of The South’, but also for your soulless, tacky, exurban splendor, and for serving as a role model for the rest of the region — bequeathing your jealous little sister Charlotte and squatting out such gems as Greenville, Chattanooga, Birmingham, Knoxville, and the rest of the proper/modern South we’ve so learned to love.

Anyway, this whole thing is about music, isn’t it? Basically what I gather of the Black Lips is that in some strange way, suburban Atlanta actually directs their verve. Yep. Not Downtown. Not Little Five. Not EAV. Hell, not even Buckhead, Bankhead (AW SNAP) or Brookhaven. It’s kind of cool but also kind of funny when I hear Cole from the band say he’s from “Dunwoody, Georgia” in an interview. Because if you didn’t know better — and especially if he had more of a Southern accent — you’d think Dunwoody is the quail hunting reserve in a Tom Wolfe novel instead of another faceless, affluent suburb of Atlanta.

Apparently the Black Lips dudes live in town now. And you’ve probably read that Vice Magazine ‘Guide To ATL’ which conveniently coincided with the release of “Arabia Mountain.” It’s definitely recommended, but unfortunately, the Vice map basically just keeps you around downtown. Insofar as an easy intro to ITP hipster life, it is good. But it doesn’t mention The Pink Pony. Or Chambodia. Or All Or Nothing in Vinings. Or the King and Queen Buildings in Dunwoody. Or any of the OTP weirdness that basically makes Atlanta, well, Atlanta.

And lastly, it doesn’t mention Arabia Mountain in the least. Which is kind of curious, because not only is it the name of the album the piece was ostensibly created to promote, but is also the namesake of an area hike skool, but also, more importantly, is more or less the only easily-accessible and outdoorsy-type place within the Atlanta metro area whereby you can escape the abscess of shit-poor city planning and find some sort of semblance of ‘solace’.

So, if you wanted to get all aspirational / sophomore English class and “come full circle,” you could say that Arabia Mountain, as a physical landmark, draws some pretty close parallels to its eponymous album — a monadnock, an outlier, a high point, and a benchmark that rises above one of America’s largest swathes of monotony and mediocrity.

But personally, I recommend that you don’t do that. Because, Jesus Christ, that would be cliched as shit.

(P.S. — Mark Ronson just got you with “Deez Nutz.”)

2. Bass Drum of Death, GB City (Fat Possum)
These guys kept popping up on my friend’s Twitter feed and I finally checked them out. I then downloaded their album. And it’s really fucking good.

In South Carolina, we too often say, “Thank God for Mississippi.” Because, comparatively, as states, S.C. and Miss. are basically both the two most pre-eminent and pathetic bottom-feeders in educational, economic and obesity-related categories. Occasionally S.C. will score higher than Mississippi in some or another ranking of note or measure. And how cute is it that we’ve found a scapegoat for our rejoicing?

With this one, our friends from Oxford basically said, “Thank God For South Carolina.” And the only thing you really need to know about this album is that it is a no-frills and near pitch-perfect rock record.

Also, they’re fun to party with. (See how cool name-dropping is? I’m going to try to do it as much as possible throughout this list. Feel free to buy me a beer next time we hang out, John.)

3. Death, … For The Whole World To See (Drag City)
This is MY list, son. And I’m totally cheating the hell out of this one. Just because I can. Apparently this record was technically released in 2009 on Drag City, but all you beanie-wearing motherfuckers slept on it until this year.

Sucks for you. Death would’ve been not only a Hipster Runoff curiosity/fameball (does anybody still use that term?), but also one of the few acts to put out a record in 2011 that would still be talked about for decades to come.

Anyhow, here goes the totally obligatory and pedantic music journalist backstory!!!!! YES!: Three black dudes grow up playing rhythm and blues in 60’s Detroit, dig on Iggy & The Stooges, MC5, etc., and in the latter part of the decade, begin work on a proto-punk album that predates the Sex Pistols and The Ramones by about five years and, personally, still blows my mind nearly 40 years later. Anyway, as the story goes, Clive Davis apparently wanted to sign the band. On one condition: they would change their name to something less morose. “SUCK MY JOHNSON, CLIVE DAVIS,” they said. (I mean, more or less. They probably were just like “hell naw” or whatever. It wasn’t that big a deal.)

But seriously? Who tells Clive Davis that? It’s the equivalent of your schmuck friend going up to Tom Brady and saying, “Your gay.” (Sic intended.) Ummmm, “naw dog.” Sorry. He’s knocking up supermodels while you’re lamenting his Sunday performances on the Internet. Tom Brady wins. So does Death.

4. Megafaun, Megafun (Hometapes)
You thought they nailed the ultra-smooth folk jam vibe on “The Fade”? These dudes stepped up their game even further. I had sinus surgery in October and was on painkillers for over a week. Until I got tired of the whole “not feeling feelings” thing, pretty much all I did was listen to “Get Right” on repeat.

5. Des Ark, Don’t Rock The Boat, Sink The Fucker (Lovitt)
Dear Aimee Argote, I’m sorry I said on Twitter that your music was akin to “Feist Meets Tool”. Really and truly, I’m just one single bro in a huge cadre of bros who sometimes try to say funny things on the Internet. (Don’t mind me, bro, but thanks for the RT!)

I’ve really wanted to make it up to you, so I’m hoping that this decidedly sentimental and fawning compliment might do the trick. The beauty of your songwriting comes when you wrench every last drop of anxiety, danger and uncertainty out of any riff or half-spoken sentiment.

This year, simply listening to “Ashley’s Song” did the trick.

6. Girls, Father, Son, Holy Ghost (True Panther Sounds)
Remember that meme “Spiderman Made Me Gay”?

http://www2.b3ta.com/spidermanwillmakeyougay/

HAHAHA. GIRLS JUST MADE YOU GAY.

(SRSLY THO BRO, NO HOMO: BEST POP SONGS UV DA YEAR.)

7. Toro y Moi, Underneath the Pine (Carpark)
I’m getting tired of writing about my friends in Toro Y Moi. But I guess the world should know that I danced like a total fruitcake to “How I Know” for months.

8. Richard Buckner, Our Blood (Merge)
For such an effusive guy, I could never figure out how Buckner writes such downtrodden records. On the phone, in person, whenever I talk to him, he’s always been affable as all get out. Well, whatever his problem is, it’s apparently as melancholy as you can get. When he releases it in song, it’s really, really, really goddamned good.

9. Cults, Cults (Columbia)
It tore me apart, but I never loved her. She let it go away so I let it bleed out.

10. Wugazi, Wugazi (Self-released)
Typically, it takes a lot for me to give credence to *self-promoting* DJ’s or “mix artists.” (Feel free to deride my perfunctory guitar skills right back. My name ain’t Karen.) I really appreciate when I’m out and a DJ caters perfectly to the vibe of a crowd. When it happens, all is well. And so that goes. But when you have to endure a shitty DJ, it makes you think about their task in another way: Their job is basically just to pick up on vibes and non-verbal clues, and to simply keep heads bobbing.

Now, believe it or not, the profession does require an innate sense of interpersonal skill. And just like in regular life, some folks are amazing at pleasing others, some are overbearing salesmen, and some are just downright shitty.

But in the most literal sense, a lot of professional DJ’s are still just that — disc jockeys. They’re riding someone else’s blood, sweat and tears to glory, not to mention forgoing the whole “personal achievement in adroitly wielding an instrument in concert” thing … you know, if such a thing even exists anymore.

Anyway, the obfuscating part is that it all can still be construed under that vague umbrella known as “ART.”

As your shitty, corporate Kool-Aid-drinking middle manger would say, “At the end of the day, Kemosabe, the problem still exists.” Now, I’ll make this easy: After this album, I no longer care. I’m over hating DJ’s and deriding mash-up artists. Ohhhhh kaaaaaayyyyy, so nobody here is an auteur, and nobody can claim musicianship, except for non-representative clans Wu-Tang and Fugazi. Yeah, basically this record is a piece of collage art. And sure, music comprises the result, but the act itself isn’t music. If I cut out the Mona Lisa and slapped her fat ass onto Guernica, I could call that concept art. But that sure as shit don’t make me a painter.

Do I still seem bitter? Even I’m not sure. But basically, having spent how many grafs on this, who the fuck cares? Because this record is SO TIGHT.

###

Honorable Mention Handjobs:

*Miranda Lambert, Four The Record — Don’t you think for one second that I don’t still have a kick in the nuts waiting for Blake Shelton.

*Smith Westerns, Dye It Blonde – This album is catchy and has nice guitar licks. That’s all I can really say about it.

*Ray LaMontagne, God Willin’ And The Creek Don’t Rise — Yes. Okay. The attractive, bearded guy is actually a popular musical artist. Believe it or not, some people achieve fame for having talent. Making good music is a pretty surefire way of displaying your talent.

*Drive-By Truckers, Go-Go Boots – It took me a long time to get into this one. But to be honest with myself, hell, DBT could do everything short of shit on a microphone and I’d probably, eventually come around to it.

*Mastodon, The Hunter – Slay. Slay. Slay. My friends say that Brent from the band is a total weirdo (Do you see how I’m name-dropping YET AGAIN? I DON’T EVEN PERSONALLY KNOW THIS GUY.). Let’s party together, dude. That El Myr commercial you did was hysterical.

*Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring For My Halo – It’s kind of a bummer, but also kind of great. Whatever.

*Wanda Jackson, The Party Ain’t Over – Basically the next best national treasure we have to Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.

@kerryrm’s Top Albums of 2011

10. Cults – Cults: Pastiche, but such a good pastiche.

9. James Blake – James Blake: Over-hyped by the British press, and yet…

8. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation: Hazy, dreamy bedroom pop from a 22yr old with heartache? Yes, please!

7. Class Actress – Rapprocher: Synths + Drum machines + Female vocals = sold!

6. Still Corners – Creatures of an Hour: Cinematic and lush.

5. Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong: Mature follow-up from these twee indie-pop darlings. Still catchy as fuck, too. POBPAH are aging well.

4. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming: There could have been 20 versions of Midnight City on this double album and I would have been happy.

3. Little Dragon – Ritual Union: This record makes me want to dance in the streets (of Gothenburg).

2. Architecture in Helsinki – Moment Bends: It’s ’80s shmaltz as all get out, but I love every bit of it.

1. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes: I won’t lie, I’ve listened to this album on repeat for days on end since March. I am beyond *smitten*.

Top Singles*: (in no particular order)
Lana Del Rey – Blue Jeans
Phantogram – Don’t Move
Dum Dum Girls – Bedroom Eyes
Jamie Woon – Night Air
Fitz and The Tantrums – Moneygrabber
Tom Vek – A Chore
Childish Gambino – Freaks and Geeks
Kelly Rowland – Feelin Me Right Now
Tinariwen – Asuf D Alwa
Chad Valley – Now That I’m Real
The Grates – Turn Me On
Holy Ghost – Wait and See

(*My rule is that my top singles can’t be on any of the albums in my top album list.)

Kerry’s previous lists: 2010, 2009, 2008

Eric Greenwood’s Top Albums of 2011

If one could wear out digital files, I would have torn up these ten albums.

1. Iceage, New Brigade (What’s Your Rupture)
I can’t even in begin to describe how terrible the songs were that I wrote when I was 17. So, the fact that these four teenage Danes blast out of the gate with such refined taste just boggles my mind. Adorned in Fred Perrys, blunt, close-cropped haircuts, and instigating bloody noses at shows, Iceage plays rudimentary, retrograde UK post-punk, which can feel tiresome if approached without bringing something new or at least interesting to the table, but Iceage defies all logic with this energetic, thrilling, and bold statement of intent. Dark wave, no wave, Warsaw. Some bands make you think. Some bands make you feel … like smashing your face in a windshield. This is unquestionably my new favorite band.

2. Laura Marling, A Creature I Don’t Know (Ribbon)
When I read that Ryan Adams threw away an entire new batch of tunes because he heard Laura Marling’s last record, I Speak Because I Can, I immediately had to seek her out. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so bowled over by anyone’s raw talent since the first time I heard Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark. At 21, Marling seems like a wise-beyond-her-years cliché, yet her songwriting is so sharp, her lyrics so vivid and insightful, and her voice so piercing that “cliché” is the last word that comes to mind. She is truly in a league of her own. If you play guitar and write songs, your inferiority complex may require medication after listening to A Creature I Don’t Know.

3. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (Vagrant)
PJ Harvey’s career trajectory should be taught in school as an example of how to make it in music on your own terms. Uncompromising almost to a fault, Harvey has followed her muse through her own growing pains as a woman. The fact that she’s so vital at this stage of her career is a testament not only to her talent but also to her vision as an artist. Let England Shake is Harvey’s artistic pinnacle, wherein she lets history inform her storytelling in a way that speaks beyond her usual crushing intimacy.

4. The Drums, Portamento (FrenchKiss)
I wrongly assumed The Drums were just another NME-approved blog-hype buzz band before even hearing a note of music, so I dutifully ignored them, thinking I’d done myself a favor in skipping the latest fly-by-night trend. Then I randomly heard a song on Sirius XMU attributed to The Drums and thought, “uh-oh, I kind of love this.” Thus began my infatuation. The Drums play infectious indie-pop with references as disparate as The Shangri-la’s, The Smiths, The Beach Boys, and New Order. Portamento is a dark left turn compared to the poppier self-titled debut, but I return to it far too often to ignore. And by “too often” I mean every single day.

5. The Horrors, Skying (XL)
For a band that began as a silly-looking Goth gimmick, The Horrors have matured into one of England’s finest exports, gaining experimental ground on every new record. Skying pushes the envelope a little further, fusing retro synths with the darker side of 80’s post-punk to form a more modern tribute to shoegaze, all without compromising its Cramps-meets-Birthday Party edge. Skying is awash in guitars and cocksure attitude with expansive breakdowns and tangents that prove The Horrors are not afraid to showcase their chops. It’s a confident step forward, despite all the obvious reference points. Of course, only the best bands can steal ideas this blatantly and still sound inspired.

6. Class Actress, Rapprocher (Carpark)
Since Depeche Mode was my gateway band to the underbelly of alternative music when I was a teenager, I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for any type of dark synth pop. Class Actress delivers a sleek, skeletal brand in spades. The choruses are instantly lodged in your memory bank and what the vocals lack in power, they more than make up for in style. That style happens to be glassy-eyed, detached boredom, which is not everyone’s cup of tea, but, as a Stereolab completist, it’s right up my alley.

7. Elbow, Build A Rocket Boys! (Polydor)
Elbow straddles a difficult line in presenting its anthemic, intricately crafted, expansive modern rock against the personal politics of the everyman. It’s hard for bands to expand their musical scope while maintaining mass appeal. Elbow doesn’t seem too concerned with commercial viability here, considering how musically dense this album is, but vocalist Guy Garvey has such an instantly relatable voice that the melodies seep in whether you want them to or not. The songwriting itself seems very simple in terms of chord structures, but the orchestration and subtleties betray a higher level of sophistication than most bands could hope to achieve. Garvey sounds sincere and broken without coming off overly sentimental, and it’s his voice that makes this album so profoundly rewarding.

8. Kate Bush, 50 Words for Snow (EMI)
I was obsessed with Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love in high school. I’d never heard anything like it or her. It was cartoonishly grandiose and pretentious but also absolutely heart-rending in its intimacy and immediacy. Bush has an extraordinary voice and an uncanny ability to transport you wherever her wild imagination wants you to be. 50 Words for Snow is a bleak return, but Bush is always best when she’s forlorn.

9. Arctic Monkeys, Suck It and See (Domino)
Not everyone “gets” the Arctic Monkeys. Particularly Americans, for some reason. Maybe it’s Alex Turner’s accent. But in England they have the fastest selling debut of all time. This is no accident. Over the course of their last two albums, the Arctic Monkeys have shifted into darker and heavier territory, leaving some fans of the earlier, catchier tunes more than a little befuddled. But with an inflection that makes the mundane sound devastating, Turner is a one-of-a-kind presence, and as long as he’s writing and singing the lyrics, everything else falls into place: “I heard an unhappy ending/it sort of sounds like you leaving.”

10. Duran Duran, All You Need Is Now (Tape Modern/S Curve)
Let’s check the wristwatch. Yep, 2011. So I’m puzzled as to how Duran Duran is putting out a record of this caliber a good quarter century beyond its teeny-bopper expiration date. Mark Ronson should be credited with this late-career, most unlikely of unlikely comebacks. He persuaded the band to bag keeping up with its contemporaries with transparent, gimmicky collaborations and just do what it does best: soaring hooks, analog synths, and Chic, Roxy Music-inflected dance-rock. Ronson, evidently, has the magic touch to make this band sound vital again. Without laying the hyperbole on too thick, All You Need Is Now can hang with Rio in the cannon. No small feat. And Simon Le Bon is just a bad ass singer. The man is in his 50’s now and naturally nails choruses bands today can’t even ProTools their way near.

Logan K. Young’s Top Albums of 2011

Logan K. Young is a music critic, who lends his proverbial pen to myriad online publications, including the esteemed Trouser Press. His application to the Heavenly Kingdom will most assuredly be flagged but not for the following lists:

Top 10 Albums
1. Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)
2. Lou Reed & Metallica, Lulu (Warner Bros.)
3. Demdike Stare, Tryptych (Modern Love)
4. John Maus, We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves (Ribbon Music/Upset The Rhythm)
5. Colin Stetson, New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges (Constellation)
6. Nicholas Szczepanik, Please Stop Loving Me (Streamline)
7. Tim Hecker, Dropped Pianos (Kranky)
8. Zomby, Dedication (4AD)
9. Louis CK, Live at the Beacon Theater (self-released)
10. The Fall, Ersatz G.B. (Cherry Red)

Top 10 Singles
1. Oneohtrix Point Never, “Replica” (Mexican Summer/Software)
2. Wye Oak, “Holy Holy” (Merge)
3. Baby Dee, “Regifted Light” (Drag City)
4. Lana Del Ray, “Video Games” (Interscope)
5. Prurient, “A Meal Can Be Made” (Hydra Head)
6. U.S. Girls, “The Island Song” (Kraak/Calico)
7. Dum Dum Girls, “He Gets Me High” (Sub Pop)
8. Anne Pigalle, “Saint Orgasm” (self-released)
9. James Blake, “Case Of You” (Universal Republic)
10. Gruff Rhys, “Slashed Wrists This Christmas” (self-released)

Top 10 Reissues
1. Can, Tago Mago (Mute)
2. Angus MacLise, Dreamweapon I (Boo-Horay)
3. Father’s Children, Father’s Children (Numero Group)
4. Granddaddy, The Sophtware Slump (V2/Universal)
5. Throbbing Gristle, 20 Jazz Funk Greats (Industrial)
6. Einstürzende Neubauten, Silence Is Sexy (Potomak)
7. Morton Feldman & Samuel Beckett, Neither (Hat Hut)
8. Crass, Christ, The Album (Crassical Collection)
9. Harold Grosskopf, Synthesist (RVNG Intl)
10. Bob Dylan – In Concert: Brandeis University 1963 (Sony Legacy)

Top 10 Gigs
1. Haters @ Pyramid Atlantic, Sonic Circuits Festival. Silver Spring, MD – 16 Sept.
2. Dean & Britta @ National Gallery of Art, 13 Most Beautiful: Songs from Andy Warhol’s Screen Test. Washington, DC – 12 Nov.
3. Just Alap Ensemble @ Dream House. New York, NY – 5 Nov.
4. Toro Y Moi @ Gamecock Theatre, Indie Grits Festival. Columbia, SC – 16 Apr.
5. Selena Gomez @ Maryland State Fair. Timonium, MD – 26 Aug.
6. Sissy Spacek @ Highline. Seattle, WA – 11 Dec.
7. Cloud Nothings @ Pianos, CMJ Music Marathon & Film Festival. New York, NY – 19 Oct.
8. Dismemberment Plan @ Paradise Rock Club. Boston, MA – 28 Jan.
9. Raincoats @ Comet Ping Pong. Washington, DC – 17 Sept.
10. Hans-Joachim Roedelius @ Velvet Lounge. Washington, DC – 12 Oct.

Kevin Foster Langston’s Top Albums of 2011

An Alphabetical Exercise in Futility
by a man who bought more books
than records in Twenty Eleven

via KFL

The Decemberists, The King is Dead (Rough Trade)
Iceage, New Brigade (What’s Your Rupture)
Cass McCombs, Humor Risk (Domino)
Cass McCombs, Wit’s End (Domino)
Josh T. Pearson, The Last of the Country Gentlemen (Mute)
Real Estate, Days (Domino)
Talons’, Songs for Boats (Own Records)
Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring for My Halo (Matador)
Tom Waits, Bad as Me (Anti)
The War on Drugs, Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian)

Song of the Year: “Baby Missiles” by The War on Drugs

Robert Howell’s Top Albums of 2011

Robert Howell is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Southern Methodist University. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Brown University. In addition to writing a few books, Robert knows a thing or two about music. Here are his Top 11 Albums of 2011:

11. Cults, Cults (In the Name of/Columbia)

10. St. Vincent, Strange Mercy (4AD)

9. M83, Hurry Up We’re Dreaming (Mute)

8. Other Lives, Tamer Animals (TBD Records)

7. Atlas Sound, Parallax (4AD)

6. Wye Oak, Civilian (Merge)

5. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Unknown Mortal Orchestra (Fat Possum)

4. tUnE-yArDs, W H O K I L L (4AD)

3. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (Vagrant)

2. Peter, Bjorn and John, Gimme Some (Almost Gold/Startime International)

1. Low, C’mon (Sub Pop)