Gabriel Mathews’ Top 20 Albums of 2011! And More! Sometimes NSFW

It’s that time again. Forgoing the pretentious reviews this time, but I’d like to open with a few equally pretentious comments and observations regarding this here year that was, music-wise.

First off, I’d like to note what a great year this was for women in music: within my top twenty alone, you’ll find five solo female artists and two half-female duos. My number one album was largely the work of a woman (the glorious Jenn Wasner). The honorable mentions section has a few women in it as well, and even outside the list, people like Feist, Beyoncé, and Zola Jesus did commendable work this year. Not to mention Adele, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Azealia Banks, and Lana Del Rey, whatever you think of her. (I have to admit, of course, that once again, the complaint that my list is lacking in music by black people is valid, unfortunately. It’s frequently just not my thing, apologies.) Also interesting this year was the power of the duo: four within the top twenty if you include The Throne, which, I mean, come on.

Secondly, let’s get this out of the way: 2011 was a disappointment. I found 2010 pretty disappointing, as you can see if you look back at that list. But this year was even more so: tons of great artists who should have made amazing albums made lackluster ones instead. Chief among these were Fleet Foxes, Beirut, Zola Jesus, Feist, Man Man, M83, and The Rural Alberta Advantage. I was so, so excited for every single one of their albums, expecting absolute greatness, but was let down time and again. Fleet Foxes fouled up by altering Robin Pecknold’s vocal style to its detriment, laying the psychedelia on too think, and  penning overly pedantic, aphoristic, and personal lyrics (remember the depersonalized beauty of their debut’s near complete lack of the word “I”?) Beirut’s The Rip Tide was an admittedly modest album, which was pleasant enough, but we all know Zach Condon is capable of more. Zola and Feist fell into the same pit of rehashing old styles without much inspiration (Nika—bring back the noise! I love you forever, but, come on!! Please!!), resulting in unmemorable music. Man Man, one of my perennial favorites, seem to have run out of ideas that fit their unique style (as evidenced by Ryan “Honus Honus” Kattner’s far superior work with Mister Heavenly). M83 managed to make a double album that was significantly less epic than his classic Before The Dawn Heals Us. The RAA just tragically hit a standard sophomore slump with Departing, after their debut had become one of my very favorite albums of the past few years.

Additionally, it’s sort of odd and obnoxious, how, in a year as filled with political (and other) strife and conflict as 2011, so much love was shown to music based in absolute lack of strife. Destroyer, Bon Iver (who I admittedly love), M83, Real Estate (see below for more on that one). All of these were praised for being so goddamn pleasant, in a year that really didn’t call for it. While there were a few overtly political albums that got a lot of credit—P J Harvey’s Let England Shake and tUnE-yArDs’ w h o k i l l most notably—the Handsome Furs album was sheer political awesomeness and it was pretty soundly ignored (Also, I kind of think the sudden love for Harvey’s record on end-of-year lists was more of an attempt to praise something political than anything else, though I should probably listen to it before saying so.)

A small note: people keep going on about 2011 being “the year of the saxophone.” If this is true, it’s not because of the many jazzy soft-rock solos that cropped up everywhere (from Deerhunter late in 2010, to Destroyer, M83, Eleanor Friedberger, Bon Iver…), it’s because of Colin Stetson, the man who single-handedly made the sax a completely awesome thing that it’s never been before.

Finally—So much overrated tripe this year! Much of which I haven’t even listened to! So I probably shouldn’t talk! But, at the very least, I can deride Fucked Up, who made one of the most boring albums I’ve heard, M83, with a similar complaint (five memorable songs out of twenty-two is just not a good track record), and, again, sadly, Fleet Foxes. Apparently, it’s not all about ambition and grandiosity, after all.

Again, I’ve embedded video or audio of some variety for each album in the top twenty, for your viewing/listening pleasure. EPs were allowed.

Anyway, in the immortal words of Vinny from Snatch, “Let’s not stand on ceremony. Let’s start the show.”

20 ALBUMS I REALLY WOULD’VE LIKED TO LIKE ENOUGH TO FEEL CONFLICTED ABOUT NOT PUTTING THEM ON THIS LIST (In alphabetical order):

13 & God-Own Your Ghost
BATTLES-GLOSS DROP
Beirut-The Rip Tide
Beyoncé-4
Bill Callahan-Apocalypse
Chad VanGaalen-Diaper Island
Childish Gambino-Camp
Drake-Take Care
Feist-Metals
Fucked Up-David Comes To Life
M83-Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.
Moonface-Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped
Nurses-Dracula
The Rural Alberta Advantage-Departing
Tapes ‘n Tapes-Outside
Tom Waits-Bad As Me
The Weeknd-Thursday and Echoes Of Silence
WU LYF-Go Tell Fire To The Mountain
Youth Lagoon-The Year Of Hibernation

20 ALBUMS I PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE HEARD BEFORE MAKING THIS LIST, BUT EITHER DIDN’T GET AROUND TO OR DISMISSED BASED ON ONE OR TWO SONGS, WITH NO DISTINCTION MADE HERE BETWEEN THESE TWO CATEGORIES (In alphabetical order):

The Black Keys-El Camino
The Builders & The Butchers-Dead Reckoning
Colin Stetson-Those Who Didn’t Run EP
Danny Brown-XXX
Das Racist-Relax
Destroyer-Kaputt
Frank Ocean-Nostalgia, Ultra.
Gem Club-Breakers
Girls-Father, Son, Holy Ghost
The Men-Leave Home
My Brightest Diamond-All Things Will Unwind
Neon Indian-Era Extraña
Oneohtrix Point Never-Replica
Phantogram-Nightlife EP
P J Harvey-Let England Shake
Shabazz Palaces-Black Up
Toro Y Moi-Underneath The Pine
The War On Drugs-Slave Ambient
Wilco-The Whole Love
Wild Flag-Wild Flag
YACHT-Shangri-La

1 ALBUM I PATENTLY REFUSED TO LISTEN TO OR ACKNOWLEDGE FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS LIST (In alphabetical order):

Real Estate-Days

10 HONORABLE MENTIONS (In alphabetical order):

Braids-Native Speaker [Kanine Records]
Emanuel Vinson-Summer 20: re-up [Self-released]
Gang Gang Dance-Eye Contact [4AD]
Low-C’mon [Sub Pop]
Mister Heavenly-Out Of Love [Sub Pop]
Okkervil River-I Am Very Far [Jagjaguwar]
Smith Westerns-Dye It Blonde [Fat Possum]
Tim Hecker-Ravedeath, 1972 [Kranky]
TV On The Radio-Nine Types Of Light [Interscope/4AD]
Typhoon-A New Kind Of House EP [Tender Loving Empire]

TOP 20 ALBUMS OF THE YEAR (In descending numerical and ascending qualitative order):

20. Grouper-A I A: Alien Observer [Yellowelectric]

19. Radiohead-The King Of Limbs [Self-released]

18. Iceage-New Brigade [What's Your Rupture?]

17. Eleanor Friedberger-Last Summer [Merge]

16. Arctic Monkeys-Suck It And See [Domino]
Mildly NSFW

15. Kurt Vile-Smoke Ring For My Halo [Matador]

14. Atlas Sound-Parallax [4AD]

13. EMA-Past Life Martyred Saints [Souterrain Transmissions]

12. tUnE-yArDs-w h o k i l l [4AD]

11. James Blake-James Blake [ATLAS/Polydor]

10. Jay-Z and Kanye West (aka The Throne)-Watch The Throne [Def Jam/Roc-a-fella]

9. Panda Bear-Tomboy [Paw Tracks]

8. Dodos-No Color [Sub Pop]

7. The Weeknd-House Of Balloons [Self-released]

6. St. Vincent-Strange Mercy [4AD]

5. Tom Vek-Leisure Seizure [Island]
mildly NSFW

4. Handsome Furs-Sound Kapital [Sub Pop]
NSFW

NSFW

Handsome Furs – “What About Us” from stereogum on Vimeo.

3. Colin Stetson-New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges [Constellation]

2. Bon Iver-Bon Iver, Bon Iver [Jagjaguwar]

1. Wye Oak-Civilian [Merge]


Oh, and, obviously:

0. ibid.-This Could Have Been A Warmth[Self-released]

Happy New Year!

Gabriel Mathews
KOXY Tech Staff

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