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Top 10 Albums of 2011

10. Cults, Cults, [In the Name Of]

I think I heard somewhere that the random voice samples on this album are from real life cult leaders. Isn't that crazy? So what if you can't understand them; it's neat. This band is some art school duo. I think it's a dude and a lady so I'm going to pretend there's love. For romance, duh. Oh! The album! It's rad. Plenty of catchy oldies-style tracks about love and relationships and stuff (romance, the good sides and bad). "Go Outside" is a rocking time. Ditto for "Bad Things." "Bumper" has some male/female call and response going on and you know that's good. The band has simple percussion, spacey bells, and the catchiest melodies. You'll be tapping your toes. [Sean]

9. Gillian Welch, The Harrow and the Harvest [Acony]

I'm getting older. And with getting older comes the more and more willing admission that I like music that I used to ignore for being "too boring." Folk/bluegrass singer Gillian Welch released her first new album in seven years with The Harrow & The Harvest and it reminds me of the grassy Appalachian mountains featured in FX's Justified. Welch and songwriting/performing/life partner David Rawlings craft gorgeous, sad melodies about sad, dark stuff. Sadsies abound! Songs like "Scarlett Town", "Tennessee" and "The Way It Will Be" sound like they have existed for eternity, and will continue to exist for eternity. [Qualler]

8. Real Estate, Days [Domino]

 I am a simple person with simple needs. Give me sparkly guitars and hummable vocals and call it a day. I didn't even like Real Estate's first album, but the tunes on Days are just so far and above the humdrum acoustic lo-fi wanker that was wildly popular for some reason two days ago. I'm glad they've changed with the times, because half a decade ago there was this band called Human Television that I thought for sure was the second coming of jangle pop, but then they faded away and I got sad. Luckily this hipster band is filling the void and making the sound come alive again. But what makes me most happy about this record is that not every song is just the obligatory mid-tempo slacker anthem with pretty guitar lines. There's the hyper side ("It's Real"), there's the languorous side ("Green Aisles"), and the off-kilter quirky side ("Out of Tune") too. But okay, mostly it's just a lot of insanely pretty guitars. [Chris]

7. The Roots, Undun [Def Jam]

I'm a sucker for concept albums, so when The Roots released one late in 2011, I was all over it. Their record Undun does not disappoint in that regard. The album follows a man named Redford Stephens (named after Sufjan Stevens' Michigan record song "Redford" and, assumingly, Stevens himself), a man who has to choose between a life of crime and a life of legitimacy. Of course, it wouldn't be compelling if the music wasn't great, and it is. Both slinky and cool, upbeat and dark, Jimmy Fallon's house band crafts great beats throughout. Ever since The Roots got their gig on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, they seem even more willing to explore new facets of their abilities. [Qualler]

6. Julianna Barwick, The Magic Place [Asthmatic Kitty]

Blogulator co-writer DoktorPeace vehemently disagrees with the praise given to this album by Qualler and yours truly. He says it gives him a "headache." And yet to me it's a collection of some of the most peaceful sounds ever created by a human being. Another Blogulator co-writer, Sean, went so far as to make fun of Barwick by recording his voice emulating her airy ambient coos and layering it a bunch of times while trying to stifle his own laughter. Well poo on them I say. While I can sympathize with the argument that if a bunch of effects and reverb need to be slathered on top of a voice or instrument then there's a minimal amount of musical proficiency at the artist's outset, I don't think that's what's necessary to make profound sounds or more frankly, good art. Barwick takes a very simple yet wholly original approach to making angelic choral solo music and it soars. You can't argue that it doesn't soar. If it soars so much it induces pain in your brain, then I guess you were meant for her grandeur. But I was, dammit, and it's effing gorgeous. [Chris]

5. Katy B, On a Mission [Columbia]

The British dubstep-y (or, at least, her producers dabble in dubstep, I think?) pop chanteuse Katy B released an album full of songs that, in my dreams, are popular enough to get the whole floor of a future wedding party going like crazy on the dance floor. Of course, the secret to a great dance pop record, as is the secret with all albums, is good songwriting, and On a Mission delivers in that regard. From the slinky-sexy beats of "Witches Brew" and "Movement" to the Toni Braxton-esque sad-breakup song "Go Away" (listen to the chorus where the multi-tracked vox in the chorus!), the record is full of straight up great songs with melodies that creep into your head. And it's a great alternative to the Ke$has and Katy Perrys for quality pop music good for running. The best part? She thanks all of us for listening with a long thank-you section at the end of final song "Hard to Get". You're welcome, Katy B. [Qualler]

4. R.E.M., Collapse Into Now [Warner Bros.]

R.E.M.'s swan song probably wouldn't be on my list of favorite albums of 2011 if it weren't their swan song, but my Favorite Band of All Time dropped the swan song bomb on us in September, months after the release of their fifteenth studio album with their breakup announcement. In typical understated R.E.M. fashion, the signs of imminent breakup are all over the album, from the epic opening track "Discoverer" to the even-more-obvious-"we're-gonna-break-up-now" track "All the Best" (lyrics like "I'll give it one more time / I'll show the kids how to do it fine") to the maybe-the-moment-they-decided-it-was-over "It Happened Today" (probably in my top 20 R.E.M. tracks of all time), to the Patti Smith-guesting funeral dirge "Blue" that gives way to one more blast of "Discoverer". Context is everything, so putting this record in the context of their swan song makes the musical content all the more immediate and bittersweet. [Qualler]

3. M83, Hurry Up We're Dreaming [Mute]

First things first: I hate the talking kid on "Raconte-Moi Une Histoire." It's the worst part of an otherwise solid album. No I don't think it's cute. No it's not charming or inspirational. It's dumb and ruins the mood right after my second favorite track ("Wait"). With all that out of the way, I can say that Hurry Up We're Dreaming is a super awesome M83 album. It follows the sonic themes of Saturdays = Youth and at 22 songs in length it provides plenty on sweet Jams to groove to. "Midnight City" is my personal favorite track even if I can't understand half the lyrics. "Waiting For a call"? "Waiting for a cab"?* It's like how I thought "Kim and Jessie" was about somebody muslim shouting and drowning your towel with voices. Hey! You like Zola Jesus? She's in the intro song. Bonus! [Sean]

* "Waiting in a car" makes way more sense (holy cow! Saxophone solo!)

2. Fucked Up, David Comes to Life [Matador]

Qualler talked above about his love for concept albums. I personally can't stand them. I like that Roots album a lot, but not because of the story it tells, though I can appreciate its sentiments. I also like that Janelle Monae record about the spider robot queen or whatever, but again, I honestly just can't listen straight through imagining this strange abstract movie in my head, though that seems like something on paper that I'd love to do. It feels too bloated or self-important when I concentrate that much, which is why David Comes to Life is a concept record I can get behind. Sure, if you want to, you can go deep with it and follow the tale of revolution it tells, but really, I'm just listening to the songs. Even at an epic eighteen tracks long, I am amazed at how easy it is to listen to each individual track as its own barn-burning melodic hardcore (or whatever) pop song. Every single riff melts my face off in a way that I feel okay using that phrase four or so years after its expiration date. I could care less about the politics of it as long as I can feel its fury and potency. [Chris]

1. Geotic, Mend [Self-Released]

I'm glad that DoktorPeace can agree with me on this one, if not Julianna Barwick (see above). He said he would often listen to it when he was writing his next magnum opus screenplay and I find that offhand fact very telling. Will Wiesenfeld also records as Baths, a project that got big last year with the record Cerulean, which is also definitely worth checking out, but it's so much more spastic and involved than Geotic that it makes a lot of sense that he has a completely different moniker for his more reserved and introspective side. It's so inward, in fact, that he only self-releases material under the Geotic name for free on his Angelfire (I know, right?) page. (You can download Mend and other beautiful recordings gratis here.) And sure, his loopy guitar meditations with static edges are nothing revolutionary or even necessarily ear-catching, but the more time you spend with them, like DoktorPeace did, the more they unfold into something singularly cathartic and addictive. It's music that exhilarates as much as it soothes, and through the instrumental and therefore multi-interpretational theme of amelioration, it becomes therapeutic as well. Sometimes that kind of small genius is what deserves the most attention, but it rarely gets its proper due. [Chris]

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  1. Blogger Mark Waller | 2:43 PM |  

    Sean and Doktor don't know what they're missing out on with the lovely Juliana Barwick. I took Sean's version of it as more of an homage / Sean being a silly goose than anything, though. Right, Sean? Are you a silly goose? #gettingweirdnow

    As much as I get excited by any concept album, and as much as I liked Fucked Up's last record, I can't get into David Comes to Life as much. I like individual songs, but it seems like it's less dynamic than The Chemistry of Common Life. Still good, though.

  2. Blogger Sean | 3:08 PM |  

    Juliana Snoozeweird is more like it.

    The thing about Fucked Up: dude yells too much. Yelling has no nuance. You can only express yelling. Give me some variety in your singing style. I bet I could have loved that album if the singing was totally good.

    Hey, guys, M83's album has "plenty on sweet Jams to groove to." You can count on Sean for typos.

  3. Blogger DoktorPeace | 10:09 PM |  



    Speaking of organ, I should've tossed in a vote for Mates of State. Still one of my faves, and it felt awesome taking my sis to her first non-sitdown concert with bands that actually stand by their merch table at the end.

  4. Blogger chris | 3:20 PM |  

    The Fucked Up record works with the yelling I think because there's the back-up vox that balance it out. Also, I'm a sucker for when an album manages to be balls-to-the-wall for every song. I can appreciate a record that ebbs and flows too, but there's something to be said for a band that can crank out so much high octane infectiousness for 18 tracks straight. (Also, sorry, I should have moved it to #9 or something once I found out Sean actually didn't like it - ha.)

    Wait a second, DoktorPeace. The ORGAN is what killed the Barwick record for you? The ORGAN?

  5. Blogger Mark Waller | 3:24 PM |  

    I actually like the yelling-style vox, and like how the backing vox balances things out a little. But I actually think it's overall less balls-to-the-walls than Chemistry of Common Life, while still being kind of monotonous. So, on paper, I think I should love this record, but haven't been able to get into it. Then again, this morning I suddenly started loving the new Britney Spears record that I have listened to since May 2011, so it's possible that this will happen the same here.

  6. Blogger DoktorPeace | 3:41 PM |  

    I don't know... The wind chimes? Whatever it is, I seriously tried and seriously cannot listen to it because it hurts. I'll give it one more chance when it comes on in my car as I listen to your top 100, which is one more chance than the EMTs will give me when they arrive upon my car in the ditch.

  7. Blogger chris | 7:17 PM |  

    Yeah! One more chance! One more chance!

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