fave music of 2011 | top 12 albums
the civil wars | barton hollow
sample tracks: 20 years | falling
Achy, folky goodness. I’m in love with the way Joy Williams’ and John Paul White’s voices wrap around each other on every track. Not that they are romantically involved or anything, but who doesn’t want to find someone they harmonize that beautifully with? ugh, perfect. I kept coming back to this record.
cults - cults
sample tracks: most wanted | never heal myself
Possibly my favorite offering of the whole sixties wall-of-sound throwback trend that’s been popping up this year. They wear their influences on their sleeves without taking it too seriously; every song is short and catchy and I kept wanting to snap my fingers and swing.
rihanna - talk that talk
sample tracks: where have you been | watch and learn
Her vocals have never been so strong, her lyrics never so in-your-face, and it’s the perfect mashup of the house-influenced r&b that’s big right now and something more hard-edged. Also major points for sex positivity. Get it gurl.
bon iver | bon iver
sample tracks: towers | michicant
I don’t always understand Justin Vernon’s lyrics without google and repeat listens, but this is still the kind of music I want to play through my headphones with my eyes closed. The vocals are sparse and hushed but the sound is too distractingly gorgeous to count as background music. (There was only one track on this album I didn’t like, but then he released a piano version that made it all better.)
dum dum girls | only in dreams
sample tracks: bedroom eyes | hold your hand
An awesome girl group with an awesome punk sound. Can’t get enough of Dee Dee’s vocals, which are forceful and dreamy at the same time. (“Coming Down” is probably the sexiest breakup song I’ve heard in a while.)
st vincent | strange mercy
sample tracks: champagne year | cheerleader
This is the album that finally got me into St. Vincent, and is probably one of the more creative albums on the list. I like the surprising touches in every track, and the way Annie Clark’s soft voice meshes with the gritty sound and sometimes-dark lyrics. Also, naming an album after a line from Arrested Development is an automatic win.
frank ocean | nostalgia/ultra
sample tracks: dust | american wedding
Some of these songs are so catchy and flow so well that they mask how heavy and downright depressing the lyrics can get. Which, I think, is the right way to do it, because despite dealing with stuff like crushing heartbreak and broken marriages, this record strikes a weirdly hopeful tone in the end. I guess most people know by now that Frank Ocean is one of the good ones, so there’s not much else I can say about his voice and his songwriting and his skill as a producer that this album won’t say when you listen to it.
katy b | on a mission
sample tracks: broken record | movement
The rare perfect pop/dance album?? Perfect in the sense that there’s not a single track I would skip. I wouldn’t have guessed this would end up in my top five of the year, but here we are. Every song is danceable; I love the fusion of different forms of club music and the way Katy’s voice matches it all perfectly.
the weeknd | house of balloons
sample tracks: house of balloons | what you need
Remember in the spring when the internet was going bananas over these songs and trying to figure out who this person was and why we still hadn’t seen their face? Funtimes. The mystery’s gone but I’m still gone over this mixtape. Abel Tesfaye’s falsetto is irresistible, he uses the best samples (that aaliyah one on ‘what you need!’ DEAD) and if this is what indie r&b feels like i’m all over it. There’s this heady blissed out feeling throughout, you can imagine this album taking place in a night, or a few nights. And the lyrics are down and dirty and not always what they seem.
beyonce | 4
sample tracks: love on top | 1+1
I call her Beysus for a reason. There’s just no one who sounds like her, and my favorite thing about “4” is that she does not care what’s trendy or what other artists are doing because she has nothing to prove. I think releasing a throwback R&B album into this current crop of dance-fusion stuff was a stroke of genius and a serious display of confidence. And it works so well. Picking out the various 80s and 90s r&b influences in every track was some of the most fun I’ve had listening to music this year. It feels familiar, like a tribute, but the production values are flawless and modern and the sound is still unmistakably Beyonce.
kanye west & jay-z | watch the throne
sample tracks: gotta have it | murder to excellence
I’m going to avoid track-by-track rambles because this post is already too long, but what else can I really say about Watch the Throne anyway? I’m surprised it ranks as low as it does on some of the year-end lists (looking at you, Pfork). But for me it’s as close to perfect as an album could get. Yeah, it’s heavy on the (well-earned) bravado, and yeah they talk about Maybachs a lot, but The Throne is so much more than that. It’s two people who’ve reached success beyond their wildest dreams, but can’t let themselves forget how fragile that is, and why.