Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Year-End Report: Top 50 Albums of 2011 30-21

I hope you are enjoying our Top 50 Albums of 2011 so far. The trend of looking back to the 90's for inspiration is finally starting to appear in these next ten. Along with those, there are some polarizing artists and several that are just plain out there. Also, some old school veterans that I wasn't expecting to have as great of a comeback album as they did. Sample everything below and check back tomorrow when the Top 20 starts.

30. Man Man - Life Fantastic

Man Man have always sounded like a band on the brink of self-destruction. Their unhinged and quirky compositions appear as dark, twisted children's songs. On Life Fantastic, they tone down the happy-go-lucky attitude and get a little more serious while tightening their songwriting chops. Ryan Kattner (aka Honus Honus) really shines on this one with his abrasive vocals and witty lyrics. Centerpiece "Shameless" showcases all the strengths of the group containing a wild and complex arrangement. The bleak lyrical content provides a nice juxtaposition to the vaudevillian instrumentation while the glossier production holds everything together perfectly.

Favorite Track: "Shameless"

29. Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part Two

After member Adam "MCA" Yauch was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, the Beastie Boys scrapped their plans to release Hot Sauce Committee Part One. Once Yauch went into remission, the project was revisited and Hot Sauce Committee Part Two surfaced and contained the bulk of what was to appear on Part One. The Beastie Boys came out stronger than ever after all was said and done. The collaborations with Nas ("Too Many Rappers [New Reactionaries Version])" and Santigold ("Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win") have them sounding as fresh as if they were aging backwards. They even revisit some of their older punk sounds in "Lee Majors Come Again". This is the best they have sounded since Ill Communication.

Favorite Track: "Too Many MCs" feat. Nas

28. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost

There's something inherently polarizing about this group. Many critics and fans weren't pleased with how much Girls borrow from the past on Father, Son, Holy Ghost. I'll admit that the record doesn't have that organic feel of their debut where I want to pick up a guitar and learn all the songs. However, this is without a doubt a well composed collection of powerful and moving songs. Sure, they use Paul Simon as the starting block for "Honey Bunny" but they build upon it to create their own endearing structure. I don't think I can name a band that so successfully integrated Pink Floyd's influence as Girls has done in "Vomit". Give one listen to the poignant and emotive "Forgiveness" and tell me that these guys can't write a classic all of their own.

Favorite Track: "Forgiveness"

27. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo

Kurt Vile has perfected his psychedelic folk sound with Smoke Ring for My Halo. His unique perspective on life shines on songs like "Society is My Friend" and "Runner Ups". Other tracks such "Baby's Arms" and "Jesus Fever" have a haunting tenderness that lingers long after the record ends. This is one to let spin on your turntable from beginning to end. It is also the bearer of my favorite album title of 2011.

Favorite Track: "Society is My Friend"

26. Male Bonding - Endless Now

Endless Now is a distorted, swirling mixture of punk and grunge with unforgettable hooks that sounds like it was ripped right from the 90's. The album blows by at a relentless pace with every minute being enjoyable. The showpiece on this collection would be "Bones", the longest song the band has written yet. It is a six-and-a-half minute gallop through fuzzy guitars with a glorious melody underlying. You can stream the entire album and read more in this previous post.

Favorite Track: "Bones"

25. Mr. Dream - Trash Hit

This group made of former Pitchfork contributors is surprising un-hipstery [editor's note: I'm sure using words like un-hipstery is why I will never be a professional music journalist]. Like many bands from 2011, they take their cues from the 90's. The difference is that Mr. Dream looks to the heavier and darker realm of that decade. The Jesus Lizard stands out as an obvious influence on aggressive tracks like "Walter" and "Winners". I'm sure they have also spent a lot of time with everything that Steve Albini has had his hands on. I'm glad they did too because they have recreated that sound to perfection on this highly replayable record.

Favorite Track: "Winners"

24. Death GripsExmilitary

This just may be the craziest sounding rap album I have ever heard. A project of noise-rock pioneer Zach Hill (Hella), the music mixes impossibly low beats with searing synths and far out samples. MC Ride tops everything off with a firestorm flow that consists mostly of harsh barks. The energy is through the roof the entire time and you will be hearing the shouts of "Guillotine" long after you give it a spin. The mixtape has been made available for free and you can grab it here.

Favorite Track: "Guillotine"

23. And So I Will Watch Your From AfarGangs

And So I Watch You From Afar are a post-rock band from Ireland but I would understand if you thought they were from another planet. The musicianship on their latest record is unmatched by any of their peers. One listen to "Search:Party:Animal" and you will need to hear the rest of the album. It is a ruthless assault of mathy guitars, chunky riffs, and pounding rhythms that will leave you in disbelief that they managed to put it all to tape. Gangs is available to stream in its entirety or purchase at their bandcamp.

Favorite Track: "Search:Party:Animal"

22. Braids - Native Speaker

Allegedly made for $500, Native Speaker is one gorgeous album of experimental electropop. It's hard to write about the record without mentioning Feels-era Animal Collective but regardless, it is still one of the more original pieces of music that came out of 2011. The stunning melodies and sexually-charged lyrics of vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston make it an all-around alluring listen. The good news is that they can translate it all flawlessly to the stage.

Favorite Track: "Glass Deers"

21. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Lenses Alien

Cymbals Eat Guitars have made a name for themselves with their energetic and commanding live shows. The aggression and attention to detail of those performances have been effectively pressed to record with Lenses Aliens. On the new album, the young group has blended their Built to Spill and Pavement influences to create their own fascinating brew. Opener "Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)" is an eight-and-a-half minute voyage through emotive vocals, scorching guitars, and atmospheric synths. Other songs such as "Definitely Darkness" and "Another Tunguska" demonstrate how appealing the band can be when they tighten their songwriting and embrace pop structures.

Favorite Track: "Definite Darkness"

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