Thursday, January 5, 2012

Year-End Report: Top 50 Albums of 2011 20-11

The Top 20 has finally arrived after a short intermission. I know that you have probably been dying with anticipation. These ten records include many psychedelic rock bands and singer/songwriters. Although 2011 wasn't a particularly good year for heavy music, some hardcore/metal bands did manage to stake a claim in the Top 20. Also, everyone's favorite band that set the bar too high for themselves. Read all about it and listen to some fantastic tunes after the jump.

20. Portugal. The Man - In the Mountain in the Clouds

In the Mountain in the Clouds is Portugal. The Man's sixth album in as many years. What's more impressive than their incredible work ethic is the consistent quality of their releases. This latest one, their major label debut, may very well be their best effort yet. The psychedelic rock found within can hold it's own again the classics. The effortless flow and sparkling production emphasize the strengths of their songwriting. It won't be long before you are seeing them headline arenas. In the meantime, watch the epic must-see short film for the tracks "Sleep Forever" and "Got It All (This Can't Be Living Now)".

Favorite Track: "Sleep Forever"

19. M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

By now you've heard "Midnight City", 2011's catchiest track. The unforgettable synth loop is probably playing in your heard as you read this sentence. It's rare that we get a double-album that pushes boundaries like Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. Songwriter Anthony Gonzalez is on the top of his game throughout it's entirety. Instrumental tracks like "Year One, One UFO" are exciting and fascinating while other ambient tracks establish a dreamy atmosphere. The tripped-out "Raconte-Moi Une Histoire" sounds almost like something that The Books would write. It is centered around a sample of a little girl describing "special" frogs while shoegazey guitars and synths build to a mammoth climax. Although not as immediate as their previous records, there is plenty to explore and much to love.

Favorite Track: "Raconte-Moi Une Histoire"

18. Cave In - White Silence

Cave In released what is far and away the best metal record of 2011 with White Silence. I had been anticipating this one for what seemed like an eternity and thankfully was not let down when it finally arrived. The record finds the band striking an excellent middle ground between the punishing metal of Until Your Heart Stops and the space rock of Jupiter. "Vicious Circles" is as brutal and unrelenting as anything they have previous released. In contrast, "Summit Fever" is surprising catchy and contains a classic Adam McGrath guitar lick with a spacey tone that could only have come from him. Here's to hoping they don't take as long to get the next one out to us.

Favorite Track: "Summit Fever"

17. Fucked Up - David Comes to Life

2011 was one Fucked Up year. It's hard to believe that a hardcore band named Fucked Up would become one of the year's biggest music stories, but it happened and they deserved every bit of exposure they received. David Comes to Life is a rock (hardcore) opera and one of the most ambitious projects released by any band in 2011. They attack the dreaded concept approach effectively, with some of the tracks being downright catchy. As abrasive as the vocals are from Damian Abraham (aka "Pink Eyes"), the underlying music is remarkably accessible while showcasing the immense talents of the members. It is absolutely worth the effort and dedication to listen to the near 80 minute long album in one sitting. I also had the pleasure of witnessing two killer shows at Royale over the course of the year, confirming that they are one of the best live acts currently touring the country.

Favorite Track: "Queen of Hearts"

16. Radiohead - The King of Limbs

Let's quickly cover what Radiohead accomplished in 2011: They surprised fans with eight thoughtfully constructed songs of experimental perfection in the form of The King of Limbs. It was accompanied by a music video for the track "Lotus" which instantly went viral. The band also released an entire newspaper to accompany the effort. A video of them performing the album on From the Basement was made available as a free stream on YouTube. Additionally, an expansive remix campaign was established that is still paying dividends. Last but not least, they released two singles full of b-sides: "Supercollider" / "The Butcher" and "The Daily Mail" / "Staircase". Yet, somehow there were disappointed fans. I don't get it.

Favorite Track: "Give Up the Ghost"

15. WidowspeakWidowspeak

On their self-titled debut, Brooklyn trio Widowspeak create a warm atmospheric tone that takes you to an otherworldly place. Haunting songs like "Harsh Realm" and "In the Pines" sound like the type of music you might expect ghosts would dig. "Gun Shy" has a somber rhythmic quality that makes you want to float around your room. Once this album gets you hooked, it never lets you go. This is one of the few records I can spin on repeat for hours on end. You can stream the entire album in this post.

Favorite Track: "Gun Shy"

14. Ty Segall - Goodbye Bread

After Ty Segall's 2010 album Melted, Goodbye Bread seems relatively tame. That doesn't mean that his signature fuzz and feedback panache isn't present; it's just not as in your face. The title-track opens the record with the Ty Segall version of a ballad. Some of the more upbeat tunes like the hazy, foot-stomping "You Make the Sun Fry" present some of the best psychedelic rock since the golden days of the genre. Ty Segall is at the forefront of modern garage rockers and there's no mistaking why. Check out the fittingly trippy videos for "Goodbye Bread" and "Where Your Head Goes" below.

Favorite Track: "You Make the Sun Fry"

13. J Mascis - Several Shades of Why

It's hard to believe this is J Mascis' first official solo album. He has experimented with other projects but he is primarily know for the ear-splitting volume of his guitar playing in Dinosaur Jr. In my opinion, the greatest living guitarist, Mascis has taken a considerably different approach with this record. Several Shades of Why is an introspective album with surprisingly conventional songwriting. He teases the volume of his past efforts at times, but it is mostly a display of subtle and strong songwriting chops. It is certainly a great record to build upon his legacy. The album spawned two incredible videos; one by the brilliant Chad VanGaalen and the other by Clambake Animation out of Watertown, MA.

Favorite Track: "Listen to Me"

12. Tom Waits - Bad as Me

What can be said about a living legend like Tom Waits? He is 62 and still one of the most badass men currently roaming the planet. And while you would think someone's music would get stale after 40 years in the biz, he remains as innovative as ever. Bad as Me is another milestone in his illustrious career. The album is full of passionate blues and jazz numbers that employ crunchy guitars and wailing horns to compliment his signature hoarse vocals. The dynamic anti-war rant of "Hell Broke Luce" captures the feeling that you are actually in battle with distorted guitars and horns blasting away on all fronts. Others such as "Bad as Me" and "Satisfied" are highlights in a highlight filled catalog.

Favorite Track: "Hell Broke Luce"

11. Bill CallahanApocalypse

Over the years, Bill Callahan has established himself as one of the more distinct voices in indie rock. His gentle guitar strumming and somber baritone vocals are the aural equivalent of a Bob Ross painting. Each song paints a gorgeous sonic landscape peppered with wry observations. He looks both inwards and outwards on Apocalypse where he tackles American mythos head-on. If you have the chance to see him live, he puts on a breathtaking performance. Also, make sure to check out the video for "America!" below. It is one of the best animated videos that will ever grace your eyes.

Favorite Track: "Riding for the Feeling"

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