I will preface my Top 10 list by saying you won’t find Bon Iver’s self-titled on it. I have nothing against you, Justin, and I do love your album. It’s just you were #11 and Rob told me I could only write about 10. No hard feelings? And without further ado, my Top 10 albums of 2011.
10. Craft Spells – Idle Labor
I feel like this album doesn’t get enough credit for how great it is. New wavish, 1980’s synth electro-dream pop in 2011? And yes, I did in fact have a seizure after I wrote that sentence. In any case, this album features not only my personal #10 song of the year in “After the Moment,” but also such gems as “Scandinavian Crush,” “Party Talk,” and the “Your Tomb.” Like a fine wine, this album gets better with age and every spin I give it.
9. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
When I first heard “How Can U Luv Me” I thought it was an interesting song and a band worth checking out more. Hard to believe the band’s initial hit may be the least interesting song (and it’s still a good song) on this fantastic self-titled debut. Armed with a guitar climbing all over the place and some scratchy mic’d vocals, their sound is one you won’t forget. Be sure to listen to “FFunny FFrends” and “Little Blue House.”
8. Hooray For Earth – True Loves
I first encountered this band listening to SiriusXM U in my car when True Loves came on. The sound of the drum sticks banging the edge and setting the beat….some echoed ahhs and then, the synth drops. My reaction, “What the fuck is this? I like this. No, I really like this.” And even better, the band wasn’t a one hit wonder. “No Love,” “Bring Us Closer Together,” “Last Minute,” and my personal favorite, “Same,” all deserve your attention.
7. The Drums – Portamento
I enjoyed The Drums first self-titled album, but I absolutely love this record. It still features a heavy dose of bass and sing-along choruses, but this one seems to venture down a darker path than its predecessor. The focus of the record is on relationships and eventually, their death. “What You Were,” my favorite track, describes the impending doom of going into a relationship you know isn’t going to work out, but yet, you try anyway. “But still I cave in. I gave you my heart. I cave in. I knew I would die.” Let the The Drums get you through the ones that really hurt.
6. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
How far has this band come? It combines that loveable beach pop from their first record Album (“Honey Bunny”) with a dash of that fuller sound on Broken Dreams Club (“Alex”), ultimately culminating with a true anthem moment on this record (“Vomit”). Taken as a whole, the band dives even deeper into the human spirit than before, resulting in a true masterpiece of sound.
5. Destroyer – Kaputt
A record in the truest sense, this requires being listened to from start to finish to truly appreciate the beauty and entirety of the emotion put into it. Dan Bejar weaves you rich, aesthetically pleasing tracks that will transfer your mind away from this world to whatever you choose to imagine. Perhaps no better song represents this full-bodied work than the 8 minute long “Suicide Demo For Kara Walker” in which you’ll begin with a gorgeous flute solo before having a blaring trumpet help you cross the finish line.
4. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation
Thankfully for us all, Trevor Powers decided to leave his bedroom and share his music with the world. My favorite aspect of this album is how his voice is recorded in lo-fi. At times it sounds so soft and fragile…almost broken, before breaking out in renewed strength and vigor. “Cannons,” “Afternoon, Seventeen,” “Daydream”…actually, just listen to the whole thing.
3. Holy Ghost! – Holy Ghost!
My favorite electronic album of the year, Holy Ghost! brings the fun on their self-titled debut. In fact, as I’m looking at my list, I seem to have enjoyed a lot of the 1980’s pop revival bands that put out records. Well, I was born in the 80’s , so I guess it fits. In either case, “Wait and See, Hold My Breath,” and my #2 song of the year, “Jam For Jerry,” highlight a fantastic debut from this NYC duo that will get your feet moving.
2. The Antlers – Burst Apart
The Antlers make you ponder the big things in life. While Hospice was a runaway emotional train wreck, this album is about musical experimentation while focusing on loneliness and death. But that truthfulness and darkness is what truly makes this band great and this album so beautiful, for they allow the listener to completely dive in and explore parts of ourselves that we don’t on a regular basis. How deep you will go, well, that’s up to you. The Antlers just provide the sound to get you there. Focus on “Parentheses, No Widows,” and personal Top 10er “I Don’t Want Love.”
1. Real Estate – Days
On first glace, this album appears to be about the 21st century American experience of the Suburbs. But at its core, this album is less about the suburbs and more about taking a nostalgic look back at beauty and simplicity in growing up there.
If it takes all summer long
Just to write one simple song
There’s too much to focus on
Clearly that is something wrong
At 26, the sentiment that “life passes you by” is beginning to hit home. My focus has gradually shifted over the years from what I was going to do all summer off school to now how I want to invest my money, how much life insurance I need, and all those other adult questions I used to avoid. Somewhere along the way, I grew up. But while we all can look fondly at the past and with anticipation for the future, don’t ever forget to live in present.
Written by Greg Dahman
10. Craft Spells – “After the Moment“
Catchy. Pop. Music. It’s a song that truly understands and encompasses that perfect night with someone else. We’ve all been there, and we all can listen to this jam and remember the past moments, live the present ones, and hope for more to come.
9. Twin Sister – “Bad Street“
A song with some serious vibe and sex appeal. Not to mention a funky beat. “Feel it with you, in you feel it. Feel it with you, feel it in you. I want it bad!” Really, enough said, this song brings some funk, pop, and a great voice all together perfectly.
8. Smith Westerns – “All Die Young”
Probably cliché to say, but when I hear this song I get some serious Beatles vibe going on. From the wailing guitar to the boisterous chorus, it’s a big project from a young band. And they pull it off.
7. The Antlers – “I Don’t Want Love“
My initial favorite off this album was “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out”, but as the year went on, this song stuck out more and more. The falsetto vocals bring so much feeling, and heartbreak, that for me, this song hits me right where it counts. Add in the haunting wail at the end, and this fits in right behind” Two” as my second favorite Antlers song.
6. Cults – “You Know What I Mean“
Two people. A girl singing like it’s 1965. A guy playing guitar. And perhaps the best chorus of 2011. Feel that drum beat and say it, “Cause I am afraid of the light, yeah you know what I mean.”
5. Bon Iver – “Beth / Rest“
Simply put, this song makes me want to cry. It reminds me of listening to 1980’s songs on the radio on Sunday nights courtesy of my Mom while growing up. From the lyrics, to the guitar solo, it’s my favorite track off Bon Iver’s self -titled masterpiece.
4. Friends – “Friend Crush”
A newcomer to the scene in 2011, this song struck me the first time I heard it. I couldn’t get it out of my head, and I don’t think I ever want to. It says everything about wanting to feel connected to someone else.
3. Real Estate – “Out of Tune”
I know this song was released in 2010. I don’t care, because I didn’t hear it then. It’s my favorite song off an unbelievable album. An album about getting lost in life in the suburbs, this song is its anthem.
2. Holy Ghost – “Jam for Jerry“
This is an ironic song for me. While it’s a tribute to their late drummer Jerry Fuchs, it’s the song of 2011 that brings me the most happiness whenever I hear it. As soon as those first words come out, “You set the tempo, set the pace”, a smile hits my face and life is good again.
1. M83 – “Midnight City“
Well Anthony, the city is indeed my church. And this is the song of the year. Why? Well, you only need to listen to it to understand:
Written by Greg Dahman
5. Wavves – Life Sux
It was quite the year for Nathan Williams highlighted by his hilarious twitter stream of his group’s antics at the MTV Music Awards. What more can you say about Wavves other than that they just absolutely rock? This EP spans singing about Dave Grohl, a song featuring his girlfriend Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast: “Nodding Off”, to some punk rock with the members Fucked Up, the perfectly named “Destroy.”
4. Dom – Family of Love
This EP features one of my favorite songs of the entire year in Damn. Dom are a self proclaimed “EP band”, but as long as everything continues to be as great as this album and their previous, Sun Bronzed Greek Gods, I’ll never be disappointed.
3. Surfer Blood – Tarot Classics
This EP picks up right where Astrocoast left off, and that’s a very good thing. Beachy pop music is a favorite of mine, and Surfer Blood do it to perfection. My only complaint is that they couldn’t have put 6 songs on it instead of 4. Be sure to listen to “I’m Not Ready.” Hopefully a new full length is to come in 2012.
2. Toro Y Moi – Freaking Out
While Chaz Bundick’s second full length LP, Underneath the Pine, was released in early 2011 and seemed to go more jazzy than his more DJ-ish sound on Causers of This, this EP shows Chaz still can drop that beat. I actually liked this EP more than the full length. It’s straight-up fun weekend music.
1. Beach Fossils – What a Pleasure
Beach Fossils play dream pop perfection on this EP. Almost a full length at 8 songs, it listens like an LP, and this would have made my Top 10 albums of the year had we not separated the EPs out. “What a Pleasure,” “Fall Right In,” and “Out in the Way” are brilliant songs and three of my favorite of the year. Put on a good pair of headphones, listen to this EP, and relax, because life is good.
Written by Greg Dahman