Top 50 Albums of 2011

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Top 50 albums of 2011

40. SBTRKTSBTRKT (Young Turks)
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The self-titled full-length from British masked marauder SBTRKT is one glorious catch-all of an electronica album. SBTRKT is what he wears — a skilled chameleon, an MPC superhero. He pulls equally and liberally from genres-of-the-moment chillwave (“Trials of the Past”), witch house (“Go Bang”), and dubstep (“Right Thing to Do”). This isn’t to say that he’s derivative or focused on being trendy. It helps that all of those realms overlap and share common ground like a Venn diagram, so SBTRKT’s skills immediately sound like those of an expert. More to the point, the moments where he decodes and recodes the stuff into askew takes on R&B (“Hold On,” “Wildfire”) and old-school techno (“Pharaohs,” “Sanctuary”) suggest that rep is legit. – Adam Blyweiss

39. The HorrorsSkying (XL)
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The Horrors have become so far removed from their fledgling days as a Halloween-rock band that it’s hardly even worth mentioning anymore. So, it’s best just to move on to the well-aged and blissfully tuneful post-punk group they grew into. Having gradually escalated toward a sound more atmospheric and ambitious over time, The Horrors certainly exemplify the title of their new album Skying by taking flight into the prettiest and most delightfully hallucinatory airspace of their career. The traces of Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Chameleons still play a prominent role in their shoegazer-leaning anthems, but with a bigger, more earnest and, above all, more celebratory nature. The Horrors have reached a whole new altitude. – Jeff Terich

38. WilcoThe Whole Love (dBPM)
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That band you just don’t ‘get’, no matter how highly your friends and contemporaries exalt them? For a long time, mine’s been Wilco. Being There has sat in my record collection for God knows how long, never having gotten beyond the first four tracks on numerous attempts to welcome them into my heart. I understood the admirable mechanics of Jeff Tweedy’s craftsmanship, enjoying his work with Jim O’Rourke in Loose Fur, but Wilco continued to leave me cold. Until The Whole Love that is. Within 30 seconds of “I Might” I knew that I finally would. Tweedy’s songwriting continues to be familiar enough to have garnered so large and devout a following, but lyrically idiosyncratic to mean this accessibility never wanders into boredom.

Oh I can only dream of the dreams we’d share if you weren’t so defined
I would love to be the one to open up your mind.

You win Jeff. Now…where’d I put that copy of Being There? – Chester Whelks

37. Little DragonRitual Union (Peacefrog)
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One of the most exciting things about Little Dragon is the difficulty one has classifying their music. Some sounds are reminiscent of trip-hop artists like Morcheeba, while other movements go in more heavily electronic, pop or even occasionally rock-oriented directions. The mixing of styles is perfectly reflected on the album cover, in which couples from all over the world presumably pose for wedding portraits. Little Dragon’s third studio album represents a perfect marriage of Yukimi Nagano’s mesmerizing voice and exciting instrumentation from Fredrick Källgren and Håkan Wirenstrand. Songs like “Little Man” and “Nightlight” are not only album highlights but also flag-bearers for an eclectic and stylistically diverse year of music. – Donny Giovannini

36. LiturgyAesthethica (Thrill Jockey)
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One wouldn’t immediately think that a genre associated with corpse paint, church burnings, chain mail, completely unreadable band logos, stages soaked in pigs’ blood and a seemingly endless supply of Satanic mission statements would get boring, but even the good old, trusty evil of black metal needs a good jolt now and then. And one would be hard pressed to find a band more intent on re-writing the rules of black metal than New York’s Liturgy. Signed to indie rock stalwart label Thrill Jockey and bearing as many no wave influences as metal credentials, Liturgy not only improved on their debut, Renihilation, but offered up a metal album packed with as many thrills as passages of melodic transcendence. Intense, furious and wholly innovative, Aesthethica is a gateway to extreme music’s limitless possibilities. – Jeff Terich

35. The War On DrugsSlave Ambient (Secretly Canadian)
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Stripped down to its basic roots, The War On Drugs’ Slave Ambient is an excellent roots rock or folk record. Frontman Adam Granduciel has no doubt spent his fair share of time with Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska and Born to Run, and it shows on subtly affecting ballads like “Best Night” or revved-up rockers like “Baby Missiles.” But what pushes Slave Ambient over those extra couple of notches that separate good from great is the band’s sublime use of sonic treatments and effects-laden ambience. What would have done nicely as strums and chugs morphs elegantly into a work that shimmers, buzzes, and feels exhilaratingly alive. – Jeff Terich

34. Lykke LiWounded Rhymes (LL-Atlantic)
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Coming off of Youth Novels, an album of fluffy and flirty pleasantries that somehow wanted to make the listener pleasantly fluffy and flirty in equal measure, Lykke Li took it upon herself to stop trying to be sexy by someone else’s nonsensical standards and to simply be herself. I don’t know how wonderful that is when she stops singing but on record she’s fascinating. Like a woman who forbids curtains or any other kind of drapery into her home she invites all the neighborhood voyeurs (everybody, ostensibly) to gaze into her life at a reasonable distance. This is like most pop that purports to be personal I suppose, but so few pop songs are this pathetic (“Sadness is a Blessing”), this maddening (“I Follow Rivers”), this threatening (“Get Some”) or this defiant and/or delusional (“Youth Knows No Pain”). Lykke Li’s actually kind of a creep when you think about it, but one who rounds out her creepiness with a sound that is emerald-shimmering and diamond sharp. She’ll make perverts of us all, finally. – Chris Morgan

33. DrakeTake Care (Young Money)
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As a late supporter of Drake’s bespoke vanity candidacy, I understand what people mean when they say he’s cheesy or that the music’s too mellow or that you could bounce quarters off his ego. I did all that. Even if you wanted to argue that current hip-hop is only as good as its weakest link and that link is Drake, this record still sells itself. I can’t stand music with a lot of opinions, and for someone who talks solely about himself, Drake really doesn’t say all that much. So I like that. The production is gorgeous, the samples cut to perfect order, and the guests, from Rihanna to Weezy, acquit themselves admirably, even blowing Drake away in an instance or two — the Weeknd, for one, outDrizzys Drake with all his ethereal sociopathology on full blast. Here I suspect some intentionality on Drake’s part; like any decent host he wants things to stay smooth and inclusive, with minimal management. Albums like this run themselves anyway, and modern pop doesn’t really get any better. – Anthony Strain

32. Florence and the MachineCeremonials (Universal Republic)
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To be honest, when Florence and the Machine released Lungs in 2009, I didn’t see what all the hype was about. Florence’s voice was beautiful, but the album as a whole seemed disconnected. So, when Ceremonials was set for release, I expected a few more good anthems from the belting redhead, but nothing more. After one listen to the dozen tracks contained on this heartfelt composition, I ate my words. And I’ll be honest; my ears palpitated with every morsel. Sporting a seamless approach to songwriting and a sound that rings truer of a tight-knit band than a group of session musicians, Ceremonials rightfully earns its place among our top 50 this year. – A.T. Bossenger

31. Jay-Z and Kanye WestWatch the Throne (Def Jam-Roc-a-fella)
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When superstars collaborate, there’s always a risk it’ll turn into an over-the-top vanity project. Luckily, that’s exactly what happened with Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne. Both MCs are masters of grandiosity in their own way, with Jay bringing his harder Brooklyn intensity, and Kanye providing the ego/emo dichotomy that forces people to have an opinion on him one way or the other. Together, they’re pretty much just two famous friends showing off, but that doesn’t mean the show’s not damn entertaining. Watch the Throne may not equal some of the artists’ best solo work, but on songs like “Lift Off,” “Who Gon’ Stop Me,” and “Murder to Excellence,” you can hear how the two hip hop titans continue to influence each other, and push each other to new heights. – Elizabeth Malloy

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