Top 50 Albums of 2011

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Top 50 albums of 2011

30. GirlsFather, Son, Holy Ghost (True Panther Sounds)
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Girls have never exactly been about originality. Nothing they do is evenly mildly innovative. Furthermore, it feels like they’re becoming more and more comfortable wearing their classic rock influences on their sleeve with each passing release. And yet somehow there is an inescapable imagination and freshness being emitted out of every song. Frontman Christopher Owens’ unique persona and ear for a great (if, often familiar) melody definitely play a part. But what has really sets the band apart on Father, Son, Holy Ghost, is the sheer vitality that oozes out of the band’s every pore. Every earnest note is carried out with precision and power. – Chris Karman

29. Kate Bush50 Words For Snow (Anti-)
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When we remember music what do we think to represent it to ourselves? Do we think the actual sounds or something visible that those sounds build in us? Is our thinking the physical state of our bodies that only that particular music brings about? Kate Bush’s 50 Words for Snow is an arrangement in white, a labyrinth made from corridors cut into ice, a handsomely blushing face set adrift in the heart of an unfathomable winter. At their best these songs deliver you over to a cold, hypnotized repose, the scenes they map out at one moment close, as if one could step into them, and the next moment distant memories receding behind acres of flurrying snow. – Tyler Parks

28. Dirty BeachesBadlands (Zoo Music)
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“Lynchian” is a word that gets thrown around a lot about the music of Alex Zhang Hungtai, which says more about Lynch’s place as a signifier than it does about Dirty Beaches. All you need to know is the music sounds roughly as cool as the name Dirty Beaches itself (I’m just gonna keep saying it) by zoning in on the savage desolation of it. Sun Records and original rock `n’ roll don’t get enough credit for sounding like post-apocalyptic science-fiction and Hungtai, who showed his cinematic bona fides with an expertly-curated film score mix last summer, at least pays tacit notice to the Lynch thing with scratched-out filmic nightmare guitar figure after scratched-out filmoc nightmare guitar figure. Dirty Beaches Dirty Beaches Dirty Beaches. – Anthony Strain

27. Tom WaitsBad As Me (Anti-)
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A new Tom Waits album is always occasion for attention, if only to see how he manages to unwind himself into different personas that are as much repetitions of each other as entire microcosms of catastrophe, cacophony, pathos and blues. “No good you say, well that’s good enough for me,” he growls on the title tune, a slight and sadistic slapstick that seems a lifetime in the making. As it is with all his greatest records, on Bad With Me poignancy vies with caricature, sorrow with frantic adrenaline. What wins out in the end is simply life, in all its crookedly figured, weird and incomprehensible density, its glories saturated with emptiness, its solitude charged with the dreams that make the realities that keep reality from becoming altogether a drag. – Tyler Parks

26. IceageNew Brigade (What’s Your Rupture?)
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New Brigade comes pounding out of darkness to your door, before flailing around your house like an amphetamine-addled Warsaw during one of Ian Curtis’ epileptic fits. I can’t remember a debut sounding so menacing and energetic. The guitar sounds like it’s being played with a cheese grater, bass superficially compliant, but on closer examination is psychotically off-kilter, sufficiently to make even this album’s most upbeat riffs sound positively horrible…in the best possible way. Meanwhile, the drummer packs-in more hits than a one-man-band hurtling down a cliffside. Every song is like battery acid in the blood, from “Rotting Heights” down to “Broken Bone.” An album that aggressively takes you deep into the disconcerting “Twilight Zone” nether-territories that post-punk and goth forgot, via the punk that got them there in the first place. – Chester Whelks

25. Kurt VileSmoke Ring for My Halo (Matador)
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As both a member of The War on Drugs and as a solo performer, Kurt Vile’s put in a lot of time behind a distortion pedal and other noisy effects, but stripping down to a more intimate, acoustic-based sound has unearthed an even prettier and affecting side to the Philly troubadour’s earnestly dazed songwriting. Yet unlike hero and collaborator J Mascis, whose own solo album this year was alarmingly straightforward, Vile’s ten tracks on Smoke Ring For My Halo revealed greater depth and variance between his haunting pop tunes like “In My Time” and “Jesus Fever,” and his spacier ballads, like “On Tour” or “Ghost Town.” Vile turns on the fuzz here and there, and his rootsy riffs on “Puppet To the Man” are certainly more than welcome, but too much noise would only get in the way of a tear-jerky heartfelt confessional like “Baby’s Arms.” – Jeff Terich

24. Fucked UpDavid Comes to Life (Matador)
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The punk rock album this year with the longest running time and most complicated conceptual plotline also happened to be the one with the fewest obstacles to simply wrecking a room via volume and melody. Fucked Up’s David Comes to Life is, while 18 tracks long and certainly complex, an easy album to love. Everything that made the Toronto hardcore band so prized from day one is still here, but a little more polished, expanded and more or less ready for a good mainstream thrashing. That “Queen of Hearts” didn’t become a radio hit in 2011 is a travesty as far as I’m concerned (and there’s easy ways around the band’s name). But on a broader level, David Comes to Life is also a heady, theatrical epic about love, death, responsibility and the search for meaning, in other words, the same concepts that have defined the band all along, just set to a fictional backdrop. The group announced plans to go on hiatus in 2012, which is a major drag after releasing an album this inspiring, but if this is the last we hear from the band, it will have all been worth it. – Jeff Terich

23. MastodonThe Hunter (Reprise)
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While the first four releases by Atlanta metal giants Mastodon were highly praised as standout classics of sludge and prog-metal, The Hunter is their first album that steps into a more immediate rock `n’ roll territory. Not too soft to be alienating, but just groovy enough to claim the attention of casual headbangers. The mesmerizing guitar riffs and eerie vocal harmonies are enough to peak the listener’s adrenaline. And that’s before considering drummer Brann Dailor’s hard hammering percussive precision. Even as one of Mastodon’s rare non-concept albums, the tracks share a cohesive approach to production and songwriting, while still offering a diverse array of sounds and subject matter. Massive, yet approachable, The Hunter is a hard-rock homerun for an ensemble with an already impressive heavy metal resume. – A.T. Bossenger

22. The WeekndHouse of Balloons (self-released)

After a simple read through of the lyrics to House of Balloons, you might mistake The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye for the creepiest dude on the planet. When he claims, “we can test out the tables,” you can be sure nothing you’d want your mom to see is going to be happening on those tables. Throughout Balloons, Tesfaye sculpts a complex portrayal of a nocturnal lifestyle that’s as decadent as it is unsettling. The album’s origins and place in the greater pop narrative have incited as much blogging as they have listening. These commentaries can be at times insightful but they ultimately distract from the album’s many charms. Forget about whether or not this is the future of R&B, forget about those hardly veiled Siouxsie and Beach House samples and forget about trying to figure out who Tesfaye is and where he came from, and just enjoy the turbulent ride. – Chris Karman

21. Toro y MoiUnderneath the Pine (Carpark)
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Somewhere around the turn of the decade, as iPods and smartphones really started to make the world a lot more insular, great synthesized music started being made for audiences of one or two… sets of headphones. On his second album as Toro y Moi, Underneath the Pine, South Carolina’s Chaz Bundick makes a yeoman effort to fuse beats with some heft into what some might call chillwave. Bundick favors the small sounds and the fine details of that infant genre over what would fill a floor, but the laid-back disco of “New Beat” smartly manages to still be, you know, disco. “How I Know” and “Go with You” tackle surf and French pop, respectively. And there’s “Still Sound,” which might be one of the most subversively funky songs of 2011. Even as good as Underneath the Pine is, you just know Toro y Moi could deliver this with a bit more edge—and a follow-up EP, Freaking Out, suggests he will. – Adam Blyweiss

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