Fifteen Favorites of 2011

I think I’m finally getting old. No, I’m not going bald. And no, it’s not that I’m aware of when I need to change my furnace filter. It’s just that fewer records really grab me each year. That’s not to say I don’t still listen to tons of music. You know me better than that. I’m not getting that old where I forsake power pop for reality television, fantasy football or talk radio.In 2011, my wife and I pre-ordered one album and participated in three Kickstarter campaigns, two great ways to support great art/ists. Through Kickstarter, we raised money for the vinyl release of the new Motel Beds album and Robert Deeble’s new CD, and we sponsored Sam Billen’s annual Christmas project. We also pre-ordered Radiohead’s album, The King of Limbs, on double 10” vinyl. Not only do we feel we’re doing something for artists, but we get some really cool artifacts in return.

My favorite album of 2011 was The Decemberists’ return to straight-ahead pop, The King is Dead. I know I’ve annoyed some folks with proclaiming “The Calamity Song” and “This is Why We Fight” as two of Colin Meloy’s most insanely catchy songs since “The Sporting Life.” I know the band is an easy choice for readers of the slightly-informed-but-oh-so-boring, Paste Magazine, but there’s nothing to apologize for here, folks! It feels like this is probably the stellar album R.E.M. intended to make in 1992 but got sidetracked with rappers and shiny, happy people. No amount of skinny jeans-clad fans can change the fact that the songs deliver strong hooks.

This year I went nutso over the new albums by The War on Drugs, Real Estate and Girls. Sure, Pitchfork and the bloggers also loved them, but they really struck a chord with me. Dreamy, a little slacker-ish and drenched in reverb, these bands provided solid albums that kept me company many mornings while I fed our baby, Ian (born on November 1).

I guess the biggest surprise for me last year was The Joy Formidable. Methinks this band is the second coming of Swervedriver. I love huge guitars and pop hooks, and The Big Roar delivers them in jaw-dropping fashion. I’m impressed its getting airplay, and the band’s new album should be at home in the collection of any Silversun Pickups fan.

I don’t pretend to have compiled a list of the best albums from 2011. Like I’ve already noted, I didn’t listen to nearly enough albums to make such a statement. (One glance at this list should reveal that I’m not going for objectivity. The new R.E.M. album was not that great, as a whole. But the middle chunk of about five songs is some of its best work since the 80s, resulting in the album’s near-constant spot in my rotation for much of the year.) These are my favorite albums of 2011.

1 – The King is Dead – The Decemberists (Capitol)
2 – The Big Roar – The Joy Formidable (Atlantic)
3 – Strange Mercy – St. Vincent (4AD)
4 – Slave Ambient – The War on Drugs (Secretly Canadian)
5 – Father, Son, Holy Ghost – Girls (True Panther)
6 – It’s All True – Junior Boys (Domino)
7 – Heart Like Feathers – Robert Deeble (self-released)
8 – Nine Types of Light – TV on the Radio (Interscope)
9 – Tango Boys – Motel Beds (No More Fake Labels)
10 – Dawn of Light – Tineke Postma (Challenge)
11 – Red Barked Tree – Wire (Pink Flag)
12 – The King of Limbs – Radiohead (Ticker Tape)
13 – Widowspeak – Widowspeak (Captured Tracks)
14 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming – M83 (Mute)
15 – Collapse Into Now – R.E.M. (Warner Bros.)

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