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musicforants.com’s Best Albums of 2011

Date December 27, 2011

(photo by cubagallery)

Well, here we go again. Like last year, we voted for our favorite albums of the year and put it all together to make one definitive (not really), collaborative Best Albums list. We even all pitched in on writing some blurbs too. As can be expected, there are many albums we loved that couldn’t quite fit on the list, so you we each have Honorable Mention sections where listed a few of our other favorites.

Thanks for continuing to support this blog and reading what we have to say (even when you have streaming services like Spotify and Rdio that make music blogs seem passé). As always, make sure to leave a comment if you like what you see or have your own favorite albums to add. Have a wonderful new year!

25. Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde

Dye It Blonde is an album that aims high, and won’t settle for anything less than transcendence. Smith Westerns’ songs are massive, packed with two, three, sometimes four hooks until you just can’t take any more and have to give in. It’s steeped in classic power-pop, but never feels rote. Instead, where many bands fall into imitation and repetition, Smith Westerns have crafted a record that could stand alongside many of the albums that inspired it. Dye It Blonde is a fresh and exciting spin on a well-worn tradition, and one sure to become a future touchstone.–Matt

MP3 All Die Young
MP3 Imagine, Pt. 3

24. Cults – Cults

Although Madeline and Brian of Cults have done a remarkable job of sustaining this portrayal of a “it just happened” band-slash-couple, the puppy-eyed duo seems to have rebutted their mysterious existence with catchy, straightforward music. The long-awaited debut of their self-titled record is a token of hard-edged, nostalgic pop and stands as a wonderful tribute to the idea that we don’t always need to know more. –Cheryse

MP3 Abducted
MP3 You Know What I Mean

23. Junior Boys – It’s All True

I always appreciate a band that finds their niche and perfects it from album to album and that’s exactly what Canadian electronica duo Junior Boys have done. The band has never sounded better then on It’s All True, which features some of the their most dynamic and infectious dance-pop tunes all culminating in the masterfully-structured 9-minute closer, “Banana Ripple”, a tour de force of bursting synths, pulsating rhythms and layered falsettos. –Taylor

MP3 Banana Ripple

22. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges

On first listen, New History Warfare Vol 2.: Judges can be disorienting, disconcerting and downright intimidating. But once you are acclimated to Colin Stetson’s world, you notice folds and wrinkles in his music that went heretofore unperceived, like your eyes adjusting to a new light source. What once seemed oppressive becomes rapturous when placed in the context of the whole. Judges is by no means an easy listen, but it reveals its rewards to those willing to let Stetson take them on this journey.– Matt

MP3 The Stars in His Head (Dark Lights Remix)

21. The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart

Bursting at the seams with soul and sincerity, The Head and the Heart’s self-titled debut album captures the essence of folk music while simultaneously showcasing their unique aesthetics through their immense vitality and heart-stopping crescendos. Violinist Charity Thielen showers songs such as “Rivers and Roads” and “Down In The Valley” with her magnificently raspy and raw vocals, bringing the already fervor-filled music to even more life. –Xakota

MP3 Down in the Valley
MP3 Rivers and Roads

20. James Blake – James Blake

James Blake’s full-length debut is a deceptively simple affair. The songs are sparse, built with only a few blocks, and Blake repeats vocal lines until they become mantras. The overall effect is incredibly hypnotic; Blake’s restraint provides the songs the necessary room they need to fully unfurl. The record envelops you and provides a sense of comfort and security. It’s as if these songs have always been with you, and Blake is just reminding you how they go. — Matt

MP3 The Wilhelm Scream
MP3 Limit To Your Love

19. Mates of State – Mountaintops

Mates of State have been one of my favorites from the beginning of this blog and their latest Mountaintops is an excellent addition to their catalogue. While 2009’s Re-Arrange Us, which was pegged as the mature, coming-of-age album, was filled with stately, piano arrangements, the band returns to upbeat, synth-heavy sound on this album, most evident on the exhilarating, cheerful opener “Palomino” and quirky, keyboard jam “Maracas”. All the while, the band don’t shy from embracing their emotional side on tracks like the gorgeous ballad “Mistakes”, a refreshingly honest reflection on the ups-and-downs of married life. –Taylor

MP3 Palomino
MP3 Sway

18. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

With Father, Son, Holy Ghost!, Girls turned up the talent while turning down the gimmicks, resulting in an album that exponentially exceeds their previous work. The album adopts a consistently vintage feel, with influences spanning over multiple past decades, but primarily channeling the 70s with centerpiece “Vomit”. The band continues to be charmingly simplistic, with infectious melodies and mellifluous harmonies heard in not only the opening, but star track of the album “Honey Bunny.” — Xakota

MP3 Honey Bunny
MP3 Vomit

17. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact

Eye Contact might be the most fundamentally strange record of the year. Gang Gang Dance transport the listener to an alternate reality where lines between genres are meaningless, there is only sound. Pure, joyous sound. The album can be bewildering, sometimes downright baffling, but it’s always exciting. You never know what twists Gang Gang Dance will throw at you, but following them down their various rabbit holes, portals, and stargates is what makes Eye Contact so enjoyable. –Matt

MP3 Mindkilla

16. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

Trevor’s cunning ability to seamlessly merge what-ifs and has-beens into moments of clarity has in more ways than one, left my heart racing. He has singlehandedly transported his listeners from the quiet quarters of his bedroom studio to an endless landscape of possibilities. There really isn’t an album on this list that is more aptly named. With its ferns of fuzzy riffs and sun-drenched synths, The Year of Hibernation harks from start to finish with a sound that comes awful close to one I’ve spent all of 2011 searching for. –Cheryse

MP3 Cannons
MP3 July

15. The Mountain Goats – All Eternal’s Deck

On his 18th studio album, John Darnielle has made another spectacular collection of songs that ranks among his best work. All Eternal’s Deck doesn’t have an over-arching theme like many of his previous works, which gives the illustrious singer-songwriter opportunity to make a looser, more diverse collection of songs with jagged folk-punk, stripped-down acoustic, jubilant folk-pop and even a song that features a haunting a capella backing choir. Darnielle’s knack for clever word play is still as riveting as ever and the impeccable production and dramatic arrangements add a palpable weight to those lyrics. –Taylor

MP3 Birth of Serpents
MP3 High Hawk Season

14. Young Galaxy – Shapeshifting

As they say, third time’s a charm… and Dan Lissvik, well, he’s just a modern-day Picasso. That isn’t to say Montreal’s indie-rock band, Young Galaxy, had ever been subpar, but unbound by the complexities of imagination, you could say they needed a little direction—or maybe just someone to guide their musical hands. The result is groundbreaking, with Shapeshifting becoming an album that continuously plays and never the same way, easily the most entrancing record on this year’s list. –Cheryse

MP3 We Have Everything
MP3 Cover Your Tracks

13. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

It’s tempting to peg The King Is Dead as a comeback album, but almost the opposite is true. Sure, it is easier to digest than The Decemberists’ previous record, The Hazards of Love, but it’s far more of an outlier in the band’s canon than it seems. The Hazards of Love represented the logical conclusion of The Decemberists’ aesthetic up to that point, The King Is Dead finds the band stripping away their songs, laying them bare and offering them to the listener as simple truths. Gone are the crutches of grandiose stories and flamboyant characters, and in their place is a sense of humility heretofore unhinted at by the band. The King Is Dead proves that The Decemberists are still capable of making fantastic music, even if they sound less like themselves than ever before. — Matt

MP3 Calamity Song
MP3 June Hymn

12. TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

Four albums deep, TV on the Radio still manages to keep us on our toes, just not in the way one would expect. The group seems to have tapered off from their experimental instrumentation and have settled down to a more accessible and lighter sound than previously heard. Frontman Tunde Adebimpe still carries the album with his larger-than-life and unique vocals, however Nine Types of Light surprisingly seems to have found its strength in the mellower tracks such as opener “Second Song”, rather than their typically popular upbeat and obscure melodies. –Xakota

MP3 Second Song
MP3 Will Do

11. Radiohead – The King of Limbs

While there’s some truth to the cries of King of Limbs being Radiohead’s most elusive and obscure album, with it’s sublimity comes a deep-seated beauty that’s most clearly seen on the magnificent second half (although the densely-packed first half has it’s share of treasures as well). Like all the band’s work, it takes more then a few spins to absorb it all and that’s increasingly true with this album. Whether it’s the shuffling hand claps on “Lotus Flower”, the slowly evolving guitar riff on “Separator”, the rapid-fire drumming in “Feral” or the mesmerizing trumpet line in “Codex”, I’ve continued to notice precious new details emerging throughout the album on every listen. –Taylor

MP3 Lotus Flower

10. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

Annie Clark always seems content to do what she feels, whether it aligns with listener expectations or not. But Strange Mercy finds Clark crafting her best songs yet, while staying true to the foundation her music is built on. All the parts are here, the spindly guitar lines, the blasts of noise, Clark’s angelic voice, but everything just seems to fit better than before. Strange Mercy is a more visceral, tender, and altogether enchanting experience, unlike any other this year.–Matt

MP3 Cruel
MP3 Strange Mercy

9. The Antlers – Burst Apart

In a melting pot of poignant lyrics, velvety synthesizers, and Peter Silberman’s striking falsetto, the result nothing short of superb—and Burst Apart is just that. The Antlers’ sophomore album is by no means a half-hearted attempt at recreating the melancholy of Hospice, as it is carefully crafted to perfection with its fine mastery of somber lyrics and dreamlike coos juxtaposed with ethereal guitar swoops and mist-covered drum loops, creating an overall emotion-filled and cathartic listening experience. — Xakota

MP3 I Don’t Want Love
MP3 Putting The Dog To Sleep

8. Cut Copy – Zonoscope

When Cut Copy emerged a few years ago, they seemed destined to be written off as dancepunk also-rans. No one could have guessed that they would one day give us something as fully-formed and downright enjoyable as Zonoscope. Indebted to the music of their past, Cut Copy have created a rare treat: an album full of terrific songs that add up to more than their sum when taken together. Front to back, Zonoscope is an engaging listen, capable of stimulating the brain and feet simultaneously. Now that James Murphy has hung it up, it seems entirely plausible that Cut Copy could take up the mantle for forward-thinking dance music purveyors.– Matt

MP3 Need You Now
MP3 Take Me Over

7. Wilco – The Whole Love

The curse of making an album like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is that the rest of your career, everything you will make will be compared to it. YHF is uniquely the most experimental album in Wilco’s catalogue but also the most accessible, and the incredible story behind the album (wonderfully illustrated in I Am Trying To Break Your Heart) cemented it’s instant classic status. Although it may be impossible to top, I believe The Whole Love comes the closest to recreating the album’s indescribable magic. From the opening krautrock mayhem of “Art of Almost”, giving guitarist Nels Cline invitation to unleash his insane guitar mastery, to the infectious, whistle-happy “Dawned On Me”, one of the finest pop moments in the band’s career, to the breathtaking and incredibly poignant acoustic closer “One Sunday Morning”, the album proves that Jeff Tweedy and co. are still in a class all of their own as songwriters. — Taylor

MP3 Dawned On Me
MP3 I Might

6. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhythms

Following Youth Novels, the bar was set high for Lykke Li. However the siren singer not only met, but surpassed our expectations as she balances her feminine romanticism with the eerily dark. Following her endearing debut, Lykke Li dims the lights with her melancholic “Love Out Of Lust” and “Unrequited Love” without venturing into depressing territory. Oozing with synths, Wounded Rhymes takes 60’s-influenced pop music and adds a sultrily ghostly—but shining—flair to it all. — Xakota

MP3 Get Some
MP3 Love Out Of Lust

5. Beirut – The Rip Tide

The Rip Tide is easily one of the most underrated albums of the year, perhaps due to its understated nature and slight departure from Zach Condon’s typical baroque instrumentation. With the tone-down, the album benefits from Condon’s restraint with its simplistic melodies, brought to perfection in the delicate “Santa Fe”. Yet while the maturation brings a breath of fresh air, a musk of nostalgia hangs over the album, with the bands upbeat, horn-loving, bohemian roots never entirely fading away with songs like “East Harlem” and “Santa Fe”. –Xakota

MP3 East Harlem
MP3 Santa Fe

4. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

With Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, Anthony Gonzalez of M83 has made his most vast, ambitious albums to date, one that seems to take all the good parts from previous work (the epic synth-rock majesty of Before The Dawn Heals Us, the glistening shoegaze of Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, the 80’s synth-pop nostalgia of Saturdays=Youth) a well as offer up an entirely new experience. Gonzalez’ imagination seems to have no bounds like on “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire” which unites Kraftwerk-like keyboards, banjo / mandolin, and a full choir with a pre-schooler’s monologue about magic frogs. The album also offers up the two most immense, synth-pop anthems in his career with the exhilarating, saxophone-assisted “Midnight City” and the life-affirming propulsion of “Steve McQueen”.-Taylor

MP3 Midnight City
MP3 Steve McQueen

3. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

I’m not sure there was any album this year met with as high expectations as Fleet Foxes’ follow-up to their beloved debut album. The Seattle quintet were able to triumphantly exceed all of them with an album that builds upon the ideas of their debut and then completely surpasses them. The band stays true to the orchestral folk-rock of their debut while going for a much wider scope both musically, where psychedelia and prog-rock now inhabit the pastoral folk landscape and lyrically with Robin Pecknold’s emotional soul-searching making the achingly pretty songs like “Grown Ocean” and the title track even more meaningful. And of course, the band’s stunning vocal melodies and multi-part harmonies are still in a league all of their own. — Taylor

MP3 Helplessness Blues
MP3 Grown Ocean

2. Destroyer – Kaputt

The last couple years has seen many indie artists reclaiming the vintage 80′s soft-rock sound, but no artist has done so with such awe-inspiring results as Destroyer’s Dan Bejar. Kaputt strikes a balance of being faithful to the sound, with it’s palette of smooth jazz sax solos, airy synths and soulful back-up singers, and creating something entirely new that makes tracks like “Suicide Demo For Kara Walker”, “Downtown” and “Kaputt” both whimsical and stunning. This album further elevates the eccentric songwriter as one being of the most unique and talented voices of our generation. — Taylor

MP3 Suicide Demo For Kara Walker
MP3 Downtown

1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver

In many ways, Bon Iver is Justin Vernon’s first album. For Emma, Forever Ago was an album built out of necessity, sounding exactly like you would think a folk record recorded in a Wisconsin cabin in the dead of winter would sound. But thanks to that album’s success, Vernon was afforded the means to create an album precisely as imagined, free of any restrictions, either monetary or temporal. The result is an expertly crafted record, able to simultaneously engage the listener at the micro and macro levels. There are moments so intimate they border on uncomfortable, Vernon’s lyrics mixing naked truths and obscure allegory. Then there are those moments of pure, transcendental bliss, moments where the sound breaks free and completely overtakes all of your senses. It’s overwhelming, honest, difficult, exciting, indulgent, and enchanting. But most of all it’s Bon Iver, fully-realized at last.–Matt

MP3 Calgary
MP3 Holocene

Taylor’s Honorable Mention:

I Break Horses – Hearts
The Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing
STRFKR – Reptilians
Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
Patrick Wolf – Lupercalia
Summer Camp – Welcome To Condale
The Dodos – No Color
Bodies of Water – Twist Again
The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Belong

Matt’s Honorable Mention:

F**ked Up – David Comes to Life
Ford & Lopatin – Channel Pressure
John Maus – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
The Weeknd – House of Balloons
Angel Olsen – Strange Cacti
Matthewdavid – Outmind
Yuck – Yuck
Clams Casino – Instrumental Mixtape
Toro Y Moi – Underneath the Pine

Xakota’s Honorable Mention:

Real Estate – Days
Phantogram – Nightlife EP
The Strokes – Angles
Panda Bear – Tomboy
Nurses – Dracula
Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo
Neon Indian – Era Extrana
Joy Formidable – The Big Roar
Class Actress – Rapproacher

Cheryse’s Honorable Mention:

Little Dragon – Ritual Union
Foster the People – Torches
Memory Tapes – Player Piano
The Black Keys – El Camino
Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind of Fix
Fiest – Metals
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – It’s a Corporate World
Austra – Feel It Break
Generationals – Actor-Caster
tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

Spotify Playlist: musicforants.com’s Best Albums of 2011

Thanks again to everyone for reading! We will be back in 2012…

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23 Responses to “musicforants.com’s Best Albums of 2011”

  1. Dana said:

    What about Florence and the Machine’s Ceremonials or The Vaccines’s What Did You Expect From the Vaccines? ? Thoughts on those?

  2. Taylor said:

    Haven’t listened to The Vaccines but I’ve heard some good things. No opinion on Ceremonials (Xakota reviewed it here).

  3. Lucy said:

    Great list! Can we get a zip file?

  4. Taylor said:

    No zip file, but I’ll put a Spotify playlist up when I get the chance.

  5. Sam B said:

    I got really into Gang Gang Dance when it first came out and then completely forgot it existed. Best part about end of the year lists is reminding you of things you forgot.

  6. Mike said:

    It would be nice if Taylor understood that Burst Apart is not The Antlers’ second album, but their fourth. These mistakes happen when there’s no genuine appreciation for the artist in review and the critic is just riding a bandwagon instead.

  7. Taylor said:

    I’ve been listening / blogging about The Antlers for three years now. Wouldn’t exactly call that bandwagoning. And although I didn’t write that particular blurb, if you only count their official releases, Burst Apart would be The Antlers’ second proper LP.

  8. Dana said:

    Good deal. You should definitely give The Vaccines a listen. Look forward to reading more of this blog in 2012! Great list, guys and gals!

  9. Kym said:


    shut up

  10. Eric said:

    How can you not list the Alexander album anywhere? The dude from Edward Sharpe made one of the best albums of the year. All by himself in fact…

  11. Mike said:

    I meant Xakota, sorry. But whomever, all of you should check your facts. Burst Apart is the band’s fourth album. Just because the first two were self-released and are now out of print doesn’t mean they aren’t official entries in their discography. If that’s the logic you’re working with, then neither is Hospice—as it was also initially self-released.

  12. Taylor said:

    Here’s that Spotify Playlist I promised earlier: http://spoti.fi/tvqkIt

    And let’s cool it on the personal attacks, fellas. No need for that.

  13. Jers said:

    Lack of Neon Indian is disappointing but a solid list nonetheless. Also, no Cass McCombs? C’mon now

  14. Keep Pushing On said:

    John Maus was one of the best of the year.

  15. Brian said:

    The mp3 link for Bon Iver-Calgary is messed up (it’s a link for James Blake-Limit to You Love). Great list and great music blog!

  16. Brian said:

    Mates of State-Palomino link is also messed up

  17. Taylor said:

    Thanks! Both links are fixed.

  18. Suskie said:

    I’m actually in the minority of people who weren’t blown away by either Bon Iver or Fleet Foxes, which is odd, because I liked both of their debut albums. On the other hand, I’m also one of the few who would count Justice’s new record as one of my favorites of the year. Why’d everyone stop liking them?

    Very good list, by the way.

  19. Dustin said:

    Great list Taylor! Your blogs always a good solid read. Glad to see Kaputt getting the attention it deserves! Been listening to it all year and it just keeps getting better

  20. Dustin said:

    Sad to see no Panda Bear tho

  21. Amy said:

    Great job compiling this list! I’m sure it must be tough coming to some sort of consensus among all bloggers here, but it’s good to see a variety. Loving Beirut and Lykke Li in the top 10! Xakota and myself (as well as other bloggers I’m sure) appear to have similar tastes! Keep up the great work in 2012!

  22. Babs Szabo said:

    and for 2012:
    Civil Twilight’s Holy Weather coming out March 27th! Can’t wait.
    pre-order those jams! http://bit.ly/x5Y0yp

  23. caramoan said:

    dude, your blog is wonderful