14. Panda Bear - Tomboy
There's no way the hype could be matched with the height of anticipation any Animal Collective related release garners lately, so Noah Lennox's "Tomboy" was bound to disappoint some. It's still a perfectly solid record, as Lennox tightens up his arrangements into neatly crafted and structured pop songs. Tracks like "Last Night At the Jetty" were perfect for when that stretched out winter we had was finally warming up.
13. Jay Z and Kanye West - Watch the Throne
"Jesus was a carpenter, Yeezy made beats" Jay-Z raps in the opening verses of album of the titans "Watch the Throne." I guess it only makes sense that Jesus is the only guy big enough for two of the hugest superstars in the world roll with. In this 16 track ode to excess, both artists don't quite match their solo work, but when you hear "Gotta Have It" you can't help but nod your head. Hov and Yeezy bring it back to their roots: "I'm riding through yo hood, you can bank I ain’t got no ceiling/ (Made a left on Nostrand Ave., we in Bed Stuy)/ Made a right on 79th, I’m coming down South Shore Drive/ (I remain Chi-town) Brooklyn ‘til I die."
12. Cold Cave - Cherish the Light Years
Songwriter and author Wes Eisold started making music around ten years ago in Boston with the loud and manic hardcore band American Nightmare, and later in the smutty, near grindcore act Some Girls. Cold Cave is a huge step away from these aggressive bands, it's pitch perfect 80's pop a dead ringer for New Order and the Cure, Eisold's once bark now a Morrisey croon. Throughout the years and changes in styles, Eisold still holds the same intensity and sense of humor throughout. "Cherish the Light Years" is probably his best work yet.
11. Jessica Lea Mayfield - Tell Me
Ohio 22 year old Jessica Lea Mayfield's second release is a carelessly reflective, beautiful country record musing on navigating love and sex. Mayfield's lyrics are stories of lonely nights doing things you probably shouldn't do with those you probably shouldn't, sung with a cadence like a shrug. "I'll not let hate be the one to make me naked for you/ my self esteem is heating up the room/ you're intimidating as all hell, but I ain't scared of you." Mayfield let's us know on "Our Hearts Are Wrong" she's a talented songwriter, but even more a talented story teller.
10. Das Racist - Relax
Das Racist are hilarious. I saw them a couple years ago and wrote them off, but with this year's "Relax" and their other mixtapes I was converted. Almost every line on this rap record out of Queens brings a smile to my face. It's not just the sardonic wordplay that makes these guys stand out, they write songs that are catchy as hell and can out MC most rappers out right now.
9. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
Just before the Arab Spring and Occupy protests came to define 2011, PJ Harvey released a heavy weight protest album. While a lot of indie is criticized for not being socially involved, this year saw a change in that with more artists voicing their support for the Occupy movements, but none releasing a preemptive and strong armed work like this great record from the classic songstress PJ Harvey.
8. The Sandwitches - Mrs. Jones Cookies
The video for "In the Garden", the first track of San Fransisco girls "Mrs. Jones Cookies" finds the ladies doing an out of sync, sultry dance to this dark, creepy and sexy song while a nun in drag and other weirdo dudes watch and dance. Those visuals could set the vibe to the whole record; a beautifully seductive and spooky, heartfelt crooner.
7. Atlas Sound - Parallax
I've been a fan of pretty much everything Bradford Cox has put out the past few years beginning with Deerhunter's 2007 "Crytograms". Atlas Sound has become a home for some of Cox's most accessible songs, with "Parallax" he finds himself placed between his sunny drone and mournful pop, in the right place as usual.
6. The Black Lips - Arabia Mountain
"Arabia Mountain" kicks off with a rollicking devil, "Family Tree" that these Atlanta boys make sound like running through a swamp being chased by an alligator. Whether it's vicious garage punk or dirty jukebox slow dances about Peter Parker, this is the record of their catalog most likely to get stuck in your head.
5. Cults - Cults
In 2010 Cults released the single "Go Outside" and other then that not much else was known about the bubble gum pop group. With just a couple songs online they signed to Columbia Records and released a short, sweet, to the point and highly infectious pop album that makes you wanna go outside and dance all day.
4. Yuck - Yuck
The Pavement comparisons are inescapable, but these 90's nostalgia enthusiasts from London deserve more credit for making one of the most driven rock records of the year. There's a certain yearning in the feeling of the record this band reflects that's missing in a lot of today's more apathetic indie. They seem to nail it without really trying, especially in the first three tracks.
3. Tom Waits - Bad as Me
"Bad as Me" in some ways seems like a best of Tom Waits record. It's everything you've loved about him from the past 25 years on, but more succinct. The rowdy bar songs are rowdy, the ballads are tender not cheesy, and the weird ones are weird. Props for those funny promo videos too.
2. The Babies - The Babies
I think this record was overlooked by a lot of people because of the "indie super group" nature of the band (it features Cassie Ramone from Vivian Girls and Kevin Morby from Woods). I think Vivian Girls backlash in particular, the Twitter ready, adorkable, (I can't believe I fucking said that), gossip inducing girl group made people dismiss The Babies self titled debut and the band altogether. This is a big problem with the "Hipster Runoff-ification" that's been going on lately, when bands with attractive people make catchy music, blow up, and then are hated a week later. All this aside, this record is at the top of it's field. It's goes from punk, to pop, to almost country anthems without feeling like switching bands. It really hits it's stride with the last two sprawling heartfelt jams "Wild" and "Caroline".
1. Times New Viking - Dancer Equired
Okay, this might be a weird one. Times New Viking's third full length and debut on Merge Records fell off the radar for most people and was received with pretty mixed reviews. The Ohio trio that was "lo-fi" just before it was a thing cleaned up their act a bit for this just after their tour with the reunited Guided By Voices, to whom they owe a great deal of influence. This was a tough choice, but I went with this because it was one of the records I spent the most time with these year, and like The Babies, seemed to sum up things other bands were trying to do, but better. The double guy/girl vocals, jangly guitars, and goofy keyboards go between the sweet lines "I wanna know everything about you" to the nasty "fuck her tears" carelessly. It was an easy album to put on whenever for both it's sweetness and meanness. It has me convinced these guys are only going to put out better in years to come.
Honorable Mentions: Future Islands - On the Water, Man Man - Life Fantastic, Paper Cuts - Fading Trails, ASAP Rocky - LiveLoveA$Ap, Trash Talk - Awake EP, The Antlers - Burst Apart, Zola Jesus - Conatus, Mastodon - The Hunter, Fucked Up - David Comes to Life, Ty Segal - Goodbye Bread, Youth Lagoon - Year of Hibernation, J Mascis - Several Shades of Why, The Dodos - No Color