If 2011 wasn't the most remarkable year in music, it at least seemed to solidify some of the trends that have been going on in the past 2-3 years, mainly the dominance of electronic based indie rock, along with a more than healthy dose of garage rock for those who need their guitars. It was a great year for women in indie rock, as well as independent hip hop and R&B blowing up with online mixtapes. Unfortunately, the trend of faded neon neo-psychedelic triangular poster and album art seems firmly planted for now. At least there were slightly less upside down crosses.
Here's my top 30 albums of 2011:
30. The War On Drugs - Slave Ambient
The War On Drugs have the unique ability to make contemporary rock sound like classic Americana, their newest record's songs pulling on each other like driving hundreds of highways. It's reflective in the ways those best classic American records are.
29. The Weeknd - House of Balloons
Ebel Tesfaye is the prolific Canadian behind The Weeknd, releasing a trilogy of mix tapes of dirty, dark ass R&B. Listening to these songs no matter where you are makes you feel like it's 4 in the morning and you're naked and fucked up somewhere you're not supposed to be.
28. Rival Schools - Pedals
Queens native Walter Schriefels has been making music for years, fronting legendary hardcore bands like Gorilla Biscuits and Quicksand. In 2001 he formed Rival Schools making a formidable post-hardcore band blending the elements of emo that were just about to explode at the time and late 90's alternative. The result, sort of a Jimmy Eat World with balls. Unexpectedly, Rival Schools got back together and released another album this year that sounds like they never stopped from ten years ago, in the best way possible.
27. EMA - Past Life, Martyred Saints
EMA's "California" is essentially a semi-sung, semi-spoken monologue about 22 year old Erika M. Anderson's life from South Dakota to the West Coast, it's meandering, intensely personal, and feels like an angry proclamation, or confession. In a time when lyrics are taking a back seat, Anderson isn't afraid to put her story out in front.
26. Widowspeak - Widowspeak
Brooklyn's Widowspeak's beautiful self-titled debut drags like smoke in a hazy basement. Vocalist Molly Hamilton sings just above a whisper "I always think about you" in "Harsh Realm", but the atmosphere is so relaxed it doesn't seem like she'll do anything about it.
25. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost
Girls returned with an epic third full-length album this year to heaps of critical hoorahs. Deservedly so, The album jumps between bouncy pop to intimate rock songs conjuring Elliott Smith in a way no artist seems to have been able to in the past decade.
24. Big Troubles - Romantic Comedy
Big Troubles transcended the bin of lo-fi garage rock groups this year with "Romantic Comedy", whose title is so aptly fitting as the group sings about love and loss with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks. "Love is in the air/But I don't care/Because I don't want to love anymore/And if I hear the word again I think I'll shoot a hole in my head." the group sings to irresistibly catchy shoegazy power pop.
23. Twin Sister - In Heaven
Brooklyn's Twin Sister's first proper full length is a simultaneously delicate and dancey arrangement of dream pop songs firmly planted on the 80's tip. Andrea Estella's seductive voice creeps over quick beats and synths, perfect for the end of a dance party.
22. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
Annie Clark's third full length release blends her diverse pocket of styles into a wonderfully fun and powerful album. Seeming to pull from every decade, she manages to sing over her insanely weird little guitar solos packing tons of fuzz and taming it down just in time.
21. Pure X - Pleasure
For all the bands smothering their sound in reverb these days, for Pure X it seems a creative choice rather than a trend. These slow shoegazey pop songs feel like they're being brought to you from a jukebox from the 50's that you're listening to in the Twilight Zone.
20. Woods - Sun and Shade
Three years in a row Brooklyn's Woods have put out three incredibly solid records more or less clinging to the same formula of short, fuzzed out folk songs blending into noisy jams. This year was no exception, and singer Jeremy Earl's falsetto rings over the songs to give it their signature timeless sound. Earl's also from my hometown, Warwick, NY, where he records bands at his Buttermilk Studio for the Woodsist label.
19. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo
The finger picking and background atmosphere the first seconds into "My Baby's Arms" on "Smoke Ring for My Halo" lets you onto the fact that Vile has really found his place as a song writer. A perfect love song, Vile never seems bothered by much in his songs, but his snarky Dylanesque whine keeps you gripped throughout.
18. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
The highly anticipated sophomore release from Seattle's Fleet Foxes didn't disappoint most. A more personal album, the groups harmonious folk songs flow together once again in beautiful, if occasionally precious introspection.
17. Male Bonding - Endless Now
London's Male Bonding return with a pack of loud, fast and short pop punk songs that dip their toe just enough into My Bloody Valentine territory so as to not be confused with early Blink 182. Probably at the head of their peers who are turning this not too long ago derided genre into once again legitimate punk.
16. Iceage - New Brigade
Brought to you by a bunch of 18 year old kids from Denmark, Iceage exploded with their debut this year in an 18 minute record that blends old school hardcore, melodic punk and sonic Joy Division-esque pop styles into fist pumping anthems.
15. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Mirror Traffic
Written just before the year long Pavement reunion tour, Stephen Malkmus goes into full on 90's rock mode and it couldn't be better. Cutting out some of the noodling that took up a lot of his past solo work, these songs are shorter and rock harder, his lyrics as goofy and inscrutable as ever. On Senator: "I know what the senator wants, what the senator wants is a blow job/I know what everyone wants, what everyone wants is a blow job."
Tomorrow I'll post 15-1!