For the 12 Days of Christmas, I’m offering 1 day of the TOP 12 ALBUMS OF 2011….
Beirut - The Rip Tide
I really loved Beirut’s first couple of albums, and I faithfully bought everything else Zach Condon put out. However I found those records quickly slipping out of regular rotation, and I basically wrote him off. But his latest album delivers the emotional depth that his original 1-trick-pony records promised. Melancholy and inspiring at the same time. Great post-rock (and a record I can actually play for my mother).
tUnE-yArDs - W H O K I L L
At first glance the band’s name with its weirdo spelling and internet modernity may seem pretentious, and the songs, with their maddening mix of African, hip-hop, jazz, folk and ukulele might feel too experimental. But singer/songwriter Merrill Garbus is no flash in the pan. Listening to her conjures up shades of Prince, Fugazi, In Living Color, Paul Simon… Her voices waxes and wanes from torrent to trickle. It’s gritty, it’s pretty, it’s masculine, it’s delicate, it’s electrifying. There are soul and beauty at the base of the unbridled creativity that explodes onto this noise pop record. A late discovery for me, and my current obsession.
Pedro Soler & Gaspar Claus - Barlande
A 28-year-old experimental cellist collaborates with a 73-year-old flamenco guitarist. In addition to being incredible musical improvisationalists, they’re also father and son. I find it stunning how their music conjures up both a haunting nostalgia and fresh, bizarre invention. Barlande was produced by The National’s guitarist, Bryce Dessner, and features Sufjan Stevens on harmonium for the final track. Best instrumental album of the year.
Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes
DJ Patrick Belton turned me on to Lykke Li before her first album and I was intrigued and entranced by that tiny Swedish voice which somehow sounded so tough inside that fairy-twinkle music. Her new record Wounded Rhymes abandons all pixie dust and grabs the drum kit by the balls. With this kind of range this early in her career, I predict Lykke Li will have some incredible albums coming down the pike. Keep an eye out for her.
Feist - Metals
I prefer my Feist happy with a tinge of darkness, and this album is the reverse. But even a dark Feist album is a top 12 album of the year. Powerful, catchy, quirky, wholly original. Feist delivers a complex set of emotions through inspired and moody songwriting.
Cults - Cults
Mixing 60s girls bands with alternative indie pop to amazing effect, this sucker is imminently listenable. And the lyrics—sung with such sweetness—carry a sharp, cynical bite without losing heart. Retro times two equals top album number 7.
Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean
Another great album from Samuel Beam. This time he’s stepping out with a lot more instruments, jazz and funk. I had the great fortune of catching their in-store performance at Amoeba Records in January, bought the CD a day before it was released, and got a cool-ass free poster with the year misprinted on it as 2010. I am so e-baying that poster in 30 years to pay for my around-the-world cruise (and, hey, maybe Samuel Beam will be working cruises by then?)
Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Taking time out from Auto-Tuning his voice in collaboration with Kanye West, Justin Vernon, the mastermind behind 2007’s grandslam of melancholia, “For Emma, Forever Ago”, has created another atmospheric and enthralling set of songs. “Holocene” is definitely one of the most beautiful songs of the year.
Tom Waits - Bad As Me
I keep waiting for my hero to lose his gift and put out something mediocre. I’m still waiting. Waits delivers a great set of songs with genius lyrics. Again. At age 62. That’s why he’s my hero.
The Black Keys - El Camino
Another Black Keys album? Already? Shit, I’m still into their 2010 album. And El Camino is every bit as good as Brothers. Well, if I didn’t get a Jack White shot of testosterone in this year’s faves, at least I got this: The Black Keys doing exactly what they want. Loudly. So good.
Portugal. The Man - In the Mountain In the Cloud
Atlantic signed them, and boom, Portugal. The Man cranked out another album. This is a stunner, in the same vein as MGMT and The Flaming Lips. It’s anthemic indie rock exploding into stadium-sized psychedelia. And me sure likey some stadium-sized psychedelia.
Adele - 21
Producer Jeff Roe and I were the first to use “Rolling in the Deep” in a piece of media back in our January show, The Critics Choice Awards. Even then I knew the album would be top three of the year. And nothing came along to topple her crown. 21 is an instant classic. An album for the ages. Adele came from the indie/alternative world and now has every 12 year old in America singing along. And me too. Long live that sassy, smoky Brit.