1. Destroyer – Kaputt
As if I need to add anything else to what I already pointed out in my review. Bejar takes everything that signifies terrible 80s music and uses them to great effect. Case in point: “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker”. This eight minute slab of synths and trumpets manages to use its “cheesy” elements for something very sad indeed. Perhaps it’s the way the trumpets melt into a squall of acid jazz at the end—perhaps it’s how the whole album seems to melt away into the labyrinthine “Bay of Pigs (Detail)” perhaps the only song to top two different personal year-end song lists. Oh Danny boy.
2. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
READ BYVOLUME. ByVolume is watching you.
3. Tom Waits – Bad as Me
Tom. Fucking. Waits…. Next please.
4. Fleet Foxes –Helplessness Blues
Fleet Foxes do it again. They prove my greatest asset when I tell people why I dislike Mumford & Sons. “You just don’t like them because they’re popular.” WRONG. I really just wish Fleet Foxes were more popular. They deserve it more; they have more ingenuity about them, not to mention talent. Are they “original?” Yes, they are, I invoke T.S. Eliot and say that they take what came before them—namely Appalachian folk—and make it into something identifiably their own. So in the eternal question of which is the funnier punch-line, the canoe or another NME review, I think we have are answer. Canoe dig it? Yes—and that’s a terrible pun.
5. Radiohead – The King of Limbs
This is the best Radiohead album. Emphasis on the word album. The King of Limbs feels more cohesive than anything else they’ve ever done. The whole album isn’t built around singles, but rather around flow. The flower imagery spread throughout is apropos; this thing blooms. When you first put on the clusterfuck that is “Bloom” it’s hard to gather a sense of just what the hell is going on. Repeated listens reveal the wanderlust is not in vain. From the congested openings to the breezy, light closer “Separator,” The King of Limbs unfurls itself to the listener. Beautiful.
6. The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient
I don’t really like describing bands or albums through formulaic equations of influences. It feels pejorative. But what the hell: Bob Dylan + Shoegaze = Slave Ambient. QED.
7. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges
I like circles. That sounds childish, let me start again. I like circular patterns in art. They fascinate me. I don’t try to limit my attentions to just these aspects of a work, but I can’t help but be drawn to these patterns. There’s something in the way things are repeated that seduces my intellect. I’ve written extensively on tautology in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, Joyce’s Ulysses, and even Eliot’s “Prufrock.” That’s why Colin Stetson feels so enthralling to me—the circular breathing techniques, the masterful loops. He builds and builds and builds. Layer upon layer of saxophone drones, squeals and scales that create something absolutely mesmerizing.
8. James Blake – James Blake
There’s just something so heart-warming in the way “I don’t know about my dreams” gets repeated over, and over, and over. And over again.
9. Shabazz Palaces – The Black-Up
Sometimes I pretend to listen to hip-hop, because, y’know, Southwestern Ontario is SO urban. The jazzy, cut-up beats and the sludgy synths make this socially-conscious hip-hop quite delicious.
10. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
Did you guys hear? Annie Clark can play guitar. Like a boss. Her licks have grown in fierceness since Marry Me and Actor. Look no further for the impressive way the guitar just rolls over “Surgeon” for the perfect example of her chops. But not only that, her song-writing oeuvre has grown en masse. The result is Strange Mercy, something that breathes with lessons only two previous albums could give Miss Clark. The second half of the record initially seems to drag, but that’s merely because it’s less immediate than the star-studded opening half. Give it some time, this one needs room to grow.
11. The Weeknd – House of Balloons/Thursday/Echoes of Silence
Me: The Weeknd are playing a show here in a couple of weekends.
My Friend : YAY, let’s go.
Me: I feel like I’m too white for that show.
My Friend: Most people who actually listen to the Weeknd are too white.
Me: I also don’t do enough drugs.
My Friend: Yeah, and I don’t have enough sex.
So ends a dialogue summarizing The Weeknd.
12. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
When Pitchfork reviewed this and said “you’ve heard these songs before,” they weren’t kidding. Every time I listen to this album I think for sure I can place these melodies on a particular classic rock song… but I can’t. Girls sound like a lot of classic rock bands—all the greatest ones. That makes Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in many ways essential. A buoy for the good ol’ days of rock and roll.
13. Sepalcure – Sepalcure
Deviant am I doing it right?
14. The Antlers – Burst Apart
Burst Apart really just feels more whole than Hospice, ironically because the band ditch the ostentatious melancholy of the latter. With a greater influence on the songwriting as opposed to an overarching concept, The Antlers really get a chance to shine.
15. Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
I don’t really like the middle part of this record. Not that it’s bad at all, I just feel like the three middle songs make up this same-sounding suite of Steve Reichisms . Thankfully the first four and last three tracks are golden; well, at least until “Beth/Rest” has the cheesy power guitar solo. You had me up until that point Justin. Still, bravo for trying.
16. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lenses Alien
I still can’t tell if there’s any structure here. Alien Lenses sprawls even more than Why There are Mountains, with far shorter song lengths (erm, generally speaking). Either way, I can’t take my ears away from this. There’s just something about these guys that feels so energetic and essential, this may be the most “underrated” (I gulp in using the term that I really don’t like) album of 2011.
17. Florence & the Machine – Ceremonials
Read my review. Next.
18. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972
Along with Stars of the Lid, there is nobody near Tim Hecker on the pedestal of ambient music. Ravedeath, 1972 just further goes to show why. Starting right-off with “Piano Drop,” the album floats through you with all its endearing and mystical nuances.
19. Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
Kate Bush comes back to us with another album of slow, pacing genius. Not to fall back on tropes, but this really is a winter album. Just look at that title. Plus the eponymous song actually goes through fifty “words” for snow. “When we got to the top of the hill / We saw Rome burning.” Indeed.
20. Okkervil River – I Am Very Far
Fans didn’t seem to take all that well to I Am Very Far, which is too bad. The “bombastic” side of the band was hardly over done—the melodies were still there as were Will Shef’s brilliant lyrical twist and turns. “Your Past Life Was a Blast” also happens to be one of the better songs this year. Maybe you should listen again, guys. Maybe, just maybe, you should stop being terrible people.
21. Chad VanGalen – Diaper Island
Album contains probably the sweetest, saddest, most touching song to ever be named “Shave My Pussy.” Maybe? Definitely. Also: better than Women.
22. Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
23. Steve Coleman and the Five Elements – The Mancy of Sound
Slappin’ da bass. Squealin’ da sax.
24. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
The only place that PJ Harvey’s newest album seemed to fly “under the radar” is our very own Sputnik. Shame on you all. Of course, “under the radar,” is a qualified term; what I really mean is people here seem to continuously skip over this for the uneven Laura Marling or the even more uneven Laura Stevenson. Both of those are good records, don’t get me wrong, but neither contain the poise and maturity that only years and years could bring Harvey.
25. Wye Oak – Civilian
Civilian was a late inclusion to my year end list. After seeing her live opening for The National last week I finally picked up Civilian. I wish I had done it earlier. In many ways Wye Oak is the surprise inclusion personally. But listening to the album just a few times I know it could’ve been far higher than position 25 given some more time. Oh well, at least the duo get a spot.