The 10 most interesting albums of 2011

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Before the first month of 2012 is entirely gone, I wanted to run down my list of the 10 most interesting albums of 2011. I didn't think we'd bought all that much new music last year, but I was somewhat startled to look back and see nearly 70 albums from 2011 in our collection. I'm not going out on a limb far enough as to say these are the best of that crop, but they're definitely the ones that were interesting enough to keep me coming back for multiple multiple listens.

I've put the top 10 in a rough order, then followed those with some unordered honorable mentions.


TOP 10 MOST INTERESTING

Strange Mercy 1. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
The only thing predictable about the dark, engaging songs on this third straight amazing album from Annie Clark and crew is their unpredictability. Clark is a brilliant poet, arranger, and guitarist, and every track is gorgeous, thrilling, and shot through with beautiful noise.  ["Cheerleader"]

Wild Flag 2. Wild Flag - Wild Flag
Wild Flag is what you hope for in every supergroup—the best of every component band joined seamlessly into something greater. That's exactly what you get from the combination of Mary Timony of Helium, Rebecca Cole of the Minders, and Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, ten perfect slabs of joyous rock 'n' roll.  ["Romance"]

C'mon 3. Low - C'mon
I started listening to Low out of curiosity because the husband and wife behind the band are Mormon. I kept listening because they're just that good. This return to their low-key roots is enhanced but not overwhelmed by their recent years of experimentation. Pull up a pillow but don't think about sleeping.  ["Witches"]

El Camino 4. The Black Keys - El Camino
What can I tell you about the new Black Keys album that you don't already know? Their secret weapon is Danger Mouse, back in the producer's chair, who adds just the right background touches to make these strong straight-ahead stompers something more than just your basic blues blasts.  ["Gold on the Ceiling"]

Here Before 5. The Feelies - Here Before
No one ever expected the Feelies—a huge influence on bands like R.E.M.—to reunite for an album of new material in 2011, much less that it would be their best in the 31 years since their debut. Strikingly confident and direct for all that it's about questioning their place in the world of today, this one's worth the price of admission for the slinky, sly guitar solos alone.  ["Time Is Right"]

Nine Types of Light 6. TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light
The kings of moody, layered avant-pop deemphasize their trademark wall-of-vocals sound for an album that on first listen seems more simple and sunny than anything this band that never repeats itself has ever done. But subsequent spins reveals more depth and nuance beneath the sunshine than is immediately apparent.  ["No Future Shock"]

Kaputt 7. Destroyer - Kaputt
Despite my admiration for The New Pornographers, I didn't expect to like this album from Dan Behar's main project nearly as much as I do. It plays like a great lost record from one of the New Romantic bands of the '80s. Think Spandau Ballet but, you know, good["Song for America"]

Undun 8. The Roots - Undun
Renowned as the best live band in hip-hop, the Roots don't get the attention on record they deserve. Which is a shame, because this concept album tracing the life of a murdered thug in reverse, like all their records, is a clear, angry, artful distillation of life in a segment of society that remains unseen to many of us.  ["The OtherSide"]

What Were You Hoping For? 9. Van Hunt - What Were You Hoping For?
File this freak-R&B excursion somewhere between Prince at his quirkiest or the N*E*R*D of Fly or Die. I still don't know whether or not I like its off-kilter melodies and fractured lyrics, but I know I can't stop listening to it.  ["Watching You Go Crazy Is Driving Me Insane"]

The Hunter 10. Mastodon - The Hunter
The prog-metal monsters scale their epic tendencies down into pure pop nuggets, showing us every last thing they can do along the way. Okay, it's no Crack the Skye, but it is fierce, fast, virtuosic, surprising, and addictive.  ["Curl of the Burl"]


HONORABLE MENTIONS

And now, twelve albums that didn't quite make the cut but still rewarded repeat listens over the past year.

Hot Sauce Committee Part Two Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
They rap like the last twenty years never happened, and that's why I love them.

50 Words for Snow Kate Bush - 50 Words for Snow
Only Kate Bush could make seven epic tracks about snow this compelling.

Camp Childish Gambino - Camp
Troy from Community is equally fresh, inventive, and stinging when rapping about childhood as when examining the asshole inside all of us. (Is there nothing Donald Glover can't do?)

Rome Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi - Rome
The soundtrack to an imaginary spaghetti Western that you can almost see playing in your head.

The King Is Dead The Decemberists - The King Is Dead
Colin Meloy has obviously stepped away from the renaissance fair and started listening to early R.E.M. again.

Go-Go Boots Drive-By Truckers - Go-Go Boots
Sad, sad stories dripping with grease from the deep-fry pot.

Take Care, Take Care, Take Care Explosions in the Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
I always look forward to a new offering from these kings of nuanced instrumental rock.

David Comes to Life Fucked Up - David Comes to Life
A towering punk-pop opus that beats Green Day at their own game.

Constant Future Parts and Labor - Constant Future
Anthemic pop filtered through a lonely-road car stereo tuned partway to static.

Stone Rollin' Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin'
Lyrically this probably couldn't have been produced in the early '60s, but sonically it could. And that's good.

So Beautiful or So What Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What
Never one to rest on his laurels, Simon brings a new set of modern textures to bear on his craftsmanlike songs.

For True Trombone Shorty - For True
New Orleans jazz-funk meets hip-hop in a fun and bracing brew.


SPECIAL COMEDY MENTION

And finally, one album of stand-up comedy without which my 2011 list would be incomplete.

This Has to Be Funny Marc Maron - This Has to Be Funny
The celebrated WTF Podcast has brought him wider acclaim, but this funny, painful document of his stand-up amply shows the well of lacerating self-analysis from which the harsh compassion of his interview style derives.  ["Working Out Their Daddy Issues"]

2 Comments

This is a great list. I couldn't agree with you more about the TV on the Radio and Beastie Boys albums.

Halsted, what other albums did you like last year?

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