Music is a fickle beast to enjoy and even harder to apply some sort of criticism towards. I thought I’d just throw together some sort of countdown and that would be that.
Turns out there is a ton of music that I listened to this year and I even managed to enjoy most of it. How to put together a list? Ahhh, so hard. But I am the maker of my own destiny, and in the confines of this blog, also my own taskmaster/editor. No complaints, right?
Without further ado, here’s what I’ve enjoyed most musically this past year in the album form (beginning to end). [I’ve also created a new version of The Playlist with my favourite tracks from this year, which may or may not be included in the following albums.]
Watch The Throne
Jay-Z and Kanye West
This spot could just as easily have belonged to Drake’s Take Care, so close were they, both when I was ranking my list and as I listened to them. How does one deal critically with rap/hiphop when a lot of the content focuses on excess and success? Drake took the approach Kanye set out in 808s (lamenting) and made it his own over the past two years. That being said, despite what others might say, I really don’t find Drake as enjoyable to listen to. If this was an expanded list, he’d probably end up at No. 11, so take it with a grain of salt.
In contrast, no matter how serious Jay-Z and Kanye can get (and they continue to expose the black man’s experience in America in their art), they still seem to genuinely have some fun with it. Watch The Throne is essentially the rap equivalent to a summer blockbuster. If you can let yourself go, your ears will thank you as you get caught up.
Sample track: Otis.
The Rip Tide
Zach Condon is a ridiculously talented musician who occasionally lets others play along with him. With The Rip Tide, he delivers probably the closest thing to a “commercial” album. While previous albums were pretty esoteric, Tide is accessible and really enjoyable. Don’t let labels like “baroque pop” or “Balkan folk” scare you away, you will not regret listening to Beirut.
Sample track: Sante Fe.
The Black Keys
Last year, The Black Keys delivered one of the best albums I have ever heard in Brothers. This year’s follow-up, El Camino, is not their most artistically ambitious or innovative, but it is probably their most fun album to-date. It’s filled with pedal to the floor guitar riffs that wouldn’t seem out of place in grimey 1970s rock. This might be the album that gets new listeners hooked, and I hope that it does and they can work backwards through the discography and find the gems that got me hooked.
Sample track: Lonely Boy.
Naming conventions aside (is it “Bon Iver” by Bon Iver or is it “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” by Bon Iver?), this is a beautiful album filled with chilling falsetto vocals and light instrumentals. It’s not the album to throw on for a party is what I am saying (despite Bon Iver/Justin Vernon’s newfound fame post-Kanye). If you are looking for an album for dreamy escapism, this would be it.
Sample track: Holocene.
It’s hard to believe that there are people who don’t know of The Roots as anything other than Jimmy Fallon’s house band. They are missing out. Constant innovators, The Roots have gone the direction of the concept album, stringing together a tragic journey in reverse chronology. The result is a neo-soul/hiphop album that makes a push for being one of the most creative works in 2011.
Sample track: Make My (feat. Big K.R.I.T. & Dice Raw).
Build A Rocket Boys!
Elbow are one of those bands that don’t get enough credit for doing what they do and doing it so damned well. They write detailed portraits of the minutiae of life and turn them into grand sweeping anthemic narratives of the human experience. No detail is too small to be the building block towards something larger than us all. Build A Rocket Boys! is an album filled with sentiment, warmth, nostalgia and a pulse that drives it forward. It’s prog rock for people with feelings and not just metronomes for hearts.
Sample track: Lippy Kids.
Nine Types of Light
TV On The Radio
This is the soundtrack to our destruction. And while that might sound ominous, I guarantee you, we’ll be boogieing our way out. As the calendar switches over to 2012 and the more hysterical among you buy into superstitious tales, I suggest you at least go into the bunker listening to this.
Sample track: Second Song.
A Creature I Don’t Know
Lost in the bombast surrounding Adele is that there is another young female Brit named Laura Marling who released her third album in 2011 at the ripe old age of 21. Every single track shows ambition beyond her years. It’s not the neo-Motown of Adele, but it’s something far more timeless, it’s just pure unadulterated voice plus guitar.
Sample track: Sophia.
The Whole Love
Bounce-back album! Love them. Wilco have been around so long that they could be considered a musical institution. When 2009’s Wilco (The Album) came around, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t underwhelmed. I had the exact opposite reaction listening to The Whole Love. I was blown away that this was a band that had been around for 17 years. It was fresh, it had heart and it absolutely rocks.
Sample track: Born Alone.
Sophomore slump? No. I think not. If anything, Helplessness Blues is every bit the album that Fleet Foxes’ debut was… and then some. It’s near perfect. The only worrying thing is the world weariness that singer Robin Pecknold appears to be suffering from throughout the album. Maybe that is just the flavour of the day, as other artists seem to be lamenting their success even as they create beautiful art (see: Drake, Kanye West, etc.). The title track is just the epitome of that distraught nature as Pecknold sings of being raised believing in his uniqueness and now he only wants to fit in as some cog in a machine if it serves a greater purpose.
Sample track: Helplessness Blues.