David Goldfarb: Top Albums of 2011

Philadelphia, PA

I don’t have a lot to say about albums this year. It was a pretty darn stellar year, but I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I had heard the year’s best album in February.

I will shout out, quickly, what a year for Philadelphian music. Even with a dissapointing (but solid) Man Man album, we were killing it. Sayin’.

top ten albums

10Radiohead: King of the Limbs

The biggest struggle on my list. After years of fanboy love, can my heart be seriously asked to judged them objectively? That fanboy love has cut both way this year: I’ve judged this album much more harshly than it merits, but then, in the month of December, winter creeping in, its patient beauty came clear to me (“Feral,” however, can go to hell). Discount this pick as you may, but at your peril. Even though this is the worst Radiohead album post-Pablo Honey, it’s still the tenth best album of the year.

Standout Track(s): Codex

09Real Estate: Days

Give me Phosphorescent’s Here’s to Taking It Easy in the summer and this in the autumn, and I’m set.

Standout Track(s): Green Aisles

08TunE-yArDs: w h o k i l l

A weak second half of this album prevents it from notching higher. I heard 2009’s Bird-Brains a week too late to include it in that year’s list, and thank God the same didn’t happen this year. Yes, the spelling is annoying. But dammit, some things are worth the annoyance. And live? All gravy.

Standout Track(s): Gangsta

07James Blake: James Blake

I wasn’t all up in his jock during the less poppy EPs (I’m bubblegum at heart, natch), but this album continues to knock me down. The only way “I Never Learnt to Share” could not smuggle tears into your eyes is if you’ve never had a sibling. Or never loved a human being imperfectly. Maybe you’re some sort of awesome robot, but in that case, you should stop listening to music, and start blowing things up. Also, let’s pretend that his cover of her “Limit to My Love” was the only thing that Feist produced this year. SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP. Metals never happened.

Standout Track(s): I Never Learnt to Share

06Atlas Sound: Parallax

Nothing to see here, just Brandon Cox continuing his four-year stranglehold over jangling, disorienting, and disarmingly beautiful and dark rock. Move along.

Standout Track(s): Mona Lisa

05The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient

As far as I’m concerned, it’s just been one long road trip since 2008’s Wagonwheel Blues. Propulsion defined. Does anything in this world please me more than listening to this album over the Ben Franklin Bridge, coasting closer and closer to Adam Granduciel and my Philadelphia?

Standout Track(s): Your Love Is Calling My Name

04Girls: Father, Son, Holy Ghost

I don’t even know what to say. This album was just a killer. Song after song of purty-and-dark pop. If it had maybe one or two less songs of filler, this album would’ve dropped St. Vincent from #3.

Standout Track(s): Honey Bunny

03St. Vincent: Strange Mercy

I hated her first album. And this album was so goddamn good, so unexpected, that I went back and listened to that crap again. Still crap, and this album is even better by comparison. Where did her steely avant Prince spine come from? And where can we find more of it? I still can’t get over my shock at how great this album was.

Standout Track(s): Cruel

02Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring for My Halo

I know this album pleasantly surprised quite a few people. But for those of who keep our ears to Philly’s music scene, this was like getting the Christmas present you’ve been asking for five years straight. Every Kurt Vile release, and there have been a lot of them, pointed, through their excessive noise and lo-lo-lo-fi, to this. The album we’ve all been waiting for, well worth the wait.

Standout Track(s): Baby’s Arms

01PJ Harvey: Let England Shake

This was the last album I’ll ever listen to on NPR’s First Listen. Back in February, I gave Let England Shake a cursory listen on NPRs stream which sounds like it’s being broadcast through a 14K modem. Unimpressed, I assigned it only a slight notch above her two most recent, very forgettable albums, and then forgot about it. A week later, I heard it in full fidelity. I could talk about this album’s beautiful craft, its strange amalgamation of WWI and the present day, its variety, or its gorgeous, gorgeous sound. Or I could just say this: after I finished that second listen, I stared into space for the next fifteen minutes, trying to understand what I’d just heard. Frightened.

Standout Track(s): All of them, idiots.

honorable mentions

Why screw around? I’ll rank ’em.
11 Washed Out Within and Without
12 Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues
13 The Antlers Burst Apart
14 Destroyer Kaputt
15 Iron and Wine Kiss Each Other Clean
16 Cut Copy Zonoscope
17 Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks Mirror Traffic
18 Bon Iver Bon Iver
18 Wild Beasts Smother
19 Britney Spears Femme Fatale
20 The Antlers Burst Apart

Washed Out was a near, near, near miss. If I had nickle for every time I listened to that album and wondered WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED to the last forty minutes, I’d have at least three bits.

Best unsigned for me was the excellent Skeleton Dead. Special shout-out to Charles Bradley, whose album I only loved with reservations, but whose live show I loved without them. Oh, and Fleet Foxes? No free jazz interludes. Bad, foxes. Also: play all your parts live, you goddamn fakers.

My Grandma Dave diss track would include the execrable (Lady Gage, Foster the People), the terminally boring (Adele), and the bloated (M83) (cut it in half, and it’s twice the album, worm-style). I had top ten spots reserved on my list for Feist, Panda Bear, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and TV on the Radio, but was saddened with lackluster albums from all. Especially you, TVOTR: You know I love you, baby. But maybe it’s time to start, you know, practicing together instead of just showing up at the studio. PS Your live show? Still killer. SPECIAL NOTE TO CASS MCCOMBS: You put out one of the year’s best albums, but you somehow released it split between two mediocre albums with lots of filler. WHY?

similarity to overall top ten: 71.33%, 7 matches

top songs

I put less thought into this entire category than even one of the Honorable Mentions albums. But, for Karp’s sake….

10Cass McCombs, “County Line”

09PJ Harvey, “The Last Living Rose”

08Cut Copy, “Need You Now”

07James Blake, “I Never Learnt to Share”

06Girls, “Honey Bunny”

05Jay-Z / Kanye West, “N***** in Paris”

04St. Vincent, “Cruel”

03PJ Harvey, “The Words That Maketh Murder”

02Tune-Yards, “Gangsta”

01Kurt Vile, “Baby’s Arms”

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