Phil M: Top Albums of 2011

Philadelphia, PA

top ten albums

10Lykke Li: Wounded Rhymes

There were some real low spots on this album (including breakout hit, “Get Some,” which makes me vaguely uncomfortable), but the high points were the best weirdo, danceable tracks we could expect in a year without a new Robyn album.

Standout Track(s): I Follow Rivers

09Mountain Goats: All Eternals Deck

This is a really sad album, to me, and it’s been sometimes difficult to listen to, but it’s also a really surprisingly hard-rocking album.

Standout Track(s): Estate Sale Sign; Damn These Vampires

08James Blake: James Blake


Standout Track(s): Wilhelm Scream

07Frank Ocean: Nostalgia, Ultra

This album would be ranked much higher if it didn’t include a total trainwreck of a song that mashes up “Hotel California” with the plot of an American Pie sequel.

Standout Track(s): Songs for Women; Nature Feels

06TunE-yArDs: w h o k i l l

I’ve never heard anything like this. Nobody has. Don’t pretend like you have, Dave.

Standout Track(s): Bizness; Gangsta

05St. Vincent: Strange Mercy

St. Vincent albums have always sounded very anti-septic in the past, like music a serial killer would play for you as you’re strapped to a table, helpless. This album doesn’t sound that way, and it is, as a result, her best album by a mile. Plus, it is outlandishly catchy, and she has some of the weirdest guitar solos since Rage Against the Machine were a thing.

Standout Track(s): Cruel; Northern Lights

04Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: Mirror Traffic

Is it wrong to say that sometimes I forget this is a solo record? It’s unfair to judge solo output based on the standard of a previous band—this never works for Frank Black, for instance—but Malkmus’ ability to STILL do what Malkmus does so well is actually kind of inspiring. Now that he has achieved a range life, it is nice to know that he’s still got it. It’s also nice to see him come out on the other side of that horrific jam band period with his sense of humor intact and his singing voice somehow more dynamic and engaging than ever.

Standout Track(s): Senator; Spazz

03EMA: Past Life Martyred Saints

These last three are all amazing. This album was a real surprise. Comparing it to Patti Smith or PJ Harvey, as people are wont to do, isn’t necessarily fair or even correct. This is just such a solid, confident, coherent artistic statement that it’s hard to know how to talk about it. Much like I felt after hearing the first Tune Yard album, I cannot wait to hear the next album.

Standout Track(s): Butterfly Knife

02Wild Flag: Wild Flag

Thank God for this album. This is not a Sleater Kinney rehash, but it’s not a huge stylistic departure either. The songs are catchy, but they are so well-performed, rocked out to the highest degree, that the album is actually exciting to listen to. Wild Flag is a super group built from parts of Sleater Kinney, Helium, and the Minders, but it sounds like a super group featuring Tom Verlaine of Television, Lou Reed, Joey Ramone, and Keith Moon on the drums. Plus, it marks the full emergence of Carrie Brownstein as a front-woman. These ladies are all rock stars, and this is a real album, not a nostalgia trip.

Standout Track(s): Romance; Something Came Over Me

01PJ Harvey: Let England Shake

PJ Harvey’s best album, by a large margin. Both thoroughly composed and constructed, but also loose and spontaneous. It’s a concept album without the pretension of other concept albums *cough*Coldplay*cough*. She plays saxophone like David Bowie, she footnotes her songs with anachronistic references, she sings with a falsetto that makes no sense. It’s haunting, it’s gory, it’s weirdly patriotic—it’s a World War I punk record. This album is a perfect game. Perfect. This is a rare album that I love in a completely emotional way and that I admire in an almost academic capacity. There needs to be more art like this. This is why rock music is important. The Shins will change your life.

Standout Track(s): The Words that Maketh Murder; England

honorable mentions

Bill Callahan, “Apocalypse”

similarity to overall top ten: 39.5%, 4 matches

top songs

There were a lot of really good songs this year. As a result, I have omitted any of the numerous PJ Harvey songs that were amazing this year, in favor of including others. My number one, by the Rapture, comes from a disappointing album, but is, I think, a clear winner for best track of the year. Malkmus, St. Vincent, and Wild Flag, to my mind share the number 2 spot. They could easily appear on this list in any order between 2 and 4. EMA’s “Butterfly Knife” would be higher, but, as recorded, I always feel something missing. Hearing her perform it live, however, revealed what an extraordinary song structure it really is. Also, I refuse to write Tune Yards in that weird way, so I’m treating it like it’s her first and last name.

10James Blake, “Wilhelm Scream”

09Jay Z and Kanye West, “No Church in the Wild”

08Tune Yards, “Bizness”

07Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”

06Holy Ghost, “Some Children”

05EMA, “Butterfly Knife”

04Wild Flag, “Romance”

03St. Vincent, “Cruel

02Stephen Malkmus, “Senator”

01The Rapture, “How Deep is Your Love?”

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