2011 Roundup: The Five Best Albums [Music]

One of my favorite things about the end of the year is the “best of” and “top ten” lists that pop up everywhere. At the top of my list of best of lists is always All Songs Considered’s string of “best of” music posts: best music, best albums, best songs, best surprises, best new artists, etc.

In honor of the end of 2011, I thought I’d share a few of my own “best of” lists: starting with my personal Top Five Albums of 2011, followed by Shaun’s [and yes, we’re aware there’s some overlap]. We’re providing the albums in alphabetical order rather than ranking them, partly because once you get up into the top five its difficult to differentiate, and partly because our hectic summers made it such that a few things might have fallen through the cracks this year. Let me know if your picks line up with ours [or any of the linked lists below!].

Courtney’s Best Albums of 2011

The Black Keys, “El Camino” – This record doesn’t break any molds; however, I find it to be much more concise and consistent than 2010’s “Brothers,” [which nevertheless made my short list that year], lending it a bit more staying power. Shaun often says of the Black Keys [and Dr. Dog], “If you don’t like them, you don’t like rock music.” Truth. Listen: “Dead and Gone.” Watch: Official Video for “Lonely Boy.”

Bon Iver, “Bon Iver” – In all honesty, I trashed this record at first. It wasn’t until I heard it live – where its power and strength nearly blew out the speakers in the venue- that I had the, “Wait a minute, this isn’t ‘For Emma'” epiphany. It breaks from Justin Vernon’s norms in a really incredible way. Plus, we just ignore that last song. Go ahead, turn up your speakers, you’re not in a cabin crying over “Re: Stacks” anymore. Listen: “Perth.” Watch: Official Video for “Holocene.”

Bright Eyes, “The People’s Key” – This record reminded me what there is to adore about Conor Oberst other than his ability to hit you where it hurts. Aside from its creepy social commentary [which NPR claims concludes with the message to “love one another”], references to aliens, and [sometimes lengthy] monologues by a guy I liken to a scientologist, this record is less about wallowing in teen angst and more about reflection and songs you can sing along to as a collective. Listen: “Firewall” [creepy alien intro ends at 2:20]. Watch: Official Video for “Shell Games.”

Real Estate, “Days” – There’s something endearing about the simplicity of this band’s second full-length album. It could be overlooked because of its “background music” qualities, but upon a second [and third, and fourth] listen, its intelligently coherent and crisp. This is relaxing, stress-relieving indie at its finest. Listen/Watch: “It’s Real” [for more than the super cute dog].

The Roots, “Undun” – A few critics have called this some of the group’s “best work,” almost in a “they’re finally back to form” sort of way. I have to disagree, for like Shaun, I can’t think of a time when the Roots didn’t make my “best of” list. When have they not been timely, consistent, intelligent, entertaining, overly-competent performers? P.S., it’s a concept album, and that’s great, too. Listen/Watch: Official Video for “Sleep.”

Courtney’s Honorable Mentions:

  • Das Racist, “Relax”
  • Dawn Golden & Rosy Cross, “Blow [EP]”
  • King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, “Diamond Mine”
  • Lykke Li, “Wounded Rhymes”
  • Wilco, “The Whole Love”

Shaun’s Best Albums of 2011

Bon Iver, “Bon Iver” – I hadn’t fully digested the criticism of this album until my last day in New York, when the bartender at Diner [the burger, omg] played it uninterrupted until the final track: “Beth/Rest.”Aas he changed songs, we exchanged smiles. Then, I realized the silliness of the [common] condemnation of the entire record on account of the closer’s cheesiness. We’d listened to every other song in continuity and LOVED it. I’m willing to give the guy a break if he wants to go all Bruce Hornsby on us for one song. Listen/Watch: “Calgary.”
Eleanor Friedberger, “Last Summer” – The effortless melodies and plodding drums shift focus to Friedberger’s homage to Brooklyn in the summer. It was the perfect soundtrack to my own explorations of the borough. Listen/Watch: “My Mistakes.”
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, “Diamond Mine” – With understated sentimentality, this short album transforms the Scottish countryside you’ve never seen into your most recalled impression. I can’t think of better evidence from 2011 of the organic potential of electronica than Hopkins’s soundscapes on this album. Listen/Watch: “Bubble.”
Real Estate, “Days” – Singer/guitarist Martin Courtney sums up the album on the opener, “easy”: “if it takes all summer long just to write one simple song, there’s too much to focus on.” Sit back, relax, crack a beer, and forget that you spend two-thirds of your life in an office. Listen/Watch: “Easy [Live].
The Roots, “Undun” – I realize that I lose some credibility by including The Roots on my best-of list every year they release an album, but I challenge you to name a contemporary band more consistently virtuosic or an emcee on his tenth album with more relevance than Black Thought. Somehow, even with a nearly nightly gig on national television, this group remains grossly underappreciated. Listen: “The Other Side.”
Shaun’s Honorable Mentions:
  • Raphael Saadiq, “Stone Rollin'”
  • Shabazz Palaces, “Black Up”
  • Wild Flag, “Wild Flag”
  • Wu Lyf, “Go Tell Fire to the Mountain”
  • Yellow Ostrich, “The Mistress”

For Further Reading


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Categories: Music


Courtney grew up in Reading, PA, and has lived in New York City (where she earned a bachelor's degree at NYU), Prague, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville (where she received a J.D. from UVa Law). Courtney and her new husband will settle in Philadelphia following a six-week Euro-trip extravaganza in September of 2012. Courtney's interests include music, writing, criticism, fitness, travel, cooking, and sports. Please enjoy the blog. LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/courtney-marello/1a/375/b30 Tumblr: http://abarrelofoddsandends.tumblr.com/


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One Comment on “2011 Roundup: The Five Best Albums [Music]”

  1. December 21, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    Totally concur about The Black Keys’ “El Camino”. Love the way the band draws on the sound of vintage 60s garage rock. Such great band; such an overlooked genre. What’s not to love?

    2011 saw a growing number of new bands, essentially garage rock purists, who are not-so-quietly focused on preserving the original sound of 60s garage.

    A good example is Chapel Hill NC’s THEE DIRTYBEATS ( 2011 debut ep free download http://tinyurl.com/7od26by ). They specialize in recreating the tough, primitive, aggressive vibe of early to mid-60s garage rock and psychedelia — the sound that inspired proto-punk pioneers like MC5 and The Stooges.

    To get that sound, THEE DIRTYBEATS make use of sometimes unwieldy period gear, including vintage KAPA, Mosrite, Rickenbacker and Fender guitars, Fender and Ampeg amps, Big Muff fuzzes, Morley wahs — even coiled guitar cords. The result is prickly, gritty, unpredictable… and (if you are into that pure vintage garage rock thing), utterly glorious.

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