2011 will be remembered as the year Occupy Wall Street was born, Osama Bin Laden was killed, the Arab Spring, and the death of Steve Jobs. In music, Adele captured the heart of all generations as her album 21 became the year’s best selling, and garnering 6 Grammy nominations. Indeed the record industry showed signs of life. U2 closed out the biggest tour in history. Mellow music made a comeback (Bon Iver, James Blake, Destroyer and Drake). Spotify, Apple, Amazon, and Google launched major cloud services. And Rebecca Black’s Friday, which, to many was a really stupid song, became a YouTube phenomenon and got into many people’s head.
Below is the list of the best music albums for 2011, as determined by a variety of music critics:
50. EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints
49. Destroyer - Kaputt
48. Fucked Up - David Comes to Life
47. Miranda Lambert - Four the Record
46. Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know
45. The War on Drugs - Slave Ambient
44. Wild Beasts - Smother
43. Dawes - Nothing Is Wrong
42. The Horrors - Skying
41. Mastodon - The Hunter
40. Metronomy - The English Riviera
39. Gillian Welch - The Harrow & The Harvest
38. Beyonce - 4
37. Tom Waits - Bad as Me
36. White Denim - D
35. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Mirror Traffic
34. Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
33. Eric Church - Chief
32. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
31. R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now
30. Demi Lovato - Unbroken
29. Das Racist - Relax
28. Cage the Elephant - Thank You Happy Birthday
27. Beastie Boys - Ho Sauce Committee Pt. Two
26. Drake - Take Care
25. Big K.R.I.T. - Return of 4eva
24. Tom Mordello - The Nightwatchman
23. Robbie Robertson - How to Become Clairvoyant
22. Josh T. Pearson - Last of the Country Gentlemen
21. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
And the top 20 best albums of 2011 are:
20. Jay-Z and Kanye West - Watch the Throne
The two hip-hop music icons combined talents to form the group “The Throne”. Heralded as a “masterpiece” and an “event album”, this is as solid collaborative effort from two pop culture visionaries of this generation. Standout songs include the Stax-soul update “Otis” and the fierce “Ni** as in Paris”
19. Feist – Metals
Metals is “astoundingly intimate, yet often exuberant; rife with transcendent and unforgettable pop gems”. The album contains folk rock and alt country elements, the tone is autumnal and hushed. Feist’s singing will wrap you with understated emotions.
18. Lady Gaga - Born This Way
The first single from the album, title track "Born This Way", set a music industry record by becoming the fastest single in history to reach sales of 1,000,000 copies. The song inspires you to embrace what you are. This is a deeply personal album for Lady Gaga, whose theatricality sometimes overwhelm her genius for creating exuberant dance music combined with light rock and jazzy elements.
17. Pistol Annies - Hell on Heels
They are country music’s newest super-group. Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley sing in close-harmony about hard times and men who make it harder.
16. TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light
A lush and beautiful album, and the most approachable, so far, from the group. It is filled with songs about longing and love.
15. The Decemberists - The King is Dead
The Decemberists’ first number one album illustrates the power that comes from this kind of creative call-and-response. Although a shift from their previous musical direction, the lyrics in the album still contains imagery from landscapes, plants, and water.
14. Wild Flag - Wild Flag
This is a terrific rock album. According to Rolling Stones, “The guitars spark, snarl and tangle while the girl-group la-la-la’s cushion tougher sentiments”.
13. Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What
Rolling Stone magazine recently declared this album by the legendary Paul Simon, "His best since Graceland," and National Public Radio affirmed, "...his new music balances great poetry and pop. Paul Simon is a national treasure." Filter Magazine calls it "...a new masterpiece from the Picasso of music."
12. Lykke Li – Wounded
This is one of the most tremendous records you will hear in 2011. It is packed full of pounding, voodoo drums, girl group gang vocals, sparkling guitar lines, woozy keyboards, love unrequited, hope reignited and her own very powerful voice, sounding bigger and bolder than ever before.
11. Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials
Florence’s soaring, epic vocals, quirky melodies and self-contained musical world have already won her the 2009 Critics Choice Award at the Brits. This album rivals Adele’s 21 for British white girl soul massiveness.
10. Frank Ocean - Nostalgia, Ultra
Frank Ocean is a singer who croons about his feelings, writes love songs, and in the process makes some quality music. The excellent songwriting and psychedelic production, combined with Ocean's ear for beats and powerful voice make for a cohesive, melodically sophisticated R&B concept album mixtape.
9. Wilco - The Whole Love
The album from the Chicago-based rockers features 12 stunning songs that showcase Wilco in a new light, on bold rockers, somber acoustic ballads and punchy pop songs, bookended by the propulsive 7-minute opener “Art of Almost,” and a meditative 12-minute closing track, “One Sunday Morning (song for Jane Smiley’s boyfriend).” It is for fans of great songwriting.
8. The Black Keys - El Camino
El Camino boasts a no-nonsense brilliance in this album. The pace is fast, the mood is upbeat, the choruses unfailingly addictive made for shouting along, preferably in a large, sweaty crowd. A band already at the top of its game has gotten even better.
7. Tune-Yards – Whokill
A fun, enjoyable album, considered by many to be this year’s most thrillingly weird, genre bending music. Clever arrangements, great performances, and the schizophrenic vocal stylings of lead singer Merrill Garbus.
6. Radiohead - The King of Limbs
A non-conformist record, a departure from their classic “Ok Computer” or “In Rainbows”. It has little pop or rock in it, but you will be mystified by songs that are sung in prayerlike daze. It is music that grows on you.
5. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo
Hippie folk music that is fresh, intimate, with sometimes psychedelic edge.
4. My Morning Jacket – Circuital
The album finds the southern-visionary rock band My Morning Jacket still innovating. They try out new sounds and various styles, but the awesome songwriting of Jim James brings everything to a higher plane.
3. Adele – 21
Powerful, heartfelt vocals from the incredible 21 year-old British singer-songwriter. Adele’s music takes some new direction while staying true to her signature style. She has injected her trademark piano ballads with the best from several different musical genres including Americana roots and country, r&b, blues and gospel.
2. Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Bon Iver's soft rock album Bon Iver is Justin Vernon returning to his former themes – solitude, quietude, hope and desperation compressed – but always a rhythm arises, a pulse vivified by gratitude and grace notes. Horns, banjos and Auto-Tune accompanies Vernon’s Mobius-strip lyrics.
1. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
Drawing inspiration from folk/rock from about 1965 to 1973, and Van Morrison s Astral Weeks in particular, Helplessness Blues sees Fleet Foxes heighten and extend themselves, adding instrumentation (clarinet, the music box, pedal steel guitar, lap steel guitar, Tibetan singing bowls, vibraphone, etc., along with more traditional band instrumentation), with a focus on clear, direct lyrics, and an emphasis on group vocal harmonies. One of the prevailing themes of the album is the struggle between who you are and who you want to be or who you want to end up, and how sometimes you are the only thing getting in the way of that.
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