These are selections #41 through #50 in our Best Albums of 2011 countdown series.
Released: June 7, 2011
Metacritic Score: 73
Charts: #52 The Billboard 200, #12 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #14 Top Rock Albums
Some debut albums are exciting because they introduce a band that has a lot of promise, and once in a while we get a debut that is just perfect, making you wonder how such great songs could have come out of nowhere. Cults formed in 201o and released this stunning album in June 2011. I suppose this is an exception to the rule that a band has to pay their dues. I suppose if you have enough talent, paying dues is not required, especially today when good music can be spread around the world in no time flat.
Released: June 7, 2011
Metacritic Score: 86
Album Charts: #15 Top Independent Albums
It's kind of funny, and a bit sad that American culture has moved from a time when a band like the Beatles shocked parents with their "long" hair, to a time when a band with a name that must be censored in most media outlets is common. This is one example. But this group's ridiculously stupid name doesn't seem to be stopping their creative juices. David Comes To Life is an album that has constant radical changes in tempo and style, something that would be impossible for lesser bands. But this is no lesser band. This kind of talent is indeed a bit F'd up.
Released: April 19, 2011
Label: Mad Science Recordings
Metacritic Score: 79
Album Charts: #55 The Billboard 200, #4 Top Independent Albums, #5 Top Rap Albums
DJ Quik isn't trying to change the direction of hip hop on his latest effort The Book Of David. Instead, he sticks to what he does best -- deliver flawless mid-tempo raps over carefully produced, nonthreatening production. There is more soul and flow than grit and danger, but this is speaking musically. Lyrically, Quik is still unafraid to pull out the big guns and use them. Those who say The Book Of David is 10 years behind are posers, not music fans. It's impossible to listen without involuntary head bobbing.
Released: March 29, 2011
Metacritic Score: 76
Album Charts: #92 The Billboard 200, #41 Top Heatseekers, #18 Top Independent Albums, #18 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #27 Top Rock Albums
If you count yourself among Generation X it will be impossible to resist this new album by The Pains Of Being Pure Of Heart. If the stunning production sounds familiar, that's because it is. You've heard Flood's work before on classic albums by U2, The Smashing Pumpkins, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails and other similar heavyweights. And here's a hint for you in regard to my #1 album pick for 2011 - Flood produced it too. In addition to the near-perfect Flood treatment, the songs on Belong are all nicely crafted alt rock that will throw you back without being blatant copies. I'm a sucker for it, and you will be too.
Released: October 18, 2011
Label: Universal Republic
Metacritic Score: 81
Album Charts: #4 Top Electronic Albums
I have a couple predictions about this self-titled album by James Blake. One is that it will make a plethora of year end lists, and the second is that it will be misunderstood and panned by the masses. I can see the comments now, "What it this crap? Did you pick this so you could be obscure? You F'n hipster!" But these people are cut from the same mold as those who stood in front of Picasso's Guernica and proclaimed, "My kid could do that." James Blake has a voice that could easily win him a spot as the world's most famous pop star, but instead he's chosen to use his voice to do something new. This is excellent cut and paste minimalism that is an evolution for music.
Released: June 13, 2011
Metacritic Score: 77
Album Charts: #32 Top Heatseekers
Go Tell Fire To The Mountain by Wu LYF is a cavernous album that sounds like a union of souls cavorting in a church, or a soccer stadium, or a high school gymnasium. But the place is not as important as the undercurrent that runs through the record - togetherness. This strong, but wispy togetherness is contained in large amounts of space, giving each individual room to breath and the freedom to soak in the sonic waves bouncing everywhere. There is something new and exciting going on here, and the band's reluctance to speak to the press, as well as their strange web presence, only feeds the fire. But there would be no hype if the songs on this debut were not so damn incredible.
Released: June 27, 2011
Label: Young Turks
Metacritic Score: 76
Album Charts: #16 Top Electronic Albums, #31 Top Heatseekers
Glitchy, toned-down dub step seems to be the popular electronica of the moment. But what separates SBTRKT (Pronounced "Subtract") from the masses are exceptional voices, and an ear for what works. The only gimmick used are the native ceremonial masks he wears while performing live. It made sense for SBTRKT to release his own full-length debut. After all, his resume reads like Mercury prize short list, Radiohead, M.I.A., Basement Jaxx -- these are all artists who saw value in employing SBTRKT. Now we have him all to ourselves.
Released: February 18, 2011
Metacritic Score: 80
Album Charts: #3 The Billboard 200, #5 Top Canadian Albums, #5 Top Digital Albums, #1 Top Independent Albums, #1 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #1 Top Rock Albums
In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm a huge Radiohead fan. I downloaded The King Of Limbs as soon as the band made it available for sale. I had high hopes, and in the back of my mind I was optimistic about getting the clear stand out #1 pick for my top albums list, as In Rainbows was in 2007. Like most Radiohead albums, The King Of Limbs takes some soak in time to appreciate the full beauty of the creation. And although it did soak in and reveal itself in marvelous ways, it was clearly not a top 10 record for me. But it's still one of the top 50 albums I heard this year. And that keeps the band on a plane above most.
Released: March 1, 2011
Label: New West
Metacritic Score: 72
Album Charts: #8 Top Heatseekers, #41 Top Independent Albums
Buddy Miller recruits a bunch of first class help on his new record Majestic Silver Strings. Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Mark Ribot and Lee Ann Womack all pitch in, and it's no surprise. Some of music's biggest talent is chomping at the bit to be part of a Buddy Miller project. He's an amazing performer who has a knack for making records that will stand the test of time better than most. Majestic Silver Strings is no different as it dips effortlessly through cowboy campfire songs, honky-tonk, classic country covers, bar room blues and heartfelt ballads.
Released: April 2011
Label: Sargent House
Metacritic Score: 86
Album Charts: #18 Top Hard Rock Albums, #8 Top Heatseekers
Instrumental albums made a big splash this year and the heaviest is Empros by Russian Circles. This Chicago outfit fills the gaps, provides emotional flourishes and injects interesting changes that keep the the listener engaged, despite the lack of lyrical content. Warm washes of shoegaze give way to violent bursts of metal power, which result in an experience not to be missed.
More Best Albums of 2011: