These are selections #91 through #100 in our Best Albums of 2011 countdown series.
Released: August 15, 2011
Label: Secretly Canadian
Metacritic Score: 81
Charts: #4 Top Heatseekers, #27 Top Independent Albums
The War On Drugs have crafted an irresistible album called Slave Ambient this year. It's a record that marries a perfect combination of shimmering, melodic lines and droning ambiance. It contains the best of what alt/indie music has to offer without being afraid to touch unabashedly on classic rock and Americana. The influences sometime ring clear, but always stay on the periphery of the songs. The balancing act works like butter and the album is held together with a steady consistency in quality that was key to making this particular blogger's year -end list.
I saw this album on a shelf with some prime retail visibility at my local Target store yesterday while Christmas shopping with friends. I was stunned to see it out front, instead of your typical Disney channel pop-tart of the day. Goblin is not an easy album to listen to. In fact, it can be disturbing, both lyrically and musically. This is a work of art that confronts you on its own terms -- unapologetic, and in your face. The minimalist production and dissonance help create an album that plays like a fever dream. One that you couldn't escape even if you chose to turn it off. But it's impossible to do that with Goblin, so just let it take you where it wants and nobody gets hurt.
Released: June 14, 2011
Label: Triple Crown Records
Metacritic Score: 81
Album Charts: #9 Top Heatseekers
The Providence, RI outfit The Dear Hunter have struck gold with The Color Spectrum, an album that balances faultlessly on a fine line. On one side - an abyss filled with fast-burning, over-produced alt/rock created solely to separate tweenagers from their allowance money. On the other - indie rock/art that counts itself as the newest original sound. In between these, unpretentious beauty can be found, and The Dear Hunter have found it. Even if The Color Spectrum was a bad album, The Dear Hunter would deserve credit for even attempting to walk the musical path they have chosen. But they don't just pull it off, they really make it work.
Released: April 26, 2011
Label: Temporary Residence
Metacritic Score: 77
Album Charts: #16 The Billboard 200, #10 Top Digital Albums, #3 Top Independent Albums, #3 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #4 Top Rock Albums
We already knew that Explosions In The Sky have succeeded at doing what everyone said could not be done: viable instrumental rock. Take Care, Take Care, Take Care continues to prove that there are exceptions to every rule. This album will move you emotionally without a single word being sung, the Sigur Rós-like dynamic flourishes are categorically stunning at times. Three electric guitars and a drum set may not have ever sounded as good as they sound here. Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is a modern symphony that deserves to be heard in an opera house, or at least with some good headphones.
Released: September 27, 2011
Label: Sub Pop
Metacritic Score: 75
Album Charts: #105 The Billboard 200, #9 Top Heatseekers, #16 Top Independent Albums, #13 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #24 Top Rock Albums
The Dum Dum Girls have delivered a fantastic, straight-up rock record for their sophomore effort Only In Dreams. It's a little bit punk, a little bit rockabilly, and a little bit pop, but this is just a skeleton that the flesh of the songwriting was formed upon. The album is filled to the brim with superbly catchy hooks, pristine harmonies and an energy that only youth can bring. If surfers haven't embraced this record yet, they should get to it stat.
Released: January 18, 2011
Label: Kanine Records
Metacritic Score: 76
Album Charts: #13 Top Electronic Albums, #33 Top Heatseekers
After listening to Native Speaker by the Canadian band Braids I had to find out more about this band. After reading the group's bio I was stunned that the album was made by a four kids who had not even been out of high school long. I was astonished by this fact due to the tasteful maturity found throughout the album. Native Speaker does not sound like a record that could be made by musicians so young. But prodigies always amaze, and Braids seems to be a band full of them. Native Speaker is a shimmering and blissful record that millions of musicians with decades of experience and the muscle of big corporate money could never make.
Released: May 10, 2011
Label: Souterrain Transmissions
Metacritic Score: 81
Album Charts: #20 Top Heatseekers
Past Life Martyred Saints by EMA (Erika M Anderson) is a deeply personal album, which is always a hard thing to pull off. But when an artist can expose their soul successfully, it makes for the most powerful music human beings can produce. This album is one. The music itself is stripped down and simple much like The XX, but the sparse notes are selected perfectly, the dynamic range packs a serious punch, and EMA can wail like Siouxsie Sioux, but with a lot more street cred.
Released: May 10, 2011
Metacritic Score: 83
Album Charts: #4 Top Heatseekers
Eye Contact is an album that's impossible to pigeonhole and it may jut be the most innovative album of the year. It's a pop album to be sure, but it's also sharp and crystalline - the record alternates beautifully from brutally cold to captivatingly warm. It's both a melding and a spiraling journey through a myriad of genres and soundscapes. I find myself returning to this album again and again, and each time I discover something new. I think the album could have made it higher in my list if the synths leaned more to the analog than to outdated squelch, but that's just a personal preference. Don't let it stop you from checking out this otherwise superb record.
Released: February 21, 2011
Label: Asthmatic Kitty
Metacritic Score: 82
Album Charts: #4 Top New Age Albums
The Magic Place isn't so much an album of songs as it is an experience to be ensphered in. It's an ethereal (dare I say, ambient) album that utilizes minimal sustained instrumentation and vocal loops as a support for the choral-like singing of Julianna Barwick. This is a ghostly... no... spiritual sounding album, but without the chains of dogma, or even lyrics attached. The end result is a textural work that can succeed as background, like a fine Eno album, or as a waterfall of sound that you can let soak into every pore.
Released: February 15, 2011
Label: Suburban Noize
Metacritic Score: 89
Album Charts: #61 The Billboard 200, #9 Top Independent Albums, #7 Top Rap Albums
There has been a undeniable, even deafening buzz about this debut by Saigon before it ever hit the street. Guest appearances by Jay-Z, Q-Tip, Layzie Bone, Bun B and others didn't hurt. But unlike many of the rappers who make a big splash and then promptly flame out, I have a feeling that Saigon will be around for a while. That is, if the quality of Greatest Story Never Told is any indicator of future results. Saigon is the real deal -- a man who honed his craft while in prison. And while his rapping skills are not going to win any speed medals, they don't need to. It's the total package that make this one of the best hip hop records of the year.
More Best Albums of 2011: