The Best Music of 2011 [Introduction]

Another year of music is in the books. Close enough, anyway.

The so-called authorities have weighed in — now it’s our turn. Rumors on the Internets has gathered a panel of experts, listened to hundreds of albums and mixtapes, and carefully whittled this year’s releases down to identify the best of the best.

All this week, we’ll be counting down the best albums of the year. 

We’ll wind up our rankings just in time for Christmas — so get those iTunes and Amazon gift cards ready! But first, let’s shout out to a ton of great records that sadly didn’t make the cut, talk about our favorite pop and rap singles of the year, and explain the methodology that went into the creation of this list.

A NOTE ON METHODOLOGY

Artistic appreciation is inherently a bit subjective and varies a lot from person to person, which is why I threw my Time magazine across the room after reading their top-10 list. Asking just one critic to identify the best music of the year is a mistake because you’ll just end up with that critic’s favorite records (or in Time’s case, seemingly a list of the best-selling and most buzzed-about records of the year without much regard to quality). Equally foolish is the route taken by the usually-brilliant AV Club, which took a strictly mathematical approach, assigning points to top-10 lists submitted by a panel; as a consequence, their list whiffed on many of the best albums of the year but included a record by Britney Spears.

ROTI took a hybrid approach. We gathered a group of music experts based around the great USA. From our headquarters in Boston, we crunched top-10 lists from Brooklyn, Manhattan, DC, LA, Portland, and more, including a missive from a US Navy vessel. Then, exercising my best editorial judgment, I shaped these rankings into a final Top 50 Albums of 2011 list that reflects not only the will of our expert panel but also a general view on the most thought-provoking, rewarding and exciting album releases this year.

You will probably disagree with the particular order I wound up with, which is pretty expected since I know for a fact that most of the expert panel will disagree as well. But hopefully, you’ll enjoy and discover a lot of great music along the way. Feel free to vent your outrage and vitriol in our comments, or to print out the posts and do horrible things to the hard copies.

I’d like to take this moment to thank the expert panel, which includes many ROTI stalwarts and some new abductees: C. Dave, Nils Coq au Vin, Noish, Serious Nihilism, Business Casual, Mikey Jones, DJ Walls of Sound, CVD, JJ Behoy, Izzie B, DBuu, Secret M, GoGoMrPoPo, @drewkolar and many more who might not have even known they were influencing this list when they rocked a new record on Spotify and brought it to our attention via Facebook.

Want to be part of next year’s panel? Just drop me a line on Twitter.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

These albums may have failed to attract enough support among our voting panel to make the Top 50, but each has been vetted and approved by at least one member of our panel.

If you haven’t heard these albums and enjoy things that are awesome, I highly recommend that you give them a try.

Selected tracks from these records are waiting for you in our Spotify playlist, which will continue to grow as the week proceeds!

Avon Ladies, Quality Programming
Beirut, Rip Tide
Big K.R.I.T., R4 The Prequel
The Bewitched Hands, Birds & Drums
Booker T. Jones, The Road from Memphis
Das Racist, Relax
Decemberists, The King is Dead
DJ 2-Tone Jones, Shaolin Jazz: The 37th Chamber
Dum Dum Girls, Only In Dreams
Elbow, build a rocket boys!
Ferrari Boys, Ferrari Boys
Florence and the Machine, Ceremonials
Foo Fighters, Wasting Light
Frank Ocean, Nostalgia/Ultra
The Go! Team, Rolling Blackouts
Gotye, Making Mirrors
Hoax, Down
Hoodie Allen, Leap Year
John Maus, We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
Kate Bush, 50 Words for Snow
Kate Harnevik, You
Lil’ Wayne, The Carter IV
The Lonely Island, Turtleneck and Chain
Mastodon, The Hunter
Megafaun, Megafaun
My Morning Jacket, Circuital
Nuclear Santa Claust, Nuclear Santa Claust
Okkervil River, I Am Very Far
One AM Radio, Heaven is Attached by a Slender Thread
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Belong
Peter Bjorn and John, Gimme Some
Raphael Saadiq, Stone Rollin’
The Roots, undun
Telekinesis, 12 Desperate Straight Lines
Tom Waits, Bad as Me
TV on the Radio, Nine Types of Light
Tyler the Creator, Goblin
Weeknd, House of Balloons
WU LYF, Go Tell Fire To The Mountain
Wugazi, 13 Chambers
Yuck, Yuck

A RESOUNDING “MEH”

These three albums were critically acclaimed and made a lot of Top lists — but tellingly, received zero advocacy from our panel:

Destroyer, Kaputt
Drake, Take Care
Oneohtrix Point Never, Replica

Your mileage may vary, but these supposedly-awesome records didn’t do much for us.

FIVE GREAT RAP TRACKS

Truth be told, 2011 was not a great year for hip hop albums, certainly not compared to 2010. There were some solid releases that made our Honorable Mentions list above (Big K.R.I.T., Das Racist, Lil’ Wayne, Tyler the Creator) and a couple more that made the Top 50. But all in all, this was more a year for singles, and that’s what the genre does best, anyway. Here are a bunch of tracks that wouldn’t have otherwise been represented.

I really enjoyed this track from Kreashawn, even though this song may make you dumber as you listen to it…wait, what was I talking about? Suddenly caught an overwhelming urge to go and ghostride my whip. Anyway, “Gucci Gucci” has a lot of the appealing swag of the Odd Future posse, without the blatant and kind-of-boring button pushing. Definitely one of the better hits of the summer, which is always the best time to listen to high-spirited music.

“Nasty” is really the only word for this BANGER! Every time someone tells me that Jay-Z is the best rapper alive, I just mentally start listening to this in my mind. Nas brings the spirit of the old school to our time, that’s why I love him so well. So many amazing lines to be had here. A filthy three-note chorus (I guess that’s what you’d call it) gives Nas just enough time to catch his breath before unleashing another furious, ferocious verse.

Props to J. Cole for this inspired beat, drawing from both old-school Abdul and first-album Kanye. I sort of expected that he just dropped verses over some producer-for-hire’s pre-made beat, but this is 100% the work of Jermaine Lamarr Cole. Definitely the best rap single released in 2011 by a unibrowed artist!

Unbelievably fierce track by Weezy, and it didn’t even make his record! Truth be told, it actually got my hopes up a little too high for The Carter IV. Wayne spins a little “Rolling in the Deep” but replaces Adele’s vocals with his own hot verses and it WORKS, profoundly. Respect!

This was recommended by DBuu, who noted that although A$AP Rocky hails from Harlem, his style’s not strictly uptown: he shouts out to Houston style and even summons memories of Bone Thugs! If you want to feel old, just think about the fact that Rocky (born Rakim Mayers) was named after the great rapper Rakim and is now full-grown and dropping hits of his own…

BEST CHRISTMAS SONG

For more from these guys, check out “Hobo Christmas and the Genius of jeebus.”

I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO CHARACTERIZE THIS, GENRE-WISE

But I know that it’s one of the best songs I heard all year. In Jesus’ name. Boogity boogity boogity amen!

POP SINGLES OF THE YEAR

Let me quickly note that our wise and esteemed panel is not implicated in this portion of the list; in fact, most of them will delete me as a contact after seeing their names anywhere near some of these songs.  Instead, blame yours truly, along with my pop music advisory high council, Lady McGregor and Major Beans. (If you don’t like the pop music that people actually listen to in 2011, let me urge you to just leave this here and come back tomorrow when we will be back to reviewing more “serious” music.)

Are they gone? OK. As I was saying, it seems wrong to me to review a year in music without giving a little love to some of the stupid, fun pop songs that electrified dance floors and Top 40 stations in 2011. None of these tracks came from great albums, but each is pretty enjoyable if you don’t take yourself too seriously…


Ah, “Party Rock Anthem”. The Berry Gordy heirs known as LMFAO are idiots and the song is idiotic as well. But there’s something mesmerizing about that three-chord chorus and its inspiring harmonies that makes me want to break it down on a light-up dance floor. (The video cracks me up too, that shufflin’ robot is one of my favorite things of the year.) If you disagree, please keep in mind that Hating is Bad.

“Pumped Up Kicks” was definitely one of the top hits of the summer, helped along by the fact that it made its way to #1 on Spotify right when the service launched in the US to great fanfare. It’s an enjoyable pseudo-indie number, catchy as hell and outfitted with a cool bassline. I especially liked the Chrome Canyon remix that dropped just in time for fall.

This single is just brilliant, in my opinion. Just when I was getting kinda sick of Lady Gaga’s Madonna-biting schtick, she realized in a flash of genius that one of the best producers of the 80s was a free agent: Mutt Lange, the producer of Back in Black, the best parts of the Foreigner and Def Leppard catalogues, and every single hit by Shania Twain until she divorced him! Lange served Gaga up a fat pitch of country-rock and she crushed it. The background vocals on this one are simply divine, but I expect nothing less from Mutt Lange. Well played, miLady.

I might scoff at the idea of Britney Spears making one of the top albums of the year, but that doesn’t mean she can’t drop a hot dance single. Because let’s face it, even a morbidly obese shut-in like myself could drop a hot dance single if I had some of the top songwriting and producing talent in the world on my side. This one was produced by Dr. Luke and Max Martin — the guys who have been behind basically every hit record released in the last decade, for better or for worse. Moreover, it was written by KESHA! She’s not just a pretty face folks (that was a joke, Kesha is haggard).

INDIE WORLD CONTROVERSY!! For those of you who don’t follow indie blogs, this record has caused a huge shitstorm. Some people love it — Pitchfork hit it with the coveted “Best New Music” label. Some people call it the greatest fraud since Madoff, pointing out that the alleged “Lana del Rey” was calling herself Lizzy Grant a few months ago, and is clearly being handled by record-company peeps who are crafting her into a simulacrum of something legitimately “authentic” and cool…

I say they’re both right, but as someone who’s on the record as not giving a damn about “authenticity,” I enjoyed this song, and I liked the B-side “Blue Jeans” even more. If you just chalk it up as pop music there’s a lot less to get pissy about.

If you don’t acknowledge that “Friday” was the most essential pop hit of 2011, you are deluding yourself. Not a Friday has transpired since this exploded that I haven’t heard someone singing it. Like it or not, a couple of paid hacks and an untalented teenage girl created one of the enduring pop songs of our time.

You know how they wonder if a team of monkeys working on typewriters for a million years could come up with Hamlet? That’s basically what happened here.

THE BEST MUSIC OF 2011

Introduction, Hon Mentions,
Rap Hits and Pop Songs

Albums #50-#31

Albums #30-#21

Albums #20-#11

Albums #10-#1

ROTI’s “Best Music of 2011”
Spotify Playlist 

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About Alpine McGregor
Just like you, man. I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. All in the game, though, right?

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