The Best Music of 2011 [#20-#11]

Thank you to everyone who has been following along with this series thus far. Your readership inspires the ROTI team to attack ambitious projects like this one. Here’s a little gift I found just for you: ASAP Rocky and his crew freestyling over a Nurses song.

Today, ten more great albums to delight you and expand your mind. Some have moved tons of units, some have been celebrated by every critic in the land, and some you might not have even heard of. There’s something for everyone here!

Once more, our Spotify playlist of The Best of 2011 has been enhanced to include the latest round of records.

20. Drive — Soundtrack

This one is a little bit of a reach because many of the key songs were released earlier than 2011, but the compilation of the Drive soundtrack, the release of its score, and its unleashing upon the public occurred during this fine year, and so I’m allowing it to stand. This record was repped hard by a trio of Brooklyn masters, Mikey Jones, DBuu and Izzie B. If you want to step to them that’s your business, but I won’t be joining you.

So much goodness here. Cliff Martinez’ score evokes the handsome intensity of Baby Goose on a thrilling mission. Key tracks include Kavinsky’s “Nightcall” and College’s “A Real Hero.” The GTA: Vice City vibe that pervades this collection is really outstanding. The Boston Herald wrote that “The Drive soundtrack is such an integral part of the experience of the film, once you see it, you can’t imagine the film without it.”

But DBuu (of course) put it best when he said, “I loved this movie, and this soundtrack was a perfect companion to it. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t listen to these songs a few hundred times on my way out for an evening of adventure and thought that for that night, I was a real human being — dare I say, a real hero.”

19. Adele, 21

I pretty much disagree with everyone in the world on this album. Some call it the best of the year (including Time and our panel’s @drewkolar). Others (wikipedia would put a “who?” here, but you know who you are) call it commercial crap. I believe that it is neither of those things!

Izzie B pushed to get this on the 2010 list with an eerie prescience, even before it dropped in the US in early 2011 and reigned over the charts all damn year. If you’re down with neo-soul, especially the UK variety, you can’t deny that this is a tremendous disc.

Basically, 21 is half a classic. It includes the two super-massive hits, “Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You.” If you don’t know these songs, I assume you have been in “the hole” or some other type of forced seclusion. I thought these hit tracks were legit, but I wholly genuflected before two of 21‘s other songs, the Ryan Tedder-penned “Rumour Has It” and the rollicking “I’ll Be Waiting.” If you can’t get behind these tunes, go listen to some shoegaze or something, you snob.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album leaves a bit to be desired. The middle of the album bogs down with too many ballads. Although some of 21‘s tracks are legends in their own time, it’s hard to say that the album as a whole is truly classic.

But hey. As my own beloved Lady McGregor put it, “Adele is impossible to sing along to, because her voice is so good that you just end up realizing how mediocre your own singing voice is.” Respect to two of the best cords in all of vocal-dom. 

18. The Antlers, Burst Apart

The Antlers’ 2009 gem, Hospice, was one of the most devastating records since In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. For their next act, they have thankfully not attempted to top that — but Burst Apart is touching and affecting all the same.

Check out “I Don’t Want Love.” Peter Silberman’s falsetto is out of control good. For a song without a full-blown hook, it sure brings it home in an effective way.

Other tracks I loved include the sweeping “No Widows” and the gentle groove “Rolled Together.” Two key members of our panel, C. Dave and Nils Coq au Vin, called Burst Apart one of their favorites of 2011. A strongly dissenting POV was voiced by A. Golden, who called it “overproduced garbage.” For me, Burst Apart was a success — try a few tracks out for yourself on Spotify and make up your own mind!

17. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Mirror Traffic

I’m on record as being 100% in the bag for Stephen Malkmus, and I professed my worship of drummer Janet Weiss (this was her last record with the Jicks) in my take on Wild Flag. So OBVIOUSLY I loved this disc. In this perspective, I was joined by wise heads like Noish and C. Dave. Basically, this record is yet more evidence that Malkmus is one of the foremost troubadours of our time, a guy who was ahead of the curve in his youth and remains totally awesome in his middle age.

If you like Malkmus, you’re going to like this record. It’s filled with great tracks, and his lyrical skills haven’t diminished one bit. Mirror Traffic is more cohesive and its roster of songs is deeper than anything the Jicks have put out since Pig Lib. Whether it’s a crackling rocker like “Senator” or a mellow number like “Gorgeous Georgie,” Mirror Traffic comes correct with a superb selection of Malkmus tunes, performed to perfection.

16. Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes

Wounded Rhymes didn’t have a lot of people on our panel voting for it, but those that did were staunch and adamant in their support. Noish reported that he seriously considered it for #1 overall, and said it was less #2 on his list than #1a. Izzie B put it simply: “Lykke Li, J’ADORE.”

Likke Li’s latest has a unique and lovely quality that’s equal parts Sweden (where she hails from) and Los Angeles (where this album was recorded). In an amazing quote that I just scraped from Wikipedia, she said: “Los Angeles is such a mysterious place because there’s so much evil in that city, but there’s also so much light. You can be totally alone on a hillside and I love that kind of secluded, deserted rawness.”

Amazing cuts from this album include the pump-up track “Youth Knows No Pain” and the gorgeous “Love Out of Lust.” She’s got a really strong point of view and the ability to pivot from tender and sexy to badass and tough, turning on a dime from track to track. Don’t sleep on Wounded Rhymes.

15. Portugal. The Man, In the Mountain in the Cloud

My favorite people from Wasilla, Alaska not named Bristol Palin.

PTM (another band who formats their name in an infuriating way that I refuse to go along with) is based in PDX these days, and their latest album is one of my personal faves of the year, off a tip from C. Dave. It’s fun, funky and righteous — and highly recommended.

Lately, I’ve seen a bunch of acts and albums classified as “glam rock.” Of those that I’ve experienced, I think PTM does the best job of capturing that sound and bringing it into the new millennium. Tracks like “Once Was One” and “Got It All” channel Bolan’s spirit without sounding dated (like one of the more disappointing albums of the year, Blitzen Trapper’s American Goldwing). They can inspire you to wave your lighter aloft with a rousing repeating chorus, but also display solid range on jumpier tracks like “Share With Me The Sun.”

Supposedly PTM really works these tunes out in concert and jams on ’em hard. I need to schedule a live viewing ASAP.

14. Youth Lagoon, The Year of Hibernation

A very respectable crew, spanning several cities, stood up in support of this record. Business Casual put it in her top 5 in a missive from LA, while Nils Coq au Vin repped it from Manhattan. Even gruff Bostonian A. Golden, who hated most of the music released this year, called this album “Very nice!”

The Year of Hibernation features some highly enjoyable tracks like “Cannons”:

This isn’t a record that’s going to floor you with hooks or riffs, but it’s intoxicating in its own subtle way. Its Idahoan charms and home-made style will appeal to any indie fanatic who prizes authenticity as a key signifier of quality. I think my personal fave track is “Daydream,” which grows and evolves as it goes, building to a climax and then slowly going out like the tide. Choice.

13. Panda Bear, Tomboy

Holy mackerel, I geeked out on this album. Didn’t hurt that I knew Mikey Jones and NCaV had my back on it, either. Some of these tracks are effing hypnotic. When you wait in intense suspense for a hook to come back and it crashes down on you, it’s like a drug all its own. Panda Bear is the world heavyweight champ of experimental music back to reclaim his crown on Tomboy.

“Atmospheric” is the best word I can summon to describe the ambience of this record. The best tracks suck you into their own little world, make you breathe their air, acclimatize you to their conditions, then spit you back out into space. Noah Lennox’ lyrics are completely unintelligible (to me, anyway) but that only adds to the album’s otherworldly feel. Though the songs don’t hew to strict structure, they nonetheless have an internal cohesion, with choruses-as-such rearing their heads from the mix to electrify the listener. The master strikes again.

12. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Hoooooly crap this album is great. It came completely out of nowhere, apparently posted on a Bandcamp page as a lark by Ruban Neilson, formerly of Kiwi band the Mint Chicks, and now based in the PacNo. Once again our fearless Portland station master, DJ Walls of Sound, reported back to the mothership that an amazing record had been discovered in the Oregonian wilds. I quickly consulted with top ROTI music analyst CVD, and we concluded that a true gem had been identified.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra rules. It’s packed full of righteous grooves, with a psychedelic edge. Glorious basslines abound throughout, and tasty rhythms are everywhere. Neilson’s voice is awesome and he applies it perfectly to jams like “Little Blu House” and “Strangers are Strange.” The lead track, “Ffunny Friends,” has drawn a lot of love from some esteemed critics. My personal favorite is probably the ultra-funky “How Can U Love Me.”

In conclusion, this is an excellent record!

11. St. Vincent, Strange Mercy

Annie Clark recorded her third album in self-imposed exile to Seattle, living alone in a hotel and working 12 hours a day in a studio space. The results are stupendous. Strange Mercy is gripping, unique, and just overall awesome. Drawing from inspiration both highly personal and external — she pulled one of the craziest lyrics, “World’s finest surgeon, come cut me open” (“Surgeon”) from Marilyn Monroe’s journal — Clark has created a musical masterwork.

There are too many good songs on this album to embed them all here. “Northern Lights” has a magnificent chorus and surging instrumentation.  “Cheerleader” stomps through creepy sludge. “Neutered Fruit” is bizarre and magical. “Year of the Tiger” is a bad-ass closer.

Clark plays many instruments, but on Strange Mercy her voice is the finest instrument in her arsenal. It transmutes from track to track, creeps in ethereally in the background, soars into her head voice at some points, rings out clearly at others. What a mighty album this is.

For more great music, check out the articles below or fire up this Spotify playlist.

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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