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The Best Music of 2011 [#10-#1]

And here we are. The final installment of our countdown.

I’d like to take a moment to thank our panelists. They make this effort possible with their wisdom, commitment and knowledge.

Also, I need to share with you this amazing Flavorwire article that stereotypes you based on what your favorite album of the year is!

Our Best of 2011 Spotify playlist is now completely revealed. Enjoy, my friends.

Let’s bring this home!

#10. Metronomy, The English Riviera

Apparently I’m one of the few music junkies stateside who thought this album was insanely good, although it was very well-received in Britain and is the last of the many Mercury Prize nominees on this list. I was completely floored by The English Riviera and it hasn’t lost its luster after many, many listens.

Check out this cut, “Corrine,” which reminds me a little bit of vintage Eno:

The English quartet led by Joseph Mount has a reshuffled lineup for this album, with the notable and extremely welcome additions of Anna Prior on drums and vocals and Gbenga Adelekan on bass. Both dominate on songs like “Everything Goes My Way.” Metronomy knows the power of repetition in establishing a magnificent groove, and they aren’t afraid to dwell on a riff, bassline or refrain until the listener is transported to planet funk. Other amazing songs include “The Bay” and “She Wants,” but the highlight of the album for me is “Some Written,” which begins as a gentle melody and builds into a full blown jam.

I’m not so bold as to go out on a limb with a record that nobody on the panel (except me) voted for and name it the best of the year. But The English Riviera might be my personal favorite of 2011. I will wager that you’ll enjoy it too.

#9. The Horrors, Skying

Two of the most esteemed members of our panel, Mikey Jones and DBuu, called Skying the best album of the year. Unless you are actually a member of The Horrors, they are cooler than you and I suggest you listen up when they start laying down the truth. I certainly did, and this album didn’t let me down.

Allow me to yield the floor to DBuu, who in my estimation nailed it: “I really gave The Horrors a hard time after they switched from being a horror garage punk band to being a, I guess, shoegaze-y post-punk band (that’s what it says on their wikipedia). But when you listen to their albums sequentially, you can see the progression, and Skying, however detached from their goth punk roots, is just a great album. The songs range from slower and atmospheric to upbeat and almost poppy, but everything makes sense. It has strong singles but can also be listened to in one continuous sitting, which to me is the sign of a good record. “

Skying might not be on your radar, but I picked out a couple of tunes for you to check out on Spotify, and the whole album is more than worth a listen. Get on it, people!

#8. Girls, Father, Son, Holy Ghost

First things first. “Honey Bunny” is easily one of my favorite songs of the year.

Girls has a knack for a great melody and isn’t too cool to unleash a terrific hook. Though it’s highly inspired by California bands of yore, this album doesn’t have the “trying to replicate the Laurel Canyon sound” lameness of acts like Dawes. I know I’ve used the word “unique” to death over the course of this countdown, but Father, Son, Holy Ghost has a sound that defies easy categorization. It’s equal parts tender, timid, bold, and epic. Songs like “Vomit” have a spiritual, almost gospel feel without sounding canned or trite. Behold:

Here’s a good little value-added pointed out by Nils Coq Au Vin, one of this album’s main supporters among our panel. “Dude born into a cult  and rescued by a billionaire? Whatttt? Yes please.” To learn about the amazing backstory of Girls frontman Chris Owens, click here — and more importantly, check out Father, Son, Holy Ghost ASAP.

#7. Wilco, The Whole Love

I didn’t see this one coming, which is a weird thing to say about an album by a legendary band like Wilco, but I was pretty underwhelmed by their last couple of albums. The Whole Love is awesome! It easily fits into the pantheon of great Wilco albums like Being There and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but Jeff Tweedy isn’t simply replicating sounds that have worked in the past — as always, he’s pushing the envelope and challenging his bandmates to follow. Check out the massive, seven-minute album-opening jawdropper, “Art of Almost.”

Anybody who doesn’t respect Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting skills already needs to close this tab and go school themselves, but suffice it to say, dude can pen a great rock song. This album is packed with them. I especially liked “Standing O,” “I Might,” and “Dawned On Me” (below), but there are also mellower tracks that come highly recommended.

The Whole Love is an instant classic. Recommended for all ages.

#6. Fucked Up, David Comes to Life

Now we shift gears to something more challenging. Many of the people I have recommended this album to have replied with “I’m not that into hardcore” or simply, “The frontman’s voice is a dealbreaker for me.” It’s true that Pink Eyes, the leader of Toronto’s Fucked Up, doesn’t sing so much as he screams. My ears rejected this album on first listen too. But urged on by C. Dave, who unequivocally called this his favorite album of 2011, I gave it a few more tries — and realized that it’s much more melodic than I’d realized at first. At times, it recalls the triumphs of London Calling with its mixture of fierceness and great songwriting.

David Comes to Life has a complicated narrative that’s a little difficult to perceive from the songs alone, and even when Wikipedia explained it to me, I still didn’t quite get it. Nor do I think it’s necessary to appreciate the songs. There are some cool concepts in there, though — like the ideas that characters in a narrative have an existence independent from the creators of that narrative, and that every listening (or reading, or viewing) experience is a little life, and every conclusion a little death, until the next time the album spins.

What really makes this album essential is the pure distillation of human spirit and powerful energy that Fucked Up bottles for your enjoyment. Check out this video — instead of simply setting visuals to the album recording, it instead channels the album’s spirit in an interesting and fun way.

If you only listen to one hardcore album in 2011, let it be David Comes to Life.

#5. Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring For My Halo

Some records require repeated listening to appreciate them. Others grab you on the first listen. Smoke Ring For My Halo is one of the latter. Tell me you don’t love this track, “Jesus Fever.” It’s so righteous.

Kurt Vile has been tied in with a couple of bands earlier on our countdown (he used to axe for The War on Drugs, and provided vocals on David Comes to Life), and his experience has delivered him to a place where he can create a genius album armed mostly with his acoustic. Not to say this sounds like classic early Dylan or late Nick Drake, but it has a similar magic — one man and his guitar, spinning tunes that are immediately legendary. Vile’s cynical edge grants effectiveness to clever lyrics like “If it wasn’t taped, you could escape this song.”

I thought this line from a SPIN review was spot on: “Having inhaled the obliquely fucked hauteur of the Stooges/Neil Young/J Mascis axis, Vile frames his own more hushed musings with alternately anxious and serene guitar.”

There’s nothing about this album that isn’t worthy of praise. Great songs, great performances, great production, great album. I absolutely love Smoke Ring For My Halo.

#4. Cults, Cults

Our panel went crazy for this record. Nils Coq au Vin called it the best of the year, Biz Cash placed it top 5, and Noish and Serious Nihilism slotted it top 10. It’s tough not to agree when you hear tracks like “Abducted,” which channels creepy 70s pop through an Arcade Fire milieu.

This duo was going to NYU five minutes ago, but blew up in 2011 and are now one of the hottest bands in New York. And with good reason, because their debut album is shockingly good. At times, they sound like the 21st century’s answer to the Ronettes, at others they straight rock. And there’s nothing better than occasionally looping in some dialogue of cult leaders preaching to their mesmerized followers.

I especially love “Never Saw The Point,” which you could easily have convinced me was a cover of a girl-group classic that Phil Spector wrote 50 years ago if I didn’t know better. Enjoy it now, accompanied by this amazing video of footage from The Last Picture Show that a genius made on Youtube:

I’m really excited to see what Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin (who, by the way, is also on David Comes to Life) do next, because this album is like an Oscar-winning performance by a precocious child. Right now, their ceiling seems nonexistent.

#3. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues

“So now I am older than my mother and father when they had their daughter…now what does that say about me?” asks Robin Pecknold at Helplessness Blues‘ outset. It’s a fitting epigraph for this album, which might well be dubbed Quarterlife Crisis of a Boomer’s Heir.

Pecknold continues to model his music on inspirations like David Crosby and Joni Mitchell, and his band is just as amazing at harmonizing and playing as they were on the band’s self-titled debut. But on Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes seem more sure of themselves, and their music is more daring and more personal in nature. The result is a truly superb album.

I think the track that best encapulates Fleet Foxes’ growth as a band on this record is “The Shrine/An Argument.” It’s an incredible track that begins with a section reminiscent of the band’s debut, then transitions to a stomping groove with chord changes I can only describe as “triumphant.” Heavy, dank harmonic vocals return, before the song segues into a free jazz finale led by multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson.

I had occasion to see Fleet Foxes touring behind this record and their performance was outstanding. They’re clearly developing into one of the better bands of this era and I am unbelievably eager to see if they make the critical third-album leap to greatness. But in the meantime, Helplessness Blues is an outstanding effort, a complete album that rewards with every listen.

#2. Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Jaw-droppingly good. I don’t think I need to spill too many pixels justifying this pick. Bon Iver was a commercial and critical success, got a ton of Grammy nominations, was named album of the year by Pitchfork, and received more votes from our panel than any other album.

I mean, check out this video. Music doesn’t get much better than this in 2011.

Another incredible song — this connects with me on such a meaningful level:

Since it’s kind of pointless to explain to you why Justin Vernon’s latest is so good — it just is, listen to it and you will see — I want to hit a more interesting topic. The matter of “Beth/Rest.”

At the end of the album, BI drops a song that seems stylistically dissonant with the rest of the record. As C. Dave put it upon first listen, “Wow, I call major shenanigans on the final song, “Beth/Rest.” What a bizarre and idiotic stylistic shift. A genius nine song suite topped with a Bryan Adams leftover. Totally button-hooked by that one. Seems like a gag gone awry. Jeez.”

I feel differently — although I certainly get C. Dave’s point, I actually liked the song. In the 80s renaissance that is music in 2011, and at a point when artists are bending irony over on itself to the point that it becomes sincerity again, I thought it was a ballsy move to drop a Bruce Hornsby-esque ballad at the end of this incredible record. But I’m the guy who can’t get enough of the Hall and Oates Emergency Hotline, so maybe my cheese tolerance is higher than most. Judge for yourself, friends.

So why wasn’t Bon Iver #1 on our countdown? I have to admit that Flavorwire had a point when they wrote that the stereotypical Bon Iver fans are “People who spent hours trying to decide between beige and off-white for their living room walls.”

Also, despite the fact that almost everyone on the panel voted for this record, not a single person put it #1. I felt that the lack of staunch support for this album opened the door for a more daring choice. Here it is:

#1. M83, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

Why is Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming the best album of 2011? It’s an incredible blend of electronic and instrumental music, a completely epic release that’s best experienced as a whole, filled with awesome songs, and featuring the arguable song of the year. In short, M83’s latest release is symbolic of everything great about music today.

M83 is led by genius Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez, and features a cast of talented musicians. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming was produced by Justin Meldal-Johnson, who’s been a personal hero of mine since he ruled the bass on Beck’s Midnite Vultures. This album grabbed me on first listen, but you don’t have to take my word for it, just ask fellow HU,WD fans Mikey Jones or Business Casual. Or check some key tracks out on Spotify!

Vulture did an incredible job documenting the duel between “Midnight City” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” for the song of the year honor on various lists. If you’re scratching your head, thinking you don’t know “Midnight City,” just picture Victoria’s Secret models strutting across your television screen. (Or click the video above for a refresher.) Since I’m kind of sick of “Rolling in the Deep,” this faceoff is a no-brainer for me. And get a load of that sax solo! Glorious.

I mentioned earlier that M83 does an incredible job of blending digital and analog musical styles. The video above is the best example I could uncover, a version of “Steve McQueen” from a gig at the Music Box in LA. Though the sound is wonky at times, I think you can see how music that sounds primarily synthesized at first listen actually rocks pretty hard, and involves plenty of traditional instrumentation and tons of great vocals.

As you listen to HU,WD you’ll be struck by how many amazing songs are on there. They hit you in waves as you go through the record. Standouts include “This Bright Flash,” “OK Pal,” “Klaus I Love You,” and this track, “Claudia Lewis.”

For sheer ingenuity, blending styles old and new, and crafting an album that is cohesive and brilliant, ROTI awards M83 the Album of the Year prize for Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.

This concludes our countdown. As I mentioned far too many times already, over a hundred great tracks are on our Spotify playlist for your further perusal and enjoyment.

Thank you all for reading and have a marvelous Christmas.

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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