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11) Washed Out - “Within and Without”
Georgia native and a founding father of the “Chillwave” genre, Ernest Greene chose to defy those that said Chillwave was dead. Greene delivers an album that – in its entirety - is beautiful, ethereal and, yes, very chill. The minutia and rich layering make for a thoughtful record that will certainly keep Chillwave afloat for at least another year.
10) F*cked Up - “David Comes to Life”
Canadian punk rockers, F*ucked Up delivered one of this year’s most passionate albums with “David Comes to Life.” Gritty guitars, raw vocals and drums that are as punk as they come keep this compilation of 18 tracks rolling. Now, the album won’t be everyone’s cup o’ tea, but if you’re looking for some great, gettin’-rowdy music, “David Comes to Life” brings it and brings it big.
9) Nils Frahm - “ Felt”
The award for minimalist album of the year goes to Nils Frahm for his beautiful album, “Felt.” The title for the album came from the idea to cover the strings of the piano with felt to create a quite, natural piano sound that – when recorded – make the listener feel like they’re in the room, next to the piano while he’s playing. “Felt” is no frills, quite and calm. An all around instrumental masterpiece.
8) PJ Harvey - “Let England Shake”
Bizarre and wonderful are two words that can pretty much sum up “Let England Shake.” It’s easily one of the most creatively orchestrated albums of the year. Harvey delivers her best effort to date. A painstaking labor of love. An odd, beautiful work that is a true delight.
7) Fleet Foxes -“Helplessness Blues”
Not to be outdone by the Brits, Seattle indie rockers, Fleet Foxes, return with their second full-length and 2011’s folksy/indie treasure. Unlike typical Seattle weather, “Helplessness Blues” is bright, cheerful, warm and something you don’t want to end.
6) The Rapture - “In the Grace of Your Love”
If anyone laughs when they hear the term “dance punk,” take one listen to “In The Grace of Your Love” and you’ll see that it all makes sense. As the album title suggests, you can expect a spiritual performance from these New Yorkers. However, with this album, you probably won’t find yourself lifting your hands to the heavens in worship. Rather, you’ll be tapping your foot and bobbing your head without even thinking about it. The record is equal parts dance, electronica and punk and somehow, the band makes it all work tastefully, wonderfully and – dare I say – divinely?
5) James Blake - “James Blake”
British, dub-step wonder kid, James Blake surprised everyone with this year’s self-title record. At age 22, Blake dropped an album that has redefined the idea of dub-step and made skeptics into believers. Included in the tracks is the haunting cover of Feist’s song, “Limit to Your Love.” From start to finish, this album is one that everyone should definitely check out. One of the best vocal performances on an album this year.
4) Big K.R.I.T. - “Return of 4Eva”
Just when everybody thought that Dirty South Hip Hop had run its course, the likes of numbers four and three on this list jumped onto the scene and made massive waves…all with a thick, Southern drawl. Big K.R.I.T. arrived on the scene with his LP “Return of 4Eva,” releasing it free on his website. Suddenly everyone in the biz was knocking at his door asking him to produce them or collaborate with them. The album as a whole is a tasty blend of late 90’s Dirty South Rap, West Coast Hip Hop and traditional R&B. It’s 21 tracks of near perfection.
3) G-Side - “Island”
Like Big K.R.I.T., Hunstville, AL natives, G-Side seemingly came out of nowhere and delighted critics and listeners with “Island.” The duo perfectly blend synths and beats and serve up 14 tracks of southern-fried rap with a side of greens and cornbread. The album is certainly the best hip-hop from 2011. Roll Tide, y’all!
2) M 83 - “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”
French, electronic music mastermind, Anthony Gonzalez, undoubtedly has the Midas touch. His previous albums received much deserved acclaim. This time around, Gonzalez – inspired by The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness” – took it to 11 releasing an ambitious double LP. His reasoning was similar to Billy Cogran’s; if you have a lot of songs that you think are great and are proud of, why not just release them all? Do they have to flow together perfectly or make sense to be on the same album together? Not at all, Gonzalez reasoned. Some tracks are massive electronic masterpieces and others are more stripped down and acoustic. While the dynamic of the songs change frequently, they all seem to work perfectly with each other, telling a wonderful story and proving that creativity and boldness sometimes bring great things.
1) Bon Iver – “Bon Iver”
You don’t believe the hype, you say? You absolutely should. Love him or hate him, Justin Vernon delivered the best album of 2011. Bon Iver may not be for everyone. Some think it’s too sappy. Others don’t like the non-traditional song structure. I say, who cares what you think? If you give this album an objective listen you will hear a near-perfect compilation of tracks that were crafted with equal parts musical brilliance and a true love for art. Grammy nods and critical praise are all deserved. This album will be hard to top in years to come. Not much else can be said.
*Honorable Mentions: Frank Ocean - “Nostalgia,” Das Racist – “Relax,” - Feist – “Metals,” Adele – “21,” A Winged Victory for the Sullen – “S/T”