I may be the last person to post a Best Of list, but better late than never. Here are some of the sounds I was digging in 2011, alphabetically.
Adele‘s 21 was the runaway pop smash of the year, and for good reason: The talent, material, and delivery are all top-notch. This record will continue to sell for decades.
The Beastie Boys returned to form with Hot Sauce Committee Volume Two, their best record since Hello Nasty, maybe even Ill Communication. They also produced two of the strangest/funniest music videos in recent memory.
Following the breakthrough success of Brothers, Ohio duo the Black Keys returned with El Camino. Co-produced and -written by Danger Mouse, El Camino is an exercise in Big Dumb Rock that’s half as long but twice as awesome as its predecessor. Also: another killer video.
Charles Bradley‘s No Time for Dreaming is another soul-funk gem from the house of Daptone, this time starring a dude in his 60s who sounds like he’s inhabited by the ghosts of Otis Redding and James Brown. (He just so happens to be one of New York City’s foremost JB impersonators.) It’s his first album, and it’s a knockout.
Saying goodbye to a legend like Glen Campbell ain’t easy (he’s battling Alzheimer’s and will retire from the music business at the end of his current tour), but what a terrific farewell record he’s left us in Ghost On The Canvas.
I wasn’t nuts about the entire album, but Coldplay‘s “Paradise” was one of the most repeatedly satisfying singles of the year. We must have played it a thousand times in the tour van last fall.
The King Is Dead was the most straightforward Decemberists record since their first EP. And as much as I have enjoyed their rock operas, it’s nice to hear them singing simple songs again.
I’ve been a Joe Henry fan for a long time, so it’s no surprise that I loved his latest, Reverie. But this, perhaps more than any of his albums, could be the one that publicly seals his reputation as one of the great songwriters of his generation.
PJ Harvey has yet to make a bad record, but Let England Shake is her best in 10 years. What an artist.
Watch the Throne was pretty good.
Turtleneck and Chain was even better.
Anytime there’s a new Low record, I’m happy. C’mon is just gorgeous.
Mirror Traffic was the best Stephen Malkmus record since Pavement split up. Go Jicks!
I’m still mourning the breakup of Kim and Thurston–and the possible end of Sonic Youth!–but on the plus side, there was the mostly acoustic, Beck-produced Demolished Thoughts, Thurston Moore‘s unexpectedly tuneful and pastoral solo album.
On first listen I thought Radiohead‘s The King of Limbs was already better than Amnesiac. After sitting with it for the better part of a year, I think it might be even better than my initial assessment. While rhythm takes center stage, the songs are excellent, and the band continues to expand their sonic palette. I can’t think of another band that has remained so interesting after this many years. Also: Thom Yorke dancing.
The hardest-working band in late-night TV also made the year’s best hip-hop album: The Roots got into the concept-record business with Undun, and it’s dark, heavy, and worthy of dozens of repeat listens.
My friend Luther Russell made an ambitious move, releasing a full-on double album titled The Invisible Audience. It’s worth every second of its running time. From roots-rock to blues to power pop, this dude is a walking jukebox.
Ron Sexsmith consistently delivers great albums, and Long Player Late Bloomer was no exception.
Black Up, the debut release from Shabazz Palaces, was strange and savory, featuring some of the weirdest soundscapes in rap this year.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Paul Simon as a solo artist, but So Beautiful or So What is just stunning.
Strange Mercy, Annie Clark’s third album as St. Vincent, was another mix of orchestral textures, sick guitars, and one of my favorite voices in all of music.
The second tUnE-yArDs record, w h o k i l l, truly needs to be heard to be understood. Bursting with creativity. (And saxophones.)
Tom Waits made a triumphant return with Bad As Me, his first album of new material in seven years. It’s by turns beautiful and beastly, much like the man’s career as a whole. Easily ranks among his finest work.
Wand, from former Shudder to Think singer Craig Wedren, gets my vote for the year’s most criminally overlooked album.
The Whole Love was Wilco‘s most Wilco-y effort in a while, in that it had a little bit of everything that the band does well. Mostly, it was just a pretty record.
The self-titled debut from Wild Flag was everything that could be expected from a band that features members of Sleater-Kinney, Helium, and the Minders. Riffs galore.
Wye Oak‘s Civilians is just great indie-pop. And sometimes that’s all I need.