Thursday, December 22, 2011

Donovan's Top Albums of 2011

For me, 2011 represented a transition year in my musical taste. Where music previously defined a large portion of my life, now, my relation to music, and by default, my musical consumption, diminished greatly this year. While I used to listen to everything under the sun hoping to find new artists, diamonds in the rough, and great music from bands I had previously written off, I spent most of 2011 listening to artists I have previously enjoyed. Even though my list contains some new artists, I must admit that I am less convinced about this list representing the best of 2011’s music. Nevertheless, I hereby submit my top 25 albums of 2011.

Wasting Light is a guitar player’s album. I imagine fifteen-year-old me would have placed this record much higher on the list.

Fitzsimmons releases another collection of depressingly beautiful songs. I enjoyed Gold in the Shadow but found the timbre of the record to resonate too closely with his previous recordings.

One of the newcomers to my list this year, this dubstep musician wrote and produced rather enjoyable electronic music on his self-titled release. I particularly enjoyed his piano-based cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love”.

The from-nowhere-to-top-40 artist of the year, Foster the People wrote an intriguing record outside of single “Pumped Up Kicks” that was exponentially overplayed.

Gloss Drop is a musician’s record from top to bottom. Mainly instrumental and exceedingly technical, I suggest mastering an instrument before trying to enjoy this band.

So there’s this infectious NFL commercial where the Atlanta Falcons drive a school bus to an elementary school and play football with kids. That compelling beat was produced by The Go! Team. Upon hearing it, I had to have more. Rolling Blackouts is precisely the “more” I wanted.

Lead singer Robin Pecknold added lyrical depth to the already gorgeous melodic structures of Fleet Foxes. I appreciate the attempt, but I was not a huge fan of the lyrics. On music alone, Helplessness Blues is worth a listen.

18. Adele21

This year’s chart topper, 21 is the kind of record that everyone ought to at least tolerate. Adele sings her heart out and the neo-soul sound of London slices through the speakers. Clearly written for the masses, 21 won’t give you much depth, but it’s a fun record to spin in the car.

With every record, principle songwriter Sam Beam increasingly becomes a mainstream adult-alternative artist. Kiss Each Other Clean sounds like Sam Beam singing with Dave Matthew’s backing band. Good thing I’m not hipster enough to disown Iron & Wine for such things.

Written during the happy days of Ben Gibbard and ZooeyDeschanel’s wedded bliss, Codes and Keys is an upbeat Death Cab album. Strange right?

The latest installment in a prolific career, Graduation Ceremony deeply digs into Arthur’s struggles and addictions.

A newer addition to my playlist, Tamer Animals makes this list on musicianship alone. I honestly haven’t pried deep enough on the lyrics. As such, this rating might look silly in a year or so. I look forward to finding out!

Emo for grown-ups, The Antlers explore the depth of human emotion and suffering. Burst Apart is dramatic, moody, and beautiful.

The second straight record announced out of nowhere, King of Limbs is nowhere near the quality of In Rainbows. Telling of Radiohead’s brilliance, an off album still makes the list.

Written in a rural farm on the outskirts of Portland, Colin Meloy focuses much of his songwriting and lyrics on human’s relationship with nature. Perhaps knowing something we didn’t, The King Is Dead borrows liberally from the style of R.E.M. almost as if the album acts as a eulogy for a band we lost this year.

When you’re done laughing at me, remember that Lady Gaga isn’t your average manufactured major label money maker. She writes her own songs and possesses an artistic vision for the concept of a song, an album, and a performance, just listen to "The Edge of Glory". Yes, she is over the top. Yes, she holds Madonna tendencies, but Born this Way is an exceptional pop record.

Another recent addition, St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy feels gritty, technical, and powerful. An excellent guitarist and a budding songwriter, I believe that Strange Mercy is St. Vincent’s best work yet.

The first releases after Curse Your Branches, Bazan’s breakup album with God, Strange Negotiations feels unhinged as Bazan’s first post-theist work. The record is aggressive, sparsely arranged, and brutally honest.

In my opinion, Coldplay currently functions as the top melody (both in lyric and in instrumentation) writers in the business. With Mylo Xyloto, the groups takes more musical chances but maintains clear hooks. Ignore that song featuring Rihanna that you hear on the radio and listen instead to "Charlie Brown". Mylo Xyloto is just another positive step in Coldplay’s progression as the premier rock group of our generation.

Mine Is Yours rates highly because of its hooks. Each song is catchy, singable, and fun. Sometimes a good record doesn’t need anything else.

With complex arrangements and hummable tunes, Build a Rocket Boys! might be my favorite Elbow record.

Most of Barton Hollow is average-to-good filler. The record receives a high rating for its two singles: “Barton Hollow” and “Poison & Wine”. Without speaking in exaggerations, I submit that these two songs are the best live songs I have ever heard.

Maintaining a foundation in Balkan folk, Beirut’s The Rip Tide melds Eastern European musical styles with western pop. The result of this alchemy is gorgeous songs. My wife and I sing “East Harlem” around the house two or three times a week.

2. FeistMetals

Beautiful and brilliant, Metals blends Feist’s hauntingly beautiful voice with layered production and poetic lyrics. From first listen, Metals demands your attention and affection. So listen to it!

You know those times when you listen to music and get goosebumps as if the music became some sort of ethereal matter that brushed against your skin? Well, Bon Iver’s self-titled release continues to carry this influence on me after each listen. Songs such as “Holocene”, “Calgary”, “Perth”, and “Beth/Rest” just move my soul. In my opinion, soul moving deserves the top spot on any list. So there ya go #1!

Posted by: Donovan Richards

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