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Pop ‘stache’s Favorite Albums of 2011

written by: on December 29, 2011

10. Drake – Take Care

It doesn’t get much bigger than Drake is right now. He’s outshined his YMCMB general, Weezy, and leading lady, Nicki Minaj, and become a larger-than-life entity in music. The beauty of Take Care is that he’s able to make himself seem just as vulnerable as he would be if no one knew his name: just a heartbroken kid from Toronto who’s trying to find love and provide for his family and friends. The seamless transition from R&B crooner to hip-hop heavyweight within the same song, and sometimes within the same bar, paints a portrait of someone conflicted with success and the drama that it brings. From the braggadocio of “Under Ground Kings” to the sincerity of “Shot for Me,” Drake is still dealing with the fact the he’s busy making the music his friends party to while his friends are out partying, and he makes you feel like you’re included in that circle. –Matt Wink

9. Destroyer – Kaputt

By the time album No. 9 rolls around, the artists who haven’t given up have given in to writing songs for car commercials. Not Dan Bejar, who, quite frankly, has never done anything by the book. First Destroyer was a solo project, then it wasn’t, then it was again—and anyone who has heard his last record, 2008’s Trouble in Dreams, is in for quite a surprise. Where that record was an experiment in loosely held-together punk-rock hooks, Kaputt is a sax-laden fever dream. Between Justin Vernon’s “Beth/Rest” and, less famously, Sam Beam’s “Big Burned Hand,” 2011 will undoubtedly be remembered as the year that brass hopped in a time machine from the 1980s to #occupy all speakers. But never mind the aesthetics; Bejar pulls something of a late-career masterstroke with Kaputt‘s nine songs. His trademark nasal delivery is the perfect foil to the album’s nostalgic arrangements, modernizing a distinct sound as to make it all his own. The result is sincere, gleefully universal and irresistibly personal. –John Taylor

8. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

It’s impossible for Annie Clark to release a weak album, and this year’s installment was no exception. Strange Mercy again blends the beautiful and grotesque nature of love and life. Just like the album title, St. Vincent shows cutthroat musicianship and brutal words but lets her guard down in the eleventh hour with flourishing soprano chorals and vibrato vocals. With each track, Clark guts her listener while keeping the floor sparkling white. The tempo doesn’t change much from song to song and it’s never clear whether Clark is grappling love unrequited or love unwarranted, but it’s still an album of powerful instrumentals and vocals whose dynamic lies in its mysteries. –Ciara Shook

7. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Fleet Foxes sophomore album, Helplessness Blues, is a journal of Robin Pecknold’s introspective exploration into the complexities of this generation. In the title track, he sings, “I was raised up believing I was somehow unique […] and now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.” As most of this generation finds itself transitioning into a larger universe, whether it is finding your place in the working world or finding out there may be other habitable planets, Pecknold begs us to again ask the one consistent question in this ever-changing world, “Why are we here?” The profound thoughts and questions lyrically highlighted on Helplessness Blues are musically backed by beautiful vocal harmonies and intricate folk melodies, a sound that will keep listeners captivated and coming back for more. –Tom Crawford

6. Fucked Up – David Comes to Life

This hardcore sextet is known as much for its raucous live show as its prolific recorded output. On David Comes to Life, the group went even further, crafting a 78-minute full-length, four accompanying 7-inches and the mock David’s Town compilation that was a perfect facsimile of late-1970s, early-1980s British punk and new wave. With nearly three hours of music composed, it is an overwhelming listen when each component is taken into account. It’s an awe-inspiring feat, especially given the quality of each release. It may take a lot of time to get through it, but it is a journey that is well worth taking. –David Anthony

5. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Christopher Owens is a Randy Newman fan. Of course, you wouldn’t know that from listening to Girls’ debut record, where Owens could be found wishing for a pizza and a bottle of wine. But on Father, Son, Holy Ghost, he opts for the unexpected in all the right ways, adorning (and sometimes channeling) the classic-rock idols that helped him through his childhood years. By now, most are familiar with his Children of God upbringing, but the pain on this very personal record spans universal. At the core of the record, beyond the brutal accounts of drug use and heartbreak (“Vomit,” “Die”) is a man who simply wishes to make peace with his mother (“My Ma”) and the world who wronged him. I know none of this sounds like the kind of material that one would encounter on a Newman album, but that is what makes this unlikely sophomore effort a work of genius. Through nostalgic arrangements, Girls reimagines the one-dimensional optimism of 1970s pop through an emotionally honest, bleeding-heart lens: a tactic that makes Father, Son, Holy Ghost one of the best records of the year. –John Taylor

4. James Blake – James Blake

It’s like this guy swooped onto the music scene not only to remind us what making music was all about, but also to assure us that there was hope for the future of the industry. James Blake’s mixture of soulful vocals with experimental electronic productions made for a real treat for the ears. His self-titled first album altered the ways of the indie scene in 2011, and he set trends for years to come with his daring tactics and bold rhythms. With Blake, he walked at his own pace and sang to his own crowd. People caught on quickly, which made his debut an unexpected yet inspiring success. –Jason Radford

3. Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Having heard my share of sad-bastard music by 2008, I dismissed For Emma, Forever Ago—it was another whiny link in the mope-rock chain. This June, I gave Bon Iver’s sophomore effort a chance and this time couldn’t turn it off. More importantly, I couldn’t write it off. Bon Iver, Bon Iver has the minimal elements of its predecessor but the precise amount for Bon Iver vets. While Justin Vernon’s soulful crooning continues to deliver beautifully odd lyrics over campfire acoustics, the instrumentals are plugged-in and add-to. With hollow drums, a clean guitar sound, keyboards that hearken early-1990s film scores and a couple more hooky interludes, the instrumentals are no longer back seat to Vernon’s vocals; they are sitting shotgun with their driver. Instead of singing to us over said campfire, Vernon took us on a morning hike to see hilltops, valleys and crashing waterfalls. This is Bon Iver in the larger picture and not on the ground among the trees. –Ciara Shook

2. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

This year saw the return of Anthony Gonzalez and his dreamy-pop crew with Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Paying tribute to our inner child, the album delves into imaginary terrains that are often overlooked in a music industry riddled with adult pressures and superficial motives. Where I usually roll my eyes at lengthy double-disc efforts, this wasn’t the case with Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. The album places you on an emotional roller coaster of innocence and grace, while strapping you in with dreamlike soundscapes that keep you floating in paradise. As if the album wasn’t enough to have listeners convinced of M83’s epic status, their live performance radiates with as much light and intensity. –Jenn Beening

1. tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L

If you have seen tUnE-yArDs live, you’ve experienced the raw, infectious energy that one-woman-outfit Merrill Garbus and her crew bring to life. In her second effort, W H O K I L L, Garbus uses her ukulele, drum loop and unmistakable voice to create something truly epic. Her experimentation with old-school hip-hop, reggae, pop and R&B is catchy as hell. tUnE-yArDs is avant-garde at its finest and shamelessly irresistible. Songs such as “My Country,” “Gangsta” and “Bizness” are looped with poppy beats and danceable drums while continuously making social statements. As an added bonus, Garbus’ humbled attitude is endearing, making her success that much sweeter. –Kim Manning

  • guest

    Black Keys didn’t “Return to Akron” for their latest. It was recorded in Nashville. C’mon guys, easy fact check. Every other publication got it right. 

    • IMattWink

      Pretty sure that was implied if you read it in context…”…returned to Akron with a polished technique, and unforgotten roots.” after addressing their former basement recordings lends to the fact they recorded elsewhere

  • guest

    nice list but where is oneothrix point never

  • http://twitter.com/jonbukiewicz Jon Bukiewicz

    Nice to see Shabazz Palaces getting some end of year love, finally!

  • http://mykickdrumheart.com/ Brian Lambert

    I love end of year lists because I didn’t even know Rival Schools had put out a new album, which I guess happens when you put like a decade between releases.  United by Fate is one my all time favorites.  Another record in a similar vein that was released this last year for your consideration is “Candidate Waltz” by Centromatic.  Very good rock record.