John’s Top Albums of 2011

2011 was an entirely satisfying year with no downtime of poor quality. Month after month tended to have something surprising pop up, and it continues to this very day evidenced by a couple albums that snuck their way in last minute. The list, like many of the others here, isn’t the end all be all but a reflection of those discs that never left my thoughts nor my ears.

10. CamilleIlo Veyou

There are two albums in the list this year that snuck in at the last moment. Camille’s Ilo Veyou is an opus that really does not capture the attention until accompanied by the concert-only then is her vision complete. Listening to it solely, you don’t realize it’s more a soundtrack to her theatrical, choreographed, astonishing live performance which successfully mixes music with theater, light and sound, and languages. Ilo Veyou is Hadestown, but far more breathtaking if you can experience it live.

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9. Lupe FiascoLasers

The Cool was good, but Lasers etched itself into my head this summer. It’s a powerhouse of a hip-hop/pop album that balances Lupe’s raps with Lupe’s hooks. Only one song just bothered me, but the rest could not stop me from repeating it countless times through travels on the East Coast. It’s too, too easy to get consumed by the album that was a pain in the ass to release.

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8. Le Prince MiiaouFill the Blank with Your Own Emptiness

Stop for a second and quickly Google image search Le Prince Miiaou to see how small this girl is. Then watch the video below. This girl from the tiny town of Jonzac in southwestern France is only warming up, and this album is proof she’s on that threshold. With a voice strong enough to challenge the best female songwriters on either side of the pond, I’m hitting myself for not listening to her sooner.

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7. DoomtreeNo Kings

The first truly collective album from the Twin Cities hip-hop group proved to be the absolute strongest in trimming the fat off of the 2008 self-titled effort. It’s trim and tight with beats wound up to unravel and wrap up your headphones for weeks on end. “Fresh New Trash” makes you want to go back in for more, especially for the sonic beating of “Bolt Cutter” and railway gospel of “Little Mercy”.

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6. A LullConfetti

The only band to truly astonish me at SXSW was one that I only heard half of from outside a window-and they’re from Chicago too. With two drummers, no cymbals (the bane of my listening experience), Confetti became quickly one of the most enjoyable adventures to delve into and pick apart like a game. “Sidemen” and “Dark Stuff” are pure recording enjoyment, while “Some Love” is just aching to be a catchy commercial.

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5. Wye OakCivilian

Annie, thank you. I had not given Wye Oak the attention they deserved until she brought me to their showcase at SXSW. Only when the realization that they were a two-piece making such expansive, unbelievable and insurmountable walls of sound did Civilian‘s greatness truly come to heart. “Holy Holy” and “Plains” would have been top songs of the year would “Civilian” not be quite possibly the best song coming out of 2011.

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4. Pearl and the BeardKilling the Darlings

First listen: “Oh, this is good like their concert.”

Second listen: “Damn, this is diverse. I like that “The Lament of Coronado Brown,” its strings and harmonies. All three of them can sing!”

Third listen: (insert you singing along to “Reverend”, “Douglas Douglass” and probably every other song on the album)

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3. Jeremiah NelsonDrugs to Make You Sober

Jeremiah Nelson Album Art

At first, Drugs to Make You Sober was my album for winter in Wisconsin, or the Midwest. Little did I know that it would stay with me as seasons changed. “Nothin to Lose” and “Floodplains” lodged themselves comfortably in my head, whether or not the songs were playing. The Madison-based songwriter, despite these songs being slightly dusty, released pieces that now will forever be associated with any change in weather. Even “Soundscape 082610”, which drifts and quivers like a faded, reel-to-reel journey through the plains provides welcome solace from change. It feels timeless. “I’ve got nothing to lose that I can’t replace.”

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2. The DøBoth Ways Open Jaws

A Mouthful sounds like the French/Finnish duo, The Dø’s sophomore slump in comparison to Both Ways Open Jaws; except the latter came after the former. It’s 45 minutes of the most wild journey to have come out of France in recent memory, and will stand as a testament against what will be coming over the next years. Levy upped the ante with his superb production, and Olivia proves herself to be one of the strongest songstresses as on “Bohemian Dances” and “Was It A Dream”.

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1. Bon IverBon Iver

I can’t tell you the titles of more than two songs off of For Emma, Forever Ago. Justin Vernon never struck that much of a chord with me until a little over a year ago via Volcano Choir and Gayngs. His second album under Bon Iver, however, is the equivalent of silly puddy-leaving its musical imprint on many memories in the past year. Never before has an album made them so vivid just by listening than Bon Iver, such as the first collective listen (as it should be), staring over rain glazed streets on my way to Jaurès, or clutching the vinyl to hear it crackle at home. And it’s not just one song, but every track has left its mark.

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Honorable Mentions:

James BlakeJames Blake
Love InksE.S.P.
SBTRKTSBTRKT
SiriusmoMosaik
TristenCharlatans at the Garden Gate
Wugazi13 Chambers
Young GalaxyShapeshifting
Youth LagoonThe Year of Hibernation

Thoughts?