Honorable mention (not quite the top 10 but darn close)
10. My Morning Jacket – Circuital
The title track and ‘Holdin On To Black Metal’ provide dual centerpieces to an album that establishes My Morning Jacket as the heir apparent to Radiohead someday as the most interesting rock band alive with a live show that even humbles their great studio work.
9. St Vincent – Strange Mercy [4AD]
Has there ever been a song even remotely similar to ‘Cruel’? Um, let me help….no! Getting better with each album, this release sets the stage for something even bigger, but don’t miss this one. Annie Clark provides us arguably the least accessible album on this list, but the one with the most foreshadowing of even greater things to come.
8. Starfucker – Reptilians [Polyvinyl]
The most obscure entry from the list but this is indie synth-pop at its best in 2011. Nothing is close, seriously. The group with an R-rated name with the most unique PG pop. Often described as music that works as well in your headphones as it does on the dancefloor. Undeniable catchy pop with infectious hook after hook coming from all directions – building up – slowing down and starting all over again. The most overlooked album of 2011 and one that blows me away everytime….and I don’t even really like dance music.
7. Radiohead – The Kind of Limbs [self]
OK. If you haven’t already it’s time to truly come to grips with the fact that Radiohead has betrayed every given reality of popular music in the mere fact they have remained, not only very relative, but completely superlative for 18 years now. That’s an amazing stretch where most great groups start to lose their creative and magnetic edge after 3 or 4 albums over 6 years. The Beatles stopped after 8 years and broke-up at the top of their game. The Rolling Stones haven’t been relevant since 1978 – with only a dozen thrilling years behind them. U2 – no way. Bono stopped writing great songs in 1991. R.E.M. (a great band!) spent the last 20 years making records worse than the ones they made the first 10 years.Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ was the best album of 1997 and 12 years later ‘In Rainbows’ was the greatest platter of mind-blowing songs for 2009. Pick any song really…and after 2 minutes into ‘Codex’ filling the room you should have the hair on the back of your head saluting. Radiohead remain the greatest rock band in the world. There’s a reason why Chris Martin of Coldplay cries himself to sleep at night knowing he can’t write songs this good, and yes, Chris Martin is talented. Lord help us through the countless Radiohead imitators ahead of us. Thom Yorke is blessed with the only rock voice greater than Jim James of My Morning Jacket, and a panache for song-writing and song-structure that will cast an influence for another 10-20 years. Music in this world would be almost scary without them. They defy all rules – with ease.
6. The Decemberists – The King is Dead [Capitol]
Colin Meloy must listen to his critics, and in this instance that’s a good thing. Once in awhile people that write about music give good advice. Doing away with the non-fan-friendly ‘Hazards of Love’ from 2009 – which is one of those albums you never want to listen to twice – Meloy returns with a beautiful set of rock-country-folk gems that sound like R.E.M. at their most Beautiful (pun intended for you R.E.M. fans)….and it’s no coincidence that Peter Buck cameos here. But this is pure Meloy, answering critics with a fist-pounding collection of the most accessible Decemberists tunes since….well not too long ago really (let’s say 2007 and before) and its pleasing to see the Decemberists pull off something Death Cab and others cannot – truly reconnecting with their greatness. Sometimes you don’t have to re-invent yourself to be great. Just do what you do better than anyone else can do it.
5. Wilco – The Whole Love [dBpm]
Much like Radiohead, sometimes there is just too much talent in the room to expect anything less than greatness. It’s kind of like what life would be like if John Lennon was alive and still making music. If Lennon released an album that didn’t blow you away you would start wondering what was wrong with you, not him. Same thing here, but Jeff Tweedy leaves no doubt. And is ‘One Sunday Morning’ not one of the most epic finishers for an album? Awesome.
4. Noel Gallagher [Sour Mash]
Wow, where did this come from? 16 years later, after masterminding the three most thrilling Oasis releases (Definitely Maybe, What’s the Story, The Masterplan) the Empire of Noel Strikes Back and blasts his former bandmates (Beady Eye) into the land of the Jonas Brothers (permanent irrelevance). ‘AKA…What a Life’ provides the album centerpiece and exclamation point to one of the finest songwriters of the last 20 years.
3. The Black Keys – El Camino [Nonesuch]
Ever wonder what it would be like to see the Black Keys play live with their alter ego The White Stripes? Me too. This fantastic album grips you with a choke hold the opening minute and doesn’t let go until you’ve set the disc for ‘repeat’. 37.5 minutes of just about as good as it gets.
2. Washed Out – Within Without [SubPop]
If you have a child in college that owns this album – be afraid, be very afraid. Turn off the lights and close your eyes. This is not cruising music. Chillwave at its pinnacle and this will be the de facto standard of the perhaps brief regime for this warm brand of mesmerizing bedroom pop. You can’t figure out if it was recorded in a studio, or an iPad – but who cares. Not a filler track to be found, different atmospheres filling each track behind mysterious vocals. Ernest Greene, the mastermind behind Washed Out, from out of nowhere, has blended the perfect mix with the cover photo to match. A college album masterpiece.
1. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost [True Panther]
Music at its finest in 2011. A fast-forward course of 60’s pop, with a gospel-tinged sing-a-long ending thrown in, and heart-stopping pop-rock. Something for everyone and a lot for the lucky few who can absorb every genre this touches, claims and conquers.