Thursday, December 22, 2011

Charlie T's Top Albums of 2011

*This post has been updated with annotations for each album

There were 102 albums released in 2011 that made it onto my listening radar. I managed to give a full listen to 79 of those albums, and partial listens to most of the rest. From that list of 102 albums, there were 35 albums that were inspiring enough to deserve a shot at making the top 10 list. The last weeks of 2011 were dedicated to teasing out the top 10. This was a banner year for music, in my opinion. Many artists from my pantheon of artists threw down the gauntlet and released great, great albums. This didn't make trimming the list down from 35 to 10 very easy. Since they all deserve some recognition, I present both the top 35 and the top 10. The 25 that didn't make the cut are in no particular order. That way if anyone is completely appalled by one album or another not making the top ten, I can always say it was the last album to get cut. But to be honest, every album on the Runners Up list was seriously considered for the top 10 and if I re-wrote this list tomorrow, one of them might find it's way into the top 10. But as of right now, I feel confident that the top 10 are the albums that I liked the most in 2011.

The 25 Runners Up
Over The Rhine - The Long Surrender
The Get Up Kids - There Are Rules
Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean
Lia Ices - Grown Unknown
The Head And The Heart - The Head And The Heart
Low - C'mon
The Low Antherm - Smart Flesh
Radiohead - King Of Limbs
Wye Oak - Civilian
Bill Callahan - Apocalypse
Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo
The Kills - Blood Pressures
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit - Here We Rest
St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
Beirut - The Rip Tide
Megafaun - Megafaun
Dawes - Nothing Is Wrong
Feist - Metals
Joe Henry - Reverie
Ryan Adams - Ashes And Fire
Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know
Battles - Gloss Drop
PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What
Richard Buckner - Our Blood

The Top 10 of 2011
10. Tom Waits - Bad As Me
This one got in on the strength of the songwriting alone.  Sure there were other great songs written on albums that didn't make the top 10, but these songs really stuck with me, especially New Year's Eve.

9. Little Scream - The Golden Record
It came down to this album and Feist's Metals.  They were similar albums to me, aside fromt he fact that Little Scream backs up Feist on some of the songs, and both got a lot of listens.  But I came across Little Scream from their *Take Away Show and I went back to it for the tie-breaker.  The intro on Cannons was still as strong as the first time I heard it.  And as fresh sounding as I thoguht Metals was, this album had a little something more.

8. David Bazan - Strange Negotiations
This album made a late surge.  I listened to it once or twice early in the year but it didn't take.  I came back and realizzed what I had been missing.  Not only are the songs great, but there is enough fuzz and rocking to keep an edge on the songs.

7. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
I didn't put the debut Fleet Foxes album on my top 10 list way back when.  In hind sight, I probably should have.  I made sure I gave this album the time it deserved, and it gave me back exactly what I wanted; introspective lyrics, crisp harmonies and a chance to give them credit for their efforts.  And to be clear, this isn't a make-up pick.  This album is great on its own.

6. Tune-Yards - WHOKILL
I didn't want to put this album in the top 10 because it had gotten so much hype.  But I couldn't deny the infectious hooks and the enthusiasm, even if it is doused in face paint and ukeleles.

5. The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams - Various Artists
I love Hank Williams.  One question I've always asked myself is "If late, great musician X released an album now, like it had been locked in a time capsule, how would it stack up against current albums?"  This was my chance.  It's not Hank singing, but they are his words and they are just as good as ever.  An added bonus is his pedal steel player making an appearance or two to bridge the eras.

4. Gillian Welch - The Harrow And The Harvest
This was one of a couple albums that I thought were top ten albums the minute I heard them.  Not all those albums made the cut, however.  Low, Joe Henry and Wye Oak lost out when push came to shove for the top 10.  But not this one.  This one looked me in the eyes and made me give it a top 4 spot.

3. Bon Iver - Bon Iver
I went back and forth a little on this album.  First, I was surprised at how different it sounded.  Then I realized it was still the same sound, just bigger.  I saw them perform almost all the songs live.  I heard the stripped down, piano only version of Beth/Rest.  It was really a journey to a lot of different places, like the track names suggest.  And the fact that it made me work, but continued to reward me for my efforts had to merit a top 3 slot.

2. Wilco - The Whole Love
This album had its own journey, but it was more of a nostalgic journey through the Wilco catalogue.  At least a handful of songs made me reminisce other Wilco songs.  Sometimes I would think the melody was taken from another song, or a lyric was borrowed.  That is evidence that it fits into the tomes of songs from Tweedy and Co. but it also made those other songs sound better and more fresh to me than they ever have.

1. The Decemberists - The King Is Dead
This album battled Iron & Wine at the onset of 2011 for early year supremacy.  Usually, albums that come out early and come on strong fade towards the end of the year as casualties of over-listening, stronger competition, or boredom.  Iron & Wine faded despite a number of strong songs.  But this album kept coming and coming.  When it came down to deciding which album should be number one, I felt that an album that could withstand 12 month of listening and scrutiny was worth of the top spot.

*Yes I know Feist recorded a Take Away Show, but it hasn't come out yet.  Sorry, Leslie.

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