Thursday, December 29, 2011

Spike's Top Albums of 2011

Tough year. Maybe we say that every year. But it was, again, a tough year to crack the top 10. Kudos to all the musicmakers I love for making this exercise way more agonizing than it ever ought to be. I could, without any trouble whatsoever, compose a top 10 just from Charlie T's also-rans. I could also craft a handful of drastically different lists each with their own compelling criteria (most listened, most likely to still matter to me in 1 or 2 or 5 years, most important, most whatever). I could, but I won't.

And as usual, as if that first paragraph wasn't already a steaming heap of disclaimers, this list could change in the next hour.


10. The Decemberists //The King Is Dead

9. Jim Lauderdale //Reason & Rhyme

I was totally surprised by how often I came back to this album, how many times I found myself singing this album, how many times I referenced this album when working on my own songs. Lauderdale and co-writer Robert Hunter created a timelessly great bluegrass-ish record.


Tom Waits // Bad As Me

7. Joe Henry // Reverie

6. Megafaun // s/t

5. Low // C’mon

Alan Sparhawk with his yearly bid for Song Of The Year (Try To Sleep).

4. Wilco // The Whole Love

3. Gillian Welch // The Harrow & The Harvest

2 people. On every song. Live. This is statement on the power of simplicity (and subtlety and smarts and virtuosity). No bells. No whistles. Just two people playing some finely crafted songs on, most of the time, two guitars with two voices sewn so beautifully that it's impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.

2. Fleet Foxes // Helplessness Blues

It has come to my attention that it is no longer hip to like Fleet Foxes, that it is cooler to write them off as "better back then" than it is to like them now. Which makes it all the more logical that I love this album. I listened to it every morning all summer and there are still songs and moments on the record that register goosebumps. I promise: I wanted to be cool; I tried not to like it. But I love its ambition. I love its melodies. I love what Robin Pecknold has to say and how he says it. Of course the harmonies and retro-neo-folkie arrangements are the calling card. But it's a fine, cohesive record that, much like most of the albums on this list (but especially Megafaun), is an argument for THE ALBUM. An experience. Something better in one sitting than cut up into shuffled mp3s. A unified vision that feels like a family of songs, a home constructed on ideas and tones and voices.

1. Over The Rhine // The Long Surrender

Yes, this was #3 on my list last year (and I would still put it behind The National and Justin Townes Earle). I did that, knowing that usually January releases get the proverbial shaft due to the amount of time (and familiarity) they have versus the freshness of later releases. But I love this album as much today as I did this time last year. That says something. One of the musical moments of my 2011, maybe even my life, was listening to Linford Detweiler play an extended outro to "All My Favorite People" that, with no words, moved me to tears. To read what I said about the album last year, click here.

THE NEXT 10 (in no order)

Steve Earle // I'll Never Make It Out Of This World Alive

David Bazan // Strange Negotiations (some of the best songs out this year. why didn't it crack the top 10? Because I pressed PUBLISH.)

Radiohead // King of Limbs

Lisa Hannigan // Passenger

Lucinda Williams // Blessed (her best record, in my opinion, since World Without Tears)

Buddy Miller & The Majestic Silver Strings (if this won't make you re-think Leann Womack, nothing will. she DESTROYS the songs she sings on this)

Milk Carton Kids // Prologue (perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the year for me. a real Gillian/David soundalike that didn't feel derivative to me. good playing. good songs.)

Jason Isbell // Here We Rest

Jessica Lea Mayfield // Tell Me

Bon Iver // Bon Iver, Bon Iver (I know: what's my problem?)


Feist // Metals (I have a feeling this one will rank higher years from now)

Dawes // Nothing Is Wrong

Paul Simon // So Beautiful Or So What

Ryan Tanner // Seven Years EP

Blind Pilot // We Are The Tide (the first song is one of my favorites all year)

Foo Fighters // Wasting Light

David Lowery // The Palace Guards (I Sold The Arabs The Moon!)

Wye Oak // Civilian (for once, the hype was right. I liked it a lot. Just didn't get enough listens before list-time. I was late. Sue me.)

Rave On, Buddy Holly // tribute album (especially Jenny O and John Doe's songs)

Adele // 21 (I know...but I liked wee doses)

The Devil Whale // Teeth

Dustin Christensen // Highway Lines

The Jayhawks // Mockingbird Time

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