Best of 2011: PST

Posted by Billy Gil, December 14, 2011 06:30pm | Post a Comment
Oh hey! It's time for some top 50 album love.

1. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

Longtime devotees of Anthony Gonzalez’s M83 got to see him make good on the promises of his previous albums, all of which are great in their own way, on this unabated masterpiece. Across two albums’ worth of material, Gonzalez’s childlike ethos spreads across synth pop dreamscapes taken to arena-level sonic and emotional territory in a way that never feels trite or untrue. If he overreaches, he does it in the best way possible.

2.  Toro y Moi – Underneath the Pine
Chaz Bundick’s second album is a light-year’s jump over 2010’s chillwave capsule Causers of This, an album that seems to take a young lifetime’s worth of backseat radio listening and picks just the choicest bits, whether its early hip-hop or psychedelic rock or cool jazz, filtering it through Bundick’s too-cool specs.
       3. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
PJ Harvey’s perfect instincts have guided her through the starkest of emotional territory with only the most necessary accompaniment. She continues that trend here, on an album reflecting on war and England’s history in a way that feels loose and not heavy-handed, aided by strangely fitting samples and tasteful effects, but still allowing for the emotional sucker punches she’s so adept at (“I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat” in “The Words That Maketh Murder” is one for the ages).

4.  Dirty Beaches – Badlands
Dirty Beaches’ Alex Zhang Hungtai is a master of minimalism. Over pitch-black surf riffs he plays and then samples, he breathes, whispers and cries tales of teenage longing inspired by ’50s rock ‘n’ roll (“Sweet 17,” “True Blue”), unearthing the dirt beneath the saccharine. At only eight tracks, two of them wordless, Badlands is the year’s most beguiling release.
       5. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
Hip-hop that feels worlds removed from the realm of hip-hop, this forward-thinking album manages to stay fun while its psychedelic tones intimate something more cerebral and transcendent.
      6. Real Estate – Days
While Real Estate seemed primed to take the throne as leaders of the reverb pack with their self-titled debut in 2009, this glorious jangle-pop opus puts them more in line to grab the torch from the departing R.E.M.
        7. Iceage – New Brigade
Real noise punk from Danish teens that rocks so hard it puts just about every other band alive to shame in comparison.

8. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
Her oddest yet most compelling release yet marries Annie Clark’s quirky avant-noise experimentation and virtuosic guitar playing to juicy tunes ripe with nuanced imagery.
        9. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
Like their self-titled debut, this one’s a grower but soon its strange pop diversions --  whether it’s Hawaiian shirt-style late Beach Boys (“Honey Bunny”), George Harrison style odes to mama (“My Ma”), or Dark Side-era Pink Floyd as lovelorn pop songs (“Vomit”) -- sink their teeth in.

10. Jay-Z/Kanye West – Watch the Throne
What could have been a mess ends up an uplifting testament to two of hip-hop’s greats, and a lot of fun to boot.
11  11. Yuck – Yuck
British kids raid their older sibs’ record collections, discover Dinosaur Jr., Teenage Fanclub and Yo La Tengo, and make one of the year’s most irresistible rock record.
12  12. Crystal Stilts – In Love With Oblivion
For a certain sect of music fans wired into liking all things spacey, reverby, ominous and still pop-oriented, Crystal Stilts have been a godsend, and this is their strongest set of songs yet.

13. Drake – Take Care
There’s something really appealingly delicate about Drake, despite the requisite machismo from an A-list hip-hop star. Buoyed by expert production work from fellow Canucks 40 and T-Minus, among others, Drake makes the case for Canada as the bastion of thoughtful, crowd-pleasing hip-hop.
14  14. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
More of the gorgeous rustic harmonies and able folk songwriting we can now hopefully expect to be blessed with every so often from Robin Pecknold and co.

15. Neon Indian – Era Extrana
A gauzey tribute to navel-gazing, like the soundtrack to half-remembered childhood dreams.
15  16. The Antlers – Burst Apart
A more mature affair than 2009’s Hospice, Burst Apart still brims with emotional power but backs that up with more precise pop songwriting.

17. Washed Out – Within and Without
Washed Out’s Within and Without to me sounds like the most luxuriously bummed out vacation ever, like being broken up with poolside at a five-star resort. Hopefully, between the quality of this album, Era Extrana and Underneath the Pine, the word “chillwave” will die and we can appreciate these artists on their own terms.

18. The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient
Classic rock melodies and riffs under a wash of milky reverb and swirling orchestration. Between this and former cohort Kurt Vile’s Smoke Rings for My Halo, these Philadelphia types seemed to soundtrack some imagined road trip, its details murky but its destination all the more vital for their mystery.

Radiohead – The King of Limbs
It wasn’t Kid A or In Rainbows. But The King of Limbs still packed worlds of music into each track, from the twitchy Britpop of “Morning Mr Magpie” to darker, dubstep-inspired tracks like “Lotus Flower,” inviting either deeper study or as casual a listen as one could hope for from Radiohead while still maintaining their integrity.

20. Twin Sister – In Heaven
I unexpectedly fell hard for Twin Sister this year, who make a kind of anime-futuristic lite pop that makes me think of some domestic sci-fi scenario, like walking your space dog to space Starbucks.

21. Atlas Sound – Parallax
Bradford Cox’s most humanistic release yet under the Atlas Sound name, with a pack of great pop songs (namely “Mona Lisa”) amongst the typically gorgeous atmospherics.

22. Black Lips – Arabia Mountain
Mark Ronson produced several tracks on this album, adding only the most minimal pop sheen to the “flower-punk” formula Black Lips have perfected over the years. The result is their most instantly pleasurable release yet.

Tyler, the Creator – Goblin
Scary, sad and bracing hip-hop that shows vulnerable soul beneath its sneer. The menace of songs like “Yonkers” is nearly impossible to shake.

24. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – S/T
Quirky lo-fi psych pop that makes its home in your brain and stays there, particularly on the addictive “Ffunny Ffriends.”

25. Drive Soundtrack
The year’s best movie also had its best soundtrack, a pack of perfect night-drive pop songs (especially College’s “A Real Hero”, ft. Electric Youth), moving into Cliff Martinez’s dark ambient score.

26. Dum Dum Girls – Only in Dreams
Taken together with the crystalline He Gets Me High EP, Dum Dum Girls come out of the excellent but murky depths of their debut I Will Be with their chins up high and noise-pop hooks aplenty.

27. The Weeknd – House of Balloons
About as appealingly strange a release you could find in 2011 came from Ethiopian Canadian (again with Canada!) singer/producer Abel Tesfaye, who emotes falsetto R&B style over samples from Beach House and Siouxsie & the Banshees, as well as his own grimey production work.

28. Veronica Falls – Veronica Falls
I know I’m not the only one who fell hard for this C86-loving twee toting Slumberland band that remembered you can’t nail a signature sound without memorable tunes.

Zola Jesus – Conatus
Conatus continued Zola Jesus’ evolution from noise-drenched operatic curio to full-fleged goth pop star, with dance beats and hooks underpinning her freaky awesome voice.

30. Cut Copy – Zonoscope
A dance-rock epic that is perhaps a bit bloated, but its highest points (“Need You Now,” “Pharaohs & Pyramids,” “Alisa”) are pretty towering pop achievements.

31. John Maus – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
Here’s what I said earlier this year: “It’s like someone left their Tangerine Dream and New Order cassettes in the wash and out came a perfectly fused, gauzy amalgam of new age floweriness and new romantic pop.” Good enough/too lazy to write something new.

32. Cults – Cults
Cults were like the too-cute kid at school you wanted to hate if they weren’t so damn nice. Backlash was aplenty to “Go Outside,” but it was harder to dismiss the rest of their album, which packed longer-lasting but still-sugary tunes like “You Know What I Mean.”

33. Kurt Vile – Smoke Rings for My Halo
The prolific Vile gave us his best yet with Smoke Rings for My Halo, full of gravely voice, lonely drugged out folk-pop tunes like the infectious “Jesus Fever.”

34. Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
Epic post-hardcore concept album about a nihilistic young couple. You have to love a band for attempting something of this magnitude.

35. Geoffrey O’Connor – Vanity is Forever
The power of the PR pitch — I hadn’t heard of Geoffrey O’Connor or his band, Crayon Fields, until someone randomly emailed me about him. This could be the year’s most overlooked release, a nighttime romantic synth album akin to Bryan Ferry or even this year’s uberhot Drive soundtrack.

36. Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital
Handsome Furs has always been my favorite of the Wolf Parade/Sunset Rubdown pack of related bands if for no reason than their sheer consistency. This album ups the two-person organ-laden indie rock of yore with gnarly post-disco beats.

37. Wild Flag – Wild Flag
The first of what hopefully will be a fruitful career from veterans including Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Helium’s Mary Timony, firing off guitar blasts and twisted harmonies just because they can.

38. James Blake – S/T
OK, not really on board the dubstep train, but you have to hand it to James Blake for injecting the young genre with some personality and songwriting chops. Plus he’s pretty killer live.

39. Cold Cave – Cherish the Light Years
I really couldn’t stand “The Great Pan is Dead” the first time I heard it. Too loud! For what reason? But I dug into Cherish the Light Years and its weirdo keyboard noise and post-punk hooks and couldn’t really stop for a while there. So now I get what these guys are getting at and can’t wait to see where they go next.

40. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
Like its predecessor, Wounded Rhymes is a bit sleepy at times, but its best moments can knock you on your ass when you least expect it. “I Follow Rivers” is her best song yet.

41. Smith Westerns – Dye it Blonde
Super fun garage pop that’s delightfully polite and winsome without being cloying.

42. Fool’s Gold – Leave No Trace
A more streamlined and brass-ring-reaching second release from Fool’s Gold saw the band largely dumping the Hebrew-sung lyrics and even some of its afropop leanings to focus on pop immediacy, and it suits them well.

43. Thee Oh Sees – Castlemania
I slightly prefer the ramshackle pop of Castlemania, released early in the year, to the more recently released and more acidic Carrion Crawler/The Dream, but really, they’re both great. Anyone else release two kick-ass albums in 2011?

44. The Soft Moon – S/T
A simply harrowing listen from start to finish, with nary a humanistic trait — Luis Vasquez breathes and howls his often lyricless vocals — but the songs are also toe-tapping post-punk jams. It never lets you sit as comfortably as you want to.

45. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong
Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine loving alterna-twee gems. This shit was made for me.

46. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints
More goodness from the Cal Arts pool that birthed Ariel Pink and John Maus — if there’s any through line, it’s that none of the artists seems to be able to stay put, changing gears per song while keeping things structured. EMA’s electro-dusted, emotional singer-songwriter material harkens back to Suzanne Vega and early Liz Phair and PJ Harvey without slapping “’90s” across your face.

47. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact
Really weird shit. I kinda wish they would calm the fuck down and do the stuff they do best — Eastern-tinged, Siouxsie-ish electro — all the time, but vaguely conceptual albums with crazy prog-rock art and song titles like “∞∞” will do.

48. Blouse – Blouse
Beautifully dreary post-punk that sounds best when it drops the mope and rouses itself to emit bleary pop (“Videotapes”).

49. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Is it too “duh” to say this is really overrated but still pretty good?

50. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation
I barely listened to this but I feel like I’ll love it in like three months.
BACK  <<  1  2  >>