Back from my hiatus to post about my Top 10 Albums of 2011...over a month and 12 days late. But, just in time for it to still be semi-relevant before the Grammys air tonight. 2011 was an amazing year for music, with an overwhelming abundance of good albums -- which is why this list was so hard for me to arrange; in fact, I'm still not even positive about the final order of this list. At the same time, though, none of these albums are close to being as mindblowing for me as The Suburbs was for me last year. You can take all of this however you'd like. Regardless, here are my favorite albums from 2011.
10. Justin Bieber - Under The Mistletoe
My #10 spot is traditionally filled by an album that many people may deem unfitting for a Top 10 year-end list. This year, many of you may see my #10 pick and lose all respect for my judgment and taste in music, but that's totally fine. I'm not going to pretend that Under The Mistletoe wasn't one of my most played albums of the year (and it came out it in November). The fact of the matter is, I love Christmas music. I love it at Christmastime, I love it right before Christmastime, I love it all the dang time. It just makes me so happy, and anyone else who loves holiday music will probably agree that Justin Bieber managed to put out one of the best holiday albums in a very long time. It's only an added bonus that this album also contains one of the best lyrics, of all time -- "You leave some cookies out; Imma eat 'em all."
9. Lady Antebellum - Own The Night
I don't pretend to know much about country music -- but I do think I know what good mainstream/crossover country music is, and this is it. Own The Night may not be the most complex album, or the best country album of the year, but it's amazing in it's own way. I know it in its entirety like the back of my hand, from beginning to end. It's easy to sing-a-long to, perfect to drive with. And, without getting too deep into it, this album hit home for me in a lot ways, and just came at a perfect time in my life.
8. Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys
I never really thought there'd be a day where Death Cab would come out with an album that would fall short of my year end Top 3, but Codes and Keys just didn't make the cut. It's a great album, and I have nothing against the "less-guitar-driven" sound the guys were aiming for, but overall it resonated the least for me out of all of Death Cab's albums. Still, it was one of my most played albums in 2011. St. Peter's Catherdral is beautiful and Stay Young, Go Dancing has to be one of the most charming, cute, love songs Ben Gibbard has ever written. (I just try not to think about the fact that it he may have written it about Zooey Deschanel, because that just makes me lose hope in everlasting love.)
7. Foster The People - Torches
This debut album was just so well executed and produced that it makes me sick. Literally, I get a little nauseous thinking about how much buzz, excitement, and credit Foster The People got in just one short year. How many bands can come out with their first full album, and then sell out two shows at the Gibson Ampitheater by year's end? The same Ampitheatre where Oasis graced the stage on a world tour, or where KROQ hosts its massive Almost Acoustic Christmas each year? Underneath what sounds like my skepticism and bitterness is a huge layer of respect, admiration, and love for this band/album. It's an album that you can't not smile or dance to when it's on.
6. Washed Out - Within and Without
After putting out two EPs, this is Ernest Greene's first full length album -- and one that I think helps put a concrete and recognizable sound to the genre that is chillwave. It's an album that makes me wish I could float in a pool with the sun in my face, all day. The entire album comes in at a very short 40 minutes, but they're some of the most amazing, and for lack of a better word, chill, 40 minutes this year had to offer. The final track on the album, A Dedication, is stylistically the most different from the rest -- it showcases the most prominent vocals and lyrical songwriting on the album, but not in a bad way at all. It's a slow song, a ballad almost, that makes me hope for the day I will meet a musician who will pen a song for me.
5. Florence and the Machine - Ceremonials
Like Own The Night, a lot of this album hit home for me. A decade from now, I know I'll be able to hear some of these songs and remember exactly how I felt, or what point in my life I was in, when I first heard each track. In a way, the impact that certain songs have on my life, carry a lot of the same meaning and weight that tattoos have for many people. Each one a different marker for a personal milestone, whether it be a struggle or a success. With that said, this is an incredible album -- heavy and dark at times, but orchestral and uplifting at others. Florence Welch just has some of the most powerful vocals of any female singer-songwriter I know of.
4. Jay-Z and Kanye West - Watch The Throne / Drake - Take Care
I know it may be a little offensive or rude that I'm lumping these two albums together, but it just feels like the right thing to do for me. Individually, these albums were huge hip hop releases for the year. Together, they make up the most devastating game changer for the entire scene -- setting the bar so high for any album to follow, that it probably wasn't even fair or wise to release one within a six month range of WTT or Take Care. Filet-o-Fish and Mary Kate and Ashley aside, Watch The Throne is the stuff legends are made of -- two of the biggest names in the game, combining their talents and their genius to pick and produce the best samples and pair them with each rapper's own distinct style of fire-spitting. As for Drake, Take Care is just so raw, that you have to both wonder and respect where he gets the courage to let you into his life and the life of his family and friends, as he does. Marvin's Room is one of the most depressing songs of the year -- a full 5:47 of absolute heart-wrenching gut-twisting lyrics. In other words, it's perfect.
3. Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Everything about Bon Iver's sophomore album is just so beautiful -- from Justin Vernon's distinguishably unique vocals, down to every delicate tap of a snare or ring of a bell. As much of a cop out as it may be to reference someone's elses review on my own Top 10 list, I love what Amanda Petrusich said about the album in her Pitchfork review -- that "Eventually, these songs start to play like emotional Mad-Libs, and a declaration like 'I was not magnificent,' with its excruciating combination of hubris and humility, becomes an undeniable prompt, a blank to fill in. A cue for whatever kind of self-examination 2011 might have wrought." When I think about that quote, I think about the times I've stared into space, fallen asleep, or driven to this album, not necessarily making any sort of direct connection to or revelation with the lyrics, but simply using the music as both a backdrop and catalyst for diving into aspects of my life that I'm usually too hesitatant or unmotivated to think about, otherwise.
2. Cut Copy - Zonoscope
Cut Copy can do no wrong in my book. Zonoscope's filled with nothing but feel good tunes to get the fingers snapping and Molly Ringwald-esque feet sliding. Need You Now is probably one the best album openers of the year. Similar to LCD Soundsystems' Dance Yrself Clean, it's a long track that starts and warms you up slow and steady, before erupting into a full on dance party by the end. I also remember hearing the band debut "Blink And You'll Miss A Revolution" at Lollapalooza in 2010, and just knowing Zonoscope would be stellar. I've said this before, but...there's something awesome about about hearing a song for the time, and immediately being able to sing and dance along to it, but there's something magical about an entire crowd of people hearing a song for the first time live, and immediately and naturally exploding into a sea of excitement.
1. Friendly Fires - Pala
When I did my first run through of Pala, I honestly thought it would never take over the spot in my heart that Friendly Fires' debut album occupies. It just didn't have the same immediate impact and hold over me. But, the more I listened to it, the more I fell in love with it. At the end of the day, it has less bass work and is a little less catchy in terms of simple synth lines than the debut album, but it has more noticeable hints of disco (always a good thing), and definitely still makes me want to dance around like a complete idiot (maybe even slightly moreso than the first album does). It also actually boasts more production value than the first album, and the songs don't really all "sound the same" as I feel like they kind of do in the former. Plus, the entire album just makes me think of Ed Macfarlane shaking his butt, and that is priceless.