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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top Albums of 2011 Part 2 (1-25)

What better way to end an intriguingly awesome, yet another status quo, year in my life with my favorite 25 albums? Along with many of you reading this, music is an emotional influence for me. Listen to the right song/album at the right time and you can be transported to an enhanced state of mind and clarity. It's funny how someone else's words, likely about something completely different, set to music can bring to life some of the most logical conclusions that you couldn't figure out on your own. Maybe you're just scared and the music gives you the courage to jump into that rabbit hole. Whatever it is, I am grateful to have it. Some of the best and most painful realizations of my life came about through a song.

Below are the top 25 albums that influenced me in 2011, one way or another:

25) The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient
24) Ryan Adams: Ashes & Fire
23) Deer Tick: Divine Providence
22) M83: Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
21) Cut Copy: Zonoscope
20) Low Roar: Low Roar
19) Girls: Father, Son, Holy Ghost
18) The Antlers: Burst Apart
17) My Morning Jacket: Circuital 
16) The Cave Singers: No Witch
15) Snowmine: Laminate Pet Animal
14) Middle Brother: Middle Brother
13) The Black Keys: El Camino
12) Holy Ghost!: Holy Ghost!
11) Beirut: The Rip Tide
10) Iron & Wine: Kiss Each Other Clean - Sam Beam and company expanded on their recent delvings into a more lively version of folk and were triumphant. Not only does this album feature the best title but also some of the best and most soothingly beautiful songs of the year. Check an awesome live and acoustic version of one of my favorite tracks "The Tree By the River" below...

9) The Decemberists: The King is Dead - One of my favorite bands released a totally different album in 2011 than we're used to. Gone were the epic stories of the days of yore. No 10+ minute songs about death or revenge or anything else we are accustomed to. With plans to take some time off the band decided they would put something out that was simpler. Colin Meloy and company crushed it with one of their best albums to date. Take a musical and visual journey with the video for "This is Why We Fight"

8) The Head & the Heart: The Head & the Heart - The Head & the Heart burst on to the scene for me early in 2011. Their debut album was released independently in 2010 and then re-released in 2011 under Sub-Pop after a supposed "feeding frenzy" of hungry labels. Who knows what "indie" even means anymore but this band has reeled in one of the most quintessential "indie pop" sounds you'll ever hear. It is a melodic folky masterpiece the likes we are used to from Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver. Also, one of the best live shows I saw in 2011. Try not to fall in love with Charity as they pull off a stellar acoustic version of "Lost in My Mind" below...

7) Real Estate: Days - After not paying attention to the buzz around Real Estate after their 2009 self-titled debut, I fell head over heals in love with their melodic mastery on Days. Could be the new indie darlings that The Shins once were depending how well their new album comes across next year. Another fantastic show I was fortunate enough to take in this year and I have no plans to let them out from under my radar ever again. This was one mistake I learned from. Scope out the very dog-friendly video below for "It's Real"

6) Yuck: Yuck - The 90's are back! We'll see where this band goes from here but based on the debut album from this British group they could become the best 90's rock band you'll ever hear. This is despite the fact they may not have hit puberty until the middle of the decade. I recommend picking up the later-released deluxe edition with a few extra songs that are some of their best. I was very fortunate to see these guys considering it was in Cleveland when I just happened to be back in town for a weekend. Feast on the gruesomely NSFW video below for "Holing Out"

A little sidebar as I get into my top 5 albums....all 5 have spent time at #1 over the last few days since I comprised this list. After going back and listening through these I think there may be a bit of an upset, part of which is likely caused by the constant battle of my #'s 2 and 3 albums for #1. They spent too much time focused on each other and let an old favorite pass them by as the former love was rekindled in a big way.

5) TV on the Radio: Nine Types of Light - 2011 was a rough year of transition for one of the best and most artistic rock bands out there, TV on the Radio. Nine Types of Light was their 5th album and was released 9 days before long-time bassist Gerard Smith died from lung cancer. They had previously stated they wanted to do more love songs and that was the theme of 'Light as the band seemed to pull back the reins a skoch from their typical funky rock. The classic elements of TVOTR are present but with a little less edge this time around. Despite not getting as much love from the blogs as previous albums I still feel it is right up there with the best they've released. The band played a masterful performance of lead single "Will Do" on the Late Show with David Letterman about a week before Smith's death which you can see below (he was not present for the performance)...

4) Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues - Fleet Foxes have officially blown up. Helplessness Blues is their sophomore album and they grew up a lot from their 2008 self-titled full-length debut and EP Sun Giant. When I first saw the band in 2008 they played around lunch-time at the Austin City Limits Festival to a sparse crowd. This year they were a 2nd-tier headliner at numerous festivals. It seems the music world has taken a much-deserved notice to the harmonies and beauty of Fleet Foxes. Helplessness Blues not only picked up where they left off but also reeled in some of the poppier elements of the band we hadn't heard since their self-titled 2006 debut EP. Another amazing live band and if you can I suggest seeing them in a smaller venue so you can get the full effect. Watch the time-lapse video for their title track below...

3) Wilco: The Whole Love - What can I say but I love Wilco? I was late to their game and just recently got into them 4 years or so ago. I know a lot of long-time fans aren't as big on this album as I am but it is hands down one of my favorites of theirs. It combines the many sounds and directions they have previously taken on into one of my most listened to albums of the year. This was extremely close to being my number #1 album, if for nothing else than every time I get to the last song, "One Sunday Morning," it feels like there is nothing else that can compare to the beauty and emotion of that song. Tweedy and company's first release on their own label showed us what they can do when not being constrained by the shackles of a major label. This is Wilco being what Wilco wants to be and they have never seemed more comfortable. The Sky (Blue Sky) is the limit. Do yourself a favor, plug your headphones in and place them over your ears. Hit play for "One Sunday Morning" below, tilt your head back, close your eyes and just see where you end up.

2) Bon Iver: Bon Iver - This was my #1 album for the midway point of the year and it deservedly could be my #1 for all of 2011. Justin Vernon's sophomore full-length album was nothing short of another phenomenal album by him. Maybe he'll be this year's Arcade Fire with all those Grammy nominations he apoparently doesn't care about. His time spent with Kanye and James Blake are apparent as he includes more auto-tuning and electronic noises to Bon Iver along with the beautiful folkiness and falsetto we are used to. Since it is up for Record of the Year, and is a fantastic song, you can check out the great video for "Holocene" below..

1) Destroyer: Kaputt - When I 1st composed this list earlier in the week I included this in my top 5 mostly because it meant so much to me earlier in the year. As I have gone back and listened to all of these albums again over the last few days I have been reminded why I fell in love with Kaputt in the 1st place. Besides, it didn't do me wrong or anything...I just moved on to others.

This is another band that I failed to listen to before their 2011 release. Daniel Bejar is the mastermind behind Destroyer when he's not busy with The New Pornographers. I hadn't ever really heard anything like this before. Nothing really stood out through my 1st listen until I heard the title track, which turned out to be a game changer. From that point on Destroyer was constantly at the top of my playlist and mind for the next few months. This was all around the time of my move so it has that connection as well. "Kaputt" is still one of my favorite songs and albums of the year and you can hear it below...

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