ACRN's Top Albums of 2011
By ACRN Staff
Because everyone loves a good year-end list, right? Check out the albums we enjoyed the most in 2011, from the blues rock of The Black Keys to big-time rap collab Watch the Throne.
Like what you see? Think we missed something? Want to disagree with our assessment? Tell us in the comments, or find us on Facebook!
Jacob Derr, General Manager & DJ
I haven’t been listening like I should this past year. I’ve been looking for something very specific, but I still haven’t found out what it is. These aren’t in any order, so check them all out.
Waka Flocka Flame, Flockaveli (Brick Squad/Asylum)--Really, I should be crediting Lex Luger with creating the sound of the moment (and the future). I’m still not sure what I think of the lyrics.
Kanye West and Jay-Z, Watch the Throne (Roc-a-Fella)--Top of their game, hip-hop’s saviors, blah, blah, blah. This is just a solid release. “New Day” sounds like Kanye’s real comeback track, its biting irony a welcome counterpoint to the sudden self-awareness of “Runaway.”
Blueprint, Adventures in Counter-Culture (Rhymesayers)--Despite the pushback against poetics from underground hip-hop (people would really rather see Tyler than Doom in 2011), I wish more people would pay attention to him. Some of the best rhymes, some of the best soul.
Fucked Up, David Comes to Life (Matador)--I don’t love all of the 18 tracks. Some of them I can’t tell from one another. But I’m glad someone still wants to sprawl out and try for a masterpiece.
Raphael Saadiq, Stone Rollin’ (Columbia)--I don’t really have anything against Jamie Lidell, but there’s just too much to like here. Definitely the best songwriter I’ve heard in a bit.
Kevin Rutherford, Editorial Director & DJ
1. Southeast Engine, Canary (Misra)--The album that will always remind me of Athens. Southeast Engine created a masterpiece we'll still be talking about for years to come.
2. The Decemberists, The King is Dead (Capitol)--When your favorite band delves into the alt-country folk genre you've come to love in the last few years, adding in a touch of R.E.M., you're powerless to resist.
3. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)--Robin Pecknold's meticulousness paid off. A folk record for the ages.
4. The Wilderness of Manitoba, When You Left the Fire (tinyOGRE)--This folk record flew under many's radars this year. Don't count on that being the case with their next release. Beautiful harmonies.
5. Tyler, the Creator, Goblin (XL)--The best rap album of the year comes from a guy who even claims himself that he's not great at it. That should scare every living rapper out there.
6. Apparat, The Devil's Walk (Mute)--Ambient, somber electronic goodness you probably didn't hear this year. The German producer creates a melancholic landscape, over which he adds occasional hushed vocals.
7. Jay-Z & Kanye West, Watch the Throne (Roc-a-Fella)--"Don't let me get in my zone," Kanye warns. Too late. The most iconic rappers in the world combine for a genre-bending rap record.
8. M83, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming (Mute)--A double album that isn't tedious to listen to? Holy "Midnight City," Batman!
9. Lady Gaga, Born This Way (Interscope)--Sorry, Adele, but I can only take so much heartache. Here was the best pop record of the year for me. Gaga might be the most driven artist of her kind.
10. Pearl and the Beard, Killing the Darlings (Family)--One of the most fun bands out there. Catch the bus with these darling Brooklyn indies before it leaves the station.
Joe Amlung, Programming Director & DJ
1. Girls, Father, Son, Holy Ghost (True Panther)
2. Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring for My Halo (Matador)
3. The War on Drugs, Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian)
4. Pains of Being Young at Heart, Belong (Slumberland)
5. Smith Westerns, Dye It Blonde (Fat Possum)
6. Okkervil River, I Am Very Far (Jagjaguwar)
7. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)
8. The Black Keys, El Camino (Nonesuch)
9. Destroyer, Kaputt (Merge)
10. Atlas Sound, Parallax (4AD)
Kory Kasler, Promotions Director & DJ
(in no particular order)
False, Untitled (Gilead Media)--False’s Untitled is definitely my favorite black metal release this year. The album consists of just two 12-minute tracks, which I was skeptical about, since long songs sometimes translate into boring and overplayed songs. That was not the case with this album. Both tracks were 12 minutes of pure black metal with nonstop intensity from beginning to end. The vocals are really what sets this album apart, as they start within seconds of the beginning of the album and leave no time for the listener to get lost in the music and instead provide the listener with nonstop intensity from the first seconds of the album.
High Castle, Spirit of the West (Zum)--Oakland, CA post-punk band High Castle made a stop by Athens for an ACRN show this fall while on their U.S. tour in support of their latest release, Spirit of the West, and I found the album to be one of my favorites of the year. Their live set is great (particularly the incredible drumming performance from Shaggy Reaper), and the album is great as well. If post-punk is your thing, I am sure you’ll love it.
Toxic Holocaust, Conjure and Command (Relapse)--Toxic Holocaust has always been one of my favorite metal bands. In my opinion, their latest is probably their best yet. On this album, as well as their other albums, they keep the music simple and stick to the roots of thrash: speed and aggression. This album is definitely one for any thrash metal fan, and I am happy to have another great Toxic Holocaust record in my music library.
Thomas Comerford, Archive + Spiral (Spacesuit)--I came across this album when Thomas played an ACRN show this quarter at Casa Nueva. I checked him out, and I knew I was listening to an album that would make it to my Top 10 list this year. There really isn’t much to say about the album other than if you’re looking for some quality folk-rock, thenArchive + Spiral is a perfect choice. On top of that, his live shows are great as well, and I hope we get to have him through Athens again in the future. The album also doubles as a great easy-listening album for studying and relaxing, so definitely give it a listen.
Tin Armor, Life of Abundance (Self-released)--I was surprised when I first listened to Life of Abundance, as I was expecting a more upbeat album like their earlier A Better Place Than I Have Been, but the album is certainly not that. The album, while maintaining a nice indie rock feel that Tin Armor is so good at creating, slowed things down a bit and showed a different side of one of my favorite Ohio artists, which I really enjoyed. Definitely check it out.
Sweater Weather, Demo 2011 (Self-released)--I came upon this album while browsing the music on Bandcamp, and I was drawn in by the super-catchy opening track (“Your Words”). The rest of the basement- recorded demo is pretty solid as well, and they show that they have a good grasp on how to make good lo-fi pop punk.
Skeletonwitch, Forever Abomination (Prosthetic)--Forever Abominationwas a great follow-up to their previous record, Breathing the Fire. Skeletonwitch took their music to the next level with this one, relying on black metal influences more than death metal, as opposed to Breathing the Fire, which has a lot of death metal put into it. I prefer black metal to death, so that was a plus for me. The band recently picked up a new drummer after the departure of Derrick Nau, and the percussion work on this album is just as great as it was on their earlier albums.
Giraffage, Pretty Things EP and Comfort (Self-Released)--San Francisco artist Giraffage has put out two great records this year, and rather than list them separately and waste a spot that another worthy album could claim, I’ll group them together. Giraffage put together some really interesting chillwave and dreampop music using hazy synth elements, glitchy sound effects, and layers of distorted samples. Check it out if you haven’t jumped off the chillwave bandwagon yet.
Weekend Nachos, Worthless (Relapse)--This album barely made Pitchfork’s Top 40 Metal Albums of 2011, coming in at No. 40, but in my opinion it should have been much higher on the list. The band has taken their style to a new level, and they’ve mastered the art of combining grind and powerviolence with solid sludge-inspired breakdowns and making it all come together into one piece. Worthless is easily their best work by far and is very well put together.
Liturgy, Aesthetica (Thrill Jockey)--With what is probably the most polarizing album in metal this year, Liturgy has certainly drawn a swarm of hatred from a good portion of the black metal community, which has been particularly targeted at frontman Hunter Hunt- Hendrix. I can certainly see where the disdain comes from, as Liturgy is certainly not your traditional black metal band with the worn out satanic theme and corpse paint. While it may seem pretentious, and while Hunter Hunt-Hendrix seems to really enjoy discussing the lofty ideas from his own mind, I really enjoyed the album. It’s nice to see something new and something that isn’t a version of what so many other black metal acts have been putting out for the past 20+ years.
Melissa Burant, PR Director & Copy Chief
1. Bomb the Music Industry!, Vacation (Really)
2. Joyce Manor, Joyce Manor (6131)
3. Laura Stevenson & the Cans, Sit Resist (Don Giovanni)
4. P.S. Eliot, Sadie (Salinas)
5. The Sidekicks / Tigers Jaw, Split [7-inch] (Shout Out Loud Prints)
6. The Wild, A Collection (Asian Man)
7. Spraynard, Funtitled (Asian Man)
8. Tin Armor, Life of Abundance (Self-released)
9. Direct Hit!, Domesplitter (Kind of Like)
10. The Holy Mess, The Holy Mess (Red Scare)
Ben Haager, Alumni/Investment Relations Director & Staff Writer
1. Foo Fighters, Wasting Light (RCA)--Recorded in Dave Grohl's garage, Wasting Light is a throwback to the Foos' early days, proving they are a post-grunge band at heart.
2. Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne (Roc-a-Fella)--Jay and 'Ye flaunt their egos and excess on this fantastic collaborative effort.
3. The Black Keys, El Camino (Nonesuch)--El Camino provides all the raw power that long time fans have desired since their debut albumThe Big Come Up, as well as the refined soul accents that came out of Brothers. Produced by mastermind Danger Mouse.
4. The Pack A.D., Unpersons (Mint)--Unpersons is definitive of this female duo's bluesy garage sound, and will prove they are worthy of taking the torch from the recently dissolved garage royalty the White Stripes.
5. Black Stone Cherry, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea(Roadrunner)--Sweet, swampy Kentucky-bred rock 'n' roll.
6. Childish Gambino, Camp (Glassnote)--Donald Glover's rap alter ego has been around since 2008, but Camp is his most driven approach yet. With lyrics true to his personal struggles he has finally established himself.
7. Hugh Laurie, Let Them Talk (Warner Bros.)--Star of House, M.D. displays surprising talent on his debut album chocked full of delightful covers of classic blues tracks.
8. Cage the Elephant, Thank You, Happy Birthday (RCA)--It is rare to see a band veer completely from their established sound and remain successful, as Cage the Elephant does with their grungy sophomore album.
9. Blue October, Any Man in America (Up/Down)--It is tough to match Justin Furstenfeld's ability of writing lyrics packed with true emotion. This ability is showcased on this ode to his daughter following a nasty divorce and custody battle.
10. Eddie Vedder, Ukulele Songs (Universal)--Eddie Vedder adapts the oft-cheery ukulele to fit his oft somber baritone voice for a short yet delightful album that includes a cover of Pearl Jam's "Can't Keep."
Carolyn Menyes, Albums & Live Reviews Editor & DJ
1. Adele, 21 (Columbia)
2. Bright Eyes, The People's Key (Saddle Creek)
3. Foo Fighters, Wasting Light (RCA)
4. Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)
5. Arctic Monkeys, Suck It and See (Domino)
6. Florence + the Machine, Ceremonials (Island)
7. Cage the Elephant, Thank You, Happy Birthday (RCA)
8. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)
9. Childish Gambino, Camp (Glassnote)
10. Dawes, Nothing is Wrong (ATO)
Clinton Amand, DJ
1. Starfucker, Reptilians (Polyvinyl)
2. Portugal, The Man, In the Mountain, In the Cloud (Atlantic)
3. Cults, Cults (In the Name Of)
4. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)
5. Beirut, The Rip Tide (Pompeii)
6. My Morning Jacket, Circuital (ATO)
7. Future Islands, On the Water (Thrill Jockey)
8. The Strokes, Angles (RCA)
9. Mister Heavenly, Out of Love (Sub Pop)
10. Jay-Z & Kanye West, Watch the Throne (Roc-a-Fella)
Ross Lockhart, Staff Writer & DJ
(in no particular order)
Britney Spears, Femme Fatale (Jive)
James Blake, James Blake (ATLAS)
Kito & Reija Lee, Sweet Talk EP (Mad Decent)
Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx, We're New Here (XL)
The Weeknd, House of Balloons (XO)Kanye West & Jay-Z, Watch the Throne (Roc-a-Fella)
Scala & Kolacny Brothers, Scala & Kolacny Brothers (PIAS)
Feist, Metals (Cherrytree)
Mr. Little Jeans, The Suburbs (Neon Gold)
Jens Lekman, An Argument With Myself EP (Secretly Canadian)
Capri Ciulla, Staff Writer
1. Foo Fighters, Wasting Light (RCA)
2. Evanescence, Evanescence (Wind-up)
3. Alice Cooper, Welcome 2 My Nightmare (Bigger Picture)
4. Staind, Staind (Roadrunner)
5. Rise Against, Endgame (DGC)
Gina Kuzmick, Staff Writer
(in no particular order)
The Decemberists, The King Is Dead (Capitol/Rough Trade)--The abundance of harmonica and folk harmonies gives the album a summery, rustic vibe. It's Americana at its finest.
Foster the People, Torches (Columbia)--Holy breakout artist! I'd argue that "Pumped Up Kicks" could be the song of the year. Between Mark Foster's delicious falsetto and the band's infectious indie pop sound, I hope these guys stick around for awhile
.Explosions in the Sky, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (Temporary Residence)--Explosions in the Sky doesn't need lyrics to tell a story--their captivating and epic instrumentals is more than enough.
Blink-182, Neighborhoods (DGC/Interscope)--I didn't think it was possible to have a 'mature pop-punk sound' until this album. Although it took them eight years to release another album, Blink definitely didn't disappoint their devoted fans.
Manchester Orchestra, Simple Math (Favorite Gentlemen)--I love the diversity on this album. Each track sounds totally different, yet Andy Hull's intensity remains constant throughout.
Florence + the Machine, Ceremonials(Island)--A hauntingly beautiful piece of art. I dare you to listen to this album without getting chills.
Radiohead, The King of Limbs (Self-released)--Radiohead keeps it simple with an eerie, ambient sound and just the right amount of percussion, thus proving that less really is more.
The Black Keys, El Camino (Nonesuch)--By far their best album thus far. It's a powerful punch of non-stop energetic rock 'n' roll. Plus, the video for "Lonely Boy" is awesome.
Adele, 21 (Columbia)--"Someone Like You" is that song that everyone belts out in their car while driving alone. Or maybe that's just me. Regardless, Adele's powerful voice is unreal.
Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)--This album is therapy for the soul. With each track named after a different place, listening to Bon Ivermakes me feel like I'm traveling the globe.
Scott Smith, Album Reviews Editor & DJ
(in no particular order)
tUne-yArDs, w h o k i l l (4AD)--Put Merrill Garbus in a proper studio and that voice can take care of most of the work. She makes musically specifically her own. I could go on for days about this record, but I'm not allowed to, so I'll just stop now.
Girls, Father, Son, Holy Ghost (True Panther)--A classic rock-gasm like I have not heard in some time. Chris Owens is one of the best songwriters around. We should thank them for keeping rock alive through what was a particularly weak year for the genre.
Battles, Gloss Drop (Warp)--To say this record is instrumentally impressive would be the understatement of the year
James Blake, James Blake (ATLAS)--Completely original. Utterly prolific. Frankly, there's just no one making music quite like him right now
The Weeknd, House of Balloons (XO)--If you're listening to this with that special someone, bring protection. SERIOUS baby-makin' music.
Ponytail, Do Whatever You Want All The Time (We Are Free)--WHY!? I JUST CAN'T SEE WHY!
Clams Casino, Instrumental Mixtape (Tri Angle)--Odd Future and Kanye (as usual) ate up most of the press in the rap/hip-hop world this year, but there was a flood of new, hungry rappers to hit the scene and if you were doin' it right, Mike Volpe was making beats for you.
Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)--His voice turn his lyrics into poetry of the highest order. Took a while to get over that this wasn't a folk record, but the move into chamber-pop with some jazzy tendencies is a great progression for a musician who is so much more than that first record showed.
M83, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming (Naive)--A double album I can almost enjoy in one sitting. Why I usually have an inherent problem with double albums for being overly indulgent and exhausting for the listener, the M83 song template is just too darn infectious to shy away fromSt. Vincent/PJ Harvey, Strange Mercy/Let England Shake(4AD)/(Vagrant)--I'm cheating here, and I don't care.
St. Vincent is a little more abstract, PJ a little more concentrated, but I found some similarities that validates pairing them together. Both ladies shred, both sing like an angel and finally, I have a huge crush on both of them.
Kyle Rutherford, Contributor
1. Larry and His Flask, All That We Know (Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club)--The whole album flows together naturally and near-perfectly. They have a stupendous upbeat and catchy sound that makes the album something you can listen to four or five times in a row without getting bored of it.
2. Mayday Parade, Mayday Parade (Independent Label Group)--Taking more of the alternative/emo route, Mayday hit me with this change in the most positive way they could.
3. The Wonder Years, Suburbia: I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing(Hopeless)--The album is nearly perfect, a great take on pop- punk, and their lyrics are a downright masterpiece.
4. The Devil Wears Prada, Dead Throne (Ferret)--Heavy and great from start to finish, Prada made the greatest decision to work with Adam D. from Killswitch Engage. Screamer Mike Hranica’s new vocal style takes on a more metal side at parts and it echoes throughout the album as the best change to their style.
5. Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows, D.R.U.G.S. (Sire)--With an impressive year under their belt, their release is probably the greatest part. Taking influence from every band involved, D.R.U.G.S. meshes together well from start to finish.
6. Sleeping With Sirens, Let’s Cheers to This (Rise)--A low-key release with great results. Vocalist Kellin Quinn’s voice sores angelically throughout with the band putting more emphasis on their musicianship than most bands in the genre.
7. Tyler, the Creator, Goblin (XL) – Probably one of the more lyrically shocking albums put out this year. Tyler’s flow and songwriting ability is hard to match and Goblin is catchy, even if you don’t want it to be.
8. LIGHTS, Siberia (Lights)--Taking on the sound of classic synthpop bands like New Order and Depeche Mode, LIGHTS put out a softer and more stripped down album this time around, but added in some calm dubstep sounds to make the album very well-rounded.
9. Silverstein, Rescue (Hopeless)--Silverstein is still the best band in all of screamo, able to improve their sound and writing with each new album. Rescue is a combination or 10 years of dedication, amounting to a grown up sound that still gets crazy at times.
10. Justice, Audio, Video, Disco (Ed Banger)–-My favorite electronic release of the year, adding in an expert array or synths and vocals, mixed with great effects.
Emily Votaw, Staff Writer & DJ
1. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (Vagrant)
2. Battles, Gloss Drop (Warp)
3. Tom Waits, Bad as Me (ANTI-)
4. Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What (Hear)
5. They Might Be Giants, Join Us (Idlewild)
6. Mekons, Ancient & Modern (Bloodshot)
7. Gruff Rhys, Hotel Shampoo (Turnstile)
8. The Feelies, Here Before (Bar/None)
Sam Boyer, Staff Writer & DJ
Yuck, Yuck (Fat Possum)--The best album of the '90s, released 20 years too late.
2. M83, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming (Naive)--An '80s synth dream without all the cheese and spandex.
3. Radiohead, The King of Limbs (Self-released)--If you didn't like this album, you are obviously immune to Thom Yorke's dance skills, unlike me. Such is my fate.
4. Panda Bear, Tomboy (Paw Tracks)--It doesn't have the grandiosity of Person Pitch, but the simplicity is comfortable.
5. Primus, Green Naugahyde (ATO)--Les Claypool, how I've missed your irreverent musings on squirrels and juicy burgers. Calls for a 21-bass salute.
6. The Black Keys, El Camino (Nonesuch)--Every album from these guys makes me even prouder to hail from Ohio. Blues-rock: we do it right.
7. Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean (Warner Bros.)--An absolutely gorgeous piece of art. Listening to this is on par with floating down a river in the springtime.
8. R.E.M., Collapse Into Now (Warner Bros.)--Old sounds and new sounds collide in one hell of a farewell album. But we all know this isn't really goodbye.
9. Red Fang, Murder the Mountains (Relapse)--Tenacious and bloodthirsty without going over the edge. Watch out, Mastodon.
10. tUnE-yArDs, w h o k i l l (4AD)--One of the most creative albums of the year. A little bold, a little brash, but all-around groovy.
Hannah Cook, Managing Editor
1. All Get Out, The Season (Favorite Gentlemen)
2. O'Brother, Garden Window (Favorite Gentlemen)
3. Bon Iver, Bon Iver (4AD)
4. Beirut, The Rip Tide (Pompeii)
5. Bright Eyes, The People's Key (Saddle Creek)
6. El Obo, Oxford Basement Collection (Esperanza Plantation)
7. Man Man, Life Fantastic (ANTI-)
8. Manchester Orchestra, Simple Math (Favorite Gentlemen)
9. Pepper Rabbit, Red Velvet Snowball (Kanine)
10. Those Darlins, Screws Get Loose (Oh Wow Dang)
Chris Dobstaff, News Editor & DJ
1. Girls, Father, Son, Holy Ghost (True Panther)--The most exciting and refreshing rock 'n' roll record of the year. Christopher Owens is proving himself to be one of the best songwriters around with songs such as “Vomit” and “Die” soaring to levels indie music doesn’t see very often.
2. Cage the Elephant, Thank You, Happy Birthday (RCA)--The Kentucky-bred band ditched its southern roots and found a sound straight out of '90s Seattle. This is an album that fits right in with some of the grunge greats.
3. Beirut, The Rip Tide (Pompeii)--Beirut has always sounded elegant, but this is easily the most complete collection of songs of the band’s career.
4. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)--The title track was good enough to get me through the year. And then I heard the rest of the album. This is truly a remarkable effort from a band that knows exactly where it wants to be.
5. Okkervil River, I Am Very Far (Jagjaguwar)--Will Sheff writes my favorite lyrics out of anyone in music today. Tunes such as “We Need a Myth” and “Hanging From a Hit” highlight his unprecedented storytelling, and the six-piece band adds the perfect emotional punch.
6. St. Vincent, Strange Mercy (4AD)--Annie Clark pieces together songs like a scientist. On her third album, she gets a bit stranger, wilder and madder, but she also reveals a vulnerable side not seen before from this guitar goddess.
7. Anna Calvi, Anna Calvi (Domino)--This one slipped under most people’s radar this year. Calvi acts as a Jeff Buckley angel in female form, with a gentle yet equally powerful guitar style that works hand-in-hand with her fantastic, fully-formed voice.
8. Foo Fighters, Wasting Light (RCA) This is hands down the band’s best record since The Colour and the Shape. It was recorded in a garage, but made for arenas.
9. The Decemberists, The King Is Dead (Capitol)--There’s plenty of acoustic strumming, harmonica playing, and Colin Meloy singing to be found on the Portland band’s sixth album. It’s the group’s most accessible record to date, and it feels just like a warm spring day.
10. The Black Keys, El Camino (Nonesuch)--They grow up so fast. Seven albums in, the Akron duo has finally put it all together. With the help of Danger Mouse, the Keys blend together a perfect soulful rock hybrid.
Shane Riley, Promotions Assistant
(in no particular order)
Matana Roberts, Coin Coin Chapter One (Constellation)
Fat History Month, Fucking Despair (Sophomore Lounge)
Bill Orcutt, How the Thing Sings (Palilia)
Andrew Douglas Rothbard, Frequenseqer (Self-released)
Britches, Demonstration (Hi Fi Octopi)
John Wiese, Seven of Wands (PAN)
Giant Claw, Tunnel Mind (Orange Milk)
Psychic Paramount, II (No Quarter)
Cut Hands, Afro Noise 1 (Very Friendly)
Gnaw Their Tongues, Per Flagellum Sanguemque, Tenebras Veneramus(Crucial Blast)
Rachel Haas, Staff Writer
(in no particular order)
Smith Westerns, Dye it Blonde (Fat Possum)--This album is a definitive staple in my music library. The Smith Westerns reminded me just why I am so passionate about music.
The Rural Alberta Advantage, Departing (Saddle Creek)--I always love a great alt-folk album and this--this is simply a great alt-folk album.
Grouplove, Never Trust a Happy Song (Atlantic)--After one listen to Grouplove, I was hooked. This debut album is full of the musical genius their hit single "Colours" is made of.
Cults, Cults (In the Name Of)--I was late to the party with this release, but I was glad that I finally gave this fun, carefree, energetic album a listen.
Blouse, Blouse (Captured Tracks)--This Portland act impressed me with their blend of The Cure’s gloom as well as peppy electronic camp. What a combination!
Kevin Devine, Between the Concrete and the Clouds (Razor & Tie)--One of the most talented lyricists in today’s music scene. They never fail to win me over.
Adele, 21 (Columbia)--Just take a listen to “Someone Like You” and let the tears commence.
Explosions In The Sky, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (Temporary Residence)--Although the album consists of just six songs--albeit six long songs--Explosions’ music always strikes a chord within me. Always moving and very beautiful.
Marissa Nadler, Marissa Nadler (Box of Cedar)--Nadler’s voice is so gorgeous and airy; it’s hard not to get carried away by this dreamy Norah Jones-meets-Julia Stone hybrid.
Lana Del Rey, Video Games EP (Stranger)--Yes, I'm aware that technically this is an EP (her album drops in January), but I couldn’t bear to leave her out. “Video Games” is absolutely haunting. She left me speechless.
Matthew Bemer, Staff Writer & DJ
1. The Wonder Years, Suburbia: I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing(Hopeless)--Best pop-punk release of the year. Lead singer Dan “Soupy” Campbell opens a new front in the scene with his simple, honest lyrics and the band’s mid-'90s emo influence. Suburbia…sets the bar high for bands in the scene.
2. Jay-Z & Kanye West, Watch the Throne (Roc-a-Fella)--Two of the best hip-hop lyricists working together alongside some impressive guests. No-brainer.
3. The Joy Formidable, The Big Roar (Atlantic)--Vocalist Ritzy Bryan’s vocals are the perfect accompaniment to this album’s spacey feel. The Big Roar combines catchy hooks with jamming instrumentals to create a near-perfect seamless album.
4. The Mountain Goats, All Eternals Deck (Merge)--Speaking of lyricists, how about the latest release from acclaimed lyricist John Darnielle? It’s a well-produced mouthful of classic clever Goats lyrics with some catchy hooks that one can never tire of stuffing his or her mouth with.
5. La Dispute, Wildlife (No Sleep)--La Dispute changed post-hardcore with their 2008 release Somewhere At the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair. Three years later they’ve done it again. Wildlife is a collection of vignettes--crafted masterfully and delivered with such raw emotion and power that contemporary post-hardcore/spoken word pieces pale in comparison.
6. Bon Iver, Bon Iver (4AD)--Full band has never been accomplished by an all-acoustic act so well since Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. Justin Vernon continues to impress with each release.Bon Iver’s full band sound does stray away from Vernon’s familiar yet haunting vocals, guitar-work, or sonic build-up that fans fell in love with on For Emma, Forever Ago.
7. Young Legionnaire, Crisis Works (Wichita)--Crisis Works has so much diversity in terms of sonic influence. Bloc Party’s Gordon Moakes and Yourcodenameis:milo’s Paul Mullen are the driving forces behind the album’s math rock/post-hardcore/indie/arena rock feel.
8. Touché Amoré, Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me(Deathwish)--Parting… is a quick punch to the gut. A modern melodic hardcore album that doesn’t mess around with long ballads, overcomplicated build-ups and bass drops; the word 'raw' could be used to describe this 20-minute album.
9. Cold Cave, Cherish the Light Years (Matador)--Hardcore alumni Wesley Eisold (American Nightmare, Give Up the Ghost) tries his hand at snythpop and lands a big one with Cherish the Light Years. Robert Smith-esque vocals accompanied by fast synth beats, droning guitars and noise.
10. Basement, I Wish I Could Stay Here (Run For Cover)--For fans of classic Midwestern '90s emo acts like Jawbreaker and The Promise Ring, Basement released I Wish I Could Stay Here. Their debut album sets itself up as the great hope for a genre long past but clearly not forgotten.
Amanda Norris, Staff Writer
(in no particular order)
Florence + the Machine, Ceremonials (Island)--The sophomore release from my favorite rabbit-hearted siren. Killer pipes. Killer lyricist. Florence Welch has the whole package. That being said though, “Seven Devils” really kills the vibe when it comes up on shuffle.
The Black Keys, El Camino (Nonesuch)--I couldn’t be happier with this latest release from these bluesy Ohioans. The precision of Brothersmixed with the no-holds-barred approach of Magic Potion makes this album key.
Tom Waits, Bad as Me (ANTI-)--I have neither the time nor the audience to discuss my endless respect and admiration for the genius that is Tom Waits. One listen of this record should give you and indication of why--and it is but a footnote in the context of his catalog.
Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean (Warner Bros.)--“Walking Far From Home” has quickly risen to the most played song on my iPod. I still can’t get enough of it.
Tyler, the Creator, Goblin (XL)--Say what you will about the persona and the controversy, no one can dispute Tyler, the Creator’s talent. Conceptually unlike any other hip-hop album, Goblin might not be family friendly, but it will keep your interest till the end.
Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)--Technically astounding, lyrically astute and heartbreakingly harmonious.
Robbie Robertson, How to Become Clairvoyant (421)--Robertson’s best release since the Band played their final waltz.
Southeast Engine, Canary (Misra)--Athens’ own Southeast Engine’s concept album about Depression-era Appalachia? Yes, please.
Smith Westerns, Dye It Blonde (Fat Possum)--They are too talented to be my age. Aside from conjuring in me feelings of inadequacy, they are certainly easy on the ears--and the eyes for that matter.
Adele, 21 (Columbia)--Yes, it can get a bit too Timmy-doesn’t-love-me-any-more, but my god, that voice!
Justin Silk, Staff Writer
1. Machine Head, Unto the Locust (Roadrunner)--Machine Head is the most vicious heavy metal band around nowadays. In 2007 they blew everyone away with the ferocity of The Blackening, and it completely rejuvenated their dying career. Now that Machine Head is on top of the world again, they have released Unto the Locust, which shows new sides to the band's sound while still maintaining the relentless aggression of The Blackening. To put it simply, Unto the Locust is bound to be a heavy metal classic.
2. Foo Fighters, Wasting Light (RCA)--One of the best hard rock albums released in a very long time. Each song on the record is extremely well-written and each one demonstrates a different facet of the band's sound. This is the band's most complete album to date, and it deserves to be recognized as one of the highlights of Dave Grohl's career.
3. Ulver, War of the Roses (Kscope)--Each Ulver album is radically different from the next. War of the Roses combines art rock with dark ambient and electronics to create an absolute masterpiece.
4. Wolves in the Throne Room, Celestial Lineage (Southern Lord)--Wolves in the Throne Room built on the original progressive black metal style that was started by the band, Weakling, and have now completely mastered it with their fourth studio album. This is black metal at its finest.
5. Primus, Green Naugahyde (ATO)--There is no other band like Primus. They're the hippest and funkiest rock group around, and with Green Naugahyde, the band has managed to recapture their original trademark sound that fans simply love and adore.
6. Yob, Atma (Profound Lore)--Doom metal at its finest. With its dirty sludge riffing and dense atmosphere, Atma is one of the best doom metal albums released in a very long time.
7. Mastodon, The Hunter (Reprise)--This album is a big accomplishment for Mastodon and for the world of heavy metal and rock music. With the release of The Hunter, Mastodon has managed to make stoner metal an accessible genre, without the band losing their musical integrity. No band has ever done this before, and few will be able to do it again.
8. Krallice, Diotima (Profound Lore)--Hipster black metal doesn't get any better than this. An insanely dense progressive black metal album with a very unique atmosphere. It's extremely dark and very well done.
9. Animals as Leaders, Weightless (Prosthetic)--With their self-titled debut in 2009, Animals as Leaders astounded the world with their nearly flawless combination of djent and progressive metal. Their sophomore album is the logical next step on their musical journey and is even more musically impressive than its predecessor.
10. Septic Flesh, The Great Mass (Season of Mist)--Symphonic death metal is a rarity within the metal scene today, and Septic Flesh has proven with The Great Mass that they have mastered the genre.
Haylee Pearl, Contributor
1. Girls, Father, Son, Holy Ghost (True Panther)
2. Dum Dum Girls, He Gets Me High EP (Sub Pop)
3. Tyler, the Creator, Goblin (XL)
4. Arctic Monkeys, Suck It And See (Domino)
5. Jessica Lea Mayfield, Tell Me (Nonesuch)
6. St. Vincent, Strange Mercy (4AD)
7. Adele, 21 (Columbia)
8. Yuck, Yuck (Fat Possum)
9. Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic)
10. Lady Gaga, Born This Way (Interscope)
Andrew Poulsen, Contributor
1. Beirut, The Rip Tide (Pompeii)
2. The Drums, Portamento (Island)
3. Fucked Up, David Comes to Life (Matador)
4. St. Vincent, Strange Mercy (4AD)
5. Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)
6. Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean (Warner Bros.)
7. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)
8. Cults, Cults (In the Name Of)
9. The Black Keys, El Camino (Nonesuch)
10. Wavves, Life Sux (Ghost Ramp)