Top 10 Albums 2011 – JR

These lists basically mean nothing but we love (and hate) doing them. It’s definitely a love/hate thing. I love it because it’s enjoyable going over all the music you’ve heard in a year and remembering what affected you the most. However, the hate part is having to put it all into an ordered list. But that’s the deal this year at NMWH. So here goes… my top 10 albums of 2011.

Check out my 8tracks mix with a song from each album, starting at number 10 and finishing at number 1:

10. Yuck
The first guitar blast of the first song, Get Away, and I’m hooked. Yes it’s looking back to the 90s but hey that’s a good thing! Some might say it’s derivative (think Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine even) but I don’t care as there are more than enough quality songs here to do the talking. I think Yuck and Pure X were my guilty guitar pleasures this year and my musical life was all the better for them.

9. Julianna Barwick
The Magic Place
This was a late one for me to catch on to. I love most things ambient and this is a beautiful ambient record. Every track revolves around Barwick’s voice. The results are oddly fitting for the season we are in as it has a hymnal feel, spiritual even. Sparse and carefully used instrumentation dips in and out of tracks to supply a foundation for Barwick’s voice, never too much though, which is a good thing.

8. The Field
A Looping State of Mind
Axel Willner has released several albums under The Field moniker and they keep getting better. You would think his palette would be somewhat limited in that his approach is generally to take some samples and loop them into longer tracks. (He does this incredibly well by the way). However on A Looping State of Mind he takes this approach much further. The opening track, Is This Power, sets the mission statement for the whole album once that base comes in. Everything feels bigger than his previous work and the results make for an extremely rewarding listen.

7. Fucked Up
David Comes To Life
If you can get past Damian Abraham’s voice (which I had to work on for a while) then you get to enjoy a tight, rock monster of an album. You will want to mosh, punch the air, you name it. These guys no how to rock and David Comes To Life is a blistering record. The album has a lot more depth than you would first imagine with many subtle layers. Beneath the noise there are also some killer riffs and hooks (Queen of Hearts, The Other Shoe). Let it wash over you but don’t try and fight it as you will more than likely get crushed.

6. Kurt Vile
Smoke Ring For My Halo
Kurt Vile’s drawl is instantly captivating for me. It sounds at once “slacker” but also world weary. Baby’s Arms, the first track on the album, is a wonderful mix of picked guitar and odd bits of warm electronic sounds, coupled with Vile’s signature voice. It has a simple repetitive melody that just keeps on rolling. I could listen to this song alone for days. Then you have a switch to classic rock/pop on Jesus Fever and the beautiful and sad On Tour coming on like a great Grant Lee Buffalo song. If you’re having a tough run, Smoke Ring For My Halo is the tonic that will soothe whatever ills you may have.

5. Pure X
Stoner, slacker, guitar heaven. That’s Pleasure by Pure X in a nutshell. These guys know how to put a groove together and not break into a sweat. Still, underneath that mountain of reverb are some great songs. This was my album of the summer by a mile. Love it.

4. Girls
Father, Son, Holy Ghost
On last year’s Broken Dreams Club Christopher Owens demonstrated that he is one of the best songwriters at work today. With Father, Son, Holy Ghost he cements that with another excellent collection of songs. Owens is definitely mining his influences but he does it so so well that he makes all the styles his own. The music is wonderful and Owens voice is one of pained love-loss while always exuding a certain type of fragile cool. Genuis.

3. Youth Lagoon
The Year Of Hibernation
This album felt to me a little like a warm and fragile cross between Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes and Mum and that’s meant as a big compliment. The Year Of Hibernation contains an amazing array of melody ideas all wrapped up in a fuzzy lo-fi glow. There is a consistent theme throughout and I like that with albums. Trevor Powers is also only 22 years old so I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from him. “When I was 17 my mother said to me, don’t stop imagining, the day that you do is the day that you die”.

2. Destroyer
I first heard the track, Savage Night At The Opera, thanks to a mix on 8tracks and I was instantly hooked. I’m guessing this record is sparking the same debate that Bon Iver did in terms of “that 80s sound”. Well I love it and this album has a gorgeous feel to it. Dan Bejar leaves plenty of space between the notes and the words and it all adds to the atmosphere. Even the saxaphone works! Bejar’s lyrics hit true also. They’re intelligent and funny. The songs are consistent in quality and theme, lending to the overall completeness of the album. Excellent.

1. Bon Iver
Bon Iver
Well this is all over the best-of lists. It was on repeat in my world for a long time. I thought it was a very worthy follow up to For Emma, Forever Ago which to be fair to Justin Vernon was always going to be tough. The album oozes atmosphere and emotion. It feels a little like a dream. It has the ability to bowl you over and leave you a little stunned at times it is so beautiful. Each song rolls perfectly into the next with each one incredibly powerful in an understated way.


Laura Veirs
Tumble Bee

Matt Chamberlain, Viktor Krauss, and Dan Phelps

A Winged Victory for the Sullen
A Winged Victory for the Sullen

Wild Nothing

James Blake
James Blake

Cass McCombs
County Line

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2 replies »

  1. Lovely list and a few interesting choices. I think there’s only about 3 or 4 of them that will feature on my list, which is a good thing (and of course means that you’re wrong!). Some very note worthy omissions, and most of ’em didn’t even make the honorable mentions list.

    I haven’t heard of Youth Lagoon, so I think you were keeping those guys secret! Still time for me to add them to my own list though, as a late entry, we shall see.

    Nice to see James Blake didn’t make it either, as we all know he’s trendy and overrated.

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