The Top 50 Albums of 2011 – 40-31

40. Tom Waits – Bad As Me

Finally, after seven long years, our favorite barroom brawler has returned with his first album of new material. And the result? More of the same, give or take. Not that anyone’s complaining. With Bad As Me, Waits determines and plays to his strengths, all of which are diverse, and absolutely none of which are filler. The rasp is refreshing, the arrangements unusual, the dark mood prevalent. Nothing has been broken for a long while, so why change a winning formula?

39. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

22-year-old Idaho native Trevor Powers has created a half hour’s worth of material that can be interpreted as simultaneously joyful, shy, alienated, and sad. Beneath these eight tracks is a vibe that shifts with every tempo change, every gradual crescendo, every explosion. And in all the correct places, Powers’ echoey vocals fill the air with the uncertainty of the future and the courage to move forward all at once.

38. The Dodos – No Color

Visiter was the strong debut, and Time to Die was the experimental sophomore slump. And so, No Color is indeed the combination of the two, where the Dodos have come full circle and grown immensely along the way. The brilliant hooks and time changes of their first album strengthen the intense progression of their songwriting they previously tried but came up short. Here, it all works.

37. Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears – Scandalous

If you don’t know him by now, you best get acquainted; Austin local Black Joe Lewis, like contemporaries Janelle Monae, Sharon Jones, and Cee Lo Green, has a knack for taking the classic sounds and giving them a 21st century feel. But Lewis and his tightly-wound band aren’t focused on the surreal or the space-age; rather, they just want you to dance your ass off. And dance you will, all the way to Booty City.

36. Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams

It’s no secret Dum Dum Girls are simple. Obviously I mean that as a compliment – we heard that pretty simplicity on I Will Be. Here, as was hinted on the stellar He Gets Me High EP earlier this year, the group takes their Sub Pop-financed production and raises the bar ever so slightly. The melodies are intact, surrounded by a post-punk take on gorgeous music Chrissie Hynde would kill for. So you see, in this instance, simplicity is a very, very good thing.

35. Black Lips – Arabia Mountain

Good Bad Not Evil introduced this rowdy crew to the indie rock masses, but perhaps the limelight blinded them a bit. This was evidenced on the hot-and-cold 200 Million Thousand, but now, with the help of unlikely producer Mark Ronson, we get an incredible comeback littered with some of the finest, rawest, and catchiest material Black Lips have ever given us.

34. The Weeknd – Thursday Mixtape

The follow-up to House of Balloons is less diverse, less immediate, but just as intense. The Weeknd, by this point, was decidedly less mysterious, but no less serious about partying. Dark, disjointed, and deeply affecting, this second part of a strong trilogy of mixtapes released this year is a powerful chapter into the psyche of one of the year’s finest emerging artists.

33. Gauntlet Hair – S/T

This Windy City duo turned heads in 2010 with a few excellent singles, and here they take their winning formula to a full-length effort. The album is layered with echo, clanging guitars, R&B beats, and mounds of noise. It’s not for everyone. But for the patient, for those willing to be challenged, there’s a fair amount of accessibility here, precisely buried under that first level.

32. Wavves – Life Sux EP

Even when he’s dicking around, Nathan Williams is powering through, creating sloppy power pop-punk garage nonsense that will alienate some and inspire others. This thrown-together EP isn’t perfect, but its highs are almost as high as Williams perpetually is constantly. Life Sux marks a stepping stone for a project that has seen its ups and downs, but is certainly at a creative peak.

31. Cut Copy – Zonoscope

Is it too early to call these guys elder statesmen? Because in a time when everyone is biting their style, Cut Copy remain consistent, churning out hook after hook while newcomers struggle to create even one. I know it’s only their first follow-up to In Ghost Colours, but Zonoscope is a strong reminder that this group is naturally brilliant. They make it sound so easy. And it sounds like, it feels like, they’ve always been around, the way great bands in over-saturated genres are. Occasionally delivering gold around everyone else’s varied imitations.

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