Presents: The Best Albums of 2011

Welcome to Music Zeitgeist’s lovingly curated list of our favorite albums in 2011. While there are countless others deserving of attention, the list below summarizes what releases most managed to blow up our collective dresses. Lest we forget…

Thanks to all the musicmakers, the indie artists and you – lovers of music for supporting music and giving us continued reason to work at this in 2011. Here is to another amazing year of creativity and its appreciation thereof.

Special thanks to “Tragic” Josh Joseph, Truffle Jones, and Jane Harbury for their contributions to this year’s list.

Artist || – Album || [Label] || Comments (if any)

50. Hey Rosetta – Seeds
49. AA Bondy – The Believers [Fat Possum]
48. Low – C’Mon [SubPop]
47. Lucinda Williams – Blessed [Lost Highway]
46. Layah Jane – Honey [Grace Note Records]

45. Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place [independent]
44. Peter Wolf Crier – Garden of Arms [Jagjaguwar]
43. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra [Fat Possum]
42. Wye Oak – Civilian [Merge]
41. My Morning Jacket – Circuital [ATO]

40. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Mirror Traffic [Matador]
39. TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light [Interscope]
38. Little Wings – Black Grass [Marriage]
37. Deftones – Covers [Warner Bros.]
36. Roscoe James Irwin – The Hunting Road [independent]

35. Laura Repo – Get Yourself Home [independent]
34. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues [Sub Pop, Bella Union]
33. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation [Fat Possum / Lefse]
32. Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys! [Polydor / Fiction]
31. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light [RCA]

30. m83 – hurry Up We’re Dreaming [Mute]
29. Battles – Glass Drop [Warp Records]
28. The Antlers – Burst Apart [Frenchkiss]
27. Sally Paradise – Aouu! [Jeunesse Cosmique]
26. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy [4AD]

25. Das Racist – Relax
24. Hooray for Earth – True Loves [Dovecoat Records]
23. Kanye West and JAY Z – Watch the Throne [Roc-A-Fella]
22. Death Cab For Cutie – Codes and Keys [Atlantic]
21. James Blake – James Blake [Polydor]

20. Death Grips – Exmilitary [Third Worlds]
This aggressive, mashup soundtrack for the times takes no prisoner, and becomes the Tricky replacement of the year.
19. Widowspeak – Widowspeak [independent]
18. Megafaun – Megafaun [Hometapes]
17. Washed Out – Within and Without [Sub Pop / Weird World]
16. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l [4AD]

15. Adele – 21 [XL, Columbia]

Here’s hoping we are never too hipster to admit what an amazingly soulful album this is.

14. Toro Y Moi – Underneath the Pine [Carpark]
13. Jonathan Wilson – Gentle Spirit [Bella Union]

12. Robert Ellis – Photographs [New West Records]

Calling this 22-year-old Texan singer-songwriter’s poignantly honest lyrical offerings an artist “influenced by Jackson Browne” doesn’t do it justice. Jaw-dropping track worthy of Beaudelaire = “Bamboo”.

11. Mastodon – The Hunter [Reprise]

Delivering the focused album that much touring and anticipation fostered, Mastodon made the record that afforded us this year’s Kyuss

10. Shlohmo – Bad Vibes

This 19-year-old picks up the baton that D’Angelo left on the track.

9. Björk – Biophilia

This year Björk, though seemingly retracing her musical steps, forged ahead by creating an app-based interactive album that kicked down new doors for how music might be accessed.

8. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar [Atlantic]

Using their MBV influences more as a resource than a path forward, TJF, whom we interviewed back in 2009 finally manifests a sound all their own and it is energized, inspired and inspiring.

7. Drake – Take Care [Cash Money/Young Money/Universal Republic]

We’ve always been suckers for Drake, and with his latest outing, the Toronto-based rapper/singer just refined his game.

6. The Field – Looping State of Mind

Well after several well-loved endeavors, didn’t this finally just hit the sweet spot between the void left by FSOL, Seefeel and the disbanding of LCD Soundsystem.

5. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare – Judges, Vol. 2 [Constellation]

The last time we heard someone take a solo instrument and turn it into a new language so unabashedly was George Koller‘s “Music for Plants, Animals, and Humans.” A sometimes collaborator with the likes of Tom Waits, Stetson’s utterly unique saxophone-based diatribe is avante-garde, hip as all recent electronica offerings, and an amazing utilization of his circular breathing technique.

4. Colin Vallon – Rruga

Like Dave Brubeck’s seminal jazz album Time Out all-Swiss piano trio draws upon the time signatures and melodic influences of Turkey and the Caucasus, but whereas Brubeck’s response was highly energized, herein we find a soporific, contemplative work recalling Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares. Ultimately it translates to an ambient work of beauty and subtlety, not so disparate from Harold Budd or Ryuchi Sakamoto upon which we had to shine a light.

Kate Bush - 50-Words-For-Snow3. Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow [Anti-/Fish People]

– A subdued, piano-driven collection of beautiful works that effervesces with operatic and often alien vocal arrangments, this sublime treatment is the tenth studio album by Bush and the second album to be released on her own label, Fish People. It is also co-released by the same label as Tom Waits’ “Bad As Me” found below.

Tom-Waits-Bad-As-Me-cover2. Tom Waits – Bad As Me [ANTI- Records]

– Still edgy as ever, still pushing the envelope, Waits’ band sounds somehow more aggressive, tight and radical ever. Seeming to vacillate between introspective ballad albums and quirky jug-band explosions, on his latest outing he is most certainly in the latter mood straddling Captain Beefheart and just-after Birthday Party era Nick Cave as he MC’s sultry, infectious grooves that could readily displace the band on any night in David Lynch’s One Eyed Jack’s bar, somewhere in “Canada”. “Bad as Me” is his seventeenth studio album.

pj harvey - let england shake1. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

– Winner of the Mercury Prize and countless other critical accolades, Let England Shake is the tenth studio album by PJ Harvey, an artist who has incessantly reinvented her sound while always remaining instantly recognizable. Let England Shake not only appeared prophetic about the global uprisings that would dominate 2011, arguably starting with the riots in the UK that barely preceded the Arab Spring uprising, but beyond all other socio-politically aware artists, captured the zeitgeist.

We’d love to hear about your favorite albums in 2011. Please post your comments below,

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2 comments to Presents: The Best Albums of 2011

  • nm1

    I may be a bit bias, but Sarah Slean’s Land and Sea double CD is one of my faves this year.
    As always, MZ has nailed the cream of the crop of new releases this past year. Kudos. Wallowing through the endless choices we have now, determining the best of the best is not easy. Kudos.

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