Top 50 Albums of 2011: 21-30

30.  BEYONCE- 4

Buy 4 (Deluxe Edition) – Beyoncé

Buy 4 [+Digital Booklet] Amazon

By now most people recognize Beyonce as one of the biggest pop stars on the planet and she has been a proven hitmaker now for over a decade- even since the late  90’s with Destiny’s Child.  Each of her four solo albums have contained at least 2 or 3 stunners, but her albums can be a wildly uneven affair.  Her latest “4” is to me her 2nd best album next to 2006’s great “BDay”.  Where “BDay” contained almost all bangin’ club jams, “4” is much more varied with some 80’s throw-back production and strange sequencing- the album starts with a slow burning love song that ends with a fiery guitar solo- that makes it sound antithetical to all other modern pop.  I don’t love every song but the hit to miss ratio is solid.  Outside of the album opening ballad “1 + 1”, are radio hits “Love On Top” and “Best Thing  I Never Had”, as well as one club banger “Countdown”, which can rival “Crazy in Love” or “Single Ladies”, and “Party” featuring Andrew 3000 which sounds better every time I hear it.  Beyonce is my favorite pop star of the last decade and “4” only solidifies that for me.

Buy Countdown – 4

Buy CountdownAmazon

Buy 1+1 – 4

Buy 1+1Amazon


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Frank Ocean has been kicking around the R&B scene for a few years, co-writing tracks for Justin Beiber, John Legend, and Brandy and basically being ignored by his label Def Jam.  He fell in with L.A.’s buzzworthy Odd Future crew (see: Tyler, The Creator) and like so many rappers these days decided he would counteract the record company’s lack of movement by dropping a mixtape on the public which he did last February.  Well it obviously worked, as Ocean is now one of the most sought after voices in R&B and is well on his way to becoming a solo star.  “Nostalgia, Ultra” is anything but your typical R&B.  Ocean often sings over indie and even classic rock songs see: Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing”, MGMT’s “Electric Feel” and the Eagles “Hotel California” on his great “American Wedding” and references stuff like Radiohead, Coachella & Stanley Kubrick.  Ocean’s voice is a thing of beauty, his lyrics show munor, self awareness and a goft for storytelling- the whole mixtape is a blast.  I’m new to all but two of the tracks on it and wouldn’t be at all surprised if “Nostalgia, Ultra” continues to grow on me the more I hear it.

Top Songs         Novacane                   Songs for Women


Buy Cherish the Light Years (Bonus Track Edition) – Cold Cave

Buy Cherish The Light Years (Bonus Track Edition)Amazon

Cold Cave is a beautiful mix of synth-pop, goth and indie rock bringing to mind bands like Depeche Mode, New Order, Siouxsie & the Banshees & Sisters of Mercy.  Like the New Wave goth of the Cure but more danceable and with heavy guitars.  Every track sounds huge and anthemic and it wouldn’t at all be surprising to find them on rock radio.  It’s strange to me that “Cherish the Light Years” didn’t find more traction this year.  For anyone who likes to rock out to catchy music that’s a weird and a little gloomy.

Buy Icons of Summer – Cherish the Light Years (Bonus Track Edition)

Buy Icons Of SummerAmazon

Buy The Great Pan Is Dead – Cherish the Light Years (Bonus Track Edition)

Buy The Great Pan Is DeadAmazon


Buy The King Is Dead – The Decemberists

Buy The King Is DeadAmazon

Portland’s the Decemberists have become one of the most consistently rewarding bands in indie-rock, which is strange for such an oddball band.  “King is Dead” is their most normal sounding record, veering toward a country folk sound inspired by groups like R.E.M. (guitarist Peter Buck actually guest stars) and away from the 10 minute sea shanties of their first albums and the prog-metal of their last one.  “King” is 10 songs long and almost every track is very good.  It’s the most straight forward and commercial album yet and contains some of their best and beautiful songs yet including “January Hymn”, “June Hymn” and “This Is Why We Fight” along with radio hit “Down By the Water”, which helped the band to its best sales of their career.

Buy June Hymn – The King Is Dead

Buy June HymnAmazon

Buy This Is Why We Fight – The King Is Dead

Buy This Is Why We FightAmazon

26.  ADELE- 21

Buy 21 – ADELE

Buy 21Amazon

“21” is far and away the biggest success story in music in 2011.  During a time of music industry implosion and stagnation, it has managed to sell over 5 million copies in the U.S. alone, totally unheard of in this era and doubling its closest competition.  Adele is mainstream music at its best.  Blue-eyed British soul with more than a touch of heartache, every woman I know seems to relate to it and it appeals to all ages.  Adele’s vocals show both power and emotion and belie her youth.  “21” along with ubiquitous singles “Someone Like You” and “Rolling in the Deep” are a surefire bet to sweep this year’s Grammy awards and after a year “21” shows no signs of slowing down.  A hear enough other singles on it to give it legs for another year at least, including “Rumor Has It”, “Set Fire to the Rain” and the great “Turning Tables”.  Adele’s a fun one to root for.

Buy Someone Like You – 21

Buy Someone Like YouAmazon

Buy Rolling in the Deep – 21

Buy Rolling In The DeepAmazon


Buy Underneath the Pine – Toro y Moi

Buy Underneath The PineAmazon

And the winner of the 2011 Chillwave sweepstakes is Chaz Bundick of Toro Y Moi by a nose.  It turns out that the scene that has received so much scorn and dismissal has a lot more legs than anyone would have guessed.  The leaders of the scene, Washed Out, Toro, & Neon Indian all came out with worthy efforts in 2011 that showed musical growth.  “Underneath the Pine” both travels more outward into disco club territory and more inward at time taking on a very jazzy focus.  Vocals are more prominent than on “Causers of This” and “Pine” is much hookier while losing none of the experimentation of before. The super funky “New Beat” is the most pop song on either album and “Still Sound” is the best.  And dig that crazy album cover.

Buy Still Sound – Underneath the Pine

Buy Still SoundAmazon

Buy New Beat – Underneath the Pine

Buy New BeatAmazon


Buy Days – Real Estate

Buy DaysAmazon

Real Estate are from suburban, northern Jersey, not too far from where I live.  “Days” is a very promising 2nd album.  The band has been heavily hyped since their debut, which I enjoyed but didn’t love.  This is breezy, nostalgic leaning jangle pop played by young adults just barely out of college looking back on their youth.  It’s mellow music but not pastoral.  It’s about the beach rather than the mountains.  The album can be enjoyed as pleasant background noise, but bits hooks and subtleties don’t come out unless you listen close.  “It’s Real” is already a minor hit but “Green Aisles” is the true gem.  There are a handful of other highlights on the album.  “Days” is a true grower.

Buy Green Aisles – Days

Buy Green AislesAmazon

Buy It’s Real – Days

Buy It’s RealAmazon


Buy Smoke Ring For My Halo (Deluxe Edition) – Kurt Vile

Buy Smoke Ring For My Halo (Amazon Exclusive Version)Amazon

Philly singer-songwriter is yet another example of the hardest working stoner in the business.  His vocals and temperament sound like ‘Slacker Incorporated’ but look at his output and he’s ridiculously prolific and writes memorable and interesting lyrics and melodies.  I’ve only heard a few of his tracks previously, but by all accounts “Smoke Rings” is his cleanest sounding, most well-produced and best album to date.  Vile comes off like a lo-fi, acoustic J. Mascis (of Dinosaur Jr. fame).  He oozes irony and malcontentedness, but is wry and humorous throughout.  He sings “f**k the world” in the form of a beautiful lullaby and from the comfort of his own couch.Look for his star to continue to rise in the coming years.  He’s a real talent.

Buy Jesus Fever – Smoke Ring for My Halo (Bonus Track Version)

Buy Jesus FeverAmazon

Buy In My Time – Smoke Ring for My Halo (Bonus Track Version)

Buy In My Time (Album Version)Amazon


Buy Past Life Martyred Saints – EMA

Buy Past Life Martyred SaintsAmazon

I had no prior knowledge of EMA before last spring but she was apparently formerly in a band called the Gowns and EMA stands for the initials of her first name Erika M. Anderson.  Her music is raw and confrontational, bringing to mind early PJ Harvey and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth.  It can veer quiet and gentle to loud and abrasive but it is never dull or merely pleasant.  “Last Life” is a hell of a debut and along with St. Vincent & Ms. Harvey, EMA gives us three great female singer songwriter/guitarists in 2011. EMA is not always easy to listen to and any conservative minded listeners will likely despise her, but for anyone who likes music in-your-face and challenging will be justly rewarded.

Buy California – Past Life Martyred Saints

Buy CaliforniaAmazon

Buy Marked – Past Life Martyred Saints

Buy MarkedAmazon


Buy Black Up (Bonus Track Version) – Shabazz Palaces

Buy Black Up [Explicit] Amazon

Debut album by the mysterious Pacific Northwest rapper Shabazz Palaces, who turns out to be Ishmael Butler (Butterfly) from the shortlived by awesome early 90’s jazz-rap collective Digable Planets.  “Black Up” is miles away by the positive, conscious rap of Digable or the Native Tongues groups like Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.  Shabazz’s beats are dark, murky & psychedelic.  It’s the most original music I’ve heard in rap since Madvillain or J Dilla in the middle of the last decade.  Flying Lotus and Gonjasufi are its closest counterparts, but Shabazz in still hip hop no matter how out there it is.  This is not a beat driven album and though every track is worthwhile there are no singles.  The stark music draws further attention to Butler’s heady lyrics which will make you both trip out and hopefully learn something.

Buy Swerve… The Reeping of All That Is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding) – Black Up (Bonus Track Version)

Buy Swerve… The Reeping Of All That Is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding) [Explicit]Amazon

Buy Are You…Can You…Were You? (Felt) – Black Up (Bonus Track Version)

Buy Are You… Can You… Were You? (Felt) [Explicit]Amazon

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