The 50 Best Albums of 2011: 10-1

 The 50 Best Albums of 2011: 10 1

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(All week we’re counting down the top albums of 2011.  For previous entries on the list, click here.  We hope you enjoy the music.)

10. Balam Acab – Wander/Wonder

 The 50 Best Albums of 2011: 10 1

In 2010, with critically acclaimed releases from young artists like James Blake and How To Dress Well, the re-purposing of classic R&B became all the rage.  Of course, in 2011 the enthusiasm faded, replaced by excitement over the creation of new R&B (more on this later).  It may be for this reason that Balam Acab’s debut LP Wander/Wonder fell largely on deaf ears.  It’s a shame that critical opinion is so heavily dictated by musical trends, because you are unlikely to find a more beautiful collection of 8 songs this  year.  There is much to be said about the aquatic production and judicious use of samples on this record, and it has all been said elsewhere.  Most importantly, though, this record is an encapsulation of the power of music to move and enchant.  A power that is, after all, impervious to trends.    -LVL

Balam Acab – “Apart”

9. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

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Black Up, our #1 hip-hop album of 2011, is probably the most difficult record on this list.  Indeed, those looking for a soundtrack to their next party or a set of top-down highway bangers are best advised to turn elsewhere.  What the record does provide, however, is something totally and utterly new, something decidedly forward-looking, something that feels like the future.  Can I interest you in something like that?  -LVL

Shabazz Palaces – “Youlogy”

8. Chris Thile & Michael Daves – Sleep With One Eye Open

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Chris Thile, formerly of Nickle Creek, currently of Punch Brothers and Goat Rodeo, is one-of-a-kind. Widely recognized as one of the best mandolin players of all time, Thile has broken new ground in folk and bluegrass by incorporating neo-classical and prog flourishes over the last few years.  Sleep With One Eye Open is his reset button. Built entirely upon honesty and nostalgia, Sleep With One Eye Open is 2011s welcome respite from constant experimentation and over-production. -PTL

Chris Thile & Michael Daves – “Cry, Cry Darling”

7. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost

girls father son holy ghost 608x608 The 50 Best Albums of 2011: 10 1

I believe it was one Robert Clark Seger who said, “Still like that old time rock n’ roll.  That kind of music just soothes my soul.”  -LVL

Girls – “My Ma”

6. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life

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You’re going to (and probably have) read plenty about the brilliance of David Comes To Life and Fucked Up. A psychedelic hardcore punk band with a disdain for brevity and a penchant for existential crises, Fucked Up have one of the largest barriers of entry in recent memory, making the reward of “getting it” that much sweeter.

David Comes To Life find the Polaris Prize winning six-piece at their headiest and most ambitious point yet, building a punk rock opera of love, loss, anarchy, crazed narrators and redemption in an entirely listenable 80 minutes. Fucked Up have an incredible knack for crafting a sonic narrative, complete with rising tension, a huge climax and a welcome ending while never sacrificing any of their abundant, distinct energy. While David Comes To Life is not an album for everyone, listeners with an open mind and free time can learn much from this record. After all, most of us are a little Fucked Up anyway. -PTL

Fucked Up – “The Other Shoe”

5. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

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The double-LP has a long and largely inglorious history.  With some notable exceptions (Physical Graffiti, Daydream Nation, that one by Pink Floyd that everyone but me seems to like), double albums are often exercises in bombast and self-indulgence.  By contrast, the 80 minutes of M83′s fourth full-length Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming are so elegantly and meticulously constructed that you’ll be stunned and disappointed when it ends.  M83, perhaps more than any other band in existence, has the power to make you feel like you’re soaring, like you’re invincible, and, perhaps only for a moment, like you’re immortal.  The question is not “why did this album have to have two LPs?”  The question is “why doesn’t if have a third?  And a fourth?  And a fifth…”  -LVL

M83 feat. Zola Jesus – “Intro”

4. Frank Ocean – nostalgia, ULTRA

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In his phenomenal debut, soulful singer and low-key rapper Frank Ocean is ultra-nostalgic for classic cars, mixtapes on cassette, videogames, Stanley Kubrick films, and above all, classic pop music, with samples from The Eagles, Coldplay, Radiohead, and MGMT. In the hands of the 23-year-old Ocean, the elder statesman of hip-hop collective Odd Future, what could be a bad karaoke night is the booty album of the year. -KLM

Frank Ocean – “Novacane”

3. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

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His recent scuffle with The Avalanches notwithstanding, Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon is having a bon annee. His Midwestern melancholy and angelic falsetto blends the soul of Curtis Mayfield, the swank of The Bee Gees, and the poppy polish of Fine Young Cannibals. If his debut For Emma, Forever Ago was essentially a lo-fi solo acoustic album, the new record is a collaborative effort burnished in the studio, with layers of synthesizers, electric and pedal steel guitars, banjos, horns, and strings: lush, dreamy soundscapes with long instrumental interludes. And in the album’s riskiest move, the final track (“Beth/Rest”) is pure soft rock schmaltz. -KLM

Bon Iver – “Perth”

2. The Weeknd - House of Balloons + Thursday

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In a year of unprecedented breakout successes, The Weeknd is the most compelling. Virtually unheard of before House of Balloons dropped (save for a clutch Drake cosign), The Weeknd has excited the masses through the power and soul of its music. Tour-de-force companion “mixtapes” House of Balloons and Thursday take the recent resurgence of R&B to its seedy and sex-addicted apex. Best thought of as a dubby, extremely sensual In The Wee Small HoursHouse of Balloons shines a blacklight on the wicked games that plague persistent partiers and partners during the dead of night. Thursday takes the confusion a few steps further, focusing on the mental loops and swarms of static that seemingly take over a drug-addled brain.

“In the modern music world, it is better to be unknown than to be known,” FP editor Leo Lopez wrote of The Weeknd way back in March. At the years end, this sentiment couldn’t hold any more truth, and is a huge part of The Weeknd’s continued success. Where OFWGKTA exploited their newfound attention ad nauseum, causing the inevitable backlash, The Weeknd continued to live in the shadows, allowing its work to speak for itself. Whether or not these are fuzzed out memories of countless drug and booze binges or just pieces of engrossing, destructive fiction isn’t the point; The Weeknd don’t let identity get in the way of a good story. -PTL

The Weeknd – “House Of Balloons/Glass Table Girls”

1. James Blake – James Blake

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On its face, James Blake’s eponymous debut is a no more than a strong and promising release from a hot new act in a burgeoning genre. Throughout the year, many music-minded men and women have given it a listen, found it pleasant if a bit cold, and asked me what all the fuss is about.  This is a fair question, and in fact one I had myself after first listen.  But now, after dozens and dozens of listens, I feel equipped to answer it.  Because you see, James Blake is much more than it appears on its face:  it is a sea change, a shifting of weight, another Sputnik.

The initial impulse when listening to Blake’s music is to view it in one of two ways: either as the work of a classically trained signer-songwriter, or as the work of a new-era dubstep producer. Those searching for the former are often put off by the dark and unsettling production, while those looking for the latter find the acoustic strums and piano flourishes staid and regressive.  But, if one listens and listens again, one begins to see that the brilliance of James Blake lies in just how indebted each persona is to the other. The Two Blakes are joined at the heart of the album, which is both soul-warming and ice-cold, hauntingly familiar and startlingly original.

Of all the artists in this year’s FP Top 50, James Blake holds the greatest hope for the future.  He may ultimately be forgotten, but if he is remembered it will be as a singular and uncompromising talent, one with the ambitious aim of taking pop music down unfamiliar paths . There is reason to believe that this will be the case: indeed, no other performer has been as consistent as Blake, releasing four outstanding EPs and several classic singles in addition to this flawless LP in just two years.  But, regardless of his long-term success, one thing is clear: Blake’s depth of vision goes lower than his organ-rattling bass.

And the best part is: he’s only just begun. -PTL & LVL

James Blake – “The Wilhelm Scream”

The final list, in its entirety:

50. John Maus – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves

49. Grouper – A I A: Alien Observer/Dream Loss

48. Radiohead – The King of Limbs

47. Panda Bear – Tomboy

46. Tennis – Cape Dory

45. Wilco – The Whole Love

44. Russian Circles – Empros

43. Real Estate – Days

42. Owen – Ghost Town

41. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne

40. Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica

39. Tom Waits – Bad As Me

38. David Bazan – Strange Negotiations

37. Gillian Welch – The Harrow and the Harvest

36. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints

35. Thundercat – The Golden Age of Apocalypse

34. Bright Eyes – The People’s Keu

33. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare, vol. 2: Judges

32. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes

31. DeVotchKa – 100 Lovers

30. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact

29. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo

28. Ty Segall – Goodybye Bread

27. The War On Drugs – Slave Ambient

26. A$AP Rocky – LiveLove A$AP

25. The Men – Leave Home

24. Active Child – You Are All I See

23. Destroyer – Kaputt

22. Atlas Sound – Parallax

21. Mellowhype – BlackenedWhite

20. Gil Scott-Heron & Jaime xx – We’re New Here

19. Beirut – The Rip Tide

18. Clams Casino – Instrumental Mixtape + Rainforest EP

17. Wild Beasts – Smother

16. Battles – Gloss Drop

15. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire

14. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

13. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

12. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

11. Youth Lagoon – The Year Of Hibernation

10. Balam Acab – Wander/Wonder

9. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

8. Chris Thile & Michael Daves – Sleep With One Eye Open

7. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

6. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life

5. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

4. Frank Ocean – nostalgia, ULTRA.

3. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

2. The Weeknd – House of Balloons + Thursday

1. James Blake – James Blake

And if you missed it, check out our Best 50 Songs of 2011.



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