Monday, December 19, 2011

The Best of 2011

Upon some reflection, I decided to try putting together a list of this year's top tracks. Rather than setting an arbitrary number of tracks (top 10, 25, 50?; do I get runners-up?), I decided to force myself to be selective, and have organized a "mix CD" a la 1990s, so it's in no particular order or rank. It just goes the way I like the songs in sequence.

1. Charles Bradley – “Why Is It So Hard?" (No Time for Dreaming). Without a doubt, this was the most pleasant discovery of the "best of" season for me. Sort of a travesty that it got no love from Pitchfork whatsoever, but The Weeknd (which IS itself great) was near the top of the list.

2. The War on Drugs - "Brothers" (Slave Ambient). One of the most eminently listenable albums of the year for me. Nothing groundbreaking, but very solid.

3. Wye Oak - "Holy Holy" (Civilian). Another end of the year discovery. The album itself was hit or miss, but this was a great cut off it. Very Pixies.

4. Beirut - Santa Fe (The Rip Tide). How many albums does this guy need to make? Probably not many more. The schtick has more or less run its course. But how can you resist impossibly catchy songs like this? You can't.

5. Ghost - "Ritual" (Opus Eponymous). This album is HILARIOUS. A great review of it described it as (paraphrasing) what you would get if you told Jethro Tull about black metal and asked him to give it a go. The most toe-tapping I've ever done to songs about worshiping Satan.

6. Fucked Up - "Life in Paper" (David Comes to Life). My favorite album of the year. An intense 70+ minutes, but such an exhilarating and rewarding listen.

7. tUnE-yArDs - "Powa" (W H O K I L L). What else needs to be said about this album? A quirky masterpiece.

8. Mikal Cronin - "Apathy" (Mikal Cronin). This is one of those albums that I probably listened to 10 times in the background before I actually started hearing it. Solid.

9. Charli XCX - "Nuclear Seasons" (Nuclear Seasons). Thanks to Harry for the heads-up on this one. Classic pop music fluff. Maybe she'll make a full album and we'll all eat it up like we did with Robyn last year.

10. The Weeknd - "The Party and the After Party" (House of Baloons). It's a little depressing that lyrics this bleak and date-rapey came from somebody so young. But such an unexpected talent. I'm just hoping he wont follow the model of Tyler the Creator and Das Racist (i.e., put out a stellar self-produced "mixtape" and then follow it up with a label dud).

11. Radiohead - "Little By Little" (The King of Limbs). I forgot about this album for the period of approximately 1 day after it came out until the Paste year end list was released. I guess on the spectrum it sits somewhere between Kid-A and Pablo Honey. Make of that what you will.

12. James Blake - "Limit to Your Love" (James Blake). This guy gets more credit than he should, and it's very unclear to me where he can go from here. But this was one of the most creative albums of the year. The CMYK EP remains his best release to date, however.

13. PJ Harvey - "The Glorious Land" (Let England Shake). This one I forgot about until she got the Mercury Award. Excellent album. A little preachy, but hey.

14. John Maus - "Hey Moon" (We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves). Clearly this album is getting overlooked in the massive M83 shadow. For what it is (80s nostalgia pop), it really works.

15. The Antlers - "Rolled Together" (Burst Apart). Another album I could put on anytime and be pleased with it.

16. Lana del Rey - "Video Games" (Video Games). This song reminds me of something that I like better, but I can't remember what it is. That said, this is also a really enjoyable track.

17. Bon Iver - "Michicant" (Bon Iver). It was obvious from day 1 that this would be Pitchfork's #1. A thoroughly defensible, if somewhat safe, pick.

18. Panda Bear - "Benefica" (Tomboy). This album made sure that you knew it was Panda Bear you were listening to. That's a good thing.

I made a separate mix for this year's best metal, largely because it just doesn't mesh very well with, well, much. Except for that Ghost track in my other mix, which is technically black metal. In case anybody's interested:

1. Disma - "Chasm of Oceanus" (Towards the Megalith). This doom metal album is like taking a bath in sludge. And it’s one of the best albums of the year.

2. Obscura - "Septuagint" (Omnivium). Technical death metal to satisfy your craving for intricate guitars and thundering gravity blasts.

3. Hammers of Misfortune - "Staring (The 31st Floor)" (17th Street). Operatic rock is back!

4. Tombs - "Constellations" (Path of Totality). Brooklyn black metal represents!

5. Vader - "I Am Who Feasts on Your Soul: (Welcome to the Morbid Reich). The old school Northern Europeans are back with a great album full of fun thrash metal tracks.

6. Ulcerate - "Dead Oceans" (The Destroyers of All). These guys are from New Zealand and play a smart brand of technical death metal. It’s not just about the blast beats. There’s very well-thought-out music here.

7. The Black Dahlia Murder - "Moonlight Equilibrium" (Ritual). You’ve got your thrashcore and your black metal elements here. Rocking good fun.

8. Toxic Holocaust - "Red Winter" (Conjure and Command). A thrashfest from start to finish.

9. Batillus - "Uncreator" (Furnace). Brooklyn doom metal. Every track is dripping with sludge and replete with catchy riffs.

10. Sonne Adam - "Shine" (Transformation). Who knew Israelis could rock the death metal this hard?

11. Wolves in the Throne Room - "Thuja Magus Imperium" (Celestrial Lineage). These guys aren’t writing black metal manifestos like Hunter Hunt Hendrix, but they did make easily the most ground-breaking black metal album of the year.

12. The Atlas Moth - "Perpetual Generations" (An Ache for the Distance). Metal cum pop music crossover? Apparently.

13. YOB - "Adrift in the Ocean" (Atma). Sprawling, epic doom metal.

Oh, and by the way, these were the best albums of the year, in this order:






Fucked Up

David Comes to Life



tUnE yArDs

w h o k i l l



James Blake

James Blake



The Weeknd

House of Baloons



P.J. Harvey

Let England Shake



Bon Iver

Bon Iver



The War on Drugs

Slave Ambient



John Maus

We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves




Towards the Monolith

Doom Metal



Hurry Up, We're Dreaming




Paths of Totality

Experimental Metal/Black Metal


The Black Dahlia Murder




Sonne Adam


Black Metal


Charles Bradley

No Time for Dreaming



Wolves in the Throne Room

Celestial Lineage

Black Metal



Father, Son, Holy Ghost



Panda Bear






Doom Metal



The King of Limbs




The Destroyers of All

Technical Death Metal


The Antlers

Burst Apart



Hammers of Misfortune

17th Street

Progressive Metal


Atlas Moth

An Ache for the Distance

Black Metal


Toxic Holocaust

Conjure and Command

Thrash Metal



The Rip Tide