Near the end of every calendar year, countless music geeks everywhere like me like look forward to spending hours deliberating on their own personal ‘best albums of the year’ lists. I thought that 2011 was a really great year for music, so putting my list together took more time than usual. Here it is.
Honorable Mentions: The Weeknd – House of Balloons, Beyonce – 4, Broncho – Can’t Get Past the Lips, The Roots - Undun
10. Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne
Standout Tracks: Lift Off, Why I Love You
Two giants of the hip hop world came together and put together this highly anticipated collaboration in 2011, and it did not disappoint. This album is BIG: the production is big, the egos are big, and the guests (Beyonce, Frank Ocean, Mr. Hudson) are big. While it is excessive at times (See Ni***s in Paris), this album still exceeded my lofty expectations. Kanye and Jay-Z have a nice give and take. This was my favorite addition to the hip hop genre in 2011.
To hear Jay and Kanye West/ Similar Artists on The Wildcat 91.9, tune in to The EnJ show (Thursdays 8-10)
9. Spirit is the Spirit – Mother Mountain E.P.
Standout Tracks: Sing/Dance/Run/Chant, Oh, Speckled Bird
I felt inclined to include some local music in this list, and KC/Lawrence’s Spirit is the Spirit was the obvious choice. They play an experimental folk music (think Fleet Foxes, except with a horn section). Mother Mountain features long, layered tracks. The 5+ minute Oh, Speckled Bird (my favorite on the album) effectively builds over several minutes into an eventful, noise filled climax. Spirit is the Spirit played in Manhattan during Aggie Fest last fall, and frequently perform in Kansas City/Lawrence. They are definitely one to keep an eye on.
To hear Spirit is the Spirit and other local artists on The Wildcat 91.9, tune in to The Garage (Mondays 3-4)
8. Various Artists – Drive (Official Soundtrack)
Standout Tracks: College feat. Electric Youth – A Real Hero , Kavinsky – Nightcall, Desire – Under Your Spell
Not coincidentally, my favorite movie in 2011 also produced my favorite soundtrack of the year. The action flick starring Ryan Gosling featured some of the most beautiful electronic music of 2011. These tracks set a perfect backdrop for the ethereal driving scenes featured throughout the movie, and also effectively clashed with the extremely violent action sequences. My favorite song of 2011 (College’s A Real Hero) comes from this soundtrack.
To hear music from Drive and other movies on The Wildcat 91.9, tune in to Music from the Movies (Thursdays 3-4)
7. tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L
Standout Tracks: My Country, Gangsta
Merrill Garbus’s tUnE-yArDs has always been a bit of an anomaly to me because I’ve never felt that I fully understand it. Part indie alternative, part electronic, part hip hop, her music has always been hard to pin down. However, there’s something about W H O K I L L that keeps me coming back. With an extremely catch electropop/rock background, and featuring undeniably cheesy lyrics (“What’s a boy to do if he’ll never be a Gangsta?”), this album is unbelievably likable. tUnE-yArDs remains near the top of my personal “must see live” list, as she performs mostly solo, looping drum beats, ukulele, and her voice.
To hear tUnE-yArDs and similar artists on The Wildcat 91.9, tune in to The Manhattan Project (Fridays 3-5) and Women Who Rock (Wednesdays 12-1)
6. Nodzzz – Innings
Standout Tracks: Heyday Past Heyday Due, Always Make Your Bed
Clocking in under 24 minutes and featuring a minimalistic lineup of two guitars and a small drum kit, I’m certainly not going to accuse Nodzzz of being overly ambitious with Innings. However, sometimes aiming for simplicity can play in a band’s favor. In my opinion, this San Francisco based noise pop/garage rock group produced the catchiest album of 2011. They have an uncanny ability to find useful hooks in their guitar and vocal work that keeps me coming back to their music again and again. I would be conservative in estimating that I have listened to this album from start to finish at least 50 times. This album proves that sometimes you don’t have to be too deep, you just have to keep listeners coming back.
To hear Nodzz and similar artists on The Wildcat 91.9, tune in to Low Fidelity (Tuesdays 3-4)
5. Iceage – New Brigade
Standout Tracks: You’re Blessed, Remember
There’s something special about a band that can completely capture your attention in concert when you’re not at all familiar with their music beforehand. Iceage definitely caught my eye (or ears, rather) this past summer at a show in Lawrence. I had gone to the Jackpot in Lawrence to watch Mouthbreathers (a terrific garage punk band hailing from Lawrence) play a show, but found myself completely captivated by Iceage and snatched up their album as soon as I could after the show. This dark punk album has since become one of my favorite albums released in 2011.
To hear Iceage and similar artists on The Wildcat 91.9, tune in to Low Fidelity (Tuesdays 3-4) and Full Throttle (Mondays 7-9)
4. Washed Out – Within and Without
Standout Tracks: Eyes Be Closed, Amor Fati
I discovered Chill Wave this past year. After embracing Neon Indian, Tori Y Moi, The XX, and others, this is the album that stood out. Many recognize Washed Out as the artist featured in the opening credits of the t.v. show Portlandia, but Within and Without proves that Ernest Greene has much more to offer. This album features some of the most beautifully layered electronic music that you’ll find anywhere. I find myself in the mood to listen to Washed Out regardless of the time of day, the weather or my mood. It’s that wonderful kind of music that seems to go with anything and everything.
To hear Washed Out and similar artists on The Wildcat 91.9, tune into The Manhattan Project (Fridays 3-5)
3. Thee Oh Sees – Carrion Crawler/The Dream
Standout Tracks – Carrion Crawler, Contraption/Soul Desert, The Dream
Being a huge garage rock fan, I always heavily anticipate any new album by one of John Dwyer’s many projects. With Carrion Crawler/The Dream, he has produced, in my opinion, his best yet. Thee Oh Sees’s music has changed quite a bit over the years, starting as a heavy punk band, then freak folk, and now the garage rock/punk that is featured on Carrion Crawler/The Dream. Unlike many other artists in the genre, Thee Oh Sees play long jams of garage punk, with many of the tracks clocking in at over 5 minutes. Catching Thee Oh Sees at the Granada in November was the highlight of my concert attendance in the past year, and this studio album also ranks as one of my favorites.
To Hear Thee Oh Sees and similar artists on The Wildcat 91.9, tune into Low Fidelity (Tuesdays 3-4)
2. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
Standout Tracks: Sadness is a Blessing, Unrequited Love, Youth Knows No Pain
This past year I embraced numerous artists from Sweden: Robyn, Miike Snow, and, most notably, Lykke Li. Li plays a unique blend of electro pop and folk (think Miike Snow meets Sufjan Stevens) and she produced my second favorite album of 2011. Wounded Rhymes features both catchy, upbeat electronic pop tunes (Youth Knows No Pain) and heart wrenching ballads (Unrequited Love).
To Hear Lykke Li and similar artists on The Wildcat 91.9, tune in to Women Who Rock (Wednesdays 12-1), The Indie Rock Show (Fridays 11-1), and the Manhattan Project (Fridays 3-5)
1. F***ked Up – David Comes to Life
Standout Tracks: Queen of Hearts, The Other Shoe
A few years back, if you had told me that a hardcore punk/metal album was going to become one of my all time favorites, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. However, F***ked Up’s David Comes to Life has accomplished that feat. Featuring a unique storyline (English blue collar worker in the 70’s attempts to blow up the light bulb factory where he works with his girlfriend), this concept album features some of the most complex songwriting that I heard in 2011. F***ked Up has an ability like no one else in their genre to build tension in a heavy punk setting. While front man Damian Abraham’s vocals are often delivered in an abrasive scream, he finds a way to make it endearing. And while playing such a fast paced, the ear piercing guitar parts are still absolutely beautiful. While David Comes to Life certainly requires a lot of ‘work’ to appreciate, it pays off heavily and is one of the greatest albums to be released in recent memory.
To hear F**ked Up and similar artists on The Wildcat 91.9, tune in to Full Throttle (Mondays 8-10)
written by: Jordan Swoyer