Top 25 albums of 2011

The Mountain Goats – All Eternal’s Deck

The Mountain Goats produce semi-esoteric music. I’ve been denying it for a while, but it’s true. The truth is, it’s really quite hard to talk about The Mountain Goats to the uninitiated. It’s like a secret language for the fans – their library is so expanse and so self-referential that being a big enough fan of the band feels akin to being a member of a club. To put simply, The Mountain Goats make music that is personal, heartfelt and instantly recognisable. They have such a familiar style that even before All Eternal’s Deck was released, fans knew exactly how it would sound. On the one had, this gives detractors an easy “go to” of “the music never changes”. This is true (to a degree. “High Hawk Season” on All Eternal’s Deck doesn’t really sound like anything the band has produced before), however, it also means The Mountain Goats are unlikely to ever produce a sour record. As for their 2011 release? I think it sits comfortably amongst some of the best albums the band has produced, and I’m not ashamed to say that “Estate Sale Sign” spoke a lot to me, personally. Still, even if the songs don’t seem like a conversation between yourself and John Darnielle, All Eternal’s Deck is fantastic.

Dreamers of the Ghetto – Enemy/Lover

Okay, show of hands – who here is actually surprised? No one? Cool.

Dreamers of the Ghetto (or more specifically, Enemy/Lover) really, really surprised me. Not only because they seemingly came out of nowhere, and released a brilliant record, or because frontman Luke Jones turned out to be such an interesting fellow. No, what really surprised me was the albums incredible staying power. Each beat, hum and lyric rest as fresh in my mind as they did when I was reviewing the album. Enemy/Lover never lost its dreamlike charm, and remains as intensely listenable now as I think it ever will be. It’s a record that’s just interesting, catchy and terrifically memorable. It was a great introduction to a band I really look forward to seeing more from. But for now? For now I’m grateful for Enemy/Lover.

Astronautalis – This is Our Science

No artist snuck up on me faster this year than Astronautalis. Going in to This is Our Science, I knew literally nothing about it (besides that my old buddy Sims featured on one of the songs), and looking back on it, that might be the perfect way to fist experience. I remember this sudden rush, when listening to the opening track, “The River, The Woods”, when I realised what “This is Our Science” and (more importantly) Astronaualis is. Astronautalis is the intelligent, innovative, charismatic and musically creative indie hip-hop artist I’ve been looking for for so long.

Besides that, all I can really say is that This is Our Science is absolutely astounding. There is not a weak song on the record, every track filled to the brim with personality, insight and a memorable hook. Astronautalis isn’t just making smart music, but deeply personal, emotional music. This is Our Science features the most powerful album-long crescendo of the year, culminating in the two final, beautiful tracks on the record. Both “the Secret on Our Lips” and “Lift the Curse” are some of the years most powerful tracks. This is Our Science is phenomenal – an absolute triumph, and for me, the best surprise of the year.

The Twilight Singers – Dynamite Steps

I’m Sorry. I tried really hard to make this list exciting and sexy and unpredictable. I really tried.

But then I thought – what’s more exciting and sexy and unpredictable than The Twilight Singers? Bupkus, that’s what. The truth is, Dynamite Steps is just fantastic. It’s perhaps The Twilight Singer’s most varied album to date, moving from a classic opening track to the heaviest thing they’ve ever recorded, to a piano-infused, cynical lullaby to a dry, lonely western-sounding track. From slow builds to acoustic breaks to explosions of sound, Dynamite Steps sounds like a band on top-form. It sounds like a band who understand the intricacies of making such a varied album work, and no single track seems out of place. It’s a record which is amazingly strong when listened to in full, but the variation of its songs means its pieces are just as valuable as its whole. It’s an album I feel is embedded with an ineffable wisdom – it’s about desperation, infatuation, obsession, and how beautiful those things can actually be. Dynamite Steps has given fans of The Twilight Singers, Greg Dulli a cavalcade of songs that will no doubt be remembered as classics. Here’s to the amazing Mr. Dulli.

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

When Bon Iver came out that mist after what seemed like so many years, we weren’t all really sure what to expect. “Skinny Love” made them all much bigger then I think they ever expected they were going to be, and certainly a lot faster than they could have assumed. When I heard that the album was going to be self-titled though, I took it as a good sign. The late self-titled LP has often acted as a sign of reinvention, and (if you’re lucky) maturation.

Well, those are certainly two words I’d use to describe Bon Iver. This is an album where you can really feel that down time between the two releases. You can practically hear every jam and discussion that lead to Bon Iver in the spaces between the songs. It’s an album that begs to be listened to, and re-listened to, filled with moments of beautifully structured dissonance and quiet, intelligent nuances. It’s an album I think I’ll be discovering things about years from now, and I can only hope that Bon Iver disappear back into the woods before their next release, too.

Now, I’ve listened to a -darn tooting- lot of albums this year, so I before I wrote this top 25, I thought it only fair that I also write a second list of some honourable mentions that were released this year. I ended up with 20.

Honourable Mentions:

PJ Harvey, Let England Shake

William Fitzsimmon, Gold in the Shadow

Evidence, Cats and Dogs

Fair to Midland, Fables from a Mayfly: What I tell you three times is true

Comet Gain, Howl of the Lonely Crowd

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Soul time!

Blind Boys of Alabama, Take the High Road

Guillemots, Walk the River

Southeast Engine, Canary

Laura Marling, A Creature I don’t know

Crooked Fingers, Breaks in the Armor

Marissa Nadler, Marissa Nadler

The Witch and the Robot, Fear of Mountains Pt. 1

Anna Calvi, Anna Calvi

Peggy Sue, Acrobats

Reigns, the Widow Blades

The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow

Low, C’mon

Thao & Mirah, Thao & Mirah

Blue Sky Black Death, Noir


Phew. If you’ve been listening along with this list (like you should have), then, like me, your ears and critical faculties will be awfully tired by now. Let us finish with a toast to 2011, the fine albums it produced and fantastic artists that produced them. Let us honour the creativity, innovation and risks taken this year. Let us show our eternal love and gratitude to the ceaseless future enjoyment these albums will deliver unto us. Let us also admire the chances taken that did not pay off – for in these mistakes lies both beauty and, importantly, the building blocks of something greater. Let us remember to share our music, to openly and joyfully discuss it with our peers, to introduce our friends, family and interesting-looking-strangers to our favourite albums. Let us raise a glass to the stupendous year that was 2011, and hope that 2012 will bring us even greater joys.

And let no one forget; My Brightest Diamond still aren’t very good.

Happy New Year!

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