My usual caveat with these things: these are the best albums I've listened to this year that were actually released this year. There are quite a few albums that were released this year that are not on this list because I've yet to get around to listening to them. There are also quite a few albums that I listened to this year more than the ones on this list, but they were released years ago.
Anyway, here's this year's top ten, in order from awesome to most awesome.
|"Angle" by the Strokes|
10. The Strokes -- "Angles" -- I almost consider this half an album, really. Because let's be honest: half of it is crap. But the other half of it is fan-freaking-tastic. "Under Cover of Darkness" might be the song of the year, and one of the greatest pop songs of the last ten years.
9. Telekinesis -- "12 Desperate Straight Lines" -- A dozen catchy pop songs with a broken hearted tint. Telekinesis doesn't do anything all that new, but what they (he, really) does is great. Sure, "Please Ask For Help" sounds a bit too much like a Cure song, but I'm okay with that.
|"The Valley" by Eisley|
8. Eisley -- "The Valley" -- It's entirely possible that the most amazing part about Eisley is that they're not all cult members. I mean, how often does a band made up of siblings ever really work out well for anyone? While not as creepy and dark as their best (and first) album, this one has some great songs on it, filled with absolutely beautiful vocals. Eisley has two main singers; Sherri kind of sounds like Jody from Team Dresch and Stacy, who sounds kind of like Regina Spektor. I find nothing wrong with either of those things.
7. Foo Fights -- "Wasting Light" -- The Foo Fighters lost me at a certain point; I think it was the double album. Their music started to get redundant to me. It's not that I didn't appreciate what they were doing, it's just that I was kind of over it. This album brought me back. As soon as I heard the crazy off tempo beginning to "Rope," I was sucked in. An overall rockin' album.
6. Foster the People -- "Torches" -- If there was ever a band primed for one hit wonder status, it's this one. "Pumped Up Kicks" was everywhere this year and, to be perfectly honest, it's not even the best song on this album (that's probably "Houdini"). Fantastic dance music for those of us who don't really dance unless we're really, really drunk.
|Office of Future Plans|
5. Office of Future Plans -- s/t -- I am something of a J. Robbins aficionado. While no band he's in will ever hold a place in my heart the way that Jawbox does, I've enjoyed everything he's done since, from Burning Airlines to Channels. His latest band is Office of Future Plans and in some ways it might be the best (Jawbox notwithstanding). Robbins seems to have finally found a balance between the intricate, dissonant guitar parts that arrived on Burning Airlines second album (and moved on to all of Channels' catelog) and the hook driven, almost emotionally driven songs that we got on Burning Airlines' first album. He's yet to reproduce the majesty of the latter Jawbox records, but I attribute that to no longer playing with Bill Barbot. And it's fine, really, particularly when we get such a fantastic debut like this one.
|"Pedals" by Rival Schools|
4. Rival Schools -- "Pedals" -- Full disclosure: I loved Rival Schools. It wasn't so much that their first album was that great (although it was), but their sound is exactly what I would consider the sound in my head to be like. It's rocking, but a bit poppy, and a bit emo. I was beside myself when I heard they had reunited (by fate!) and this album lived up to all of my expectations. If you're looking for examples, try the combo of tracks 6 and 7, which give a nice range of what this band is capable. Both songs ("Shot After Shot" and "A Parts for B Actors") are amazing.
3. Wugazi -- "13 Chambers" -- Good god did I listen to this album like it was going out of style. Okay, fine, some of the Fugazi songs chosen for this mash-up album are kind of obscure, but, nerd that I am, I know them all. Has the Wu Tang Clan ever sounded this good? Okay, probably, but when was the last time they sounded this fresh? Only a crazy person could listen to "Sweet Release" or "Slow Like That" and not find them completely awesome.
|"The Whole Love" by Wilco|
2. Wilco -- "The Whole Love" -- I'll be honest: I did not see this coming. While I liked the last few Wilco albums, they lacked something. They lacked courage. There seemed to be an emphasis on fairly straightforward song writing, and not a whole lot of experimentation going on. And let's face facts: we listen to Wilco because they are insane people. And that's what we finally got again on this album. In fact, this album is so good it made me realize how low my expectations had become for this band. This is "A Ghost Is Born" level good. If you don't believe me, go listen to "Born Alone" and tell me it couldn't have been on an earlier album. And then go listen to "One Sunday Morning" and tell me they're not insane. But in a good way.
|"We Are the Tide" by Blind Pilot|
1. Blind Pilot -- "We Are the Tide" -- I liked Blind Pilot well enough. They had a song on "Chuck" and I really liked it and I went out and got their first album and thought it was really good. And when their second album came out, I dutifully bought it. What I got was the best album released in 2011. It's layered and complex, yet at its core made of simple, emotional song writing. It's a guy with a great voice and an acoustic guitar writing imminently relatable songs. And then you add the keyboards and the xylophone and trumpet and mandolin and banjo and the absolutely crazy vocal harmonies and you get a fantastic record. It's poignant and uplifting and it's my favorite album of the year.
So there you have it: ten albums that I would recommend to anyone. Go check them out if you get the chance; they're all worth it.