Top 10 Albums of 2011

Typically I don’t post anything extensive about music on this blog, but I decided it might be nice to share something with you (other than photography) that I hold dear to my heart. Just as a disclaimer, I’m certainly no music critic (unlike my brother, Adam, who writes for the indie review site Delusions of Adequacy), nor do I pride myself on my writing skills. That said, I am on a constant mission to discover new music, and I feel an insurmountable joy when I find something I connect with. These next ten albums are, to put it simply, my favorites of the year.

10. The AntlersBurst Apart
The Antlers 2009 release of Hospice became a major favorite on the indie charts, but I like their second release even better. It’s less depressing and has catchier rock melodies, plus lead singer Peter Silberman still maintains his signature falsetto voice.
Standout tracks: “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out”, “No Widows”

9.  Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, & Chris ThileThe Goat Rodeo Sessions
I’m a huge fan of cellist Yo-Yo Ma and mandolinist Chris Thile, so their collaboration on a full length mostly-instrumental album was a dream come true. It’s a great mix of classical and bluegrass, soothing but filled with awesome energy.
Standout tracks: “Helping Hand”, “Where’s My Bow?” – to name a few.

8. St. Vincent Strange Mercy
Adam sent me a few tracks from this album and I was immediately hooked. Strange Mercy is more experimental than what I normally tend to pick, but there’s something about Annie Clark’s powerful voice and intelligent writing that sucks me in.
Standout tracks: “Cheerleader”, “Strange Mercy”, “Champagne Year”

7. The Head & the Heart The Head and the Heart
I discovered this Seattle-based sextet pretty late in the year, but they quickly grew to be one of my favorites. I can’t resist a combo of piano, guitar, and strings, and they find a great balance between folk and pop. A number of songs also discuss the theme of leaving/being away from home, which I especially relate to right now.
Standout tracks: “Rivers and Roads”, “Down in the Valley”

6. Adele21
Oh my goodness, a major chart-topper made my list! But come on – this album is ridiculously good. Adele has a gorgeous voice, and I adore the mix of show-stoppers like “Rumor Has It” with slow piano ballads like “Turning Tables”…amazing.
Standout tracks: “Someone Like You”, “Rumor Has It”, “Rolling in the Deep”

5. Wye OakCivilian
Another introduction from Adam – one listen to the title track and I was hooked. This moody album by the Baltimore duo builds upon itself with strong percussion and great use of guitar distortion.
Standout tracks: “Civilian”, “Two Small Deaths”, “The Alter”

4. The Civil WarsBarton Hollow
This is another album I recently discovered, but the perfect mix of guy/girl harmonies and beautiful guitar instrumentals quickly catapulted Barton Hollow to the top of my list. I’ll admit, I love pretty music, and this folk creation is no exception.
Standout tracks: “20 Years”, “Barton Hollow”, “I’ve Got This Friend”

3. Fleet FoxesHelplessness Blues
This album is perfect for a ride on a sunny day through the vineyards of Paso Robles – it was my first choice during George & my Christmas road trip. The intricate vocal harmonies and stunning writing on this album made it a year-long favorite. In fact, it probably would’ve been even higher on my list if not for the discordant saxophone riff in the middle of  “The Shrine/An Argument”, but that aside, it’s incredible.
Standout tracks: “Battery Kinzie”, “Helplessness Blues”, “Grown Ocean”

2. The DecemberistsThe King is Dead
Released in January of 2011, this album had a full year to grow with me. I instantly fell in love with it, more so than any other album the band has previously released. It might not be ground-breaking, but it’s enjoyed a full year of constant listening. There isn’t a single song I dislike or have gotten sick of, months later – a true test of a good album.
Standout tracks: “January Hymn”, “Don’t Carry It All”, “June Hymn” (Like I said, I like pretty music…)

1. Bon IverBon Iver
Ahhhh Bon Iver. We first fell in love in 2008, after I discovered For Emma, Forever Ago. The group’s second full-length release was thankfully no letdown. The album is warm, melodic, and stitched together by Justin Vernon’s high falsetto voice. Even “Beth/Rest”, the controversial 1980s nod at the album’s conclusion, is flawless. This album has been my constant companion throughout this long year, and I’m so grateful for it.
Standout tracks: “Holocene”, “Hinnom, TX”, “Beth/Rest”

So there you have it – my top 10 of 2011. If you want to see Adam’s list (with much stronger writing), check it out here. Also, please feel free to share your favorites with me – I love hearing what music appeals to different people!

This is my last entry of 2011, with a photo recap of the past year coming very soon this week. I wish you all very happy and safe New Year’s Eve. This is the most excited I’ve been for a new year in a long time, and I’m approaching it with a lot of hope and energy. Here’s to 2012!