The Top 18 Albums of 2011

Keeping with my yearly tradition, I’m kicking off the new blog with a list of my favorite albums of 2011. I think I fell further into my addiction with sound than i ever have. Constantly consuming music at random and then downloading with a purpose. I discover my music from a few different sources: 1) KCRW – An LA based public radio station. DJ Jason Bentley hosts ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic every weekday morning from 9-12. I use the iphone app, but you can also listen online at KCRW.com  2)Siriusxmu – Sirius/XM’s indie rock station 3) Pandora – It’s still relevant 4)My friends – extra super duper big ups to peeps who’ve put me up on a lot of music this year, you know who you are.

Anyhow, I’ve kept this year’s post interactive. Every album listed has a pic of the album cover, links to notable tracks just below the entry and some scattered hyperlinks throughout. If something is underlined, it’s a hyperlink, so click it, or you can right click and open the link in another tab, so you can keep reading while listening. Enjoy!

18. Wilco – The Whole Love – Wilco proved there was still gas in the tank after last year’s ‘Wilco The Album’ fell short of expectations.

Art of Almost 

Dawned on Me (Live)

NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert (18 mins) – Great live set a friend shared with me.

17. Phonte – Charity Starts At Home – If anyone from Little Brother puts anything out, I’m all over it. Here, Phonte re-unites with producer 9th Wonder on his first solo effort. Still one of the last real rappers out there.

The Life of Kings – Evidence and Big K.R.I.T. lend a hand on this epic 9th Wonder beat

The Good Fight

16. The Rapture – In The Grace of Your Love –  The LCD Soundsystem breakup has me seeking solace in anything that James Murphy’s DFA label puts out. This was a pleasant surprise and will definitely get you moving.

In the Grace of Your Love

How Deep is Your Love?


15. Pure X – Pleasure – Shoegaze lives! I dont know if an exclamation point is appropriate when talking about shoegaze (and ‘Post-Shoegaze’ c. Spinelli), but its fun to get excited about a glimmer of the genres existence. This is a very cool album to work, read or space out to.

Easy -This track sent me way back to the early alterna-rock days..

Twisted Mirror

14. Future Islands – On The Water – One of my favorite discoveries of the year. ‘On the Water’ is a great release, with some fantastic moments (amazing ones at that, see below), but if Future Islands’ 2010 release ‘In Evening Air’ (which i also, only discovered this year) came out out in 2011, it’d be #1 on this list, bar none. Put this band on your radar and check all their shit out.

Balance – This track kills it. The best on the album and one of the best of the year.

Before The Bridge

13. Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver – What Justin Vernon does seems so simple, until you put your headphones on and embrace the complexity of this soft and melancholy sound. This album is a complete work and perhaps Vernon’s best to date.

Holocene – If you saw Bon Iver at The Greek in Berkeley, you’ll never forget this performance.

Perth

12. Cut Copy – Zonoscope – Ah Cut Copy… My favorite thing to come out of Australia since Paul Hogan. Zonoscope was their much anticipated 3rd LP. Their US tour absolutely destroyed the dance floor and they’ve cemented themselves as a big name act.

Corner of The Sky – Creeps up on you into the best dance floor shaker on the album.

Take Me Over – 2011 Coachella performance.

11. Atlas Sound – Parallax – Bradford Cox can do no wrong. What a strange motherfucker…an evil genius of sorts. ‘Parallax’ is great company on a lazy Sunday, or a weeknight in; Totally A loner album and this needs to be embraced.

Te Amo – Yes.

Lightworks

10. Tennis – Cape Dory – Wow. So doo-woppy and just plain fun. This Denver couple wrote this album about a sailing trip around the world. This is some straight up dreamy shit. Check it out.

Baltimore I can never get this song outta my head…

Marathon Their first single

9. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming –  When I think of M83, I think about boundaries. Pushing boundaries is what draws me to music. It’s whats shaped the evolution of what I’ve listened to for the last 15-20 years. If its fresh, I dig it. Once it starts to get old and people start replicating an innovators style, i get over it (sorry, its the truth). Anthony Gonzalez’s M83 project really crossed a lot of barriers within electronica and indie rock. Widely accepted in both formats, Gonzalez found a way to make music that was new to fans of both. From a groundbreaking perspective, this album probably belongs higher up on this list. This was one of the freshest products of the year.

Midnight City -Pitchfork’s track of the year

Steve McQueenMy personal favorite on the album

8. Katy B – On A Mission – Ok, this was my favorite straight dance album of the year. Katy B accomplishes commercially with dubstep, what Jenna G couldn’t with drum&bass. Growing up with drum&bass, the dubstep phenomenon was hard for me to pin down at first. What is it about dubstep that appeals to audiences on a  mass scale that drum&bass couldn’t achieve? Maybe the sheer grime and grit of d&b is only suitable for English ears? What this album accomplished, was getting me to warm up to dubstep. A friend of mine always called the female MC in d&b tracks the ‘girly voice’ and Katy B is the embodiment of it. It takes a special kind of  female voice to hang with dubstep/d&b. Katy B kills it.

Katy On A MissionOk, before you play this track, turn your speakers all the way up or put your headphones a little louder than usual. Remove all breakable objects from the vicinity. Now press play. Youre welcome.

7. Toro Y Moi – Underneath The Pine – Speaking of nostalgia. Shit, as if we weren’t vibing on 2010’s ‘Causers of This’ enough, Toro y Moi built on that momentum (which he still has by the way after releasing his late 2011 EP ‘Freaking Out’), with another quality release. ‘New Beat‘ was one of the best tracks of the year, and Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bundick continued to build on the chill wave sound he’s been at the forefront of.

Still Sound

Divina

6. Real Estate – Days – What a sweet album. These jersey rockers evoke nostalgia reminiscent of the days of Ben E. King (#respect). Real Estate embodies the lighter side of the musical spectrum that i gravitated to this year. Gentle guitar strum and trippy solos that make you think you’re on the cold Atlantic shore with your feet in the sand and the waves crashing in.

It’s Real – Classic.

Out of Tune – See above.

Live on KEXP (18-minute set)

5. Tycho – Dive – If I died and went to heaven, this would be playing in the background.  Heard some of the San Francisco based Tycho’s tracks on KCRW and was hooked. A minimalist spin on old drum & bass and nuskool electronica. Tycho doubles as a visual artist and his live set brings out elements of this. ‘Dive’ has been on HEAVY rotation since i got it and I’m getting my feet wet on his older stuff, which is likewise amazing. Tycho is on the Ghostly International label, who is putting out some really intelligent shit that’s worth discovering.

Daydream – The one.

A Walk – Opening song to the album.

Dive – Slightly more upbeat.

4. Holy Ghost! – Holy Ghost! – Ahhhh…another DFA artist. I blame my infatuation with this album, much like The Rapture, on what we’ll call the LCD backlash… James Murphy will tell you he stopped the LCD Soundsystem project because he wanted to focus on his label, DFA. What gets lost in this decision is what ‘focusing on his label’ actually means: Namely furthering the careers of its artists, many of which have drawn much of their style and been inspired by what LCD Soundsystem did. Holy Ghost! fits this mold. Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser are James Murphy’s two young disciples, whom he took under his wing and said “try this, see if works for you. Now work with it and make your own sound” What ensued on HG’s first LP was a VERY DFA (new adjective alert!) brand of electro, and who doesn’t like that?

Static On The Wire – Been on repeat in my head ever since i heard it.

Hold My Breath – The song that got me into this band…think of a modern-day ‘All My Friends

Some Children feat. Michael McDonald – That’s right… Michael Fucking McDonald! #respect

3. White Denim – D – Along with Future Islands, White Denim was my favorite band discovery of 2011. Their sound fuses psych rock with folk rock, evoking shades of bands like Wilco and Tame Impala. They jam like its going out of style. Every track has a different theme from the last and delving further into their discography is the only way to truly see how this band is growing. ‘D’ was a timely masterpiece and feels like some shit I would bump if I was sitting in the back seat of Randall “Pink” Floyd’s Chevy from ‘Dazed and Confused.’

River to Consider

Street Joyperfect.

2. James Blake – James Blake – One of the most versatile productions I’ve heard in years. There is no occasion that this album isn’t suitable for. JB’s sound borrows heavy influence from the UK DnB scene, but calms itself down with an R&B twist. Its strength lies in the perfect production and mastery of rolling bass throughout. The marriage of hard bass and soul.

Unluck – Beautiful…intricate bass levels throughout

The Wilhelm Scream

I Mind

1. SBTRKT – SBTRKT – Everything I’ve ever wanted in music. SBTRKT (pronounced ‘subtract’) came up as an electronic music producer who was on the cusp of the d&b to dubstep evolution. On his self-titled release, he teamed up with singer Sampha to create a sound unlike anything i’ve ever heard before. The beats are perfect, never fully claiming to skew towards one definition, but always maintaining a certain rhythm to know that this is ultimately a dance album. This is the album you dance to while at the club, and also the one you come down to at the after party. Sampha’s soothing voice claims a uniqueness that sets this production apart. Every track is vastly different from its predecessor, but each has its own appeal. Sbtrkt speaks to you through beats that always keep your head moving and Sampha speaks to our cognitive rationalizations with lines like “is it better to let you go? or is it better, to let you know?on Something Goes Right. Pardon me if i’m swooning, but alas, ‘SBTRKT’ is that moment when all of the music that i love and everything that i love about it comes together and fuses into one artist’s sound. For me, this was the definitive album of 2011. It poked through the dubstep inundation to create something different, something that made this drum&bass head think and ponder about the direction of electronic music. This album explains why the digital sound is the future… it shows us how far the scope of possibility reaches… it foreshadows a musical peak that perhaps has yet to be reached and this excites me for what lies ahead in 2012…..

Sanctuary

Pharaohs – You’ll be on your feet.

Wildfire feat Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano – the dubstep anthem of the album

This was one of my favorite videos of the year:

Damn if those tiki masks aren’t cool as fuck! I gotta admit, getting this post done was a big monkey off my back. I’m really stoked to get this blog up and running again. More music lists and lists of all sorts (in Top 9 format of course) are still to come. There are travels to be completed and documented. In the meantime, got any albums you really liked this year? Drop me a line, let me know your thoughts! Cheers to a kick-ass year in music. Happy 2012!
–Spinelli

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