In retrospect this year seemed to be a track kind of a year for me. A year in which I would listen to certain songs from an album, more than I would put an album on straight through, or repeat it over and over. But that isn’t to say that I didn’t, or that there weren’t that many great albums. Just one of those years. However the last couple weeks I have been spending a lot of time listening to albums thoroughly again. Once again, I feel that there may be little in the way of surprises here on this list, but there are some gooders for sure. So less ramble, and more albums. Here they are. In particular order.
50. Wiley – 100% Publishing
This was my introductory album to Wiley. I had heard of him, but never heard him. One day I thought to myself that I really need to check out more of the UK urban scene and Tinie Tempah and Wiley came up. Wiley was the more interesting artist, and the album that i connected with the most. Sonically it is very intriguing, and his delivery is at times unique and i like the style of his cadence. It was an album that was great for summer driving.
Noteworthy Tracks: Numbers in Action, Wise Man and his Words, 100% Publishing
49. Little Dragon – Ritual Union
When it comes down to it, this is an album that has a very sexy sound to it, and her vocals are rather distinct. Not too much more to elaborate on it. A great late night mix.
Noteworthy Tracks: Little Man, Shuffle a Dream, Ritual Union
48. Jessica Jalbert – Brother Loyola
A local talent that seems to be making bigger waves outside of Edmonton than within. The more I listen to her album, the more it appeals to me. It reminds me of a more feminine version of Yuck’s album. Which is a great thing. Nearly every track is great, and the rest are really good. I expect a lot more from this great young singer and her band.
Noteworthy Tracks: Paris Green, Lack of a Lake, Whatever Whoever
47. SBTRKT – SBTRKT
This was a year that UK Bass Music had a few artists branch out and do something a little bit different. A lot of these artists evolved out of the dubstep sound and took what seems to be the likely next step and added an R&B/Soul component. SBTRKT tapped some great vocalists for support on this album including Yukimi Nagano, but its his fellow collaborator Sampha that shines throughout the majority of the album.
Noteworthy Tracks: Hold On, Wildfire, Right Thing to Do
46. TuNe-YaRdS – W H O K I L L
Trying to describe this album is liking trying to explain what something tastes like, without having something to compare it to. Loop upon loop upon loop with a voice that contorts and wails and shifts all over the place. But it sounds great. Just listen to it.
Noteworthy Tracks: My Country, Gangsta, Bizness
45. Real Estate – Days
My top albums list suggests that there was a lot of relaxation and chilling to calm and pleasant sounding music. For some reason, I don’t get that impression by reflecting upon the year, but I must have had some good calm times. Days is an album that just sounds like a quiet evening outside. It also seems to celebrate the little things in life, and it just feels sunny.
Noteworthy Tracks: Easy, It’s Real, Wonder Years
44. Cut Copy – Zonoscope
Another album of Cut Copy doing what they do best. Indie-dance music.
Noteworthy tracks: need you now, where I’m going, pharaohs and pyramids
43. Girls – Father, Sun, Holy Ghost
An album that I just couldn’t get into for so long. But I gave a few other chances in December, and then it clicked. A slight departure from their fantastic debut, but it holds it’s own. This has even more of a psychedelic retro sound to it, especially “die”, which sounds like a “Black Mountain” song.
Noteworthy Tracks: Honey Bunny, Die, Vomit
42. Gramatik – Beatz & Pieces vol. 1
A collection of sample based music that has an overall cinematic quality. Some great compositions that flow together into a larger piece. Perfect background music when you don’t want background music.
Noteworthy pieces: On the Boardwalk, So much for Love, Break Loose
41. Cults – Cults
Simply put, this is an album for the lazy days of summer. Chilling on the patio, with some steaks and avocados on the grill.
Noteworthy tracks: Go Outside, Most Wanted, Bad Things
40. The Features – Wilderness
Their 3rd LP takes things up a notch and rocks a bit harder than the last couple albums. But it still has that signature sound that makes The Features so much fun to listen to. Just a little rougher.
Noteworthy tracks: How it Starts, Rambo, Golden Comb
39. The Black Keys – El Camino
Having been a fan of The Black Keys since the beginning, I have witnessed their transition from garage rock duo, to the hit making band they are today. To listen to this album and one of their earlier albums together, one might question the authenticity of their new recording. It is definitely an album that has been fleshed out, but their roots are still showing. To be honest, if they didn’t grow with each album, their sound may have become irrelevant, whereas this is some of the best pop music on the radio these days.
Noteworthy tracks: Lonely Boy, Gold on the Ceiling, Sister
38. Ben Howard – Every Kingdom
There is a lot of acoustic based music out there, and what generally sets artists in this genre apart is their voice. Ben Howard has a couple other attributes helping him out. His uniquely raspy voice sounds like he has been pulled straight out of the forest. His song structure borrows heavily from the new folk folk movement and has layers and textures throughout. And his songs have a unique pull to them. They Rise above the standard fare in this genre, making Every Kingdom an album that warrants repeated listens.
Noteworthy tracks: Old Pine, The Wolves, Keep your head up
37. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for my Halo
Another one of those albums that speaks to you without screaming. There is charm in this recording that I just can’t explain, and I just won’t try. Its simply a fantastic album and I Will leave it at that.
Noteworthy Tracks: Baby’s Arms, Runner Ups, In My Time
36. Hanni El Khatib – Will the Guns Come Out
Pure garage rock bliss. Rough and raw and angry. Sounds like jay reatard and early Black Keys. But he has a sound all his own. And then the second half of the album calms down significantly before taking it back up to finish it.
Noteworthy tracks: build. Destroy. Rebuild., Fuck it. You win. Heartbreak hotel.
35. Felix Reibl – Into the Rain
A classic sounding album reminiscent of James Taylor or acoustic Springsteen. This was an album I found myself putting on during work, or when I was reading.
Noteworthy tracks: Wide Open Rivers, Helen/I’m on fire, They Don’t Know You Like I Do.
34. Jay Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne
How over the top and extravagant can a hip hop album get before you hate it? This gets close, but somehow finds a balance that pulls it off. Two legends together bragging about their goods. But it works.
Noteworthy Tracks: No Church in the Wild, Niggas in Paris, Welcome to the Jungle
33. Other Lives – Tamer Animals
Any album that starts out with horns and clarinet has me in its hands. This is an album that sounds full. It has interesting instruments layered over top of each other. It has melody and structure. It sounds like a symphony swallowed an indie band and spit out awesomeness. And their live shows are amazing as well.
Noteworthy Tracks: Dark Horse, For 12, Old Statues
32. Thao & Mirah – Thao & Mirah
Thao Nguyen, Mirah, (with the production help of Tune Yards) masterfully combine to create a collection of songs that sound like a band as opposed to two separate artists together. There are songs that seem to be led by one of the respective artists, but they still sound unique to this collaboration as opposed to having the other guest on each other’s songs. A surprisingly great combination.
Noteworthy Tracks: Eleven, Folks, Hallelujah
31. The Antlers – Burst Apart
Does it really get any more depressing than The Antlers? Despite its melancholy, I really enjoyed this album. Especially in the winter months. For me it wasn’t an album for the summer, and had to revisit it in the bleaker months.
Noteworthy Tracks: I Don’t Want Love, Parentheses, Rolling Together
30. Jamie Woon – Mirrorwriting
This is an album that borrows heavily from several genres and therefor has no genre. But that doesn’t matter. It’s an album that oozes soul over top some great melodies and beats. Mirrorwriting is a an album that just sounds great. This is an album I listened to on late night drives.
Noteworthy tracks: Night Air, Lady Luck, Spirits
29. Vandaveer – Dig Down Deep
An ambitious and large sounding album that embraces the organic folk sound. Dig Down Deep features Americana and folk story telling that is easy to relate to and somewhat timeless.
Noteworthy Tracks: Dig Down Deep, The Great Gray, Concerning Past Future Conquest
28. Pickwick – Myths EP
A promising hybrid of indie-folk and blue-eyed soul. I anticipate their LP debut to be one 2012’s best albums. But, until then, this collection of 6 tracks originally released on 45’s will have to hold me over.
Noteworthy Tracks: Hacienda Motel, The Round, Blackout
27. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire
This year 2 of my favourite artists released very understated albums. Like Joseph Arthur’s release, Ashes and Fire is an exercise in restraint. The large majority of this album is on the mellow/ballad side of the Ryan Adams spectrum (which is one of the wider spectrums of any artist). Taken as a whole, this is an album to chill and relax to. And it sets a great tone for a quiet Sunday afternoon.
Noteworthy Tracks: Dirty Rain, Chains of Love, Lucky Now
26. Joseph Arthur – The Graduation Ceremony
While this is isn’t the best album he has released, it is a consistently great album. The Graduation Ceremony excels at subtlety. It is seemingly simple and sparse, but their is a lot of unassuming production throughout that really elevates the songs above the acoustic sound.
Noteworthy Tracks: Out on a Limb, Over the Sun, Gypsy Faded
25. Grouplove – Never Trust a Happy Song
After last years promising debut EP (a lot of which is featured here on the LP) I expected great things this year from this band. What we got was even better than I expected. We got an album that took the best parts of their EP and evolved on it different directions creating an album that excels in more than one sound.
Noteworthy Tracks: Tongue Tied, Colors, Naked Kids
24. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
This album seems to have it all. It has one of the best tracks of the year. It has anthems. It has mellow burners. It has dancers and rockers. This is simply a great album that has a song for every purpose and flows as a whole.
Noteworthy Tracks: Intro, Midnight City, Wait
23. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972/Dropped Pianos
This isn’t an album that you throw on at a party. This is something you put on for solo purposes. Unlike the other 2 piano based albums on this list, this is not an album of beautiful and intimate keys. This is an album that explores the piano and deconstructs and destroys with the help of electronics. Somehow it manages to become more than just interesting. But captivating in the ideas and constructs that are presented. Dropped Pianos, a companion piece album, is less about the deconstruction, and more so about the sketches that inspired Ravedeath. A unique insight into the process of creation. And whereas the Ravedeath material was done on a pipe Organ in Iceland, these sketches were all done on a piano. Two very disparate albums, that truly support each other.
Noteworthy Tracks: The Piano Drop, Analog Paralysis, 1978., Sketch 5
22. Washed Out – Within and Without
Exactly what Chill-Wave should sound like. This is very much a bedroom sounding album that works outside the bedroom as well.
Noteworthy Tracks: Amor Fati, Far Away, You and I
21. Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital
Sound Kapital took the Handsome Furs even more into Depeche Mode territory than ever before. More synths, bigger sound, and a killer knack for melody.
Noteworthy Tracks: Serve the People, When I Get Back, What About Us
20. Tinariwen – Tassili
One of the best guitar based albums of the year. Tassili, unlike their previous recordings, was recorded in the desert, and is therefore more acoustic sounding. This Mali band has a very unique sound that is also very traditional. It is exotic and foreign sounding, which is what I look for in music from other regions. It also features a couple Western guests attaching some familiarity.
Noteworthy Tracks: Tenere Taqqim Tossam, ya Messinagh, Temeyawt
19. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Another wonderful album of wilderness sounding tracks with lovely harmonies. This time around the are a few extra surprises and a bit more of a progression in sound. Not as revelatory as their debut, but just as good.
Noteworthy Tracks: Montezuma, sim sala him, Helplessness Blues
18. Lockerbie – Ólgusjór
These young Icelanders have released a fantastic debut album, and given their age, I cannot wait to see what else is coming. One of my favourite performances of 2010 was by this great band in a small pub in Iceland. This recording captures the feel of their live show quite well.
Noteworthy Tracks: Laut, Reyklykt, Ólgusjór
17. Gem Club – Breakers
A very beautiful and melancholic album. A reverb drenched piano that sounds like it was mic’d in a living room, accompanied by a mournful cello. The addition of fragile hushed vocals lend to the intimacy and delicateness of the songs.
Noteworthy Tracks: Twins, Breakers, Black Ships
16. Beirut – The Rip Tide
This was the first Beirut album that really resonated with me. Its chock full of brass and ethnic elements, which has a lot to do with it. But that really isn’t all that new for Beirut. Ultimately, it won me over.
Noteworthy tracks: A Candle’s Fire, Goshen, East Harlem
15. Foster the People – Torches
This newish band picks up where MGMT left off with straight forward poppy dance rock tracks. Nearly every song will get you moving and singing along, which makes for a great party.
Noteworthy tracks: Helena beat, Houdini, Pumped Up Kicks
14. Olafur Arnalds – Living Room Songs EP
Sometimes the simplest of concepts make for some of the best outcomes. This collection of 7 songs was created 1 track per day for one week, and recorded in his living room. Piano, strings, and the occasional electronics. Variations upon themes, these 7 pieces somehow stand on their own, yet feel cohesive. This is an album that I keep coming back to. And every time I hear a song, it instantly traps me, stealing all of my attention. I had this album lower on the list because of its shortness, but I had to move it further up with each listen. The intimacy of the songs and the recordings just make it feel so fragile and compelling. There are videos of each of the living room songs from the album being recorded live in his living room with a little story about each song.
Noteworthy Tracks: Fyrsta, Near Light, Tomorrow’s Song
13. Kassidy – Hope St.
This Scottish released their Debut LP in May this year. It is full of catchy rock songs that get you moving and singing along. Every song is different than the previous, and all merit multiple listens. Their sound also seems to borrow from American 90’s 00’s rock, but with a distinct sound.
Noteworthy Tracks: Stray Cat, I Don’t Know, Oh My God
12. Radiohead – The King of Limbs
What hasn’t been said about this album yet? A hugely anticipated album that seemed to split the fan base. More electronic and stuttering than previous releases, this album stands on its own, yet touches on their previous albums. My favourite part of the album is tracks 3 through 5. Little by Little is very much an update classic Radiohead song that is followed by Feral, which to me is the most interesting song on the album with its samples and skittery drum loop. And then it almost blends the two tracks and becomes Lotus Flower, a mid-tempo floater with a grounding bass line, a slowed down drum loop, and some haunting Thom Yorke.
Noteworthy Tracks: Little by Little, Feral, Lotus Flower
11. Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know
Maybe it was because I was anticipating this album so much, but when this was released, I was initially disappointed. This disappointment lasted a while. Until it finally clicked. This is very much a Laura Marling album. But it feels different than here previous two. It could be the band approach. It could be the more complex arrangements and the non-traditional song structure. But either way, it turns out to be an album that rewards the attention given.
Noteworthy Tracks: Sophia, The Beast, All my Rage
10. Black Lips – Arabia Mountain
I can’t help but feel nostalgic for the 60’s when I listen to this album. Heavily leaning on several of the sounds prevalent in that decade, it comes off as a tribute album to that era, with a new twist of course.
Noteworthy Tracks: Family Tree, Time, New Direction
09. Yuck – Yuck
Tastes like High School. This youthful UK Band delivers a standout album of 90’s sounding retro rock that is the perfect balance of raw vs. production to give it that authentic feel. Despite the obvious nostalgia effect, it also stands as a great album in this decade.
Noteworthy Tracks: Get Away, Shook Down, Georgia
08. Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Animal
Another Icelandic Band on the list. Surprise, Surprise. This Icelandic band is oft-compared to Arcade Fire, Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. However, that isn’t to say they don’t have their own unique sound. More than just a collection of their influences, My head is an Animal is full of animal imagery, clever lyrics, and extremely addictive songs.
Noteworthy Tracks: Dirty Paws, Little Talks, Sloom
07. The Weeknd – House of Balloons/Thursday/Echoes of Silence
Yes, I am a cheater. I stuck all 3 of The Weeknd’s great 2011 releases into one spot. This Torontonian, released the 3 best R&B albums of the year. All for free. But I will likely get them all remastered on Vinyl in 2012. Each of these albums in unique from the other, and they have a cohesive feel true to each release. House of Balloons is the strongest album, with the other 2 following close behind. To fully experience this album pull out the glass table, get the drugs and booze, and fill the house with women. It’s that kind of an album.
Noteworthy Tracks: House of Ballons/Glas Table Girls, High for This, Wicked Games, Thursday, The Birds, D.D., Montreal
06. Typhoon – A New Kind of House EP
I almost have an issue with putting a 5-track EP at number 6. But this EP features 2 of the most listened to tracks of the year for me. This EP set the tone of the year for me. It sparked my love of large bands with tons of instruments. It heralded me into a new folk era. Their performance at Sasquatch was one of the top 10 performances of the year. It was an EP for the house, the car, the yard, camping, roadtripping, iPhoneing. Looking forward to their next full length album, hopefully this year.
Noteworthy Tracks: The Honest Truth, Summer Home, Claws Pt. 1
05. The Kills – Blood Pressures
I have been a slight fan of the Kills before, but never before had I connected to one of their releases like I did with Blood Pressures. Blood Pressures sets the tone early with Future Starts Slow and its guitar-drum combo. The album has a dirty and sexy feel to it. It drips. It grinds. Its an album that begs to be felt. Alison Mosshart’s vocals are perfectly suited to the guitar work by Jamie Hince. A stellar rock album.
Noteworthy Tracks: Future Starts Slow, Heart is a Beating Drum, The Last Goodbye, Pots and Pans
04. Blind Pilot – We are the Tide
Sometimes you don’t to do anything different to standout. Blind Pilot excels at what they do. It isn’t groundbreaking, or genre-creating. It’s simply great. An album of gems. Songs that are warm and pleasant. Songs that make you smile inside. It’s feel good music. Done near perfectly.
Noteworthy Tracks: Half moon, Keep you Right, We are the Tide, New York
03. Noah and the Whale – Last Night on Earth
It is no secret that I am a big Noah and the Whale fan. All 3 of their albums have been completely different. Last Night on Earth finds the band tapping 80’s Americana for inspiration, specifically Tom Petty. This is by far the most accessible album they have released, and every song is single worthy. It is also their most straight forward album, so there are few surprises or unconventional moments. It is a great pop album. An album that is suited for road trips, or hanging with friends. So grab a drink and some friends and sing along.
Noteworthy Tracks: Life is Life, Tonights the Kind of Night, L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N, Waiting for my Chance to Come
02. James Blake – James Blake
This album came as a surprise to me. Having heard his EPs I wouldn’t have expected this from him. The album has a couple great singles, but it works best as a singular piece. It isn’t party music, it’s reflection music. Its what you put on when you want to feel something. When you want to get lost. Which I happen to do a lot.
Noteworthy Tracks: Wilhelm Scream, I Never Learnt to Share, Why Don’t you Call me.
01. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
I have been referencing this album and artist for awhile now, so it is no surprise that it pops up at number one on this list. Easily the most listened to album of the year for me, it breaks new ground, it is a logical progression of sorts, and it stands on its own. It’s an album, that like its predecessor LP, will remain relevant and stand the test of time. I foresee this album being a classic of this generation, and I see Justin Vernon and Bon Iver becoming one of the seminal artists of this decade. Or maybe I’m just a huge fanboy. Either way, I think it’s the best album of the year, and look forward to discovering the nuances throughout 2012.
Noteworthy Tracks: Perth, Holocene, Beth/Rest