I hate to be the guy to try and stop the cynical train, but there is a ton of really great music out there right now. I'm not exactly sure why that is, but 2011 is going to be remembered as the year that I had the hardest time putting together any sort of Best Of list. At the end of the day, these were the records I listened to the most in the last 365-or-so days.
1. Destroyer – Kaputt (Merge Records)
Dan Bejar kept putting out better and better records, until one day, he gave into his faux-English accent and all his little idiosyncratic tendencies, and ended up with one of the most beautiful records of the decade. That album was called Kaputt.
2. Iceage – New Brigade (What's Your Rupture?)
Four barely legal guys from Copenhagen link SST hardcore with the sort of spazzy stuff that was coming out of places like San Diego and Baltimore in the mid-to-late 1990s. That's how they made the year's best debut.
3. People’s Temple – Sons of Stone (HoZac)
Back in April I said this Michigan band’s HoZac LP was one of the “very few examples of truly great psych rock” to come out in a long time. That’s definitely held up all the way through the end of 2011.
4. Cult of Youth – S/T (Sacred Bones)
I've always seen Cult of Youth as a band taking the soundtrack from the original Wicker Man movie and making it punk using bits of The Pogues, David Tibet, and Enrico Morricone thrown into the mix. This is also the ultimate “ fuck what you heard’ record of 2011. Unless you gave it a serious listen, you have no idea what you're missing.
5. Chelsea Wolfe – Apokalypsis (Pendu Sound)
Real Talk: I thought Chelsea Wolfe's debut LP would either sound like Zola Jesus or Salem. I can’t help that other people's music writing is piss poor enough to make me agree with lumping her in with aforementioned groups; in fact, Ms. Wolfe is in a class reserved for groups like Earth or the latest Jesse Sykes stuff, but all mixed with Kate Bush. Heavy, atmospheric, haunting, totally gorgeous, and not what I expected.
6. Widowspeak – S/T (Captured Tracks)
Widowspeak followed up a much-buzzed cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” with an LP full of nearly a dozen songs that made most naysayers of the 1990s revival think to themselves, “It’s okay as long as it sounds like Hope Sandoval. That part of the '90s I’m totally fine with.”
7. Fucked Up – David Comes to Life (Matador)
Is hardcore crossover an actual thing? The way Fucked Up's latest LP has been recieved by everybody from NPR to Pitchfork, it sure seems that way. If their reputation as one of the best and most unique bands on the planet wasn't written in cement before, it is now.
8. Slug Guts – Howlin’ Gang (Sacred Bones)
The reason Slug Guts is on this list is because every few years, we need a band to carry on in the tradition of young Nick Cave, The Scientists, etc. Slug Guts does that, and honestly, what else could you ask for?
9. The Skull Defekts – Peer Amid (Thrill Jockey)
Exactly how the Swedish group convinced Daniel Higgs to join their ranks for this LP is still a bit of a mystery to me, but it produced one of the most beautiful and chaotic albums of the year. It literally sounds like nothing else.
10. White Mystery – Blood & Venom
Two messes of red hair that happen to be brother and sister put out a whole bunch of fuzz and loud drums that would make Mark Arm weep with appreciation. There is so much rock and roll knowledge crammed into Blood & Venom, that it’s almost unfair. Sabbath, The Runaways, The Sonics – turned up to eleven.
11. The Beets – Let the Poison Out (Hardly Art)
As long as The Beets are around, the band will inevitably put out an album every year, and it won’t stray too far from the almost-perfect formula the band has used for the past few years. Let the Poison Out might be the cleanest release of the band's catalogue, but it isn’t much of a departure from past work. Also note the point on the second song, “Now I Live” that I swear sounds almost like Roy Orbison’s tone deaf son mimicking his dad’s work in the Travelling Willburys.
12. Xray Eyeballs – Not Nothing (Kanine Records)
Like your favorite surf record was getting totally warped in the sun as you get drunker and drunker. That’s what this sounds like. And it’s totally amazing.
13. Fungi Girls – Some Easy Magic (HoZac)
Other than the band Girls, Fungi Girls is the best group to identify as girls without having any girls in the band. Fungi Girls' first LP is basically Crystal Stilts sitting out in the Texas sun, smoking too much pot, and on HoZac instead of Slumberland.
14. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute)
Molding shoegaze and electronic music in this day and age shouldn’t be as hard as it’s been, so it’s a good thing M83 finally did something successful along those genre lines. You could fit this record into a collection next to Zola Jesus or Yeasayer, just as you could next to those really nice My Bloody Valentine reissues. Worth every bit of hype it received.
15. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact (4AD)
At this point there is no denying that Gang Gang Dance is in a league of its own. This album would have been higher up on the list, but I really consider GGD's entire body of work to be one big mess of sounds that functions as one ongoing project. Also, the song “Adult Goth” is as awesome as the name.
16. Liturgy – Aesthethica (Thrill Jockey)
I really can’t say anything about Liturgy that hasn’t been said before. Once the band became fodder for Sasha Frere Jones in The New Yorker, it moved beyond my critical abilities. But for what it’s worth, Aesthethica is less a record, and more a document of a band that decided to say “fuck you” to all prior notions of what a black metal band should sound and think like (the choral opening to “True Will”), and who should put out their music. Like #14, worth every single drop of hype juice.
17. Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread (Drag City)
I’ve spent the last few years trying to figure out the rhyme and reason of Ty Segall, and what drives him to spit out song after song that nine times out of ten I will enjoy. I’ve given up on this, and with his Drag City debut, I’ve finally concluded that Ty Segall is all that is good about rock and roll right now. He’s a ball of brilliance wrapped up in an A.D.D. tornado.
18. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation (Fat Possum)
Every year needs one of these albums. You know, the kind that sounds like Daniel Johnston with his marbles intact, jamming with a band made up of members of Real Estate and Grizzly Bear. I know you’re probably saying, “I don’t like that kind of thing,” but you’re totally fucking lying, or you have no heart.
19. Coasting – You’re Never Going Back (M'Lady's)
Mixing equal parts Quix*o*tic, K Records in the 90s, and a stripped down The Woods-era Sleater-Kinney, it feels like I waited forever for Madison Farmer and Fiona Campbell to release their first LP. Now I’m just really happy they did.
20. Nodzzz – Innings (Woodsist)
Even if this weren’t a nice little serving of pop, I’d still put it on here as a tribute to all the bands that spelled their names with a Z, circa 2009-2010. But in the end, Nodzzz came out of 2011 looking like the West Coast version of The Beets.
The 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award goes to: Bradford Cox!
So this is the point where it becomes pointless to include Atlas Sound on a “Best Of” list, because everything Bradford Cox does is great 2011’s Parallax was another extraordinary example of this.
The “You're Woods and/or Real Estate” award: Woods and Real Estate!
The award for best Unabashed Morrissey/Field Mice/Postcard Records worshiping: Dream Diary!
The “Thee Oh Sees Probably Put Out Six Albums This Year Better Than Yours” award goes to: Thee Oh Sees!
The “Best Music Book of the Year” award goes to: Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York that Changed Music Forever by Will Hermes!