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BrooklynVegan’s Favorite Albums of 2011

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I hate writing year-end lists, as might be obvious to many long-time BrooklynVegan readers. That said, I also like them. They help organize things, which is related to my problem though. I’m too unorganized and hectic to ever get around to making one! But this year a few of us (BrooklynVegan contributors) got together and decided to come up with a collective list of albums that we loved that we think most represented 2011 in BrooklynVegan land. Our indie rock-centric list purposely does not include metal (that’s HERE) or hip hop (we should make a separate list). With that in mind, our top 26 albums of 2011, in alphabetical order, are listed (with some commentary and a list of honorable mentions too) below…

IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER (no hip hop or metal):

Atlas SoundAtlas SoundParallax
For someone who seemingly can’t stop releasing songs, when Bradford puts out a proper full length, it always comes off as a cohesive piece of work and Parallax is his most focused album yet. It’s got a similar overall feel to the dreamier direction Deerhunter took on 2010’s excellent Halcyon Digest, but the material is so strong that it hardly sounds repetitive. The flow of the album subtly works in the slower, more ambient cuts to space out the relatively high amount (for an Atlas Sound record) of pop standouts. Like many pop experimentalists before him, Bradford has mastered the art of leaving his own weird touch on even the simplest tune.
Listen on Spotify. – Andrew Sacher

AustraAustraFeel It Break
As the BBC points out, “It’s a pleasing synchronicity: the very day that Kate Bush, the reclusive queen of quirk-pop, finally leaves her castle in the clouds to release her first album in six years, another Kate with a voice made for echoing around bleak landscapes, and a penchant for drama and the otherworldly, brings out her debut with Austra. Former opera student Katie Stelmanis has been filling Toronto with the sound of music since she hit double figures – first as a chorister, then with post-punked-up gay grungers Galaxy; solo, and now, as singer-songwriter in this goth electro trio that bears her (middle) name.”
Get the deluxe version at eMusic. Listen on Spotify.

Bon Iver, Bon IverBon IverBon Iver
From the moment the vocal harmonies come in, just under a minute and a half into album opener, “Perth,” it’s obvious that this is not the work of a man in an abandoned cabin in Wisconsin. For some, that might be a deal breaker, but while For Emma, Forever Ago will always remain an untouchable anomaly that captures the genius of a broken man at a time in his life that can never be returned to, Bon Iver, Bon Iver captures the growth that his genius has undergone in the last four years. It’s accentuated by carefully arranged sounds that Justin Vernon never would have had the opportunity to create in that cabin. Layers of horns, reverb-touched guitars, and pastoral vocal harmonies create an ambience that floats throughout every track on the seamless album. And though it’s cohesive, the tracks retain their individuality, from the metal drums at the end of “Perth,” to the bass-y art rock passage of “Minnesota, WI,” country flourishes on “Towers,” and the soft-rock/smooth jazz sax/guitar solos on “Beth/Rest.” It’s probably true that Justin will never recapture the emotions he possesses on For Emma, but as he proves on Bon Iver, Bon Iver, we shouldn’t need him to.
Buy it on eMusic. Listen on Spotify.

ApokalypsisChelsea WolfeApokalypsis
After releasing the desolate home recording, The Grime and the Glow, in 2010, Chelsea Wolfe entered into a proper studio for its followup, Apokalypsis. While many lo-fi musicians can ruin their appeal with sharper quality, Chelsea uses it entirely to her advantage and comes out with an album even more striking than her debut. On “Moses” she recalls To Bring You My Love-era PJ Harvey, and “Demons” brings to mind late-’80s Sonic Youth, but more often than not, Chelsea doesn’t sound like she’s intentionally channeling any other artists. Everything on Apokalypsis feels far too isolated for that.
Buy it on eMusic. – Andrew Sacher

Cold CaveCold CaveCherish The Light Years
The marriage of vintage synth, gothic chill, and pop masked beneath it all propels the stunning Cherish The Light Years, the bands latest and greatest achievement yet. Cold Cave’s post-punk and darkwave sounds may be rooted in the latter 70s/early 80s but in the hands of Wes Eisold, it sounds like a new frontier.
Listen on Spotify. – BBG

DestroyerDestroyerKaputt
Destroyer’s new album, Kaputt, is Dan Bejar’s grandest musical statement to date, resplendent with horns and bubbling sequencers, bringing to mind Roxy Music, The Blue Nile and even Steely Dan. It’s also the first album I’ve loved in a long time that has this much saxophone on it. I don’t think there’s a song on Kaput without it, and it’s of the variety that makes you think of a city in the rain. Maybe the saxophonist is playing in the rain on a fire escape somewhere? Or maybe that’s just every music video from the ’80s. Anyway, Kaputt is evocative of that era for sure but Bejar’s unmistakable urbane style keeps it out of cheeseball territory.
Listen on Spotify. – Bill Pearis

Eleanor FriedbergerEleanor FriedbergerLast Summer
The first solo effort from one half of the Fiery Furnaces brought our attention firmly back to the Friedbergers whose prolific and varied output since the great Blueberry Boat has been hard to keep track of. To quote The Finest Kiss, “It’s kind of a folk record, but it has a weird soulfullness to it that pulls it out of the folk genre. Nothing else sounded remotely similar to Last Summer. A unique record from a unique voice.”
Listen on Spotify.

Past Life Martyred SaintsEMAPast Life Martyred Saints
Erika M. Anderson, formerly of the band Gowns, released her solo debut LP this year under her initials, EMA. Taking a similar approach to experimental folk as artists like Diane Cluck and Tara Jane O’Neil, while throwing in elements of noise rock, on Past Life Martyred Saints EMA makes confident statements and reveals raw honesty that are strikingly audacious but EMA doesn’t seem to care if you disagree with her. She touches on physical abuse, homosexuality, death, religion, and her mind is made up about all of it. But while the album gets musically experimental, she’s following in a long tradition of folk singers who stop at nothing to speak their minds.
Buy it at eMusic. Listen on Spotify. – Andrew Sacher

David comes to lifeFucked Up David Comes To Life
Fucked Up’s David Comes To Life is a bit of an anomaly; Its both a playful hardcore record and a progressive pop LP with punk tendencies. Fucked Up’s greatest asset is its ability to be many things at once, while still being rooted in melodic punk rock. Cheers to a band that never settles for genre constraints and is clearly emerging as a consistent and consistently excellent voice in punk rock.
Listen on Spotify. – BBG

James BlakeJames BlakeJames Blake
2011 has been one hell of a year for James Blake. He spent the bulk of 2010 recording singles and Eps that built off the same sort of dubstep embraced by Mount Kimbie, who James has performed with. Then he kicked off 2011 with his first full length album, an album revolving around his own voice instead of the samples of his earlier work, and changed the general idea of how far dubstep can go. Elements of Bon Iver (who guests on the Enough Thunder EP) and Antony & the Johnsons appear throughout the record as frequently as elements of Burial. And while the crowds at the more massive dubstep shows are feeding off heavier and heavier bass drops, at a James Blake show, the opposite happens; your attention is stolen by his use of silence.
Buy it at eMusic. Listen on Spotify.- Andrew Sacher

John MausJohn MausWe Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
Reverby gothic synth pop is the central theme of John Maus’s excellently titled We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves. Maus’s superb songwriting and quirky lo-fi meets John Carpenter-soundtrack approach make these songs unforgettable.
Listen on Spotify. – BBG

Josh T PearsonJosh T. PearsonLast Of The Country Gentlemen
To quote Rolling Stone’s David Fricke, “This Texas singer-songwriter works in epic strokes. His 2001 album with the power trio Lift to Experience, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, was a sprawling two-CD forecast of Armageddon. This solo debut is as commanding: emotional trial (“Woman, When I’ve Raised Hell”) and despair (“Country Dumb”) stripped to Pearson’s fraught vocals and hypnotic, irregular fingerpicking. He veers from hush to howl in torrents of confession like a prairie-minister cross of Bob Dylan’s talking blues and Jeff Buckley’s raptures. But when Pearson gets to the apology in “Sorry With a Song,” his faith in love rings loud and pure through the hell.” Amen.
Listen on Spotify.

Smoke Ring For My HaloKurt VileSmoke Ring For My Halo
Kurt VIle has always had this way of hiding great folk rock songs under a shield of lo-fi noise, but on Smoke Ring For My Halo, he lifts that shield and reveals that he sounds by far his best without it. His always-impressive guitar playing reaches new heights on this album, the vocals are some of his strongest, but what drives this album most is the way it carries its moods. On “Runner Ups” you can actually feel a summer breeze blowing as Kurt shifts chords and “Puppet to the Man” sounds like that windows down road trip you take so for just one week you can feel like you aren’t a “puppet to the man.” Everything about the album is so organic, from the largely warm acoustic sounds to the effortlessly conversational lyrics, and when you can sound that real, people are going to relate to it.
Listen on Spotify. – Andrew Sacher

MetromyMetronomyThe English Riviera
The new record retains Metronomy’s slightly askew, claustrophobic sound while broadening its scope. There’s glammy funk (“We Broke Free,” the Roxy-ish “She Wants”), a guitar pop (“Everything Goes My Way,” a duet with Roxanne Clifford of Veronica Falls who also put out one of my favorite albums of the year), waltz-time ballads (“Trouble”), and more typical Metronomy-style twitchy disco (“The Bay,” “Corrine.”). It’s also got one of the 2011’s best singles, “The Look.” It’s definitely one of my favorite albums of the year.
Listen on Spotify.- Bill Pearis

Hurry Up, We're DreamingM83Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
On Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, M83’s Anthony Gonzalez opens up his vocal cords like never before, and it lends to a huge revelation that on even his greatest moments of the past, he was holding something back, whether he knew it or not. Gonzalez has mentioned that part of his influence for recording a double album was The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and like that album, the length can be a bit much to digest at first, but over 15 years after the release of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, I’m still finding new favorite songs on it, and Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming has the lasting power to do the same. “Intro,” “Midnight City,” and “Reunion” pack a really strong 1-2-3 punch in the beginning of the album, so it might seem a little top heavy at first. But the more you dive into the album, the more there is to be discovered later on. On “Steve McQueen,” which is one of the last few tracks, they hit such a large peak, that it might even top anything on the album’s first half. But it at eMusic. Listen on Spotify. – Andrew Sacher

Let England ShakePJ HarveyLet England Shake
PJ Harvey has been leading an incredible solo career with some of the best records of the last two decades under her belt. But as she proves on Let England Shake, she’s not anywhere close to slowing down. Let England Shake is both a huge departure from her other albums, and one of the best ones she’s ever written. It’s a folk album driven largely by PJ Harvey’s autoharp and the falsetto vocals she begin experimenting with on 2007’s White Chalk, but mastered here, and the album is centered on themes of war and her home country, England. And while that sounds like a lot to tackle (because it is), PJ makes it sound instantly digestible, causing you to discover new things on every listen.
Listen on Spotify. – Andrew Sacher

SBTRKTSBTRKTSBTRKT
On his debut, SBTRKT has crafted some of the most accessible material of the current dubstep scene. The album is populated by a number of guest vocalists who give it a similar appeal to James Blake and Jamie Woon, but ultimately SBTRKT is more focused on creating dance music than they are. As a result, the album ends up being one of the more heady pop albums of the year. Tracks like “Wildfire” and “Pharaohs” could easily be played on the radio or in clubs and be sung along to without paying attention to the intricate beatwork going on. And while the vocal-led tracks can easily steal the most attention, they’re balanced out by some deftly layered instrumental cuts like album closer “Go Bang.”
Listen on Spotify.- Andrew Sacher

Strange MercySt. VincentStrange Mercy
On Strange Mercy, St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) builds off of the indie pop she’s become known for and incorporates some of the most unlikely moments of the ’80s underground. She fills the album with guitar riffs that feel most informed by King Crimson’s prog-new wave album; 1981’s Discipline. She also covered Big Black at the ‘Our Band Could Be Your Life’ show and she covered arty post-punkers The Pop Group on Fallon. This was all pretty unexpected up until this year, and now she’s making a case for herself as one of the most inventive guitarists in a while. And while it’s easy to get caught up only talking about the guitar on Strange Mercy, her voice, which has always been a huge part of her music, is as good as ever and her lyrics are about as bewildering as her riffs. When she boldly states, “I’ve seen America with no clothes on,” it’s hard not to wonder what that even means, but she sings it with such confidence that you believe her anyway.
Listen on Spotify. – Andrew Sacher

The MenThe Men Leave Home
It takes some considerable cojones to give your LP the same name as a record by the Ramones, but then again, what’s more punk than that? Brooklyn four piece The Men sheds some of their noise-ridden tendencies from Immaculada but also continues their heavy petting with shoegaze and psychedelia on Leave Home, their most urgent and melodic set yet. Two records in, and you just know that The Men is destined for good things.
Listen on Spotify.- BBG

War on DRugsThe War on DrugsSlave Ambient
To quote The Quietus, “Whilst it may lack the game-changing originality of other big 2011 releases, the record spans half a century of musical history more effectively than any other in recent memory. And although this in itself does not make it a ‘classic’, this is a near-flawless rock album, and certainly one of the best you’ll hear all year.” To quote Bill, this “new album on Secretly Canadian is a winner.”
Listen on Spotify.

Total ControlHenge Beat
Although their web presence is minimal and enigmatic, Total Control’s lineage is not: Daniel Young is in Straightjacket Nation, and Mikey Young spends time in Eddy Current Suppression Ring and both are also in UV Race. (Fellow UV Racer Alistair Montfort, plus Zephyr Pavey and James Vinciguerra round out the live line-up.) After a string of 7″s the band released Henge Beat back in August, a real corker of a debut album. It divides its time between motorik synth workouts, jittery post-punk and more Eddy Current style stormers, with a nice layer of repetition repetition repetition coating the whole shebang. – Bill Pearis
Goth, punk, and reverby garage do everything but clash in this debut by the “supergroup”. It all works, and brings to mind Wire, The Wipers and Ultravox in a wholly unique and catchy way. Between Dead Language, Kim Phuc and this, Iron Lung sure knows how to pick ’em in 2011.- BBG

w h o k i l ltUnE-yArDsw h o k i l l
On w h o k i l l, Merrill Garbus can be heard whispering, shrieking, howling, yelping, and probably making some sounds that don’t even have words to describe them yet. On top of that, she’s looping hip hop and afrobeat rhythms, non-diatonic ukulele chords, and throwing in avant-jazz bass and sax lines. That might actually be the most unlikely recipe for a pop album, but somehow w h o k i l l is filled with some of the catchiest songs of 2011. While many bands have followed in the paths of The Beatles and The Beach Boys in defying the boundaries of pop, w h o k i l l attacks it from an entirely different angle, one that hasn’t really been seen before, and will hopefully be sticking around for a long time.
Listen on Spotify. – Andrew Sacher

Wild FlagWild FlagWild Flag
Wild Flag is sort of a supergroup, with Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, Mary Timony of Helium and Autoclave, and Rebecca Cole of The Minders. But they don’t come off with the attitude of a supergroup at all. The music bears some resemblance to the proto-punk of Patti Smith, who they’ve been known to cover at their shows. And when they play, they don’t sound like they’re trying to reinvent the wheel, it just sounds like they’re having a whole lot of fun. Sometimes that’s when bands sound at their best. The lead vocals are handled both by Carrie and Mary who switch off from song to song, and whichever one isn’t singing is ripping classic riffs on their guitar. So writing this off as a cash-grab supergroup or some cheap attempt at a comeback would be a huge mistake, no other record in 2011 rocked this hard.
Listen on Spotify. – Andrew Sacher

Wye OakWye OakCivilian
Wye Oak is one of the best bands around these days. They are chill-inducingly good live. The duo’s new album, Civilian, was released on March 8 on Merge and is a real stand-up-and-take-notice stunner. It is crazy good. To quote AV Club, “a huge part of Civilian‘s appeal is how quietly but forcefully insinuating its songs are, from the loping, static “The Alter” to the chugging-but-understated “Holy, Holy.” Like most great albums, it’s a grower, but once listeners tune in to the frequency of Jenn Wasner’s mournful, husky vocals and Andy Stack’s drums-and-keyboard undercarriage, its gorgeous barbs will hold.”
Listen on Spotify. – Bill Pearis

The Year of HibernationYouth LagoonThe Year of Hibernation
I guess Trevor Powers couldn’t find an abandoned cabin the woods to spill his heart onto some old recording equipment in, but luckily he had his bedroom. For his first full length under his Youth Lagoon moniker, The Year of Hibernation, Trevor does just what the title implies. He captures a year’s worth of distortion-covered open wounds and complements them with post-rock crescendos and some delicate melodies. And while Trevor clearly feels small on this album, his music suggests otherwise. Tracks like the soaring “Montana” could fill arenas if he wanted them to. He’s been involved in other projects before Youth Lagoon and there’s no telling what comes next, but The Year of Hibernation will remain one of the most surprising debuts of 2011.
Buy it at eMusic. Listen on Spotify. – Andrew Sacher

ConatusZola JesusConatus
On the two EPs she put out last year, Zola Jesus took a more overtly electro-pop direction, and it produced the best songs she’d written in her entire career. On Conatus, she takes that direction even further and crafts a truly great full length album. The beats are all pretty simple, but she’s got a huge Stevie Nicks meets Kate Bush voice that could carry even the most minimal arrangements across Madison Square Garden, where she might actually like to end up.
Andrew Sacher
Interviews clearly demonstrate Nika Roza Danilova’s love for sugary top 40 and its that undercurrent that keeps her gothic dark-synth compositions rooted in great and simple song-writing. Conatus is anything but basic pop though, using dark electronics that are propelled by the true show horse of Zola Jesus, Danilova’s unique and powerful voice.
Buy it on eMusic. Listen on Spotify. – BBG

—-
HONORABLE MENTIONS: (not counting hip hop)
AA Bondy – Believers
Active Child – You Are All I See
Adele – 21
Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi
The Antlers – Burst Apart
Balam Acab – Wander/Wonder
Baxter Dury – Happy Soup
Big Troubles – Romantic Comedy
BOAT – Dress Like Your Idols
Braids – Native Speaker
The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond this World
Cashier No. 9 – To the Death of Fun
Cat’s Eyes – Cat’s Eyes
Charles Bradley – No Time For Dreaming
Colourmusic – My _______ is Pink
Cults – Cults
Cut Copy – Zonoscope
Crystal Stilts – In Love with Oblivion
Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact
Girls – The Father, The Son, The Holy Ghost
Grails – Deep Politics
Grouper – A I A
I Break Horses – Hearts
J. Mascis – Several Shades Of Why
Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place
Little Dragon – Ritual Union
Marissa Nadler – Marissa Nadler
Middle Brother – Middle Brother
Mikal Cronin – Mikal Cronin
Neon Indian – Era Extraña
Night Birds – Other Side of Darkness
OBN IIIs – The One and Only
Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong
Panda Bear – Tomboy
Prurient – Bermuda Drain
Pygmy Lush – Old Friends
Real Estate – Days
The Spits – V
Still Corners – Creatures of an Hour
The Antlers – Burst Apart
Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts
Toro y Moi – Underneath the Pine
Twerps – Twerps
Veronica Falls – Veronica Falls
Wax Idols – No Future
WhoMadeWho – Knee Deep
Wu Lyf – Go Tell Fire To The Mountain
Young Widows – In and Out of Youth
Yuck – Yuck
Zombi – Escape Velocity

MORE HONORABLE MENTIONS
(more Bands we love that put out new records we like in 2011)

Arctic Monkeys – Suck It and See
Beirut – The Rip Tide
Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
Bjork – Biophilia
The Black Keys – El Camino
Black Lips – Arabia Mountain
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Hysterical
The Decemberists – The King Is Dead
Deer Tick – Divine Providence
Emmy the Great – Virtue
Feist – Metals
Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest
Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow
The Kills – Blood Pressures
Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know
Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck
My Morning Jacket – Circuital
Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What
Radiohead – The King of Limbs
The Rapture – In the Grace of Your Love
Tom Waits – Bad As me
TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light
Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread
Wilco – The Whole Love

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