Best Music of 2011CoS Exclusive FeaturesStaff Lists

Top 50 Albums of 2011

on December 16, 2011, 12:00am
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year end albums Top 50 Albums of 2011

At this year’s Record Store Day – the April one, not the November shindig – I felt something that hadn’t occurred to me in probably 10 years. I felt excited to hold a record. Standing in line, clutching the inside of my far-too-thin hoodie (thanks, Chicago wind), I paced back and forth in my mind, thinking, God, I hope I get this album. The item in question? Big Star’s unreleased Third.

Of course, I didn’t get it. Nobody did. The store didn’t even receive a copy. So, instead, I spent a couple bucks on some singles, bit my lip, and went home somewhat satiated. But, for the 45 minutes prior to that moment, it was something slightly alien, but moreover familiar. There used to be a time when you couldn’t get an album.

Not everyone can remember that feeling, but they should. Prior to the digital revolution, music was somewhat of a privilege. As a child, you might spend weeks saving up money for something that takes less than two clicks to grab now. Don’t get me wrong — it’s liberating. But value gets partly tossed aside now. It really shouldn’t.

The album is by far the most integral facet of the music industry. People throw out EPs, toss in singles, but albums really mean something. If it’s even halfway decent, it’s essentially then a collection of perfected thoughts, emotions, and creations that are meant to be consumed, examined, and experienced. This year, we had far too many experiences – seemingly overloaded by an open-door policy of music thanks to Spotify.

That didn’t stop us, however, from finding 50 albums we thoroughly enjoyed.

-Michael Roffman
President/Editor-in-Chief

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zatzbatz
December 17, 2011 at 5:40 pm

This is a very honest list. Kudos. It’s just so joyless… You guys feeling alright? Had a rough year? Go out dancing sometimes! Tune in to a hip hop station every now and then.

Anonymous
December 17, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Great list guys.  If you look over the best album lists from rollingstone, pitchfork, and spin, consequence of sound clearly have the best list.  I love the inclusion of Ty Segall and agree that St. Vincent had the best album of 2011.  But no love for the Black Keys though, I know “El Camino” came out just last week but that album rocks

Elsa Schieder
December 16, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Don’t want to get into the argument – so many great choices. Most, it brings back memories – holding a record. In hand.

Ms Erica55
December 16, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Dont need a list to tell me how awesome the Fleet Foxes<3 are but its pretty kool to see theyre getting more recognition :} Along with Washed Out, Real Estate, Wild Flag & St. Vincent :}

JLurie
December 16, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Why is Circuital not on this list?  I assume that is an error.

Ben H.
December 16, 2011 at 7:05 pm

What is the big deal about James Blake? I suckered into the hype and bought tix for a sold out show about one year ago, but STILL didn’t understand what makes this album one of the best of the year. If you LOVE JB, please share your insight. What about Akron/Family or the Roots?  

Jeff
December 16, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Beyonce is better than Middle Brother, Deer Tick, Blitzen Trapper, and My Morning Jacket?  Whatever.

Anonymous
December 16, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Actually, yes.  

Laurie K
December 16, 2011 at 6:18 pm

There are a couple of CDs that unfortunately were left off the radar which I think many fans of a lot of these artists would absolutely adore.  Both different styles, but oh so powerful – Desert Noises – Mountain Sea and Pablo Blaqk – Sons & Daughters. 

Mxx
December 16, 2011 at 6:10 pm

eyelid movies is from 2009.. you’re a tad late to the party.

Mxx
December 16, 2011 at 6:10 pm

eyelid movies is from 2009.. you’re a tad late to the party.

LanceBoston
December 16, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Charles Bradley- No Time For Dreaming belongs somewhere on here. New Fucked Up is kinda lame, but it was nice to see Yuck and The Men on here. Fleet Foxes, St. Vincent, and Bon Iver, no surprise there.

LanceBoston
December 16, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Charles Bradley- No Time For Dreaming belongs somewhere on here. New Fucked Up is kinda lame, but it was nice to see Yuck and The Men on here. Fleet Foxes, St. Vincent, and Bon Iver, no surprise there.

Anonymous
December 16, 2011 at 5:54 pm

I can’t believe how much TV On The Radio has been snubbed on these end-of-the-year lists.  Despite the fact that Nine Types of Light was exceptionally well-review and received.  It was sadly overshadowed by tragedy and loss.  Truly a great album.   

Anonymous
December 17, 2011 at 9:42 pm

I enjoyed Nine Types of Light, but it the first album of TVOTR’s that didn’t blow my mind. It’s pleasant, and there are a few songs I really like (Second Song, Keep Your Heart, Caffeinated Consciousness). But! they are one of my favorite bands and have such high hopes for them that the fact that it’s a nice album wasn’t enough. Their sound went in a bit more of a mellow/groove-y and less funky/weird direction that I personally wasn’t too into (however, that is subjective). I definitely don’t listen to it as much as Dear Science or Cookie Mountain. Shame about Gerard, though, and they still put on a helluva live show when I saw them this year. They covered “Waiting Room” and killed it.

Anonymous
December 18, 2011 at 2:49 am

Seems like you were only listening casually.  If you listen closely to the lyrics, it’s easy to see why Nine Types of Light’s sound is less aggressive and more patient than previous TV On The Radio albums.

Nine Types of Light didn’t cause much of a stir because it’s not a sign of the times statement like Dear Science and is much less politically inclined than any of its predecessors. Instead, it is much more introverted, intimate and explores the intricacies of love and relationships. The approach to composition is different and, thus, a similarly different approach to listening is required. Nine Types of Light is calmer and more restrained, but is ultimately no less engaging than before.

As an album, it is also their most cohesive and congruently paced set yet— ravishing with texture and melody from start to finish. The songwriting has never been sharper, the vocals have never been stronger, the ideas have never been as fluently expressed as they are here. Nine Types of Light is TV On The Radio’s most realized album yet, even if it isn’t necessarily their most groundbreaking.   But lacking a breakthrough impact in the vein of Dear Science and Return to Cookie Mountain shouldn’t detract from the brilliance thorougly displayed on this album. It doesn’t deserve to be forgotten, like it has been.

Anonymous
December 19, 2011 at 6:56 pm

I definitely understand what you’re saying, and obviously you have put a lot of thought into your feelings about the album. However, I did listen to Nine Types of Light a lot- it was the only album I purchased at a music store in 2011, and I had it playing in my car for a month. I don’t think it’s bad *at all*, I was just a bit disappointed, and I don’t think there were any reviews I found that felt negatively about it.

Yes, the vocals are indeed fine-tuned, the production is smooth, everyone plays tight and it is indeed quite cohesive from song to song, all things I wouldn’t highlight about previous albums. But, all these things that you discuss as reasons why people should be loving this album aren’t enough for me, and maybe weren’t for others. I don’t come back to it, I don’t get excited about it… and that’s not something you can tell people to do or listen more closely for. I admit that I do prefer a “weirder” style with messy energy to intimate romanticism, and the former style is the reason TVOTR is one of my favorite bands making music right now, so there are my prejudices laid out right there. The actual musical ideas didn’t grab my interest on about half of the songs. Many have a sparse, quiet groove that repeats throughout the song, or builds to an emotional high that isn’t as gripping/rewarding as on previous albums (not that this album *should* have a “Wolf Like Me” or “a Halfway Home” or a “Staring at the Sun”- it shouldn’t). This new style isn’t as arresting or memorable for me. Yes, a style like that begs for repeat listens, which is how I fell in love with the songs that I enjoy on Nine Types of Light, but the rest still didn’t connect with me.

You were surprised why it didn’t make a lot of lists- I’m just trying to give my two cents why it didn’t make it into my favorite albums of the year. Another possible reason, one that I don’t particularly agree with, might be that, in 2011, artists who engaged in extroverted emotional sharing made people cream their pants (Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Drake). Nine Types of Light is pretty much the opposite approach.

Anonymous
December 20, 2011 at 2:01 am

I see what you’re saying, but sparse isn’t even an accurate way to describe Nine Types of Light’s sound at all.  It’s deftly layered, and probably their most produced effort next to Return to Cookie Mountain—minus the clutter. And there’s a wide assortment of instrumentation that gives it a more lush, colorful feel.  And because it is more subdued, it’s probably not an ideal album to listen to while driving.  At least not at first. The details are too delicate for passive, distracted listening.  It does require a greater commitment from its audience.  Regardless of any criticisms, there’s still no good reason this has been so heavily forgotten. Despite being well-reviewed across the board, Nine Types of Light even arrived with less fanfare and anticipation than expected.  And coming off of an album that was almost universally hailed as the definitive release of 2008, the lack of enthusiasm for this album has been baffling.  And because their sound has clearly matured, it’s possible you might end up disappointed with every TV On The Radio album from here on out.  Perhaps it will win you over in time, and perhaps not.  But for me, this is easily the best album of 2011. 

Dan
December 16, 2011 at 5:18 pm

The one thing that consistently bothers me about these lists by COS, and I’m an avid reader, is that it seems some bands get bumped up on the list just because of status.  Granted that I have not listened to every album in the Top 50, but you can’t tell me that Radiohead and Foo Fighters made better records than, let’s say SBTRKT, Yuck, UMO… I listed to Wasting Light once after downloading it, and I never listened to it all the way through again because it bored the shit out of me.  While KOL is a good album, its nothing compared to Kid A, In Rainbows, and OK Computer.  I really wonder how much you guys collaborate on these lists and review past publications.  Like jm08 said below, (even though I like the Real Estate album), how can an album which received 2/5 stars and used the words “The tide has come and gone” be in the year-end Top 50…..I’m not all about hating though, props for M83 and Shabbazz Palaces being in the Top 10. Black Up was the most underrated album this year, and I could go as far as saying Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming could be #1

Miguel
December 16, 2011 at 5:26 pm

I agree with everything you said.

James
December 16, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Yuck’s album was much worse than Radiohead’s.

2011wasprettycool
December 16, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Just because King of The Limbs isn’t “as good” (and thats your opinion, not mine) as three albums that are considered to be some of the very best of the last 15 years or so doesn’t mean it isn’t a good record in its own right. For me, it would be top ten for sure. Also, the Real Estate record is awesome. And Shabazz Palaces rule.

Lets be honest though, Childish Gambino doesn’t belong anywhere on this list, or anywhere with a microphone in his hand for that matter.

2011wasprettycool
December 16, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Just because King of The Limbs isn’t “as good” (and thats your opinion, not mine) as three albums that are considered to be some of the very best of the last 15 years or so doesn’t mean it isn’t a good record in its own right. For me, it would be top ten for sure. Also, the Real Estate record is awesome. And Shabazz Palaces rule.

Lets be honest though, Childish Gambino doesn’t belong anywhere on this list, or anywhere with a microphone in his hand for that matter.

Rosie
December 16, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Really happy to see St. Vincent at number one. I’ve listened to this album on repeat for days at a time. Her lyrics are so clever and the music is moving and thoughtfully put together. This album totally deserves it – it’s awesome.

Ericmnelson
December 16, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Great list! I agree the top 20 are awesome I also liked the Kanye jayz album but did not think it was utterly amazing like everyone else did. Def a few misses no Coldplay bright eyes Manchester orchestra or the drums?

jm08
December 16, 2011 at 2:46 pm

No Wilco or Smith Westerns?
And for a site that gave the new Real Estate album 2/5… And published the review online… How could they now end up in your top albums of the year???? 
I really like the St.Vincent album and think it’s an interesting choice for top album. I’d rank it in the top 10.

Dan
December 16, 2011 at 5:10 pm

I agree.  Dye it Blonde and the Whole Love should definitely be on the list.  As far as Real Estate goes, the same thing happened last year when they made Contra #1 album of the year after reviewing it at 4/5 stars when there were countless other 5/5 star reviews throughout the year.

Benking222
December 16, 2011 at 1:57 pm

No In the Mountain, In the Cloud… :(

Evan Lummer
December 16, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Love the inclusion and high rating for Skying, REALLY underrated record that doesn’t get enough credit for how beautiful the soundscapes are on every song.

Disappointed though by no Suck It and See and Velociraptor!

mc kallin
December 16, 2011 at 10:55 am

What about Florence and the Machine , The Black Keys , Kasabian , My Morning Jacket , Frank Turner???

mc kallin
December 16, 2011 at 10:55 am

What about Florence and the Machine , The Black Keys , Kasabian , My Morning Jacket , Frank Turner???

Martin
December 16, 2011 at 7:55 am

The Drums?????

Stewart
December 16, 2011 at 6:47 am

Happy with the high Foo Fighters spot, arguably can be ranked higher, but where’s Feist, My Morning Jacket, and Wilco?

Luis Arce
December 16, 2011 at 5:46 am

[O: You’re missing The Year of Hibernation by Trevor Powers known as Youth Lagoon[…However, this is by far the most coherent and eloquent list of the year. If there was an award for the best list, i’ll surely vote for this one. Props to CoS from Mexico!!!

Peter
December 16, 2011 at 5:31 am

I like that Foo Fighters got a prime spot on your list. They don’t get enough credit for being a consistently great band, and that was a solid album.

Evan Lummer
December 16, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Haha man I love the Foos, but saying they don’t get enough credit??? They’re up for Album of the Year by the Grammys, can sell out/headline any venue/festival on the planet, and Wasting Light is in every major publications top 10, if not top 5. They get plenty of credit.

Playstationdogs94
February 20, 2012 at 11:30 am

i think hes referring to the fact that when they see someone like the foo fighters get something they think they deserve, only because they’re more popular not better, people freak out.

Bpob
December 16, 2011 at 5:22 am

Wait. When was the cut-off date?
No Florence + The Machine? No Coldplay? No Black Keys? No TV on the Radio? No Tally Hall? None of those?
Disappointed.

MusicGroz
December 16, 2011 at 5:22 am

Wow, No El Camino, Circuital, Ceremonials, or The Whole Love….interesting.

Looooooooo
December 27, 2011 at 5:15 am

Cermonials was a terrible record. It got drowned in maximalist production. None of the songs have room to breathe.

Anonymous
December 27, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Maximalist?  Oh. Been reading one too many reviews of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy lately?

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truth
December 16, 2011 at 5:15 am

No Wye Oak makes your list a joke.

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