The Best 50 Albums of 2011 – #41-50

#50 – Arctic Monkeys, Suck It and See: You’ve got to like a band with a little swagger. Arctic Monkeys have enough for a dozen bands. They’re certainly one of the few bands (and Alex Turner is one of the few singers) who could pull off a line like “She’s thunderstorms.” A great and confident collection of British rock ‘n’ roll, far superior to either Gallagher brother release this year.
#49 – Smith Westerns, Dye It Blonde: An album that didn’t grab me at first, but grew on me over time as I came to appreciate this tuneful and upbeat reboot of 1970s glam rock. It’s worth it for the guitar sound alone, great screaming swooping slide work.
#48 – Dum Dum Girls, Only in Dreams: Vocalist Dee Dee (aka Kristen Gundred) sounds eerily like Chrissy Hynde and there’s not much original going on here, but this throwback of an album is so full of tuneful and joyous ’60s surf rock and pop, and delivered with great punk energy that it doesn’t need to be that original.
#47 – Telekinesis, 12 Desperate Straight Lines: Michael Benjamin Lerner lost his band and his relationship. After a bit of a journey, he produced this chronicle of heartache, delivered as terrifically catchy power pop with a strong ‘80s feel and rollicking bass (an instrument he apparently just picked up one day). Rarely has unhappiness sounded so upbeat!
#46 – Youth Lagoon, The Year of Hibernation: A great year for debut albums as this release demonstrates. Trevor Powers is Youth Lagoon, and he’s created an album of wistful, keyboard-based pop with delicate vocals. Songs often have a nice uplift toward the end, pushed by pounded bass drum and handclaps. A simple yet effective approach.
#45 – Death Cab for Cuties, Codes and Keys: Ben Gibbard and crew continue to quietly pump out great pop music. His voice – high and precise – suits the material very well, particularly on this collection, which showcases a more diverse musical range, with more keyboard and less guitar – and very strong work from the rhythm section (e.g. on “Doors Unlocked and Open”).
#44 – Explosions in the Sky, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care: Instrumental groups have it easy in one way: no need to write words (nor to deal with a singer’s ego!). On the other hand, they have to convey every feeling via instruments alone. Explosions in the Sky are masters at this, creating highly moving soundscapes with ringing echoing guitars and crashing cymbals and drums.
#43 – Deer Tick, Divine Providence: John McCauley and band returned to his Providence roots to record this kick-ass set of punk-country. A burst of frenetic energy and great party music, with lyrics covering in detail topics known only someone who’s spent life since his teens on the rock ‘n’ roll road. “This record should be played f***ing loud” reads the inside of the cover art. Agreed!
#42 – David Lowery, The Palace Guards: The mad genius behind Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker brings his sardonic voice and quirky outlook to his first solo album. This set of mostly country rock songs is surprisingly sweet and always entertaining.
#41 – Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring For My Halo: Interesting that this release came just ahead of David Lowery’s album on my list. I used to think Lowery had a sardonic tone; Kurt Vile makes Lowery sound sunny and happy, most notably on songs like “Puppet to the Man” and “Society Is My Friend.” Even a song like “Baby’s Arms” that seems sweet on the surface reveals deep angst when listened to closely. 

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