The Best 50 Albums of 2011 – #1-10

#10 – The Black Keys, El Camino: I just reviewed this so read the review for more thoughts, but the bottom line here is that if your butt isn’t wiggling 30 seconds into the first track, you should check for a pulse.
#9 – Rich Aucoin, We’re All Dying to Live:A late-comer, this is a sprawling, epic debut album from this Canadian singer-songwriter, performed and produced in dozens of locations across Canada with help from a who’s who of Canadian independent music. Ambitious, baroque, poppy, driving, and lyrical – I’m expecting a great future for Aucoin.
#8 – Peter, Bjorn and John, Gimme Some: Music this catchy should be illegal! These three Scandinavians punch out great, upbeat rock songs and are incredibly tight. I can’t think of very many bands who turn a line like “All art has been contemporary” into singalong!
#7 – M83, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming:One of the electronica bands I discovered this year, this long album (74 min.) showcases a range of styles, poppy, orchestral, driving. It’s sometimes playful, sometimes serious but always deeply moving. It’s electronic music with a great heart.
#6 – Feist, Metals: Another gem from Leslie Feist, 13 carefully composed songs performed in an imaginative (but always appropriate) combination of styles, sung in one of the most beguiling voices in music, ethereal and delicate yet muscular and gutsy when needed.
#5 – Library Voices, Summer of Lust:A stunning debut from this Winnipeg collective and (perhaps not surprisingly given the band’s name) one of the most literary albums I’ve ever heard. I mean literally “literary,” with song titles like “If Raymond Carver Were Born in the 90s” and “Reluctant Readers Make Reluctant Lovers.” Every song is a pitch perfect pop classic, confidently and energetically executed, with sax and retro synths providing great color.
#4 – Thievery Corporation, Culture of Fear: With help from a wide range of guests, Eric Hilton and Rob Garza create another seamless mix of electronica, dance, dub, reggae, hip hop, jazz and Arabic influences. Danceable and dreamy, the lyrics (especially on “Web of Deception” and “Culture of Fear”) are often scathingly political.
#3 – Tom Waits, Bad As Me: Yep, Tom is back, stomping his way through another tour of American musical styles with an inventiveness and musicianship that most artists will never achieve. He croons, growls, whoops and hollers on songs that come from almost every era of American popular music: Tin Pan Alley, blues, jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll.
#2 – PJ Harvey, Let England Shake:Polly Jean Harvey makes a protest album for the 21st century, drawing parallels between the trauma Great Britain suffered (especially its young men) during World War I (aka The Great War) and the continued cost of war. Imaginative, inventive and intensely poetic, this is album is almost painful, in a musically exquisite way.
#1 – Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues:There isn’t a note or word out of place on this exquisite album. Unique harmonies (close to shape singing), a crystal clear lead voice, thoughtful and literary lyrics, and exceptional care to arrangements have all come together to produce an album that stands completely apart from anything else out there – and could fit anywhere on the musical timeline.

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