Another December, another list. God I love this time of year. These are my absolute favorite records of the past twelve months. Some things I posted about a long time ago, some things that snuck up on me over the past few weeks. Some things you’ve seen all over other people’s lists, some things that maybe differentiate PHW from those other people a little bit. Read & listen. I hope you find some new music to love. Onward:
40. The Roots – Undun
39. Real Estate – Days
38. The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
37. Black Lips – Arabia Mountain
36. Belong – Common Era
35. Balam Acab – Wander/Wonder
34. Future Islands – On the Water
33. A.A. Bondy – Believers
32. Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica
31. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
30. Centro-matic – Candidate Waltz
If you haven’t yet been introduced to this Denton, TX band before, and Crazy Horse, GBV, Drive-by Truckers, Son Volt, Sparklehorse, and early My Morning Jacket are your thing, then you have a goddamn treasure trove of Centro-matic releases to get caught up with. Starting with Candidate Waltz is as good a place as any.
29. Chris Kiehne – Pray for Daylight/A Widower’s Kind
Kiehne, a member of PHW faves The National Lights, finally finished and released Pray for Daylight – a hushed, immaculately-produced collection of folk songs he started years ago and lost in a hard drive crash – in 2011. With its subtle zombie theme, the album comes on like Our Endless Numbered Days meets The Walking Dead. Wasting little time, Kiehne went ahead and recorded A Widower’s Kind, a collection of Hank Williams covers/re-imaginings no less, in just two short weeks. There’s really no way I could chose between them, so they share this spot.
28. Apache Dropout – s/t
Fuzzed-out and otherworldly garage/psyche from Indiana
27. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead
I’ve never really loved The Decemberists, so when ths collection of simple folk/rock songs dropped I kind of ignored it for a while. Save a few songs here and there, they’d never been my thing, so I felt no urgency to listen to, what seemed like on paper anyway, a step backwards for the band. But after hearing the sublime, Dylan-esque “June Hymn” on the radio I gave it a shot, and The King is Dead became one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.
26. Pure X – Pleasure
A late season discovery, Pure X came out of nowhere for me over the past few weeks and have sort of blown my mind. With its gorgeous melodies and atmospheric guitars, Pleasure might well have been much higher on this list had I heard it earlier.
25. Bry Webb – Provider
Though released with little publicity and even less fanfare just a few weeks back, the solo debut from Constantines’ front man Bry Webb is an understated, somber, and beautiful collection of songs about family and struggle.
24. David Shane Smith – Controls SM
The latest from this prolific, experimental L.A.-based songwriter plays out like a soundtrack for a decaying natural world.
23. Dirty Beaches – Badlands
Road songs for some lost desert highway, Alex Zhang Huntai’s Badlands is one of the year’s most promising debuts.
22. Antiques – JWNS
JWNS is an endearingly slapdash collection that uses 90s alternative/lo-fi as a springboard into something completely refreshing. My album of Summer 2K11.
21. Arrange – Quiet State EP/Plantation
One of my favorite discoveries of the year, Arrange is the work of a Florida teen who seems intent to be one of the internet’s most prolific artists. With at least 3 EPs, one full length, and handful of free singles (and much more in the works) all in the past 16 or so months, Malcom Lacey is a name to keep in mind in the years to come.
20. Wilco – The Whole Love
As a whole, Wilco’s latest is somewhat scattershot, but The Whole Love certainly has enough brilliant individual moments to warrant inclusion on this list. “Art of Almost”, “Open Mind”, “One Sunday Morning”, and the quartet of great pop/rock songs (“The Whole Love”, “Dawned on Me”, “I Might” + “Born Alone”) are a welcome return to form from one of my favorite songwriters of all time.
19. Atlas Sound – Parallax
It seems like it will be quite some time before a year goes by without a great album from Bradford Cox, whether it be as Atlas Sound or Deerhunter. Truly, he has become one of the most reliable and affecting songwriters working today.
18. The Vaccines – What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?
A fun, promising debut from these U.K. darlings – perhaps the best album of the year to blast and shout along with.
17. Disappears – Guider
The Chicago band’s second album in as many years is downright primal – all controlled chaos, minimalism, and old fashioned rock & roll swagger.
16. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lenses Alien
In an era where guitar-based indie ROCK seems to be dying off, Cymbals Eat Guitars are here to shed glorious light on what you (or your parents) were listening to way back in, like, the late 90s.
15. Clams Casino – Instrumentals
Without vocals on top, “visionary beatmaker” Mike Volpe’s tracks as Clams Casino fall somewhere closer to ambient/trip-hop than hip-hop – slow beats; gauzy, fading electronic sounds, lo-fi production, and the occasional abstract vocal presence. It’s truly hypnotic and beautiful stuff.
14. Blackout Beach – Fuck Death
Just read the CMG review already.
13. Forest Fire – Staring at the X
A huge improvement over 2008’s promising Survival, Staring at the X is a truly expansive 34 minutes and finds the eclectic folk/pop band exploring all sorts of weird, wonderful ideas.
12. Okkervil River – I Am Very Far
One of the most unjustly overlooked records of 2011, Okkervil River’s latest almost entirely eschews the kind of safe folk-rock a band of their stature could rake with for something darker, noisier, and distinctly claustrophobic. I don’t think there’s a band out there that does the Phil Spector-influenced indie-rock thing as well as Okkervil River – if “John Allyn Smith Sails” wasn’t proof enough in ‘07, then “Rider” is here to put the argument to rest.
11. Mikal Cronin – s/t
Ty Segall buddy Mikal Cronin’s self-titled full length debut features an equal mix of surf/pop gems and heavy garage rock workouts.
10. Thee Oh Sees – Carrion Crawler/The Dream
Carrion Crawler/The Dream is filled with positively damaged, bone-rattling garage/psyche jams from prolific San Fran war horses Thee Oh Sees.
9. The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient
Adam Granduciel conjures up a shimmering, atmospheric classic rock freeway on his band’s second full length record.
8. Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
Mogwai’s latest hasn’t turned up on many year-end lists that I’ve seen thus far (props though), which is mildly shocking, if such a thing is possible. This is a streamlined, engrossing, and, at times, harrowing collection of post-rock instrumentals (P.S. – the two tracks with vocals are absolute killers, mind you) that gets better every single time I hear it.
7. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for my Halo
Vile’s stream-of-consciousness ramblings, his oddly affecting version of a young-man’s blues, left me dazed and confused (in the best possible way) over and over again this year.
6. Yuck – Yuck
Yuck deliver a virtual Best Of Comp for the Alternative Nation with their debut, mining a who’s who of 90s all-stars – Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Pixies, Hole, Pavement, Elliott Smith, etc – for inspiration.
5. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
A stunning full length debut from this Sub Pop crew whose positively interstellar jams draw as much from jazz and minimalism as hip-hop. Clear some space out….
4. The Men – Leave Home
Leave Home is just a pummeling rock record whose brutal intensity is personified best in that moment in “L.A.D.O.C.H.” where everything drops out except for the bruised drums and rasping cough. Rock & roll at its ugliest and most beautiful.
3. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Is there an “indie” musician with a brighter future than Justin Vernon? Doesn’t seem like it. Leaving the remote cabin behind for a fully realized studio effort, Bon Iver loses none of the disarming intimacy that caught the world by storm on his neo-classic debut, and just proves that Vernon is every bit the genius sonic architect as he is the amazing singer and songwriter.
2. Destroyer – Kaputt
Enough has been written about Kaputt’s sound and vision over the past 10+ months that getting into all that would just be white noise. I will say this though – in a year where so many of my favorite artists from years past dropped albums that were just more of the same old same old, Bejar went in an unlikely direction and knocked it out of the park.
1. Tim Hecker– Ravedeath, 1972
Nothing I heard in 2011 hit me as hard as Tim Hecker’s drone/noise masterpiece. There were countless late nights this year where the lights went off, the headphones went on, and for 50+ transportive minutes it seemed as if time and space ceased to exist. Perhaps the year’s heaviest and most intense album, and quite unlike almost everything else on this list, Ravedeath, 1972 is everything I never knew I needed in a record.