As I think back to 2011, I realize it was a true life-changing year for me. For one thing, I gained a job with additional responsibilities, working in a field–radiation–I had never had experience in before. I also went to Japan.
The world also experienced drastic change with the Arab Spring, the death of Osama Bin Laden and the unfortunate nuclear disaster in the beautiful country of Japan a few months before I arrived.
Along with these tumultuous changes, music had a pretty good year and electronic music continued a renaissance.
For a long time, electronic has been trivialized as mere pop. Since Daft Punk’s landmark album “Discovery” that all began to change and electronic began to be taken seriously as a legitimate artform, not just dancefloor fodder.
That trend continued in 2011…
Best albums of 2011
10. Drive Soundtrack – Various Artists
I’ll admit, this is a bit of a copout. Especially considering many of the tracks on this album are not from 2011. However, in the context of the 2011 film Drive, this is one of the greatest soundtracks in recent memory. I have kept my eye on the French electronic act–and their electronic label, Valerie–for about a year now and College doesn’t disappoint with “A Real Hero”. Once you see the film–also one of the best of 2011–you won’t soon forget these songs. Cliff Martinez also deserves credit in constructing a score Tangerine Dream would be proud of.
Fun Fact: Drive is the best crime film in years. Seriously.
Key Tracks: “A Real Hero” (College Feat. Electric Youth), “Under Your Spell” (Desire)
9. Cape Dory – Tennis
I was first referred to Tennis through a friend. He demanded I listen to their debut single, “Marathon”. I didn’t give much of a thought to the song, but was blown away by their debut LP, “Cape Dory”.
What’s great about “Cape Dory” and the band Tennis in general is that they care so much about their music, with nary a smirk. There is no irony or tongue in cheek, despite the old-fashioned and, at times, hokey nature of surf rock.
That’s partly what makes it so appealing — it’s so amiable.
Fun Fact: The husband and wife duo behind Tennis lived on a boat for around a year. This experience informed “Cape Dory”.
Key Tracks: “Cape Dory”, “South Carolina”, “Seafarer”
8. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Coming off the heels of his highly acclaimed debut, this is merely a very good album. It’s got some amazing songs, but doesn’t quite meet the astronomical expectations set by Justin Vernon’s debut. I am happy to see Vernon’s progression into new sounds, experimenting with synths.
Fun Fact: Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon thinks the Grammys suck and are about selling out. Oh really?
Key Tracks: “Holocene”, “Perth”
7. Era Extraña – Neon Indian
Let’s get this out of the way: “Psychic Chasms” is one of the greatest electronic albums of the past decade. Just like “Bon Iver”, this album had no way to reach the expectations set by the debut. Despite this, “Era Extraña” is a solid, solid album. Alan Palomo–the lead of Neon Indian–constructs an album that is much more polished, but doesn’t lose the abstract pop heights met by “Psychic Chasms”. It’s just that unlike “Psychic Chasms”, not every song on this album is excellent. Only like 80% are.
Huge props to “The Blindside Kiss” and the obvious My Bloody Valentine influence though. Some really great guitars on this album throughout.
Fun Fact: Palomo guested on much of Miami Horror’s great debut Illumination. In particular, “Holidays”.
Key Tracks: “The Blindside Kiss”, “Hex Girlfriend”, “Fallout”
6. Camp – Childish Gambino
Months ago, Donald Glover came to the Variety Playhouse and played a sold out show in his home state of Georgia under the moniker Childish Gambino. When I had seen a description of the show–and his unfortunate moniker–I declined to go.
Boy was I wrong.
I later caught Childish Gambino’s powerful live show at Moogfest 2011 in Asheville. Showcasing much of “Camp”, I knew then and there they had something. Glover takes the huge risk of eschewing much of the rap fallbacks–flaunting machismo, wealth, overblown confidence–to produce an album that is amazingly frank, vulnerable and hilarious.
Fun Fact: Donald Glover is from Stone Mountain, GA…And manages to largely talk about how much it sucked in “Camp”.
Key Tracks: “All the Shine”, “Heartbeat”
5. Rapprocher – Class Actress
As a pure pop album, “Rapprocher” is brilliant. Even more impressive, this is only Class Actress’ first LP. After their debut EP, “Journal of Ardency”, I was greatly anticipating this album and it did not disappoint. “Weekend” is one of the greatest tracks of the year. Pure pop perfection.
This album is my rookie of the year. Really excited to hear what’s next for Class Actress. I just wish they would tour in the South. Now.
Fun Fact: Class Actress still hasn’t toured the South.
Key Tracks: “Weekend”, “Keep You”, “Let Me In”
4. Civilian – Wye Oak
Such a powerful album. So much emotion on this album and definitely, atmospherically, the darkest of the list, Wye Oak hits one out of the park here. It’s even more impressive considering it’s a two person band. Bands with five members often can’t even pull off this sound. Really looking forward to seeing what else is up Wye Oak’s sleeve in the future.
Fun Fact: Earlier this fall, I planned to see this band on a whim and a recommendation from a friend of mine. They canceled due to illness, with the replacement band being Deerhunter Music Band. Not believing it was Bradford Cox’s Deerhunter, I didn’t go. Later turns out it was. Had a hard time sleeping that night.
Key Tracks: “The Altar”, “Holy Holy”, “Civilian”
3. Belong – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Long my pick for best album of the year, “Belong” is fantastic. A perfect mixture of Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine, this is where The Pains truly spread their wings. Almost every song is superb, a shimmering masterpiece any shoegaze act would be proud of. “Anne With an E” was one of my favorite songs of early 2011. It still is brilliant.
Fun Fact: I met much of the band. They are truly awesome in person as well.
Key Tracks: “The Body”, “Anne With an E”, “Even in Dreams”
2. Father, Son, Holy Ghost – Girls
Leading with the upbeat surf rock tribute “Honey Bunny”, Father, Son, Holy Ghost later segues into probably the most stripped-down and raw of the albums I listened to in 2011, largely in terms of sheer emotion. The young leader of Girls expresses so much honest, raw emotion it initially becomes highly uncomfortable listening to the album.
It’s also gorgeous and extremely emotionally affecting.
Fun Fact: Christopher Owens was a part of the Children of God cult. He escaped at age 16 and has used this experience in informing his music.
Key Tracks: “Honey Bunny”, “Vomit”, “My Ma”
1. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming – M83
After “Saturdays=Youth” became an instant classic for me personally, I was initially let down by M83’s latest. However, I gave it another listen. And another. And another. I have since come to the realization that this is M83’s greatest album and the best album of 2011. The way Anthony Gonzalez is able to merge synths with instrumentation and heightened emotion brings to mind a mixture of French Eurodisco, hair metal, and New Wave. This potent combination with sweeping choruses and harmonies reminds me of Meat Loaf…In a good way.
Fun Fact: M83 is one of the best electronic acts live. Seriously catch them on their summer tour.
Key Tracks: “Intro”, “Midnight City”, “Reunion”, “Steve McQueen”
Within and Without – Washed Out
Days – Real Estate
Probably the two best chill albums of 2011, both are really impressive, but never managed to hook me.
In particular, I prefer Washed Out’s less polished older work, but it is a potentially important next step in Ernest Greene and co.’s sound.
“Days” is an extremely well-made album, but it didn’t hook me entirely. I still appreciate the craft.
Biggest Disappointment (Tie)
Watch The Throne – Watch The Throne
This is more a disappointment in terms of talent than anything. With Kanye West and Jay-Z at the helm, the album was hyped into oblivion as the Next Big Thing. Instead, it rattled off a few hit songs and wasn’t spoken of again. History will probably judge it along the lines of a Velvet Revolver-type collaboration (this isn’t a compliment).
Portamento – The Drums
The Drums’ self-titled debut LP was a new wave-infused sugar rush. It reminded me of a more upbeat version of The Cure. Basically all the sound with none of the sulking (or pretention) that often came from that band. That’s what disappointmented me so much about “Portamento”. There are a few good tracks on the album, but it doesn’t come close to meeting the heights of the debut and indulges in loads of pretention, as evidenced by their Spotify commentary.
Not a Fan
Yeah, I went there. Sorry folks, Dubstep sucks. Even worse, it’s becoming appropriated by brahs and growing like kudzu. Bolt your doors, and hammer those windows tight, Skrillex is coming for your kids.
So I realize I totally forgot Cut Copy’s “Zonoscope”. It is one heck of an album and one of the best dance albums of the year. It also definitely has a place in the top ten…It just had an awful release date in early Winter.
Yes, John is still alive after writing this super-long blog post. If you wish, follow him at @jododojo10 on Twitter.