Top 10 Albums – 2011 – Alex

#10 Youth Lagoon, The Year of Hibernation

This may be the first entry on my list but it was the last one I decided on. My top 9 picks were all ones that I had known for awhile. I listened to a pool of 13-15 CD’s that I knew I was going to pick my #10 entry from, and for awhile I was settled on either The Raveonettes or Future Islands. Both albums I initially disliked only to do a 180 on after hearing them over and over again from Ryan Harper of the Boise Record Exchange fame and Travis Gillett of my friendship/Deadhorsemarch fame respectively. Then at one point or another I had Hayes Carll, Panda Bear, Rome and the Gil-Scott Heron & Jamie xx mix in the spot. None of them seemed right to me because the albums were either too hit and miss for me or I just knew that there was something else that I wanted in that all too important #10 spot of the list that no one outside of me really cares about.

Finally as I was typing up my reasons for the other entries on my list I decided to give Youth Lagoon another listen to, if only because I was tired of listening to all the other possible choices for my #10 spot. I had heard and liked a few songs from this album but I had initially dismissed it because I felt like it was something I was supposed to like since he was from Boise and that I should have a home town pride sort of thing for him. Listening to it this time though I realized that I don’t have to like this album because of geography and where he is from but because it really is a good album. It’s sort of a running theme in this write up but I was definitely too quick in forming an opinion about this album and I’m very excited about following him in the years to come.

#9 Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside, Dirty Radio

This spot was going to be Dirty Radio by Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside or Smoking in Heaven by Kitty, Daisy & Lewis. I know that I could have just put both on here in the #9 and #10 spots but I would end up saying very similar things about each because I like them both for similar reasons. Both albums remind me of a more up to date take on early 50’s rock n’ roll with female singers. Sallie Ford ends up getting the spot though because I was a little disappointed by Smoking in Heaven, not thinking it lived up to Kitty, Daisy & Lewis’s first self titled album.
When my dad first told me to listen to Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside he gave me the precursor that her voice might take a little bit of getting used to. I went into it expecting something like Joanna Newsom (who’s voice I still can’t get past) but was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it right off the bat. Just like the #4 album on my list I found this album to be very fun and one that is near impossible to sit still while listening to. It’s a fun throwback sound that does its own thing and I would recommend both this and Smoking in Heaven.

#8 Little Dragon, Ritual Union

Little Dragon was on one of my favorite tracks (“Gorilla Ants”) from my top album of last year (Plastic Beach by the Gorillaz) and then this year on “Wildfire”, my favorite song from SBTRKT’s Young Turk’s. Since Little dragon (Yukimi Nagano in particular) stole the show on those tracks, I decided to go back and listened to their past two albums in preparation of Ritual Union. I enjoyed them both, Machine Dreams more than the self titled first and had high expectations for the upcoming release.

Ritual Union met my expectations and was better than both previous albums (In my opinion).  It’s a rare album for me that I can put on if I just want to lay back and space out in a digital landscape, letting Yukimi Nagano’s voice take me off into whatever weird places my mind decides to wander. It ‘s also an album that I can put on if I want to get a little pumped up and dance around my place cleaning like an 80’s movie montage or even drink a few beers with friends getting ready to start the night. It’s a fun album that has only grown on me the more and more I listen to it.


#7 Timber Timbre, Creep On Creepin’ On

I remember when Creep On Creepin’ On came out and that there was even a copy lying around that I could have listened to but for some reason I passed it up, assuming that it would be another average band that sounds exactly like everything else. When a friend suggested I listen to them on his Hype Machine account, I reluctantly agreed, pretty much only doing so, so I would know that I wouldn’t have to bother with them anymore (Not sure what they did to get on my bad side). I’m very happy that my friend didn’t accurately describe Creep On Creepin’ On as an album that is like a horror movie soundtrack with lyrics about obsession and despair because there is a good chance I would have continued to never listened to it. I did listen to it though and needless to say I now love Timber Timbre and it’s because of them, I have sworn to never preemptively judge something before listening to it again.

Aside from the three instrumental tracks, which are the only reason this isn’t higher on the list, every single song on here received the coveted 5-star rating from me on itunes. A rare feat that only my #1 and almost #3 (one 4-star) picks were able to accomplish this year. The songs, although darker in nature, all have very catchy almost upbeat hooks that go great with the vocals. I have never been a big fan of, as I call it, “depressing Elliot Smith music” because I always figure why be bummed out when you could be happy. Timber Timbre although nothing like Elliot Smith in my opinion, is similar to a few other entries on this list for me. It may have darker messages behind some of the songs but that’s not the reason I enjoy them.

As I think back I realize that I may have been a little too hard on some friends back in the day when I gave them crap for their “depressing musical tastes” because I’m sure that someone could look at my list now and make the same assumption. Where one person see’s depressing music another could see the perfect study album or the best record to wind down after a long day. That’s the beauty of music and all forms of art I guess, there’s no one universal way to look at or appreciate.


#6 Austra, Feel It Break

I was wandering around the Edge at the Boise Record Exchange looking for something to spend some in-store credit I had on, before I moved to Seattle the next week. After a few minutes of looking, I heard a voice pierce through the stores sound system. I kept trying to look around but the voice kept distracting me and drawing me in. I finally walked to the “Now Playing” rack on the other side of the store to investigate, finding out that it was Feel It Break by Austra.

I took note of it in my phone and proceeded to forget about it for a month or so until I saw the music video for “Lose It”, an odd creepy video that helped put a face with the voice I remembered so well. I found out later the voice belonged to Katy Stelmanis, a trained opera singer who in an interview with onethirtybpm said “that she left opera because she was uncomfortable with its demands and wanted to party.”

I didn’t forget about Austra this time and when I was back in Boise to pick up all my belongings, I knew exactly what I was going to spend my remaining in-store credit on. When I was ordering the vinyl from one of the employees I used to work with the most, he remarked that Austra seemed like way more of a darker, gothy album then he expected me to like. I didn’t think of Feel It Break as that dark, but as I listen to it more, it does always seem to be the perfect record to listen to on rainy Seattle days.


#5 Devotchka, 100 Lovers

 100 Lovers benefits more than any other album on this list because of when it was released. I’ve had this CD playing in my car so long, I actually thought it came out last year. When 100 Lovers first came out, some people and critics dismissed it as more of the same from Devotchka and disliked it because it wasn’t as genre bending or adventurous as previous albums. There’s some truth in this, but I would still rather take a Devotchka who has settled into place than almost any other band around today. It could be that I just like songs that build and build to an exciting peak, the soundtrack like quality some of their tracks have, the wine gargling vocals of Nick Urata or the fact that I had an absolute blast at their lively concert. More than all of those, I think the reason I like Devotchka so much, is because of their unique sound. With lots of bands today I can hear a song and honestly have no idea which of the 30 different bands on pitchforks homepage it is, because aside from a select few, they all sound the same to me. I have never had that problem with Devotchka, and 100 Lovers, I believe, is a good entry in their already great discography. Also, I dare anyone to listen to “Exhaustible” without starting to whistle along.

#4 Imelda May, Mayhem

I’m not completely sure why, but up until the past few years I never really liked female vocalists all that much. When I try and think about why that was, I honestly don’t have a good explanation. It might be because I thought listening to them made me girly or some other equally as stupid of a reason. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the band I Monster about 5 or 6 years ago that my listening tastes started to change (for the better). There were beautiful female vocals on several of their songs and it was just the segway I needed. Now over half a decade later my top 10 list is half female artists and vocalists, with even more in my top 20.

None of that has all that much to do with why I like Mayhem but I also don’t have very much to say about it other than that this album is just so much fun. I first heard it when I was trying to sleep in the back of a car with my parents and sister driving to a family reunion. By the end of the CD, I had heard about 10 different genre’s and was sitting wide awake tapping my feet wanting more. It’s been on a heavy rotation for me since that trip and I eagerly await whatever she has coming in the future.


#3 Beirut, The Rip Tide

Beirut is a band that I first heard my sophomore year of college while visiting a friend. That friend had heard of them from one of his friends who had first heard them years earlier. I continued this trend of band handoff when I went back to my school, with Beirutalways being 1 of the top bands I would tell any of my friends about if they asked me what some good music was. I liked Beirut so much back then that in an effort to find similar music to them, I ended up finding the #5 band on my list in the process. That’s why it’s funny to me that Beirut, other than an EP, have never come out with a full album since I have been listening to them and been a fan.

When I heard that they would have an album out this year I got excited and started to shoot my expectations through the roof. Then earlier this summer the same friend who had first introduced me to them, told me that he had heard it wasn’t all that good of an album. This was probably the best thing that I could have heard because it lowered my expectations only to have the album exceed them when it came out. The Rip Tide is a brisk, summery, happy sounding album that has all the ingredients I enjoy about a Beirut album in it. It has its unique sound with a cornucopia of different instruments playing behind Zach Condon’s soothing vocals and even a dash of Sharon Van Etten for good measure.

(Note) My friend has since admitted that he enjoys the album.


#2 My Morning Jacket, Circuital

My Morning Jacket has never been my favorite band in the world; I really enjoyed Z in 2005 but could never get into their earlier stuff or Evil Urges in 2008. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when I heard Circuital. It wasn’t mind blowingly awesome that first time I listened to it but I liked it enough to eventually purchase it on vinyl. I’ve only had a vinyl player for a year and a half and only had good speakers for the past year, so I hadn’t quite reached the levels of vinyl-sound-quality-snobbery that I have now and will continue to have in the upcoming future. I have Circuital to thank for my transition of opinion because it’s the first time where it seemed like a completely different album when listening to it on vinyl with my nice speakers instead of on my computer, ipod or car stereo.

The A side of Circuital is without a doubt the most played Vinyl I have, with only the songs “Victory Dance” and “Circuital” on it. Every time I put it on, I can feel the music surround me, putting me in a nice little music coma before Jim James voice comes in officially sealing the deal that I won’t be leaving the room for the next 13 minutes. It took me playing that side over and over again before I finally ventured on to the rest of album, which although never living up to the heights of the first two songs is still very enjoyable.


#1 Cults, Cults

When I graduated college last December I had no solid ideas of what I actually wanted to do with my life after that point. That same unknowing feeling has stuck with me through all of 2011 and continues as I’m writing this now. I have moved cities, worked a few random jobs while having a difficult time finding anything real, lost contact with school friends and had a long romantic relationship end. It would seem only fitting that my favorite album of the year would have darker lyrics about crumbling relationships and sound clips from cult leaders like Charles Manson, Patty Hearst and Jim Jones scattered throughout, helping to go along with any disenfranchised, sad feelings I might be going through.

Too bad this isn’t my favorite album for any of those depressing ass reasons at all. No, this is my favorite of the year because of the 60’s pop sound and Madeline Follin’s vocals. She could be singing about murdering puppies and I would still find myself bobbing my head right along and feeling good while listening to this album. I’ve heard they aren’t very good live, so just like how I refuse to watch a music video for The xx, I know I will never see Cults in concert because it would only ruin how perfect it is in my head. I’m sure if I were to redo my top10 list for this year a few years down the road, this wouldn’t be number one and possibly not even on the list at all. But an album that makes me feel good every time I listen to it is just what I need this year and it’s the reason why it gets the top spot on my list.


My near misses this year in alphabetical order were (James Blake, James Blake, Hayes Carll, Kmag Yoyo, Danger Mouse & Daniel Luppi, Rome, Future Islands, On the Water, Gil Scott-Heron, We’re New Here, Eilen Jewell, Queen of the Minor KeyKitty, Daisy & Lewis, Smoking in Heaven, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, Rare Bird Alert, Movits!, Out Of My Head, Panda Bear, Tomboy, Ravonettes, Raven in the Grave, Jonathan Warren & the Billy Goats, Jonathan Warren & the Billy Goats, Woodkid, Iron EP, Yelle, Safari Disco Club, Zee Avi, Ghostbird)


My top ten in order of metacritic score:

Youth Lagoon, The Year of Hibernation=80
Beirut, The Rip Tide=78
Imelda May, Mayhem=78
Little Dragon, Ritual Union=77
My Morning Jacket, Circuital=77
Austra, Feel It Break=75
Timber Timbre, Creep On Creepin’ On=74
Cults, Cults=73
Devotchka, 100 Lovers=72
Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside, Dirty Radio=N/A


NOTE: I made this list up before being able to listen to the upcoming Roots, Common, The Black Keys or Nickelback (joking) CDs came out, so who knows, maybe my list will change by the end of the year.

– Alex

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