The City Paper music department pick the best album releases of 2011
When you brain fills up with the new music of the year, it’s difficult to break it apart by artist and genre and categorize everything in an organized way. Some of the most obnoxious and tedious tunes from new releases can distract one from the beauty, emotion, and sonic weirdness of the strongest stuff.
The City Paper’s team of in-house and freelance music writers thought long and hard about the best and most significant release of 2011. Listed here are their top studio albums, live collections, box sets, re-issues, and EPs of year. —TBL
Jared Booth’s Top Five Albums of 2011
2011 has been a great year for music. Here in Charleston, we’ve seen the continued explosion of our local music scene, with great tunes to be found every night of the week somewhere around town. Nationally, there has been a revival of popular music that is actually good, although we sometimes have to wade through some Katy Perry bullshit to find it. Narrowing this list down was hard, and a lot of great music was left off, from an ambitious storytelling project from former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello to the fantastic Florence and the Machine release, Ceremonials. And, of course, this is my opinion, so don’t put too much stock in it because half the time I don’t even agree with myself.
• Tom Waits — Bad as Me (Anti)
The shadowy, gravel-voiced legend is not known for his subtlety. He usually prefers the creepy hinterlands of the soul. But on the standout track, “Talking at the Same Time,” he encapsulates our current economic and political climate, singing: “Hard times for some, for others it’s sweet/Someone makes money when there’s blood in the street.” While longtime fans will recognize much of the musical landscape of Bad as Me, it is simpler than his recent recordings, letting the songs’ inner beast shine through more clearly.
• Bon Iver — Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)
Bon Iver (a.k.a. Justin Vernon) holed up in a Wisconsin shack a few years back and emerged with the wildly successful For Emma, Forever Ago, which is one of those albums where each song feels like it was made for the rainy scenes in sad movies (and that is a huge compliment, by the way). The new self-titled record is louder, more adventurous, and features more musicianship, but on tracks like “Calgary,” his distinctive falsetto still grabs you and transfers you to a place of barren snow-covered fields and heartache.
• Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — Here We Rest (Lightning Rod)
Isbell’s third post-Drive-By Truckers record is his best. The mainly acoustic background works perfectly with the perpetual brokenness of his introspective and fantastic songwriting. The opener, “Alabama Pines,” is the strongest song because of the weakness Isbell lets us see as he yearns for home. While there are two pseudo-soul duds, the album, after about 10 listens, feels like part of you.
• Dawes — Nothing is Wrong (ATO)
Taylor Goldsmith is one of the five best songwriters in America. And his band, including the youngest bad-ass in the world, Taylor’s barely legal younger brother drummer Griffin Goldsmith, more than matches the promise of his literary prowess. With their critically acclaimed, flat-out superb sophomore album, Dawes have cemented themselves in the minds of any serious music fan for years to come. Jackson Browne, Taylor Goldsmith’s most critically-noted influence, even sings backup vocals on “Fire Away.”
• Adele — 21 (Columbia)
I know, I know. I’m a sucker, but talent like this deserves all the hype. Even the revenge-on-the-ex gimmick isn’t even really the point. At least not for me. It’s the combination of jaw-dropping vocal skill and sheer emotional power which forces me (often against my better judgement) to holler along at the top of my lungs. Nowhere is this clearer than on my favorite song of the year, the horrifyingly good “One and Only.”