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The Top 10 Albums of 2011

By / Posted on 03 January 2012

The Top 10 Albums of 2011

Self-respecting media nerds with fondness for lists we are, our countdown of our favorite albums of 2011 was finished weeks ago. Technical difficulties and server errors, though, prevented that list from being published at the predetermined time and date, though, so here we are, in the year 2012, with another list recapping 2011. Sorry about that. As such, we’ve cut the original introduction, which really served no purpose anyway, and without further ado…

10. Björk’s Biophilia

Björk's Biophilia“Virus”
Anyone who says that any Björk album after Vespertine is better than any Björk album prior to Vespertine is either being paid to say so or does not genuinely enjoy music. It’s one of the sad truths we’ve come to accept of artists, that as they “mature” their work becomes more insular and self-satisfying. This is not a bad thing, as this is where the experiments occur that produce more “true” art, but we always remember the early works in any artists’ career as the more fun and expressive works. That said, even a lesser Björk album is still better than the overwhelming majority of other music produced. Looking past the incredible multidisciplinary production that was the Biophilia iPad app, the album of music by itself is still a thing a beauty, a masterpiece by any other artist. The fact that Biophilia is in any way deemed even the slightest bit disappointing is a testament to the remarkable impact Björk has had as a creative voice.

9. The Drums’ Portamento

The Drums - Portamento“Money”
It will be hard for the Drums to ever not sound like surf-rock, but, as the album title would suggest (to music nerds), Portamento was definitely a bit of a change. Undeniably darker and more brooding, Portamento filled the void of unwaveringly peppy songs about clinical depression left by the absence of satisfying new Robert Smith/the Cure albums. There is no good reason in the universe to create a song so cheerful sounding as “What You Were” so that kids can dance and laugh as Jonathan Pierce sings “I gave you my heart, I cave in, I knew I would die. Well hang on, I know you don’t think I know. . . but I know.” Portamento explores themes of abandonment, religion, and death in the same way Phil Spector pondered personal attachments in “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss).”

8. Tom Vek’s Leisure Seizure

Tom Vek - Leisure Seizure“A Chore”
Funk is no longer a sound so much as it is a bravado, and my goodness, does Tom Vek bring the funk. Bombastic, expressive, and generally unconventional percussive beats are the only standard throughout Vek’s discography, and the long gestation period of Leisure Seizure allowed for the complete package to feel less like a collection of song sketches and more like a whole unit of sound. Uncertainty and doubt are a common lyrical thread, but Vek’s cocky articulation never suggests anything but the utmost of confidence. Leisure Seizure is the documentation of an epic house party — the before, during and after — as seen through the eyes of the quiet kid in the corner who’d rather people-watch than drink and talk to girls, and how he somehow meets a quieter kid and tells him not to make the same mistakes.

7. 13 & God’s Own Your Ghost

13 & God - Own Your Ghost“Armored Scarves”
While 13 & God’s self-titled debut was little more than an art house proof of concept – that eclectic European electronica could mesh with overly conscious California rap to create something uniquely dark and curious – follow-up Own Your Ghost proved that these elements could do something more by actually forming a coherent whole. It was still dark, and it still raised more questions than it gave answers, but the same could be said of so many of history’s greatest experiments. Catchy and approachable, Own Your Ghost lulled audiences into a sense of comfort before throwing them for a loop with queries like “Have you ever been a sun dial, told time on your own? . . . You simply let your shadow out and there it ticks, inventions open up where your negative sits.”

6. Holy Ghost!’s Holy Ghost!

Holy Ghost!“Hold My Breath”
Heavy is the head that wears the DFA crown, and with James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem stepping down in 2011, Holy Ghost! seemed poised to step up to dance dominance. That the world didn’t immediately stand up and take notice is their own loss, as Holy Ghost!’s self-titled debut LP is one of the most universally pleasing collections of dance tracks since the first death of disco. Every voice, from the synth leads or bass to the hi-hats or ambient electronics could be soloed and still be completely booty-shaking. This duo has their fingers directly on the pulse of the beat and simply refuse to let it fade into the wee hours of the dark night. In an era of modern music where producers seem to be more important than the pop stars fronting them, Holy Ghost! seem to be the only two guys content to hang out, be themselves, and keep the fun without making a spectacle.


The buzzword of the music industry this year was “dubstep,” as everyone and their bassist cousin tried to create the screetchiest, dankest, most upsettingly unignorable beats in modern music history. And then there was SBTRKT. He didn’t want to destroy dancefloors like Skrillex or challenge conventions of pop music infrastructure like James Blake, he just wanted to use the vocabulary of dubstep to create some chill dancefloor grooves. Sooner or later, the endorphins slow down and you stop dancing to show off and start dancing to make a connection, either with yourself or the object of your affection. That is the place where SBTRKT’s self-titled LP lived, in the crevice of dance music that was entirely unpretentious and unconcerned with genre restrictions, which is what made it all the more exciting when these tracks would finally allow themselves to explode into the high-energy disco infernos everybody had forgotten they expected when they came into the room.

4. Miracle Fortress’s Was I The Wave

Miracle Fortress – Was I The Wave“Immanent Domain”
Was I The Wave was absolutely our sleeper hit of 2011. We were well aware of the album’s imminent release, looked forward to it favorably, and just sort of let it continue to play in the background for months without ever paying it too much mind. Steadily, Graham Van Pelt’s distinctly summery collection of chill grooves burrowed its way under our skin, deep inside of our muscles and stretching its way into our tendons, causing us to bend and flex rhythmically with the waves of sound as they lapped over our toes and crashed around our ears. Gentle and confident, there were no breakout singles to point at and say “hey! Listen to this!” but there were plenty of songs that were so pleasant and comforting that we wished we could force our friends to bury themselves in the sand and listen to the album five times in a row so that they finally got it.

3. M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

M83 — Hurry Up, We're Dreaming“Midnight City”
Anthony Gonzalez has so perfectly mastered the art of cinematic electropop, it’s a wonder he hasn’t just made a damn movie already. Having horrified his captive fanbase with Before The Dawn Heals Us’s standout skit/song “Car Chase Terror!” and lulled them back with the teenaged mystique of the John Hughes-inspired Saturdays = Youth, Gonzalez’s latest tour de force runs the gamut with high-energy explosions of blind ambition in “Reunion,” funky dancefloor grooves in “Claudia Lewis,” and symphonic swells in “Soon, My Friend”. And that’s just disc one. That Gonzalez was confident enough in the statements contained in Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming to make it a double album speaks volumes, as not a single track across the twenty-two songs and seventy-two minutes feels like filler or a failed experiment. Every M83 album is instantly labelled a classic and a crowning achievement of form, and it’s becoming harder and harder to expect anything less.

2. Cloud Nothings’ Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings“Understand At All”
Ah, to be a teenager. Everything is brighter, more vibrant, more dramatic. Dylan Baldi built the Cloud Nothings name on the self-involved, poetic, garage rock impugnity of American angst, and his self-titled studio LP refined that energy into the greatest pop punk album in years. Aging fans of the Get-Up Kids and Blink 182 were instantly transported back to their glory days. The ghosts of Jay Reatard and Kurt Cobain looked down with a combination of approval and jealousy. The songs are abrupt and to the point, with only the slightest bit of flair to make them stage-ready guitar rock songs. “Not Important” belongs in snowboard videos and Tony Hawk videogames. If MTV had any damn sense, “Understand At All” would have played at the top of the hour, every hour, all summer long. Cloud Nothings would have been huge in the 90s, and that would have ruined everything. We’re glad we have him today.

1. Metronomy’s The English Riviera

The English Riviera“She Wants”
The English Riviera proved a lot for Joseph Mount as a songsmith, being the first Metronomy album written and recorded as a full band rather than a solo project. The influences were more varied, the emotions more expressive, the progression more fluid, and the end results more finely tuned than anything in Mount’s already impressive back catalog. “The Bay” played off as an imagining of Daft Punk’s Discovery, had its infancy grown to pubescence and expressed an interest in girls. “Everything Goes My Way” was the Rilo Kiley song everybody’s been waiting for since The Execution of All Things. An ode to doo wop in “Trouble,” a love song to an assault rifle in “Corinne,” and the steadily building jam of “Love Underlined” were all perfect pop demonstrations of the benefits of collaborative spirit for a well-crafted band with a confident leader. There were more moments to fall in love with The English Riviera than any other album we heard all year, a feat Mount may have difficulty topping next time, but we wait with baited breath to hear him try.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.