BEST NON-LOCAL ALBUMS OF 2011
Denton (Little Advances): Maybe it was a foregone conclusion that my top albums of 2011 would come from Future Islands (my favorite band of the last few years) and Tom Waits (my all-time favorite thing ever). Both "On the Water and Bad as Me genuinely surprised me, though. Future Islands found new levels of nuance in the synth-pop sound I thought they had perfected on last year’s In Evening Air, and Waits delivered an incredible set of songs that serves as a satisfying Cliff Notes version of his entire career. Those are my two favorite albums of the year by a pretty wide margin.
Other bright spots include the best post-hiatus Earth album to date, as well as strong debuts from EMA, Shabazz Palaces, and Austra. I also spent a lot of time with G-Side’s The One…Cohesive and Tune-Yards’ w h o k i l l. Battles’ Gloss Drop took the band’s tightly wound math jams closer to pop, and it’s a good look for them. Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath, 1972 is a new high-water mark for one of the best ambient artists currently working. And finally, I was happy to discover that sax-heavy soft rock actually makes Dan Bejar tolerable – Kaputt is one of my favorite albums of 2011, and I typically can’t stand Destroyer.
Overall, though, I think 2011 was a down year for music, with a disappointing amount of good-not-great albums from artists who are capable of better. But I won’t get into all that here…we’re talking best albums, not most disappointing albums.
Max Blau (Paste Magazine): There’s any number of albums to go with here, so I’m going to touch on a bunch of different albums I loved this year in no particular order. In 2011, I think tUnE-yArDs’ w h o k i l l was the most interesting album, Beirut’s The Rip Tide was the most beautiful. Josh T. Pearson put out the most challenging (and rewarding) record with Last of the Country Gentlemen. Yuck’s self-titled LP was the best throwback album.
My favorite album of the year, however, has to be Chris Bathgate and his heartrending masterpiece Salt Year. In a year where Bon Iver received his overdue recognition, this Ann Arbor singer-songwriter put out a beautifully cathartic effort more focused than any other release in 2011.
While the heavy hitters were somewhat subpar in their output, I thought this was a great year on the whole for music. It’s was a year for emerging artists to really make their mark (tUnE-yArDs, Wye Oak, Yuck), more so than some other recent years.
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