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Top records of 2011

February 5, 2012

It turned out to be a really great year for music.  We heard surprise debut releases, saw record breaking concerts, and reconnected with old friends.  Here’s the best of what 2011 gave me:

1.  Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

I fell in love with them in 2008.  But they have done it again with a follow-up that complements the first and elevating the band higher than some of their more well known counter parties (eh um Mumford, Avetts).  I was fortunate to see them play the Ryman this year which was one of the most energetic shows I’ve ever seen, (and one of the most hipster crowds).  It was a long over due show much like their first bonnaroo appearance will be.

2.  Lupe Fiasco – Lasers

Hip Hop continues to be a fun genre to explore.  I heard “The show must go on” during my pop radio phase this spring and surprisingly really liked it, despite its over the top catchy hooks (thank you modest mouse).  I heard that Mr Fiasco was not real pleased with this record.  Maybe he thought it was too glossy and people where missing the extremely direct lyrics, it was like he wasn’t even saying anything substantial.  But I think glossy music with strong lyrics is a good thing (like sugar coated meat).  He is connecting with the people he’s trying to preach to and hopefully it’s working.

3.  The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart

This is my favorite new band of the year.  Like most rock critics I knew of them before they were big, but didn’t really give them much attention until I got their record at record store day.  They are fitting quite well into the new folk rock sound that is overtaking the post hipster movement.  I’m curious to see how they can develop, they have a wide range of creativity in the band that I don’t think has been fully unlocked.

4.  My Morning Jacket – Circuital

Jim James has developed an unmistakable sound, mostly due with an unnatural desire to put reverb on everything, the band sounds angelic.  But James continues to wrestle with his personal demons and express them in a way we all relate to.  I felt they were genre defining with their first major release in 2002.  They somehow broke through the noise of pop radio and managed to sell records when every college kid just started stopped paying for music.  MMJ continues to build on their success and seem content with their current status as long as Jim has enough side projects to keep him busy (still waiting for the electric mayhem tour).

5.  Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Notice a theme yet.  Yeah I like folk rock.  I never got the first record.  I heard that he recorded it on an eight track in a cabin in Montana and immediately got bored.  But the follow up was different.  Maybe after he did a track with Kanye, he gained my respect but for whatever reason I bought this one on release day.  I was pleasantly surprised with the full band.  His voice is so falsetto that I find it hard to follow at times but the instrumentation keeps it intriguing.  Still not sure how he gets that chambered sound but it works, and at times reminds me of classic ballads from the 80s.

6.  Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’

One thing I love about music coming out today is it sounds like it could have come out at any point in time (future or past). This album should have come out 50 years ago.  Raphael has been putting out music for the past 30 years.  After breaking out of Tony! Toni! Tone! Saadiq has created an instant classic.

7.  Jessica Lea Mayfield – Tell Me

My first interaction with JLM was when she sang a song with her Bother’s now extinct band Cadillac Sky as the opening act for Mumford and Sons.  I was immediately taken in.  She seems to be caring the banner that Neko Case lifted last decade.  At 22 she has written some serious heartbreak ballads.  This record is true americana, simple melodic structure soaked with iron belt distortion thank you Dan Auerbach.

8.  Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi – Rome

This is a beautiful soundtrack for an unwritten movie.

9.  The Black Keys – El Camino

The follow-up of Brothers was a challenge.  They did a good job but I couldn’t place this higher as its time to go a different direction.  They have an arena rock sound now and any track could be a single.  I’m ready for them to bring it back home.

10.  Jay Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne

This had more hype than the return of the McRib.  Z and Yeezy where my gateway to hip hop 2 years ago so I was excited to hear what they could do together.  Despite critics noting that they failed to connect with people living in the real world, I think they are doing what they do best.  For me its comedic to rap about have multiple benz and deciding which rolex to wear.  Hip Hop is my escape from sad depressing “I’m no good” music.  Its in your face arrogance, and not letting anyone decide your worth for you.

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