Beer and Pavement

Top 10 Albums of 2011

Posted in MoL, Pavement, Records by SM on December 16, 2011

OK. I’ve waited long enough. Here are my top-10 albums of the year. Most should come as no surprise, if you’ve been reading this blog all year. To start things off, we have the #10 album that I picked from a list of albums just outside the top-10

10. War on Drugs – Slave Ambient

I currently do not own this record. I missed their show in town. Finally, at some point in November, I gave the record a listen on Spotify and was blown away. Ever since, I’ve been playing the shit out of this record. I don’t think it cracks the top-9 as they have stayed constant all year or at least since they’ve been released. Either way, this is a strong, strong record. It has that lazy garage rock mumble former member Kurt Vile does so well, but there’s an aura of shoegaze and shitgaze all in one album. It’s cool and hauting, even beautiful in some parts. I still regret not seeing this band when they came to town. Oh well. I’ll make up for it by propping their album up as one of the best of 2011, a year that has turned out a surprising amount of good-to-great music.

9. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Although “boring”, there is nothing wrong with this album and that should count for something. After falling instantly in love, I soon decided that it was my mission to hate it. I couldn’t. Somehow, Justin Vernon achieves epic soundscapes, big noise, soul, urgency, and bitter cold in the most subtle of ways. I want to hate this record, but I can’t. It just feels right. Gone are the quiet, hushed log cabin recordings of yesteryear, but the intimacy is still there. This album is a major achievement and should be recognized as such.


8. Eleanor Friedberger – Last Summer

I missed this album’s release somehow. Insound was having a sale on Merge albums and I grabbed it since I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of Friedberger’s material with Fiery Furnaces. Anyway, this record is incredibly more approachable than the FF’s stuff. It doesn’t hurt that she was so cool hanging out the night she played St. Louis. I have a soft spot for artists who are nice people. Anyway, the album held up that night and I haven’t stopped listening since. Equal parts Patti Smith, Stephen Malkmus, and Joni Mitchell. It’s a really strong album from beginning to end. I can’t wait to hear what Friedberger does next.

7. Thao & Mirah – Thao & Mirah

I loved Thao Nguyen’s We Brave Bee Stings and All and saw she and Mirah perform some covers online. That was all I needed to purchase this largely overlooked yet timely album. Aggressive, percussive, completely danceable, and very fun, Thao & Mirah was a strong contender for this list from the first time I listened to it. This is a powerful record by two accomplished female artists about which I want my daughter to know. If this album somehow missed your awareness this year, go buy it and have some fun.


6. Cults – Cults

I don’t know what it is with all the nostalgia for Phil Spector these days, but Cults captured that and more with this solid effort, turning in the song of the summer in “Go Outside”. The album was a breath of fresh air since its release last spring. There was a time when I considered it an outside shot at album of the year. It captured my imagination that much. I worry that the band will struggle to put out anything as good as their first, but this isn’t a bad legacy to leave either.

5. Tune-Yards – W H O K I L L

Something about Tune-Yards was rubbing me the wrong way. Not sure what it was, but it didn’t last long. Everywhere I went, this record was playing. In fact, my favorite hangout often had this record spinning. I couldn’t resist. It’s infectious, raucous, fresh. I love the mixture of a lo-fi, nineties, guitar thing mixed with this dance-centric, percussive aesthetic all the kids are going for these days. I could listen to this album over and over, something I could say for any of these records, but especially for this one.


4. Wye Oak – Civilian

Wye Oak’s earlier material did next to nothing for me. Then, they did a couple of those AV Club things where they played cover songs. Then, they released a video and I was taken back to some mid-nineties indie. Stuff like Throwing Muses or Madder Rose when all these female voices began to emerge above the feedbacked fray of that era. This album is pure retromania for me and it’s plain good from first track to last. Jenn Wasner’s deep voice over a cacophonous racket fills my nineties nostalgic needs, much like the following albums on the list…

3. Yuck – Yuck

I have gushed enough about the nostalgic love I hold for this band and this release, but I have to say more so as to justify its placement in my top-10. And this is coming from a guy who doesn’t actually like the bonus material on the deluxe version of the record. Not everything these youngsters touch is gold. So, with this in mind, one has to consider that it’s impressive how right they got it when they put together an album that should have come out 15-20 years ago. Feedback, angsty lyrics, more feedback… It’s as if they invented the 90’s indie aesthetic and not Pavement or Sebadoh. I love this record. It’s nothing new or groundbreaking, but it perfectly captures what will be some pretty perfect moments in the development of my musical tastes.

2. Wild Flag – Wild Flag

When I heard this group was getting together, my head nearly exploded at the thought of all the possibilities. Then, they toured and my head blew up again re-imagining the ruckus Sleater-Kinney used to cause back in the day. Then, the music began to trickle out. Early on, the urgency detected in “Future Crimes” made me realize that this band was going to blow away all expectations. Wild Flag’s self-titled (a lot of these lately) debut is the perfect mix of S-K riot grrrl, Helium-style classic rock, garage punk, Runaways barnstorming, and indie sensibility. This album may be an all-time top-10 pick forever, assuming their follow-up isn’t more awesome. The guitar and vocals interplay between front women Mary Timony and Carrie Brownstein is only surpassed by the work Rebecca Cole and Janet Weiss are doing with backing vocals and holding down the low end. This is the super group to end all super groups.

1. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Mirror Traffic

Yes, I’m biased, but how is this album not on every end-of-year list. I either missed the memo or have yet to change out of my Pavement-tinted glasses. I’ve never thought a Stephen Malkmus solo album to be a top-10 record much less a #1, but Mirror Traffic is different. The prog wizardry and blues riffs have been taken down a notch with the perplexing and sly wit of Malkmus’ songwriting coming to the front. Plus, the accumulation of talent in this band is pretty insane considering the ramshackle band Malk fronted for a decade made some of the most memorable music of my lifetime. This is the first album he’s done that doesn’t feel like the continuation of Terror Twilight, a complete break from his former trajectory and an album that sounds like another band wrote and recorded it. Then, there’s the production which is quintessential Beck Hanson all over. This is the easiest Malk album to which to listen since those halcyon days of Slanted & Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. In fact, I’d say Mirror Traffic falls somewhere between those two great albums and Wowee Zowee. Yeah, I said it. So what?

I’m rambling a bit now, but that’s the list and I stand by it. (BTW, it’s no accident Janet Weiss is part of the top-2 records of the year.)

22 Responses

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  1. G-LO said, on December 16, 2011 at 8:30 am

    I am sooooo out of touch with what’s going on in the music scene. I generally leave new music discoveries to my Wife. Not saying I like everything she picks, but she usually picks some decent stuff. Thanks for putting this list together. I can honestly say that I’ve heard of none of this, but I am most intrigued. Must investigate!

    • Zac said, on December 16, 2011 at 8:53 am

      First, are you from Philly or am I thinking of someone else? If so, #10 is a Philly band. Second, get some Spotify action before you buy.

      • G-LO said, on December 16, 2011 at 12:36 pm

        I am from Philly. I will definitely look into this. Thanks Zac!

  2. Lyrics, Libations, and Life said, on December 16, 2011 at 8:38 am

    I totally knew what your number 1 was going to be. I am still holding out to do my list as well. I see a few that may show up on mine. A very nice list, and it gives me a few more albums to check out as well.

    • Zac said, on December 16, 2011 at 8:54 am

      That’s what these lists are for, amiright? Yeah, the #1 album has been obvious for months.

  3. Mike said, on December 16, 2011 at 8:49 am

    A nice list. I called your #1, too, but I think you mentioned it on Facebook a month ago.

    Not going to try another sales pitch for Fucked Up or Wilco, but what did you think of the new ones from Real Estate and Girls? They’ve been my go-to albums for the past couple of weeks, and I imagine that at least one of them will have some real staying power in my head well into 2012.

    • Zac said, on December 16, 2011 at 9:00 am

      I would be disappointed if no one could have predicted my #1. Real Estate just isn’t doing it for me. Similarly, Girls sort of grew old. I do have to give them another try, I feel. I mean, P4K loves them some Girls. Honestly, if you look at my list, I’m not sure there’s room for anything like Girls or Real Estate. My aesthetic preferences are shifting.

      • Mike said, on December 16, 2011 at 9:16 am

        There’s always room for Girls and Real Estate! Girls might have forced their way in a couple of years ago when they did that video with a guy using another guy’s boner as a microphone. If it’s a point of entry for you, one of the Real Estate dudes is also in Titus Andronicus.

  4. Stan Hieronymus said, on December 16, 2011 at 9:12 am

    Are S-K riot grrrl, Helium-style classic rock, garage punk, and Runaways barnstorming like beer styles or better defined? I agree that whatever they are they make Wild Flag a brewery band to watch.

    • Zac said, on December 16, 2011 at 9:18 am

      I’d love a beer that matched that description. Maybe I’ll have to brew it.

  5. Lyrics, Libations, and Life said, on December 16, 2011 at 9:53 am

    You know, Pitchfork put up their complete list today, and I like your top ten over their pretentiously annoying picks.

    • Zac said, on December 16, 2011 at 10:19 am

      Agreed. Their picks were particularly puzzling this year.

    • Mike said, on December 16, 2011 at 10:55 am

      Not to start an argument, but I don’t have anything to do at work today and it seems like a good day to talk about music: where do y’all have beef with the Pitchfork list?

      • Zac said, on December 16, 2011 at 11:05 am

        There’s no Stephen Malkmus and Wild Flag is near the end. It’s really not even much of a rock list anymore. They also didn’t include Yuck despite repping them all year.

      • Mike said, on December 16, 2011 at 11:50 am

        The music that didn’t click with me (and/or album ranking) I just have to chalk up to taste. It does seem like Pitchfork hasn’t wholly embraced the 90’s revival yet; maybe it’s ahead of its time, or maybe they’re just trying to get under the collective skin of us 30-somethings.

        The only glaring omission I saw was Wilco, whose new album I really, really like; I’ll have to chalk that one up to me spending too much time in Jeff Tweedy’s head over the past ten years. Either that, or I’m just old.

      • Zac said, on December 16, 2011 at 11:52 am

        No, they’re into the whole 80’s revivalist movement.

      • Mike said, on December 16, 2011 at 12:07 pm

        Nostalgia’s been in for a few years now. I wonder when and whether the tastemakers will get bored with the 80’s revival and move on up to the 1990’s, or whether they’ll skip a decade and start feeling nostalgic for the 2000’s. And I’m curious to see how close to see whether they how close to the present they can push nostalgia. Will we all be nostalgic for the CMJ festival by the time they announce lineups for the summer festivals? For bands we haven’t even heard yet?

      • Mike said, on December 16, 2011 at 12:12 pm

        I’m nostalgic for the time before I heard the Fleet Foxes most recent album. God, how I hate it.

  6. Lyrics, Libations, and Life said, on December 16, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    I am just not into the whole pitchfork ambient electronic music they seem to be hyping a lot. Also, for me Drake in the top ten just can’t be right when you talk about all 12 months of music available.

    Now I’ll probably put out my 5-10 albums of the year next week and I guarantee it won’t be nearly close enough to anyone else’s list.

    • Mike said, on December 16, 2011 at 8:39 pm

      Totally with you on the ambient/electronic. But Drake…I love Drake. Probably the whole Degrassi thing.

  7. […] I write lists when looking back upon a year’s music. However, to rank the best in CoMusic this year would require me to rank my favorite friends. […]

  8. Reviewing 2014: Music | Beer and Pavement said, on December 28, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    […] of 90’s indie rock anonymity when she joined Wild Flag, a one-off, super group who released one of the best records of 2011 and put on ridiculously great live shows. This record comes at you from the word go […]

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