Saturday, December 17, 2011

Top 11 Albums of 2011

( list is not your list)

This is my second annual list of albums I thought were outstanding for 2011. I know the specter of the sophomore slump so I will try my best to deliver the nuggets of musical wisdom you so admired last time around (so this is for you Justin). Let's start from the we go!

11. Jonathan Coulton - Artificial Heart

I first heard Jonathan Coulton on The Sound of Young America and became intrigued with his work with They Might Be Giants' John Flansburgh. Little did I know that Jonathan is probably best known from a song he wrote for the video game Portal which at the time of this writing had approximately 13.5 million views ( read that right.) Here it is if you are interested (Still Alive). But...I digress. Artificial Heart is solid song crafting with lyrics that are tongue-in-cheek but more honest than silly. The production is classic TMBG (cleverness and quirks abound) and is engaging all the way through. I doubt Artificial Heart made it on many lists this year but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Check out: "Glasses" and "Nemeses (feat. John Rederick)"

10. Bon Iver - Bon Iver

Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) exhibits the best of where folk music is and is going. I am a sucker for layered instrumentation, vocals you have to pay attention too, and repetitive trance-like melodies. Call me a hipster I guess...Bon Iver's self titled album delivers on all three.  The other thing I like about this album is the "groovy-ness." At its heart Bon Iver is soulful and introspective as well as "locked in." Excellent attention to detail on creating a cinematic landscape to treat the ears and heart. According to Vernon's bio, he set himself up in a cabin in the woods of Wisconsin for three months to record his first album. Imagine if you had that amount of focus to complete something you were working on.  Check out: "Perth", "Holocene" and "Calgary"

9. Arctic Monkeys - Suck It and See

The Arctic Monkeys (to me) are this year's Arcade Fire. Here is what I mean... before this year I did not really like them. Though I am not sure why... Suck It and See got under my skin (in a good way) and the more I listen the better it gets. I have to admit that I was not impressed the first time I listened through all the way but maybe I can liken it to a fine wine (or so they say) it gets better with age. Any-hoo... these are not the indie-pop darlings that I assumed... Suck It and See rocks hard (spring-tube-amps-rattling rockin'). Check out: "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair", "Brick By Brick" and "She's Thunderstorms"

8. Washed Out - Within and Without

When I first played this album for Briahnna she said she thought was listening to an '80s movie soundtrack.  I think I have listened to more '80s-inspired music this year than I ever did in the actual '80s. Maybe because I was 12 when the 90s rolled around (insert "you're still a such a baby" comment by my older friends). Within and Without is the ultimate chill-out album...every song is easy on the ears and has just enough melancholy to be reminiscent of Tears for Fears and The Thompson Twins. Electro-pop goodness with reverb-buried vocals make an excellent combination. This is notably in the dance section of the record store (remember those?) tread carefully or you might run into someone from  Culture Club.  Check out: "Amor Fati", "Eyes Be Closed" and just for kicks..."Eyes Be Closed (live)"

7. Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What

Another classic by one of my favorite artists of all time. When this album came out in April we happened to be watching SNL a few weeks later when he performed. I knew it was going to be something special.Think and updated version of Graceland with more introspective lyrics and fancier production. One of my favorite tracks is the first one off the album "Getting Ready For Christmas Day" which certainly does not "sound" like a Christmas song but is full of hope and anticipation and longing. I don't have time or the space to dissect all of Simon lyrics but almost every song tugs on something in you that makes you want to listen again. Like I said...classic. Check out: "Rewrite" and "The Afterlife"

6. The Decemberists - The King Is Dead

So...Colin Meloy (lead singer of The Decemberists) signed my copy of Wildwood (his children's fantasy novel which he wrote and his wife illustrated). maybe he did not do this in front of me...but I picked up a signed copy when the family and I were at the AJC (our ATL newspaper) Book Festival in Decatur, GA.  He and his wife were the keynote speakers...I know that has nothing to do with this album but I still think it is pretty cool. The King Is Dead gets high marks on hooks and its indie-pop sensibilities. After the first listen you will be singing along to many of the songs on the album...without even realizing you are doing it. The Decemberists use one of my favorite lyrical devices (making happy songs with sad lyrics). Very well done album and one I will be listening to a lot. <----- NOT ALOT Check out: "Calamity Song" and "Down By The Water"

5. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Ethereal, reverent, and transcendental... Fleet Foxes have given us a winner with Helplessness Blues. Combing melody and moodiness, Fleet Foxes soars with every think you are listening to a movie soundtrack. "So now I am older, Than my mother and father, When they had their daughter, Now what does that say about me. Oh how could I dream of, Such a selfless and true love, Could I wash my hands of? Just lookin' out for me..." recounts their song "Montezuma" (<--- BTW - Brilliant stop motion video made by a fan no less).  Well done Fleet Foxes. Check out: "Helplessness Blues" and "Grown Ocean"

4. Gungor - Ghosts Upon the Earth

WoW (to quote Chris Paul). There is so much to be said about his album...the only reason it is number 4 is that I love 1, 2 and 3 so much. This is the obvious choice for the next in line. We had the pleasure of seeing Gungor at their CD release party at the Center Stage Theatre in Atlanta. They played the entire album along with a few songs off of their last album, Beautiful Things (another remarkable album in its own right).  Let me just say this...there is no other band I can sing all the lyrics to and feel like I am in authentic worship to God. This is not a "too bold" statement (for me anyways). Apart from their outstanding lyrics, the craftsmanship of each song makes my knees weak and my heart lie prostrate in front of an Almighty God. If this is what heaven sounds like...take me now. On a side-note, check this video out from Gungor's promotional material "When Death Dies" featuring this year's Sing-Off on NBC Champion Kevin Olusola (KO) on cello (yeah he beat-boxes while playing). Please check out: "Brother Moon" and "This Is Not the End"

3. Wilco - The Whole Love

I did not think its could get any better than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot but I stand corrected. If you are already a Wilco fan than I am preaching to the choir...BUT if you are not...there is no time like the present to jump on the Grammy nominated "Rock Album of the Year" bandwagon. Perhaps the most prolific band since The Beatles (I may be stepping over the line here) Wilco just keeping on ticking incarnation after incarnation. And guess what folks...every song on this album is good. Perhaps Jeff Tweedy's voice is not your favorite...I suppose it is not everyone's cup of tea but it settles nicely in between the thumping bass of John Stirratt and the rhythms of Glenn Kotche. A classic for sure... Check out: "Whole Love" and "I Might"

2. The Civil Wars - Barton Hallow

My good ol' buddy Jeff Johnston (@JLynnJohnston) turned me on to The Civil Wars...I have to give him props for touting last year's number 2, Mumford & Sons as well. Let me just say what exceptional singers these two performers wonder they were able to go on tour with Adele and hold their own. The songs are simply gorgeous and emotion-packed... Nothing too slick about the production of this album except that everything stands out as bright and shiny like a chrome bumper. How this was missed for a Grammy nomination I do not understand. Check out: "20 Years", "Poison & Wine"and "Barton Hollow"

1. Adele - 21

Best. Album. Of. The. Year. Hands down... It would not surprise if every single song on this album is a "hit"...meaning Adele's royalty checks are going to be big. Deservedly so... the rhythm section is so good they might as well be The Roots and Adele's voice flies above and beyond the best on this list (and I think this is a pretty good list). Even the surprising cover of The Cure's "Love Song" stands out as stellar. I don't want to ruin the description of this album with too many words so I will just have to say. Buy this won't regret it. Oh...and you know you have listened to "Someone Like You" for a good cry (see SNL sketch).Check out: Everything.

Honorable Mentions: Cage the Elephant - Thank You, Happy Birthday, Dawes - Nothing Is Wrong, Feist - Metals, Foo Fighters -Wasting Light, Givers - In Light, My Morning Jacket - Circuital, Mutemath - Odd Soul, R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now, Radiohead - The King of Limbs, St. Vincent - Strange Mercy, TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light, Twin Sister - In Heaven, Unknown Mortal Orchestra - self-titled, Beirut - The Rip Tide

Thanks for taking the time to read my list. If you are new to the blog... you can follow me on Twitter (@therealtimvegas or @think_inclusive). Please share if you like what you found here.


Tim and The Villegas Clan

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