Here we go again! As usual, this year I started with an obscenely long list of albums and then whittled it down to twenty. Things got pretty cut-throat when it came to dropping bands off the list — it seriously hurt to cut Canadian artists like Fucked Up, Tasseomancy, Miracle Fortress, Timber Timbre, and Dream Jefferson off my list. The reason they all got dropped was due to a change in how I made my list: this time around I went to my Last.FM charts and used that as a guide. Once I had twenty of my most listened artists, I did a few small re-calculations and ended up with what you see below. Anyway, enough of all this babbling and on with the list:
Telekinesis – 12 Desperate Straight Lines
When this album saw a release early on in 2011, it had been one of my more anticipated albums this year. Coming out so early on, I feel like 12 Desperate Straight Lines is in danger of being Zodiac’d — over looked on year-end lists in the same way Fincher’s movie got robbed at the Academy Awards. The bottom-line though. is that it’s a near perfect record of guitar-pop done right. I’ll always have room in my record collection for that.
Toro Y Moi – Underneath The Pine
I can understand why a lot of people went into this album expecting another straight-up chillwave album and came out disappointed. I also feel bad for them, because once you alter your expectations — think 70s psychedelic pop instead — it reveals itself to be an immensely enjoyable album. It’s still “chill”, but just in a different way. Songs like “New Beat” and “Elise” strike a perfect balance of jams and hooks, making it easy to keep coming back for more.
Sleeping Bag – Sleeping Bag
Sleeping Bag‘s single “Slime” was probably one of my favourite songs of 2011. I’m sure a lot of people will listen to it and think it’s nothing new, but it just came out at the right time for me. And then I heard the album, which was every bit as great as “Slime”. If you were a fan of the ’90s sound that got so much play this year but didn’t hear Sleeping Bag, you’re missing out.
Joyce Manor – Joyce Manor
Similarly, if you’re a fan of punk music and you haven’t heard Joyce Manor‘s debut LP, you need to be getting on that right about now. A crazily enjoyable blast of punk rock that encompasses everything I loved about the genre growing up. It’s fast and hooky, with just the right amount of emo-influence to grab fans of that genre — but not alienate those who shy away from it. It’s a must listen, if you ask me.
Lil B – I’m Gay (I’m Happy)
While Tyler The Creator — and the Odd Future crew — were gaining accolades and critical praises for their juvenile hate-filled record Goblin, the based god Lil B released an album that ran laps around their trash. Here’s an artist who is known for being prolific (he basically records and releases every idea he gets), and yet I’m Gay (I’m Happy) is a focused, artistic statement full of mostly positive messages. Forget that Lil B turned around and continued to release shit like this, I’m Gay (I’m Happy) is a shockingly surprising success.
Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See
Much like their last album Humbug, I wasn’t too impressed with Suck It And See upon its immediate release. For a minute there I thought I was really falling out of like with the Monkeys, until something just clicked. Not only did I begin to really dig on Suck It And See, it actually garnered me a new-found appreciation for Humbug. Josh Homme‘s desert-rock influence can still be heard here, but they’ve paired it with some of their most well-written songs in years.
Tearjerker – Rare
A co-worker of mine recently bemoaned the absence of good shoegaze music these days: “I remember when shoegaze bands used guitars”, he said of the hazy electronic fad that is so popular. Well, he wouldn’t have to look any further than his own doorstep to find shoegaze alive and well in Toronto. Tearjerker might not sound like Slowdive, but their music is decidedly shoegaze — albiet filtered through a gamut of various indie-rock styles. It’s refreshing to hear a band firing on all creative cylinders like Tearjerker are. For my money, they’re one of the most exciting musical acts we’ve got here in Toronto.
Wye Oak – Civilian
Just call 2011 the year of grower albums, because Wye Oak‘s Civilian was another subtle and effective album that crept up on me. A staple in my listening rotation straight through the year, Civilian kept me warm when the weather was turning cold, and the spacious atmosphere was a breath of cool, fresh air when placed beside some of the noisier bands this year. And don’t forget their fantastic contributions to the AVClub Undercover video series. Actually, maybe we should just call 2011 the year of Wye Oak and be done with it.
Swearin’ – What A Dump EP
I’ve been a fan of P.S. Eliot for a while now, so when I found out they were breaking up I was pretty bummed. The good news is that Allison Crutchfield — sister of P.S. Eliot‘s singer Katie — has a new band and they dropped an EP onto bandcamp as Swearin’. Just like that I found a new obsession, and found myself listening to their stuff non-stop. Maybe you see a theme forming here, but I love a good hook-based punk-influenced indie-rock song, and Swearin’ has six of them that any top-tier indie band should be jealous of.
Black Lips – Arabia Mountain
I may never be able to disassociate the Black Lips‘ Arabia Mountain from Montreal. I took a trip there this summer, and even though we didn’t listen to the album all that much, the choruses from these songs continually spouted from our mouths. Some may criticize the Lips for going pop after the pysch-sludge of 200 Million Thousand, but to me it was another winning chapter in their chameleon-like career.
Screeching Weasel – First World Manifesto
From the opening notes of “Follow Your Leaders”, Screeching Weasel’s latest makes it a clear pick for their best album since 1999’s Emo (that’s right, I’m saying it’s better than the overrated Teen Punks In Heat). There’s even a brief-but-awesome cameo from The Mr. T Experience‘s Dr. Frank! Unfortunately the album was shrouded in controversy after Ben Weasel lashed out at a female audience member earlier this year. I think it’s a real shame, because if not for Ben’s incredibly stupid decision this album probably would have garnered a lot more attention than it did. Removed from the controversy, the album still stands as one of the best pop-punk albums of 2011.
Cloud Nothings – Cloud Nothings
I have talked a lot about Cloud Nothings in year-end lists gone by, so it should be no surprise that their latest indie-pop-punk blender of a record showed up here. What’s to say? Great hooks, great guitar lines, and short concise tracks all reign supreme on their self-titled and slightly cleaner follow-up to last years Turning On.
Dog Day – Deformer
The act of Dog Day pairing down to a duo had me worried for a second — not because I don’t like duos, but because I loved their last two albums and hoped their knack for hook-packed indie-rock wouldn’t waver. I was worried for nothing though, because Deformer turned out to be that and so much more. Initially ambivalent about the album, I discovered it was bursting with introspective lyrics and lo-fi atmosphere. Deformer lives up to the Dog Day‘s past and then some.
David Bazan – Strange Negotiations
I’ve always been a big fan of David Bazan’s work in Pedro The Lion and his side-project The Headphones. His solo debut Curse Your Branches made my year-end list in 2009 as well, so I was happy to hear this year’s Strange Negotiations splitting the difference between the indie-rock of Pedro The Lion and the folk sound of Curse Your Branches. Seeing David live at Lee’s Palace this year also helped, but regardless Strange Negotiations is filled with what David does best — great songwriting performed with a killer voice.
Real Estate – Days
Surfy, beach ready pop is one of those new genres that quickly became over-stuffed and under-baked. Every band popping up seemed to be based around simplistic guitar lines caked in reverb. For me though, no one can touch Real Estate in terms of pure songwriting skills. That’s right, not even the decent-but-over-hyped Beach Fossils. Days is Real Estate in top form, and there isn’t all that much else to say. Get it!
Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise
Nicolas Jaar‘s debut album Space Is Only Noise was pieced together out of several years worth of recording sessions — or so the story goes — so the fact that it is one of the most thematically engaging ambient techno records of the year is just insane. The kid must be some kind of genius. Here’s an album that manages to grab you by the ears instantly, but in an oddly passive way. There’s something about it that had me quickly addicted and wanting to hear more. It may be one of the more brilliant albums I heard all year, by any standards.
Fair Ohs – Everything Is Dancing
Fair Ohs have hit the summer nail squarely on its head. Fair Ohs have described themselves as “Like Paul Simon, but punk” in the past. Fair Ohs used to be even more punk than they are here — though it crops up on tracks like “Katasraj”. Fair Ohs might get compared to Vampire Weekend a bit too often for my taste (their influence can be heard on the title track), but they’ve crafted a helluva pop record with Everything Is Dancing.
The Antlers – Burst Apart
I’ll admit it: I really couldn’t get into The Antlers‘ last album Hospice. I know, get your tomatoes ready, but I just didn’t like it all that much. So when The Antlers released Burst Apart, I wasn’t so quick to run out and hear it. I’m glad I finally did though, because there was something about Burst Apart that clicked for me. Maybe someday I’ll be able to put my finger on it — it’s definitely not the fact that it’s a bit more immediate, because I love me some ambient pop — but for now I’ll just listen and enjoy.
Cut Copy – Zonoscope
Zonoscope was another ridiculously hyped record that came out early in the year to critical praise that is in danger of being overlooked — in my opinion. I don’t know if there was a better dance-pop album this year, and after taking a long break from Zonoscope, revisiting it was a blast. Sure there might be less guitar than there was on In Ghost Colours, but another step towards the dance-foor served Cut Copy well.
Tycho – Dive
Last — but not least — we have Tycho‘s Dive. It comes as no surprise to hear Dive was created by a graphic designer / artist. It all sounds so painstakingly designed; perfectly paced and pieced together with the ease and confidence that only an artist could posses. From ambient synths to organic sounding trip-hop, Tycho‘s Dive was my go-to record when I wanted to relax, but also when I needed a soundtrack for getting some work done. This comes highly recommended for any fan of electronic music in general.