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Josh Hurst

Our Favorite Albums of 2011

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I've been working on my list of favorite albums of 2011, which I hope to unveil Wednesday; when it's done, I'll be sure to post my list here. In the meantime, here is an open thread for any and all A&Fers to share their picks for 2011's most memorable recordings. Of course, we have a separate thread going for lists from non-A&F music critics and rock rags.

So who's ready to share their top five, ten, twenty, or whatever?

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As I intend to keep listening to new 2011 music until the end of 2011, I'll post my list then.

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I've purchased at least five new albums this year but the only ones I've given a dedicated listening to throughout 2011 have been Joseph Arthur's The Graduation Ceremony (which I think is my favourite album of his) and Bill Mallonee's The Power And The Glory.

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As I intend to keep listening to new 2011 music until the end of 2011, I'll post my list then.

Ditto. I'm also going through some of the stuff I listened to earlier in the year and am re-evaluating. So far, I'm surprised how far the Mogwai album has risen on my list.

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Even though this is a dead time of the year for new music (hint: mid-December is not a good time to release new music for the Christmas market), I'm always surprised by an album or two that slips in under the wire. This year it's Strawberry by Wussy, a noisy but melodic indie band from Cincinnati. That one could very well end up on my Best of 2011 list, and it's released tomorrow.

You never know. My problem right now is that I have a couple hundred albums in my Top 10 of 2011 list. I'm not kidding. There are only a couple albums that have struck me as "great" this year, and there are, well, a couple hundred that have struck me as "really good." So maybe I'll be a wussy and just list all of them.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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I will share my list a usual but I'm terribly late for this game this year: I still have about thirty CDs to listen to. I think I'll give my selection in January.

I ceaselessly surf from past to present. Lately been in old French 50's stuff and some US stuff as well. Do you people still listen to Jo Stafford, Doris Day, Judy Garland, June Christy or Julie London? That's what I've been doing lately.

I often come to think "before I listen to this, I have to know this and this". So I'm always late!

As incredible as it may be, I discovered "The Fat Man" by Fats Domino very recently. How could I not know this hit? And how about Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog" which is so much better than the more famous Elvis version?

You keep learning everyday.

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I've just posted my Top 15 Albums of the Year, with full commentary. If you just want the basics, though:

1. The Roots, undun

2. Joe Henry, Reverie

3. Over the Rhine, The Long Surrender

4. Gillian Welch, The Harrow and the Harvest

5. Kate Bush, 50 Words for Snow

6. Van Hunt, What Were You Hoping For?

7. Tom Waits, Bad as Me

8. Trombone Shorty, For True

9. Lisa Hannigan, Passenger

10. Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What

11. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake

12. Booker T. Jones and the Roots, The Road from Memphis

13. Nick Lowe, The Old Magic

14. Hugh Laurie, Let Them Talk

15. Ry Cooder, Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down

Songwriter, Producer, and MVP of the Year: Joe Henry

Singer of the Year: Karin Bergquist

MC of the Year: Black Thought

Album Cover of the Year: The Roots, undun, with Gillian Welch not far behind

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As incredible as it may be, I discovered "The Fat Man" by Fats Domino very recently. How could I not know this hit? And how about Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog" which is so much better than the more famous Elvis version?

Interesting. I've been listening to Fats quite a bit in the last week or so as well. I'm familiar with his hits (and everyone's at least heard "Blueberry Hill"), but I'm discovering that there was a lot more greatness than the hits.

And yes, Big Mama Thornton's original version of "Hound Dog" is superior to Elvis.

You keep learning everyday.

Indeed we do.

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Josh, thanks for the Van Hunt recommendation. He was only a name I was vaguely aware of before your list and I'm enjoying what I've heard so far. I like Anthony Hamilton and even post-breakout albums from PM Dawn, so this is right down my alley.

I mentioned this in the thread we lost, but Spotify has had me spending most of this year chasing down all the jazz albums I wished I could buy in as a teenage Downbeat-at-the-library-reader 20 years ago. I used lawn mowing money to buy the essentials, but tons slipped through the cracks. John Scofield. Shakti. Joe Henderson. Bill Frisell. Jim Hall. And on and on.

My most played 2011 albums have come from Tres Mountains, Jason Isbell, Milk Carton Kids, Paul Simon, Meshell Ndegeocello and Radiohead. (Hundred percent chance I am forgetting five or so albums that I will later edit this space to include.)

Incidentally, I've reached the point of diminishing returns from Drive-by Truckers and Fountains of Wayne, though I think they could surprise me down the road.

Also, I completely forgot about R.E.M. within weeks of their new album, but (this is true) an ad for the University of Georgia that features REM and airs during CBS SEC football games and brought me back to Discoverer this fall and I am enjoying it.

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I need to wait a bit (the "Dragon Tattoo" soundtrack is Ross/Reznor doing what they do very well again), but I have to say I loved Josh's list.

I think my most listened to "album" of the year is still Radiohead's TV special (any deluxe edition should just pack-in the DVD/Blu Ray), but my favorite that was released in stores is probably still PJ Harvey's very pointed, timely, ambitious album.It took a while, but I think she finally topped Rid of Me.

Edited by bloop

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OK... As I noted here, this is in no way a serious, critical best-of list. Just ones that are gonna stick with me (I do find it interesting that some of these contain none of my favorite individual songs, but as an album I think they're the best. I imagine this distinction will continue to evolve in the age of the digital single. And again, will edit as I catch up on listening through others lists.):

Joe Henry - Reverie

Kate Bush - 50 Words for Snow

Tom Waits - Bad as Me

Meg Baird - Seasons on Earth

Foster the People - Torches

Future Islands - On the Water

Lovedrug - Best of I Am

Emm Gryner - Northern Gospel

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

Feist - Metals

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Here's my list. I'll try to add commentary in the coming days. These are the 20 albums that meant the most to me in 2011, in alphabetical order. It was a Herculean task just coming up with the list, and I'm not even going to attempt to rank them. Besides, the order would be different tomorrow if I tried to do so.

Ambrose Akinmusire – When the Heart Emerges Glistening

The Black Keys – El Camino

Richard Buckner – Our Blood

Ry Cooder – Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down

Dropkick Murphys – Going Out in Style

Peter Gabriel – New Blood

Josh Garrels – Love and War and the Sea in Between

Joe Henry – Reverie

Van Hunt – What Were You Hoping For?

King Creosote and Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine

Lydia Loveless – Indestructible Machine

Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know

The Milk Carton Kids – Prologue

Over the Rhine – The Long Surrender

Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What

Southeast Engine – Canary

Craig Taborn – Avenging Angel

tUnE-yArDs – Whokill

Veronica Falls - Veronica Falls

Gillian Welch – The Harrow and the Harvest

As always, there are regrets with such a list. So I offer my particular apologies to P.J. Harvey, Tom Waits, Kate Bush, Son Lux, Julianna Barwick, Josh T. Pearson, Aradhna, Sonny and the Sunsets, St. Vincent, The Cars, Real Estate, Kurt Vile, Aaron Strumpel, Blitzen Trapper, The Decemberists, Ezra Furman, Iceage, Fucked Up, Kids on a Crime Spree, The Roots, Kip Hanrahan, Megafaun, Low, Seryn, Mind Spiders, Brad Mehldau, Lanterns on the Lake, Obits, Okkervil River, and The Unthanks, all of whom made splendid records in 2011, and deserve the positive accolades and commentary that I don’t have time to give them.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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Van Hunt!

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Dang. I have so much to hear before I have a list worth mentioning. I'm still on a search for a 2011 record that I love with any kind of enthusiasm. Quite a few of them are exciting, but nothing's inspired me to any kind of running-around-and-telling-everybody-to-buy-it-in-all-formats frenzy like The Long Surrender did in the fall of 2010.

I just heard Nine Types of Light for the first time, and ka-blam! It's immediately on my stack of favorites. And I found my current choice for #1 just a week ago, thanks to a recommendation I found at A&F and NPR; it was quite a surprise.

But still: I want to find an album full of songs I'll still be playing frequently in a decade.

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Here is a list I made of my 20 favorite albums of the year. The order is certainly fluid, but is based on what happens to feel right to me at this moment.

The Violet Burning - The Story of Our Lives

Over the Rhine - The Long Surrender

TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light

My Morning Jacket – Circuital

The Roots – Undun

Okkervil River – I am Very Far

Mutemath – Odd Soul

tUnEyArDs – w h o k i l l

Sloan – The Double Cross

Joe Henry – Reverie

Devotchka – 100 Lovers

Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials

Switchfoot – Vice Verses

Dengue Fever – Cannibal Courtship

Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow

Jordan Reyne – Children of a Factory Nation

Burlap to Cashmere – Burlap to Cashmere

Josh Garrels - Love and War and The Sea in Between

The Baseball Project – Volume 2: High and Inside

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones - Rocket Science

(edited to include the Bela Fleck, very enjoyable album, and great to see Howard Levy back with them again)

And I have to mention the following artists from whose albums I found some good nuggets of tunes as well: Destroyer, Aaron Strumpel, Over the Ocean, Ollabelle, Beirut, REM, Kerosene Halo, Deas Vail, Quiet Science, Tom Waits, Man Man, My Brightest Diamond, Eisley, PJ Harvey, and a few that I have probably left out.

Edited by Crow

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Fleet Foxes, you twits. That's the only album I heard this year that's still going to be talked about/listened to in ten years.

Also listened to Kurt Vile's "Halo", Radiohead's Kol/Live from the Basement, Wu Lyf's "Mountain", Wilco's "Whole Love", Girls "...Holy Ghost" over and over. I loved Gillian Welch's new one, but it's simply not the kind of album that compelled me to return to.

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Fleet Foxes, you twits. That's the only album I heard this year that's still going to be talked about/listened to in ten years.

This is certainly true, in the sense that people will still be grasping for new synonyms of "boring" in ten years. ::box2::

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This is certainly true, in the sense that people will still be grasping for new synonyms of "boring" in ten years. ::box2::

Punk kid!

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Here's my list. I'll try to add commentary in the coming days. These are the 20 albums that meant the most to me in 2011, in alphabetical order. It was a Herculean task just coming up with the list, and I'm not even going to attempt to rank them. Besides, the order would be different tomorrow if I tried to do so.

Ambrose Akinmusire – When the Heart Emerges Glistening

The Black Keys – El Camino

Richard Buckner – Our Blood

Ry Cooder – Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down

Dropkick Murphys – Going Out in Style

Peter Gabriel – New Blood

Josh Garrels – Love and War and the Sea in Between

Joe Henry – Reverie

Van Hunt – What Were You Hoping For?

King Creosote and Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine

Lydia Loveless – Indestructible Machine

Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know

The Milk Carton Kids – Prologue

Over the Rhine – The Long Surrender

Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What

Southeast Engine – Canary

Craig Taborn – Avenging Angel

tUnE-yArDs – Whokill

Veronica Falls - Veronica Falls

Gillian Welch – The Harrow and the Harvest

As always, there are regrets with such a list. So I offer my particular apologies to P.J. Harvey, Tom Waits, Kate Bush, Son Lux, Julianna Barwick, Josh T. Pearson, Aradhna, Sonny and the Sunsets, St. Vincent, The Cars, Real Estate, Kurt Vile, Aaron Strumpel, Blitzen Trapper, The Decemberists, Ezra Furman, Iceage, Fucked Up, Kids on a Crime Spree, The Roots, Kip Hanrahan, Megafaun, Low, Seryn, Mind Spiders, Brad Mehldau, Lanterns on the Lake, Obits, Okkervil River, and The Unthanks, all of whom made splendid records in 2011, and deserve the positive accolades and commentary that I don’t have time to give them.

A bit more commentary ...

Ambrose Akinmusire and Craig Taborn made my favorite jazz albums of the year. Akinmusire approaches his trumpet from a more mainstream hard-bop tradition, but his original compositions are lovely and fresh. Taborn mixes jazz and classical chops on his long solo piano album. It's a little of both, and a little of neither. Think of it as improvised Debussy and Ravel, with some Bill Evans thrown in for good measure.

The Black Keys made my favorite rock 'n roll record of the year. There's no curveball here; it's just straightforward soulful blues and boogie, and it's a lot of fun.

Richard Buckner, Lydia Loveless, Gillian Welch, and Southeast Engine cover my much beloved alt-country/roots territory, albeit in distinctive ways. Buckner's still an indescribably sad, poetic folkie mopester, while Loveless tears it up. She's like Neko Case's foul-mouthed cousin. Where Neko went to art school, Lydia went to a lot of punk concerts, drank too much, and got pregnant at an early age. She's been disappointed by and looking for love ever since. Gillian Welch and partner David Rawlings continue on their iconoclastic ways, writing and recording songs that sound like they should have emerged from the Dust Bowl, but emerged from 21st-century Nashville instead. Southeast Engine's album is a lovely fiddle and banjo-driven song cycle set in southeastern Ohio during the Depression years; years which sound a lot like 2011.

It was a good year for the old coots. Paul Simon released his best album in a couple decades, and Peter Gabriel rediscovered his old songs but put a distinctive spin on them; rerecording many of his best-known works with a decidedly non-stodgy symphony orchestra. The new arrangements make all the difference.

Ry Cooder made a non-didactic protest album at least partly directed at my current employer, which makes it the most interesting kind of protest album. His guitar work, when it shines through, is still a wonder of economy and soul.

Laura Marling made a muted, beautifully sung album that was scary in its lyrical intensity. Merrill Garbus, AKA tUnE-yArDs, made a loud, in-your-face, cut-n-paste album stylistically that turned out to be a fair amount of fun lyrically.

Van Hunt did for R&B what Janelle Monae did in 2010. He made an album that fits within an easily identifiable genre, and he did it by exploding all preconceptions about that genre, and incorporating influences from all over the map.

Joe Henry made another dark, mysterious and lovely album -- part lounge music, part blues, and all poetry -- from his late-night saloon.

The Milk Carton Kids managed to simultaneously conjure memories of The Everly Brothers and The Louvin Brothers. And they did it without being brothers. The Jayhawks, too, but they're not brothers either.

Veronica Falls did trashy '60s girl group schmaltz with a gothic twist. They were my favorite guilty pleasure of the year.

Dropkick Murphys continued to do what they do, which is combine The Ramones and The Clancy Brothers into something that vaguely resembles The Pogues, but which rocks harder and is a lot funnier.

King Creosote and Jon Hopkins -- one a dour Scots folkie, the other a British electronica artist -- made my favorite album of the year. There, I picked one. Creosote's songs here -- about aging and mortality, and losing the best thing in your life -- are simply ravishingly sad and lovely, and perfectly augmented by Hopkins' found sounds and gentle tape loops.

Finally, Over the Rhine and Josh Garrels made my favorite faith-based music this year; the former a smoldering, soulful meditation on love over the long haul, and the latter an astonishing amalgam of hip-hop, folk, and soul that manages to be both poetic and forcefully prophetic.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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The Milk Carton Kids managed to simultaneously conjure memories of The Everly Brothers and The Louvin Brothers. And they did it without being brothers. The Jayhawks, too, but they're not brothers either.

Huh. The similarities that sprang to my mind were Simon and Garfunkel... and Welch and Rawlings. (The latter, almost too much; the guitar stylings and harmonies make these songs sound like they're from a lost album that came out between Hell Among the Yearlings and Time (The Revelator).

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The Milk Carton Kids managed to simultaneously conjure memories of The Everly Brothers and The Louvin Brothers. And they did it without being brothers. The Jayhawks, too, but they're not brothers either.

Huh. The similarities that sprang to my mind were Simon and Garfunkel... and Welch and Rawlings. (The latter, almost too much; the guitar stylings and harmonies make these songs sound like they're from a lost album that came out between Hell Among the Yearlings and Time (The Revelator).

Yeah; when I saw them perform, the fellow sitting beside me leaned over and commented on how Ken Pattengale's guitar playing was so similar to Rawlings'. I think that shines through much less on the record than in their live performances, though.

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The Milk Carton Kids managed to simultaneously conjure memories of The Everly Brothers and The Louvin Brothers. And they did it without being brothers. The Jayhawks, too, but they're not brothers either.

Huh. The similarities that sprang to my mind were Simon and Garfunkel... and Welch and Rawlings. (The latter, almost too much; the guitar stylings and harmonies make these songs sound like they're from a lost album that came out between Hell Among the Yearlings and Time (The Revelator).

Well, that too. I was focused more on the harmonies than the guitar work, but sure, I hear Dave Rawlings in there too. And Simon and Garfunkel, who were influenced by The Everly Brothers, who were influenced by The Louvin Brothers ...

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I mostly listen to loud rock music on my commute and quiet music while at work. Jazz sounds awesome in my office, but when I branch out, this year it has been Milk Carton Kids, Fleet Foxes, Paul Simon and Buddy Miller.

Also, R.E.M. They were my favorite band 1990-1998. Old habits die hard.

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Ambrose Akinmusire – When the Heart Emerges Glistening

I didn't know this name until about a week ago, when I started going through Best of 2011 Jazz lists and saw Akinmusire atop many of them. The near univeral acclaim inclines me toward purchasing the disc, but that strategy, which I've followed the past few years, has resulted in the acquisition of some CDs that I listen to a few times, but which then sit on the shelf.

I'm sure this is due to a lack of curiousity, lack of knowledge or lack of appreciation, but this year I'm going with my gut, based on whatever sounds grooviest from the clips I've heard online. That means I'm looking at Medeski, Martin, Scofield and Wood's In Case the World Changes Its Mind; Rene Marie's Black Lace Freudian Slip; and, based on the Brad Mehldau concert I attended earlier this year, Live in Marciac.

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