Features / Lists

The Best 50 Albums of 2011

Quit Mumbling's Best Albums of 2011

The best albums are much more than a collection of stand out songs. Like anything successful, a great album finds multiple parts coming together as one; accomplishing moods, textures, and developments not possible by any one singular piece. The best albums force you to take a step back, to not only look at each moment but to examine how that moment fits into a larger picture. Perhaps most important, the best albums are constantly evolving begging for repeated listens to show you all of their ins and out. Check out the 50 albums that kept us coming back over 2011.

(Click here for our Best Songs of 2011)

50

Widowspeak – Widowspeak

Captured Tracks

Brooklyn trio Widowspeak’s debut album is a beautiful collection of smoky tunes. Lead singer Molly Hamilton’s effortless vocals float above ethereal guitar riffs, creating a complete and promising first album. – Lizzy

49

Main Attraktionz – 808s and Dark Grapes

Self Released

Main Attraktionz – “Amen”

“Nobody aims to make cloud rap (a term coined by SpaceAgeHustle), but the sound is undeniable. Warped, atmospheric samples over traditional hip hop drums paired with raps immersed in a drug-induced identity struggle; one of the most interesting thing about the folks working in these circles is the way they’ve managed to remain region-agnostic to work with one another. While ASAP Rocky’s LiveLoveASAP may be the better produced, higher profile, record, Dark Grapes II is the more complete work. Squadda and Mondre strike a balance between drive, introspection and confidence, complementing each other throughout this album, their most successful in a string of many over the last twenty-four months.” – L.C.

48

Tinariwen – Tassili

V2 Recordings

Tinariwen’s ablums are a journey – not in the cheesy nostalgic, take me to the desert, Lawrence of Arabia sense, but in a way that connects the listeners to the band’s experiences. Having emerged from the refugee camps of the Libyan Sahara and trained from Col. Qaddafi’s Tuareg army in the 1980′s, Tinariwen’s band members have an attuned connection to the life’s struggles. And must be presently surprised at the recent turn of events in North African country. Whether through its heartfelt ballads, their rambunctious drumming or through their pristine guitarmanship Tassali reels the listener in. Although it may have been in Tamashek it is still strangely familiar. And given that you can throw in TV On the Radio frontmen Kyp Malone Tunde Adebimpe, as well as Wilco’s Nels Cline and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s horn section easily in the Algerian dessert recording process is testament to their universality. Having shepherded them through their fifth consistent release, Tinariwen’s lead guitarist Ibrahim Ag Alhabib deserves a place amongst another Malian, Ali Farka Touré. – Juan

47

The Stepkids – The Stepkids

Stones Throw Records

The Stepkids – “Shadows On Behalf”

Stones Throw mastermind Madlib deserves the moniker “the beat conductor.” Why? His collection alone is a museum of archival music ranging from Bebop to Soul and Classical to Psychedelia. If one day this creative genius ran out of material worthy of his intricate productions, he would have the music factory known as The Stepkids at his disposal. With funky, drug-laced songs, this trio of former touring musicians pay tribute to a golden era on their self-titled debut. Songs like “La La,” with its radiating strings and awed backing vocals, remind us some artists can still pull off a classic sound often ruined by undeserving bands. – Stuart

46

Dirty Beaches – Badlands

Zoo Music

It should come as no surprise that David Lynch took a strong liking to Alex Zhang Hungtai aka Dirty Beaches. His album Badlands is dark and smokey, full of black grease and an attitude that will cut you like a switch blade. It has the sensuality of Elvis with the street sense of Reed as it fuels itself on grooves behind layers of noise. Each track is pushed along through the emotionally uninhibited vocals of Zhang Hungtai, whether it be in the sexually frustrated, “Sweet 17”, or the utterly melancholy “Lord Knows Best”. While Badlands draws heavy from its influences, Alex’s tortured delivery style reveals an honesty that keeps the record close to his own chest. – Bear

45

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Mirror Traffic

Matador

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – “Senator”

Only Stephan Malkmus could get away with making blow jobs political, or rather making blow jobs the chorus of a song. The cheeky references to oral sex, fuzzy guitar lines, and utterly catchy choruses show you that Malkmus will always be Malkmus- but he’s older so maybe he’ll clean up a bit. Mirror Traffic definitely has its Pavement throwbacks, but it seems like the mess has been pushed under the bed. That’s ok, we’ve matured a bit and at some point you have to give more of a fuck. With songs like “Tigers”, “Senator”, and “Stick Figures In Love” you see that Malkmus isn’t afraid to dig it all out again. More relaxed tracks like “No One Is (As I Are Be)” and “Long Hard Book” demonstrate that you can grow up and still not forget who you are. – Bear

44

Atlas Sound – Parallax

4AD

Atlas Sound – “Mona Lisa”

The reserved Bradford Cox sports a track record that will make most of his contemporaries jealous. Behind the name Atlas Sound though, he puts out music purposefully shrouded by endless filters. On Parallax, he finally lets go for his best attempt outside of Deerhunter yet. The estranged singer still possesses the same dreary mind set, but he has never shown such honesty. On “The Shakes,” he reveals hints of an ego. On “Modern Aquatic Nightsongs,” he finally gives a fully developed take on love. Still, “Angel Is Broken” takes the icing on the cake. For as polished as this song sounds, it helps make the album all the more haunting. – Stuart

43

Beirut – The Rip Tide

Pompeii Records

The band’s third album is less migrant Eastern European, and sounds a bit less perfect for a Woody Allen film; more brooding beachfront thought than sand-in-the-wind folklore, though just as romantic in evoking warm air and a comfortable sea breeze. These songs bleed in and around each other, and as always, Zach Condon’s distinct vocal shine through trumpets and horns in album opener “A Candle’s Fire” and title track “The Rip Tide”. It’s a temporary place of rest to take it all in, between the roaming journeys drifting from one place to the other. – Kenny

42

The Antlers – Burst Apart

Frenchkiss Records

The Antlers – “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out”

After the heavier previous record Hospice, The Antlers’ Burst Apart was a breath of fresh air. Peter Silberman’s haunting falsetto paired with surprisingly upbeat melodies show this band is an evolving force. – Lizzy

41

Panda Bear – Tomboy

Paw Tracks

Panda Bear – “Surfer’s Hymn”

Tomboy is more rhythmically structured than his previous work. With 2007’s Person Pitch (his third effort), many observers drew comparisons between Lennox and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. This effort, in contrast, shares many of the melodic styles as the Fall Be Kind EP, but in a way that is more composed and structured as opposed to being a journey through space and sound. He isn’t pushing the sonic boundaries of experimentation. A lack of this does not equate to a lack of detail, however. Tomboy’s beauty is in the nuances of its sounds, the complexity of its loops, which in and of themselves are a premier example of Lennox’s ability to exploit and manipulate different sounds. It is not, as some would say, a case of monotony or attempt to dilute his medium. But a straightforward attempt at what life in an underwater boardwalk might sound like. – Juan

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