My Favorite Records of 2011

Mirror to Mirror's Here You Leave Today—one of my favorite records of the year.

In the January 2012 issue of Stereophile, I list my 15 favorite records of the year (p.52). Here is an expanded, slightly more detailed list.

SM’s FAVORITE RECORDS OF 2011

1. Gang Gang Dance: Eye Contact (LP, 4AD CAD 3107)

I can hear everything. It’s everything time.

The record opens with those few words, the band nodding at this digital age of file-sharing and rapid access: Any musical style is just a few clicks away from the curious musician or music lover. How will the Internet, with its way of obliterating time and space, shape the sound of music to come?

Gang Gang Dance’s fifth studio album—their first to be released by 4AD—is a big, ambitious masterpiece, fusing together New Age weirdness, Global awareness, psychedelic visions, 1980s freestyle, 1990s techno, mainstream pop, hip-hop, punk rock, and massive dance rhythms.

“MindKilla” is the single of the year. Play it on the hi-fi, loud.

2. Wild Beasts: Smother (LP Domino DNO297)

Not nearly as adventurous or weird as Gang Gang Dance's Eye Contact, but nonetheless beautiful and moving from beginning to end, Smother is concerned with love, lust, and longing. The voices are enchanting, the music warbles, pulses, and soothes. The album concludes with “End Come Too Soon,” but we play it again and again.

3. Radiohead: The King of Limbs (LP, Ticker Tape Ltd. TICK001LP)

I didn’t like this record at all when I first heard it—I was expecting something poppier, something more familiar—but over time something changed and the album’s vague, amorphous melodies and strange structures grew beautiful and inviting. Odd sonics: The music sounds new and old at once.

4. Zomby: Dedication (LP, 4AD CAD 3119)

After hearing just a few seconds of the opening track, “Witch Hunt,” I knew I had to own this record. The textures are amazing, the beats are dope, the melodies haunting. After hearing the record a few times, I imagined, fancifully, that it was dedicated to an ex-lover. But I read in The Wire, that the record is actually dedicated to Zomby’s dad.

5. Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto: Summvs (CD, Raster-Noton R-N 132)

Alva Noto mixes his glitchy, scintillating electronics and deep, low-end blasts with Sakamoto’s gentle, tender piano melodies. Their version of Eno’s “By This River” is exquisite.

6. Mogwai: Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (LP, Sub Pop SP895)

The music, mostly instrumental and altogether powerful, is just as brash and awesome as the album title.

7. Fucked Up: David Comes to Life (LP, Matador OLE-952-1)

I wish my band could open for these guys. Fucked Up destroys. Intelligent, poetic, ridiculous, pummeling, frightening, triumphant rock and roll. On this record, the band sounds like The Who mixed with Stormshadow, which, to me, is incredibly cool.

8. Thundercat: The Golden Age of Apocalypse (LP, Brainfeeder BF023)

I love just about everything released by Steven Ellison’s Brainfeeder label, but this record tops them all. Imagine Stevie Wonder, the Headhunters, and Chick Corea, playing with the Temptations, remixed by Flying Lotus, with that crazy bass player from Suicidal Tendencies. Oh, it is that crazy bassplayer from Suicidal Tendencies: Stephen Bruner, son of soul drummer Ronald Bruner. Cool.

9. Amon Tobin: ISAM (LP, Ninja Tune LC-12885)

This weird, whimsical record is filled with exaggerated sounds that’ll pulse through your listening room floors and skip along the listening room walls. Composer Amon Tobin records the sounds of insects, electricity, wind, and other things, adds enormous beats, and sings like a child at play.

10. Girls: Father, Son, Holy Ghost (LP, True Panther Sounds TRUE-035-1)

Even better than their debut. Girls take us on a tour of rock and roll, from 1950s-style crooning to surf rock to shoegaze to grunge. Great songwriting.

11. HTRK: Work (Work, Work) (LP, Ghostly International GI-144)

This is another one that I didn’t really like at first. But something about it kept drawing me back, and, over time, I came to love this record’s thick, sludgy, dense sound. There are hidden melodies under the dark, metallic outer surface. Work (Work Work) forces you to reconsider rhythm and pace. It is unapologetic. And Jonnine Standish sounds like a drugged-up, sex-starved Sade. (Which is hot.) Sexiest album of the year.

12. Colin Stetson: New History Warfare, Vol.2: Judges (LP, Constellation CST075-1)

This record, on the other hand, immediately blew me away. Stetson uses 24 mics to record every sound he makes while completely freaking out on bass saxophone. Laurie Anderson and Shara Worden provide even greater terror and seduction, respectively.

13. James Blake: James Blake (LP, Polydor B0015443-01)

Blake, the 24-year old electronic music producer and son of James Litherland, hit the scene with a big splash. His debut full-length came with much hype, but lived up to it all and surprised me by becoming a hit with audiophiles: By the end of the year, we were guaranteed to hear “The Wilhelm Scream” played over and over at hi-fi shows. I blame that on Wilson’s Peter McGrath. (Thanks, Peter.) Great album all the way through, though.

14. Leyland Kirby: Eager to Tear Apart the Stars (LP, History Always Favors the Winners HAFTW010-LP)

I’m fast falling in love with everything Kirby releases, whether under the Caretaker moniker, his V/Vm project, or his “Intrigue & Stuff” series. Eager to Tear Apart the Stars crackles with dust and shines with moonlight: We hear warm synths; horror-movie organ; wind and waves; and delicate, deliberate, tragically beautiful piano. It’s easy to listen to, easier to love, and filled with great rewards.

15. Cold Cave: Cherish the Light Years (LP, Matador OLE-921)

This record sounds like New York City at 3am, neon lights reflected in oily puddles of rain. Radical synth playing, too.

THE REST, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER

Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres (Constellation)

Destroyer: Kaputt (Merge)

Jannick Shou: Act of Shimmering (Experimedia)

Prefuse 73: The Only She Chapters (Warp)

Boris: Attention Please and Heavy Rocks (Sargent House)

Matthewdavid: Outmind (Ninja Tune)

Teebs: Ardour (Brainfeeder)

Nicolas Jaar: Space is Only Noise (Circus Company)

Keith Freund: Constant Comments (Experimedia)

Noveller: Glacial Glow (Weird Forest/Saffron Recordings)


Sarah Lipstate: Noveller.

Balam Acab: Wander/Wonder (Tri Angle)

Iceage: New Brigade (What’s Your Rupture)

When Saints Go Machine: Konkylie (!K7)

Beirut: The Rip Tide (Pompeii/Ba Da Bing)

Twin Sister: In Heaven (Domino)

Falty DL: You Stand Uncertain (Planet Mu)

Cliffie Swan: Memories Come True (Drag City)

Anna Calvi: Anna Calvi (Domino)

Maria Minerva: Cabaret Cixous (Not Not Fun)


Maria Minerva.

Isidore Ducasse: Isidore Ducasse (Blackest Rainbow)

Mirror to Mirror: Here You Leave Today (Cylindrical Habitat Modules)

Holy Other: With U (Tri Angle)

Africa Hitech: 93 Million Miles (Warp)

Shabazz Palaces: Black Up (Sub Pop)

Anti-G: Presents “Kentje’sz Beatsz” (Planet Mu)

Battles: Gloss Drop (Warp)

Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts (Matador)

Julianna Barwick & Ikue Mori: FRKWYS Vol.6 (RVNG International)

Jenny Hval: Viscera (Rune Grammofon)


Jenny Hval.

Kode 9 & the Spaceape: Black Sun (Hyperdub)

Deerhoof: Deerhoof vs. Evil (Polyvinyl)

Vivian Girls: Share the Joy (Polyvinyl)

Egyptrixx: Bible Eyes (Night Slugs)

Andy Stott: Passed Me By and We Stayed Together (Modern Love)

Weyes Blood & The Dark Juices: The Outside Room (Not Not Fun)

Rainbow Arabia: Boys and Diamonds (Kompakt)

John Vanderslice: White Wilderness (Dead Oceans)

Kangding Ray: OR (Raster-Noton)

Julianna Barwick: The Magic Place (Asthmatic Kitty)


Julianna Barwick.

Helado Negro: Canta Lechuza (Asthmatic Kitty)

Circuit des Yeux: Portrait (De Stijl)

Akron Family: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT (Dead Oceans)

Rene Hell: The Terminal Symphony (Type)

Charles-Eric Charrier: Silver (Experimedia)

Oneohtrix Point Never: Replica (Mexican Summer)

Zola Jesus: Conatus (Sacred Bones)

Deaf Center: Owl Splinters (Type)

Sandro Perri: Impossible Spaces (Constellation)

Laurel Halo: Hour Logic (Hippos In Tanks)


Laurel Halo.

Sons & Daughters: Mirror Mirror (Domino)

The Caretaker: An Empty Bliss Beyond this World (History Always Favors the Winners)

Comet Gain: Howl of the Lonely Crowd (What’s Your Rupture)

Blood Orange: Coastal Grooves (Domino)

Bonnie “Prince” Billy: Wolfroy Goes to Town (Drag City)

I think that’s 71 records. Obviously, it was another great year for music. But I know I’ve missed a lot of outstanding albums. My list is made mostly of independent rock, pop, and electronic music because that’s what I listen to most. What did I miss? What were your favorite records of 2011?

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COMMENTS
popluhv's picture

for Cold Cave & Twin Sister!

Stephen Mejias's picture

I got to see Twin Sister play a couple time this year, too, and the songs translate extremely well to the live setting.

10sephirot's picture

I took each artist and entered them into Pandora as one new station.

Just amazing music for hours!

Stephen Mejias's picture

How cool! 

Hope you enjoy.

Soothsayerman's picture

Great list man, thanks for sharing.

Stephen Mejias's picture

My pleasure. This blog entry took forever, but it was probably more fun than any other I've posted this year. It's a real privilege to be able to share music with others. I love the music so much; it makes me feel good to be able to give back in some small way.

oscar nr's picture

Hi. Another year with good records to hear, live, smile, cry  and share.

 

These are some of my favorite: (no particular order)

Real Estate- Days

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

Tom Waits- Bad as me

P.G. Six - Starry Mind

Sun Araw- Ancient romans

Eleanor Friedberg-Last Summer

Bill Callahan - Apocalypse

Bonnie prince Billy - Wolfroy goes to town (and various singles)

Old Californio- Sundrunk angels

Matana Roberts- Coin, Coin

Meg Baird- Seasons on Earth

The Felice Brothers- Celebration Florida

The Low Anthem- Smart Flesh

Luther Russell- The invisible audience

My Morning Jacket- Circuital

The High Llamas - Talahomi Way

William Elliott Whitmore- Field Songs

Thee Oh Sees - Carrion Crawler/The dream EP

Guilliam Welch - The harrow and the harvest

Pine Hill Haints - Welcome to the midnight opry

Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues

The Decemberist- The King is dead

 

 

Enjoy!

Oscar

 

 

Stephen Mejias's picture

Oh, good list!  There are several records here (Real Estate, Sun Araw, Eleanor Friedberger, Bill Callahan, Thee Oh Sees...) that I've been curious about, but, for one reason or another, never picked up.  I think I sorta felt like I had a good idea of what the records would sound like, so I neglected them.

(I wish I could hear everything!)

For as much as I wanted to love the PJ Harvey and Fleet Foxes records, I just never got into them.  Maybe in time.

This year, more than any other, I was gripped by the urge to hear new sounds.

augustobbs's picture

My Brightest Diamond is missing!
Sorry, I'm not telling you what you should like, but I can't stop listening to her since I saw the post here in Stereophile!

Stephen Mejias's picture

Yeah, I need to get the new one.  Still haven't picked it up.  It's one of those things: I know I'm going to love it, but, when I'm at the record shop, I'm compelled to buy the things I don't know.

DLKG's picture

I can't stop listening to them since you turned me on to them either.  I found the first 2 Lps in the $9 bin at FYE in Philadelphia and have since gotten the new one. I think I like the first 2 better but they are all really good.  The new Kate Bush (50 words about snow) is amazing but I got 2 bad pressings.  I saw on her web sight that there were bad pressings and now they should be OK.  I'll find out when I get it again.Also Tori Amos Night of The Hunter is really good.

 

DLKG

FSonicSmith's picture

Stephen; I love your writing, I love your perspective, I don't love your taste in music. That's OK. You're young. I don't love my two sons' tastes in music either. They're still in college (gotta kid at Columbia-can you look into him some time to see if he's behaving?) But like them, you will wisen up and your tastes will improve. You're close. I too can't get into the new Polly Jean or F.Foxes.

volvic's picture

Very nice like you I too always like to hear what other people are listening and while I recognize a few of them no way do I know all of them.  Look forward to listening and seeing  each and every one of them during the holidays on my new Blackberry Playbook.  Keep em coming Stephen.

Nick

oscar nr's picture

"Days" is a good record. More focused (and more poppier) than predecesor. I love the way their guitars interplay...

And PJ Harvey Records is fantastic. My favourite of her since "To Bring you my love"

Oh, and I don´t get Gang Gang Dance... (I like the cover)

 

BTW, "FSonicSmith", I don't understand that "you will wisen up and your tastes will improve". I think that that's a commentary that describes more the author than the music that we are talking about. It's like that cliché "Nowadays there is no good music/It's not like the old days" (Uppss, PJ Harvey always says that in interviews ;-))  I love My morning jacket or  PJ the same way I love Beach Boys, Can, Stooges or MC5.

 

Regards, Oscar

wakkz's picture

You forgot Bon Iver - Bon Iver ;)

Stephen Mejias's picture

That's another one that I never really got into. I had high hopes for it, but it didn't really move me the way the first record did. I'll have to come back to it later.

haujobb's picture

In particular order:

 

 

The Black Keys - El Camino

Peaking Lights - 936

Dillon - This Silence Kills

David Lynch - Crazy Clown Time

Florence & The Machine - Ceremonials

Radiohead - The King Of Limbs

Feist - Metals

James Blake - James Blake

Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning

Zola Jesus - Conatus

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

Wesseltoft Schwarz Duo - Duo

Brian Eno - Drums Between The Bells

Little Dragon - Ritual Union

Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes

Son Lux - We Are Rising

SBTRKT - SBTRKT

Zomby - Dedication

Bon Iver - Bon Iver

Fink - Perfect Darkness

The Mountain Goats - All Eternal Deck

Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi

Austra - Feel It Break

EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints

The Kills - Blood Pressures

The Antlers - Burst Apart

Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean

Joan As A Police Woman - The Deep Field

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

The Horrors - Skying

 

Stephen Mejias's picture

Great list. Several of these records are on my "Gotta Get" list: Peaking Lights, EMA, David Lynch, Feist, maybe St. Vincent, SBTRKT. I'm undecided about Lykke Li and the Horrors, but I've been curious about those records, too. 

El Camino was just released earlier this week and I haven't heard it yet, but I'm looking forward to it.  Robert Baird interviews The Keys' Dan Auerbach in our February issue. 

haujobb's picture

... simply fantastic and unexpected real find !

Stephen Mejias's picture

I'm listening now and enjoying it -- thanks.  I don't want to make any quick judgments, but my mind is drawing lines to Bjork, Joanna Newsom, and Bat for Lashes. Cool stuff. There's so much great music out there, it's overwhelming.

oscar nr's picture

And Patrick Carney!!! A band that has evolve without losing their roots. They're GREAT.

I haven't heard El Camino yet. Next week a new vinyl of BK in my turntable for sure.

Dan Auerbach solo album is also a favorite of mine.

 

garysi13's picture

Nice list Stephen, I always enjoy investigating your choices.  SOme of my faves in no order, well Fucked Up should be number 1.

Fucked Up- David Comes to Life

The War on Drugs- Slave Ambient

Radiohead- King of Limbs

tUnE-yArDs- whokill

Wild Beasts- Smother

Elbow- Build a Rocket Boys

M83- Hurry up, We're Dreaming

Wilco- The Whole Love

Washed Out- Within and Without

If I can include reissues, Wish You Were Here and Exile on Main Street

 

 

Stephen Mejias's picture

Ah, reissues!  Lots of great reissues this year, too.  It seems like all of my favorite records from the 90s are being re-released on vinyl.  Currently, I'm really enjoying Light in the Attic's reissue of Mercury Rev's Deserter's Songs.  But I think my favorite reissue of the rear is RVNG's loving treatment of Harald Grosskopf's Synthesist.

Stephen Mejias's picture

I still have to get that tUnE-yArDs record, too.  (Dammit.)

oscar nr's picture

is definitely a grower.

And The Whole Love is Wilco's best since a ghost is born IMO

 

10sephirot's picture

Codes and Keys

soulful.terrain's picture

 

Pat Metheny - What's It All About - Jazz

Eric Johnson - Up Close - Jazz fusion, Rock, and Country

Brian Hughes - Fast Train to A Quiet Place - Jazz

Walter Becker - Circus Money - just plain cool

The Orb w/David Gilmour - Metallic Spheres - experimental, ambient, new age

Renegade Creation: M. Landau, Robben Ford, Jimmy Haslip, Gary Novak - Jazz/rock fusion

George Benson - Guitar Man - Jazz

bonhamcopeland's picture

It's hard to stay on top new music. And thank god for that. 

You turned me on to Mogwai this year. And like you, I might have picked up that record just for the title. Thankfully, the music is vastly more interesting than the title. (but damn, they have great names) Since then, I've bought everything Mogwai I can get my hands on. Except Gremlins on Blu-ray.   

We need more journalists like you to expand our horizons. A good music service algorithm doesn't equal a good editorial. Digital opinion becomes devalued with every push of the like button. Keep writing, keep listening, and keep up the good fight.       

Stephen Mejias's picture

Thanks very much. It's so satisfying to hear that I've introduced you to something you now enjoy. And it's always great to hear from thoughtful people.

If you get a chance to see Mogwai live, definitely go for it. The live experience is very special.  (Bring earplugs!)  Their live DVDs are cool, too. 

james's picture

Top 3:

Peter Evans Quintet - Ghosts

Andy Stott - We Stay Together

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Mirror Trash

Honorable mentions to:
Noveller - Glacial Glow
Ford & Lopatin - Channel Pressure
a Bee Mask album whose title escapes me
The Three Lobed vinyl box set
Pete Swanson - Man With Potential
Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972
The Caretaker - An Empty Bliss something or other...
half of Wilco's newest is excellent, especially the title track
Sun Araw - Houston Abstros 7"

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