Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Favorite Albums of 2011

These are the albums I listened to most, in no real order. These are the records that are good for just about any situation, in particular the situations in which I most love music: while driving, writing, working, or dancing.

Helplessness Blues-Fleet Foxes. The stand-out here is "Bedouin Dress" but every single track is stellar.

Queen of the Minor Key-Eilen Jewell. One of the most underrated artists out there. "Santa Fe" is one of the best songs I've ever heard.

Circuital-My Morning Jacket. A masterpiece. My favorites: "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)", the title track, and "Black Metal." Layered, profound, and beautiful. If I was forced to pick the album of the year, this would be it.

In the Cool of the Day-Daniel Martin Moore. This album is like church in all the best ways. A sort of gospel record without any of the dogma, this is DMM at his smooth-voiced, tight-songwriting, and guitar-picking, piano-playing best.

Inclusions-Ben Sollee. Ben pushes the boundaries and takes his music down bright new avenues. Musically-brilliant and deeply moving. Warning: this video stars the incredibly cute Oliver Sollee.

Bella-Teddy Thompson. I probably listened to this album more than any other this year, especially the second half. That falsetto. Those string arrangements. Sigh.

Metals-Feist. Slower and more thoughtful than her last record, there are no foot-tapping hits here, just tight, perfect pieces of art.

The Cecil Sharp Project. One of my favorite artists, Caroline Herring, is a member of this group and so that's why I first knew about it, and I still think her tracks are the best, but the whole album is a journey into the heart of Appalachia, a man, and the way music shapes us as a people. Genius.

21-Adele. Without a doubt one of the best pop records in recent history. With this album Adele joins the handful of truly great vocalists, and whoever chose the songs should be given a special award for Songcatcher of the Year.

The Dreaming Fields-Matraca Berg. Elegant and elegiac. The title track is nearly equal to a Willa Cather book and in fact the whole album stands like a perfect short novel.

Sing It Loud-k.d. lang. I've always loved k.d lang's voice but only now has she created an entire wonderful album that I love listening to again and again. If you ever get the chance to hear her live, please do. I heard her in Nashville (at the Ryman, no less) this year and it was definitely one of the best concerts ever.

Torches-Foster the People. The best pop album of the year, full of hooks and great beats.

El Camino-The Black Keys. A sticker on the front reads "Play Loud." Great advice. If you can sit through this without dancing a little, then I don't understand you. Also: best video of the year.

The Mirror-Jill Andrews. This album by the former front-woman for The Everybodyfields didn't get the attention it deserved.

Born This Way-Lady Gaga. Okay, maybe the most overexposed record of 2011, but still one of the best. "You and I" and "Edge of Glory" are both perfect pop songs.

Rave On Buddy Holly-Various Artists. Best tribute album I've ever heard.

Little Bird-Kasey Chambers. Kasey never lets me down, and this is one of her best.