People love lists. Particularly “best of the year” lists. There’s something about putting a quantitative ranking next to a collection of the year’s entertainment — the people need to know how things match up against each other. To be honest, I was dreading the creation of these rankings. It’s borderline impossible for me to take two albums of completely different genres and try to justify how one is better than the other. In the process though, you re-discover albums from earlier in the year that you loved, but didn’t quite give enough time to. This is the summation of that process.
I doubt anyone will fully agree with this list, and you really shouldn’t — when it comes to music, everyone has their own, unique opinion. That being said, we can all agree that 2011 was an unbelievable year for the industry.
Hit “Read More” to see my top ten albums of 2011.
Foster The People – Torches
Foster The People had one of the greatest entry years you could possibly have in the music industry. Granted, we all know “Pumped Up Kicks” was floating around for months (years?) before it finally caught on like wildfire, but 2011 was the year they released Torches, so I’m considering it their entry year. Their debut album was packed with undeniably catchy anthems; the perfect balance between Phoenix and the neighborhood garage band.
M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
M83 had a landmark year. When your single is featured on every late-night talk show and is the anthem of the Victoria Secret Fashion Show, you’ve made it. The simple little synthesized piano sequence at the beginning of “Midnight City” struck a chord with just about everybody. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming was much more than just that one song though. It features 22, spacey tracks that legitimately catapult you to a different world. Best listened to when zoning out is not frowned upon, but accepted.
Childish Gambino – Camp
Donald Glover was one of the more talked about, upcoming hip-hop acts of the year. At first, people didn’t know whether or not to take him seriously — with his comedic past and role on NBC’s Community. Then with Camp‘s release, he became one of the most loved/hated figures in hip-hop. For every glowing review of the album, there was a review like this. From my perspective, people delved too deep in analyzing his insecurities and moral compass — I enjoyed Camp because of Glover’s witty, story-telling abilities, and it was unlike any hip-hop album this year. For that, it deserves a spot on my list.
The Sound Of Arrows - Voyage
This Swedish duo went from being entirely unknown in my book to putting out one of my favorite albums of the year. You know how I’m always talking about the quality of Swedish music these days? Last year it was Miike Snow, and this year The Sound Of Arrows have made their case that the Swedes are taking over the globe. “Into The Clouds” and “Wonders” is one of the more addicting 1-2 punches to start an album off in recent memory. One of the more impressive debuts of the year, no question.
Adele - 21
This is an obvious pick for all of the reasons that you’re already familiar with. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that 21 has sold upwards of 13 million copies world-wide, and it’s impossible to ignore the fact that she has the most impressive, effortless voice in the game right now. Everybody bought 21, and everybody fell in love with her story, including myself.
J. Cole - Cole World: The Sideline Story
J. Cole’s been the topic of discussion for a couple of years now. Since his first mixtape release, and his signing to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, the impatience for his first album was on another level amongst hip-hop fans. While it came significantly later than expected, Cole World: The Sideline Story came through in every aspect. There’s something different about his delivery that resonates with people — and his story-telling abilities and rhyming skill were on full display on his debut album. “Lost Ones”, “Mr. Nice Watch”, “Lights Please”, “Breakdown”…this album was significantly better than people gave it credit for. In my mind, one of the best hip-hop albums of 2011.
Drake – Take Care
Take Care dropped back on November 15th, and in all honesty, I’m still consistently listening to it everyday. Nearly a month and a half later, and I still find a new song to cling onto, new production that I didn’t notice before, or a witty line that slipped by me initially. This is the album that everyone hoped Drake would make — he’s fully come into his own, and sounds more confident and comfortable than ever. “Over My Dead Body” grips you from the get-go, and serves as the most personal album introduction of the year. It’s impossible to listen to this project from start to finish, and not know who Aubrey Graham is, where he comes from, and the limitless future that’s ahead of him.
Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra
At the beginning of 2011, few people knew the name Frank Ocean outside of his family and friends. At the end of 2011, he’s penned songs for Beyoncé, been featured on the biggest hip-hop record of the year, and has a ground-breaking compilation in Nostalgia, Ultra under his belt. I rank this so high, frankly, because I could’ve cared less about R&B before this guy entered the scene. Something about “Swim Good” grabbed my attention, and I’ve been a huge fan of his music ever since.
Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne
It’s tough to avoid Watch The Throne finding a home somewhere in the top two albums of the year. I first played the album start to finish as I was flying home from Chicago, and I remember being kind of indifferent at first. “Murder To Excellence” was worth the price of admission alone, but the album was so incredibly hyped that it was hard not to be disappointed after a first listen. As time went by, I continued to listen, and listen some more. Five months later, and it still has the same appeal that it did when I first started getting into it. This was an album that had more to it than initially thought — and it took time to realize and digest that. Five months later, it’s safe to say that Jay-Z and Kanye’s collaborative effort was my favorite hip-hop album of the year.
Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Ah yes, the inevitable blogger cop-out. The truth is, for me, Bon Iver’s sophomore album was the most listenable, endlessly enjoyable record of the year. Back in 2008, unknown at the time, the debut For Emma, Forever Ago struck a chord with me unlike anything before. I could listen to that album falling asleep, waking up, walking to class, in the car — anywhere. It never got old. I had such high hopes that the sophomore follow-up album would do the same, and it miraculously did. This time more people noticed, and Justin Vernon and his crew are well on their way to a couple of Grammy wins. It’s all well-deserved.
Monarchy – Around The Sun
The Roots – Undun
Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto
SBTRKT – SBTRKT