With a release on Tri angle, a Washed Out remix under his belt, and production credits for just about every break out rapper of the year, not many artists owned 2011 quite like Clams Casino. The spotlight really started to focus when he shed the goofnugget MC's of his early career and released Instrumentals. The songs take on new life presented on their own when ghostly vocal samples and luscious synths have room to take center stage. Supremely chill, but never nostalgic; Instrumentals is one of the best electronic albums of the year, from a guy who just wanted to make hip hop.
9. Wu Lyf - Go Tell Fire on the Mountain
The intriguing and occasionally frustrating Wu Lyf shed all vestige of mystery in 2011 after the release of their debut album. “Go Tell Fire” proved that Wu Lyf’s cult following wasn't just a successful exercise in creating hype. The music is huge and tribal, while Ellery Roberts, easily one of the most cathartic vocalists in Indie rock, howls on themes of unity and love. All other considerations aside, Wu Lyf make the kind of music you can believe in.
Spitting Blood - Wu Lyf
8. Yuck - Yuck
Phrases I’ve read far too many times this year: “Nostalgia Obsessed” “Half Remembered” and just about any blog post with the word “memory” in it. Yuck masterfully navigated the pretentiousness becoming inherent with “fuzzy recollections” by shooting for straight forward imitation. Wasting no time, “Get Away” starts with a gleeful burst of fuzz and the album never looks back from there. No introduction, no indication that the year is 2011 and far better off for it.
Get Away - Yuck
7. Gauntlet Hair - Gauntlet Hair
Gauntlet Hair are two best friends with trading vocals, youthful vigor and an uncanny ability to keep punk music cerebral. No Age and Japandroids comparisons were all but inevitable, and trading in layers of noise for electropop sheen garnered the band more than a few Animal Collective nods as well. As eager as critics were to find comparisons, at the end of the year I still had not heard anything that sounded quite like it: a fundamentally aggressive album matched, but never overpowered by its pop sensibilities.
Keep Time - Gauntlet Hair
6. Washed Out - Within and Without
Depending on who you ask, 2011 was either the year chillwave grew up or the year it died. Either way you look at it, the genre's kingpin Ernest Greene took the opportunity for artistic growth in stride. Greene’s biggest move was abandoning his signature lo-fi production and the uneasy detachment that naturally came with it. The music doesn’t sound a whole lot different than his first few EPs, but combined with that close up album art, and surprisingly personal lyrics Within and Without definitely feels different. No more irony, no more tape hiss, just intimacy.
Amor Fati - Washed Out
5. Bobby - BOBBY
Be it short attention span or closer to coincidence, BOBBY is the only album on my top ten that passes the hour mark. Instead of packing in anthem after anthem, (I’m looking at you M83 and Fucked Up) Bobby displayed an impressive penchant for flowing song structures and impeccable sequencing. More importantly, their wide array of indie and folk influence made sure the sleepier moments were just as impressive as the singles. And while there are certainly songs capable of standing alone, this is an album that only feels right taken as a whole.
Ginger (Water Birth) - Bobby
Initially a bedroom recording project, The Year of Hibernation is one of the most impressive albums of its kind. Perhaps the most dynamic album of the year, songs like July begin with just piano and Trevor's fragile, distant voice and explode into thundering, supremely triumphant crescendos you can't help but sing along to. As surprisingly fully formed arrangements rise and fall around him, it becomes apparent that no one can capture the feeling of wide-eyed wonder quite like Trevor. With a knack for melodies that make you smile and arrangements that let your imagination run wild, The Year of Hibernation couldn't help but shine.
July - Youth Lagoon
3. Born Gold - Bodysongs
Technically a collection of singles rather than a debut album, Bodysongs was both Gobble Gobble’s eulogy, and Born Gold’s coming out party. Genres blend indiscriminately into a 33 minute overdose with one mission: to make you move. Some of these songs have been floating around the internet for over a year, but I still find myself noticing something new on a regular basis. Born Gold is pop music for the future, and with any luck that future will come sooner rather than later.
2. Coma Cinema - Blue Suicide
Mat Cothran is certainly one of the most poignant lyricists of his generation, but the music behind Coma Cinema has never been complacent to his stark depression. Instead, Blue Suicide, like the Stoned Alone and Baby Prayers before it, thrives on duality. How can songs this brutally sad sound so comforting? On each successive album Mat has refined his sound, deftly balancing the power struggle between his pop sensibilities and his dark world view. Unspoken glimmers of the hope betray the crushing lyrics, like a soft still voice comforting you even as our world spins out of control. Maybe just maybe everything will be alright.
Whatevering - Coma Cinema
Download Blue Suicide
1. James Blake - James Blake
No other album stuck with me like James Blake's self titled debut. Every time I listen to it I can't help but be completely encompassed in its world. More so than any other album this year, James Blake is both a sonic masterpiece and an emotional juggernaut. Often times nervous, haunting and self depreciating, hope still shines through in Blake's piano and ever soulful voice. Knowing when and more importantly when not to include elements of dubstep proves his mastery of the genre more than anything else he has done. When he does employ his signature style, its better than anything else I've heard this year. The build up on "I Never Learnt to Share", the bass release in "Limit to your love" and the list goes on to include parts of every song. I could write twice as much on James Blake, but my favorite album of the year doesn't need any more justification. Just listen to it.
I Never Learnt To Share - James Blake