Friday, December 30, 2011

Shokai's Top 10 Albums of 2011

Not that I imagine for a moment that anyone cares what a 50-something, almost 60-something, Zen Buddhist living in Atlanta, Georgia thinks are the 10 best albums of 2011 (let's be honest: I'm not in anybody's target demographic, but there's actually a lot of freedom in that - I can listen to whatever I want, without any peer pressure to like, or dislike, anything), but I went ahead and created my own "Top 10" list out of sheer self-indulgence anyway.

1.  The Decemberists, The King Is Dead

The pride of Portland comes in at Number One, if for no other reason (and there are a great many others, believe me) than I simply couldn't get their lovely songs, like June Hymn above, out of my head all year.  Plus, I'm so happy to see Sparklepony healthy and back on stage again.

2. The Antlers, Burst Apart

The Antlers, a band so nice, I got to see them twice - on the same day.  Back during MFNW, I saw their KEXP morning set where the above video was shot - you can see the back of my head in silhouette just to the right of Peter Silberman in several shots.  And then I got to see them again later that same day at Pioneer Courthouse Square.  And then I saw them a third time at the godforsaken Masquerade during Rocktober. They're that good, but you can hear for yourself by downloading an epic concert they performed at New York's Webster Hall on December 10 (free at NYC Taper).  Burst Apart is a perfect album, heartbreaking and beautiful.  Very few albums can bring me to tears and make me actually choke up the way Burst Apart does, except of course, their previous album, Hospice.

3.  Wilco, The Whole Love

Wilco are apparently incapable of putting out a bad album, and right now, after all these years, they are at peak form.  When you listen to One Sunday Morning, you know that you're in the hands of masters. And whoever put together this fan-produced video did a masterful job of matching their sound, too.  If you get the chance, check out their Daytrotter session, too - they absolutely knocked it out of the park.

4.  Other Lives, Tamer Animals

A major accomplishment in terms of sheer artistry.  It's hard to think of anything more ambitiously creative than this second album by Stillwater, Oklahoma's Other Lives.  Their performance at Atlanta's Drunken Unicorn was amazing and showed that music this complex can not only be played live, but made to sound even better than in the studio.  Perhaps after touring with Radiohead this spring, they'll start to get the recognition they deserve.

5.  Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues

I don't know how I missed listing the Fleet Foxes show at The Tabernacle in my Best Concerts of the Year list, but I wasn't going to make that mistake again and forget to list them in Albums of the Year.  And this video has to be one of the strangest animations since Disney's Fantasia.

6.  Death Cab For Cutie, Codes And Keys

An album I didn't think I was going to like as much as I did, and one that I didn't think I was going to listen to over and over again as many times as I did.

7.  Cults, Cults

My unofficial soundtrack for the summer of 2001.

8.  The Head And The Heart, The Head And The Heart

Their Variety Playhouse show did make it to my Best Of list, and for good reason.  Success couldn't happen to a nicer band.

9. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming

The single Midnight City was huge, both in terms of sound with the epic opening lines and also in terms of success - it played on everything from the season finale of HBO's How To Make It In America to Victoria's Secret commercials.  But the major surprise was how nuanced and varied the album was in its wide range of moods and textures.  Instead of a dozen arena-sized anthems, M83 covered and uncovered the full range of possibilities of electronic music.

10.  Korallreven - An Album By Korallreven

While M83 amazed by showing that he could also play quiet, nearly ambient songs as well as arena-size crowd pleasers like Midnight City, Korallreven (Swedish for Coral Reef), who had released several quiet and reflective mixtapes, surprised everyone by releasing As Young As Yesterday, a huge, slab of block-busting electronica almost approaching dance music on their fine debut album.  Sa sa samoa, y'all.

Is there any denying that 2011 was another incredible year for music?

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