Here it is, my top ten albums of 2011. If this looks familiar, it may be because you saw this exact list on Row Three when we published our music picks earlier this week. But! I did change one video from a live performance to the music video. So there’s that.
10. Blondie – Panic of Girls
Blondie have been making music for longer than I’ve been alive; when I heard they were coming out with a new album, I was only mildly interested, since most of the time older bands who come back to make new records don’t always work too well for me. But this album both sounds recognizably “Blondie” and also quite current. I guess that makes sense, because even Blondie’s 1970s and 1980s music sounds fairly current right now – so many indie bands are picking up their style and using it themselves. Blondie pays back the favor, even, covering Beirut’s “Sunday Smile” but giving it their own flavor that makes it almost sound like a sequel to “Sunday Girl.” The band is showing their age a bit in the video for “Mother” (below), but they can still rock it out and sound great.
9. The Raveonettes – Raven in the Grave
Each new Raveonettes album and tour stop is definitely an event in my home – they put on one of the best live shows I’ve seen – and after their previous In & Out of Control neared the top of my 2009 charts, I was particularly excited for this one. It’s not quite the instant favorite with me, but its quieter and more melancholic riffs have a way of haunting me when I least expect it.
8. Death Cab for Cutie – Codes and Keys
Somehow despite my obvious hipster-ish music tastes, Death Cab always passed me by until this album, which I mostly picked up out of curiosity to see if they still had whatever it was that made them such a household name in my circles. Technically, I still don’t know, because I haven’t done enough listening to their back catalog yet, but holy crap did I fall for this insanely catchy album immediately. It pretty much just took the main guitar riff from “You Are a Tourist” (see below) and I was gone. So much so, you’ll note this is the only all-male band on my whole list. :)
7. Vivian Girls – Share the Joy
I have a thing for all-girl bands (and co-ed bands, as you’ll notice), so whenever I hear about one, I usually give it a listen, but I really didn’t like Vivian Girls’ 2009 release Everything Goes Wrong – a little too noisy and unfinished-sounding for me. This time around, though, they’ve cleaned it up, giving a much brighter, clearer sound without sacrificing too much of their fuzzy roots. More mainstream-friendly? Sure. But that’s not always a bad thing. From the bait-and-switch opening of “The Other Girls” to the self-consciously ’60s-pop of “Take It as It Comes” (below) and the minorly-inflected “I Heard You Say,” I’m with this album all the way.
6. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar
My fiance introduced me to this band last year, and I’d just gotten really into their earlier album (which at 8 or so songs is much too short) when their first real full-length dropped – perfect timing for this trio of epic Welsh rockers to blow me away. So many of these songs are great, it was hard to pick just one, but “I Don’t Want to See You Like This” has a great video as well, so that barely got the nod. Whenever I just need to kick back with some densely-orchestrated, big sounding tunes, this is what I reach for.
5. Givers – In Light
An EP from Givers last year had me intrigued, but not totally sold – songs like “Up Up Up” are infinitely catchy, and the rest of the album bore out the promise of that initial single (which is included on both last year’s EP and this year’s album). The band is out of Lafayette, Louisiana, and Southern charm radiates from them – there’s nothing but joy on this album, and that comes through every note.
4. The Submarines – Love Notes/Letter Bombs
The Submarines are one of my favorite bands, so I was pretty sure they’d feature somewhere on my list when I heard they were releasing an album this year. The story of the now-married couple’s lives is basically told obliquely through their albums (courtship, breakup, reunion, marriage), and with this third one they settle into married life and the challenges and joys that come along with that. Their music is adorable and upbeat, but the lyrics always have unexpected depth – it’s not surprising to learn that Blake Hazard is F. Scott Fitzerald’s great-granddaughter.
3. Grouplove – Never Trust a Happy Song
This album has been steadily climbing my charts (just a week or so ago when we started putting together this post, they were in 6th place), because I cannot get their songs out of my head for the life of me. I’d heard but not been impressed with their EP last year, but the full-length takes all the things that were good about that EP, trimmed off the things I didn’t like, and ended up with an album that hits all my buttons, including ones I didn’t even know I HAD.
2. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
I’ve moved this around on my list a lot, too, but every time I pop it in, I’m overcome with the raw emotion that Lykke Li has captured this time around. I’ve tried to like her earlier album Youth Fiction without success, but this one – every lyric, every musical choice, every orchestration is simply perfect. And this video has Stellan Skarsgard in it. So there’s that.
1. Cults – Cults
Last year, Cults’ 3-song EP would likely have been on my top ten list if I didn’t resist putting EPs on my top ten list. This year, they have a full-length (with a couple of the same songs as the EP), so it’s not surprising that it’s on here – it does surprise me a little that it ended up this high! But if I mess with the list any more, I’m going to go insane, so here it stays. The indie pop catchiness of “Go Outside” and the retro ’60s stylings of “You Know What I Mean” are clearly up my alley, but there’s not a song on here I don’t like. And it doesn’t hurt that they’ve got some of the more intriguing music videos, too – especially the one for “Go Outside,” which places the band Cults inside an actual cult, blending new and archival footage to put them at Jonestown.