Music Monday Special Edition: Top 10 Albums of 2011

Alright, here it is. After a few solid days of listening to all kinds of albums and trying to narrow down which deserves to go where… I have it. These are, in my opinion, the 10 best albums. Here they are!

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One song from each of these has been loaded onto the What I’m Listening To page at the top of the website. Be sure to check those out as well.

10. Ashes & Fire – Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams came back this year doing what he does best — writing great melodies and some pretty haunting lyrics. For anyone who enjoyed his “Heartbreaker” or “Gold” discs, be sure to check this out.

Song to Check Out: “Lucky Now”

9. James Blake – James Blake

I was a little bit late on the James Blake train. But once I started his self-titled disc, it became hard to press stop. It’s a great mix of soul, dubstep, some great bass, and at times a church-ish sounding synthesized organ. Great, great album. Highly recommended. If you enjoyed The Streets, but wanted a little more production behind it, this would be a good album for you.

Song to Check Out: “I Never Learnt to Share”

8. Kiss Each Other Clean – Iron & Wine

I’m always a sucker for Iron & Wine. This year they kicked it up a notch with a more electric sound. Some great melodies and wonderfully smooth vocals translate to another good progression forward for Iron & Wine. If you like Sam Beam’s earlier stuff and have a bit of an open mind, I would highly recommend it.

Song to Check Out: “Tree By the River”

7. Nothing is Wrong – Dawes

I was out at Old Chicago in Uptown with my friend Petter earlier this summer and he told me to check out Dawes, particularly their new album. From then on, it has been a staple in my CD rotation in my car. There’s a Tom Petty/Jackson Browne-ness to some of the songs on this disc. It’s a great recall to the 70’s singer-songwriter pop/folk/rock era.

Song to Check Out: “A Little Bit of Everything”

6. Circuital – My Morning Jacket

In the past, I have been so slow to catch up to the My Morning Jacket train. But on this album, there’s a little bit of everything. Jim James mixes it up from a psychedelic ode to death metal to a couple sweet love songs and always heavy on the jams. Great disc to put in on a country road in the summer — or in a dirt road in Arizona in the winter, as the case may be.

Song to Check Out: “Circuital”

5. The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart

I forget who it was that told me about The Head and the Heart. But whoever it was, I’m grateful. I’ll always think of the summer of 2011 when I listen to this disc because I wore this CD out. A great blend of harmonies and bluegrassy folk. I’d highly recommend getting this disc if you enjoy good music — particularly in the Avett Brothers/The National/Blind Pilot arena.

Song to Check Out: “Lost In My Mind”

4. Barton Hollow – The Civil Wars

This whole disc also got a lot of play between my CD player and the many copies I’ve burned for my wife, which have been played and played (and played and played). It’s a wonderful album through and through. The way that John Paul White and Joy Williams play off of each other adds so much depth to their songs. Wonderful album and a great live act too. We saw them at the Varsity Theatre in Minneapolis last April. Find them if you can.

Song to Check Out: “Poison & Wine”

3. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming – M83

I just recently got in to M83. On Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, we’re taken as listeners to a kind of supersonic place. It’s MGMT-meets-Muse-meets-Cut Copy. It’s an epic trip into what sound and melody can do. If James Blake’s album was the minimalist album of the year, this is the maximalist. There’s things going on everywhere in every song. But it works. And it’s what makes it great.

Song to Check Out: “Midnight City”

2. Watch the Throne – Jay-Z & Kanye West

Admittedly, this was the album I was waiting most of the year for. On the heels of Kanye West’s best album yet, he was going to follow it up by partnering with Jay-Z for an entire album. I wasn’t quite sure what to think on the first few listens. Certain songs stuck out — “No Church in the Wild”,”Ni**as in Paris”, “Otis”, “Who Gon’ Stop Me”, “Made In America”, and “H.A.M.” to name a few. But the disc as a whole didn’t strike me. Then I kept listening. And listened some more. And after a few listens I wasn’t even noticing when the songs changed. And you know that’s a good album when you don’t even think about skipping the next track.

Song to Check Out: “Otis”

1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

This might not come to anyone’s surprise if you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time. I talk about this album — particularly the song “Holocene” — often. It’s the soundtrack for any writing I do. It’s the music I keep in the background any time I can. It’s just an incredible album. I would highly, highly, highly recommend it. There was one night where I listened to “Perth”, “Holocene”, and “Calgary” on repeat for hours until I’m sure Megan was about to scream. But it’s just that good. I could’ve kept listening for hours after that. Check it out. You won’t regret it.

Song to Check Out: “Holocene”

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)
King of Limbs – Radiohead
Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes
House of Balloons – The Weeknd
Zonoscope – Cut Copy
Middle Brother – Middle Brother
Black Up – Shabazz Palaces
Ceremonials – Florence & The Machine
Take Care – Drake
21 – Adele

So those are my favorite albums of 2011. What are yours? What album could you not stop listening to this year? I’d love to hear them.

Again, be sure to swing by the What I’m Listening To tab on the top of the page to listen to all of the songs that I recommended off each of these albums. And enjoy!

Cheers,
Eric

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Music Monday: Ryan Adams Edition

Last Tuesday was an awesome week for me. Not only did the latest Terrance Malick movie “The Tree of Life” come out on DVD… not only did one of my favorite authors, Jeffrey Eugenides, publish his long-awaited book The Marriage Plot… but the always-awesome Ryan Adams released his album “Ashes & Fire“. So in his honor, I celebrate Music Monday. I’ll span his days with Whiskeytown to now with some highlights of some of my favorites. This could get to be a lot of links, but they’re all worth it.
  • Whiskeytown’s “Avenues” seems like a good place to start. This was the band Ryan was a part of before going solo. Sorry it’s a crappy montage video with the studio recording in the background, but it was the only Youtube version that didn’t include a badly lit living room and no one named Ryan Adams.
  • “Oh My Sweet Carolina” off his debut solo album “Heartbreaker” will be next. Such a good song with Emmylou Harris singing some harmonies on the album version — This one is just Ryan. I never get sick of hearing this song. Check it out.
  • “Firecracker” is the first of his solo stuff I ever heard (shout out to Dave Tack, my sophomore English teacher for the intro). This version is great — stripped down and the way it was meant to be.
  • “So Alive” is an awesome song. It’s equal parts charged and mellow. It’s part Smiths in the verses and then explodes to a great chorus. Enjoy this one.
  • For many Ryan Adams fans, I may be doing an incredible disservice by leaving out the Love Is Hell sessions. Both are great, but there’s just so many good ones. The next one is off his disc “29”. It’s a track called “Blue Sky Blues”.
  • “Dirty Rain” is the final track I’ll post. It leads off his new disc and continues his streak of awesome.
As I said earlier, there are plenty of tracks I have left off of here. But it gives a good intro to the world of Ryan Adams. Hope you’ve enjoyed your tour.
Cheers,
Eric
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