HERE's the mix of one song per album sequenced in order of ranking for this, the better portion of my list of favorite albums of 2011. Let's get this show on the road.
(20) Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics - Ducktails (Woodsist)
I've wanted to get Matthew Mondanile's Ducktails for a couple of years now, and he finally released something that's easy to understand. At this point, it may be cliche to say about anything regarding Real Estate, but the slightly psychedelic guitar pop on Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics really is perfect for a summer backyard drinking party.
Top jams: "In the Swing," "Sprinter," "Sunset Liner," "Little Window," "Killin' the Vibe," "Don't Make Plans," "Art Vandalay"
(19) In Love With Oblivion//Radiant Door EP - Crystal Stilts (Slumberland//Sacred Bones)
2011 brought two great releases from Crystal Stilts. In Love With Oblivion continues the band's tradition of gloomy, psych-infused post-punk with brighter guitars than usual at times, while Radiant Door brings out even brighter guitars and some slower tempos. The monotone, reverb-drenched vocals may be a hurdle, but it is worth doing the work to discover all the hooks.
Top jams: "Through the Floor," "Silver Sun," "Half a Moon," "Shake the Shackles," "Precarious Stair," "Death is What We Live For," "Prometheus at Large," "Dark Eyes," "Radiant Door," "Low Profile"
(18) Mirror Traffic - Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (Matador)
Lacking the jamming and guitar wailing of 2008's excellent and hilariously titled Real Emotional Trash, this year's Mirror Traffic is still a zany, somewhat sprawling companion piece of sorts. The band is impeccably tight and Malkmus' melodies and clever lyrics are right where they should be. I'm not sure why this record went so unnoticed amongst my friends, because it rules.
Top jams: "No One Is (As I Are Be)," "Senator," "Brain Gallop," "Stick Figures in Love," "Share the Red," "Tune Grief," "Forever 28," "Fall Away"
(17) Idle Labor - Craft Spells (Captured Tracks)
The Captured Tracks record label was huge to me this year. We're already almost a quarter of the way through my top 20, and the label is just now making its first appearance on the list. Idle Labor is mostly upbeat 80s synth pop with some truly great synth sounds. Every song is good.
Top jams: "Scandinavian Crush," "The Fog Rose High," "Party Talk," "Given the Time," "Your Tomb," "You Should Close the Door," "Beauty Above All"
(16) Slave Ambient - The War on Drugs (Secretly Canadian)
I never cared to check this band out due to how much I hate the name. When I found out that Kurt Vile used to be a member, I was a bit more interested. When I finally got around to checking out their latest, I was taken aback. Slave Ambient is a beautiful and mellow rock record with touches of folk, psychedelia and spacey atmosphere that make it unique. It fits in nicely with Vile's 2011 output, which shouldn't be surprising.
Top jams: "Best Night," "Brothers," "I Was There," "Your Love is Calling My Name," "It's Your Destiny," "Baby Missiles," "Blackwater"
(15) An Argument With Myself EP - Jens Lekman (Secretly Canadian)
Finally, Jens ends his four year silence since 2007's stunning Night Falls Over Kortedala, albeit with a five song EP that's only around 18 minutes long. STILL, I'll take anything I can get from this guy. Pure pop bliss. Full length in 2012, PLEASE?
Top jams: "An Argument With Myself," "A Promise," "New Directions"
(14) Deerhoof Vs. Evil - Deerhoof (Polyvinyl)
Deerhoof Vs. Evil isn't even close to the band's last and greatest, Offend Maggie, but, of course it's a welcome addition to their canon. Still weird, this is probably their poppiest record to date. Per usual, the guitars are spectacular and gorgeous, the melodies are memorable and Greg Saunier is probably the best drummer in the game.
Top jams: "Qui Dorm, Nomes Somia," "Behold a Marvel in the Darkness," "The Merry Barracks," "Super Duper Rescue Heads!," "Must Fight Current," "I Did Crimes for You"
(13) Gloss Drop - Battles (Warp)
2007's Mirrored was way more critically acclaimed, but I say Gloss Drop is the far more superior album. Sure, there's probably not as much variety here, and these songs are quite a bit more silly. There's just something inexplicable about Gloss Drop that made me fall in love. The cartoon synths, bizarre rhythms and ridiculously tight drumming contribute heavily. Had I posted what I had intended to be my favorite songs of 2011 list, both "Ice Cream" and "Sweetie & Shag" would have been in the top ten.
Top jams: "Ice Cream," "Inchworm," "Wall Streeet," "Dominican Fade," "Sweetie & Shag," "Rolls Bayce," "Sundome"
(12) Smoke Ring for My Halo - Kurt Vile (Matador)
Stunning finger-picked folk collides with country-tinged rock that brings to mind Dylan, Young and Springsteen on Kurt Vile's latest. I first checked Vile out on last year's Square Shells EP, which is much more stripped down and is gorgeous in its own right. Smoke Ring for My Halo is obviously more fully realized, and is easily the best folk record since Bill Callahan's Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle. In fact, it's even better.
Top jams: "Baby's Arms," "Jesus Fever," "On Tour," "Runner Ups," "In My Time," "Peeping Tomboy," "Ghost Town"
(11) What a Pleasure EP - Beach Fossils (Captured Tracks)
I liked their lo-fi surf pop self-titled debut from 2010 alright, but Beach Fossils definitely made the right decision when they substituted their drummer with a drum machine. Understated but catchy melodies, bouncy bass and beautiful Johnny Marr-esque guitar playing. Keep it up, boys!
Top jams: "Fall Right In," "Out in the Way," "Face It," "Distance," "Calyer"
(10) The Moonlight Butterfly - The Sea and Cake (Thrill Jockey)
Since the 90s, The Sea and Cake have been the most consistently awesome band this side of Radiohead. The Moonlight Butterfly, a six song mini-album, is not a ton different from what the band has been doing thus far in the 21st century (aside from a little extra ambience), and that's fine by me. They can stay on this path until they call it quits, for all I care, because they are a perfect band.
Top jams: "Covers," "Lyric," "Up on the North Shore," "Inn Keeping"
(9) Tomboy - Panda Bear (Paw Tracks)
Tomboy may be lacking all the wonderful color that made Person Pitch the record that it is, but man, these melodies and harmonies are still completely mind blowing. The darker nature of the music here makes for an interesting contrast with the still bright vocal parts. I don't know, whatever. Tomboy still does it for me.
Top jams: "Slow Motion," "Surfer's Hymn," "Last Night at the Jetty," "Alsatian Darn," "Friendship Bracelet," "Afterburner," "Benfica"
(8) By the Hedge//Araby 7" - Minks (Captured Tracks)
More 80s goth pop from Captured Tracks. By the Hedge sounds like early Cure with a slight emo slant. Moody and catchy as hell. The Araby 7" features one song that is pretty much more of the same (probably even better), and then "Little Fawn," which seems like a blatant ode to The Beach Boys. These would have ranked even higher any other year.
Top jams: "Kusmi," "Out of Tune," "Funeral Song," "Our Ritual," "Bruises," "Juniper," "Araby," "Little Fawn"
(7) The King of Limbs - Radiohead (TBD)
This is not the best Radiohead record by any means, but it has resolidified Colin Greenwood's title as my favorite bassist. This really is his and Phil Selway's album, what with the smart, scattered bass leads and loopy drum parts. Thom Yorke does his usual thing while Jonny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien go by virtually unnoticed. In addition to all of that, this repetition thing makes for a more different Radiohead album than I was expecting. I'm confused as to why such an obviously great record is so divisive. If you've been a long time fan of the band and this record turns you off to them, then I question your judgement in music.
Top jams: "Bloom," "Morning Mr. Magpie," "Little by Little," "Feral," "Lotus Flower," "Separator"
(6) Days - Real Estate (Domino)
I don't know why, but at first, Days seemed a little underwhelming to me. It felt like Real Estate didn't quite deliver on the promise of the set I saw them play back in July. I think I'm past that now. There are a lot of reasons why Days rightfully overshadows their still fantastic self-titled debut: maturity/full realization, consistency, professional production, et cetera. It doesn't hurt that the stupendously chimey guitars and bouncy bass parts remind me a little bit of Death Cab's We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes.
Top jams: "Green Aisles," "It's Real," "Kinder Blumen," "Out of Tune," "Municipality," "Three Blocks," "All the Same"
(5) Underneath the Pine//Freaking Out EP - Toro y Moi (Carpark)
Unlike his brethren in Washed Out and Neon Indian, Toro y Moi was ready to shed that stupid "chillwave" tag and do something considerably different. Aren't we glad he did? Underneath the Pine is an upbeat psychedelic R&B and soft adult contemporary record showcasing incredible talent, and Freaking Out is essentially an awesome house EP. I am so pumped for whatever this dude is gonna do next. I'm hoping for an entire house record with all live instrumentation.
Top jams: "New Beat," "Go With You," "Go Blinded," "How I Know," "Still Sound," "Elise," "All Alone," "Saturday Love," "I Can Get Love"
(4) Parrot Flies - Algernon Cadwallader (Hot Green)
I don't care how derivative this band may be, Algernon Cadwallader are the shit. Yes, they sound a lot like the myriad of Kinsella-related Chicago bands (Cap'n Jazz, Joan of Arc, American Football, Ghosts and Vodka, Owls), but when you do that particular brand of emo as good as this band does, guitar noodling and melodic dude yelling and all, then it is absolutely forgivable. The one thing that does set these guys apart is that there are hooks a-plenty.
Top jams: "Preservatives," "Parrot Flies," "If It Kills Me," "Glenwood Ave.," "Sad," "Loose Cannons," "Cruisin'"
(3) Kaputt - Destroyer (Merge)
I have very little experience with pre-Rubies Destroyer, but I would wager that Kaputt is Dan Bejar's crowning achievement, regardless. These songs consist of the usual Bejar two-chord progressions and witty, rambling vocals, and there is still a little bit of a David Bowie element to them. What caught me off guard is how smooth and sexy and 80s this album is. It is nearly perfect. So much awesome soft adult contemporary pop in 2011!
Top jams: "Chinatown," "Blue Eyes," "Savage Night at the Opera," "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker," "Kaputt," "Bay of Pigs"
(2) Romantic Comedy - Big Troubles (Slumberland)
This is what The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's sophomore album should have sounded like. Instead, they went to radio rock production shit and Big Troubles usurped them as Slumberlands' darlings of indie pop inspired by the likes of R.E.M. and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Mitch Easter's pro production suits these songs well, and the amount of memorable hooks is almost overwhelming. I love everything about this record so much, from the smart but simple song structures and delightful melodies to the subtle intricacies and expert musicianship. I'm tempted to say that this is a flawless record.
Top jams: "She Smiles for Pictures," "Make It Worse," "Sad Girls," "You'll be Laughing," "Time Bomb," "Engine"
(1) David Comes to Life - Fucked Up (Matador)
Before David Comes to Life had entered my life, and in spite of how much I loved Fucked Up's last full length, The Chemistry of Common Life, I would have never thought that a hardcore record would be my #1 favorite of any given year. Is this a testament to how insanely good this album is, or to how accessible the band has become (even though the idea of a 70+ minute concept album is a difficult one)? Probably both, but who cares? David Comes to Life is incredible. There really are too many details to list about why this is the album that defines 2011 for me, but the main reason is that my devotion to guitar-based music was reenergized, and this just happens to showcase the best sounding guitars of the year by far. They are thick, catchy and deliciously layered. With such gorgeous music, the screaming adds a fascinating twist, keeping the record from being simply a really great pop punk one. The musicianship all around is unreal, and that this may be the final Fucked Up full length adds some weight. It's definitely an appropriate note to end on. I'm not sure that this can let alone needs to be improved upon, anyway.
Top jams: "Queen of Hearts," "Under My Nose," "The Other Shoe," "Turn the Season," "Remember My Name," "A Slanted Tone," "Truth I Know," "A Little Death," "Inside a Frame," "The Recursive Girl," "Lights Go Up"