IGIF Presents: The Best Albums of 2011

Once again we’re at that time, faced with the onslaught of the inevitable Year End List, when everyone offers their opinion on what was the Best album, or Best song, or Best video, or Best concert of the year. Everyone jumps at the opportunity to canonize, to rank and file, to highlight what we’ll come to remember and leave behind what we’ll come to forget. Some of these lists try to say “Here are the Best, period. These speak to the soul of the average, normal, objective person. They delight the most ears. They’re scientifically superior, we’ve done the tests!” … Well, we’re not that kind of website and this isn’t that kind of list. The following albums happen to be the thirty of the hundreds we heard this year that meant the most to the two of us. If something isn’t on the list it either means we didn’t like it enough or didn’t listen to it. You’ll find some “honorable mentions” at the end of the list, but without further blabbering… IGIF’s Albums of 2011:

Kurt VileSmoke Ring For My Halo

There is something rustic about Kurt Vile’s craftsmanship as a songwriter and his fourth release, Smoke Ring for My Halo, made his music more accessible than ever. The way he tells a story and melodically picks at his guitar almost has a Bob Seger or Tom Petty vibe, but Vile tends to provide more intimacy in his songs. The production on Smoke Ring is stunning, tracks like “Runner’s Up” and “On Tour” are phenomenal examples. – Nathaniel

[MP3] Kurt VileThe Creature

Official Site | More MP3s | Buy @ Insound

Air DropsEP

This Lancaster-born beatmaker turned heads earlier in the year when he released his debut self-titled EP on the “Kanye To The” forums to massive fanfare. Picking up stylistic cues from everything from Brian Eno to Golden Age film scores to chillwave, Air Drops mixes and mashes brilliantly, giving each of the seven tracks a unique pacing, style and sound. It’s more akin to an opera than an EP, larger than life and exploding at the seams. I can’t wait to see what 2012 holds. – Connor

[MP3] Air DropsGiants of Canaan

Bandcamp | More MP3s

Toro Y MoiUnderneath The Pine

Chillwave could only last so long before everyone jumped ship (well, everyone except for Washed Out who apparently didn’t get the memo). While I was a fan of Chaz Bundick for songs like “Blessa” and for seeming like a guy who was doing his own thing, I turned into a superfan over Underneath The Pine. Songs like “Before I’m Done” and “How I Know” rip at my penchant for French pop, and Bundick’s arrangements are some of the most lush of the year. There’s also a more funky element, evident in singles “New Beat” and “Still Sound”, but I prefer the subtle and nuanced compositions at the album’s center (literally tracks 4-8), songs that’s I’m still exploring after countless listens. – Connor

[MP3] Toro Y MoiNew Beat

Chaz’s Blog | More MP3s | Buy @ Insound

Unknown Mortal OrchestraS/T

It seems like forever ago when I first stumbled upon Unknown Mortal Orchestra, who have adopted the acronym UMO (thank goodness). They have a penchant for creating great, lo-fi tracks backed by simple beats that combine a really weird mixture of garage rock and basement R&B. Little did I know, a handful of tracks lead to one of my favorite albums of 2011. Their self-titled debut is a mixture of energy and angst with tons of potential, can’t wait to see what they do next. – Nathaniel

[MP3] Unknown Mortal OrchestraFfunny Ffriends

Official Site | More MP3s | Buy @ Insound

Pepper RabbitRed Velvet Snowball

Why is it that Indie-Pop as a genre doesn’t get the same critical cred as more “serious” genres of music? It’s as if genuine happiness or the sound of a damn xylophone will never trump something with which listeners can’t so readily identify. Either way, Pepper Rabbit have, for the second year in a row, put out an immensely earnest, heartfelt album brimming with the moments of brilliance—and hooks, let’s not ignore the hooks—that make albums great. – Connor

[MP3] Pepper RabbitRose Mary Stretch

Facebook | More MP3s | Buy @ Insound


Although it didn’t get the best reviews this year, there’s something unshakable about Starfucker’s Reptilians. Songs like “Julius” and “Death As A Fetish” gave 2011 some of its most memorable anthems, ferociously addictive, forward thrusting and almost unmatched on the year in how damn fun and exciting they are to experience. Each song is exhaustively positive and full of life to the point where everything else can seem bland by comparison. Of course there are different genres for different times and moods and moments, but Reptilians simply nails the fun-as-fuck electro pop spectrum, and that’s not something you should ignore. – Connor

[MP3] StarfuckerJulius

Facebook | More MP3s | Buy @ Insound

Youth LagoonThe Year Of Hibernation

There were a handful of albums that took me by surprise this year and Youth Lagoon’s The Year Of Hibernation is definitely near the top of my list. At first I was mad that the vocals were so thin and altered, then I got used to it and realized Trevor Powers’ voice served as an additional instrument that blended into the music so well. “Cannons” is a true gem but almost the entire album puts out this vibe of “Hi, we’re the weird cousins of Beach House without the production value and a knack for the gaze over the glamour.” And I am certainly alright with them wearing that name-tag to my Albums of the Year party tonight. – Nathaniel

[MP3] Youth LagoonCannons

Facebook | More MP3s | Buy @ Insound

Warm WeatherDances

Dances was one of the biggest surprises for me this year particularly because Warm Weather came out of Left Field, Nowhere. In their debut EP Warm Weather created a handful of near perfect pop songs crashing through influences ranging from the ubiquitous Beach Boys to David Bowie to The Shins. “The Dance” contains some of the year’s best harmonies (yeah, even with Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver in the mix), while “I Only Know” showcases the band’s deft touch for production and composition (it also happens to be one of my favorite songs of the year by a long shot). I’m betting on big things for Warm Weather in 2012. – Connor

[MP3] Warm WeatherOnly I Know

Bandcamp | More MP3s | Free download @ Bandcamp

St. VincentStrange Mercy

It took me a while to get into Strange Mercy… Held up to her previous effort, the career-making Actor, this album seemed on the surface to be a misstep, or at least a backstep… perhaps a better-produced version of her debut album. But once I forced myself through it (made immensely easier by the promise of “Cruel”) and unfolded its layers the true spectacle of Strange Mercy came through. The bizzaro guitar noodling under the shoegazy “Surgeon” and the mind-numbing crescendo in the final third of “Neutered Fruit”, for just two examples, give a glimpse into what Annie Clark was after in Strange Mercy… and even if I’m still not quite sure what that is, it’s pretty awesome trying to figure it out. – Connor

[MP3] St. VincentCruel

Official Site | More MP3s | Buy @ Insound

Jay-Z & Kanye WestWatch The Throne

Perhaps the most anticipated album of the year, Jay-Z and Kanye West released a flashy collab album with the substance to stick. The protégé and patron collabing for tracks on tracks on tracks on tracks! Kanye and his production team knocked it out of the park with Watch The Throne and Jay sounds reinvigorated, laying nimble and intricate verses with a power only he can command. While the album was far from perfect, it’s as intensive and well-executed as any album hip-hop album released this year. And it’s so cohesive, WTT drives forward as a collective piece of work and not a handful of singles loosely packaged together. – Nathaniel

[WWW] Listen to Watch The Throne at ex.fm

Official Site | More MP3s | Buy @ Insound

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