IGIF Presents: The Best Albums of 2011


I read somewhere that Dan Bejar had said Kaputt marks the end of Destroyer, something I’m hoping isn’t true since it’s been his best album to date. There isn’t another band around that could occupy the same sonic space Destroyer does with Kaputt, mainly because it’s a space so expansively custom that it would take other musicians decades to create. Kaputt is visceral, soft-rock at it’s most basic and reckless romance at the highest level. It’s music you want to reach out and touch. Like the late Bob Ross whipping together a beautiful landscape right before your eyes, you’re left wondering what the hell just happened and how did it happen so quickly?! Destroyer’s done that with his best masterpiece yet, I just hope it’s not the last. – Nathaniel

[MP3] DestroyerKaputt

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Fleet FoxesHelplessness Blues

Before Bon Iver and (especially) Fleet Foxes, the craft of folk music was more of a special interest on the outskirts of popular conciousness. After Fleet Foxes’ debut and this year’s Helplessness Blues, folk-rock is a commercial force to be reckoned with and it’s no surprise because I can’t recall a time (save for the 60s) where it sounded this good. Robin Pecknold and his band of pacific northwestern beardsmen took everything I adored about their debut and kept it the same, yet somehow reinvented themselves in the process. Their instruments became weapons and Pecknold’s voice soared to heights I’d never heard before, emitting growls and nuances you’d not expect from his velvet vocals. This is what sophomore albums should sound like, pushing the boundaries of familiarity in ways promoting an artistic growth that’s a feast for us to listen in on. – Nathaniel

[MP3] Fleet FoxesHelplessness Blues

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RadioheadThe King Of Limbs

If there’s one testament to Radiohead’s undeniable greatness, still, it’s that they’re consistently able to produce albums that sound unlike anything they’ve done before. After 2007’s In Rainbows, the band would occasionally gripe about the recording process with words like “slog” and “drag,” saying that doing it all over again would “kill” them. Four years later, undoubtedly the result of a change in their ever-evolving creative process, they dropped The King of Limbs, a percussion-heavy, DJ-inspired, eight song record that sounded unlike anything we expected and really more like Yorke’s solo work than a capital-R Radiohead Record… but man it works. It took a lot of dissecting to wrap my head around the samples, both organic (birds chirping) and inorganic (Jonny had his hands full here), and I’m still discovering new sounds and emotions with every listen. That’s really what Radiohead has always been able to offer me, consistently, more than any other band on the planet. Even if the songs aren’t as beautiful as “Nude” or as massive as “How To Disappear Completely”, they’re still as cosmically deep as music can be, and that’s not something I’d ever get tired of experiencing. – Connor

[WWW] Listen to Radiohead at ex.fm

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The AntlersBurst Apart

Unlike most of the music population, I wasn’t a big fan of The Antlers’ debut LP Hospice but boy – was I ever blown away by Burst Apart. Their sophomore LP is full of sonic echoes but really resonates deeply in your ears, emitting a vibe that’s covered in overtones of Radiohead’s influence and ballads so moving they retain an almost religious zen. The bass lines in Burst Apart drive each song forward while the delicate vocals give each track a clean finish. There are tracks on this album where The Antlers are fully experimenting, “French Exit” and “Parentheses” serving as an early one-two punch. However, The Antlers thrive with tracks like the raw “Every Night My Teeth are Falling Out” and a doo-wop driven album-ending banger “Putting the Dog To Sleep”. – Nathaniel

[MP3] The AntlersPutting The Dog To Sleep

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Atlas SoundParallax

I’ve gotten into a few different arguments with friends about Atlas Sound’s 2011 release Parallax, most of which stemmed from them refuting my placement of Bradford Cox’s album so high on my list since he “didn’t take enough chances”. While I agree Cox didn’t release material that resulted in a recalculated musical recipe turning his sound inside out, but then again.. why should he do that? His recipe is flawless in a way Deerhunter can’t match and his biggest change, arguably, was making Parallax his most accessible LP to date. This album explores the distances and voids in music while tracing the outlines of Cox’s own influences. Perhaps Parallax’s biggest success, aside from obviously sounding remarkable, lies within how complete the album is from start to finish – something Cox has had trouble tying together in past releases. – Nathaniel

[MP3] Atlas SoundTerra Incognita

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Panda BearTomboy

If you’re a Panda Bear fan or an Animal Collective fan, and have been for at least a few years, Tomboy was probably your most anticipated album since Arcade Fire’s Funeral follow-up. Although I was secretly hoping for Person Pitch II, it was never going to happen. Noah Lennox announced early on that he wouldn’t be using any samples (a staple of Person Pitch), and as his vinyl-only singles started trickling out into the open it was clear we were in for something different. From song to song the sounds of his looped guitars and muted percussive elements seemed to bleed together into a cohesive whole, and by the time the whole thing came out I’d already shied away a bit from the record. That was a pretty stupid move. While I still tend to find Person Pitch the unsurmountable champion of Panda Bear’s solo output, Tomboy is perhaps the more ambitious of the two projects. To follow up Person Pitch and not disappoint, to do so without relying on the techniques that made it so great in the first place, was a serious challenge. Of course the murky, mystic optimism of Person Pitch might not be overflowing at Tomboy‘s seams, instead we’re offered the core of Lennox’s style whittled into more numerous and accessible chunks: the multitracked, hymnal vocal chants in “Tomboy”, the dizzying reverb-laden percussion+guitar combination throughout “Afterburner”, and the screaming tea kettle crescendo in “Alsatian Darn”. Once I finally got beyond the desire for PP2, I realized that Tomboy was every bit as good as it promised to be or could have been, a stunning release from a musician creating some of the most unique and exciting music of the 21st century. – Connor

[MP3] Listen to Panda Bear on ex.fm

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Real EstateDays

At the same time wide open and tightly packed, uniformly accessible and always distancing, Real Estate’s Days is very much the record its album art promised it would be: a no frills ode to suburbia (unlike that frilly one from that Grammy band), the sameness and desolation and nature that everyone growing up in America, even city kids, could appreciate with unwavering nostalgia for their own childhood experiences. It’s a driving around the block record, a sneaking into your neighbor’s pool record, a drinking on the beach at night record, a slumber party in the treehouse record, built with an earnestness and straightforward pop-music appreciation I haven’t heard since The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs. Lyrics are there when necessary and absent at other times, as if to guide listeners to a point where they could reflect melancholically on their own lives to Real Estate’s meandering balladry. At best this is done on songs like “Easy”, “It’s Real”, “Out of Tune” and album closer “All The Same”, a four-track color-by-number that we populate with our own meaning, but it’s always good, and it’s all real. Outside perhaps a single misstep (“Three Blocks” if I’m being critical), Days is as close to a perfect, singular, meaningful piece of music as anything I’d heard all year and I know it’s something I’ll always be able to throw on the turntable to escape…whatever it is I need to escape. That’s a pretty invaluable relationship to have with a piece of music. – Connor

[MP3] Real EstateIt’s Real

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Bon IverBon Iver

This is one of the best sophomore releases I have ever heard in my entire life. I think when I look back at this list or through the general expanse of my music collection, that statement will still hold true. I was terrified for Bon Iver, genuinely frightened. It wasn’t due to my lack of confidence in his musical ability, more from the mountain weight of expectations piling up from such a successful debut LP that defined such a unique sound. Instead of getting lost in the over-digested minimalism brought forth by the famous story of him “capturing his sound at a cabin in the woods”, Justin Vernon left For Emma, Forever Ago exactly where he recorded it and didn’t go back. It’s rare to see an artist know exactly where he wants to take his sound, and from the first track onward Vernon causes your ears to become lost in the expanse of synth, layered orchestration, and emotional space. It’s astounding. This is a timeless album that’s absorbing, nostalgic, and crescendos with “Beth/Rest” – an 80s driven throwback from another generation that’s so strangely at home in 2011… only Bon Iver could build an entire album, saxophones and all, to its pinnacle. – Nathaniel

[WWW] Listen to Bon Iver at ex.fm

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M83Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

If there is one thing I have come to learn and love from M83’s music over the years, it’s the nostalgia in each album so readily available for your ears and emotions to absorb. While the feeling is always present, the way in which he’s presented it through the years has always appealed differently. That’s a characteristic that rings true for all of my favorite artists, that no two albums sound the same, and coming into Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming ready to hear a tweaked version of Saturdays = Youth would be an irresponsible thing to do. Instead, Anthony Gonzalez has undertaken his most ambitious project to date in creating a double album of epic proportions that floats through the most serene landscapes on Earth, brightest places in the galaxy, and mysterious places underwater without losing any of the spatial magic. “Midnight City” is the best single Gonzalez has ever written (one of the top tracks of ’11 too) and if “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire” doesn’t take you back to the early days of M83 while making you grin ear-to-ear, I’m not sure what will. While there are some tracks of the 22 on the album that aren’t fully finished ideas, the energy present in the entirety of this album is so exhilarating there are a flurry of moments where the hair will rhythmically stand up on the back of your neck. Prior to this album, I felt like I was watching M83 on a rear-projection tube television nestled snuggly in a trendy entertainment system. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is an upgrade in every sense, exploding on a larger, flat-panel canvas than ever before with more high-def colors than Gonzalez knows what to do with. Being a couch potato has never sounded so sweet. – Nathaniel

[MP3] M83Midnight City

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CavemanCoCo Beware

In many respects, everything I wrote about Real Estate’s Days can be readily applied to Caveman’s brilliant CoCo Beware with one exception: it’s not about suburbia. Actually everything that’s real and evident, real evident about Real Estate (the concept, the lyrics, the artwork, the meaning) is particularly hard to pin down on CoCo Beware. The album art, a digitized mishmash of color and blown out pixels, could speak to the download generation of listeners, maybe some degradation or corruption… or perhaps, simply, it asks “why have artwork that was always meant for paper and ink when we’re releasing music into a digital culture through a medium that’s all about the shaky transmission of light?” The album’s title is a mashup of Koko B. Ware, a black professional wrestler from the 1980s, and Coco, Conan O’Brien’s fan-given pet name (or maybe the Midtown East smoothie bar CoCo, or maybe something completely unbeknownst to us), it totally doesn’t matter. The song titles read out like a Mary Shelly novel, of kings and vampires and aging comrades. This only proves one thing, really — while it’s nice to have confluence between the lyrics, or artwork, or album title with the actual music, all that really matters is the music itself. And here, on CoCo Beware, as ridiculous as that album name is to type, the music is our favorite of the year. No other album captivated me for 35 minutes from track 1 to track 10, segueing seamlessly from melody to melody and outro to intro. No other album was as endlessly, almost arrogantly replayable. Even with the Bon Ivers and Fleet Foxes and Panda Bears of the year, the full band harmonies on “Old Friend” and “December 28th” rung more sweetly and reverberated longer than anything else I heard this year. And it was also endlessly exciting, at least for someone like me, to be hearing such a beautiful, fully-realized album from a band I’d never heard of before. It’s literally been a privilege to listen to CoCo Beware, and I can’t say that to the same degree about any other album this year. Maybe that’s a really elitist, douchy thing to say, but you’d only be thinking that until you heard the record, after which everything I’m saying would become abundantly clear. When all was said and done, we found ourselves constantly going back to Caveman, even months after we first heard it and despite some seriously great music trying to pull us away. And in the end, as we said in the beginning, it’s all about the music. And it always will be. – Connor

[MP3] CavemanOld Friend

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Honorable Mention:

Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde
ARMS – Summer Skills
The War On Drugs – Slave Ambient
Active Child – You Are All I See
Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
Hard Mix – Defaults
Monogold – The Softest Glow
New Animal – New Animal
Bill Baird – Goodbye Vibrations
Auditorium – Be Brave
Balam Acab – Wander / Wonder

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FILED: Best Of, MP3

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