Earbuddy Presents: Top 50 Albums of 2011 – Part One

This year in music has been quite impressive. While 2010 gave us clear-cut, stand alone winners, it was much harder to determine which album was Top Ten worthy, let alone the best of 2011. Most sites have published their lists already, and while many albums appear on the same lists, the top ten varies greatly from list to list. Don’t expect us to be any different.

This year’s Top 50 was chosen by Earbuddy writers: Nick Krenn, Chris Bell, John Downey, and Gabe McBride. The following list does not make claim to be the definitive list of what was the very best of 2011. It just gives you an idea of what we enjoyed the most.

Part One: 50 – 41

50. Jenny Hval – Viscera

John Downey: Viscera starts off with the WTF lyric of the year (no, I’m not going to repeat it), but it’s a red herring—the rest of the album is relatively restrained, and thank God for that. Though Hval’s poetry can be hit-or-miss at times, the really good stuff comes from her backing band, who are tasked with playing sludge metal, classical pieces, and everything in between. Time will tell if Jenny Hval is the next Bjork, though she’s on the right track.

49. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

John Downey: Black Up is a great examination of hip-hop tropes, though how much you would appreciate an experiment like this largely depends on your awareness of such tropes to begin with. Cuts like “Recollections of the Wrath” and “Swerve the Reaping…” contain some of the best beats on any album this year, and tracks like “An Echo from the Hosts…” deconstruct hipster logic with its own mutations.

Read the Shabazz Palaces – Black Up Review.

48. Random Axe – Random Axe

John Downey: While some rappers might act like they care about Detroit, Random Axe channel Detroit with their songs. Thank goodness for Black Milk, the man who made the backbeats and contributes five verses here, because he is one of the greatest hip-hop producers working today and is aware enough of his shortcomings to limit his vocal contributions so that Guilty Simpson and Sean Price can really shine. This isn’t the best rap album of the year,far from it, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that these guys are trying to establish a persona for their home city in much the same way that the Wu-Tang Clan did for their home borough.

47. Big K.R.I.T. – Return of 4eva

John Downey: It’s a 78-minute long free album that doesn’t wear out its welcome. Big K.R.I.T. is smart enough to not be an overbearing presence on his own album, and that goes a long way to making the whole thing go down smooth. If a song on Return of 4eva isn’t an introspective track, then it is a Grade-A banger (or both). You can put this album on and not feel the need to touch your music player for almost 80 minutes. That’s an achievement in any year, regardless of genre.

46. Secret Cities – Strange Hearts

Gabe McBride: A collection of haunting pop songs, Secret Cities’ second album is a unique mixture of chamber pop and lo-fi. The tunes on Strange Hearts have an eerie, otherworldly glow, like they are from an alternate reality, whose characteristics are dictated by early 70’s AM radio, and Grizzly Bear.

45. Danny Brown – XXX

John Downey: To say that XXX is a divisive release is to undersell both its strengths and its flaws. The first half can be ludicrously obscene at times, including a sex jam (“I Will”) that would make even Cam’ron blush, but the second half explores Brown’s motivation and reasoning for going to such extremes, ultimately constructing the kind of psychotic persona that Tyler, the Creator tried to put together earlier this year. This might be the best examination of a psychotic protagonist in hip-hop since Cage’s Hell’s Winter, though it should be noted that playing this album in public might be a felony in some states.

44. Big Troubles – Romantic Comedy

Gabe McBride: Despite the substantial sonic stylistic shift between their first album, Worry, and Romantic Comedy — records released barely more than a year apart, primary songwriters Alex Craig and Ian Drennan have maintained the enviably catchy, effervescent pop vibes. You’ll be hearing the album’s sad-sack love songs in your sleep with choruses about girls and listening to the radio, on endless, blissful repeat.

Read the Big Troubles – Romantic Comedy Review.

43. The Kills – Blood Pressures

Chris Bell: I have said it since the release of this record and am still absolutely baffled that Blood Pressures wasn’t a massive crossover hit this year. With Alison Mosshart having spent the better part of the last two years playing beside Jack White in the Dead Weather, she seemed prepared to finally take that step from Indie darling to Rock Megastar. Add on top of that a record that is built for radio. These are short songs, with immediate grooves and buildings full of sex appeal. Though this was The Kills most successful Billboard showing, the massive crossover fame just didn’t seem destined for a Rocker this year (Adele nabbed it instead). My gripe aside, I still got a record chalk full of great songs. I have always been a fan of the Kills, but my biggest complaint was their repeated flights into noise experimentation. You won’t find any of those meanderings on Blood Pressures. The songs here almost border on Pop (if Mosshart wasn’t slightly scary, that would be an easier classification). I’ve loved this record since day one and even more so today. Just try to put “Satellite” on in your car without nodding your head. I dare you.

42. Needtobreathe – The Reckoning

John Downey: Okay, fine, Christian rock is cheesy and kind of stupid, but if you’re going to do it, this is how you do it. Needtobreathe write simple pop-rock songs about finding inner strength and hanging out with friends, but these guys have such an ear for music, the whole thing goes down smooth. This is my guilty pleasure of the year, but don’t judge me until you give it a chance.

Read the Needtobreathe – The Reckoning Review.

41. Buffalo Tom – Skins

Chris Bell: Buffalo Tom was a name I had no expectation of using for any of these lists. Like many of the louder Rock bands of the 90s, Boston’s Buffalo Tom seemingly disappeared with death of Alternative Rock radio. After a nine year break, the band re-emerged in 2007 with Three Easy Pieces. While the album was generally well accepted, it received a lot of backhanded compliments about ‘reviving the sound of the 90s’. With this year’s Skins, the band took a slightly different approach. With the roar of their electric guitars pulled back, flourishes of Americana took the forefront and there was a spotlight put directly on the quality of these guys as songwriters. The absolute strength of this record lies in the songs. These are some of the best lyrics I heard this year and everyone playing comes off like an pro. Not only is Skins the best record Buffalo Tom ever released, it has me thinking that they were doing themselves a disservice for the last twenty years by hiding all of that talent under layers of volume.

Check out Part Two of our list tomorrow with 40-31. Thanks for reading!

About NK

I founded Earbuddy to turn you onto excellent music and give fair, unbiased, and honest music reviews. Hit me up on Twitter @earbuddy if you want to chat about music, disagree with what I've written here, or talk about anything else.