15. Cults – Cults (cop it here)
Cults could be compared to Tennis in that both acts admirably capture ’60s girl pop sounds, but what make Cults much more interesting is how they expand upon the genre. Ethereal crooning builds up to thumping drums and crashing guitar on cuts like “Abducted” and “You Know What I Mean”, while “Go Outside” and “Most Wanted” slink along with a modern haze. The only drawback to Cults is being left wanting more. At a mere 33 minutes long, Cults is a tease of the talent this band has. Also happens to be my favorite album cover of the year.
Cult Crushes: “Most Wanted”, “Abducted”, “Go Outside”
14. My Morning Jacket – Circuital (cop it here)
Looking back it is almost criminal that until 2011, I hadn’t heard more than two songs by My Morning Jacket (at least knowingly). My love for the southern rock veterans started with the title track from the band’s 6th album and exploded from there as they had one of my favorite sets at Hangout. Circuital was released a few weeks later and I was able to relive all of the psychedelic anthems (“Victory Dance”, “You Wanna Freak Out”), driving guitar rhythms (“The Day Is Coming”, “Outta My System”) and the gem that is “Holdin’ On To Black Metal” all over again. Fun fact: “Wonderful” and “Outta My System” were meant for a project with the Muppets that never came to fruition.
Magical Morning Jams: “Holdin On To Black Metal”, “Wonderful”, “Circuital”, “Victory Dance”
13. Other Lives – Tamer Animals (cop it here)
While Other Lives never made it on any of my shared mixtapes, I did quietly rock their darkly folk album for much of the summer. Other Lives’ Tamer Animals is a much more somber than its May release date implied, but was impressive no matter the season. Lead singer Jesse Tabish’s charming voice reminds me of a mix between The Rosebuds’s Ivan Howard and The National’s Matt Berninger. Tabish even sounds eloquent when he compares human relationships to being not so different from animals in nature on the title track. Throughout the Other Lives’ 2nd album, folk elements like twangy guitar (“Dustbowl III”) and orchestral arrangements utilizing woodwinds, twinkling keys and strings (“Tamer Animals”, “Dark Horse”, “Woodwind Loop”) to weave powerful narratives.
Manimal Instincts: “Tamer Animals”, “Woodwind Loop”, “Dark Horse”
12. The Features – Wilderness (cop it here)
Now that Murfreesboro, TN’s The Features ditched the horn section and pumped up the keys and howling guitar people should fully take notice. The band’s third album Wilderness snarls and thrashes its way through bits of rockabilly (“Kids”, “Big Momma Gonna Whip Us Good”), perculating synth (“Content”, “Another One”) and trademark southern rock (“Golden Comb”, ” ). Even when the relatively tame ballad “Love Is” changes pace of the album, it manages to show Matt Pelham’s vocal range. The Features have loads of potential and hopefully impresses more than just label bosses, Kings of Leon.
Backwoods Bop: “Golden Comb”, “Another One”, “Kids”
11. Childish Gambino – Camp (cop it here)
In November I said “Camp is a grand endeavor that showcases that Donald Glover has more than matured as an artist. From the engaging storytelling to the stellar production, Childish Gambino is an alter ego that shouldn’t be hidden from the limelight.” I’ll stand by those statements and Camp remains one of my favorites of the year in any genre. Repeated listenings unveil new witty punchlines (“my d**k is like an accent mark, its all about the over E’s” get it?) and insightful narratives of “Outside” and “That Power” that show more of what makes Glover an interesting artist.
Campfire Creations: “Heartbeat”, “L.E.S.”, “All The Shine”, “Bonfire”
10. The Roots – undun (cop it here for $3.99 last I checked)
The perils of hustling is a familiar story in hip-hop, but The Roots decided to tell it a little differently. undun serves as a aural history of fictional character Redford Stevens told from his demise to the decisions leading up to it, Memento style. Working backwards from death (“Sleep”) to the moment before (“Make My”), undun chronicles the celebrations (“Kool On”), vulnerability (“Lighthouse”) and fight (“Stomp”, “The Otherside”) in Stevens’ life like a movie script. Its great to see that even at album number 10, The Roots are still finding ways to grow and show they are the best band in hip-hop.
R.I.P. Redford: “Lighthouse”, “Stomp”, “Sleep”
9. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (cop it here)
Its almost as if Dave Grohl has just been storing rock anthems in a vault during Foo Fighters’ recent hiatus. Nearly every cut from Wasting Light sounds like it could be belted by thousands of revelers at the next big outdoor festival. “Burning Bridges”, “Dear Rosemary” and “Walk” manage to hit pop rock heights without sacrificing quality, while “Arlandria” builds up to one of my favorite hooks of the year. The only real departure is “I Should Have Known”, which still has a huge chorus, but utilizes a string section that works better than you’d think. Hopefully, Foo Fighters next hiatus isn’t as long as the last one.
Foo For Thought: “Arlandria”, “Burning Bridges”, “Dear Rosemary”
8. The Throne (Jay-Z & Kanye West) – Watch The Throne (cop it here)
Any doubts that anyone had when Shawn Carter and Kanye West got together for a collaborative album were instantly quashed as soon as the bassline of “No Church In The Wild” hit. Watch The Throne was the album I talked about and listened to most often in 2011. Any why wouldn’t it be? The production by West, RZA, 88 Keys, Swizz Beatz, Neptunes and Hit Boy was some of the strongest of the year and seemed inspired by everything from soul to dub step. Jay-Z & Kanye verbally spar dropping punchline after punchline all while knowing they are the leaders in the game right now. Admittedly, most of the album is full of boasts of overflowing wallets, flashy cars and gigantic egos (“I’m planking on a million” anyone?), but with these two it feels like they earned it.
Throne Zone: “New Day”, “Ni***s In Paris”, “No Church In The Wild”, “Who Gon Stop Me”